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Dom Benedict told me today that, after an interruption due to his other work, he has resumed posting my homilies here. If you are not familiar with our Silverstream Priory Podcasts, you might want to listen to one or another of them.

I set thee apart for myself

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Yesterday, at the invitation of the Chancellor of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Malta in Ireland, I offered Holy Mass and preached in honour of the glorious patron of the Order, in Saint Mary's, Haddington Road, Dublin.

Mass in Honour of Saint John the Baptist
Patron of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John
of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta
22 June 2013

"I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother's womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself" (Jeremias 1:5).

The Word of God, Alive and Full of Energy

This word from God, dear brothers and sisters, uttered in mystery long ago, and received in faith by the prophet Jeremias, and applied, by a splendid intuition of the Church to your glorious patron Saint John the Baptist, becomes today, by the singular grace of this Holy Mass, a word addressed to each of us, to you and to me.

The word of God is not uttered once and for all, and then, locked away, as it were, in some sort of sacred archive. When the word of God is proclaimed in the sacred liturgy, it rises to newness of life; it is invested with a wondrous energy; it becomes efficacious, doing in us that for which it comes forth from the mouth of God. Thus do we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "God's word to us is something alive, full of energy; it can penetrate deeper than any two-edged sword, reaching the very division between soul and spirit, between joints and marrow, quick to distinguish every thought and design in our hearts: (Hebrews 4:12). I beg you, then, in the words of the psalmist: "Would you but listen to his voice today! Do not harden your hearts" (Psalm 94:8).

Claimed and Set Apart by God

It is to you, then, that the Word of God comes today. It is addressed directly to each of you, a blazing arrow shot from the heart of God into your hearts: "I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother's womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself" (Jeremias 1:5).

One becomes a member of the Order of Malta not by mere social circumstances, nor by mere human intervention, but by a mysterious design of God, and by a gracious summons of His mercy. It is a vocation. Implicit in the Church's doctrine of the universal call to holiness -- that is, that you and I are called to be saints, nothing less than saints -- are these astonishing truths: God claimed you -- you -- for His own before ever he fashioned you in your mother's womb. Before ever you came to birth, God set you apart for Himself. This is the premise upon which your membership in the Order of Malta rests. This is the divine message that shapes all the rest, and gives it meaning.

The Call to Holiness

Holiness cannot be stereotyped. Holiness comes in a splendid variety of forms, and colours. There is no age, no state in life, no occupation, no background, no place, nor race, nor culture that is, of itself, foreign to holiness. We, therefore have no excuse. God would have each us become a saint. To resist the call to holiness is to resist the will of God. "This is the will of God," says the Apostle, "your sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

In the Order of Malta

The particular form of holiness to which you are called will be shaped, then, and coloured by your membership in the Order of Malta. What exactly does this mean? What might your holiness look like? Your charism -- that is to say, the special identifying grace that makes your Order what it is in the Church -- has been summed up in two Latin terms: Tuitio Fidei and Obsequium Pauperum, which I should like to render respectively as The Faith, Contemplated and Upheld, and The Poor, Served with All Devotedness. The second of these, The Poor, Served with All Devotedness, is motivated by and sustained by the first, The Faith, Contemplated and Upheld. For this reason, today, and in the context of the Year of Faith, I should like, for a moment, to consider the first of these terms: Tuitio Fidei.

Look, See, Contemplate

The Latin word tuitio is rooted in the verb tuere meaning, first of all, to look at; to see; to fix one's gaze upon; or, if you will, to contemplate. Our English word intuition -- a knowledge gained by looking deeply into something -- is derived from the same verb. Your first duty, then -- and what a sweet and life-giving duty it is -- is to gaze upon Christ in the mysteries of the faith; to look, not only at them, but into them; and then to be so changed by your contemplation, that you translate it, necessarily, into the devoted service of Christ in His poor.

How does one fix one's gaze upon the mysteries of the faith? Where does one find Christ in His mysteries so as to look upon Him? "We", you are undoubtedly thinking, "are not monks". We are people engaged in the frenzy and fury of a society increasingly hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to the mission of His Church, one holy, Catholic, and apostolic; and to the expression of the faith in public life. All the more reason, dear brothers and sisters, to commit yourselves to the Tuitio Fidei upon which your vocation to holiness in the Order of Malta is founded, and by which it is quickened and sustained.

The Sacred Liturgy, Wellspring and Summit

The Tuitio Fidei (The Faith, Contemplated and Upheld ) begins and flourishes in the sacred liturgy; it bears abundant fruit in the Obsequium Pauperum (The Poor, Served with All Devotedness), and returns to the sacred liturgy. This is, simply put, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which called the sacred liturgy the wellspring and the summit of the life and action of the Church (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 10).

Your vocation to holiness, your summons to real sainthood as members of the Order of Malta, will be proportionate to your contemplation of Christ in His mysteries, and this by means of your actual participation in the sacred liturgy of the Church. Already in 1903 -- one-hundred-ten years ago -- Pope Saint Pius X called "active participation in the most holy mysteries" that is, in the liturgy, "the foremost and indispensable font of the true Christian spirit" (Motu Proprio, Tra le sollecitidini).

Today's Holy Mass is but one opportunity to do precisely this. It is an occasion of grace freely given you by God and by the Church to be quickened in your unique vocation as -- yes -- saints of the Order of the Malta. "I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother's womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself" (Jeremias 1:5).

Under the Hand of God

We heard, concerning John the Baptist, in the Holy Gospel: "And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel" (Luke 1: 66, 80).

Submit to the hand of the Lord today, by placing yourselves humbly and willingly under the immense, and tender, and powerful liturgy of His Church. Open your eyes, your ears, and all your senses to every word uttered, to every note sung, to every gesture, and movement, and to the sacred silence which envelops this Mass and allows for the penetration of its particular grace into the most secret place of your souls.

Ready to Appear Openly

It will happen with you, as it happened with Saint John the Forerunner. You will grow up. Your spirit will mature. Having fixed your gaze upon the faith presented, and actualized, and communicated in the sacred liturgy -- Tuitio Fidei -- you will be ready to appear openly, not to Israel, as did Saint John over two-thousand years ago, but to your families, to society, to Ireland today, just as it is, -- caught up in the noble battle for the sacredness of human life in the sanctuary of the womb; to Ireland today, beset by dire predictions of the end of Catholicism -- as men and women called to nothing less than holiness, and committed, body and soul to the devoted service of the poor. "So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

To the Altar of the Lamb

All of this begins -- and all of it must return -- to the altar of the Holy Sacrifice. There, the Lamb is immolated; there the Lamb is offered; there the Lamb is given us as food and drink. It is time to hasten to the altar, for I hear the voice of the Baptist, the "Friend of the Bridegroom" (John 3:29), saying, "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:36).

The Human Face of Divine Mercy

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The painting (1488) is by Bartolomeo di Giovanni and was commissioned for the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence. The six-sided altar at the centre of the composition points to the Sixth Day Sacrifice of the Cross. There is fire burning on the altar, a sign of the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Virgin Mary's gesture indicates that she is offering the Infant Christ and participating in His sacrifice. Simeon's gesture is one of acceptance; he is an image of the Eternal Father. Saint Joseph holds the turtle doves in his cloak; Joseph was chosen by God to veil the mystery. Anna, entering the painting at the extreme left, holds the lighted candle of her faith and hope as she witnesses the arrival in the temple of the long-awaited Priest and Victim, the Consolation of Israel.

The Face of a Little Child

In today's splendid Introit we sing that we have received Mercy "in the midst of the temple" (Ps 47:10). At the heart of today's mystery shines the face of a little Child, the human face of Divine Mercy. The four other figures in today's Gospel -- Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna -- are held in His gaze. In a homily for January 1, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI spoke tenderly of the Face of the Infant Christ. "God's Face took on a human face, letting itself be seen and recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, who for this reason we venerate with the loftiest title of Mother of God. She, who had preserved in her heart the secret of the divine motherhood, was the first to see the face of God made man in the small fruit of her womb."

Today we meet the gaze of the Infant Christ, "made like His brethren in every respect" (Heb 2:17) and, looking into His eyes, we see that He is already our "merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17).

The Presentation of Christ Our Priest

Today in the midst of the temple the Father presents His Christ, our Priest, to us; and today the Father presents us to Christ our Priest. Of ourselves we have nothing to present; we can but receive Christ and allow ourselves to become an offering in His hands. "We have received your Mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple" (Ps 47:10).

The Infant Christ, presented to us as our Priest, presents us, in turn, to the Father. It is fitting that the symbol of the Infant Christ should be the living flame that crowns our candles. This Child has a Heart of fire, and so the prophet says, "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire . . . and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord" (Mal 3:2-3).

The Infant Priest and Victim

Today is the World Day for Consecrated Life. Consider the images that the liturgy sets before us: a flame that burns, consuming the wax that holds it aloft; a Child with the all-embracing gaze of the "Ancient of Days" (Dn 7:13); an Infant who is already Priest and Victim.

Identification with Christ the Victim

One consecrated in the monastic life is a taper offered to the consuming flame of love. One so consecrated has eyes only for the gaze of Christ, revealing a Heart that is all fire. One consecrated is presented and handed over to Christ the Priest. One consecrated is inescapably destined for the altar of sacrifice, for identification with Christ the Victim. Monastic life cannot be anything less than this, nor can it be anything more. This is why the Apostle says, "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1).

The Woman Wrapped in Silence

Each of the four figures surrounding the Infant Christ in the temple is an icon of consecrated life, beginning with his all-holy Virgin Mother. How does today's Gospel present her? She is a woman wrapped in silence. Even when addressed by Simeon, she remains silent. Her silence is an intensity of listening. She is silent so as to take in Simeon's song of praise, silent so as to capture his mysterious prophecy of soul-piercing sorrow and hold it in her Immaculate Heart. She is silent because today her eyes say everything, eyes fixed on the face of the Infant Christ, eyes illumined by the brightness of his gaze.

Wordlessly, Mary offers herself to the living flame of love. She is the bride of the Canticle of whom it is said, "Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil" (Ct 4:1). Consecrated life in all its forms, and monastic life in particular, begins in the silence of Mary that, already in the temple, consents to the sacrifice of her Lamb and to the place that will be hers beside the altar of the Cross.

Joseph and the Divine Desires

Turning to Saint Joseph, what do we see? Joseph shares Mary's silence. Silence is the expression of their communion in a tender and chaste love, a love that is ready for sacrifice. Joseph listens with Mary. Saint Joseph is the first to enter deeply into the silence of the Virgin. It is his way of loving her. It is his way of trusting her beyond words.

Saint Joseph: Tenderly Focused on the Face of Christ

The silence of Saint Joseph becomes for all consecrated persons a way of loving, a way of trusting, a way of pushing back the frontiers of hope. I recall what Pope Benedict XVI said concerning the silence of Saint Joseph. "The silence of Saint Joseph," said the Holy Father, "is an attitude of total availability to the divine desires. . . . He stands beside the Church today, silent, listening, tenderly focused on the face of Christ in all his members." Consecrated life is just that: availability to the desires of God, a listening silence, and a way of focusing tenderly on the face of Christ in all his members.

The Old Priest Sings

Saint Simeon represents the ancient priesthood disappearing into the light of Christ, our "merciful and faithful high priest before God" (Heb 2:17). Simeon is the old priest pointing to the new. He speaks; he sings his praise; he utters prophecy. Saint Simeon models the vocation of every priest charged in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the calling down of the Holy Ghost over altar, bread, wine, and people. Simeon has a particular relationship with the Holy Ghost. Three times in as many verses Saint Luke emphasizes the mystical synergy of Simeon and the Holy Ghost: "The Holy Ghost was upon him. . . " (Lk 2:25); "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Ghost. . . . ; (Lk 2:26); "He came in the Spirit into the temple"; (Lk 2:27). In the Holy Spirit, Simeon contemplates the face of the Infant Christ; in the Holy Spirit he raises his voice in prophecy and in thanksgiving. In all of this Simeon shows us the characteristic traits of the new priesthood called to serve in the Holy Spirit.

Anna of the Face of God

Finally, there is Anna the prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel whose name means "Face of God." The widow Anna has made the temple her home. Abiding day and night in adoration, she emerges from the recesses of the temple only to give thanks to God and speak of the Child. Drawn into the light of the face of Christ she cannot but praise and immediately publish the good news "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Lk 2:38).

Anna of the Face of God models the vocation of every consecrated woman called to be at once fully contemplative and fully apostolic. The old woman's encounter with the Infant Christ energizes and rejuvenates her. In some way, Anna is the first apostle sent out by the Holy Spirit. Before Mary Magdalene and before the twelve, Anna announces Christ. She is compelled to speak but does so out of an "adoring silence." She appears in the temple to publish the long-awaited arrival of Mercy, and in her eyes shines the light of his Face. Mercy in the flesh was passed like a living flame from the arms of Mary and Joseph into the arms of Simeon and, then, undoubtedly into the embrace of holy Anna. "We have received your Mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple" (Ps 47:10).

The Consuming Fire of the Most Holy Eucharist

We, who welcome Mercy in the midst of the temple, are compelled to present ourselves to Mercy at the altar, to give ourselves back to Mercy, to give ourselves up to Mercy, to surrender to Mercy's sweet, purifying flame. "Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:28-29).

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Votive Mass of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Yesterday (Friday) morning we had the Votive Mass of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Humiliavit). It is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful Votive Masses in the Roman Missal. The Collect is addressed directly to Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Collect
O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst descend from heaven to earth from the bosom of the Father, and hast poured out thy Precious Blood for the remission of our sins: we humbly beseech thee; that at the last day we may be found acceptable in thy sight, and receive thy gracious invitation: Come ye blessed of my Father.

God Descends

The little phrase who didst descend from heaven to earth recalls the words that God, speaking out of the burning bush, addressed to Moses.

And knowing their sorrow, I am come down to deliver them. (Exodus 3:8)

God comes down. The fulfillment of this descent is, of course, the Incarnation of the Son of God. He descends from heaven into the Virgin's womb. He descends into the manger at Bethlehem. He descends into Egypt as a refugee child whose very life is threatened. He descends to Nazareth. He descends into the ordinary life of every child of Adam, and so knows hunger, thirst, weariness, sorrow, tears, loneliness, and fear. He descends into the humiliations of His bitter Passion. He descends into death. He descends into the tomb. He descends into Hades.

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In the Most Holy Sacrament

Even ascended into glory where He is enthroned at the right hand of the Father, He descends day after day to the altars of His Church, where, lest we forget the mystery of His coming down, He hides Himself beneath the appearance of a fragile piece of bread. The Most Holy Eucharist is the mystery of the humility of God, the humility of God who comes down to the point of pouring Himself out utterly. This is what Mother Mectilde de Bar calls the anéantissement of the Son of God in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar: the mystery of the All-Powerful God descending so low as to assume the appearance of bread. For love of us, sinners, and because that love compels Him to remain with us, and to nourish us with His own Body and Blood, He hides Himself and remains silent in the Most Holy Sacrament.

Lesson: Zacharias 12:10-11; 13:6-7
Thus said the Lord: I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem. And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered, saith the Lord Almighty.

The Holy Spirit

The Spirit of grace and supplications is none other than Holy Spirit, apart from whom, according to the teaching of Saint Paul, no one can say, Jesus is Lord. (1 Corinthians 12:3) The Spirit of grace and supplications, says the Apostle,

. . . helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God. (Romans 8: 26-27)

Adoration and Reparation

It is, then, the Holy Spirit -- transmitted to the Church on Calvary in the breath of Jesus Crucified, and flowing out His pierced side -- who compels some souls in every generation to abide before the Son of God, humble, hidden, and silent in the Host, in profound adoration and reparation.

"They shall look upon me whom they have pierced," says the Lord. The Holy Spirit directs the gaze of the soul to the One who, in glory and in the Sacrament of His Love, remains the Pierced One. One cannot gaze upon the Pierced One, the immolated Lamb, the Victim of the Altar, without experiencing the sweet bitterness of compunction and reparation.

A Great and Sorrowful Mystery

Seeing the fairest of the children of men, the Only-Begotten Son, wounded in His Heart, His feet, and His hands, one is compelled to ask, "What are these wounds in thine hands?" The wounds in the hands of Christ -- His hands raised in prayer, His hands extended in blessing, His hands baptizing those darkened by sin, His hands nourishing souls with the Bread of Angels, His hands anointing the sick -- these wounded hands signify His priesthood. "Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends." (Zacharias 13:6). This is a great and sorrowful mystery: Christ's hands wounded in the house of His friends.

I Have Called You Friends

What did Our Lord say to His apostles, to His first priests, on the night before He suffered? "I will not now call you servants: for the servant knoweth not what his lord doth. But I have called you friends." (John 15:15) Before doing anything at all -- even before preaching the Word of God and dispensing His grace in the Holy Mysteries -- priests are called to be the friends of Jesus -- not mere acquaintances, nor business associates -- but friends. The house of the friends of Jesus is the Church. It is in the Church that Jesus is wounded in His hands: wounded in His priests, and wounded by His priests. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger spoke prophetically of this in 2005 in his meditation on the ninth Station of the Way of the Cross:

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!

Adoration and Reparation

Yes, Christ suffers in His own Church; He is wounded in His hands, and this in the house of His friends. To souls who grieve over the suffering of Christ in His own Church, the Holy Spirit proposes the only fitting response: adoration and reparation. Adoration allows us to kiss the wounded hands of Christ; reparation allows us to press them against our own wounds and against the wounds of all His priests. "He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by His bruises we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)

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And Jesus returned in the power of the spirit, into Galilee, and the fame of him went out through the whole country. And he taught in their synagogues, and was magnified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he was brought up: and he went into the synagogue, according to his custom, on the sabbath day; and he rose up to read. And the book of Isaias the prophet was delivered unto him. And as he unfolded the book, he found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Wherefore he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the contrite of heart, To preach deliverance to the captives, and sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of reward. And when he had folded the book, he restored it to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them: This day is fulfilled this scripture in your ears. And all gave testimony to him: and they wondered at the words of grace that proceeded from his mouth, and they said: Is not this the son of Joseph? (Luke 4:14-22)

Adoration: It is Enough to Say "Amen"

The mysteries announced in the Gospel are fulfilled in the Most Holy Eucharist. Everything that we see Our Lord do, and hear Him say -- and all that He is in relationship to the Eternal Father, and in relationship to us -- is given us in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar. This is why Mother Mectilde, in a beautiful passage of her writings on Holy Communion, says that after receiving Holy Communion, it is enough for us to remain quiet, saying only "Amen" to all that we have received; to all that Christ is, in us, and for us, and to His Father.

This "Amen" that is the perfect thanksgiving after Holy Communion is, also, the perfect expression of our adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament. Today, as you gaze in adoration upon the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, what will you see?

-- You will see that the Spirit of the Lord rests upon Him. Wheresoever the Body of Christ is truly present, there also the Holy Ghost is present and, not only present, but communicated to us abundantly, like the oil poured out over the Head, that runs down over the entire Mystical Body of Christ, even to the very least of His. Members. To this, say "Amen."

-- You will see that from the Sacrament of His Love, He is preaching, at every moment, the Gospel to the poor. You have only to open the ear of your heart, recognizing that you are poor, and you will hear Him. To this, say "Amen."

-- You will see that from the Sacrament of His Love, even now, He is healing the broken-hearted. Bring to Him your broken heart, place it before Him, even when you feel that it is in a thousand pieces, and quite beyond being made whole again. He will do for you what the Holy Gospel announces: He will repair your broken heart. To this, say "Amen."

-- You will see that from the Sacrament of His Love, even now, He is preaching deliverance to captives. Acknowledge the things that hold you captive. Go to Him, and say, "In this thing, Lord Jesus, and in this other thing, I am not free. Do Thou for me what, of myself, I cannot do." Set me free so that, freely and joyfully, I may love Thee and live the abundant life that is Thy will for me." To this, say "Amen."

-- You will see that from the Sacrament of His Love, He gives sight to the blind. We saw, on the feast of the Epiphany, that the adorable mystery of the Eucharist is a wellspring of Light. There is no blindness that cannot be cured in contemplating the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. To this, say "Amen."

-- You will see that from the Sacrament of His Love, even now, He sets free those who are bruised from having been too long in bonds. He will not ask you why you have been so long in bondage, nor will He condemn you for having fallen into such an unfortunate state. His desire is only to set you free, and to spread the balm of His mercy over the bruises left on your soul by the heavy chains of sin. To this, say "Amen."

-- You will see that from the Sacrament of His Love, He preaches, at every moment, the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of reward. As soon as a soul enters the presence of the Most Holy Sacrament, that soul finds herself transported into the acceptable year of the Lord, and into the day of reward. By this, I mean, that adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament opens to us a vast space of grace in we discover, with Mary, that nothing is impossible to God; and with Saint Paul, that for those who love God, all things work together unto good. To this, say "Amen."

Thy Name and Thy Countenance

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Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus: Collect

O God, Who didst constitute Thine only-begotten Son the Savior of Mankind, and didst bid Him to be called Jesus: mercifully grant, that we who venerate His holy Name on earth, may fully enjoy also the vision of His countenance in heaven. Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, forever and ever.

Seek His Face; Call upon His Name

There are two things that make it easy for souls to adore Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love: they can seek His Human Face, though it be veiled by the appearance of the Sacred Host; and they can call upon Him by His Human Name.

These are the two things that people crave in a relationship: knowledge of a face and of a name. From these, one experiences the heart of the other, and so a relationship becomes a communion, an exchange in which one finds fulfillment, that is, joy and a response to one's love in the other.

Shew me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy voice is sweet, and thy face comely. (Canticle 2:14)

Something Not Difficult, Even for the Simplest Souls

By giving the world His Name and His Face (in the Sacred Scriptures and in Sacred Images) Our Lord has given us the way to His Sacred Heart, really and substantially present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Thus has He made friendship with Him something that is not difficult, even for the simplest souls.

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It is enough to seek His Face where It is to be found -- in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar -- and to call upon Him by Name -- invoking the Name of Jesus. In doing these things, a soul makes reparation for those who blaspheme His Divine Person in HIs images and in His Holy Name. This is what the Venerable Servant of God Léon Dupont, the Holy Man of Tours (1797-1876), understood so well. In the Face of Jesus and in the Name of Jesus we have what is most precious to us for our journey through this valley of tears.

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. (Acts 2:21)

A God Who Has Come Very Close

Come, then, to Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love, and call Him by Name. Come to Him in the Sacrament of His Love, and there you will experience the healing radiance of His Holy Face, His Human Face, formed by the Holy Spirit in the virginal womb of His Immaculate Mother. A God who has revealed to His creatures both His Name and His Face is a God who has come very close.

For what other nation is there upon earth like thy people Israel, whom God went to deliver, and make a people for himself. (1 Chronicles 17:21)

Through Word and Sacrament in His Holy Catholic Church

Come close to Him, then, who has made Himself so close to us. Let nothing keep you from knowing Him. To know Jesus Christ and to believe in Him is salvation, and it is eternal life. Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3) This knowledge of Him -- of His Name and of His Face -- comes through Word and Sacrament in His Holy Catholic Church. Only there can souls come to experience Him as the Risen One with whom they can enter into a relationship so real that it is consummated in a Holy Communion, in partaking of His Body and Blood, and in becoming one with Him, even as He is one with His Father.

For Our Ears, Our Lips, and Our Eyes

For our ears and for our lips, Jesus gives us His Name. And for our eyes -- for the eyes of the soul -- He gives us HIs Sacred Face. His Divine Person, thus named, and thus beheld in the Sacred Host, becomes closer to us than ever a god was thought to be close to those who worship him. Christ Jesus is God, and there is no other. He alone is God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the soul who calls upon His Name and seeks His Face, has already entered into the mystery of the Divine Life that circulates ineffably and eternally among the Three.

This is, in essence, what Our Lord revealed to His Apostles on the night before He suffered. Leaving them to go to His Father, He was not leaving them orphans, for the Holy Ghost would open their lips to pronounce His Name and to preach it; and would open their eyes to recognize His Human Face hidden under the humble species of bread, and this until the consummation of the world.

And it came to pass, whilst he was at table with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him: and he vanished out of their sight. (Luke 24:30-31)

Fire and Light in this World

The Sacred Name and Sacred Face of Jesus are fire and light in this world that is becoming colder and darker by the day. In the end, the darkness will be forever vanquished by the fire of His Name and by the light of His Face, and then there shall be peace in His Kingdom fully revealed, and in the company of His saints who will sing praise to His Name and adore His Face, shining more brightly than a thousand suns, and this unto the ages of ages.

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Back to Creation’s Dawn

The mystery we celebrate on the feast of the Immaculate Conception takes us back to creation's dawn, to a moment of pure beauty in which all things, untouched by sin, sang the glory of God, praising in a perfect harmony. The nostalgia of it still haunts the human heart. Every human experience knows moments--as fleeting as they are precious--in which we seem to perceive something of heaven shining through the things of earth, glimpses and bits of another time and of another place.

The Nostalgia of Paradise

The nostalgia of paradise is painful and sweet: a longing for something remembered, strains of a symphony heard long ago and not quite forgotten. There are moments of silence in which it seems to come back to us: in a child's laugh, in a fragrance, in the palate's recognition of an unmistakable taste. "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good" (Gen 1:31).

A Royal Couple Clothed in Glory

Presiding over this cosmic liturgy, and fully themselves at its heart, were man and woman fully alive, a royal couple clothed in grace and glory, vested for their priesthood in light as in a robe. "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27). God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man (Gen 2:21) and, from his side, drew a helper fit for him,"bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh" (Gen 2:23), and she was called woman. "The man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed" (Gen 2:25) for they were clothed in garments of light woven by the hand of God.

Original Sin

Then, tempted and deceived by the serpent, the most subtle of all God's creatures (Gen 3:1), they rebelled against the Author of Life, using the gift against the Giver. They grasped what they were created to offer. They pulled down what they were to lift up and, immediately, they were cast into confusion. The order of the world was shaken. All created things were wrenched out of harmony. Heavy darkness fell upon them. The symphony of praise and glory was silenced with the silence of death, cold and empty.

Closed to the joy-giving beauty of God, their eyes opened in horror to sin's harsh and stony grimace. "And they knew that they were naked" (Gen 3:7), stripped of grace and of glory, exposed to the elements, vulnerable to evil, to sickness, suffering and death. "They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons" (Gen 3:7): a futile attempt to cover with human artifice the devastating shame of sin.

Hiding for Shame

"They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden" (Gen 3:8) and shuddered. In their shame and nakedness, they "hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Gen 3:8). Of trees, once transparent to the shimmering glory of God, Adam and Eve made a screen behind which they sought to conceal their shame, and avoid the grieving Creator's gaze of pity and of love. This is, of course, the most fundamental misuse of creatures. The very things created by God to lead us to Himself become, as a result of sin, the means by which we attempt to flee from God. This is the refusal of the sacramental, the denial of the iconic, the choice of the opaque over the transparent.

Adam, Where Are You?

In the stunned silence of death that followed the original sin, the Voice of Life was heard. "The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'" (Gen 3:9). God asked the question not because the man was, in any way, hidden from His sight, but rather, to disclose to man his alienation from himself. "Do you know where you are? You who were created in my image and likeness, you are lost in the land of unlikeness. You who were my prince, set over all of my creation; you who were my priest, presiding over the liturgy of my glory; where I am, you are not. Behold, the splendour of my creation has become oppressive and obscure. The things by which you knew me have become strange and unfamiliar. The things by which you praised me have fallen silent. Where I wanted songs of praise, there are but tears and laments. Where I planted a garden, there are thorns and thistles. Where happiness abounded, there is toil and sweat."

The Promise

Is there no hope in this devastated landscape? Is there no promise of redemption? An infinitely pitiful God, grieving over the work of his hands, promises to undo in his love what Eve and Adam had wrought in their sin. He promises salvation. He promises victory over the serpent and that victory, He links to the woman. "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed" (Gen 3:15). A woman's innocence shall undo the serpent's cunning; the seed of the woman shall become the fruit of everlasting life.

The New Eve, Full of Grace

The searching question of a grieving God in a paradise lost, "Where are you?" echoed and re-echoed down through the ages, until at last, in the heart of a child, a new Eve, full of grace, it found a response. "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to Thy word" (Lk 1:38). The new Eve, exposed to the searching gaze of the Creator, was found spotless and lovely in his sight, and this, in advance, by virtue of the "yes" of the new Adam, a "yes" uttered from the tree of the Cross in night's darkest hour.

The New Adam

The response of the new Eve was made possible by that of the new Adam. Naked, like the first Adam, no longer hiding among the trees of the garden, but lifted high upon the tree of the Cross, the new Adam utters, in the Holy Spirit, the response so long awaited by the Father: "Father, into thy hands, I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46).

The Immaculate Conception

In the unfathomable richness of the response uttered by the new Adam from the Tree of Life, is found every response to love, every surrender to grace, every "yes" to life, every new beginning in beauty and in innocence, and in hope. Thus was Mary, from the first moment of her conception in the womb of Saint Anne, her mother, clothed in the splendour of a vesture surpassing that of the first Eve in the beginning.

The Work of Mary in Every Age

The hidden but real work of Mary in every age, in every situation, in every human heart, is to weave, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, garments of grace and of glory for all her children. Mary's joy is to lead the procession of the great return to paradise, singing as she goes, "Well may I rejoice in the Lord, well may this heart triumph in my God. The deliverance he sends is like a garment that wraps me about, his mercy like a cloak enfolding me. I am like a bride resplendent with jewels" (Is 61:10, Introit). We, children of the first Eve, baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, come to the Most Holy Eucharist clothed, like our mother, the new Eve, the All-Holy, in wedding garments bestowed from above.

The Eucharistic Order Restored

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the efficacious presence, here and now, of the "Yes" uttered once and for all from the tree of the Cross. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we recover what was lost by sin. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, all created things are restored to order. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the beauty of holiness begins to permeate and suffuse the old order of the things with the undying splendour of the new. The liturgy interrupted by the serpent's hiss is here re-intoned by the voice of a child immaculate, the Virgin Mary full of grace, and by the voices of all who are still enough to hear her intonation.

All Things Made New

Might this be the uniqueness of today's Holy Mass: thanksgiving for the bright garments of Baptism, thanksgiving for the triumph of beauty over the blight of sin, thanksgiving for the "Yes" of the New Adam from the tree of the Cross and for the "Yes" of the New Eve? This is every Holy Mass: our "Yes," uttered in the Holy Spirit, and joined to theirs. As we wait for every tear to be wiped away, as we wait for the end of death and the passing away of former things (Rev 21:4), we are faithful to the "breaking of the Bread" (Ac 2:42) for without it we cannot go on, and by it we ascend, already, to him who says, "Behold, I make all things new" (Apoc 21:5).

Ad te levavi animam meam

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All my heart goes out to thee;
my God, I trust in thee, do not belie my trust.
Let not my enemies boast of my downfall.
Who ever waited for thy help,
and waited in vain?
V. Lord, let me know thy ways,
teach me thy paths (Ps 24:1-3).

A Going Forth

Ad te levavi animam meam; Deus meus, in te confido (Ps 24:1). On this First Sunday of Advent, the Church intones Psalm 24. She clothes it in a melody that carries the text, and us with it, upward and outward into the mystery of the God who comes. This is more than the Introit of today's Mass; it is the chant by which the Church crosses the threshold into Advent; it is the chant by which the Church begins a new Year of Grace. Ronald Knox translates it for us: "All my heart goes out to thee, my God, I trust in thee, do not belie my trust" (Ps 24:1-3). How are we to hear this Advent psalm? How are we to sing it? How are we to repeat it and hold it in our hearts until, at length, it becomes our own prayer, a movement of the soul upward and outward, a going forth with nothing to hold us back?

Called by God

The very meaning of the word ekklésia is called together, or assembled. The Church is conscious of being called together by God. She does not assemble herself; she is assembled by the Word of God and the power of the Holy Ghost. The Church seeks a response worthy of the call she has heard. He who calls gives in the call the only response worthy of him. With the call God gives the response. Always.

Vox Christi

And so the Church, opening the Psalter and bending her ear to Psalm 24, recognizes in it the voice of Christ, her Bridegroom and Head. Just as the call is given through Christ, so too is the response. It is Christ, the Cantor of the Father, as Saint Gertrude called Him, who intones our psalm today. In his mouth the first two words have a fullness that is unparalleled and divine: Ad te. Two words that express the whole mystery of Christ from the moment of his Incarnation in the Virgin's womb until his Ascension to the Father's right hand. "Toward Thee, Father!"

Everything in Christ is toward the Father. And so, before singing her own song, the Church listens to what Christ sings. Before finding her own Advent voice, she holds herself silent and still to hear the voice of Christ.

What the Gospel of Saint John gives us, from the Prologue to the last page, is given us here in a single line: the response of the Son to the Father. It is as if the whole Johannine conversation of Christ with the Father is condensed for us in this cry of the psalmist. Is this not the essential movement of the Son facing the Father from all eternity? It is more than an act of surrender. I hear in it a kind of leap into the arms of the Father: "All my heart goes out to thee."

Vox Mariae Virginis

There is a second way of hearing today's Introit. The stational church in Rome for the First Sunday of Advent is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, the oldest temple in Christendom dedicated to the Mother of God. By singing this particular psalm in this particular place the Church is suggesting that we are to hear the voice of the Virgin Mary in it. Everything in Our Blessed Lady is in readiness for the advent of God. The Mother of God, Our Lady of Advent, prays and teaches us to pray, "All my heart goes out to thee, O God" (Ps 24:1). The second part of the verse is equally important. "Of those who wait for thee, not one is disappointed" (Ps 24:3). The Virgin Mary teaches us to pray Psalm 24 as she prayed it; by teaching us to pray with her, she becomes the Mother of our Hope.

Vox Ecclesiae

Having listened in Psalm 24 to the voice of Christ addressing the Father and to the voice of the Blessed Virgin Mary raised in song to the God of Israel, the Church finds her own response to the one who calls her. "All my heart goes out to thee. . . . I trust in thee" (Ps 24:1-2a).

The text is, first of all, addressed to the Father with the Son, but it becomes in the heart and in the mouth of the Church a cry addressed to the Son, and a longing for his second coming. "To thee, Lord Christ, I lift up my soul" is the response of the Church to the One who, on the last page of the Apocalypse, says, ";Surely, I am coming soon." "To thee, I lift up my soul" (Ps 24:1), answers the Church. "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Apoc 22:20).

Vox Animae

The sacred liturgy invites us to a third way of hearing and praying Psalm 24. It has to become my prayer and yours. The psalm heard first in the mouth of the Eternal Son, the psalm that comes to flower on the lips of the Immaculate Virgin of Nazareth to be taken up by the Church, finds its echo in the heart of each of us.

Practically speaking, if we sing the Introit given us today but once, it will be for us like "the seed sown on rocky ground" (Mt 13:20). It will have no root in us and will bear no fruit. The sacred liturgy gives us the words of Psalm 24 to be repeated, not only ritually during this first week of Advent, but interiorly, secretly, perseveringly. Make Psalm 24 your own prayer during this first week of Advent. "All my heart goes out to thee, O God" (Ps 24:1). Let it come to rest deep within. Hold it there. Repeat it. Sing it to yourself. Let it become for you a kind of sacrament carrying you upward and outward into the mystery of the God who comes. You will not be disappointed.

Sursum Corda

One more thing. This Introit of the first Mass of the new liturgical year casts all things in a Eucharistic light. From the beginning of the third century, the Great Thanksgiving has opened with the cry of the priest: Hearts on high! The Latin is compelling and succint: Sursum corda! Hearts on high!

Already, the Introit launched the upward movement. “To thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. . . . All my heart goes out to thee, O God” (Ps 24:1). To live with one's heart on high is to live always in readiness for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And to live always in readiness for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the only way to be found ready for the hour of our death, and for the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let this, then, be your prayer in the evening and at midnight, at cockcrow and in the morning: "All my heart goes out to thee, O God" (Ps 24:1-2a). You will not be disappointed.

O Bona Crux!

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November 30
Saint Andrew, Apostle

A Cross On the Threshold of Advent

The feast of Saint Andrew marks the threshold of Advent with the sign of the Cross. We are accustomed to thinking of the Cross in the context of Lent and Paschaltide. The advent of the Lord is, nonetheless, entirely illumined by the mystery of the Cross. An ancient responsory says, "This sign of the Cross shall be in heaven when the Lord comes to judge. Then shall the secrets of our hearts be made manifest" (Office of May 3rd, Invention of the Holy Cross). By showing us the Cross today, the liturgy points through Advent to Christ's passion, resurrection, and second coming. The whole economy of salvation bears the luminous imprint of the Cross.

Friend of God

The liturgy calls Saint Andrew "the good teacher and the friend of God" (Responsory). Saint Andrew is a good teacher because he preached the wisdom of God in the word of the Cross (cf. 1 Cor 1:18, 24). Saint Andrew is the friend of God because the wood of his cross bound him to Christ our God in an everlasting friendship, even as Christ Himself was bound to the Father and made over to Him once and for all by the sacrifice of the Cross.

O Wonderful Cross!

The Apostle Andrew does not mislead us with the "artificial sweeteners" of so many religious teachers, nor does he fill our minds with a preaching "emptied of its power" (1 Cor 1:17). In the end, Saint Andrew preached the cross by embracing it, and by stretching His body over its four arms. The liturgy sings that "When Andrew saw the cross, he cried, saying, 'How wonderful art thou, O cross! O cross, how loveable art thou! O cross, thy bright beams enlighten the darkness of the whole world! Welcome a follower of Jesus, that, as by thee He died to redeem me, so by thee also He may take me unto Himself" (Responsory).

Through the Cross

Saint Andrew's cross was not that of his Master in its form. Tradition is that Saint Andrew was put to death on an X-shaped cross. Though outwardly different from the cross of Jesus, Saint Andrew's cross became for him a sacrament of communion with Our Lord, a means of passing to the Father in the power of the Holy Ghost. On the First Sunday of Advent a single movement will run through the whole liturgy: out of self, and upward into the fullness of God. "Ad te levavi animam meam. . . . All my heart goes out to You, my God" (Ps 24:1). Today we see in Saint Andrew just how this movement is accomplished: through the Cross.

A Means of Passing Over to God

Outwardly our crosses do not have the form of the Cross of Jesus. Faith, however, sees in them a means of passing from ourselves to God. The cross of illness can be a means of passing over to God, provided that it is recognized and accepted as such. The crosses of weakness, of failure, of loneliness, depression, and loss can be for us sacraments of an encounter with God. The Cross allows us to experience God as the redeemer of all our failures, the companion of the lonely, the comforter of the depressed, the treasure of those who suffer loss. Apart from the Cross there is no way of knowing the healing mercy of God, no way tasting the sweetness of His love in bitterness, nor of passing out of darkness into His wonderful light.

O Precious Cross!

In today's Divine Office Saint Andrew sings to the Cross, something that, apart from a special grace of God, we are incapable of doing.

O bona crux! O precious cross, of a long time have I desired thee and now that thou art made ready for me, my soul is drawn to thee, and I come to thee in peace and gladness."

"I come to thee in peace and gladness." More often than not we come to our crosses in fear and heaviness of heart. Far from singing to them we approach them murmuring, or in the sullen silence of our unspoken resistances and inability to trust. Saint Andrew was able to sing a greeting to his cross; he was able to come to it in peace and gladness, because he recognized that by means of it he would pass over to God.

The Embrace of God

When, after the Liturgy of the Word, the priest ascends the altar for the Holy Sacrifice, he represents the entire assembly of the faithful and, in a certain sense, carries them in himself to the Cross. When the bread upon the paten and the wine mixed with water in the chalice are set forth upon the altar, we ourselves are set before God, ready to become His sacrifice, ready to pass by means of the Cross into the everlasting embrace of His mercy. What is done in mystery at the altar is carried out effectively in all of life. It is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that makes it possible to say to the Cross in whatever form it is prepared for us, "I come to thee in peace and gladness. In embracing thee I will know the embrace of God."

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The painting by Albrecht Dürer depicts the afflicted Job and his wife.

Affliction

The verb to afflict derives from the Latin affligere, meaning to cast down, to damage, harass, torment, crush, shatter, or oppress. Affliction is an unavoidable part of human existence in this valley of tears where we go mourning and weeping. Meditating on the texts and chants of today's Holy Mass, I discovered that running through them all is the motif of affliction, something to which every man can relate.

World, Flesh, Devil

Affliction generally proceeds from one of three causes, or from a combination of them. These causes are the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world is the universe and all it contains, including other people. The flesh is one's self, marked by original sin and by a history of actual sins. The devil is the Evil One against whom we pray in the Pater Noster: the prince of this world, and his allies.

Sometimes, as in the case of great saints such as Saint Anthony of Egypt, Saint John Mary Vianney, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina,. Mother Yvonne-Aimée, or Marthe Robin, the devil causes affliction directly. This diabolical affliction may be spiritual, psychological, or spiritual. It may be even taken the form of perceptible physical aggressions.

Conflict

More often than not, however, the devil makes use of secondary causes. Being astute, he knows how to make use of the shattered bits in ourselves and in others to orchestrate afflictions of all sorts. Rarely does one experience affliction without some kind of underlying conflict, and the devil is the master producer of conflict. The devil often profits from what he finds in the world and in our fallen nature to bring affliction down upon our heads. His aim is not merely to cause affliction; it is to push souls, by afflicting them in various ways, into doubt, despondency, and despair.

Discernment

Of one thing we can be certain. God does not afflict us. Our God is a God, not of affliction, but of comfort and consolation. Thus writes Saint Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort. Who comforteth us in all our tribulation; that we also may be able to comfort them who are in all distress, by the exhortation wherewith we also are exhorted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us: so also by Christ doth our comfort abound.

God comforts, He does not afflict. When God permits us to be afflicted it is to draw a greater good out of the affliction by allowing the one afflicted to participate, in some way, in the redeeming Passion of Jesus Christ. God, in Himself, is perfect peace and peace is the signature of all His operations and works. Following Saint Ignatius' rules for the discernment of spirits, one can unmask the afflictions of the Evil One, and place one's confidence in God who waits to give us peace.

When we suffer affliction, God stands ready to turn it into blessings for ourselves and for others. If necessary, He will even send us a consoling Angel from heaven, as He did for His Only-Begotten Son in the Garden of Gethsemani (Luke 22:43). The Holy Angels are ministers of divine consolation, close to the broken-hearted, the weary, and the downcast.

Introit

In today's Introit, God tells us that His thoughts concerning us are for our peace. The Lord is not the cruel conniver who seeks to afflict us, and so cause us to despair. He is the Giver of Peace, and the One who leads us out of the captivity of sin into the home He has prepared for us.

The Lord saith: I think thoughts of peace, and not of affliction: you shall call upon Me, and I will hear you; and I will bring back your captivity from all places. V. Lord, Thou hast blessed Thy land: Thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob. (Psalm 84. 2) V. Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen. -- The Lord saith: I think thoughts of peace , and not of affliction: you shall call upon Me, and I will hear you; and I will bring back your captivity from all places. (Jeremias 29: 11,12,14)

Epistle

In the Epistle, Saint Paul commends the Christians of Thessalonica for having held fast to the Word, even in the midst of afflictions.

And you became followers of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: so that you were made a pattern to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7)
Gradual
Thou hast delivered us, O Lord, from them that afflict us: and hast put them to shame that hate us. V.: In God we will glory all the day: and in Thy Name we will give praise for ever. (Psalm 43. 8-9)

In this magnificent chant in the 7th mode, God is revealed as the One who delivers us from those who afflict us. The experience of His saving grace causes us to glory in Him and to praise Him. Affliction lasts but for a time; the mercy of the Lord endures forever.

Alleluia

The Alleluia Verse and the Offertory Antiphon make use of the same text. It is the prayer of one afflicted, a prayer that rises out of the depths of darkness and temptation.

Alleluia, alleluia. V. From the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my prayer. (Psalm 129: 1-2) Alleluia.

Holy Gospel

In the Gospel, Our Lord presents two parables: that of the grain of mustard, and that of the leaven mixed into three measures of meal. Both parables speak directly to the present state of our monastery. We are very small and of little importance. Like the grain of mustard, and the grain of wheat in John 12:24, we are called to disappear into the earth and to die. Like the leaven hid in three measures of meal, we are called to be hidden. Our effect in the Church -- and in the priesthood -- will be proportionate to our hiddenness.

Eucharistic Hiddenness

In the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus Christ is hidden: hidden, not only in the tabernacle, but hidden also beneath the humble appearances of the species of bread. The Sacred Host is the icon of the hiddenness to which we, as Benedictine adorers, are called. This hiddenness is an essential quality and condition of our vocation. Personally, I wonder if we -- if I -- am hidden enough. It is a questioned that must be asked in the light of Our Lord's Eucharistic Face; only there can it be answered.

Hidden Afflictions

The hidden life is not free from afflictions. Hidden afflictions, in fact, may be the most painful to bear. How many secret afflictions will be revealed in glory where they will shine with reflected brightness of the sacred wounds of Jesus?

Offertory Antiphon

From the depths I have cried out to Thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my prayer: from the depths I have cried out to Thee, O Lord. (Psalm 129:1-2)

Finally, there is today's Offertory Antiphon taken, as was the Alleluia Verse, from Psalm 129, the De Profundis. Composed in the second mode, this Offertory Antiphon is one of the most poignant of the whole Gregorian repertoire. It is the prayer of a soul brought low by affliction. Out of the depths rises the cry of a prayer that is real. It pierces the heavens and reaches the very heart of God. God is not indifferent to such prayers. He is, rather, touched by them, and moved to pity. Thus did he say to Moses:

I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of the rigour of them that are over the works: And knowing their sorrow, I am come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, into a land that floweth with milk and honey. (Exodus 3:7-8)

God in the Midst of the Afflicted

The divine response to human affliction is to come down, to become close to the one afflicted. And this the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. It prolongs the great descent of the Incarnation in space and in history until the end of time. The Most Holy Sacrament is the mystery of a God come down to abide among the afflicted. Wheresoever the Most Holy Eucharist is present, afflictions become bearable, and the heaviest burdens are made lighter.

Haec est domus Domini

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The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Cross the threshold of the Lateran Basilica, enter the nave, stand in the midst of it and, with eyes wide open to things visible, contemplate the invisible: the mystery of the Church, Bride of Christ and Mother of His faithful. To do this, one need not take oneself off to Rome. It is enough, and more than enough, to enter into the wealth of antiphons, responsories, readings, hymns, and prayers that make up the splendour of today's liturgy.

God is in His Holy Place

The liturgy summons us to make a pilgrimage of the heart. It is full of mysterious archetypes: thresholds and doors, stones and ladders, pillars and gates, fires and storms, trumpet blasts and mountains, water and blood. All of these resonate to the great central affirmation of the liturgy of the Dedication of a Church: "God is in his holy place" (Ps 67:6).

When we cross the threshold of a dedicated church, we pass into a mystic enclosure containing the uncontainable. We pass over into the space and time of God: a space filled by Him whom the heavens themselves cannot encompass, a time transcending the mean measurements of clocks and calendars.

House of God and Gate of Heaven

Our God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of David and of Solomon, the God of Jesus Christ is not the distant God of a remote "there and then"; He is the God of "here and now." This is the wondrous realization that, dawning upon Jacob, caused him to cry out, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Gen 28:17).

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The Temple of His Body

Today the Church professes the abiding and objective presence of God in the new and indestructible Temple, which is the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord challenges his critics, saying: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up"; Saint John, ever the theologian, takes great care to add for our sakes, "But he spoke of the temple of his body" (Jn 2:19-21).

The Body of Christ is our Temple. To be in the Temple is to be in Christ. There we are certain of finding the Father; there we are certain of being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. There are we surrounded by "innumerable angels in festal gathering" and by "the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb 12:22-23). To dwell in the Temple is to share in the mystery of Our Lord's priesthood, a priesthood which, like the Temple of his risen and ascended Body, endures forever. Baptized into Christ, we have crossed the threshold of the Temple. Even more, we are that Temple.

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Divine Hospitality

The Temple of Christ's Body is not the stage of great spectacle. It is the home of the little and of the poor. There, beggar and priest, harlot and levite, mingle and touch, held in the embrace of the Divine Hospitality. The sound that fills the living Temple is the immense symphony of the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind (Lk 14:13), all clothed in their wedding garments -- garments royal and priestly -- woven by the Holy Spirit to adorn the Body of Christ in the presence of the Father. Here, the sacred is familiar, and the familiar, sacred. "Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at thy altars, O Lord of hosts" (Ps 84:3-4).

The Gate of Heaven Upon Earth

Listen to Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914), a son of the Archbishop of Canterbury and celebrated convert to Catholic Church. He describes the Church I love: the Church he came to love:

Her arms are as open to those who would serve God in silence and seclusion, as to those who dance before him with all their might. . . . There is nothing to fear for those who stand where we stand; there are no precipices to be climbed any more and no torrents to be crossed; God has made all easy for those He has admitted through the Gate of Heaven that he has built upon the earth; the very River of Death itself is no more than a dwindled stream, bridged and protected on every side; the shadow of death is little more than twilight for those who look on it in the light of the Lamb.

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The 23rd Sunday After Pentecost


Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 9,18-26.

As he was speaking these things unto them, behold a certain ruler came up, and adored him, saying: Lord, my daughter is even now dead; but come, lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus rising up followed him, with his disciples. And behold a woman who was troubled with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment. For she said within herself: If I shall touch only his garment, I shall be healed. But Jesus turning and seeing her, said: Be of good heart, daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. And when Jesus was come into the house of the ruler, and saw the minstrels and the multitude making a rout, He said: Give place, for the girl is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. And when the multitude was put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand. And the maid arose. And the fame hereof went abroad into all that country.

The Prayer of a Father

Jesus is in the midst of speaking. He allows this certain ruler, called Jairus, to interrupt his discourse. Jairus enters the scene suddenly, almost breathlessly. He adores Jesus, that is to say that he falls down before Him. His prayer goes straight to the point. It is simple and artless: "Lord, my daughter is even now dead; but come, lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live." It strikes me that Jairus must have blurted out his prayer after having prepared it in his heart on the way to Jesus. He has even devised a little "sacramental rite" that includes the laying on of Jesus' hand.

God Arises, His Enemies Are Scattered

Jesus, rising up, follows him. The little phrase "rising up" prepares us for a manifestation of Our Lord's divinity. It tells us that He is about to act in a wonderful way. At the same time, Our Lord acts humbly in that, together with His disciples, he follows Jairus. Faith opens the way for Our Lord to act. Faith opens the procession. God in Christ makes Himself obedient to the faith of a man.

The Touch of Faith

There follows an interruption, a delay. Rather inconveniently, a woman long in distress approaches Jesus stealthily on His way. The procession could not have been going very quickly for this sick woman to steal in behind Jesus and touch His garment. It would seem that after obtaining Jesus' consent, there is no need to rush off to the house where Jairus' daughter lies dead.

Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole

The woman, having already decided how to obtain her healing -- another kind of "sacramental rite" -- tries to be discreet, to go unobserved. Her prayer is silent. She repeats within her heart what she has determined to do, saying, "If I shall touch only his garment, I shall be healed." Jesus, touched by her faith more than by her hand, addresses her, saying, "Be of good heart, daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole." The woman's healing, after twelve years of chronic suffering, is instantaneous. Such is the power of faith.

Restored to Life

When Our Lord arrives at the house of Jairus, He sees that, already, the pomp and din of mourning as the world mourns, are in full swing. He calls for silence and calm, announcing that the girl is not dead, but sleeping. And in saying this, he exposes Himself to the mockery and scorn of those who deal in the business of death. The flute-players, wailers, and professional mourners were not there purely out of sympathy for the bereaved; they were there to make some profit out of the girl's death. "An unpleasant business," they reason, "but someone must do it." They resent the arrival of Jesus. Death is threatened in the presence of Life.

When the profiteers of death have been exorcised -- put out of the house -- Jesus enters the girl's room. Rather than touch her, as Jairus asked, Jesus takes her by the hand, thereby giving her life, and breath. She rises from her bed, restored to health. The gesture is the very one seen in the icons of the Harrowing of Hell, where Christ seizes the hands of Adam and Eve to pull them out of death into the radiance of His life.

She Rose

Note the second use of the verb "to rise" in this account. Where Christ rises to act, others rise to life with Him. The devil, on the other hand, forever the fallen angel, causes others to fall into death with him.

Glory to the Prince of Life

What Jesus has done does not remain secret. The news is noised abroad. Like Lazarus, this girl, brought back from the icy grip of death, must have become a sign of contradiction, the subject of whisperings and curiosity. As for her father, what must his gratitude have been to Jesus, the Prince of Life?

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Here (once again) is the homily I preached in French five years ago at the Monastère Saint-Benoît in Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne, France. Richard Chonak's fine translation follows. Thank you, Richard.

« Voici le peuple immense de ceux qui t'ont cherché ».

Oui, Seigneur Jésus, tous ils ont cherché ton Visage.
Tous, ils ont pris à cœur cette parole
que ton Esprit Saint a fait chanter le roi prophète :
« Mon cœur t'a déclaré : je cherche le Seigneur. . .
c'est ta Face, Seigneur, que je rechercherai.
Ne détourne pas de moi ton Visage » (Ps 26, 8-9).

Tous, ils sont devenus miroirs vivants de ta Sainte Face,
selon ce que dit ton Apôtre :
« Et nous tous qui, le visage découvert,
réfléchissons comme en un miroir la gloire du Seigneur,
nous sommes transformés en cette même image,
toujours plus glorieuse,
comme il convient à l'action du Seigneur, qui est l'Esprit » (2 Cor 3, 18).

Seigneur Jésus, la beauté de la gloire de tes saints nous ravit
parce qu'elle est le reflet sur leurs visages de la beauté de la gloire de ta Face !
Aujourd'hui tu nous révèles,
aujourd'hui tu nous redis le secret de toute sainteté :
la recherche de ta Face.

À quiconque cherche ta Face, Seigneur Jésus, tu la révèles,
et celui à qui tu révèles ta Face ne peut que l'adorer.
Cette adoration de ta Sainte Face est transformante,
C'est toujours le roi prophète qui nous donne de chanter chaque nuit :
« Sur nous s'est imprimé, Seigneur, la lumière de ta Face » (Ps 4, 7).

Parmi tous ces visages illuminés par la beauté de ta Face,
il y a un visage qui rayonne d'une splendeur qui fait pâlir le soleil.
C'est le visage de ta Mère, la toute belle, la toute pure.
Tu es toute belle, ô Marie, car sur ton visage nous voyons
le reflet éblouissant de Celui
qui est « le resplendissement de la gloire du Père
et l'effigie de sa substance » (Hb 1, 3).

Toi, la reine de tous les saints,
tu es le signe grandiose qui apparaît dans le ciel :
la Femme revêtue du soleil,
ayant la lune sous ses pieds,
et portant une couronne sertie de douze étoiles.

Je dois vous avouer, chères sœurs,
que dès que nous avons chanté l'antienne du Magnificat aux premières vêpres,
j'ai compris que la foi d'Abraham restait, en quelque sorte, inachevée,
tant qu'elle n'a pas trouvé en Marie sa plénitude.
Les fils et les filles d'Abraham, plus nombreux que les étoiles du ciel,
sont tous sans exception aucune, fils et filles de Marie,
de celle qui a cru « en l'accomplissement de ce qui lui fut dit
de la part du Seigneur » (Lc 1, 45).

C'est Marie qui entraîne tous les saints dans le chant qui, un jour,
déborda de son Cœur immaculé :
« Le Puissant a fait pour moi des merveilles » (Lc 1, 49).
Voici le chant de tous les saints.
Chacun le reçoit des lèvres de Marie pour le reprendre à son tour »
chacun avec sa voix, chacun avec son accent,
chacun avec la mélodie que lui inspire le Saint-Esprit.
C'est cela ce grand bruit qui remplit le ciel ;
c'est le chant de Marie repris par le chœur des saints.

Et qui sont ces saints, tous enfants de Marie ?
Ils sont les bienheureux de l'évangile que vous venez d'entendre.
À chacun des béatitudes correspond cette parole de Jésus crucifié,
ce testament d'amour confié au disciple bien-aimé : « Voici ta Mère » (Jn 19, 27).

Il me faut donc dire :
Vous, les pauvres de cœur, voici votre Mère,
la Vierge des pauvres telle qu'elle s'est manifestée à Banneux,
la Reine des anawim, de ceux qui attendent tout de Dieu.

Vous, les doux, voici votre Mère,
Marie, la bonne agnelle,
celle dont la mansuétude dépasse celle du roi David,
celle dont a douceur apaise tous nos conflits et calme toutes nos tempêtes.

Vous qui pleurez, voici votre Mère,
celle que l'Église, riche de l'expérience de deux millénaires,
appelle Consolatrix Afflictorum, la Consolatrice des Affligés.

Vous qui avez faim et soif de la justice, voici votre Mère,
la Mère de l'Eucharistie,
celle qui a donné de son corps et de son sang
pour que, de son sein virginal, fécondé par la puissance du Saint Esprit,
soient offerts au monde entier le Corps et le Sang du Christ
pour vous rassasier.

Vous les miséricordieux, voici votre Mère,
celle que l'Église, dans ce chant sublime qui s'élève des monastères de par le monde entier tous les soirs, appelle Mater misericordiae.
Marie ne s'effraie point à la vue de vos misères.
Elle les prend toutes dans son Cœur pour les tremper
dans l'huile et dans le vin du Saint Esprit.

Vous les cœurs purs, voici votre Mère,
l'Immaculée, la toute belle, celle qui opère dans le cœur dans pécheurs
des merveilles de pureté et de candeur.

Vous les artisans de paix, voici votre Mère, Regina pacis,
celle qui n'a jamais oublié le chant angélique qui a fait tressaillir les étoiles
en la nuit où elle a mis au monde le Prince de la Paix :
« Gloire à Dieu au plus haut des cieux, et paix sur la terre
aux hommes qu'il aime » (Lc 2, 14).

Vous les persécutés pour la justice, voici votre Mère,
la Regina Martyrum, celle dont l'âme fut transpercée d'un glaive de douleur.
Elle s'est tenue debout près de la croix de son Fils.
Elle a sondé toutes les amertumes et,
avec son Enfant crucifié, a bu le calice que le Père leur avait présenté.

Vous les insultés et les calomniés, voici votre Mère,
celle qui, rayonnante d'amour et de vérité, éclairera tous vos chemins.
C'est elle qui soutient les martyrs.
Rien de ce que vous souffrez ne lui est étranger.

Vous qui êtes dans la joie,
vous qui jubilez d'allégresse, voici votre Mère,
la Causa nostrae laetitiae.
Votre joie est la sienne, et sa joie à elle,
elle la déverse à flots dans les cœurs de tous les saints
jusque dans les siècles des siècles.

Sainte Marie, Mère et Reine de tous les saints,
nous voulons, comme l'apôtre Jean,
te prendre dès maintenant chez nous,
pour que tu nous apprennes les béatitudes
dont tu es l'icône parfaite.
Fais nous goûter au bonheur de tous les saints.
Et maintenant, accompagne-nous à l'autel du Saint Sacrifice.
Un jour, nous l'espérons fermement,
tu seras là pour nous accueillir au banquet qui déjà nous est préparé au ciel,
celui des Noces de l'Agneau.
Amen.

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Let us give thanks to God the Father,
who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light:
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness
and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love,
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins:
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations,
or principalities, or powers.
All things were created by him and in him.
And he is before all: and by him all things consist.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may hold the primacy:
Because in him, it hath well pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell:
And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth and the things that are in heaven.

(Colossians 1,12-20)

Lyrical, Jubilant, and Soaring

The Epistle of today's Mass for the feast of Christ the King resounds like a classic Roman Preface; it is lyrical, jubilant, soaring, and shot through with a profound thanksgiving for all that the Father has done, in Christ, for His adopted children. The ear of my heart hears it sung to the tone of the Roman Preface. It seems to call for the great conclusion evoking all the angelic choirs, and for the cosmic symphony of the Sanctus.

A Soul Schooled in the Liturgy of the Church

It is an immense grace to become aware of just how often the Roman liturgy places us before God the Father, allowing us to stand in the sight of His Divine Majesty, and giving us words, inspired by the Holy Ghost, to praise Him, bless Him, and give Him thanks for His great glory. A soul schooled in the liturgy of the Church will live at every moment ad Patrem, that is, facing the Father. A soul schooled in the liturgy of the Church will enter into the élan of the Heart of Jesus revealed on every page of the mystical Fourth Gospel: "Just Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee: and these have known that thou hast sent me." (John 17:24-25)

In Sinu Patris

"And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father." (Galatians 4:6) An authentic Catholic piety, the piety of the Bride of Christ, His Church, hides us ever more deeply in the bosom of the Father, in sinu Patris, through the Son, by the secret operations of the Holy Ghost. All the richness of Catholic devotional life passes, ultimately, through the filtre of the sacred liturgy where it joins "the lot of all the saints in light" (Colossians 1:1:1): ad Patrem, per Filium, in Spiritu. Thus, the tenderness we feel for Jesus, King of Love, the confidence His image inspires, the way the devotion to the King of Love softens our hearts and melts our resistances to divine grace -- all of these things carry us along into the powerful stream of the Church's liturgical prayer, and through the liturgy, into the priestly mediation of Christ, who is "always living to make intercession for us." (Hebrews 7:25)

The Church, Spouse of the King

It is the good pleasure of the Father to give us to the Son, to establish us under His sovereign lordship, and to make us subjects of His kingdom. In giving us to His only-begotten and beloved Son, our King, the Father restores order and right worship (orthodoxy) to a world skewed and disoriented by sin.

The Son -- Jesus, the King of Love -- receiving us from the Father, makes us His own by the outpouring of His Blood. He espouse us to Himself as His own Bride upon the marriage bed of the Cross, and so leads us back to the Father, united to Himself as members to their Head, and as the Bride who forms one flesh with Him. Thus do the royal prerogatives of the Son become the royal prerogatives of His Bride, the Church, and of every soul united to the King of Love in the mystic nuptial graces of Baptism and Holy Communion. United in this way to the King, the Church -- the Queen who stands at His right side arrayed in garments finely wrought of gold (Psalm 44:10) -- addresses the Father with a majestic reverence, with a holy boldness, with words and gestures inspired by the Holy Ghost.

O Magnum Pietatis Opus

The sacred liturgy is the magnum pietatis opus of the Kingdom of Christ, that is, the great work of His own tender devotedness to the Father. One who takes upon himself the sweet and easy yoke of submission to the King of Love participates in HIs filial and priestly glorification of the Father. "Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24)

The Opus Dei

The monastery -- be it this little monastery or any other where the King of Love holds sway over all things -- is an inbreaking of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. We experience this inbreaking principally, objectively, and unfailingly, in the Opus Dei, the Work of God that is not so much our work done for God as His work in us and for us, and this through the sacred liturgy. The objectiveness of the Opus Dei trumps all our changing sentiments and human inconstancy, precisely because it is a divine work. Our participation in it, though real, does not make it what it is in the eyes of the Father and in the ears of His clemency. Christ, Priest and King, makes it what it is.

Our part is to come to choir, to take our places, to open our books and our mouths, to stand, to bow, to kneel, and to do all of these things simply and quite imperfectly, in desolation or in consolation, with energy or in a state of weariness, with pious sentiments or without them, believing that the Opus Dei realizes what it announces, makes present what it describes, glorifies the Father in the sanctuary of heaven, and bears fruit in the vineyard of the Church on earth, and all of this because it is a royal action of Christ, Priest and King.

Act of Consecration

At the end of Holy Mass today, we shall renew our Act of Consecration to Jesus, King of Love. This is no mere pious formality. It is a response to the love with which He has first loved us. It is a radical renunciation of all those things to which we cling for an illusory security, so as to live in total reliance on His merciful goodness. It is a participation in His own filial devotedness to the Father: the friends of the King of Love share in all the dispositions and sentiments of His Heart. The Act of Consecration to Jesus, King of Love is not the liturgy, but it echoes the liturgy. It will prolong its grace, and make the work of the liturgy more fruitful in this house and in our souls.

Receive the Olive Branch

Finally, I am going to do something today that I would counsel you to do as well. Receive from the outstretched hand of the King of Love the olive branch that signifies both healing and peace. There is no torment of soul that He cannot calm. There is no suffering that He will not suffuse with redeeming love. There is no wound to which He will not apply the healing balm of the Holy Ghost.

Say to Jesus, King of Love: O Thou, Child King, willingly and confidently will I receive from Thee today all that Thou desirest to give me. Do Thou in me, O King of Love, all that Thou wouldst see accomplished in me, so as to draw out of my nothingness, out of my poverty, out of my struggles, and even out of the wreckage of my sins, peace and beauty for Thy Kingdom, praise for Thy mercies, and glory for Thy Father. Amen."

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Richard to the Rescue

Richard Chonak, Vultus Christi's genial webmaster and a dear friend, was kind enough to put his gifts at our service by translating into English the homily that I delivered in French last Sunday for the Jubilee of Mother Jeanne-Françoise at Saint-James in the Channel region of France. Thank you, dear Richard, for the quality of your work and for the gentle charity of your heart.

Sunday, October 21, 2012
Monastère Saint-Jacques
Homily on the Occasion of the Jubilee of
Mother Jeanne-Françoise de l'Assomption
for the 60th Anniversary of her Monastic Profession
in the Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified


My very dear Mother [Jeanne-Françoise], sixty years ago
you gave yourself to Jesus crucified,
saying to Him: Suscipe me, Domine;
that is: "Receive me, Lord,
take me with you on the Cross;
unite me to your sacrifice to the Father;
make of me a single offering
delivered unto the fire of the Holy Spirit
upon the altar of your Heart."

And the Lord answered you:
"I receive you as my spouse:
all that is mine shall henceforth be yours;
I am taking you with me into all my mysteries.
With you I will share my great Passion;
With you I will share my deep wounds;
With you I will share my shedding of blood,
my death suffered in all bitterness,
my descent into Hell,
my awaking on the morning of the Resurrection,
my Face all illumined by the face of the Father,
my ascension to His right hand in glory,
and my hidden, humble, silent life in the Sacrament of my love.
All this is yours because you are mine,
and nothing will ever separate you from my love."

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Dimanche, 21 octobre 2012
Monastère Saint-Jacques
Homélie prononcée à l'occasion du jubilé de 60 ans de profession monastique
dans la Congrégation des Bénédictines de Jésus Crucifié
de Mère Jeanne-Françoise de l'Assomption

Ma très chère mère,
il y a soixante ans,
vous vous êtes donnée à Jésus crucifié,
en lui disant: Suscipe me, Domine,
c'est à dire, "Reçois-moi, Seigneur;
prends-moi avec toi sur la croix;
unis-moi à ton sacrifice au Père;
fais de moi une seule offrande
livrée au feu de l'Esprit-Saint
sur l'autel de ton Coeur."

Et le Seigneur vous a répondu:
"Je te reçois comme épouse:
tout ce qui est à moi sera désormais à toi;
je te prends avec moi dans tous mes mystères.

Avec toi, je partagerai ma grande Passion;
avec toi, je partagerai mes profondes plaies;
avec toi, je partagerai mon effusion de sang,
ma mort soufferte dans toutes les amertumes,
ma descente aux enfers,
mon réveil au matin de la résurrection,
mon regard tout illuminé par le regard de mon Père,
mon ascension à sa droite dans la gloire,
et ma vie cachée, humble, silencieuse
dans le Sacrement de mon amour.

Tout ceci est à toi
parce que tu es à moi,
et rien ne te séparera plus de mon amour."

De même, il y a soixante ans,
vous vous êtes adressée au Père en lui disant:
Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum.
Et il y a quarante ans, vous m'avez expliqué un jour
au Prieuré Saint-Paul
que vous teniez à ce que le mot Verbum
de votre dévise
soit écrit avec le majuscule.
Par cela, vous vouliez signifier
qu'en qualité d'épouse de Jésus crucifié,
vous vouliez être configurée à lui,
rendue semblable au Verbe,
recevoir en vous-même
l'impression ineffaçable de sa sainte Face,
c'est à dire, de son visage tout tourné vers le Père,
de son visage douloureux,
et de son visage glorieux.

En effet, le mystère du visage du Christ,
le mystère de la sainte Face,
demeure au coeur de la vocation de toute épouse de Jésus crucifié.
Et ce visage nous est révélé aujourd'hui
dans la première lecture tirée du Chant du Serviteur,
ou, si vous voulez, de la Passion de Jésus-Christ selon le prophète Isaïe.

"Broyé par la souffrance,
le Serviteur a plu au Seigneur."
Fiat mihi, dites-vous,
secundum Verbum tuum.
--Qu'il me soit fait comme il fut fait au Verbe.
Et Isaïe continue, disant,
"Il a fait de sa vie un sacrifice d'expiation."
Et là encore, en tant qu'épouse de Jésus crucifié,
vous êtes obligée de répondre:
"Qu'il me soit fait comme il fut fait en ton Verbe,
à ton Verbe, et par ton Verbe."

L'expiation n'est autre chose que la réparation,
et qu'est-ce que la réparation sinon l'Amour qui répare,
l'Amour qui répare les dégâts du péché;
l'Amour qui rend pur ce qui a été souillé;
l'Amour qui rend la beauté à ce que le mal a défiguré;
l'Amour qui rend la vie en plénitude
aux âmes que le monde, et la chair, et l'Ennemi entraînent vers la mort.

Votre configuration à Jésus crucifié vous a ouverte, ma mère,
au mystère d'une grande fécondité surnaturelle.
Que de fois vous avez prié:
"Seigneur, je me livre à la puissance de ton amour fécond."
Toute mère reçoit la vie au-dedans d'elle même
pour la mettre au jour,
et puis, ayant mis au monde la vie,
elle dépense sa vie jour après jour,
heure après heure,
avec chaque battement de son coeur,
car le travail d'une mère va jusqu'à la mort,
et au-delà de la mort.
Votre ciel, ma mère, ne sera pas de tout repos,
car vous aurez du travail à faire sur la terre:
dans votre famille, dans votre Congrégation, et en moi.

Il ne faut pas s'étonner, chères soeurs,
de ce que le Seigneur ait répété à son épouse
les paroles qu'il a dites, en premier lieu,
par rapport à sa mère auprès de la croix:
"Femme, voici ton fils"; et puis, "Voici ta mère."

Jésus vous a appelé à la sponsalité et à la maternité.
Lui même n'est pas venu pour être servi, mais pour servir.
Vous, en tant qu'épouse et en tant que mère,
n'êtes pas venue pour être servie, mais pour servir.
Lui a donné sa vie en rançon pour la multitude,
et vous n'avez pas pu faire autrement,
car la vie donnée à la mère
est donnée pour être répandue,
pour être dépensée,
pour être transmise par amour.

Nous nous connaissons, ma mère, depuis quarante ans.
Lorsque je vous ai vue pour la première fois,
vous aviez 49 ans, et moi, j'en avais 21.
Aujourd'hui vous avez 60 ans de vie consacrée, de vie sponsale,
et moi, j'ai 60 ans de vie tout court.
En ceci, je me permets de voir un signe de la providence de Dieu.
C'est comme si votre vie et la mienne
-- votre vie d'épouse et de mère, et ma vie de prêtre --
étaient tressées ensemble par une main virginale
et par le vouloir d'un Coeur immaculé,
celui de Marie, Médiatrice de toutes grâces.

C'est ensemble, donc, pas seulement vous et moi,
mère et fils,
hostie et prêtre,
mais nous, unis à tous ceux qui nous entourent,
à Nanou, à Zizon, à Thérèse, à Florence,
unis à vos soeurs en communauté,
unis à tous ceux qui sont absents,
et unis à tous ceux qui nous ont précédés dans la mort,
que nous offrirons le Saint Sacrifice aujourd'hui.

Nous osons nous présenter devant l'autel
dans l'action de grâces et dans la joie,
parce que "le grand prêtre que nous avons
n'est pas incapable, lui, de partager nos faiblesses en toutes choses;
il a connu l'épreuve comme nous, et il n'a pas péché.
Avançons-nous donc avec pleine assurance
vers le Dieu tout-puissant qui fait grâce
pour obtenir miséricorde,
et recevoir, en temps voulu, la grâce de son secours."
Amen, Alleluia.


Blessed Columba Marmion

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He presents the monastery as a place where the Kingdom of God has already come, a place wherein every weakness can encounter mercy, wherein the human will is directed into the Will of God through the good that is obedience, and wherein every heart of stone, having become a heart of flesh through the grace of compunction, is freed at last to love and to be loved.

A Great Irish Saint

Today is the feast of a great Irish saint! Born and educated in Dublin, Joseph Marmion served as a parish priest and seminary professor before becoming a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium. Dom Columba Marmion was elected of Abbot of Maredsous in 1909. He chose to receive the Abbatial Blessing on Rosary Sunday. It fell that year on October 3rd. When Pope John Paul II beatified Abbot Columba Marmion in 2000, the liturgical memorial of the new Blessed was fixed on the date of his Abbatial Blessing, rather than on the day of his death, January 30th.

John Paul II

In 1985 Pope John Paul II visited Belgium. When the papal helicopter flew over the Abbey of Maredsous on the way from Brussels to Beauraing, the Holy Father confided to one of his aides: “I owe more to Columba Marmion for initiating me into things spiritual than to any other spiritual writer.” The saints engender saints, and this in every age.

Cardinal Mercier, and Others

Cardinal Mercier, the holy Archbishop of Malines in Belgium and a contemporary of the Abbot wrote, after reading Christ, the Life of the Soul: “The perfume of Holy Scripture, to be breathed in at each page of this volume, gives the impression that it was conceived and prepared during prayer, at the foot of the altar, before being given to the public.” Pope Benedict XV kept the writings of Abbot Marmion close at hand and recommended them to the saintly head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church Metropolitan Andrei Sheptitsky of Lviv, saying: “Read this, it is the pure doctrine of the Church.”

A Lad Reads Marmion

My own introduction to Abbot Marmion came when I was fifteen years old. I was visiting Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. Father Marius Granato, O.C.S.O., charged at that time with helping young men -- even very young men -- seek God, put Christ, the Ideal of the Monk into my hands. He even let me take the precious green-covered volume home with me. With all the ardour of my fifteen years I devoured it. No book had ever spoken to my heart in quite the same way.

I read and re-read Christ, the Ideal of the Monk. At fifteen one is profoundly marked by what one reads. The impressions made on a soul at that age determine the course of one’s life. As I pursued my desire to seek God, I relied on Abbot Marmion. I chose him not only as my monastic patron, but also as my spiritual father, my intercessor, and my guide.

A Good Spiritual Director

If you are looking for a good spiritual director, choose Blessed Columba Marmion. His books are being re-edited in attractive, revised translations that present his timeless doctrine in all its freshness and beauty. From his place in heaven he remains attentive to souls and ready at every moment to direct them to Christ.

Goodness and Humour

Those who knew Dom Marmion bore witness to the vivacity of his Irish temperament and to his marvelous sense of humour, capable of humanizing even the most solemn occasions. He showed an immense goodness as abbot and priest; he had a special place in his heart for the poor, the little ones, and those wounded by life. He sought always to bring happiness to people, allowing the best human qualities to flourish. “Grace,” he often affirmed, “does not destroy nature, nor does it suppress one’s personality.”

As a novice, Columba suffered under the direction of a Master of Novices who was singularly lacking in human warmth. He never forgot this and, later in his monastic life when he was entrusted with positions of authority, he did everything possible to be jovial, joyful, and full of compassionate sympathy in his relations with others. He did this in spite of long periods of spiritual darkness, even as he struggled through the seasons of depression that marked his whole life.

Devotion to the Way of the Cross

Abbot Marmion tried always to bear his burdens of physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering without allowing them to become a weight on others. All his life, he was intensely devoted to the Passion of Christ, making the Way of the Cross every day. His meditations on the Way of the Cross in Christ in His Mysteries are, to my mind, unequalled.

Participation in Our Lord's Redemptive Passion

Blessed Columba entered deeply into the sentiments of Our Lord's Sacred Heart. Through the writings of Saint John and Saint Paul, he contemplated the Face of Christ set toward the Father's perfect will, the fulfillment of the Father's saving design of love, the Father's promise of glory. Thus did he come to see his own sufferings of body, mind, and spirit as participation in the redemptive sufferings of Christ.

The Word of God

Blessed Abbot Marmion had the gift of teaching souls to relish the Word of God. In his own experience, Sacred Scripture was, first of all, proclaimed, chanted, heard, held in the heart, and prayed, in the context of the liturgy. His astonishing familiarity with the Bible came to him not by way of study but through the Divine Office, the daily round of the Opus Dei, the Work of God celebrated in choir.

A Theology That Adores

Dom Marmion attributed to the words of the Bible the grace of a particular unction: something penetrating, a kind of sacramentality that puts us in communion with Christ himself, the Word before whom every human tongue falls silent. It was recounted that when Dom Marmion taught theology to the young monks, they would leave the classroom after his lectures in a reverent silence and go directly to the choir to adore. This is monastic theology!

The Soul of the Liturgy

As a spiritual father, Blessed Columba insisted on the primacy of the liturgy. Well before the Second Vatican Council, he preached the liturgy as "source and summit" of the life of the Church. He quenched his thirst for God in drinking directly from the liturgy's pure wellsprings and led a great number of Christians to do the same. Dom Lambert Beauduin, another father of the classic Liturgical Movement, wrote concerning Abbot Marmion: "He revealed to us the soul of the liturgy; by this I mean all the elements of doctrine and of life, that the liturgy reserves for us beneath the visible veil of its rites and symbols."

Christ, the Ideal of the Monk

In his book, Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, Blessed Columba generated a movement of return to the Rule of Saint Benedict and offered a re-reading of the text capable of irrigating the monastic life of every generation. His vision of Benedictine life is profoundly human and profoundly supernatural. He presents the monastery as a place where the Kingdom of God has already come, a place wherein every weakness can encounter mercy, wherein the human will is directed into the Will of God through the good that is obedience, and wherein every heart of stone, having become a heart of flesh through the grace of compunction, is freed at last to love and to be loved. He presents the abbot at the service of his brothers as a Father, as a Spirit-bearing Doctor, and as the Pontiff, the one who assembles the community to pass over into Christ's own worship of the Father.

The Most Holy Eucharist

Let us seek the intercession of Blessed Columba Marmion today for ourselves and for each other. He will obtain for us the grace of fixing our gaze on the Face of Christ set toward all that the Father wills, toward the mystery of the Cross through which joy has come into the world. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ, the Life of the Soul. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ in His Mysteries. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ, the Ideal of the Monk. How blessed we are to be called, with Abbot Marmion and all the saints, to the Banquet of the Lamb.

Ember Wednesday in September

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Photo: Monastic ruins on the Hill of Slane.

The Ember Days

The September Ember Days are upon us, signaling the passage of summer and the beginning of autumn. Here at Silverstream Priory, the chill in the morning air tells us that, in spite of the warm sunshine during the day, the long, slow descent into winter has already begun.

Optimistic Realism of the Roman Rite

Today's first Collect at Mass is a prime example of what I like to call the optimistic realism of the Roman Rite:

We beseech Thee, O Lord
that our fragility may be upheld
by the remedies of Thy mercy,
so that what of itself is falling into ruin
may, by Thy clemency, be restored.

Is not this a marvelous prayer? On the one hand, there is the sober recognition of ourselves such as we really are: fragile, and falling into ruin. On the other hand, there is a confident acknowledgment of the remedies of divine Mercy and of the restorative power of God's clemency. The prayer is, thus, perfectly balanced.

Fragility

Most people, if they have any degree off self-knowledge and honesty, will admit to feeling and being fragile, that is breakable, susceptible of being fragmented. At certain hours in one's life, one can have the overwhelming feeling of being shattered. Sometimes the shattering blow comes from outside ourselves, that is, from the world around us that is populated with other shattered and shattering human beings. Sometimes the shattering blow comes from the diabolical machinations of the Evil One. And still, at other times, we deal the shattering blow to ourselves by hurling ourselves against whatever jagged hardness happens to be at hand.

Remedies of Mercy

What can keep us, in spite of our native fragility, from being utterly shattered? The Collect tells us that the remedies of God's mercy will uphold us, and will prevent our collapse. What are these remedies? They are, first of all, the Sacraments of Penance and of the Most Holy Eucharist. They are the "prayer and fasting" of which Our Lord speaks in today's Gospel (Mark 9:16-28). Of prayer there is none more efficacious than the Divine Office, the voice of Christ united to that of His Spouse, the Church, and this from the rising of the sun to its setting. Of fasting there is none better than that prescribed or recommended by the Church, particularly during these Ember Days.

A Team of Physicians

Remedies of mercy too are the sacramentals of the Church on earth, and the solicitude and assistance of the Mother of God, and of the angels and saints in heaven. God has not abandoned us to our fragility. He has commanded His angels to bear us up, lest we dash our foot against a stone. (Psalm 90:12). The saints, for their part, are skilled physicians of souls and bodies, working together under the direction of the chief Physician, who is our Lord Jesus Christ.

The second part of the Collect is the ut or "so that" clause typical of the Roman Rite:

. . . ut quae sua conditione atteritur,
tua clementia reparatur.

. . . so that what of itself is falling into ruin
may, by Thy clemency, be restored.

There is a lovely balance to the two verbs in the Latin text: atteritur, reparatur; the idea is of falling into ruin, and of being repaired. Speaking for myself, I have, more than once, had the impression of falling into ruin. The Latin verb is perhaps closer to "being cast down to the ground." Ireland is full of monastic ruins (see the photo above) and on difficult days I can see myself as one of them. The realism of the Roman Rite admits that we are all, at certain seasons and hours, falling into ruin. The supernatural optimism of the Roman Rite sees God, however, as the repairer of ruins, as the One who rebuilds what is falling to the ground. This gives me immense hope,

The Son of Man must be lifted up

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The Sign of the Brazen Serpent

Wherefore the Lord sent among the people fiery serpents, which bit them and killed many of them. Upon which they came to Moses, and said: We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and thee: pray that he may take away these serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to him: Make brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: whosoever being struck shall look on it, shall live. Moses therefore made a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed. (Numbers 21:6-9)

The Word of the Cross

For the word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

I Will Draw All Things to Myself

Now is the judgment of the world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself. (Now this he said, signifying what death he should die.) The multitude answered him: We have heard out of the law, that Christ abideth for ever; and how sayest thou: The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man? Jesus therefore said to them: Yet a little while, the light is among you. Walk whilst you have the light, that the darkness overtake you not. And he that walketh in darkness, knoweth not whither he goeth. Whilst you have the light, believe in the light, that you may be the children of light. (John 12:31-36)

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the mystery of the Cross at the heart of the Church. It is the efficacious enactment of what Saint Paul calls the verbum Crucis, the word/event of the Cross. The unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass, offered from the rising of the sun to its setting, and that bloody Sacrifice offered once upon the Cross are one and the same sacrifice. In Mediator Dei, the Venerable Pope Pius XII, referring to Session 22 of the Council of Trent, affirms that,

The august sacrifice of the altar, then, is no mere empty commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, but a true and proper act of sacrifice, whereby the High Priest by an unbloody immolation offers Himself a most acceptable victim to the Eternal Father, as He did upon the cross. "It is one and the same victim; the same person now offers it by the ministry of His priests, who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner of offering alone being different."

Behold the Lamb of God

Once the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice is ended, the adorable Body of Christ, the saving flesh of the Lamb, the pure victim, the holy victim, the immaculate victim, is reserved in the tabernacle for the Holy Communion of those close to death, of the sick, of prisoners, and of the homebound. The Lamb of God, being truly present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, remains, at every hour of the day and night, worthy of adoration, praise, love, and thanksgiving.

Christus Passus

I shall never forget the passionate conviction with which my old professor, Father Thomas Urban Mullaney O.P. taught the mystery of Christus passus in his course on the Most Holy Eucharist. It is something that marked me profoundly thirty-five years ago, and that continues to affect my life and shape my piety. Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar remains in the very state and dispositions that animated Him in the supreme hour of His Sacrifice on the Cross. The Most Holy Eucharist is the presence of Christus passus, that is, Christ in the very act of His self-offering to the Father.

The Mystic Reality of Every Mass

The exaltation of the Holy Cross is not only the lifting up of the saving wood soaked in the Most Precious Blood; it is also the lifting up of the Lamb immolated upon it as upon an altar. This is the mystic reality of every Holy Mass. That same mystic reality is prolonged in the adoration of the Lamb, living and present in the Most Holy Sacrament.

Set It Up for a Sign

When the adorable Body of Christ is withdrawn from the tabernacle and exposed to the gaze of the faithful in the monstrance, the word of the Lord to Moses is wondrously and perfectly fulfilled: "And the Lord said to him: Make brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: whosoever being struck shall look on it, shall live. Moses therefore made a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed." (Numbers 21:6-9)

Look Upon the Body of Christ

Look, then, upon the Body of Christ, and see the sign of the brazen serpent fulfilled and surpassed in a manner that only faith can grasp. Look upon the Body of Christ, and see the source of all healing, the remedy for souls poisoned by the bites of the fiery serpents of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Look upon the Body of Christ and be drawn into the pierced Heart of the Lamb.

I Will Draw All Men to Myself

For souls called to a life of Eucharistic adoration, the exaltation of the Holy Cross -- in the fullest meaning of the phrase -- is the reality of every day and of every hour. "Yes," says the Lord, "if only I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself." (John 12:32)


And the Virgin's Name Was Mary

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The Most Holy Name of Mary

In 1683 Pope Innocent XI extended the existing Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary to the universal Church to thank Our Lady for the victory of John Sobieski, king of Poland, over the forces of militant Islam. On September 11th, 1683, Muslim Turks attacked Vienna, threatening the Christian West. The next day, Sobieski, invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary and placing his forces under her protection, emerged victorious.

The Holy Mother of God is no stranger to the struggles of her children in this valley of tears. She is attentive to every situation that threatens this world of ours, to every assault against the Church and, when we invoke her holy name, she is quick to intervene.

The Power of the Name

When it comes to calling upon the name of Mary, there is no struggle too global and too enormous, and no struggle too personal or too little. In the Bible, the name wields a mysterious power. Names are not to be pronounced casually or lightly. Names are not to be taken in vain. The invocation of the name renders present the one who is named. So often as you pronounce the sweet name of Mary with devotion and confidence, Mary is present to you, ready to help. So often as you pronounce the sweet name of Mary, you have her full and undivided attention.

As Oil Poured Out

The saints, drawing on a verse from the Song of Songs, compare the name of Mary to a healing oil. "Thy name is as oil poured out" (Ct 1:2). Oil heals the sick; it gives off a sweet fragrance, and it nourishes the flame of the sanctuary lamp. In the same way the name of Mary is like a balm on the wounds of the soul; there is no disease of the soul, however malignant, that does not yield to the power of the name of Mary. The sound of Mary's name causes joy to spring up in the midst of tears; the repetition of Mary's name warms the chilled heart.

A Pledge of Consecration

It is customary in some monasteries for every monk to bear the sweet name of Mary as a sign of mystical identification with her, a pledge of consecration to her, and a seal and safeguard of the monastic vocation. To bear the name of Mary signifies that one belongs to her household. The sophisticated and clever of the world, high and dry in their rationalism, smile condescendingly at such practices, but the saints understand the power of the name of Mary. For the saints there can never be too much of Mary. De Maria numquam satis. Of Mary, never enough!

Saint Bernard

No one has better treated of the Holy Name of Mary than Saint Bernard. His words will plant the gift of an abiding devotion to Mary's sweet name deep within the heart of one who receives them:

Let us say a few words about this name
which means Star of the Sea,
and is so appropriate to the Virgin Mother.

She -- I tell you -- is that splendid and wondrous star
suspended as if by necessity over this great wide sea,
radiant with merit and brilliant in example.

O you, whoever you are,
who feel that in the tidal wave of this world
you are nearer to being tossed about among the squalls and gales
than treading on dry land:
if you do not want to founder in the tempest,
do not avert your eyes from the brightness of this star.

When the wind of temptation blows up within you,
when you strike upon the rock of tribulation,
gaze up at this star,
call out to Mary.

Whether you are being tossed about
by the waves of pride or ambition,
or slander or jealousy,
gaze up at this star,
call out to Mary.

When rage or greed or fleshly desires
are battering the skiff of your soul,
gaze up at Mary.

When the immensity of your sins weighs you down
and you are bewildered by the loathsomeness of your conscience,
when the terrifying thought of judgment appalls you
and you begin to founder in the gulf of sadness and despair,
think of Mary.

In dangers, in hardships, in every doubt,
think of Mary, call out to Mary.
Keep her in your mouth,
keep her in your heart.

Follow the example of her life,
and you will obtain the favour of her prayer.

Following her, you will never go astray.
Asking her help, you will never despair.
Keeping her in your thoughts, you will never wander away.

With your hand in hers, you will never stumble.
With her protecting you, you will not be afraid.
With her leading you, you will never tire.

Her kindness will see you through to the end.
Then you will know by your own experience
how true it is that the Virgin's name was Mary.

15th Sunday After Pentecost

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Introit

If you have ever felt desolate, needy, or fragile, you will have found in today's Introit the perfect expression, in prayer to God, of such states. Even the chant melody, with its opening plea, soars upward: it is a prayer originating in the depths of human misery, and stretching, soaring aloft on the wings of faith and of hope:

Incline Thy ear, O Lord, to me and hear me:
Save Thy servant, O my God, that trusteth in Thee:
have mercy on me, O Lord, for I have cried to Thee all day.

The text of the Introit is from Psalm 85, a psalm shot through with sentiments of confidence and trust in God, even as the one praying it is acutely, painfully aware of his frailty and utter indigence.

Joy

Ps. Give joy to the soul of Thy servant;
for to Thee, O Lord, I have lifted up my soul.

The psalm verse that accompanies the antiphon asks for spiritual joy: Laetifica animam servi tui, Make joyful the soul of Thy servant. Spiritual joy, like peace of heart, cannot be produced by a mere effort to be cheerful, to put on a happy face. Spiritual joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost. It is a gift of God. It blossoms and comes to fruition on the branches of that mystical tree planted within the soul, the roots of which are faith, hope, and charity.

Prayer of the Church: Prayer of the Soul

The Collect of today's Mass continues the motif of supplication given by the Introit on the threshold of the celebration. In the Collect, appealing to God's abiding compassion, we ask him to cleanse His Church and to defend her. Cleansing pertains to the filth within; defense pertains to attacks from without. Whenever, in the liturgy, we pray for the Church, we are, by the same token, praying for our own souls. Personalized, if you will, the sense of the first part of the Collect is this: "In thy abiding compassion, O Lord, cleanse Thou my soul of the accumulated filth within, and defend me against attacks from without."

Spiritual Battlefield

The Collect reminds us that the Christian stands, at every moment, on a battlefield. The invisible enemies of our souls -- those who would rob us of inner joy and of trust in God's abiding compassion -- are forever strategizing to bring us down. That is why we ask God to defend us in the Collect.

Governed by God's Protecting Gift

The prayer goes on to say that, without God, the Church cannot hold her ground in the face of a world at enmity with all that she represents and teaches. Therefore, we pray that the Church may be governed -- gubernatur-- by God's protecting gift. The idea of gubernatur is related to the rudder that steers the course of a ship at sea. The rudder of Peter's fragile bark -- the ship of the Church tossed about on history's stormy seas -- is, we can be confident, in the hand of one made strong by the gift of God.

Life in the Spirit

In the Epistle, Saint Paul speaks to us of life in the Church, of our relations with one another. "Brethren, if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." One cannot claim to live in the Holy Ghost, that is, in a state of sanctifying grace, if the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are not operative in us, and if the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost are meagre or paltry.

If, in a community (understand, here, family, or marriage, or parish, or monastic community), one finds envy, harshness, and rash judgment, that community is not giving evidence of the presence of the Holy Ghost. Quite to the contrary, another spirit is at work.

Bearing One Another's Burdens

Saint Paul would have us bear one another's burdens. Saint Benedict says something similar in Chapter 72 of the Holy Rule: "Let them most patiently endure one another's infirmities, whether of body or of mind." Each of us, he says, has his own burden to carry. We are not to judge why such and such a burden has been laid upon one and not on another; we have only to do everything in our power to lighten a brother's burden by taking upon ourselves something of the load that crushes him beneath its weight.

Transmission of the Faith

Saint Paul, moreover, considers it vital that the community of the Church be a place of ongoing instruction in the faith. A monastery, like a Catholic marriage, family, or parish, cannot function healthily on pious sentiments and half-baked opinions. Some form of systematic, objective teaching of the faith is indispensable. The sacred liturgy provides the framework and the substance for such teaching.

Praise and Adoration

Instruction -- even the best liturgical catechesis -- is not enough by itself. The Gradual tells us that " it is sweet to praise the Lord, to sing unto the Name of the Most High." The instruction that leads not to praise, to adoration, to thanksgiving, is sterile and vain. When Blessed Columba Marmion taught dogmatic theology to his Benedictine students in Louvain, they would, after his classes, go immediately from the lecture hall to the church, compelled to fall down in adoration and to give praise for what they had learned.

Gospel

The Gospel we are given today has been the subject of innumerable commentaries by the Fathers. Saint Luke presents the scene with a consummate artistry. He is very good at depicting scenes from real life. (This, I think, is part of what contributed to his reputation as an artist, an iconographer, and to his role as the patron saint of painters.) There are two groups in movement. The first of these -- I see it moving from left to right, or from west to east, that is, out of darkness into light -- is assembled around the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Life. The second group -- I see it moving from right to left, or from east to west, that is, out of light into darkness -- is assembled around the corpse of a young man, and the shattered profile of his widowed mother, groaning and weeping.

The Heart of Jesus Moved to Pity

The two groups come together. Here Saint Luke uses a very beautiful phrase describing Jesus' reaction to the widow's grieving. In the Latin it is, Quam cum vidisset Dominus, misericordia motus super eam; "When the Lord saw her, he was moved to heartfelt pity over her." This is the core of the story: a revelation of the Heart of Jesus.

Return to Life

What follows is a simple expression: Noli flere. Do not weep. Jesus stops the movement of the bier; he stops the movement westward into the regions of darkness and night. He addresses the young man who, in response to the word of Jesus, sits up and begins to speak. Jesus gives him back to his mother.

An Outburst of Praise

What happened then? Saint Luke tells us only that the two groups were overcome with awe, and that there was a great outburst of praise to God. I should think that, then, both groups joined to form a single procession from west to east, out of darkness into light. Therein, we have an image of the pilgrim Church, of the Church ever in movement: out of what is old, decaying, and marked by weeping and groans into newness of life, into what is fresh, and fragrant with a sweetness not of this world, and marked by praise and by awe in the presence of God.

Offertory

The Offertory Antiphon continues the Gospel story, for it gives us the very prayer of the young man raised to life: "Waiting, I waited for Lord, and and at last he turned his face towards me, and listened to my plea. He has put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God" (Psalm 39:2-4).

Secret

The Secret Prayer will return to the motif of spiritual battle evoked already in the Collect: we will pray to be guarded by the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist, and defended from diabolical onslaughts.

Communion Antiphon

The Communion Antiphon, which is really meant to be chanted during the procession of the faithful to receive the Holy Mysteries, is nothing less than Our Lord Himself addressing those who approach to receive His Sacred Body: "The bread which I am to give, is my flesh for the life of the world" (John 6:52). In other words, "What I did for the son of the widow of Naim, I will also do for you, and this, by giving you my own resurrected and glorious Body, the seed of eternal life in you."

Postcommunion

Finally, the Postcommunion will be very practical today. Even after participating fully, consciously, and actually in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there remains the danger of returning to the humdrum world of ordinary concerns, and of acting and make choices based, not on the splendour of the truth that has been given us here, but on our subjective impressions and emotional responses. "May the operation of this heavenly gift take hold, O Lord, of our minds and bodies, so that its effect may forestall our feelings."

Towards the Light Eternal

The procession must go on, from west to east, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of mourning and weeping into chants of joy and cries of gladness. The rhythm of the march is marked by the liturgy of the Church. One who walks with the Church is walking towards the light eternal. Of this, there can be no doubt.

Prepare to Disappear

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Birth, Passion, Death

The Church gives us two feastdays of Saint John the Baptist each year: the first on June 24th to mark his nativity, and today's feast to mark his passion and death. We celebrate the nativity of Saint John the Baptist because, unlike everyone else with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, John was born in holiness. Our Lord Jesus Christ sanctified John when both of them were still hidden in the wombs of their mothers. The grace of hiddenness marks the life of Saint John the Baptist from the beginning.

Appearance and Disappearance

Jesus hidden in Mary approached John hidden in Elizabeth and, when the voice of the Holy Mother of God reached the ears of Elizabeth, the babe in her womb leaped for joy (cf. Lk 1:44). Although John, like all men, was conceived marked by Adam's sin, he was born already touched by the saving grace of Christ mediated by His Immaculate Mother. Clearly, a child born in such extraordinary circumstances was destined by the Lord for even greater things. At the peak of summer on June 24th we celebrated the appearance of John the Baptist. Today, as summer begins to fade, we celebrate his disappearance.

More Than A Prophet

"And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways" (Lk 1:76). John the Forerunner is a prophet and he is more than a prophet. By his preaching he speaks truth in the boldness of the Holy Spirit. By his captivity, passion and death, he prefigures the Suffering Servant, the immolated Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the Victim "by whose wounds we are healed" (1P 2:24). Our Lord Himself says: "A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John" (Lk 7:27-28).

This Joy of Mine

In Jesus, John the Baptist recognizes the Light, the Christ, the Lamb of God, and the Bridegroom. "Behold the Lamb of God!" (Jn 1:29). All John's joy is to gaze upon the Face of Jesus and to hear His voice. "I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase but I must decrease"(Jn 329-30).

The Burning and Shining Lamp

John was to be visible only for a time. "He was a burning and shining lamp," says Jesus, "and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light" (Jn 5:25). John's shining light was hidden away in the darkness of a prison cell. The Bridegroom had arrived; the Friend of the Bridegroom had to disappear.

Silence

The voice of John the Forerunner was heard crying in the wilderness, denouncing sin, calling men to justice, and sinners to repentance. But then the voice of the Eternal Father was heard, coming from heaven: "Thou art my Son, the Beloved; with Thee I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22). After the voice of the Father revealing the Word was heard over the Jordan, the voice of the Baptist was heard less and less until, finally, it was silenced by death, a cruel and ignominious death not unlike the immolation of the Lamb, which it prefigured.

Today's feast obliges us to come to terms with the paradox of a hidden and silent life. Graced from the womb of his mother in view of an extraordinary mission, Saint John the Baptist served the designs of the Father for the length of time and in the place determined by the Father's loving providence. "Sent from God . . . he came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (Jn 1:6-8). When the Sun of Justice dawned, when the Dayspring appeared, the Forerunner could disappear. When the voice of the Bridegroom began to make itself heard, the Friend of the Bridegroom could fall silent.

In the Shadow of the Cross

John the Baptist knew that, like the grain of wheat which falls into the earth and dies in order to bear much fruit (Jn 12:24), he was destined to return to a life of silence and obscurity. John the Baptist shows us that every vocation is subject to mysterious and unexpected turns. He demonstrates that every vocation must fall beneath the shadow of the Cross, sometimes in dramatic ways, but more often in the humble obscurity of day to day existence.

Pray

Suffering is necessary if we are to decrease and allow the Lord Jesus to increase. To each of us Saint John the Baptist says: Prepare to disappear. And lest this should alarm us and cause us to tremble with fear and anxiety, John teaches us how to pray in the words of the psalmist:

Thou art my patience, O Lord:
my hope, O Lord, from my youth.
By Thee have I been confirmed from the womb:
from my mother's womb Thou art my protector.
Of Thee shall I continually sing:
I am become unto many as a wonder,
but Thou art a strong helper. (Ps 70:5-6)

The Cross

The hidden and silent life is a necessary and inescapable part of discipleship. A vocation that is not marked with the sign of the Cross is suspect. A life that is without its moments of obscurity, silence and apparent uselessness, does not bear the imprint of the Lamb. The more a soul is surrendered to the love of Christ the Bridegroom, the more deeply will that soul be marked by the Cross.

Ultimately, the sign that authenticates the mission of Saint John the Baptist is his participation in the Passion and Cross of Jesus, in Jesus' humiliation, in Jesus' going down into the valley of the shadow of death. And the sign that our vocation is blessed by God is that it is marked by the Cross.

The Sweetness of the Triumph of the Cross

One whose life is marked by the Cross cannot live without the Sacrifice of the Mass. Holy Mass allows us to taste the sweetness of the triumph of the Cross in the midst of every bitterness. Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ does not spare us any suffering; it infuses all suffering with an irrepressible hope. "Therefore this joy of mine is now full" (Jn 3:29).

This is a most unusual depiction of Saint Augustine washing the feet of Christ. A friar named Strozzi painted it in 1629. Augustine, wearing an apron over his black monastic habit, is assisted by an angel. A tonsured monk looks on from a distance. With his right hand Augustine clasps the foot of Our Lord. His gaze is wholly turned towards the Face of Christ, who appears to be instructing him on what he is doing.

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I preached this homily in 2007.

1 John 4:7-16
Psalm 118: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Matthew 23; 8-12

The Doctor of Charity

The words of Saint John in today's First Lesson are the perfect expression of Saint Augustine's own experience. Augustine is called the "Doctor of Charity," and with good reason. Saint John speaks of the discovery of charity that grounds every Christian life:

"Dearly beloved, let us love one another, for charity is of God. And every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is charity. By this hath the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:7-10).

He Hath First Loved Me

For Saint Augustine, however, the words of the Beloved Disciple became intensely personal: "By this hath the charity of God appeared towards me, Augustine, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that I may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though I had loved God, but because He hath first loved me, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for my sins."

The discovery of the love of God came late in Augustine's life. It is always late. One cannot discover the love of God too soon. And so, the Doctor of Charity laments his tardy discovery of the One Thing Necessary:

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new!
Too late have I loved Thee.
And lo, Thou wert inside me and I outside,
and I sought for Thee there, and in all my unsightliness
I flung myself on those beautiful things which Thou hast made.
Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee.
Those beauties kept me away from Thee,
though if they had not been in Thee, they would not have been at all.
Thou didst call and cry to me and break down my deafness.
Thou didst flash and shine on me and put my blindness to flight.
Thou didst blow fragrance upon me and I drew breath,
and now I pant after Thee.
I tasted of Thee and now I hunger and thirst for Thee.
Thou didst touch me and I am aflame for Thy peace....

(Confessions, Book X:38)

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A Learned Rabbi

Today is the feast of Saint Bartholomew, the apostle whose other name is Nathanael. A native of Cana in Galilee and a friend of the Apostle Philip, Nathanael was a rabbi learned in the Scriptures. Tradition says that he preached the Gospel in Armenia and India. Apart from that we know little about him. In art, one can recognize him by the flaying knife that he holds in his hand, a symbol of his gruesome martyrdom.

Come and See

Philip introduced Nathanael to Jesus. Philip simply repeated the words of Jesus to Andrew and Simon Peter: "Come and see" (Jn 1:39). The most effective apostolate is the one by which souls are brought directly to Jesus by means of a simple invitation. Arguments, disputes and debates are to no avail; it is the experience of Christ that convinces and converts. How often has exposure to the Most Holy Eucharist -- the sacramental experience of the living Christ truly present -- been the occasion of a complete conversion!

A Man Without Guile

Our Lord saw in Nathanael a man free of the torturous complications that so often affect pious people. Nathanael had the prized virtue of simplicity; Jesus called him "a true Israelite in whom there is no guile" (Jn 1:47). Nathanael had no hidden agenda. What came out of his mouth was what he held in his heart.

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Saint Bartholomew's Gospel

I find it curious that, for the feast of Saint Bartholomew, the Roman Missal does not give the passage from Saint John's Gospel (1:45-51) that concerns him directly:

Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith to him: We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth. And Nathanael said to him: Can any thing of good come from Nazareth? Philip saith to him: Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him: and he saith of him: Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile. Nathanael saith to him: Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered, and said to him: Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered him, and said: Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered, and said to him: Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, thou believest: greater things than these shalt thou see. And he saith to him: Amen, amen I say to you, you shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

The Whole Night in Prayer to God

Instead, we are given Saint Luke's account of the call of the Apostles (6,12-19) among whom, of course, we find the name of Saint Bartholomew:

And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray: and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God. And when day was come, he called unto him his disciples: and he chose twelve of them (whom also he named apostles): Simon, whom he surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon who is called Zelotes, And Jude the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, who was the traitor. And coming down with them, he stood in a plain place: and the company of his disciples and a very great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the sea coast, both of Tyre and Sidon, Who were come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And they that were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the multitude sought to touch him: for virtue went out from him and healed all.

We Will Run After Thee

What are we to garner from the choice of this Gospel for today's Holy Mass? First of all, we see Our Lord going out to the mountain to pray. Shall we not follow Him to the mountain? Do we not want to be with Him while He prays? Blessed indeed is the soul allowed to witness the Son in prayer to His Father! "Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments" (Ct 1:3).

Under the Anointing

What is a monk if not a man drawn after Jesus, running to the odour of His anointing, that is, the sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Anointing from above, poured out in such abundance upon Christ our Head, that it flows down to cover even the least members of His Mystical Body, that is the Church. The monk is a man who follows Jesus in His ascent to the mountain. He is compelled to climb in the footsteps of the Son, and so return to the Father. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," says the Lord. "No man cometh to the Father, but by me" (Jn 14:6).

Whatsoever Thou Desirest to Find in Me

The summit of the mountain is union with Christ in charity. "Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear" (RSB 7) At the summit of the mountain the love of Christ embraces the monk and holds him fast, and the monk, humbly but sincerely, consents to that love. "Do Thou in me, Lord Jesus, whatsoever Thou desirest to find in me, so as to draw out of my nothingness all of the love and all of the glory which Thou didst have in view, when Thou didst create me" (Prayer of M. Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus).

Now, Not I

The monk is called not merely to be a witness the Son's prayer to the Father, but to participate in it. The goal of the monastic life is, in effect, to be able to say in words reminiscent of Saint Paul: "And I pray, now not I; but Christ prayeth in me" (cf. Gal 2:20). All of the thoughts, and words, and attitudes that one thought were prayer have, at some point in the ascent of the mountain, to be abandoned, utterly left behind. They become burdensome. One is obliged to relinquish them . . . or to give up on the ascent.

The Liturgy

Forsaking all that he experienced as prayer, the monk enters the sanctuary of the Sacred Liturgy, wherein no detail is insignificant. Putting aside his own words, he applies himself to uttering those given him by the Bride of Christ, the Church. Renouncing his own thoughts, however pious these may be, he begins to think with the Church, and through the Church, and thus, even in his personal prayer, he acquires the mind of Christ. Even his body must give up those attitudes and postures that once he found so congenial, so as to rise and fall, and bend and bow, and yield in all things to a choreography of divine artistry, the work of the Holy Ghost embodied in the rubrics that are the transmission of a secret life, an inner dynamism coming from above.

Be Nothing

Saint Luke goes on to say: "And he passed the whole night in the prayer of God" (Lk 6:12). For the monk, what is this whole night if not the span of a lifetime in this valley of tears, in the long, dark night of faith? The monk is a man who stays with Jesus the whole night through. The monk is a man who consents to be nothing, to do nothing, to represent nothing other than the Son in prayer to the Father.

Flayed

If only for what it reveals of the monastic vocation, I treasure this particular Gospel passage given us on the feast of Saint Bartholomew. And there is one other detail, this one drawn from the traditional account of Saint Bartholomew's martyrdom. He was flayed. The monk, too, is flayed, at least after a fashion. The things that I thought were myself, are peeled away from me. I find myself naked, vulnerable, and utterly not the man I thought I was. And this is an immense grace. It is the beginning of transformation into Christ, of Christ living, and praying, and dying, and rising in me to the glory of the Father.

The Good Samaritan

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The Mystery of the Good Samaritan

Today's Gospel, the parable of the Good Samaritan, is familiar to us. It is, perhaps, too familiar. That may be the problem. We assume that we have grasped its message when, in fact, its message may not yet have grasped our hearts. The Fathers of the Church discerned a mystery -- that is to say, something hidden -- in the story of the Good Samaritan: the mystery of the healing mercy of God revealed in Christ.

God Suffers at the Sight of Our Suffering

The Good Samaritan is none other than Christ Himself. In the days of His flesh, as He journeyed in this world, Christ came to where we were (cf. Lk 10:33). And when He saw all of us, sinners, stripped, and beaten, and left for dead in a ditch, He had compassion (cf. Lk 10:33). The human Heart of God was moved. God, looking upon us through the eyes of His Christ, suffered at the sight of our suffering.

Ethical Religion Alone Is Not Enough

It would be altogether too facile to reduce the message of today's gospel to its ethical demands alone, to hear it exclusively in terms of a social imperative. Be good. Be sensitive. Be caring. Show mercy. It is, of course, all of that.

In Chapter IV of the Holy Rule Saint Benedict counts the corporal and spiritual works of mercy among the Instruments of Good Works.

Saint Vincent de Paul writes that "we must try to be stirred by our neighbors' worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions."

Our Lord said to Saint Faustina: "I demand of you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for me. You are to show mercy to your neighbours always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it."

Wanting to Be Splendid

All of that being said, there is more to the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Most of us prefer to cast ourselves in the role of the Samaritan rather than to see ourselves in the one robbed, stripped, forsaken, and half-dead. The Samaritan is the hero. The Samaritan keeps the upper hand in the story. The Samaritan is splendid. Who among us does not, at least sometimes, want to be splendid?

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Salvation in the Gutter

Churches are full of splendid people and of people who want to be splendid. We needed the teaching of a twenty-four year old Doctor of the Church to see that holiness is not about being splendid at all. Saint Thérèse tells that it is, rather, about accepting that we have landed in the gutter, that we are in fact without resources, stripped, wounded, half-dead, and utterly incapable of changing any of that by ourselves. The God who bends over our souls with a face of indescribable tenderness, the God who touches our wounds with the strong and gentle hands of mercy, meets us not in the high places, not in Jerusalem, nor in Jericho, nor on the road of a splendid progress, but in the gutter of our absolute need of Him.

Discerning the Face, the Heart, the Hands of Christ

In the Samaritan of today's gospel, the Fathers of the Church discern the face, the heart, the hands of Christ. Christ is near us in our poverty, near us in our nakedness, nearer to us when we are broken and brought very low than we when we are splendid and marching on. "A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion" (Lk 10:33).

Christ Stops for Each of Us

Christ comes to where we are and, seeing us, has compassion. Christ stops for each of us; He binds up our wounds, pouring oil and wine upon them, cleansing and disinfecting them, healing them with the medicine of His Spirit and of His Blood. Christ lifts us from where He finds us. He brings us to the inn of His Father's healing hospitality where He cares for us, and pays all our expenses.

The Human Face of God

When the poor man opened his eyes to see who it was who was caring for him with such tenderness he beheld a human face. Christ is the human Face of God, the Face we behold when we open our eyes to see who it is who is caring for us. In the end, it is the experience of this Face that changes us. It is in the closeness of this Face to ours, with, as Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity said, "His eyes in our eyes," and with the warmth of His breath upon us, that we are resurrected to newness of life and sent back to the road whence we came to "go and do likewise" (Lk 10:37).

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I preached this homily several years ago. Allow me to share it with you again. Is this not a lovely icon for Marymass or Lady-Day-in-Harvest?

The Pascha of Summer

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pascha of summer, signals the beginning of the final phase of the liturgical year. The Church enters into the splendours of her harvest time. With the feasts of late summer and autumn, the Church turns the shimmering pages of the book of the Apocalypse and draws us into their mystery. "Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, writes the Apostle, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near" (Ap 1:3).

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I preached this homily in 2007, and decided to post it again today.

2 Corinthians 9:6-10
Psalm 111: 1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9
John 12:24-26

Live With Christ and Laurence

I wish that I could put you all in a bus today and accompany you to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City just to see there the small round glass medallion dating from the fourth century that depicts Saint Laurence. The medallion bears the simple inscription: “Live with Christ and Laurence.” What some would see as a simple cultural artifact is for us a witness to the unchanging faith of the Church. The saints are those who have passed into eternal life with Christ. “Live with Christ and Laurence.” To live with Christ is to live in the society of the saints. Not only do we remember each year the anniversary of their birthday into the life of heaven; we seek their intercession and rely on it. We make our pilgrimage through this life in their company, having “over our head,” as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

A Saint Painting A Saint

I also wish that I could transport all of you to the Chapel of Pope Nicholas V in the Vatican to see there the series of frescoes that Blessed Fra Angelico painted to depict the life of Saint Laurence. This in itself is remarkable: a saint painting a saint.

Laurence and the Poor

In one scene of the series he shows Saint Laurence coming out of a basilica to meet the poor who are waiting for him. Laurence is youthful; he is dressed as a deacon for the liturgy. His dalmatic is deep rose in colour, suggesting joy, and trimmed in gold, hinting at the glory that is already transforming him. On the ground in front of him is a crippled man holding out his hand and begging for alms. To his right is an old man with a white beard, quite bent over, and leaning on his walking stick; he too is asking for alms. To Laurence’s left stands an impoverished widow in a dark dress and, just behind her, a young mother with a baby in her arms. Again to his left, is a man in need of medicine, pointing to a wound in his knee. On both sides of Laurence are little children; two of them, having already received their alms, are walking away, while a third is still waiting to receive something.

The Cheerful Giver

The fresco is a kind of homily on today’s First Reading and Responsorial Psalm. Laurence is the cheerful giver, beloved of God (cf. 2 Cor 9: 7). “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (2 Cor 9:9, Ps 111:9). Blessed Fra Angelico painted theology: by showing the open basilica in the background, he is indicating that the Church is the servant of the hospitality of God, that her doors are open to all.

From Christ to Christ

By painting Saint Laurence in his dalmatic, he is suggesting that Laurence has just come from Mass where it is the deacon’s function to sing the dismissal, “Ite, missa est,” “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” or “Go, it is the sending forth.” The mission of the Church begins at the altar; leaving the altar, Laurence goes straight out the front door of the basilica to the poor who wait for him. He goes from Christ to Christ.

Bride of the Eternal One

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An Extraordinary Woman

Seventy years ago today, on August 9, 1942, the Carmelite Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, known in the world as Dr. Edith Stein, met death in the infernal concentration camp of Auschwitz. Edith Stein was a Jew, born into an Orthodox family on October 12, 1891. It was the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. For a time, suffering from depression, and determined nonetheless to seek her own truth, she abandoned all outward religious practice. Edith asked for Baptism after reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. "This," she said, "is the truth."

The Prayer of Esther

The liturgy places the impassioned prayer of Esther on the lips of Teresa Benedicta in Auschwitz. “As a child I was wont to hear from the people of the land of my forefathers that you, O Lord, chose Israel from among all peoples, and our fathers from among all their ancestors, as a lasting heritage, and that you fulfilled all your promises to them. Be mindful of us, O Lord. Manifest yourself in the time of our distress.“(Est 4:3, 12).

Salvation From the Jews

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is of the lineage of Miriam, of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Judith and Esther, of the same people as the Blessed Virgin, Miriam of Nazareth, of whom was born Yeshouah who is called the Christ. The words of Our Lord in today’s gospel strike us with a particular resonance. “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn 4:22).

The Root

Saint Paul reminds us that, “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). God’s choice of Israel remains; His love for Israel stands firm forever. How could God not cherish with a love of predilection the race that gave His only begotten Son flesh and blood? Gentile Christians are the wild olive shoot, grafted in place to share the richness of the olive tree. Lest we be tempted to boast, Saint Paul says: “Remember, it is not you that supports the root, but the root that supports you” (Rom 11:18).

Through the Eyes of a Bridal Love

Through the gift of the Law and the message of the prophets, God Himself undertook Israel’s education and preparation for a universal mission, for an abiding vocation. The Law and the prophets admonish Israel to fear the Lord God, to follow all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord God with heart and soul, to keep His commandments and laws. All of this is a response to merciful love. The vocation of Israel is to discover the holiness of God revealed in the Torah, to contemplate Him through the eyes of a bridal love. The God to Whom belong the heavens and the earth set his heart on Israel; God chose a people to be uniquely His own in view of a covenant by which Israel would become the beloved, the bride of the Eternal One.

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2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Psalm 125: 1-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6
Matthew 20:20-28

Treasure in Earthen Vessels

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7). Another translation puts it this way: “We have a treasure, then, in our keeping, but its shell is of perishable earthenware; it must be God, and not anything in ourselves, that gives it its sovereign power.” The contrast is striking: treasure held in earthen vessels. But what is the treasure? In verse 6, Saint Paul says, “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 Cor 4:6). The treasure, then, is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the Face of Christ.

An Eye-Witness of the Transfiguration

When one considers that James was an eye-witness of the Transfiguration, the deeper meaning of today’s First Reading comes into focus. While James looked on, together with Peter and with his brother John, Jesus “was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light” (Mt 17:2). The splendour of Jesus’ Face burned itself indelibly into the heart of James. Contemplating the Face of the transfigured Jesus, James was filled with “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6). This is the treasure that Saint James carried in a shell of fragile earthenware: his own human weakness.

Gethsemani

The Transfiguration reveals the treasure; the agony in the garden of Gethsemani reveals to us the fragility of the earthen vessels. To Peter, James, and John, Jesus said, “Remain here and watch with me” (Mt 26:38), but after His prayer to the Father, he found them sleeping. Again, a second time, He asked these, his intimate companions, to watch and pray, warning them of the weakness of the flesh, and again He came and “found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy” (Mt 26:43). And so it happened a third time but, by then, the hour of Jesus’ betrayal was already at hand (Mt 26:45). The radiant memory of Jesus transfigured, “the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6), was held in earthen vessels: in the hearts of men who could not watch even one hour with their Master in his agony.

Wasting the Precious Ointment

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Yesterday morning (2 June 2012), during the very lengthy and rich Liturgy for Ember Saturday in Whitsun (Pentecost) Week, I preached to a group of layfolk on liturgical maximalism and the monastic vocation.

You can listen here.

Eyes Only for Thy Face

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A Longing to See Him Again

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote somewhere that the Ascension of the Lord is "at once a source of sorrow, because it involves His absence; and of joy, because it involves His presence." For Our Blessed Lady and the Apostles, standing on the Mount of Olives with their eyes riveted to the heavens, the Ascension was the last glimpse of the Face of Christ on earth. The disappearance of the beloved Face of Christ leaves in the heart of the Church a longing to see Him again, a burning desire for His return.

I Seek Thy Face

This is the grace offered us in Exaudi, Domine, today's incomparable Introit: "Listen to my voice, Lord, when I cry to Thee, alleluia. True to my heart's promise I have eyes only for Thy Face; I seek Thy Face, O Lord! Turn not Thy Face away from me, alleluia, alleluia" (Ps 26: 7-9). The desire to contemplate the Face of Christ becomes a persistent longing; this is the experience of all the saints. The vitality of one's interior life can be measured by the intensity of one's desire to see the Face of Christ.

Blessed John Paul II

Twelve years ago, in Novo Millennio Ineunte, Blessed John Paul II placed the new millennium under the radiant sign of the Face of Christ. Then again, at the beginning of the Year of the Eucharist, the year of his death, Blessed John Paul II again directed our eyes to the Face of Christ concealed and revealed in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

The Holy Spirit

There is a vital connection between the Holy Spirit and the Face of the Word made flesh. Recall the promise of Our Lord before His Passion: "He who is to befriend you, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send on my account, will in His turn make everything plain, and recall to your minds everything I have said you" (Jn 14:26). "It will be for Him, the truth-giving Spirit, when He comes, to guide you into all truth" (Jn 16:13). Contemplation of the Holy Face of Jesus is the means by which the Holy Spirit teaches us all that we need to know in order to become saints.

The Holy Spirit teaches us by referring them to the adorable Face of Jesus. The Holy Spirit so illumines the Sacred Scriptures for us that we perceive the Face of the Bridegroom shining through the text. "Now," says the Bride of the Canticle, "He is looking in through each window in turn, peering through every chink" (Ct 2:9).

The Memory of the Church

Since His Ascension from the Mount of Olives, the Holy Face of Jesus fills the vision of the Church. The Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance all that Our Lord said by compelling us ceaselessly to seek His Face. This is why the Church sings on this Sunday After the Ascension: "Listen to my voice, Lord, when I cry to Thee, alleluia. True to my heart's promise I have eyes only for Thy Face; I seek Thy Face, O Lord! Turn not Thy Face away from me, alleluia, alleluia" (Ps 26: 7-9).

The Cenacle

Today's Holy Gospel, from the 15th chapter of Saint John, takes place in the Cenacle. The place of (1) the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and of the Priesthood is the very place wherein (2) Mary's Motherhood of the Church begins to unfold in a ceaseless prayer. At Pentecost, the same Cenacle becomes the place of (3) the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These three mysteries are telescoped into one in every celebration of Holy Mass. Today, after two thousand years, the Cenacle remains the Church's home. The Church lives out of the Cenacle -- Ecclesia de Eucharistia -- and returns to the Cenacle to be renewed in the Holy Spirit through the intercession of Mary, the Mediatrix of All Graces.

The Eucharistic Face of Christ

In the Cenacle, together with Our Blessed Lady and the Apostles, one contemplates the Eucharistic Face of Christ. The commandment of the Lord on the night before He suffered, "Do this for a commemoration of me" (Lk 22:19), was certainly obeyed by the Apostles during the days that separated the Ascension of the Lord from Pentecost. The Mother of the Eucharist was there. The very Face that disappeared into the heavens over the Mount of Olives on the day of the Ascension re-appears in every Holy Mass, hidden, and yet shining, through the sacramental veils.

The Priestly Prayer

The Priestly Prayer of Christ to the Father, first uttered in the Cenacle on the night before He suffered, is wondrously actualized in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is Christ, the Eternal High Priest, who stands at the altar with His Face turned toward the Father and His pierced Heart open for all eternity, that out of it we may receive the life-giving torrent that is the Gift of the Holy Spirit. In some way, the final chapters of Saint John's Gospel are a sustained contemplation of the Face of Jesus turned toward us, and lifted to the Father.

Contemplate the Face of Jesus, portrayed in the Fourth Gospel: the Holy Spirit will surely draw you into His filial and priestly prayer to the Father. This is, I think, the reason for taking today's Communion Antiphon from Our Lord's Priestly Prayer given in the 17th Chapter of Saint John. One who receives the Body and Blood of Christ, receives the very prayer of Christ into his soul. The grace of every Holy Communion is that of Christ praying to His Father in us and for us.

As the Spirit of the Lord Enables Us

Through the adorable mystery of the Eucharist, the Face we so long to contemplate is set before our eyes and burned into our souls. "It is given to us, all alike, to catch the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, with faces unveiled; and so we become transfigured into the same likeness, borrowing glory from that glory, as the Spirit of the Lord enables us" (2 Cor 3:18).


Sufficit tibi gratia mea

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Sexagesima Sunday
12 February 2012

The Introit

Today's Mass opens with a great cry asking God to wake up. The prayer is one of a people that feels forgotten, of a people that fears being rejected. God seems to be asleep, or far away, or on holiday , or occupied with other things. "Why turnest Thou Thy face away, and forgettest our trouble?" When God looks away, dreadful things happen: we fall low, so very low that our belly cleaves to the earth.

The psalmist is expressing what he, from his perspective, feels. He is doing what we so often do in our relationship with others. We blame the other person for the very thing that we ourselves are doing. It is not, in fact, God who needs the wake-up call. We do. It is not God who has forgotten us but, rather, we who have forgotten God. It is not God who has turned His face away from us, but we who have turned our faces away from Him. It is not God who would cast us off, but we who would throw off the yoke that binds us to Him.

Honest Prayer

It is perfectly right that we should express ourselves honestly to God in prayer, even if this means asking questions, railing against Him, and bemoaning the disgust we may, at times, feel against ourselves, against others, and against life in general. The entire Psalter teaches us to do this. At the same time, the very act of praying honestly, of "getting it all out" in the presence of God, softens our hearts, changes them, and allows us to begin to see things from God's perspective, which, if we persevere in prayer, we are obliged to admit is the only right one.

The Collect

The Collect demonstrates that praying honestly changes our point of view. We begin by saying, "O God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do." The somewhat self-righteous lament of the psalmist in the Introit, who is convinced that God is being inattentive and distant, becomes the prayer of one who admits that, ultimately, nothing he does or acquires is, as it were, money in the bank . It is not a question of striving and achieving, but rather, of becoming utterly poor, and of learning to receive all things from God.

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La petite Thérèse

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, our 24 year old Doctor of the Church, wrote:

It is true I am not always faithful, but I never lose courage. I leave myself in the Arms of Our Lord. He teaches me to draw profit from everything, from the good and from the bad which He finds in me. He teaches me to speculate in the Bank of Love, or rather it is He Who speculates for me, without telling me how He does it--that is His affair, not mine. I have but to surrender myself wholly to Him, to do so without reserve, without even the satisfaction of knowing what it is all bringing to me.

And again, in her prayer of self-offering to the Merciful Love of God, she wrote:

When comes the evening of life, I shall stand before Thee with empty hands, because I do not ask Thee, my God, to take account of my works. All our works of justice are blemished in Thine Eyes.

The Collect also asks God to grant us the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles, that is, of Saint Paul, who in the Epistle, speaks to us candidly of his own sufferings, weaknesses, and glory. Saint Thérèse had read her Saint Paul well. I can see her endorsing enthusiastically all that he says to us today.

Saint Paul

Challenged by those who see themselves as super-apostles, Saint Paul is obliged to present his own defense. He glories not in heroic deeds, not in the working of miracles, not in honourable accomplishments, and not even in mystical experiences of the highest order but, rather, in his sufferings and in his infirmities. Why? The things we perceive as heroic -- our pathetic attempts at playing the splendid Christian -- risk filling us up with ourselves to the point of leaving no room for mercy, no room for grace, no room for the power of Christ. Our infirmities, on the other hand, our failures, our dodgy escapades, and even our sins, empty us of any pretext for glorying in ourselves. For some of us, God Himself will see to it that we never become inflated by the gifts we have received from Him, by giving us, at the same time, "a sting of the flesh" to buffet us into the humility without which we cannot be saved.

The Grace of Christ

That weakness in yourself that you so detest, the chronic failure that leaves you sitting in the gutter, the sin that spoils the imaginary portrait of yourself as nearly perfect, all of these things may be permitted by God, and this because the grace of Christ penetrates us most easily through our wounds, through the chinks in our armour, through cracks in our systems of defense.

Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks to each one of us today the very words that He spoke to Saint Paul. "My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity."

The Seed of the Word

Will we hear these words of Our Lord? Will we take them to heart? Or will they fall upon the wayside to be trodden down and stolen away by wicked birds of prey? Or will they fall upon the rock of our hearts grown hard in pride and self-sufficiency? Will we receive them with a superficial thrill of spiritual enthusiasm, and then forget them to go on with business as usual? Or will they be choked by the cares of this life, by the drive to have, to control, and to enjoy? Or will these words of Our Lord find in our hearts a good ground, receptive and open, ready to hear them, to keep them, and to bring forth fruit in patience?

Should we receive Our Lord's words in this last way, we will find ourselves capable of saying with complete honesty, together with Saint Paul, and with Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, who so assimilated his doctrine: "Gladly, will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

Mercy, Grace, and Copious Redemption

I am who I am, and you are who you are, and this with all the ugly bits, with the untidiness, the shameful secrets, the chronic weaknesses, and the falls from grace. None of this is terminal, provided that we confess and believe that Our Lord Jesus is who He is, that with Him there is mercy and copious redemption, and that His grace is sufficient for us today, as it will be tomorrow. To whom be all glory and praise, now and always, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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A Preacher Unlike Any Other

Would that Saint John Chrysostom, the Patron Saint of Preachers, could stand here in my place today and preach with the golden-mouthed eloquence given him by the Holy Ghost! How would we respond to his preaching? Saint Chrysostom's preaching disturbed the placid, inflamed the tepid, woke up the drowsy, exposed corruption, frightened the indifferent, unsettled the comfortable, and caused the pious to squirm.

His preaching also inspired confidence in the Blood of Christ, gave hope to the hopeless, caused sinners to weep with sorrow for their faults, inspired the rich to give abundantly of their wealth, moved people to detachment from earthly goods, humbled the haughty, brought fornicators to chastity, converted swindlers to justice, and endowed the ignorant with the science of Jesus Christ.

Immersion in the Word of God

The secret of Saint John Chrysostom's eloquence was his total immersion in the Word of God. Centuries later, Blessed Abbot Marmion would say that nothing imparts a penetrating unction to preaching as much as a continual reference to the Word of God. On this point the greatest preachers are of one mind: their task is to repeat the Word in other words, to deliver not their own wisdom, but the wisdom of God revealed in the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18).

Take to heart Saint Chrysostom's admonition:

Listen carefully to me, I entreat you. . . . Procure books that will be medicines for the soul. . . . At least get a copy of the New Testament, the Apostle's epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If you encounter grief, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take from them comfort for your trouble, whether it be loss, or death, or bereavement over the loss of relations. Don't simply dive into them. Swim in them. Keep them constantly in your mind. The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well.

The Cause of All Evils

The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well. Why does the Golden-Mouthed Doctor say this? Because he who fails to know the Scriptures well fails to know the mind and heart of Christ. He who knows not the mind and heart of Christ receives the Body and Blood of Christ with little fruit. It is the Word, the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18), that prepares us for the Holy Sacrifice.

Lectio Divina

It is the Word heard (lectio), repeated (meditatio), prayed (oratio), and held in the heart (contemplatio) that prepares the soul to receive the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ, and prolongs the effects of Holy Communion throughout the day.

The Word of the Cross and the Fruits of the Precious Blood

The intensity of our Eucharistic life is directly proportionate to our immersion in the Word of God. Ask Saint John Chrysostom today to pray that we may cleave to the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18) and so experience the lasting fruits of the Precious Blood of Christ.

Saint Paul, the First Hermit

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Planted in the House of the Lord

Today, in our Benedictine calendar, we commemorate Saint Paul the First Hermit (+343). The Introit of the Mass, taken from Psalm 91, tells us that Saint Paul flourished like the palm tree and grew up like a Lebanon cedar. He lived as one planted in the house of the Lord, abiding in the courts of the house of our God. The imagery of the psalmist points to the words of Our Lord in the Fourth Gospel: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me" (John 15:4). Monastic enclosure, that is, separation from the world so as to live "in the house of the Lord and in the courts of the house of our God" (Psalm 91:14) is the concrete expression of a deeper aspiration: the soul's desire and resolution to abide in the love of Christ.

The Deeds of the Saints

In the Collect we ask that we may grow like Saint Paul the First Hermit in deed. What exactly does this mean? I, for one, am far from capable of following Saint Paul the First Hermit in his ascetical rigours.

The Epistle of the Mass answers the question. The other Paul, the Apostle, says, "Brethren, the things that were gain to me, the same I counted loss for Christ. Further, I count all things to be but loss, for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as but dung, that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him" (Philippians 3:7-9). Saint Benedict synthesizes this in the Holy Rule by enjoining us "to prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ" (RB 72 and "to put nothing before the love of Christ" (RB 4:21).

I Praise Thee, O Father

The Gospel of the Mass (Matthew 11:25-30) is wonderfully suited to the feast of a monastic saint. It is the prayer of Jesus addressed to the Father, a prayer at once eucharistic and doxological, the model prayer set before all who would confess, that is, praise and glorify, the Father in Christ and through Christ:

I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me by my Father. And no one knoweth the Son, but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him.

The second part of today's Gospel is, to my mind, the invitation by which Jesus calls souls to the monastic life. It is, in fact, quoted in the magnificent old threefold prayer by which a man is consecrated a monk, following his solemn profession.

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.

Yoked to Christ

Every morning, while putting on my scapular, I pray, "I take Thy yoke upon me, Lord Jesus, for Thou are meek and humble of heart, for Thy yoke is easy and Thy burden light, and I will find rest for my soul." In writing this I am think of our Oblate candidates who will receive the Benedictine scapular this coming Sunday. The monk in his cloister, and the Oblate living monastically in the world, are yoked to Christ. Nothing is said or done, thought or desired, apart from Him. In moments of weakness, weariness, and fear, He is present, yoked to the soul by love.

The Love of Christ Today

Some would argue that we live in a time and culture radically different from that of Saint Paul the First Hermit and of Saint Benedict, our Patriarch. Civilizations may rise and fall, cultures may wax and wane, but "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). One whom Christ has yoked to Himself will abide in His love, and one who has tasted of His love will, by His unfailing grace deployed in weakness, prefer it to all else.

New Podcasts Available

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Brother Benedict was kind enough to upload five new homilies of mine. See the link to Our Lady of the Cenacle Podcast in the right sidebar or click here.

I preach these homilies at daily Mass (10:00 a.m.) in the Oratory of our little monastery in Tulsa. Sometimes there are a three or four guests present; at others times there are more. Occasionally the Oratory is filled to capacity with an overflow in the entrance hall and sacristy. And there are also days when we find ourselves celebrating very simply as the little embryonic monastic community that we are.

One or two of these homilies were preached in the presence of small children and may be addressed, in a special way, to their level of understanding.

As Brother Benedict finds the time to upload them, more podcasts will be made available. I am grateful for his technological expertise.

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Go to Be an Offering and a Fragrant Incense

Today’s feast is Eastern in origin, Eastern in sensibility. To taste its mystery one has to hear and meditate the poetry with which the Byzantine tradition celebrates it. In one of the texts prescribed for Great Vespers, the Church sings:

When Anne, which means grace, was graced with the pure and ever-virgin Mary, she presented her into the temple of God. She called maidens to carry candles and walk before her as she said: 'O child, go to be an offering and a fragrant incense for the One who sent you to me. Enter into the veiled places and learn the mysteries of God. Prepare yourself to be a delightful dwelling-place for Jesus who will give great mercy to the world.

The First Presentation

The presentation of Mary in the Temple prefigures the presentation of Mary in the Temple of the heavenly Jerusalem, the mystery of her Assumption. In the first presentation, the child Mary, fulfilling the psalmist’s prophecy, is “led to the king with her maiden companions” (Ps 44:15). Sacred legend recounts that the child Mary entered the courtyard of the Temple dancing for joy, continued into the Holy Place, climbed the fifteen steps of the staircase leading to the Holy of Holies and, to the amazement of Zechariah and the other priests, penetrated beyond the veil. No one dared to stop her. All were overcome with a holy fear. Even the Angels looked on with astonishment.

The Second Presentation

In the second presentation, that of her Assumption, Mary enters heaven itself escorted by angels. She penetrates beyond the veil to take her place with Christ “in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord” (Heb 8:2). Mary’s second presentation in the Temple fulfills what was foreshadowed in the first. Mary is the mother of “the hope set before us” (Heb 6:18). She is given us as “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters in even within the veil, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchisedech” (Heb 6:19-20).

Offering ourselves to be set ablaze

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We had the Saturday Mass de Beata today but, following our Benedictine calendar, also commemorated Saint Theodore Studite with the following Collect:

O God, who through the blessed abbot Theodore didst restore the beauty and order of the cenobitic life, grant, we beseech Thee, that by his example and help, we may be configured by the Holy Ghost to the sufferings of Christ through patience, and so be found worthy of a share in His kingdom.
We make our prayer through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, God forever and ever.

Two Saints of the East

The calendar is charged today with a double "weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17), for while the Roman calendar commemorates Saint Josaphat, bishop and martyr, the Benedictine calendar offers us the memorial of Saint Theodore the Studite, abbot. In commemorating the two saints, there is not dissonance, but a profound resonance. Theodore and Josaphat are both Eastern Orthodox saints. Theodore, abbot and reformer of the great Stoudion monastery in Constantinople, belongs to the undivided Church. He died in 826, well before the Great Estrangement of East and West. Josaphat, bishop in Ukraine, suffered the effects of that estrangement. While remaining theologically, culturally, and liturgically Orthodox, he brought his flock into communion with the See of Peter in 1623, and paid with his own blood for the partial unity he achieved.

Blessed John Paul II's Passionate Longing

"The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world" (Wis 1:7) but, for centuries, Roman Catholics acted as if the Spirit was given to them alone. Eastern Orthodox Christians, from their side, were more than reticent to admit of any stirrings of the Holy Spirit in the West. When, on May 2, 1995, Blessed Pope John Paul II promulgated his Apostolic Letter, "The Light of the East," he bared his Slavic soul and, in some way, brought to a new level of fruitfulness the historic embrace of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras on January 6, 1964.

Blessed John Paul II's words are clear:

Since the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ's Church , the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition. . . . The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church's catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world" (Orientale Lumen 1).

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The Church Hierarchical and Charismatic

Among the riches offered by the Eastern Churches is a level of balance and reciprocity between the hierarchical and the charismatic elements of the Church. Today's saints illustrate both.

Saint Theodore is the prophet, fascinated by the Beauty of God, restoring a desert in the heart of Constantinople.

Saint Josaphat is the servant of visible communion with his brother bishops, and with the bishop of Rome.

For the Eastern Churches, monks and nuns are Spirit-bearing fathers and mothers living on the margin of the institutional Church and yet, paradoxically, speaking wisdom from the heart of the Church. If monastics need to listen to their bishops; bishops need to listen to the "voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Mt 3:3).

Fire from the Altar

If the torch is to be kept burning, and is to burn here in this fledgling monastery, and in other monasteries the world over, we must draw fire daily from the holocaust of charity that is the the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, offering ourselves to be set ablaze, for when the torch entrusted to monks grows dim, the entire Church becomes a darker place.

21st Sunday After Pentecost

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The image is a detail of Bellini's famous altarpiece of Saint Job. It depicts, left to right, Saint Francis of Assisi showing the wound in his side, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Job. All three saints are linked, in some way, to the Passion of Our Lord. In Job, the innocent who suffers, we see a foreshadowing of Christ in His bitter sufferings. Saint John the Baptist, by his passion and death, prefigures the passion and death of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Saint Francis of Assisi, for his part, bears in his own flesh the marks of the wounds of the Crucified, thereby becoming, for all time, an icon of the suffering Christ in the Church.

Introit
Esther 13: 9, 10, 11

All things are in Thy will, O Lord;
and there is none that can resist Thy will:
for Thou hast made all things, heaven and earth,
and all things that are under the cope of heaven:
Thou art Lord of all.
V. Blessed are the undefiled in the way;
who walk in the law of the Lord. (Ps. 118. 1)

The Introit is a prayer of submission to the adorable Will of God. It acknowledges that God alone, the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth, orders the universe. Jesus tells us in Luke 12:6-7 that the very hairs of our head are numbered, and that the Father, who watches over the plight of common sparrows, watches over us and is attentive to every detail of our lives. The secret of holiness is a childlike abandonment to the wisdom and providence of God.

One who lives in loving submission to the Father's Will, walks undefiled in the way of holiness, that is, in the law of the Lord. This is the imitation of Christ: to say with Him, "The Father has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to Him (John 8:29) and again, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work" (John 4:34).

Collect

O Lord, we beseech Thee,
with steady kindness keep Thy household safe:
that, through Thy protection,
it may be free from all adversities,
and devoutly given to good works for the glory of Thy Name.
Through our Lord.

For many Catholics, and even for some of the most devout, the great forgotten truth is the Fatherhood of God. We are the family of God, His household, and He is our Father and our Protector. Protector, derived from the Latin tectum for roof or covering, means the one who provides us with a roof over our heads, the one who shields us from the elements.

Much of the neurosis and scrupulosity of pious souls stems from a lack of confidence in the Fatherhood of God. One can give a notional assent to God's Fatherhood without giving a real assent to it in the concrete circumstances of everyday life. It is one thing to know about the Fatherhood of God; it is quite another to stake one's very life upon it.

Today, more than ever before, in a culture where fatherhood is belittled, mocked, and, often, invisible, it is necessary for priests to preach the Fatherhood of God. This was the message of great saints given to the Church in the first half of the last century: among them are Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Blessed Charles de Foucauld, and Blessed Columba Marmion.

Another apostle of the Fatherhood of God, practically unknown outside of her native French Canada and, even there, forgotten by many, was Soeur Jean-Baptiste, F.C.S.P. (1896-1950), a little soul formed by the writings of Saint Thérèse. Among her books are Dieu est notre père: confiance et abandon; La foi en l'amour de Dieu; L'abandon filial; and L'Apostolat de l'élite cachée selon l'esprit de sainte Thérèse de l'Enfant-Jésus. I was introduced to the writings of Soeur Jean-Baptiste, over thirty years ago, by Père M-Thomas Nadeau, a little Cistercian monk with mischievous blue eyes and a vast knowedge of 19th and 20th century French Catholic literature.

The Collect also asks God to keep us safe, continua pietate, by His steady lovingkindness. The pietas of God the Father, His utter devotedness to us, is not subject to variations or fluctations, like a bad internet connection. His paternal care for us is, at every moment, fully in operation. The pietas of the Father is inexhaustible, dependable, and always close at hand.

Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-17

The Father sends His children into the world, just as He sent His First-Born into the world: to engage in a stupendous combat with the powers of darkness and the forces of evil. The Son emerged from His combat wounded, but gloriously triumphant. Those who would follow Him must be prepared to engage in combat, "not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Ephesians 6:12). The same God who provides His children with shelter, provides them with a divine armour: breastplate and shoes, shield, helmet, and sword. Thus prepared for battle, one can venture forth without presumption, confident in the strength of the Lord and in the might of His power.

Gradual
Psalm 89:1-2

Lord, Thou hast been our refuge from generation to generation.
V. Before the mountains were made,
or the earth and the world was formed;
from eternity and to eternity Thou art God.

Today's Gradual is a song of confidence and trust. God is the refuge of His children, not intermittently, but always and forever. What joy there is to sing to Him: "From eternity and to eternity Thou art God"!

Alleluia
Psalm 113:1

When Israel went out of Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a barbarous people.

The Alleluia verse is the opening line of the great psalm of the Exodus, sung every Monday at Vespers in the Benedictine rite. When Israel went out of Egypt, it was to conquer the Promised Land by waging war against the idolatrous peoples who stood in their way. The motif of spiritual combat, found in the Epistle, recurs again here.

Gospel: Matthew 18:23-35

The same God who sends His children out to wage war against the devil and his vast network of evil, would have us oppose evil with good, hatred with love, tyranny with gentleness, domination with humility, retribution with forgiveness.

Offertory
Job 1

There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job, simple, upright, and fearing God: whom Satan besought that he might tempt: and power was given him from the Lord over his possessions of his flesh; and he destroyed all his substance and his children; and wounded his flesh also with a grievous ulcer.

The Offertory Antiphon, a summary of the drama that unfolds in the first chapter of the Book of Job, comes as something of a surprise today. The Holy Job, however, a figure of the Suffering Christ, is also a forerunner of those saints who, like Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, practiced abandonment to the merciful love of God to an heroic degree, saying, "Even though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Job 13:15).

Communion Antiphon
Psalm 118: 81, 84, 86

My soul is in Thy salvation, and in Thy word have I hoped:
when wilt Thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?
the wicked have persecuted me: help me, O Lord my God.

The Communion Antiphon tells us how we are to pray in the fray of spiritual combat. With Christ living in us, we can say to the Father, "My soul is in Thy salvation, and in Thy word have I hoped."

The Eucharistic Humility of God

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The 16th Sunday After Pentecost

The Most Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of the Divine Humility.
Those who partake of It worthily
enter into the humility of God,
for one cannot eat the Bread of the Humble
and remain proud.

Those who adore this Sacrament of the Divine Humility
are drawn into the obedience of God,
who, at the word of a man,
of a priest speaking and acting in the Name of Christ,
annihilates the substance of a little bread
to replace it entirely
with His Divinity united to the Sacred Humanity.

Who can describe the Eucharistic Humility of God?
Here the Word made flesh,
born of the Virgin Mary, and crucified,
He whose side was opened by the soldier's lance,
He who rested in the darkness of the tomb,
He who rose from the dead
and is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father,
here, He is really present:
silent in the fragility of the sacred species,
and hidden from view not only by the sacramental veil
--the appearance of bread--
but, more often than not, by the tabernacle as well.

This is the Humility of God,
hidden from the eyes of the learned and the clever,
but revealed to little children.
I think of Blessed Francisco Marto of Fatima,
who, at nine years of age,
understood the mystery of the Hidden Jesus
and wanted nothing more than to console Him
by hiding himself close to the tabernacle.

Worldly arrogance scoffs at the folly of a God
hidden under the appearance of a little bread
and put away in a box;
but this Mystery follows and completes
the disconcerting logic of God who hides Himself
in a Virgin's womb,
becoming a man like unto other men
in all things, save sin.

The Eucharistic Humility of God
is inseparable from His Eucharistic Silence.
This Saint Benedict understood,
for in his Rule, the silent are humble,
and the humble silent.

This our Mother Mectilde understood
for she wanted her Benedictine adorers to bury themselves
in the silence of the hidden God,
the ineffably humble God
in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

This the little Thérèse understood
for she knew that one who would find the Hidden Face of Jesus,
must first hide himself.

The Eucharistic Face of Jesus, His Hidden Face,
is revealed only to those who themselves risk being hidden,
as the psalm says:
"Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy Face,
from the disturbance of men,
Thou shalt protect them in Thy tabernacle
from the strife of tongues" (Psalm 30:20).

The last place at the banquet is elusive;
he who thinks he has found it
may be surprised to discover
that Another has taken a still lower place before him.

No matter how low we think we have placed ourselves,
no matter how little we think we have made ourselves,
no matter how diligently we think we have sought the last place of all,
no matter how completely we imagine ourselves to be
buried in silence,
there is Another, the Other,
who has forever laid claim to the lowest place,
who, though He be the infinite God,
Creator of all things visible and invisible,
has made Himself littler than a crumb of bread.

Has He not made Himself
the very last thing that remains
when all have left the banquet table:
a fragment of bread to be stored away?

Has He not entered into an inviolable silence
that astonishes even the angelic Choirs
and causes kings to fall silent and adore?

One does not become humble by striving to be so,
for all our striving is infected by an insidious pride.
One does not become humble by striking humble poses,
by affecting a humble speech,
or even by thinking humble thoughts.
And why?
Because humility belongs to God alone
who made it His own in the mystery of the Incarnation,
and who continues to make it His own
so often as the mystic words are uttered by a priest
over a little bread and a little wine mixed with water:
"This is My Body. This is the chalice of My Blood."
Here is the Mysterium Fidei:
the Eucharistic Humility of God.

Eat the Body of Christ, and digest the Divine Humility.
Drink the Blood of Christ;
it is the elixir of those who would hide themselves with Christ in God.

Since the event of the Incarnation
--the descent of God into the Virgin's womb,
in view of His descent into death's dark tomb--
and so often as Holy Mass is celebrated
--the descent of God into the frail appearance of Bread
and into the taste and fragrance and wetness
of a few drops of wine--
humility can be found nowhere else.

The very least and last of the guests
has become The Host,
and The Host
has made Himself the very least and last of the guests.

Tremble, then, to adore Him,
and having adored Him, receive Him,
that your soul may become the throne of the Humble Hidden God,
and His humility your most cherished treasure.

"Learn from Me," He says,
"for I am meek and humble of heart" (Matthew 11:29),
and again,
"Everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled,
and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11).

Adoremus in aeternum
sanctissimum et augustissimum Sacramentum.

Saint Jerome and Lectio Divina

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Jerome and the Monastic Path

Jerome, translator of the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible into Latin, the tongue of the common folk, was a lover of the poor Christ. He sang the praises of monastic solitude, saying that “monks do on earth what the angels do in heaven.” We owe to Jerome the theology that sees in monastic profession a kind of second baptism, washing away sin just like martyrdom. It is Jerome who teaches us that the martyrdom of the monastic life is won not by the struggles of continence alone, but by the choice of poverty, and by perseverance in the praise of God.

Jerome was baptized during his student days in Rome. After a first attempt at monastic living in the deserts of Syria, he went to Antioch and there was ordained a priest. With an almost obsessive passion, he devoted himself to the study of Hebrew and Greek. Tutored by none other than Saint Gregory Nazianzen in Constantinople, Jerome went on to Rome where Pope Saint Damasus charged him with the revision of the Latin Bible.

Crankiness and Sanctity

In Rome, Jerome never really got on with other clergy. He was not ambitious for ecclesiastical promotion. He was somewhat irascible, dipping his pen rather more often into vinegar than honey. Jerome loved nothing so much as good squabble, and argued bitterly and at great length with his critics and adversaries. He had little time for trivial niceties.

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Caravaggio's "Call of Matthew" is a meditatio on the lectio of today's Gospel. It gives rise to oratio and leads to contemplatio. I am amazed at Caravaggio's ability to depict in shadow and in light the struggle of the soul to escape the darkness of sin and the mysterious inbreaking of divine light. The artist's own struggles with the great human passions -- and with sin -- made him, in his own way, an evangelist of the mercy of God.

September 21
Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

The Inbreaking Light

On this feast of Saint Matthew, it is the Apostle and Evangelist himself who relates what happened the day Jesus passed by, saw him, and called him, saying, "Follow me" (Mt 9:9). I have been looking at Caravaggio's famous painting of the call of Saint Matthew. Caravaggio places the event inside a dark house. The only light comes from an open window just above the head of Christ; it illuminates the face of Matthew seated at his counting table. Matthew has the somewhat jaded fleshy face of a prosperous banker. He is well dressed and is wearing a kind of velvet cap.

The Three Stages of Life

To Matthew's right a young boy is seated; he too is fashionably dressed, sporting a white plume in his cap. (He looks like a younger version of Matthew.) To Matthew's left there is an old bespectacled man bent over the table and totally absorbed in counting his coins. Caravaggio is showing the three stages of life: youth, middle age, and old age. Matthew is seated between youth and old age. The youth depicts what Matthew once was: open, innocent, not yet crooked and corrupted. The old man counting his money depicts what Matthew risks becoming: a man in love with one thing only, his money.

The Luminous Face of Jesus

The Face of Jesus is in the light while all around Him there are shadows. In His eyes we see a divine intensity and the most poignant tenderness. Christ is extending his hand and pointing at Matthew. Matthew, clearly shocked and not quite believing what is happening to him, points to himself as if to say, "Me? Are you addressing me?" Caravaggio's painting is, in its own way, a marvelous homily on today's Gospel.

Your Story and Mine

The call of Matthew, as recounted in his Gospel and as portrayed in Caravaggio's painting, is more than the story of one man's experience of Jesus Christ over two thousand years ago. It is your story and mine. It concerns each one of us just as much as it concerns Saint Matthew, for the Lord Jesus says: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. . . . For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mt 9:12-13).

The Divine Physician

If you are sick in any way, if you are afflicted, burdened, wounded, broken, twisted, ailing or weak, then you have reason to rejoice. Christ the Divine Physician comes for you! For you was His Heart opened flowing with water and blood: water to cleanse you of sin, and blood that you may have new life, "and have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10).

Balm, Food, and Drink

The Divine Physician comes to anoint you with His Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the healing balm of the Father and the Son spread over the wounds of the soul. And then, He nourishes you at the Holy Table of his Body and Blood. The Divine Physician would have you grow strong with the very strength of God, a strength that needs your weakness if it is to shine forth. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). The strength of Christ is displayed and illustrated in the weakness of those whom He calls.

The Past No Obstacle

Our Lord calls each of us today, just as he called Matthew out of that dark and dreary counting house to leave all and follow him into the light of day. The number of our years and the burden of our infirmities, are no obstacle. Our past, with its mistakes, failures, and sins, is no obstacle.

And He Rose

When Christ calls, the Holy Ghost urges us from within to rise up and follow him. It is a pity that the American lectionary uses the weak, "and he got up," instead of the splendidly significant, "and he rose" of the Revised Standard Version. (The Greek verb is the very one used to denote the resurrection of Christ.) Caravaggio shows Matthew just before his spiritual resurrection. He is still seated; he is in that moment of decision where disbelief wrestles with hope. In Matthew's case, hopes wins. There is a spiritual resurrection. Matthew rises and follows the Master with the luminous face.

Rescued by the Sacraments

We too rise to newness of life at the call of Christ, and follow Him not by running after Him with our feet, but by running after Him with desire of our heart. We come Him in the Sacrament of Penance; we come to Him in the Most Holy Eucharist; and in both sacraments we experience the mercy that rescues us from what we are in danger of becoming: empty shells clinging to pathetic little attachments, and incapable of seeing beyond them.

Equipped for Apostleship

What happens once we have experienced the call of Christ? We become apostles. We want to share with others what it is to see that Face and to be called by that Voice. To help us live out our apostleship, Our Lord equips us with the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost and with a variety of other graces. This is what Saint Paul said in the First Reading: "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:11).

A Variety of Gifts

Some of you have the precious gift of spending long moments before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Others of you have the gift of bearing patiently with your infirmities. Others have the gift of a smile and a kind word. Still others have the gift of looking out for others, of being attentive and generous. All of these gifts build up the Body of Christ, the Church. God is a lavish giver! He wants to enrich us "with every spiritual blessing" (Eph 1:3). No one goes way from the Table of Divine Mercy without a gift.

The Newness of His Mercies

Be attentive today to the voice of the Merciful Christ and to the light that shines from His Holy Face. Study Caravaggio's painting of the Calling of Saint Matthew. Even if you first heard the voice of Christ forty or fifty or sixty years ago, today He calls you anew. His mercy is not given once and for all; Scripture says: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning" (Lam 3:22-23). The mercies of the Lord are ours in the adorable mysteries of his Sacred Body and Precious Blood. We, publicans and sinners, are welcomed at His Holy Table today. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.

In the Hand of His Providence

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We Are Blind and Blinkered

In today's Gospel, Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks with a touching simplicity. "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Lk 12:6-7). Dame Julian of Norwich puts it this way: "I saw in truth that God does all things, however small they may be. And I saw that nothing happens by chance, but by the far-sighted wisdom of God. If it seems like chance to us, it is because we are blind and blinkered."

In the Hand of His Providence

Saint Francis de Sales taught the same doctrine: "Do not look forward to the mishaps of this life with anxiety, but await them with perfect confidence so that when they do occur, God, to whom you belong, will deliver you from them. He has kept you up to the present; remain securely in the hand of His providence, and He will help you in all situations. When you cannot walk, He will carry you. Do not think about what will happen tomorrow, for the same eternal Father who takes care of you today will look out for you tomorrow and always."

Fruits of the Holy Ghost

Once we have accepted that all things are in the hand of God, and that the great events of history, like the smallest details of our own lives, are willed or permitted by Him, we begin to experience an unassailable peace of heart. "In everything, says Saint Paul, God works for good with those who love Him" (Rom 8:28). Worry has never advanced the kingdom of heaven. Worry has never made anyone holy. Panic, fretting, and anxiety are not fruits of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost produces confidence in God, trust in His mercy, abandonment to His designs, surrender to His will and, always, peace.

Control

Again, Saint Francis de Sales has a word for people who have the need always to be in control: "When we let go of everything, our Lord takes care of all and manages all. If we hold back anything -- this shows a lack of trust in Him -- He lets us keep it. It is as if he said, 'You think yourself wise enough to handle this matter without me; I allow you to do so; you will see how you come out in the end.'" It is a sound observation of human psychology that the more one feels that the big things in one's life are spinning out of control, the more one grasps at the little things, trying desperately to control what one can.

Worry Impedes Thanksgiving

Nothing keeps us from full participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass -- Christ's Great Thanksgiving to the Father -- as much as a stubborn attachment to worry. Worry impedes thanksgiving. Saint Pio said, "Guard yourselves against anxiety and worries, because there is nothing worse in the way of perfection than agitations, worries and anxieties of soul."

Sursum Corda

The cry of the priest at the beginning of the Preface, Sursum corda, "All hearts on high!" --and the response of the people, Habemus ad Dominum, "We hold them towards the Lord!" is a way of proclaiming that all of history, and even the tiniest bits and scraps of our own lives, are part of a bigger plan. Nothing that befalls us can keep us from God; every little thing has Eucharistic potential. In all things there is a reason to give thanks.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

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Glory in the Cross

"It is for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom is our health, life and Resurrection: through whom we have been saved and set free" (Introit). Celebrating today the mystery of the Cross, we fix our gaze not upon an instrument of torture and of shame but, rather, upon the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2). We lift our eyes to the royal throne of the King of glory, the sign of the Son of Man that will appear in the heavens at the end of the age (Mt 24:30). To the eyes of faith, the Cross shines like the sun over the eastern horizon.

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

In Rome, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is the scene of a solemn festival today. Pilgrims from all over the world will cross the threshold of the church established by Saint Helena; they will kneel before the wood of the True Cross. Great numbers of them will go to their confession. The relics of the True Cross will be carried in procession and placed upon the altar during Holy Mass.

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Everywhere in the Basilica of Santa Croce one sees the insignia of the holy and glorious Cross; it is painted, carved, and even woven into the cloth of the vestments. It is the life-giving and glorious Cross of Christ, studded with precious stones, and glimmering with the splendour of the stars. The arms of the Cross are thrown open wide to embrace the very limits of the cosmos. What did we sing at First Vespers? "Hail, O Cross! Brighter than all the stars! To the eyes of men thou art exceedingly lovely!" (Magnificat Antiphon I). The art in the basilica church cries out, over and over again, the essential relationship between altar and Cross. The altar is the bathed in the glory of the Cross.

The Visible Sign of God's Healing Mercy

Today's Divine Office and the Mass infuse in our souls an awe-inspiring awareness of the Cross as the visible sign of God's healing mercy, the cause of our indefectible and abiding joy. "The Royal Banners forward go; the Cross shines forth in mystic glow" (Vexilla Regis, Vespers). We sing in today's introit that the Cross of Christ is the source of health (salus), of life, and of Resurrection. The eyes of the Church are filled with the brightness of the Cross. She looks towards the wood of the Cross and is made radiant by the Resurrection. Look to the Cross, and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed (Ps 33:6)!

The Saving Wood

The wood by which Adam fell (Gn 3:12) is today the wood by which Adam is saved. The wood by which Noah, "his sons, his wife, and his son's wives" (Gn 6:14) were saved from the flood is today the wood by which joy has flooded the world. The wood by which Moses sweetened the bitter waters of Marah (Ex 15:25) is today the wood by which all the world's bitterness is made sweet.

Of Lepers and Monks

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Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
11 September 2011
Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle
Tulsa, Oklahoma

When Things are Not as They Seem

In the light of the Kingdom, things are rarely, if ever, what they seem to be. Outsiders on the inside; insiders on the outside. Failure, a triumph; and triumph, a failure. The wisdom of folly; and the folly of wisdom. The knowledge of the ignorant; and the ignorance of those who know.

Liturgy and Conversion

The light of the Kingdom shines where the Gospel is announced, and where the Cross is lifted up. What is the Sacred Liturgy, if not proclamation of the Gospel and exaltation of the mystery of the Cross? In the liturgy, the light of the Kingdom, the light refracted by the Beatitudes, reaches a density--an intensity--found nowhere else, at least, not on this side of the face-to-face in glory. The liturgy, for this reason, is always an experience of conversion.

Doing It Over Again

If we go into the liturgy with our customary and comfortable ways of seeing, doing, being, measuring, judging, and relating, and come out of the liturgy with the same set of securities unquestioned and intact, the liturgy profits us little. Why do we repeat the liturgy? Why do we need always to do it again? We do the liturgy over and over again so that our eyes--the eyes of spiritual insight--may, over time, adjust to the light of the Kingdom.

With Eyes Enlightened

Saint Paul alludes to this in his prayer for the Ephesians. "Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened . . . may you know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe" (Eph 1:18-19). The saints are those who, over time, come to live, and to see all things, habitually, in the light of the Kingdom.

The Ten Lepers

Nine of the lepers in today's Gospel are Jews--men of a respectable and conventional piety. They are not ignorant of the prescriptions of Leviticus 13. "When a man is afflicted with leprosy, he shall be brought to the priest; and the priest shall make an examination . . . . When raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean. . . . . But if the raw flesh turns again and is changed to white, then he shall come to the priest, and the priest shall examine him, and if the disease has turned white, then the priest shall pronounce the diseased person clean; he is clean" (Lev 13:10-17).

The Samaritan

One of the ten is a Samaritan. Even within the community of outcasts constituted by the ten lepers, the Samaritan is an outsider. "For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans" (Jn 4:9). As a Samaritan, his doctrine and piety are suspect to the nine others. Nevertheless, the bond forged by a suffering shared by all seems to have pre-empted the dictates of religious discrimination.

Crying Out to Jesus

Encountering Jesus, the ten lepers stand at a distance and, lifting up their voices, cry out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us" (Lk 1713). Saint Luke makes it clear that the healing sought by the ten is worked by none other than Jesus. He sends them to the priests and, while on the way, they are made clean.

The Kingdom Revealed

Of the ten, only the Samaritan is sufficiently free within to step outside the ritual prescriptions of the Law. What has happened to him opens his eyes to the light of the Kingdom. In that light, it is impossible to go on with business as usual. The revelation of the Kingdom makes all else irrelevant. It is the treasure hidden in the field; it is the pearl of great price. It is that for which one is ready to risk all else.

Conversion

The inbreaking of the unexpected suspends all truck with routine. The encounter with Jesus has effected a shift in values. It imposes a conversatio morum, something that, for us Benedictines, is the object of a vow. Saint Luke tells us that the Samaritan, "when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice" (Lk 17:15). He "turned back" (Lk: 17:15). In this, we see the essence of conversion of life. The Samaritan breaks free of his old community, and looks toward the community of those who live in the light of the Kingdom, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). Already, in turning back, "praising God with a loud voice" (Lk 17:15) he learns the language of the Kingdom, the native dialect of the Eucharist, that is, praise.

Naaman

You are familiar, I am sure, with the story of Naaman in the Second Book of Kings. Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, is another outsider who, in the end, gets it right. The key figures in the story of Naaman are not, I would suggest, Naaman and the prophet Elisha but, rather, the little people: "the little maid from the land of Israel" (2 K 5:2) who waited on Naaman's wife and, later in the story, "his servants" (2 K 5:13), more clearsighted than he. The little serving girl sees possibilities that Naaman, "a mighty man of valor" (2 K 5:1) does not see. Going to her mistress, she says, "Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy" (2 K 5:3). So too, do the servants see possibilities that Naaman does not. They come near and say, "My father, if the prophet had commanded you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, 'Wash, and be clean'" (1 K 5:13)?

And the Little People

In both instances, glimmers of the Kingdom are perceived, however faintly, by those outside the conventional configurations of power. It is, of course, all to Naaman's credit that he heeds both the little maid and his servants. "His flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean" (2 K 5:14).

Praise and Adoration

The image of flesh like that "of a little child" is profoundly telling. In the light of the Kingdom, its meaning is transparent. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18:2). Again, the operative verb is "to turn." The Samaritan, cleansed of his leprosy, "turned back, praising God with a loud voice" (Lk 17:15). Naaman too, turns back "to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him," and declares to Elisha that, "henceforth your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord" (2 K 5:15, 17). In both instances, "turning back" is linked to thanksgiving, to the offering of worship, to praise and adoration.

Monks As Outcasts

From the beginning, monks have elected to live outside the conventional configurations of power, both ecclesiastical and secular. The Church is essentially eschatological, a community of outsiders in the world. Within the community of outsiders that is the Church, the fathers and mothers of the desert constituted yet another community of outsiders. The monastic heart suffers a certain affinity with the outcast, with the person who lives on the edge, with those who question "the done thing," with those who risk intoning "a new song" (Ps 97:1). This is the price of life in the light of the Kingdom.

Seeing Things Rightly

Happily, when the heart becomes dimsighted, and the feet begin to ache for the beaten path of a worldly wisdom, we can return to the Sacred Liturgy. Only there do we see things rightly. Jolted back into the astonishing light of the Kingdom, we too "turn back, praising God with loud voice" (Lk 17:15).


A Vocation's Unexpected Turns

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Birth, Passion, Death

Each year the Church gives us two feastdays of Saint John the Baptist: the first on June 24th to mark his nativity, and today’s feast to mark his passion and death. We celebrate the nativity of Saint John the Baptist because, unlike everyone else with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, John was born in holiness. Our Lord Jesus Christ sanctified John when both of them were still hidden in the wombs of their mothers.

Appearance and Disappearance

Jesus hidden in Mary approached John hidden in Elizabeth and, when the voice of the Holy Mother of God reached the ears of Elizabeth, the babe in her womb leaped for joy (cf. Lk 1:44). Although John, like all men, was conceived marked by Adam’s sin, he was born already touched by the saving grace of Christ mediated by His Immaculate Mother. Clearly, a child born in such extraordinary circumstances was destined by the Lord for even greater things. At the peak of summer on June 24th we celebrated the appearance of John the Baptist. Today, as summer begins to fade, we celebrate his disappearance.

More Than A Prophet

“And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (Lk 1:76). John the Forerunner is a prophet and he is more than a prophet. By his preaching he speaks truth in the breath of the Holy Spirit. By his captivity, passion and death, he prefigures the Suffering Servant, the immolated Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the Victim “by whose wounds we are healed” (1P 2:24). Our Lord Himself says: “A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” (Lk 7:27-28).

This Joy of Mine

John the Baptist recognizes in Jesus the Light, the Christ, the Lamb of God and the Bridegroom. “Behold the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29). All John’s joy is to gaze upon His Face and to hear His voice. “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase but I must decrease”(Jn 329-30).

The Burning and Shining Lamp

The vocation of John was to be visible only for a time. “He was a burning and shining lamp,” says Jesus, “and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (Jn 5:25). John’s shining light was hidden away in the darkness of a prison cell. The Bridegroom had arrived; the Friend of the Bridegroom had to disappear.

The Transfiguration of the Lord

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Gazing on the Holy Face

One-hundred-fourteen years ago, on August 5th, 1897, the eve of the feast of the Transfiguration, a young Carmelite stricken with tuberculosis had a very special desire. She wanted an image of the Holy Face of Christ placed close to her bed. The image was brought from the choir and attached to her bed curtains. On the following September 30th, she died. Her name? Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Saint Thérèse, a Doctor of the Church, fixed her gaze on the Face of Christ disfigured by suffering, and found the transfiguration of her own suffering in its radiance.

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Preparation for the Mystery of the Cross

The Holy Face of Christ was a mystery familiar to Thérèse. As a result of the good works of the Venerable Léon Dupont, the "Holy Man of Tours," devotion to the Holy Face had spread throughout France. The Carmel of Lisieux honoured the Holy Face every August 6th, forty days before the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th. Every August 6th, the Carmelites exposed the image of the Holy Face in their choir, anointed it with perfume, and prayed before it.

Hidden in the Secret of His Face

A year before her death on August 6, 1896, Thérèse and two of the novices entrusted to her consecrated themselves to the Holy Face of Jesus. They understood the mystery of the Transfiguration just as the liturgy presents it to us today: as a preparation for the Mystery of the Cross.

The three young Carmelites asked Our Lord to hide them "in the secret of His Face." They were drawn by the Holy Ghost into the abjection of Christ, the Suffering Servant described in chapters 52 and 53 of the prophet Isaiah. They desired to be Veronicas, consoling Jesus in His Passion, and offering Him souls. Their prayer concluded: "O beloved Face of Jesus! As we await the everlasting day when we will contemplate your infinite Glory, our one desire is to charm your Divine Eyes by hiding our faces too so that here on earth no one can recognize us. O Jesus! Your Veiled Gaze is our Heaven!"

Lectio Divina and Eucharistic Adoration

At the very center of the Transfiguration we see the Human Face of God, shining more brightly than the sun. Tradition gives us two privileged ways of seeking, of finding, and of contemplating the transfigured and transfiguring Face of Christ: the first is lectio divina in its two forms: the corporate choral lectio divina of the Sacred Liturgy, and the solitary lectio divina that prolongs the Sacred Liturgy and prepares it. One who seeks the Face of Christ in the Scriptures as dispensed to us by the Church will discover the Face of the Beloved peering through the lattice of the text, and will be changed by the experience. The second way is Eucharistic adoration. One who remains silent and adoring before the Divine Host, the "Veiled Gaze: of Jesus, will, almost imperceptibly, but surely, be transfigured and healed in its radiance.

The Scent of Roses in December

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We will be keeping the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe on Saturday, 11 December this year.

December 12
Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe

A Visitation

Four-hundred-seventy-nine years ago, on December 9, 1531, the Blessed Virgin Mary "set out and traveled to the hill country" (Lk 1:39) this time not of Judah, but of Mexico. Her visitation was not to her kinswoman Elizabeth but to Juan Diego. "How does this happen to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Lk 1:43).

The Music of Silence

The first accounts of Juan Diego's experience relate that when he was called to the heights of Mount Tepeyac, he felt something compelling within, an urgent summons. He experienced it as a kind of heavenly music, the music of silence, strange and beautiful all at once. "Silence, all mankind, in the presence of the Lord! For he stirs forth from his holy dwelling" (Za 2:17). Juan Diego's music of silence is not at all unlike the "still small voice"(1 K 19:12) that Elijah heard on Horeb. By following the sound of his inner music, Juan Diego was led to the vision of "a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child" (Rev 12:1). What was this if not a kind of heavenly inbreaking, a theophany, a momentary pulling back of the veil? "God's temple in heaven was opened, and the Ark of the Covenant could be seen in the temple" (Rev 11:19).

Queen of God’s Faithful Poor

The woman clothed with the sun spoke to Juan Diego. She comforted him as she always comforts the poor, the lowly, the afflicted, the outcast, and the oppressed. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the queen of the anawim, God's trusting faithful poor. Nothing, I think, is more moving than her message to Juan Diego:

Know for certain that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God. I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me. Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection, in the folds of my mantle and the crossing of my arms?

The Flesh, Hinge of Salvation

And so there was music for the ear and the vision for the eye. The plan of God revealed in the enfleshment of his Word is that all things created should be restored to holiness, and that our physical senses themselves should be graced and opened to the mysteries of God. "The flesh," said Tertullian, "is the hinge of salvation." The Virgin chose two other signs before giving that of her miraculous image. The first involves touch. She touched Juan Diego. With an exquisitely maternal tenderness, she arranged roses, marvelous roses picked on a bare and windy hillside in December, in his cloak. The second sign concerns the roses themselves; they were fragrant. They must have been to Juan Diego like this second great feast of the Virgin in December is to us -- surprising like roses blooming in the snow. The third sign is the image, a portrait that is radiantly beautiful. A piece of heaven printed on the poor cloak of a poor man. It is this image that continues to surprise us, to delight us, to be for us a kind of visitation of the Mother of the Lord.

Bearers of the Hidden Christ

If we have come to Holy Mass today, it is because we, like Juan Diego, are trying to follow the music. In a few moments you will come to the altar to touch and to be touched. You will receive, not roses arranged close to your hearts, but Jesus Christ himself in the mysteries of his Body and Blood. The fragrance of Christ will cling to you, a fragrance sweeter than that of roses in December. Then, the image. Having partaken of the Eucharist, you will become the bearer, not of a miraculous image, but of a far greater miracle. You will bear within you the same Jesus whom Mary bore in her womb. Caryll Houselander called it being a bearer of the hidden Christ. You and I will carry Christ today into places and situations where, in very real sense, he has never been before.

Follow the Music

Like Saint Juan Diego, follow the music. Let yourself be touched. Smell the scent of roses. "See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the Lord" (Za 2:14).

Let Not Your Heart Be Disturbed

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I Am Your Merciful Mother

On December 9th, 1531, while Saint Juan Diego was on his way to Mass, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and spoke to him on Tepeyac Hill. This is what she said:

Know for certain, littlest of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far, the Master of Heaven and Earth. I wish and intensely desire that in this place my sanctuary be erected. Here I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful Mother, the merciful Mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me.
Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes. In order that my wish may be fulfilled, you must go to Mexico City, to the house of the Bishop and tell him that I sent you, that it is my desire to have a house built for me here, that my Temple be raised on the plain. Tell him what you have seen and heard and be sure that I shall be grateful to you for doing what I ask. I shall make you happy and reward you for the service which you render to me. And you will have great merit, for I will compensate your weariness, your work in procuring that for which I have sent you as messenger. You have heard, my least son, my desires, my work; go and do your part.

She Sings Her Ode to the King

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November 16th
Saint Gertrude the Great, Virgin

Her Heart Overflows With a Goodly Theme

It is right and just that today we should sit at the feet of Saint Gertrude, that we should take time out to listen to her song, for “her heart overflows with a goodly theme as she sings her ode to the King” (cf. Ps 44:1). This humble Cistercian Benedictine of the 13th century is the only woman in the Church calendar to be honoured with the title “the Great.” Saint Gertrude the Great is a medieval woman with an astonishingly contemporary message.

O Taste and See

Saint Gertrude is a theologian in the patristic sense of the word: one who has tasted God and who communicates the taste of God and the taste for God to others. In this she is model for every priest, for the priest is called to be one who has tasted God and who communicates the taste of God and the taste for God to others. Gertrude’s soul was shaped by Sacred Scripture, by the Fathers of the Church and, more than anything else, by the daily experience of the monastic liturgy celebrated in choir. From the time of her arrival at the monastery of Helfta at the age of five, her life revolved around the Sacred Liturgy, the Church’s hourly, daily, weekly and yearly rhythm of prayer and praise.

Bride of the Word

Saint Gertrude was permeated with the Word of God. The Scriptures were her daily bread. The psalms were ever on her lips and in her heart. The Church’s sung prayer, expressed in the ancient chant, was like a deep-flowing river, irrigating her life and causing the seed of the Word to spring up, producing both flowers and fruit. Saint Gertrude developed an amazing theology touching on the sacraments of initiation, on eschatology, on the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption, on the Heart of Jesus, on the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in souls, on Our Lady and the saints, on the mystical ways of prayer and the contemplative experience of God.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Saint Gertrude’s theology is rooted in experience. This is the beauty of her contribution to our Catholic theological and mystical heritage. The focus of her contemplation was the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the pierced Heart out of which flowed blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34). Saint Gertrude was drawn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by the secret action of the Father, working in her soul through the Holy Ghost. “No one comes to me,” says the Lord Jesus, “unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:44).

Saint Bruno

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Saint Bruno at the Cinema

Saint Bruno has been very much in the news over the past few years. And where? In the literary and film worlds! A film on the Carthusian life, shaped by Saint Bruno ten centuries ago, drew crowds of movie-goers. The film, produced by German cinematographer, Philip Groening, is a three-hour documentary with no spoken words. Appropriately enough, the film is called Die Grosse Stille, The Great Silence. The only sound in the film is that of daily life in the Charterhouse and of the Latin Gregorian Chant of the monks. The astonishing success of the film says, I think, more about the world's thirst for silence and people's readiness to accept a radical witness to the primacy of God, than it does about life in the Charterhouse.

Saint Bruno at the Bookstore

At about the same time, a book on Carthusian life appeared in the secular press. Written by Nancy Klein Maguire, a woman married to a former Carthusian, the book is called An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World's Most Austere Monastic Order. The book has become hugely popular. Again, this suggests that at very deep level, and not always consciously, people thirst for what is not of this world. "Not as the world gives do I give to you" (Jn 14:27).

Stat Crux Dum Volvitur Orbis

The Order founded by Saint Bruno has never been reformed because it was never deformed. Carthusian liturgy, observances, and customs remain unchanged. The motto of the Order is, Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, "The Cross stands still while the world spins." Precisely because the world is weary of change, it is attracted by what is changeless, timeless, and radically faithful to tradition.

Hidden in the Heart of the Church

The Carthusian vocation is extremely rare. Countless men and women have tried life in a Charterhouse and found themselves, after a few months or, even after several years, like Jonah cast from the belly of the whale, once again on the shore of the world. And yet, from one generation to the next, the Order remains: a living organism, hidden in the heart of the Church, pulsating with the eternal rhythm of a deathless love.

Solitudes

Today's feast of Saint Bruno obliges us to look more closely at the place of solitude in our own lives. There are different kinds of solitude. There is the elected aloneness of the consecrated solitary: a person's free and conscious choice to live his life alone with God and for God alone. Sometimes this is lived within the canonical framework of an established Order such as the Carthusians. At other times it is lived outside that framework in obedience to an approved personal rule. Of those who aspire to this choice, a great number fall short of fulfilling it.

The Wounded Heart

The solitary life demands a maturity that comes only from suffering. Sometimes suffering causes one to shut down and close in upon oneself. In such a case, solitude is a particularly dangerous form of self-indulgence. Paradoxically, when suffering breaks one's heart and opens it to God, it is the best preparation for the solitary life. One who goes into solitude without having had his heart broken, or wounded, or pierced through, cannot remain there, because the transformation of solitude into communion with God passes necessarily, and always, through a heart that has been opened by suffering, through a heart that remains open because it is wounded by love. Perhaps this is why true solitaries find themselves drawn to the mystery of the Heart of Jesus wounded by our sins. The Heart of Christ, once opened by the soldier's lance, remains eternally open.

Our Lady of Solitude

There is the solitude of the widow. After years of a shared life, this solitude can be a terrible thing. It can also become a tremendous grace. The heart wounded by the loss of a beloved spouse can become a heart wounded by desire for communion with God and open to the sorrows of others. In the solitude of the widow the Virgin Mary holds a special place. Spanish-speaking Catholics have the devotion to Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, Our Lady of Solitude. The widow who acknowledges Mary and welcomes Mary into her aloneness, especially through the prayer of the Rosary, discovers in her company a hidden spring of ceaseless prayer, a source of courage and of hope.

Other Solitudes

There is also the solitude of the person who never quite fits in anywhere. There is the solitude of one repeatedly disappointed in love. There is the solitude of the child who, having suffered rejection or ridicule, knows a terrible loneliness at school and in the midst of his peers. There is the solitude of the person who never feels at home with her co-workers. There is the solitude of the person who, because he or she is afflicted and blessed with too great a sensitivity, cannot live in community without risking serious emotional damage. There is the solitude of one whose physical infirmities oblige him to live outside the arena of normal daily life. There is also solitude within marriages. There is solitude in friendships. There is solitude in community life. There is solitude in the marketplace and in the midst of a whirlwind of social activities.

The Aloneness That Poisons

All of these forms of aloneness, especially when they are suffered passively, can cause one to become bitter and cynical. They can lead to a permanent state of anger, manifesting itself in aggressiveness or in depression. They can lead to self-destructive addictions and destructive behaviour.

Solitude Sanctified

When does a solitude marked by absence become a solitude filled with presence? When, instead of suffering it passively, one accepts it consciously and generously and, after having said "Yes" to it, offers it to God as a chalice ready to be filled. Every emptiness, every loneliness, every void has a certain "Eucharistic potential." There is no void, no emptiness, no absence that God cannot fill with His presence.

Thou Searchest Out My Path

Psalm 138 is the perfect prayer for one experiencing the pain of aloneness. "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me! Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways" (Ps 138:1-3). God does not spurn the prayer of one who, with a broken heart, asks Him to reveal Himself as the One who is more present to us than we are to ourselves. It is immensely consoling to know that in the light of the Face of Christ one has nothing to hide.

Marian Solitude

It is not by chance that Saint Bruno's Carthusians and the other Orders of the Church most marked by solitude are the very ones marked by a strong and tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a sense, Mary holds the key to every solitude inhabited by God. Mary holds the key to every solitude of adoration. A solitude consecrated to Mary becomes an experience not of absence, but of presence; not of emptiness, but of fullness; not of isolation, but of communion.

Our Lord has entrusted to His Mother the transformation of every loneliness into communion. "When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near, he said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son!' Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (Jn 19:26-27). Mary will not come into your solitude uninvited, but if you ask her, especially by praying her Rosary, she will be there, filling it with life, sweetness, and hope.

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Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

1 Corinthians 7:35-31
Psalm 44:10-11, 13b-14, 15-16 (r. 10a)
Luke 6:20-26

A Preacher Unlike Any Other

Would that Saint John Chrysostom could stand here in my place today and preach with that golden-mouthed eloquence given him by the Holy Spirit! How would we respond to his preaching? Saint Chrysostom’s preaching disturbed the placid, inflamed the tepid, woke up the drowsy, exposed corruption, frightened the indifferent, unsettled the comfortable, and caused the pious to squirm. His preaching also inspired confidence in the Blood of Christ, gave hope to the hopeless, caused sinners to weep with sorrow for their faults, inspired the rich to give abundantly of their wealth, moved people to detachment from earthly goods, humbled the haughty, brought fornicators to chastity, converted swindlers to justice, and endowed the ignorant with the science of Jesus Christ.

Immersion in the Word of God

The secret of Saint John Chrysostom’s eloquence was his total immersion in the Word of God. Centuries later, Blessed Abbot Marmion would say that nothing imparts a penetrating unction to preaching as much as a continual reference to the Word of God. On this point the greatest preachers are of one mind: their task is to repeat the Word in other words, to deliver not their own wisdom, but the wisdom of God revealed in the “Word of the Cross” (1 Cor 1:18).

Take to heart Saint Chrysostom’s admonition:

Listen carefully to me, I entreat you. . . . Procure books that will be medicines for the soul. . . . At least get a copy of the New Testament, the Apostle’s epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If you encounter grief, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take from them comfort for your trouble, whether it be loss, or death, or bereavement over the loss of relations. Don’t simply dive into them. Swim in them. Keep them constantly in your mind. The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well.

The Cause of All Evils

The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well. Why does the Golden-Mouthed Doctor say this? Because he who fails to know the Scriptures well fails to know the mind and heart of Christ. He who knows not the mind and heart of Christ receives the Body and Blood of Christ with little fruit. It is the Word, the “Word of the Cross” (1 Cor 1:18), that prepares us for the Holy Sacrifice. It is the Word heard (lectio), repeated (meditatio), prayed (oratio), and held in the heart (contemplatio) that prepares the soul to receive the Body and Blood of Christ and prolongs the effects of Holy Communion in daily life.

The Word of the Cross and the Fruits of the Precious Blood

The intensity of our Eucharistic life is directly proportionate to our immersion in the Word of God. Ask Saint John Chrysostom today to pray that we may cleave to the “Word of the Cross” (1 Cor 1:18) and so experience the lasting fruits of the Precious Blood of Christ.

Saint Helena, Empress

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The feast of Saint Helena is August 18th. When I lived at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome, it was celebrated with all due solemnity. Evelyn Waugh has a marvelous novel entitled Helena, based on her life. It is well worth reading.

A Relic of the True Cross

Our monastery is privileged to possess and venerate a little fragment of the True Cross. It is a direct link with Saint Helena who unearthed the wood of the Cross in Jerusalem in about the year 326. It is also a link with the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome from which fragments of the wood of the True Cross have been dispensed to Catholics the world over for centuries. It is, above all, a sign of the saving love of Our Lord Jesus Christ who, “lifted up from the earth, draws all men to himself” (Jn 12:32). This is the wood before which the Church sings on Good Friday, “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world.”

Most of the fragments of the True Cross that we venerate in our churches derive from the Wood of the Cross kept in Rome since the early fourth century. When one sees, as I have, the faith of pilgrims coming from all over the world to venerate the Wood of the Cross at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, when one witnesses their tears and hears their prayers before the relics of the Passion and Cross, there is no doubt that we are in the presence of a great and holy sign, the pledge of a life-giving mystery.

Saint Ambrose Speaks

Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, was already an old woman when she set out for Jerusalem intent on excavating the holy places of Christ’s Passion. Saint Ambrose relates Saint Helena’s discovery of the true Cross;

Helena burned with desire to touch the remedy of immortality, but feared to tread on the sacrament of salvation. Joyful in her heart, but fearful in her steps, she knew not what to do; she came nonetheless to the throne of truth. Helena began to visit the holy places and, from the Holy Spirit, had the inspiration to search for the Wood of the Cross. She arrived at Calvary and said, “Behold the place of the battle, where is the victory? I seek the standard of salvation and find it not. I am on the throne and the Cross of the Lord is in the dust? I am in the midst of gold and the triumph of Christ among the ruins? See the devil’s deed; he has buried the sword by which he was brought to nothing. Let the debris be cleared away so that life may appear; let the sword that severed the head of the true Goliath be brought to light; let the earth split open that salvation may shine forth.

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La guarigione del sordomuto, Cristoforo de Predis, Milano, 1440-1486


11th Sunday After Pentecost

Today's Introit, well served by its sturdy 5th mode melody, is a ringing affirmation of the presence of the living God in His holy place.

The Church, and, in its own way, the monastery, which is a microcosm of the Church (an ecclesiola, a little Church) fulfills the words of the Prophet-King:

God is in His holy place;
God who maketh men of one mind to dwell in a house;
He shall give power and strength to His people.
V. Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered:
and let them that hate Him flee from before His face.

(Ps 67: 6, 7, 36)

God Is Available

The good news is this: that God is in His holy place. He is at home, and is receiving visitors. God is very near, not remote and inaccessible. God is available, even to the smallest and humblest of His children, not engaged in meetings with the powerful of the earth, and forever absorbed in the affairs of the cosmos "The sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtledove a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones. Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God" (Ps 83:4).

A Place Prepared

This is the house of which Our Lord says, "In my Father's house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be" (Jn 14:3). The desire and will of Our Lord's Divine Heart are clearest in His priestly prayer to the Father: "Father, I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which Thou hast given me, because Thou hast loved me before the creation of the world" (Jn 17:24).

Where Sons Abide

So lavish is the Divine Hospitality, that those who enter His house as guests are invited to abide there as members of His household, as adopted sons in the Son. "Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, O Lord: they shall praise Thee forever and ever. . . . Better is one day in Thy courts above thousands. I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tents of sinners" (Ps 83:5, 11).

One House, One Heart, One Soul

"God maketh men of one mind to dwell in a house." This is the very sentence used by Saint Augustine in the 2nd article of his Rule. Saint Augustine, moreover, couples this sentence from the psalm with the description of the primitive Church from the Acts of the Apostles:

"And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul:
neither did anyone say that aught of the things which he possessed, was his own;
but all things were common unto them" (Ac 4:32).

The Pierced Side: A Door

The holy place of God is the Body of Christ. The entrance to that holy place is the door opened in the Sacred Side of Jesus by the soldier's lance. If you would find God, go to His temple, that is, go to the Body of Christ. Enter His Church, and then, press on to cross the threshold of His pierced Side.. It is concerning this temple that God said to Solomon:

I have chosen this place to Myself for a house of sacrifice . . .
My eyes also shall be open,
and My ears attentive to the prayer of him that shall pray in this place.
For I have chosen, and sanctified this place,
that My name may be there forever,
and My eyes and My heart may remain there perpetually. (2 Para 7, 12. 15-16)

The Collect

After the Introit, Kyrie, and Gloria, we pray one of the most beautiful Collects of the entire series for the Sundays After Pentecost:

Almighty and everlasting God,
Who art always more ready to hear than we to pray,
and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve,
pour down upon us the abundance of Thy mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask.
Though our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, world without end.
Amen.

The Voice of the Son and the Voice of His Bride

One who prays from within the Church, prays from within the temple of the Heart of Jesus, and one who prays from within the temple of the Heart of Jesus, has discovered what it means to pray with the Church. Such a prayer is always heard, for in it, the Father recognizes the voice of the Son speaking on behalf of His Mystical Body, and the voice of His Bride, the Church, ever pleading the interests of her Bridegroom's Heart.

Saints Joachim and Anna

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The Communion of the Saints

We live in the company of the saints. We are in communion with them, and communion implies communication. There is, at every moment, a mysterious exchange taking place between us and the saints who surround us. The Letter to the Hebrews says that we are “watched from above by such a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

Naming Your Baby

The names of saints are more and more rarely being given to Catholic babies. While there is a part of ignorance here -- today’s parents were the victims of the disastrous lack of catechesis that followed the Second Vatican Council -- there is something more. The pressure to secularize every area of life is picking up momentum. Change what people say, and you will change what they think. The modification of vocabulary -- and in this case the suppression of the glorious heritage of Catholic saints’ names -- will lead to a modification of values and, ultimately, of morality.

Living With the Saints

Monasteries have the splendid custom of attributing a saint’s name or a biblical name to every room and place -- from the cells to the workrooms to the storage rooms. The significance of this age-old custom is as beautiful as it is profound: the monastery is inhabited not only by the visible people who live within its walls, but also by its invisible residents, the angels and the saints. The naming of a room for a saint is a confession of faith; it flies in the face of secularist ideologies that would have us believe that reality stops with what is visible.

Recovery of the Sacred

The movement to secularize every thing and every place is as pernicious as it is aggressive. It is part of the “smoke of Satan” that Pope Paul VI saw penetrating the Church to foment confusion. It is important that we respond to the crisis with courage and with conviction. The invasion of the secular must be countered by a concerted recovery of the sacred, and by re-claiming all things for Christ under the patronage of his saints and his mysteries: our cities, our towns, our homes, our institutions, our rooms, and, yes, our children.

The Motu Proprio and the Saints

Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum generated some helpful comparative studies of the Rite of Blessed John XXIII (the Mass actually celebrated during the Second Vatican Council) and the 1970 Rite of Pope Paul VI. One of the observations made is that the newer rite, in a misguided attempt to render the Mass less offensive to Protestant sensibilities, removed several key allusions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the saints, and to their intercession (eg. Confiteor; Suscipe, Sancta Trinitas; Libera nos). In no way was this manipulation of the texts authorized by the Conciliar Fathers. It grieved and alienated the venerable Orthodox Churches (honoured by the inclusion of Saint Andrew the Apostle in the Libera nos), who interpreted it as a rejection of the patrimony of the undivided Church.

Gloria Tibi, Trinitas

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Homily Preached at Vespers of Trinity Sunday
Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma
30 May 2009

The First Half of the Liturgical Year

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity crowns the first half of the liturgical Year, those seasons and feasts that stretch from the First Sunday of Advent to the end of the Octave of Pentecost. Unlike the other great festivals of the year, Trinity Sunday does not commemorate any particular event; it focuses, rather, on the Mystery of God -- Father, Son, and Holy Ghost -- that pervades and illumines all of the seasons and feasts that we lived out thus far. Today's festival, then, is set like a seal on the completed cycle of the holy mysteries that, since the First Sunday of Advent, the sacred liturgy has unveiled before our eyes.

Admiration and Praise

You will have noticed, perhaps, that the antiphons in today's Divine Office do not recall historical events in Our Lord's life, nor are most of them drawn directly from Sacred Scripture. Instead they resemble spontaneous exclamations of admiration, little poems full of wonder, cries of praise and of thanksgiving. They evoke the atmosphere of the heavenly liturgy.

The Church Lifted Up to Heaven

Today, through the antiphons of the Hours, and now at the hour of the evening sacrifice, the Church is lifted up to heaven. "After this," says Saint John, "I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door" (Ap 4:1).

Holy, Holy, Holy

What does Saint John hear? What do we hear? What does Mother Church give us to sing? Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" (Ap 4:8).

The Father

The Advent and Christmas cycle revealed to us the Divine Person of the Father. In what way do Advent and Christmas reveal the Person of the Father? The Son came into the world sent by the Father. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him" (Jn 3:16-17).

Thou Art My Son

In coming into the world, the Son immediately addressed His Father. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells that when Christ came into the world, that is to say, at the very moment of His entrance into the sanctuary of the Virgin's womb, He said: "Lo, I have come to do Thy will, O God, as it is written of Me in the roll of the book" (Heb 10:7).
And in confirmation of all of this, the Christmas Mass at Midnight begins with the voice of the Son singing to us of His Father, the Father from Whom He is eternally begotten: Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu; ego hodie genui te, "The Lord," He sings (referring to His Father), "said to me, 'Thou art My Son: this day have I begotten Thee'" (Ps 2:7).

This is the great mystery of the Advent and Christmas cycle: the revelation of the Father by the Word Made Flesh. "He who receives me," says Jesus, "receives Him who sent Me," (Jn 13:20), that is, the Eternal Father. And again, to the Apostle Philip He says, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." This, then, is the essential grace of Advent and Christmastide: the coming of the Son to reveal the Father! "For no one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known" (Jn 1:18).

The Son

Moving through the year, we discover that the cycles of Lent and Passiontide and Paschaltide reveal the Divine Person of the Son: and this, because no one can come to knowledge of Jesus Christ apart from His Cross and Resurrection. "I have decided," says Saint Paul, "to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor 1:2). The messianic identity of Jesus and the meaning of His mission in the world cannot be understood apart from the Cross. "None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor 2:8).

In the Light of the Cross

Again and again, in the darkest hours of Holy Week, the Church sings of the knowledge of Jesus Christ that has come to her through the contemplation of the Cross: Christus factus es pro nobis obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis, "Christ became obedient for us unto death, even death on a Cross; therefore has God highly exalted Him and given Him the Name that is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:8-11). Thus do the seasons of Lent and Passiontide and Paschaltide reveal the Son, drawing us to His pierced side, and filling our eyes with the radiance of His Holy Face.

The Holy Ghost

After the Ascension of the Lord, the Apostolic College, together with the Mother of Jesus and the other holy women and disciples, obeyed the Lord's final injunction by returning to Jerusalem to await the promised outpouring of the Holy Ghost. They assembled and, in some way, cloistered themselves away in the Upper Room, the Cenacle wherein Jesus had given them the adorable mysteries of His Body and Blood, and established the New Priesthood of the New Covenant. There, in an atmosphere of profound silence and anticipation, Our Blessed Lady communicated the prayer of her Immaculate Heart to the Apostles and to the nucleus of the Church gathered around them. It was this grace of Mary's prayer communicated to the Church that drew down the spectacular inbreaking of the Holy Ghost in a mighty wind and in the tongues of fire that rested over each head. It was Our Blessed Lady's prayer communicated to those around her in the Cenacle that gave birth to the missionary Church in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Evidence of the Divine Sanctifier

Pentecost, the Fiftieth Day, and the eight days that follow it -- the traditional Octave of Pentecost -- open yet another cycle of the liturgical year, that of the Third Divine Person, the Holy Ghost. This final cycle is prolonged and developed in the feasts of the Mother of God and of the saints. The rest of the year will, in fact, be filled with the feasts of the saints, displaying the ongoing work of Holy Ghost, the Divine Sanctifier, in the Church. If, then, you want evidence of the Holy Ghost, look to the saints!

Trinitarian Jubilation

Having received the revelation of the Father through the mysteries of Advent and Christmastide; having received the revelation of the Son through the mysteries of Lent, Passiontide, and Easter; and having received the revelation of the Holy Ghost in the storm of glory that broke over Jerusalem on the Fiftieth Day at the Third Hour, today the Bride of Christ, the Church, is caught up in wonder. Mother Church, (and all of us with her, for we are her children, and her prayer is ours) breaks into cries of jubilation, praise, and thanksgiving to the adorable and undivided Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

This we will do in just a few moments, at the high point of the Church's sacrificium vespertinum, the evening sacrifice: for the Magnificat Antiphon will place a song of glory and of wonder on our lips and in our hearts: "Holy and undivided Trinity, with our whole heart, and with our mouth, we confess Thee, praise and bless Thee. To Thee be glory forever."

Vespers Homily on Psalm 111

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Homily at Vespers

Sunday, 31 January 2010
Septuagesima Sunday
Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Preaching on the Psalms

The last time I had the privilege of preaching at these Sunday Vespers, I proposed that we meditate on Psalm 109, the glorious psalm of Our Lord's divinity, of His kingship, and of His priesthood, the psalm that the Church places on our lips and in our hearts every Sunday evening, and on every great festival of the year. This evening, I propose that we consider together the second psalm of Vespers: Psalm 111.

A Beatitude Expanded

Psalm 111 is a song about blessedness. It is, in its own way, a beatitude expanded. Like Psalm 1 at the head of the Psalter, Psalm 111 begins with the pregnant phrase: Beatus vir . . . Blessed is the man. Who, we must ask, is the man in question? This Man is none other than the One who called Himself "the Son of Man" (Jn 8:28). The Man in question is a true Man, born of the Virgin's womb, and nailed in His flesh to the tree of the Cross. He is also true God, eternally begotten of the Father, the Son in whom the Father takes delight, the Son to whom the Father said in this evening's first psalm, "Sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool" (Ps 109:1).

Christ in the Psalms

Before trying to understand Psalm 111 as a program for moral integrity, as a guide to godly living, we are to see it, I would suggest, as a portrait, an icon, of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The entire Psalter is about Christ, and this from the first page to the last. One who scrutinizes the psalms with the eyes of faith begins to see between the lines. His gaze goes through the text to the mysterious presence that illuminates it and gives it life from within. The prayer of the psalms becomes a kind of spiritual communion with Jesus, the Beloved Son, with Jesus, the Eternal Priest, who, in the glory of heaven, engages in a ceaseless exchange with His Father. The Psalter is a sacrament crafted of human language that makes us partakers of a divine conversation. The Psalter opens our hearts to all that rises from the Heart of Jesus in the presence of His Father. The Psalter is a vessel of living water. One who prays the psalms drinks deeply of the Holy Spirit.

It is a tremendous revelation when one wakes up one fine day and realizes that the psalms are all about Christ, that the Psalter is a kind of tabernacle containing the Hidden Manna, and just waiting to be opened so that, from it, we might be fed with the living bread of the Word.

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in His commands (Ps 111:1).

The fear of the Lord is the reverence of the Son who prays facing His Father. Thus do we read in the Letter to the Hebrews that, "in the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear" (Heb 5:7). The Church, by binding her bishops and priests and deacons to the daily prayer of the psalms, enrolls them in a school of reverence. By praying through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, one enters into the dispositions of His Heart, one begins to grasp something of the reverence that imbued His whole being so often as He pronounced the name "Father."

" . . . Who greatly delights in His commands" (Ps 111:1).

The Son greatly delights in the commands of the Father. This is the whole message of the Fourth Gospel. "My food," says Jesus, "is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work" (Jn 4:34). "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (Jn 6:38). "I do as the Father has commanded Me, so that the world may know that I love the Father" (Jn 14:31). The Psalter is not only a school of reverence; it is a school of obedience. In it we learn not the mercenary obedience of the hired-hand, no the servile obedience of the slave, but rather the loving obedience of the Son who says, "He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I do always what is pleasing to Him" (Jn 8:29).

His descendents will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house;
and his righteousness endures forever (Ps 111:2-3).

Who, you may ask, are the descendents of Christ? Saint John explains: "But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn 1:12-13). Christ is the New Adam, "full of grace and truth," "and from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace" (Jn 1:16).

David prophesies concerning the wealth and riches that are in His house, and what are these if not what Saint Paul reveals when he says, "To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things" (Eph 3:8-9). These "unsearchable" riches are "the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col 1:12), "the wealth and riches" (Ps 111:2) that are stored up for us in, and dispensed to us from, the household of Christ that is the Church.

Light rises in the darkness for the upright;
the Lord is gracious, and merciful, and righteous (Ps 111:4).

Today, in the Church's traditional calendar is Septuagesima Sunday. Pope Saint Gregory the Great, inspired and spurred by the edifying example of the Greeks living in Rome, who kept a pre-Lenten season, decided that the Latins should do no less. And so, he instituted a three week preparation for Lent, roughly corresponding to the Sundays that mark the seventieth, sixtieth, and fiftieth days before Easter. The season of Septuagesima is one of those precious elements of our Catholic tradition that belong to the period of the undivided Church, to the first thousand years of Christianity. It is one of the liturgical practices that we hold in common with the Orthodox Churches of the East and, as such, merits high consideration and dutiful observance. One of the aims of Pope Benedict XVI is to invite the whole Church of the Latin Rite to draw freely from her own liturgical inheritance in such a way as to close the false gap in continuity that some wrongly believe was opened by the Second Vatican Council.

All of that is a round about way of saying that the "light rising in the darkness" of Psalm 111 is the Lumen Christi of the Paschal Vigil. In seventy days time, this cathedral will be all in darkness and as a flickering flame pierces the shadows of the night, the deacon's voice will announce the fulfillment of what this evening's second psalm prophesies: "Light rises in the darkness for the upright; the Lord is gracious, merciful, and righteous" (Ps 111:4).

It is well with the man who deals generously and lends,
who conducts his affairs with justice;
For the righteous will never be moved;
he will be remembered forever (Ps 111:5-6)

The next two verses of Psalm 111 point to the generosity of Christ. Who gives with open hand to the poor, if not Our Lord Jesus Christ? And what does He give?
His own Body and Blood. "This is my Body which is for you. . . . This cup is the new covenant in My Blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me" (1 Cor 11:24-25). The psalm says that "the just man shall be in everlasting remembrance" (Ps 111:6), and the Apostle tells us that, "as often as you eat this Bread and drink the Cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

He is not afraid of evil tidings;
his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
His heart is steady, he will not be afraid,
until he sees his desire on his adversaries (Ps 111:7-8).

The final portion of Psalm 111 reveals to us the brave and generous Heart of Christ. Anointed by the Holy Spirit, Our Lord went into His Passion as a fearless warrior into battle. The anguish of Gethsemani was not a prelude to the battle; it was, I would venture to say, its cruelest hour. It was before going across the Kedron Valley to the Garden of Olives that Jesus said, "I do as the Father has commanded Me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go hence" (Jn 14:31). Thus did "death and life contend in the combat stupendous." Thus did "the Prince of Life reign immortal," "conquering by death by death."

He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures for ever;
his horn is exalted in honor (Ps 111:9).

This verse is nothing less than a prophecy of the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord. "Therefore it is said, 'When He ascended on high, He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men'" (Eph 4:8). "Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:9-11).

The wicked man sees it and is angry;
he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
the desire of the wicked man comes to nought (Ps 111:10).

The remainder of the psalm deals not with The Blessed Man, but with The Wicked Man, the one about whom Jesus says, "He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him" (Jn 8:44). The very last line of Psalm 111 is wondrously comforting: "the desire of the wicked man comes to nought" (Ps 111:10).

Psalm 111 gives us, then, reason to rejoice in hope as we make our way toward the Light that rises in the darkness. We can enter this pre-Lenten season, and Lent itself, fully confident in the prayer, and in the strength, and mercy, and triumph of the Blessed One in whom we are all blessed: Our Lord Jesus Christ to whom be all glory and praise now and always and unto the ages of ages.


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Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

One might say that Saint Maria Faustina belongs to the spiritual family of the Little Thérèse whom we remembered last Sunday, and of Saint Francis, the icon of Crucified Love whom we celebrated yesterday. She is certainly numbered among the little and the poor to whom the Father reveals the mysteries of the Kingdom. “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will” (Lk 10:21). Our Lord spoke to Faustina in 1934, saying: “Although my greatness is beyond understanding, I commune only with those who are little. I demand of you a childlike spirit.”

Trust

God chose Faustina, a humble religious with little education, to glorify His Mercy and make it known to souls. On April 4, 1937, Our Lord said to her, “Tell all people, My daughter, that I am Love and Mercy itself. When a soul approaches Me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls. . . . Souls who spread the honour of My mercy I shield through their entire life as a tender mother her infant, and at the hour of death I will not be a Judge for them, but the Merciful Saviour. . . . Everything that exists is enclosed in the depths of My mercy, more deeply than an infant in its mother’s womb. How painfully distrust of My goodness wounds me! Sins of distrust wound me most painfully.”

Vespers at Holy Family Cathedral

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Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year B
27 September 2009
Holy Family Cathedral
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Pope Benedict in Czech Republic

This weekend, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is in the Czech Republic. He is visiting a nation wounded by 40 years of Communism, where two out of three individuals say they believe in nothing, and where the encroaching forces of secularism are allied to erase even the memory of a Christian culture from the hearts of rising generations. For all of that, our Holy Father is not intimidated.

The Little Jesus

Yesterday morning he accomplished an amazing gesture -- a prophetic one. The Supreme Pontiff and, quite apart from that, one of the greatest theologians of modern times, went in pilgrimage to the Little Jesus, to the Infant Jesus of Prague. Bareheaded, and with a look of indescribable tenderness and affection, the Pope approached the little statue known and loved around the world and left a golden crown at the feet of the Infant Jesus, as a token of his devotion.

Vespers and Benediction

What, you may ask, has this to do with Vespers of this Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year? In a certain sense, everything. Catholic tradition has, for centuries now, coupled the celebration of Sunday Vespers with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Vespers, being a Liturgy of the Word, recalls the Liturgy of the Word at this morning's Mass. Mother Church frames the Magnificat with a fragment of the Gospel proclaimed at Mass. A grace remembered is a grace renewed. At Vespers, the Holy Spirit quickens the very Word we heard at Mass, and in that mystical quickening, we experience its power all over again.

Word to Sacrament

Mother Church's liturgy is all of a piece. The Magnificat Antiphon, a mere fragment of this morning's Gospel, brings back the divine energy that compelled us at Holy Mass to go from the ambo to the altar.

The same thing happens at Vespers: the Word remembered, repeated, and prayed, drives us to the altar, just as Our Lord's explanation of the Scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus compelled them to say, "Stay with us, Lord, for it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent." (Lk 24:29).

Every time we hear the Word, receiving it with hearts that are childlike and humble, it causes us to say over and over again, "Stay with us, Lord." At Holy Mass, He answers that prayer of ours by giving us bread changed into His Body and wine mixed with water changed into His Blood. At Benediction, that same adorable Mystery is withdrawn from the tabernacle and exposed to our gaze so that we, by looking, and adoring, and bowing low might be blessed, and so experience again, at the close of Sunday, the miracle of His Real Presence. The movement, at Holy Mass as at Vespers, is always from Word to Sacramental Presence.

Amor Meus Crucifixus Est

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday of the Year B

Isaiah 50:5-9a,
Ps 115:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35

I Hid Not My Face From Shame

By a happy coincidence, the Word of God today announces tomorrow's solemn festival of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and transports us, ahead of time, into its mystery. We listened, in the First Reading, to Isaiah's mysterious prophecy of the Passion of Christ. Like a photograph developed in a darkroom, an image emerged from the sacred page: the portrait of One who goes forward into suffering, fully conscious of what awaits Him, totally abandoned to God who alone can save Him. "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Is 50:6). The adorable Face of the suffering Christ came into focus, the Holy Face that, from the earliest preaching of the Gospel, captivated believers, drawing them irresistibly into the mystery of the Cross.

The Adorable Face of the Saviour

In the apse of ancient Christian basilicas, it was not uncommon to see an immense cross, worked in shimmering mosaic. The body of Christ was not depicted on the cross; instead, at the center of the cross, in a shining circle at the juncture of the vertical and horizontal beams, was an image of the Holy Face of Christ. The arms of the Cross converged in the Face of Christ, His most distinctive characteristic.

The Cross of Christ

The uniqueness of each human face expresses the uniqueness of each person's identity. Our personal identity is linked to the image of our face, as on a photo ID card. By placing the Face of Christ at the center of the Cross, the artisans of old were suggesting that the Cross is the key to Christ's identity and the Face of Christ the key to understanding the mystery of the Cross. Apart from the Cross, there is no knowledge of Christ, no understanding of His mission, no experience of His love, no way of answering the question put to Peter in today's Gospel, "Who do you say that I am?" (Mk 8:29).

His Voice

The First Reading focused our attention on the Face of the suffering Christ; the Responsorial Psalm filled our hearts with the sound of His voice. To the uniqueness of Christ's human face is added that other identifying characteristic of the human person, the uniqueness of the voice. By juxtaposing this particular psalm to the prophecy of Isaiah, the liturgy suggests that in it we are to hear the voice of the suffering Christ, and the unmistakable accents of His prayer to the Father. "I love the Lord -- my Father -- because He has heard my voice and my supplications. He inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live" (Ps 116:1-2).

Prayer With Loud Cries and Tears

The Letter to the Hebrews describes this prayer of the suffering Christ to the Father: "In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear" (Heb 5:7). The sacred liturgy is precisely the experience in faith, here and now, of the Face and of the voice of the living Christ; of the penetrating gaze from the Cross and of the prayer from the Cross; of the gaze that searches hearts and of the prayer that pierces the heavens and fills the whole cosmos.

The Supreme Work of the Church

In the Second Reading, Saint James says, "I by my works will show you my faith" (Jas 2:18). The Church, the assembled body of believers, shows forth her faith by doing the work of the liturgy. The liturgy is the supreme work of the Church, the source and summit of all her works, the highest expression of her faith, the work done always, in every place, by all believers, "from the rising of the sun to its setting" (Mal 1:11, E.P. III). Just as a faith without works is dead, so too, a church without the Most Holy Eucharist is no church at all.

Love's Work

The doing of the Eucharist in obedience to Christ's command, "Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Cor 11:24), shows forth the mystery of the Cross, and makes it present. The Cross is Christ's own work, the immense work of redeeming love accomplished with hands outstretched upon the wood. The liturgy of September 14th sings, "This was Love's great work that death should die, when Life itself was slain upon the tree" (Antiphon, 2nd Vespers). The Cross is the work of love "obedient unto death" (Phil 2:8), the work of a "love "strong as death" (Ct 8:6).

The Cruciform Work of the Eucharist

The death of the crucified Jesus signifies the completion of His work in the Spirit. Jesus prays, "Father, I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do" (Jn 17:4), and then, from the Cross, He utters, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). In the Eucharist, the work of Christ intersects the work of the Church. The cruciform work of the Eucharist reveals the faith of the Church and shows forth the Cross, the key to Christ's identity.

Jesus Crucified

Before the work of the Cross was accomplished, not even Peter held the key to the identity of his Master. "Who do you say that I am" (Mk 8:29)? At one level, Peter answered correctly. "You are the Christ" (Mk 8:29). Nonetheless, the separation of the Christ from the Cross so compromised Jesus' mission, and so distorted His identity, that Peter was sharply rebuked. "Get behind me Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men" (Mk 8:33). There is no half-truth so dangerous to the faith of Christians as the separation of Jesus the Christ from the mystery of the Cross.

The Cross and Our Life

What is true of Christ is true of Christians. The lifework of the Christian, quite apart from any gifts, accomplishments, words, or deeds, is the work of the Cross, the surrender of self to the Father in the crucible of suffering. Paul says it: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). The identity of the Christian is inextricably bound, I want to say, nailed, to the wood of the Cross. "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mk 8:34).

To the Altar and the Cross

Because the essential work of the Christian is the Cross, it is also the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for in the crucible of the Mass, suffering is converted into love, and love into victory over death. And so, it is time now to do what we have announced, time to fulfill again the words of the apostle, "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

Gustate et Videte

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Twentieth Sunday of the Year B

Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 33:2-3. 10-15
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Today's Grace

We have arrived at the fourth of five Sundays on which the Word of God speaks to us of the astonishing mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. How important it is to profit from these five weeks dedicated to the Bread of Life. Do not let them pass without leaving an impression on your souls. The particular grace offered you today will not be there tomorrow.

Sadness and Grumbling

Read and re-read the entire sixth chapter of Saint John. Take the Compendium of the Catechism to prayer and review, point by point, exactly what the Church believes and teaches concerning the Most Holy Eucharist. Saint Bernard says, "When men grow weary of studying spiritual doctrine and become lukewarm, when their spiritual energies are drained away, then they walk in sadness along the ways of the Lord. They fulfil the tasks enjoined on them with hearts that are tired and arid, they grumble without ceasing." Never say, "I have already read that, I have had enough: there is nothing more for me to learn."

Like Jacob's Ladder

We offer the Holy Sacrifice over and over again, in obedience to the command of the Lord, "Do this in remembrance of me" (2 Cor 11:24). The Mass is inexhaustible. The reality of the Eucharist stretches, like Jacob's ladder (Gen 28:12), from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven.

Good Things As Yet Unseen

Today's Mass opened with a Collect that drew us into the very heart of the Eucharist. We prayed, "O God, who have prepared for those who love You good things as yet unseen." What is the Most Holy Eucharist if not a glimpse and foretaste of these good things, "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)? We asked God to "pour into our hearts such love for Him, that we, loving Him in all things and above all things, may obtain His promises, which exceed all that we can desire." This is no ordinary love. This is the love that "takes the kingdom of heaven by violence" (Mt 11:12), a love that permeates every part of us, a love "strong as death" (Ct 8:6). The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass opens onto infinitely more than we can see or think, ask or imagine, onto things that "exceed all that we can desire."

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A Table for the Little and the Poor

How then are we to approach the adorable mystery of the Eucharist? In the first reading we encounter Lady Wisdom. She lays the table and pours out her wine. She calls the little and the poor inside to her table, sending out her servants to cry aloud from the highest places. "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed" (Prov 9:5). The mistress of the house bakes her bread, airs her wine, and attends to all the details of a gracious hospitality.

God's Own Hospitality

Wisdom appears as the handmaid of God's own hospitality. She appeals to the simple, to those without understanding, without knowledge, in a word, to those without power. The First Reading gave us the very passage that completely changed the life of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, and became the foundation of her "Little Way." Thérèse read it in the translation of the Vulgate where is it is rendered, "Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me" (Prov 9:4). We are to approach the Most Holy Eucharist conscious of our powerlessness, of our need for something that "exceeds all that we can desire." The Eucharist calls us to the poverty of empty hands. Saint Thérèse understood this.

To Offer Ourselves

Saint Bernard teaches that it is not enough for us to take and eat the Bread from Heaven. We must also offer ourselves to be eaten. Holy Communion is a wondrous exchange in which we become the bread of Christ. Listen to Saint Bernard:

My penitence, my salvation are His food.
I myself am His food.
I am chewed as I am reproved by Him;
I am swallowed by Him as I am taught;
I am digested by Him as I am changed;
I am assimilated as I am transformed;
I am made one with Him as I am conformed to Him.
He feeds upon us and is fed by us
that we may be the more loosely bound to Him."

Saint Bernard, ever the poet, uses images of eating and assimilation to describe how Christ unites us to Himself. Our Lord becomes our food that we might become His. We need the language of poets and preachers in our approach to the Eucharist; we need song as well.

The Inadequacy of Mere Words

In the Second Reading, Saint Paul says, "be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart" (Eph 5:18-19). The Church has always sung her way through the Eucharist. The Mass cries out to be sung because mere words, uttered in the routine and conventional tones of our everyday exchanges, fail to convey that the Most Holy Eucharist is something awesome and heavenly, divinely inebriating, powerfully transforming.

Liturgical Singing

The Synod on the Eucharist warned us that we are in danger of losing our sense of awe, in danger of wanting to tame the mystery, of trying to contain it with the narrow margins of our own comfort zones. The Sacred Liturgy demands a kind of singing that suggests more of heaven than it does of earth, a kind of singing that echoes the angels' ceaseless song.

O Taste and See

In the early ages of the Church, Christians always approached the Body and Blood of Christ singing. Their favourite Communion chant was the one we heard as today's Responsorial Psalm. They never tired of repeating, "O taste and see . . . taste and see" (Ps 33:8) because in the Body of and in the Chalice of His Blood they had discovered, already here below, the taste of Wisdom's eternal banquet.

Complete Union

In the Gospel Our Lord brings Wisdom's invitation to fulfillment. "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me" (Jn 6:57). Saint Bernard says, "Christ eats me that He may have me in Himself, and Christ in turn is eaten by me that He may be in me, and the bond between us will be strong and the union complete." What awaits you in Holy Communion exceeds all that you can desire. Eat, then, and offer yourself to be eaten. Receive the Bread of God and become the bread of God.

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The Seventeenth Sunday of the Year B
The First of Five Sundays
Focusing on the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist
in the Sixth Chapter of Saint John's Gospel


A Midsummer Eucharistic Season

Every three years when the B cycle of the Sunday Lectionary returns, the Church interrupts her reading of Saint Mark's Gospel to spend five weeks listening to the magnificent sixth chapter of Saint John: Our Lord's discourse on the Bread of Life. These five Sundays -- the 17th through the 21st -- constitute a kind of Johannine interlude, a Eucharistic season within the cycle of Time Throughout the Year. In this Year of the Priest, these five Sundays will take on an even richer meaning.

These five weeks, marked by the contemplation of the Bread of Life, invite us to three things:

1) a clear and systematic Eucharistic catechesis;
2) an examination of conscience on our personal response to what the Church teaches concerning the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist;
3) a more generous dedication of time to Eucharistic adoration.

A Eucharistic Program

Pope John Paul II's Year of the Eucharist in 2004-2005 is, I fear, already beginning to fade from our consciousness. We are, as the saying goes, "no better than our fathers, slow to remember and quick to forget." I would suggest, then, that you make yourself a program for these next five weeks. It would be opportune to re-read Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, and his Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum, Domine. Take out the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and study articles 271-294 on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Meditate on Pope Benedict XVI's Letter for the Year of the Priesthood. Prepare each day's Mass with attention. Make more time for Eucharistic adoration, remembering that when adoration involves an element of sacrifice, it is a more worthy expression of love.

A Lavish Love

Our Lord multiplies the loaves in today's Gospel in order to give us an image of just how lavish His superabundant love for us is. The twelve baskets left over demonstrate that God is not content with providing us with what is strictly necessary: the work of God is characterized by superabundance. "I came that they may have life," says Our Lord, "and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).

The Antiphons at the Magnificat and Benedictus

The three antiphons carefully chosen by the Church for the Gospel Canticles of today's Divine Office are, in themselves, a meditation in three movements on the Mystery of Faith that we will contemplate over the next five weeks:

Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

Benedictus Antiphon

The Lord satisfied five thousand men with five loaves and two fish.

Magnificat Antiphon at Second Vespers

When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!"

Note: The American edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, due to a purely arbitrary editorial decision, does not, alas, give all three antiphons for each of the yearly A, B, and C cycles. They are given in the Latin editio typica, as well as in the Italian, French, and German editions of the Liturgy of the Hours. Those who pray the Hours in English are unjustly deprived of the richness of what Mother Church wants them to have. One hopes that this omission will be corrected in future editions of the Liturgy of the Hours in English. Until then the best solution is to repeat the antiphon corresponding to the Sunday Gospel at all three Gospel Canticles. The Magnificat I Antiphon corresponds to Year A; the Benedictus Antiphon to Year B; and the Magnificat II Antiphon to Year C.

Transubstantiation

The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves is a very little thing in comparison to the miracle which takes place on the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Acting in the very person of Christ the Head of His Mystical Body, the Eternal High Priest, the priest pronounces the words of consecration over the offerings of bread and wine. By the words of consecration and by the action of the Holy Spirit, the bread becomes the very Body of Christ and the wine becomes His Precious Blood. This is the miracle of Transubstantiation: the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of his Blood" (Comp. CCC, art. 283).

You still see the appearance of bread, but there is no longer any bread, but only Christ, the Bread of Life. You still see the appearance of wine, but there is no longer be any wine, but only the Precious Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine: "Christ whole and entire, God and Man" (Comp. CCC, art. 282). This is no momentary or fleeting presence; it is permanent, lasting so long as one can see, touch, and taste the outward properties of bread and of wine.

Fruits of Holy Mass and Communion

In Holy Mass the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ are offered to the Father for the salvation of the world, for the forgiveness of sins, for the needs of the living and for the eternal rest of the dead. This same Sacred Body and Precious Blood are offered to us as food and drink in Holy Communion. Holy Communion builds up the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ; "it increases our union with Christ and with His Church. It strengthens us in charity, wipes away venial sins and preserves us from mortal sin in the future" (Comp. CCC, art. 292).

The Eucharistic Life

Without Holy Communion the Christian life is impossible. The more you receive Holy Communion, the more will you hunger and thirst for it. Saint Sharbel Makhlouf, the Lebanese monk whose feast we celebrated this past Friday, organized his whole life around the Eucharist; he celebrated Mass at noon each day so as to have the whole morning to prepare for it, and the whole afternoon for thanksgiving. Holy Communion is Love poured into our hearts, and the effect of Love is to make us long for even more Love.

Real Presence

The mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist is not confined to the duration of Holy Mass. The miracle of Our Lord's real presence is ongoing and dynamic, continuing by day and by night at every moment in all the tabernacles of the world. This, of course, is why we Catholics adore the Most Holy Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle and exposed to our gaze in the monstrance on the altar. The faithful Catholic is compelled to linger before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, is magnetized by His presence, and drawn to His Open Heart hidden, and yet beating with love for us in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Our Lord's real sacramental presence is not static; it is not the presence of some thing, however sacred; it is the living presence of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, eternally Priest and Victim, offering Himself to His Father, and saying to us, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is supremely active, divinely active, testifying here and now to what Saint Luke wrote: "And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power (virtus) came forth from him and healed them all" (Lk 6:19).

With the Saints

In a few days the Church will present us with the feasts of three holy priests: passionate lovers of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. These three saints appear right on cue as if to encourage us in living this summer Eucharistic season as they lived their whole lives. On August 1st, we will remember Saint Alphonsus Liguori; on August 2nd, Saint Peter Julian Eymard; and on August 4th, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. These will be privileged moments of grace in this Year of the Priesthood. Do not let them pass you by!

Saint Alphonsus, Saint Peter Julien Eymard, and Saint Jean-Marie Vianney were priests overwhelmed with Eucharistic Love, drunk with Eucharistic Love, all ablaze with Eucharistic Love! They lived from one Holy Mass to the next. I so look forward to their companionship in this Year of the Priesthood. Ask them, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Priests, to introduce us into these five weeks of Eucharistic renewal. There is no better way to go straight to the heart of the Year of the Priesthood.

My grace is enough for thee

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Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Fourteenth Sunday of the Year B

Ezekiel 2:2-5
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Mark 6:1-6

God Chooses the Broken Man

Prophets are often held in contempt and rejected by those to whom they are sent. The choice of God rarely, if ever, meets the narrow and shortsighted criteria set up by men. God chooses the broken man and promises to repair him. He chooses the fallen man and promises to raise him up. He chooses the man deformed by sin and promises to reform him by grace. Even more surprising is that God does not wait until the broken are completely repaired, the fallen steady on their feet, and the deformed totally reformed, before using them. He chooses his prophets, entrusts them with a mission, and sends them out while they are still imperfect.

Faults, Limitations, and Neuroses

In his best seller, My Life With the Saints, Jesuit Father James Martin tells about coming to terms with the paradox of having a vocation and having at the same time a lot of sinful baggage. This is what he says -- I don't often quote Jesuits, so pay attention -- "It seemed that I was being called to be a Jesuit not despite my faults, my limitations, and my neuroses, but with them, maybe even because of them. God was calling all of me -- even the parts of me I didn't especially like -- to be with him."

Get Real

About thirty years ago a certain Abbot decreed new admissions policies for his monastery. In order to be accepted as a postulant one had to have had a happy childhood; one could not come from a broken home; one had to have affective and sexual maturity and a blameless record of unsullied virtue; one had to have no past history of problems with drugs or alcohol and no alcoholism or mental illness in one's family; one had to have an undergraduate degree and be free of debts; and one had to have good teeth with no cavities. Paradise is peopled with saints who would not have measured up to the Reverend Father's standards. As a youthful friend of mine would say, "Dude! Get real!"

My Grace Is Enough for Thee

Saint Paul, in a very candid autobiographical passage, speaks today of his thorn in the flesh and of his own weakness (2 Cor 12:7-9). "And indeed, for fear that these surpassing revelations should make me proud, I was given a sting in the flesh to distress my outward nature, an angel of Satan sent to rebuff me. Three times it made me entreat the Lord to rid me of it. ; but He told me, My grace is enough for thee; my strength finds it full scope in thy weakness. More than ever, then, I delight to boast of the weaknesses that humiliate me, so that the strength of Christ may enshrine itself in me'" (2 Cor 12:7-9).

Stings in the Flesh

What kind of person does God call to live intimately with Christ, preferring nothing to His love and putting nothing before the Work of God? Men and women who are weak, imperfect, struggling along, like Paul, with a sting in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7) or, like Jacob, with a thigh put out of joint from having wrestled with an angel (Gen 32:25). Weakness is no obstacle to holiness, not in priests, not in nuns or monks, nor in anyone of us. Writing to the Fathers of Jesus Crucified in 1938, Mother Marie des Douleurs had this to say: "It is with nothing -- and with us who are nothings -- that God is doing something. Your weakness or your defects are, therefore, not an obstacle."

The Choice of God

All too often when the choice of God doesn't correspond to what folks think it ought to be, they reject it and reject the one chosen. Our Lord, in the Gospel, is rejected by those who saw Him grow up, by those who knew His mother and family, by those who knew Him first, not as a rabbi of astounding wisdom and mighty works, but as a lowly village carpenter (Mk 6:1-6). The townsfolk knew the mother of Jesus and His relations. Their familiarity with Jesus, and with His human background, blinded them to His mission. It made them skeptical and doubtful of His message. They were unwilling to admit that God had chosen one of their own. "Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to Him (Mk 6:2)?

Unbelief

Saint John describes this very drama in his Prologue. "He came to His own home, and His own people received him not" (Jn 1:11). The unbelief of Jesus' own people impedes His work and frustrates the fruitfulness of His mission. Saint Mark says, "He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them" (Mk 6:5).

Thwarting God's Plan

Each of us has the frightful possibility of thwarting God's plans, of frustrating His desires, and of impeding His work by refusing God's choice of ourselves or by refusing His choice of another. Each of us also has the blessed possibility of corresponding to God's plan, of living out the mystery of our vocation.

The World

A vocation is an invitation to paint one's life with broad strokes and bold colours. As prophets chosen by God, priests and religious are bound to be critical of prevailing cultural standards, philosophies, and systems. Shortly after the Second Vatican Council when people were reading Gaudium et Spes through a kind of rose-coloured haze, they thought they were being called to blend in with the world. It was all very heady stuff: dialogue, adaptation, and openness.

Crisis

What happened? The reality was one-sided: the Church listening to the world without the world listening to the Church. The Church adapting to the world without the world adapting to Church. The Church open to world without the world open to the Church. Instead of the Church evangelizing the world, the world began secularizing the Church. Confusion ensued. In many cases, the General Chapters of Renewal for religious Orders and Congregations mandated by the Second Vatican Council were, in effect, Chapters of Demolition, breaking with the past and intoxicated with change for the sake of change. Seminaries and novitiates closed. People stopped going to Mass. Children stopped learning their catechism and their prayers. In a single generation, families that had been strong in the Catholic faith for centuries fell away from the Church, some into agnosticism, some into neo-paganism, some into materialism and indifference.

An Adult Faith

Pope Benedict XVI alluded to all of this when, in his homily before the opening of the Conclave that elected him, he said: "How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking." Only now are we beginning to recover from it. The Holy Father announced the dawning of new day when he said: "An 'adult' faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth."

A New Day

The new day dawning in the Church will be marked by the return of prophets and of saints. God will demonstrate again the power of His grace by choosing and calling the weak, the broken, and the fallen. Weak men will again become the living evidence of His power. Broken people will become the vehicles of His all-sufficient grace. Fallen sinners will be raised up and sent forth as the heralds of spiritual resurrection. Divine mercy will have the last word as, one by one, souls are brought, under the protection of the Mother of God, to the Eucharistic Face of Christ and to His pierced Heart. The priesthood will shine with a new holiness.

A Prophet Among Them

There is every reason to be full of hope, "gladly boasting of our weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon us" (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). If we have fallen away from our first love, it is not too late to recover it. If we have compromised with worldliness and exchanged the patrimony of the saints against a few tawdry comforts, it is not too late to change. Looking for prophets, the eye of Christ has fallen on us. No one of us is too old, too sick, too dull, or too far-gone to be used for the designs of His Heart. Approaching the adorable Mysteries of His Body and Blood today, say "Yes" again. "And whether they hear or refuse to hear . . . they will know that there has been a prophet among them" (Ez 2:5).

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This is the homily that I preached this evening at First Vespers of Saints Peter and Paul in our Cathedral of the Holy Family in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Spiritually in Rome

This evening, with the Church's evening sacrifice of praise, we enter into the festival of the Apostles Peter and Paul and bring the Pauline Year to a close. The Vespers hymn given us by the Church would have sing: "The beauteous light of God's eternal majesty / Streams down in golden rays to grace this holy day (Aurea luce). We find ourselves on pilgrimage to the Eternal City; spiritually we are in Rome at the tombs of Peter, the Keeper of Heaven's Gate, and of Paul, the Teacher of the Nations. Describing Rome as the eyes of faith see her, the hymn goes on to say:

O happy Rome! who in thy martyr princes' blood,
A twofold stream, art washed and doubly sanctified.
All earthly beauty thou alone outshinest far,
Empurpled by their outpoured life-blood's glorious tide.

Grace Abounds All the More

The mere tourist on a Roman holiday, rushing from one attraction to another, and distracted by a wildly delicious assault of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, misses the city's most precious secrets: the mortal remains of Saints Peter and Paul, and the immortal holiness of streets, and stones, and earth soaked in the blood of a host of other martyrs. "But Father," you may object, "I have been to Rome" -- it is rife with sin and thievery." Saint Paul, addressing the Romans, answers, saying: "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom 5:20).

A Cascade of Graces

Mystically transported to the tombs of Saints Peter and Saint Paul and enveloped by the liturgy of the feast, we are already standing under a cascade of graces coming down from the Father of lights (Jas 1:17). Every feast in the Church's calendar, indeed every Hour of the Divine Office of every feast, is the vehicle of a particular grace: one coloured by the saint or mystery being celebrated and divinely adapted to whatever our present needs may be.

First Antiphon

The first antiphon, taken from Mathew 16:16-17, is composed of a word pronounced by Peter, and of Jesus' reply. Peter confesses his faith: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." Straightaway Our Lord confirms him in his faith: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona." This first antiphon framed Psalm 116 for us: the shortest psalm in the Bible. Psalm 116 has but two verses: a clarion call summoning all the nations to praise the Lord because His mercy over us is confirmed, and because His truth will abide forever.

Blessed Art Thou

If you would enter into the grace of the first antiphon and psalm, make Peter's confession of faith your own, and then listen to Our Lord say to you, "Blessed art thou." If your own faith is beset with doubts, and uncertain in the face of suffering, lean on the faith of Peter and of the Church. Persevere in repeating Peter's prayer -- "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." Say it even if you feel nothing. Say it even if you think that your prayer is going nowhere. Say it even if you think no one is listening. The mercy of Christ will, at the appointed hour, break through the darkness that surrounds you, and you will hear Him say to you, as He said to Peter, "Blessed art thou."

Second Antiphon

The second antiphon is taken from Matthew 16:18. Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks, saying: "Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). These words, once addressed to Simon Bar-Jona have been repeated to each of his 265 successors as Bishop of Rome. This is the antiphon sung to greet the Pope every time he solemnly enters Saint Peter's Basilica. And this is the text written in monumental letters around the base of the great dome of Saint Peter's.

Pray for the Pope and for the Church

Today, this antiphon opens and closes Psalm 147, a hymn in praise of the Lord who so loves His Church that He blesses her children, places peace in her borders, and fills her with the wheat of the Most Holy Eucharist, the swift-running efficacy of His Word, and the very Breath of His mouth, the Holy Spirit. Both the antiphon and the psalm invite us to pray fervently and gratefully for Pope Benedict XVI and for the Church. Prayer for the Pope is as old as the Church herself. We read in Acts 12:5: "But prayer was made without ceasing by the Church for him [Peter]" (Ac 12:5).

Third Antiphon

The third antiphon is addressed to Saint Paul. It is an artfully crafted composition, made up of Acts 9:15 and 1 Timothy 2:7. This illustrates, incidentally, that the Church is sovereignly free in her use of Sacred Scripture in the liturgy. Guided by the Holy Ghost, she so grasps the unity of the Bible, that she knows how to lift out first one verse and then another. She then reassembles them in such a way that they become a fitting expression of her prayer for all times.

In Acts 9:15, Our Lord appears to Ananias in a vision. When Ananias protests to Him that he wants nothing to do with this hateful Saul, Our Lord answers, "Go thy way, for this man is to me a vessel of election" (Ac 9:15). That is the first part of the antiphon. In the second part -- 2 Timothy 2:7 -- Paul boasts of his divinely conferred credentials: "I am appointed a preacher and an apostle, (I say the truth, I lie not,) a doctor of the Gentiles in faith and truth."

Grace

This antiphon opens and closes a canticle that Saint Paul either composed or learned from hearing it sung in the assemblies of the Church. It is a song of praise and thanksgiving, glorifying God the Father for having chosen us in Christ, His Beloved Son, for the praise of His glorious grace. In this canticle, grace is the keyword. Grace is the graciousness of God in action, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Grace is what changed Saul into Paul, making him God's vessel of election, and the preacher of the truth in the world. Grace is what will change us from what we are -- frail, broken sinners -- into the saints God wants us to be forever. Hold fast to the Our Lord's own words to Saint Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee; for my power is made perfect in infirmity" (2 Cor 12:9).

The Reading

It comes as no surprise that the short lesson this evening should be from Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans. It is, in fact, the salutation from the very beginning of his letter: "To all that are at Rome -- and, spiritually, we are there this evening -- the beloved of God called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 1:7). This is a greeting that delivers what it wishes. It is the word of God uttered in the midst of the Church: no vapid sentimentality here, but rather the efficacious Word of God sent like a flaming arrow into the hearts of those who hear it.

The Responsory

The Reponsory tells us that the Apostles spoke the Word of God with confidence and boldness, bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Latin text has cum fiducia, with assurance, confidence, and trust. Trust in whom? Trust in our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit. "I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever" (Jn 14:16). There is no reason then to be timid and shrinking about our Catholic faith, even in an intimidating culture that mocks it, rejects the hope it offers, and would have us dilute it. Apostolic Catholic Christianity is to be lived cum fiducia, with confidence, and boldly.

Magnificat Antiphon

The Magnificat Antiphon will have us sing: "The glorious Apostles of Christ, just as they loved each other in life, so too, are they not separated in death." Did Peter and Paul love each other? Yes. Did they always agree about everything? No. It is this that makes their fraternal love credible, even more compelling. What was this charity with which they loved each other? It is the charity that Saint Paul describes in First Corinthians: a charity that is patient, is kind, that envieth not, that dealeth not perversely, and that is not puffed up; a charity that is not ambitious, that seeketh not her own, that is not provoked to anger; a charity that beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and endureth all things" (1 Cor 13:4-7).

The Collect

The Collect, in its own way, tells us quite a lot about God and about ourselves. It is proper to this evening and different from the one that we will hear at Mass and at the Hours tomorrow:

Give us, we beseech Thee, O Lord our God,
to be lifted up by the intercession of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul,
so that through them to whom Thou gavest Thy Church
the first proofs of heavenly gifts,
Thou wouldst provide us with helps for everlasting salvation.

We pray to God as a people in need of being lifted up. We are fallen and falling . . . but God is ever ready to lift us up. Today He does so by the intercession of Saints Peter and Paul. Both of them knew what it is to fall. . . and to fall in a spectacular way. Now, in the glory of heaven, they are well placed to help us rise from the sin that, again and again, knocks us down. In the beginning, God gave Saints Peter and Paul signs and demonstrations of His heavenly protection; what He did for them in the first days of the Church, He is ready to do for us in 2009, at this end of the Year of Saint Paul and beginning of the Year of the Priest.

A Lamp to Our Feet

Under Saint Peter's watchful eye, Saint Paul is handing the torch to Saint John Mary Vianney, the Curé d'Ars. Pray that this torch be for all of us, but especially for the priests of our diocese of Tulsa, "a lamp to our feet, and a light to our paths" (Ps 118:105).

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Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
[Thirteenth Sunday Per Annum B]

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
Mark 5:21-43

A Story of Two Healings

Two miracles. Two women. The first is a twelve year old girl with all the promise of life before her, the other, a woman exhausted by twelve years of chronic suffering. Saint Mark intertwines the stories of the one and of the other. The connection is not merely coincidental, it is complementary. The underlying message is found precisely by taking both stories together.

Faith and the Power of God

Neither Jairus' twelve year old daughter, already at the point of death when he approaches Jesus, nor the woman with the twelve year hemorrhage can be helped by human means. Both are beyond the pale of what medical science can do. Both will be saved by the conjunction of Jesus' divine power with the power of faith. In the case of the sick woman, it is her own faith, a faith at once timid and bold. In the case of the girl, it is her father's faith, the faith of a distraught parent at the bedside of a dying child.

The Number Twelve

You may have remarked that the girl is twelve years old, and that the woman has suffered her affliction for twelve years. Saint Mark did not choose these two numbers at random. As is so often the case in the Bible, these numbers are charged with meaning and with mystery. In Sacred Scripture, the number twelve signifies fulfillment, completion.

In Saint Luke's gospel, Jesus uttered His first prophecy at the age of twelve (Lk 2:42, 49). Jesus calls twelve apostles to signify the arrival of the fullness of time and the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mt 10:1 15). After the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, twelve baskets remain, "full of broken pieces and of the fish" (Mk 6:43).

The glorious completion of all things at the end of time is imaged by the twelve gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, with twelve angels as gatekeepers. The gates are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the city has twelve foundations, inscribed with the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Ap 21:14). The woman of the book of the Apocalypse (an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Church), is crowned with twelve stars (Ap 12:1), and the tree of life that flourishes in the heavenly city yields twelve kinds of fruit, one for each of the twelve months of the year (Rev 22:2).

Finally, we know that for Jesus the day is made up of twelve hours; in Saint John's gospel, He says, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" (Jn 11:9). What is Saint Mark trying to say by his symbolic use of the number twelve in today's gospel?

The Fullness of Time

These two miracles are more than the benevolent gestures of a faith-healing rabbi. They are more than the revelation of Jesus' compassion in the face of human suffering. They signify the arrival of the fullness of time, the completion of God's plan of salvation--and salvation means the restoration of health, of wholeness--in Christ. Saint Mark's use of the number twelve is a way of crying out, "At last, at last, God has kept His promises! The Messiah, the Christ of all our desires and longings is here!"

She Suffered Under Many Physicians

The woman exhausted by twelve years of chronic suffering is an image of humankind from the fall of Adam and Eve to the coming of Christ, a history of blood and of tears, a history of oppression, violence, and disease. The woman of the gospel "had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better, but rather grew worse" (Mk 5:26). So too, had humanity suffered much under many physicians. Various philosophies, political systems, and kingdoms had come and gone, leaving, in their wake, a bitter trail of cynicism and disappointment. Societies and individuals spent all that they had, and were no better, but rather grew worse.

Blood is Life

The woman of the gospel comes to Jesus as to her last recourse. Having lost everything, her life was wasting away; that is the significance of her flow of blood. Life was seeping out of her! She was being drained of all vitality! For the people of the Bible blood is life. She felt herself sinking slowly, inexorably, into the pit of despondency.

Touching God

Then, timid and fearful, a veiled, stooped figure in the crowd, she approaches Jesus from behind, not daring to speak, but bold in reaching out to touch the hem of His garment. In faith, she touches, not the hem of a wandering, wonder-working rabbi's garment, but the very mystery of God. Power surges from Jesus, divine energy goes forth. In a single instant, faith cures where human skill had failed through twelve years.

Little Girl, Arise

Jairus' twelve year old daughter is on the threshold of womanhood; she is also on the threshold of death. Could any situation be more tragic? Her father tears himself away from her bedside and goes in search of Jesus. Seeing Our Lord, he falls at His feet, and beseeches Him, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live" (Mk 5:23). Any parent who has watched at the bedside of a dying child knows the anguish that gripped this man's heart, almost suffocating him with grief. When Jesus follows Jairus home, they find that the girl is already dead. The Jewish funeral rites are already underway. The cries and laments of mourners make a ghastly din. Jesus goes in to the girl, takes her by the hand, and says, "Tálitha, cúmi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise" (Mk 5:41). Immediately, she got up and walked, and Jesus ordered that she be given something to eat.

God With Us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Saint Mark's message to us today is that Jesus Christ is mankind's one hope, the long-awaited Physician who, in His very person, establishes contact between the power of God and the faith of every human heart. In entering the history of the human race, Jesus Christ descends into the "valley of the shadow of death" (Ps 23:4). The rejected Christ, the condemned Christ, the suffering Christ, carrying His cross, passes through the midst of those who weep, and wail, and mourn: suffering children, the victims of war, of violence, of discrimination, of oppression, those who are afflicted by chronic illness, men and women living with cancer or with any one of a number of life-threatening diseases. To the prayer of faith, to the touch of faith, this Jesus who was crucified brings the power of God, the power that brings light out of darkness, joy out of tears, and life out of death itself, the power by which He, after three days, was raised from the tomb.

His Real Presence

This is the mystery that lies at the heart of every Holy Mass: the real presence of Christ. Like the crowd that thronged about Him in today's Gospel, though many may brush against Him on His passage, not all touch Him, as did the afflicted woman, with faith. It is not enough to be here, not enough to go through the ritual motions, not enough fulfill a duty in compliance with the letter of the law, not enough to say, "I've been to Mass." Jesus waits for us to touch Him with the touch of faith.

We may be like Jairus' daughter, on the verge of something new and wonderful in life, or we may be like the other woman, weary and spent after years of suffering. To each of us the Most Holy Eucharist holds out the power of God, a power unleashed by faith. After raising up the little girl, Jesus said, "Give her something to eat." And that is why we go now to the Holy Table, that all of us who have been raised up by the Word of Christ from the ambo, may be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ from the altar of His Sacrifice. "Approach, then, with the fear of God, and with faith" (Byzantine Liturgy, Invitation to Holy Communion).

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Third Sunday of Lent (A)

Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm 94: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42

March 15, 2009
Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Mercies Ever New

Today's Mass offers such a richness of images that a preacher hardly knows where to begin. This is one reason why the Church, in her wisdom, repeats the same texts and exposes our souls to the same images, year after year. The liturgy, even when it repeats the same words and gestures, is always new. The prophet Jeremiah says that, "the mercies of the Lord are new every morning" (Lam 3:23). And where do we receive those mercies ever-new most abundantly, if not from the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

Casting Blame

In the First Reading we hear of a people grown weary and irritable: delivered out of oppression in Egypt, they found themselves trudging through the wilderness, a desolate place without water. Three things make people irritable: lack of sleep, lack of food, and lack of drink. In this case, their irritation turns to hostility. They murmur against Moses, their hero, their leader, their liberator. His approval ratings plunge. He is blamed for everything that has gone wrong.

Moses, the Friend of God

Moses, for his part, was only doing what God had told him to do. Moses, in spite of a checkered past -- you will recall that, as a young man, he murdered an Egyptian and then hid his body in the sand -- has become God's obedient servant. Even more, he has become God's friend. We read in Exodus 33:11 that "the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man is wont to speak to his friend." And Moses -- in spite of his ongoing struggle with anger management -- has become, according to Numbers 12:3, "exceeding meek above all men that dwelt upon earth."

Moses Cries to God

Moses turns to God in prayer. Note that the passage in question says that he "cried to the Lord" (Ex 17:4). This gives us an idea of the honesty and intensity of his prayer. The Lord answered his cry: He instructed Moses to strike the rock with his rod (the symbol of his authority). Thus were the people give an abundance of living water gushing from the rock.

Contention and Fault-Finding

Moses, nonetheless, wanted to mark the spot as a place of contention and fault-finding. And so he called it Massah and Meribah because there the people put God to the test by saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"

The Passion of Christ and the Priest

There is not a single priest, from the Holy Father himself down to the lowliest pastor of souls in the poorest and most obscure of parishes, who has not, in some way, experienced what Moses did. When one represents Christ, one must expect to be blamed for the things that go wrong. One becomes a scapegoat, the target of bitter criticisms, and the object of all sorts of hostilities. This kind of suffering is intrinsic to the priestly vocation. How can the priest act "in the person of Christ" without sharing in His Passion, without being forced to cry to the Father, saying as did Moses, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me" (Ex 17:4).

The Holy Father's Letter

Last Tuesday, March 10th, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a letter to the Bishops of the world in which he expressed, with profound humility, the suffering caused him by the criticisms, hostility, and murmuring directed at him from all sides in the wake of his decision to reconcile four illicitly consecrated bishops to the Church. I can almost see the Holy Father kneeling in his private chapel, asking the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me" (Ex 17:4). In our day, of course, stoning assumes a more sophisticated but no less lethal form. The projectiles are launched primarily by the media.

Allow me, for a moment, to quote from the Holy Father's letter: "At times," he says, "one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them - in this case the Pope - he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint."

Unity in Charity

In the prevailing social and political climate, it is more than ever necessary to remain united in charity to the leaders set over us by God: the lay faithful to their deacons and priests; deacons and priests to their bishops; and bishops to the Holy Father. Those who shepherd us in the name of Christ and with His Heart will always experience weariness, rejection, and moral suffering, but these things become easier to bear when the family of the Church is a reconciled family, one in which pardon is readily given and received, one in which unity is the fruit of sacrificial love.
The Weariness of Jesus

Moving now to the Gospel, I should like to call your attention to the weariness of Our Lord. Saint John makes a point of saying that, "Jesus, wearied as He was with His journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour" (Jn 4:6). The image is profoundly moving: the weariness of a wayfaring Jesus. Not for nothing does the liturgy present us with it on the Third Sunday of Lent. We are at the midpoint of our own Lenten journey and susceptible, all of us, to a certain weariness.

This particular Gospel of the weary, wayfaring Christ reminds us that the journey of God towards us precedes even our first step towards Him. God desires us before we begin to desire Him. God looks for us before we begin to look for Him. God thirsts for us before we begin to thirst for Him.

The Sixth Hour

Saint John adds a significant detail to his description of the weary, wayfaring Jesus, seated by the well. He says, "It was about the sixth hour" (Jn 4:6). For us to hear the full resonance of this little phrase, we have to turn the pages of Saint John's Gospel until we come to the crucifixion of Jesus in Chapter 19. There we read, "Now it was the Day of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour." The sixth hour sees Jesus "lifted up from the earth to draw all men to Himself" (Jn 12:32). After a three hour agony, the crucified Jesus reveals the thirst of man for God, and the thirst of God for man. "Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), 'I thirst'" (Jn 19:28).

Thirst Divine and Human

This mystery too -- God's thirst for man, and man's thirst for God -- is integral to the life of every priest, to the life of our own Bishop, and to the life of the Holy Father. When the priest stands at the altar facing God, he bears within himself the spiritual thirst of every soul entrusted to his care. He presents that thirst to God; he offers his own heart as an empty chalice waiting to be filled by a spring of living water. And when the priest, turns from the altar to face the people, he bears within himself God's thirst for each one of you. So often as the priest turns to face you, he represents the Eternal High Priest who, from the Cross, said, "I thirst." And the thirst of the Crucified is for you: for your faith, for your hope, and above all, for your love.

The Sacrament That Quenches Every Thirst

Every Mass is a singular opportunity for you to quench the thirst of God. And every Mass is the mystery of Moses' striking the rock fulfilled, for in the Sacrifice of the Mass, the side of Jesus is opened by the soldier's lance. A torrent of Blood and of Water gush out to fill the chalice . . . and you, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion taste of that living stream that alone can quench the heart's most burning thirsts.

Scrutinies

A word to those of you who are here for the Scrutinies, preparing to be received into the Church in the holy and glorious night of Pascha: live well these remaining weeks of Lent. Meditate the thirst of the Crucified. He thirsts for a drink that only you can give him, a drink drawn not out of a well, but out of the depths of your soul. And thirst for God. Feel that thirst; it is a blessing. You will be given to drink in proportion to your thirst. Pray with the psalmist the very words that we will sing at the Easter Vigil: "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. As a deer longs for running streams, so longs my soul for you, O God" (Ps 41:2-3).

God's Desire From the Beginning

And to those here who were baptized and confirmed and received their First Holy Communion ten or twenty or thirty, or fifty, or sixty, or seventy or more years ago, I say, never lose your thirst for God. He has never lost His thirst for you. Approach the Holy Mysteries yearning for the Gift of God, the living water promised by Our Lord to the woman at the well. You will not be disappointed. And God, Who thirsts for you, will find in you the "adorers in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:24) that He has desired from the beginning.

Behold, I am doing a new thing

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Quinquagesima, The Seventh Sunday of the Year B

Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
Psalm 41:1-2, 3-4, 12-13
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
Mark 2:1-12

Christ, the Father's Yes

"The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you . . . was not Yes and No; but in Him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him" (2 Cor 1:19-20). Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Father's Yes to every yearning inscribed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Christ is the Father's Yes to every prayer of ours for healing, the Father's Yes to every cry of ours in the night, the Father's Yes even to the petitions we dare not formulate "for we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26). When the Holy Spirit himself "intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26), Christ is the Father's Yes to every one of those sighs. Christ is the Father's Yes to the inward groanings of those who hope for what is not yet seen (cf. Rom 8:24-25). Christ is the Father's Yes to all the promises made "by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old" (Lk 1:70).

Through Christ our Lord

The prophet is the mouthpiece of God, the living bearer of His Word, the emissary charged with delivering the promises of God to "those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death" (Lk 1:79). And Christ is the Yes to those promises: their guarantee and their fulfillment. "That is why," says the Apostle, "we utter the Amen through Him to the glory of God" (2 Cor 1:20). This, the Church has done from the beginning and continues to do in every age. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Receive the Promises of God

Those who refuse to let go of the past are not disposed to receive the promises of God. Their heads and their hearts are so full of what is old, that there is no room in them for what is new. What does God say, speaking today through His prophet? "Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Is 43:19).

The Mercies of the Lord

Does that mean that we are to practice a kind of self-induced amnesia? Absolutely not. This is not about repression. To forget means to put away. Before something can be put away, it has to be found. The same God who says, "Remember not!" never tires of saying, "Remember!" O glorious paradox! "Remember the wonderful works that He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He uttered" (Ps 104:5). And in another place the psalmist says, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits" (Ps 102:2). We are to remember the mercies of the Lord and let go of all the rest. Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo. The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever (Ps 88:1).

Detachment

We are to let go of all those things that impede our going forward to claim the promises of God. We are to let go of all those things that oppose a no to Christ in whom all the promises of God find their Yes (cf. 2 Cor 1:19-20). This letting go allows the fragile green shoot of hope to break through the crusty hardness of a heart whose winter has gone on for too long.

Attachment to Christ Jesus

At the same time, we are to hold fast to the remembrance of God's mercies. Day after day we are sing of the promises of God fulfilled in Christ. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Praise

These are God's promises to us, delivered through the mouth of Isaias His prophet today:

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert . . . for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise (Is 43:20-21).

Every promise of God blossoms into praise. The designs of God have a doxological finality: the vast designs of cosmic proportions, and the little ones hidden in the life stories of the least of Christ's brethren. Faith in the promises of God flowers into an indefectible hope, and the fruit of hope is praise.

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And He Rose

The God who promises "a new thing" (Is 43:19) tells us precisely how He will go about it: "I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins" (Is 43:25). "And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven" (Mk 2:5). Fix your gaze on the Face of Christ and read there the Yes to all the promises of God! And lest any lingering doubt remain, "He said to the paralytic, 'I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.' And he rose. . . ." (Mk 2:10-12). And he rose.

The Promise of Resurrection

Fifty days before Pascha on this Quinquagesima Sunday, Our Lord speaks a word of spiritual resurrection. This is the word of hope that we are to remember and carry in our hearts: the promise of a resurrection from the pallet where we lay immobilized and paralyzed by the burdens and sins of "former things, of the things of old" (Is 43:18). "Behold," says God, "I am doing a new thing . . . a new thing in you, a new thing for you, a new thing among you, a new thing through you. . . now it springs forth, do you not perceive it" (cf. Is 43:19).

Amen

To all of this, Christ, knowing our weakness and our fears, says Yes for us. To His Yes, to the Yes that He is, we have only to say, "Amen." And for this we go to the altar to sing, "our Amen through Him to the glory of God" (2 Cor 1:20). "Through Him, and with Him, and in Him. . . . Amen." And then, "The Body of Christ. Amen." The Most Holy Eucharist is Christ, the Yes of God, on our tongues and in our mouths. The Body of Christ is the Yes of God in our hearts. "The Body of Christ. Amen."

I know that my Redeemer liveth

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In the traditional liturgy today is Septuagesima Sunday; the Office focuses on the first chapters of Genesis, and Mass on the passing of time from "the morning of the world" to the eleventh hour when the last labourers are hired. The reformed liturgy continues the lectio continua of Saint Mark's Gospel and relates today's passage to the sufferings of the prophet Job.

Even in the reformed liturgy one can and should allude to the traditional observance of Septuagesima. Without this pre-Lenten season, one arrives at Ash Wednesday unprepared; the transition into the Great Fast requires, even from the purely psychological point of view, a time of transition. There is enormous wisdom in the traditional practice of the Church.

Fifth Sunday of the Year B

Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Psalm 146: 12, 3-4, 5-6
1 Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-23
Mark 1:29-39

The Woes of Job

"I am allotted months of emptiness and nights of misery are apportioned to me" (Jb 7:3), says Job: the utterance of a man for whom life has lost all meaning. Job was a prosperous citizen, a man content with himself: comfortable in his religion, secure in his possessions, happy with his family. In a single day, he lost everything (Jb 1:14-16). A tornado struck the house where all his children were gathered for a dinner party, and all perished (Jb 1:18-19). Later he was stricken with a terrible illness; he was covered with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head" (Jb 2:7). His wife (hardly sympathetic and encouraging) tells him to curse God, and die (Jb 2:9). His friends come for visits, but their conversation brings no comfort and their company no solace.

My eye will never again see good

In only six verses, the First Reading reveals the bleakness and intensity of Job's suffering. His torment is more interior than exterior: restlessness, sleepless nights, and the total eclipse of hope. God is conspicuously absent from the text. God is not even mentioned. Listening to the reading, I was moved by the images of despondency that, one after the other, bare for us the depths of Job's pain. "Months of emptiness and nights of misery" (Jb 7:3). "The night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn" (Jb 7:4). Job has the fearful experience of seeing his life rush past him into an impenetrable obscurity. "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and come to their end without hope" (Jb 7:6). The last line of the reading leaves one with the impression of an indefinable and tragic emptiness. "My eye will never again see good" (Jb 7:7) or, in the lectionary translation, "I shall not see happiness again."

Job finds an extraordinarily poignant echo in a poem by W. H. Auden.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Respect for Suffering

"For nothing now can ever come to any good." Auden is quoting Job. How do we leap from this into the Responsorial Psalm, "Praise the Lord, who heals the broken-hearted" (Ps 147:3). I'm not even sure that a leap is appropriate. The reality of human suffering, of the gnawing sense of hopelessness cannot, and should not, be treated dismissively. The pain of the human heart deserves the respect that only a speechless and attentive presence can offer. In any case, the leap into the Responsorial Psalm, however long it is respectfully delayed, cannot be attempted alone. We respond together to the glimmers of light that it holds out. God, conspicuously absent from the text of Job, comes out of hiding in the psalm to "gather the outcasts of Israel, to heal the brokenhearted, and bind up their wounds, to lift up the downtrodden" (Ps 147:2-3, 6).

Weakness

As a rule, the Second Reading is not related to the other texts of the Sunday liturgy. Today, however, Saint Paul says something that brings him close to Job, and to us. "To the weak, I became weak, that I might win the weak" (1 Cor 9:22). Here, the Apostle reflects his Lord and Master, the Suffering Servant. Before Paul, Christ Himself, "despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Is 53:3), became as weak to the weak, that He might win the weak. The weak Christ -- like the weak Job, and the weak Paul -- speaks, I think, to the weakness in all of us, drawing us to Himself humbly and gently. Virtue that causes the righteous to seem distant, and holiness unattainable, is no virtue at all.

Christ Stretches Forth His Hand

Job and Paul, in their weakness, conduct us to the Gospel of the compassionate Christ. In the Gospel, the God of the Responsorial Psalm has a human face, human hands, a human heart, and a healing, human touch. Look at our Divine Lord in the Gospel. What do we see Him doing? He stretches forth His hand (Mk 1:31) to raise up, to set free, to heal. What Our Lord does in the Gospel for the mother-in-law of Peter (Mk 1:30), and for the whole city gathered together about the door (Mk 1:33), He wants to do for us.

Come to Him

Come to Him, present in the adorable Mystery of the Altar. He will take you by the hand and lift you up (Mk 1:31). If, scorched by the heat of the day, you long for the shadow (Jb 7:2), He will "hide you in the shelter of his wings" (Ps 17:8). If months of emptiness have been your lot (Jb 7:3), He comes to "crown the year with bounty" (Ps 65:11). If nights of misery have been your portion (Jb 7:3), He rises before you as the dawn of mercy (cf. Lk 1:78-79).

He Comes

If you say, "When shall I arise" (Jb 7:4), He stretches forth His hand to raise you up (cf. Mk 1:31). If you say, "the night is long" (Jb 7:4), He says, "You will not fear the terror of the night" (Ps 91:5). If the night is "full of tossing till the dawn" (Jb 7:4), He says, "Come to me . . . And you will find rest for your souls" (Mt 11:28 29). If the days of your life are rushing past, "swifter than a weaver's shuttle" (Jb 7:6), leaving things unresolved, questions unanswered, and your heart without hope, He comes to calm and quiet your soul, "like a child quieted at its mother's breast" (Ps 131:2).

My Hope Laid Up in My Heart

If you fear that never again your eye will see good (Jb 7:7), draw near today to the Holy Table saying with Job, "I know that my Redeemer liveth . . . and in my flesh I shall see my God . . . . This, my hope, is laid up in my heart" (Jb 19:25-27, Vulg).

Presentation of the Lord

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Malachy 3:1-4
Psalm 23: 7, 8, 9, 10
Hebrews 2: 14-18
Luke 2: 22-40

Susception Day

"We receive, O God, Your mercy, in the midst of Your temple" (Ps 47:10). This is the word from Psalm 47 that the liturgy places on our lips and in our hearts today. In the Middle Ages today's feast was sometimes called Susception Day, from "suscepimus," the first word of the entrance antiphon. Often translated as, "we receive," or "we accept," "suscepimus" has yet another meaning. This other meaning, while crucial to understanding the mystery we celebrate today, is often overlooked. "Suscipere" means to take up a new born child to acknowledge it as one's own. In ancient Rome a father acknowledged a child as belonging to him by taking the little one into his arms in the presence of witnesses. Knowing this, the Introit becomes transparent for us, illumined as it is by the word of the Gospel: "Simeon took him into his arms" (Lk 2:28). "We take up into our arms, O God, Your Mercy, in the midst of Your temple."

To Cradle Mercy in Our Arms

The one thing that everyone finds irresistible is to hold a baby, even if only for a few moments. Elders are transformed by it. Boys suddenly become tender and girls motherly. Even little children vie for the privilege of holding the newest arrival. As the little one is passed from one person to the next, faces grow bright with awe and delight. A little child has the power to light up a room. The little child we celebrate today has the power to light up the world: "A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (Lk 2:32). The Introit names the Child "Mercy." Today, it is given us to cradle Mercy in our arms.

Guided by the Infant

An antiphon from today's Office sings that, "the ancient carried the Infant, but the Infant guided the steps of the ancient." Simeon, the image of all that in us has grown old with waiting, carries Mercy in his arms, but Mercy, by the light that shines on his face, guides the old man's steps. If we would be guided by Mercy, we must first receive Mercy, the Mercy of God that comes to us in the outstretched arms of a little Child seeking to be held.

In the Middle of the Temple

The Introit says that Mercy is given us in medio templi -- in the middle of the temple. This places the Infant Christ, the human Face of Divine Mercy, at the heart of today's mystery. As in the icon of today's feast, all of the other figures in the Gospel are seen in relation to the Child. All of the other figures are seen, in fact, in the light of his face. "What can bring us happiness?" they ask. "Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord" (Ps 4:7). "Look towards him," they say one to another, "and be radiant" (Ps 33:6). Christ is placed in our arms today that we might gaze upon the human face of Divine Mercy and, in the light of that face, be transformed.

Nolite obdurare corda vestra

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This painting of Jesus preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum is the work of the Polish-Jewish artist Maurycy Gottlieb (1856-1879). Note that he depicts Our Lord with earlocks, and wearing the traditional talith or prayer shawl.

Fourth Sunday of the Year

Mark 1:21-28
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Psalm 94: 1-2. 6-9
Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Words from God for God

The genius of the sacred liturgy is that it allows us to respond to the Word of God with the Word of God. God speaks to us in the readings; we respond to him in the words of responsories and psalms, words inspired by the Holy Spirit and placed on our lips by the Church. The Word, which descends into our midst in the proclamation of the readings, becomes in the psalm a chariot of fire by which we, like the prophet Elias of old (2 K 2:11), are carried into the presence of the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

The Venite

Today's Responsorial Psalm is especially significant. It is the Venite, Psalm 94. This is the psalm that begin the Church's daily round of praise in the Divine Office. Every morning, and in many monasteries before the first glimmers of dawn while the world still sleeps, voices intone Psalm 94. It is more than an invitation to adoration and praise. It pleads with us: "Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps 94:7-8).

Praying Against Oneself

A hardened heart is one that refuses to listen. Encrusted in a shell, it becomes impenetrable even to the piercing grace of God. At times, we have to pray against ourselves. We are obliged to pray against our own hard and stony hearts, if we are to pray at all. The poet knew it well.

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"Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me and bend
Your force to break, blow burn, and make me new"
(John Donne, Holy Sonnets V).

The Risk of Listening

To listen is to risk. This is true of every human relationship; it is no less true of the relationship with God. The listening heart is vulnerable, open to being wounded by the two-edged sword of the Word (Heb 4:12) which like the surgeon's scalpel cuts in order to heal. A heart that listens is softened and melted by the Word received. The mystics tell us that the heart may be liquefied by the fire of love that burns in every utterance of the mouth of God. The disciples on the road to Emmaus knew it. "And they said one to the other: Was not our heart burning within us, whilst He spoke in this way, and opened to us the Scriptures?" (Lk 24:32).

A Word Unlike Any Other

The assembly in the synagogue at Capernaum risked listening to Jesus of Nazareth. They heard his voice. At least, on this one occasion, they did not harden their hearts. Saint Mark tells us that his teaching made a deep impression on them. What they experienced was different from the dry and lifeless teaching they were accustomed to hearing. This was no routine repetition of stale exhortations. Here was a word whose origin was deeper and more mysterious than anything they had heard before. Unlike the scribes, Jesus taught them with authority. His teaching came not from Himself; it came from the One who sent Him (cf. Jn 7:16).

Taught By God

This episode in the synagogue fulfills God's promises to Moses: "I will raise them up a prophet out of the midst of their brethren like to thee: and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him" (Dt 18:18). The Lord Jesus himself makes it clear in the sixth chapter of Saint John. "It is written in the prophets: And they shall all be taught of God. Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to Me" (Jn 6:45).

In the Synagogue

The worshipers in the village synagogue sensed the unique quality of Jesus' teaching in a confused sort of way. This unique quality was all too clear to the unclean spirit in the man possessed. The unclean spirit clamours, "I know who Thou art, the Holy One of God" (Mk 1:24). Saint Jerome makes an astute observation about this. He says that even if the unclean spirit recognizes Jesus as the Holy One of God, it fails to confess Jesus as he truly is: not simply the Holy One of God, but the Holy God himself.

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To Become Wholly Teachable

Jesus speaks. The words of Our Lord are an outpouring, an effusion, an infusion, of the fire and light of his life with the Father in the Holy Spirit. One who really listens, risks being caught up in the life of the Holy Trinity. How I wish that we could all pray as Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity prayed:

O Eternal Word, Word of my God, I want to spend my life in listening to you, to become wholly teachable that I may learn all from you. Then through all nights, all voids, all helplessness, I want to gaze on you always and remain in your great light.

Power to Attend Upon the Lord

We come to Holy Mass to hearken to the words of the Word, to be wounded by them, to be espoused by them in such a way that, as the one Body of Christ, we are drawn upward with our Divine Head to the Father in the Holy Spirit. A listening Church will be one in which Saint Paul's goal for the Corinthians is necessarily fulfilled: "power to attend upon the Lord, without impediment" (1 Cor 7:35).

The Name of the Father

We cannot listen to the words of Jesus without being drawn into his own undivided attention to the Father. This was the desire of His Sacred Heart on the night before he died, "I have given them the words which Thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from Thee. . . . I made known to them Thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which Thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them" (Jn 17: 7-8;26).

Out of the Midst of the Fire

Today Moses' words to Israel are fulfilled for us. "Out of heaven He made thee to hear His voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth He shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest His words out of the midst of the fire." (Dt 4:36). In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the Father lets us see his great fire.

A Conflagration of Divine Love

What is the Most Holy Eucharist but a conflagration of Divine Love? Like the burning bush, the Church is ablaze and yet not consumed (Ex 3:2). From the heart of the fire -- if we are willing to risk it -- we hear the Word of God, "devouring fire from His mouth" (Ps 17:8). "Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps 94:7-8).

A Little Bit of All the Virtues

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Friday of the First Week of the Year I

Hebrews 4:1-5, 11
Psalm 77: 3 & 4bc, 6c-7, 8
Mark 2:1-12

Toil and Rest

There is a paradox in today's reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. On the one hand, we enter into the Sabbath-rest of God by means of toil, i.e. the active life; and on the other hand, every work of ours is ordered to rest in God, i.e. the contemplative life. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council made this clear in Sacrosanctum Concilium:

It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek " (SC, art. 2).

Six days of work preceded God's holy Sabbath. The world and all it contains was created for man and given to him in view of his participation in the Sabbath-rest of God. "God saw everything that He had made, and found it very good" (Gen 1:31).

The Active life

Saint John Cassian calls the labor by which we enter into God's rest the active life. The active life engages us in the disciplines by which, sustained by a constant flow of actual graces, we dispose ourselves for the Work of God in us by doing whatever we can to uproot our vices and cultivate the virtues.

God works in us while we are at rest: still, quiet, and abandoned to His purifying and healing action. The psalm says, "Is it not in the hours of sleep that the Lord blesses the man He loves?" (Ps 126:2). Sleep is an image of confident repose in God. "Bear me witness that I kept my soul ever quiet, ever at peace. The thoughts of a child on its mother's breast, a child's thoughts were all my soul knew" (Ps 130:2).

The Christian life is not, however, all repose; those who hold that fall into the heresy of quietism. Nor is it all works; those who hold that fall into the heresy of activism, a misguided self-reliance condemned by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical excoriating the errors of Americanism. Our Lord says, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). And in the same Gospel of Saint John he says, "Walk while you have the light of life" (Jn 12:35).

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

The classic question asked of the Desert Fathers was this: "What must I do to be saved?" The sense of the question is this: "What must I do to be saved by God?" and not, "What must I do to save myself?" Abba John answered the question, saying:

I think it best that a man should have a little bit of all the virtues. Therefore, get up early every day and acquire the beginning of every virtue and every commandment of God. Use great patience, with fear and long-suffering, in the love of God, with all the fervour of your soul and body. Exercise great humility, bear with interior distress; be vigilant and pray often with reverence and groaning, with purity of speech and control of your eyes. When you are despised do not get angry; be at peace, and do not render evil for evil. Do not pay attention to the faults of others, and do not try to compare yourself with others, knowing that you are less than every created thing. Renounce everything material and that which is of the flesh. Live by the cross, in warfare, in poverty of spirit, in voluntary spiritual asceticism, in fasting, penitence and tears, in discernment, in purity of soul, taking hold of that which is good. Do your work in peace. Persevere in keeping vigil, in hunger and in thirst, in cold and nakedness, and in sufferings.

Abba John's sagacious reply is very similar to Chapter Four of the Rule of Saint Benedict: The Instruments of Good Works. All of these "instruments" or "practices" are the toil of the active life by which we "strive to enter" into the rest that God has prepared for us, "walking while we have the light of life." And even when we fail miserably in putting the first 72 of Saint Benedict's "instruments" into practice, there remains still one -- the 73rd -- and it is the most important one of all: "And never to despair of God's mercy."

Toward the Most Holy Eucharist

Everything we do by way of toil, mortification, and active virtue is nothing more than a humble preparation for the Work that, in all the sacraments, in the Divine Office, and supremely in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, God does in us and for us. The Church herself suggests this by commanding us to fast before Holy Communion. Every act of self-denial, every refusal to judge another, every effort of ours in the daily spiritual combat, however small, has a Eucharistic finality. The ascetical life is ordered to a transforming and fruitful participation in the sacramental grace of the Holy Sacrifice. There, all that we cannot do of ourselves and by ourselves, is given to us superabundantly. "My grace is enough for thee," says the Lord, "my strength finds its full scope in thy weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). It is in this spirit that I often say the inspired prayer of Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit:

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O mon Jésus,
faites en moi tout ce que vous voulez trouver
afin que vous puissiez tirer de mon néant
tout l'amour et toute la gloire
que vous aviez en vue en me créant.

O my Jesus,
do Thou in me whatsoever Thou desirest to find in me,
so as draw out of my nothingness,
all of the love and all of the glory
that Thou hadst in view in creating me.

"Humble Access"

We come to Holy Mass battle-scarred and weary. And we come to the altar not by great leaps and bounds, but humbly, by bowing low, striking our breast, and taking little steps. In the mysteries of His adorable Body and precious Blood, Our Lord fulfills His promise to us in a way surpassing all our imaginings: "Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28).

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First Tuesday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 (R. 7)
Luke 10:21-24

Bishop Slattery invited me to preach at Holy Mass in Tulsa's Cathedral of the Holy Family on the occasion of the Diocesan Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, observed annually on the First Tuesday of Advent. It was wonderful to see all the priests of the diocese and a good number of deacons assembled around our Bishop. Here is the homily I gave:

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found

Some of you, brothers, after completing your Morning Prayer today, may have glanced ahead at the Magnificat Antiphon. I, for one, did -- and I found there why we are here this evening: "Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while he is near" (Is 55:6).

Saint Bernard, especially in his darker moments, used to ask himself, Bernarde, ad quid venisti? "Bernard, what are you doing here? Why have you come?" Given that it was Bernard's custom to find answers to his questions in the Scriptures, he may well have replied to himself: "You've come to seek the Lord while He may be found, to call upon Him while He is near" (Is 55:66). This is why we have assembled in our cathedral this evening; to seek the Lord while He may be found and together, with one another and for one another, to call upon Him while He is near.

Times and Places Fragrant With Grace

Our Lord can, without any doubt, be sought anytime and anywhere. One can call upon Him in any place, at any moment, and out of any situation. And yet, there are times and places that are especially fragrant with His grace. There are moments when the veil hiding His Face seems less opaque, when His voice seems to strike the ear of our hearts more clearly

To call upon the Lord is to engage Him in conversation. The Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit, tells us just how we are to go about calling on the Lord. (This is an example of how the liturgy, taken just as it is given, makes all prayer extraordinarily simple. It is the indispensable primary school of prayer.) Look for a moment, if you will, at today's Collect: the prayer that pulls us together, the prayer that, from the very beginning of Mass, imparts the radical God-ward orientation without which there is no prayer.

The Collect

Using a prayer that comes from the 5th century scroll of Ravenna, we say today:

Lord God, be gracious to our supplications
and in tribulation grant us, we pray,
the help of your paternal care;
that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come,
we may be untainted, even now,
by the contagion of our former ways.

This prayer, with the realism that characterizes our Roman Rite, just assumes that we are in tribulation. Of course it would. These 5th century Roman prayers emerged out of real life pastoral situations, often marked by crisis, by animosities, persecutions, and weariness.

Pietas Auxilium

And then we ask for the help of God's pietas -- auxilium pietatis. Pietas is a translator's conundrum. It is God's provident, strong, reliable, paternal love. His pietas is the bedrock of what Saint Paul calls the "household of faith" (Gal 6:10). Pietas is what makes a man dutiful and tender in caring for his wife and children, a reflection of how the Father, in Christ, loves the household of the Church.

Consoled Ahead of Time

The prayer goes on to say that because the Son is coming again, we are consoled ahead of time. "That being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come. . . ." There is consolation, brothers, even in the apparent absence of God, because waiting engenders hope, and hope is, in the uncertainties and losses of this life, the one thing that consoles us.

Old in Sin

Finally we come to point of the whole prayer: the famous ut clause: so that. "So that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come, we may be untainted, -- the Latin even more pointedly says unpolluted -- even now, by the contagion of our former ways." The contagious pollution of our former ways! I told you the Roman liturgy is realistic.

Sin is the great unseen pollutant. It ages us prematurely. It robs us of that joy of our youth that we go to the altar in search of, day after day. It is easy, brothers, to be reinfected by ancient patterns of sin, by the contagion of what is old. Such is the plight of the "old man" in me and in you, the decrepit man who, so often as he sins, becomes more decrepit.

The Child

The Son who is to come in the Collect is the Child of the First Reading. . "And a little Child shall lead them" (Is 11:6). We are led by One who has the Face of a little Child, a Face at once open and full of mystery. This is the image of a healthy presbyterate: men of all ages content to be led by a little Child.

The Anointed One

This same Child is the Father's anointed Priest. The Anointing poured over His head runs down even to the hem of His garment (cf. Ps 132), covering each of us, His priestly members, and steeping us in the fragrance of His sacrifice. This too is the image of a healthy presbyterate: one in which the seven gifts of the Divine Anointing are in operation: "the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. . . and the spirit of the fear of the Lord" (Is 11:2-3).

His Prayer to the Father

The Gospel brings us back to the mystery of the Child-Priest. We surprise Him in the very act of praying to His Father. So intimate is the tone of this prayer that it has been compared to the most sublime pages of the Fourth Gospel.

The Magnificat of Jesus

Saint Luke shows us the Son filled with gladness in the Holy Spirit -- this is the Magnificat of Jesus, an echo of His Mother's exultation in the first chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel. It is, at the same time, Saint Luke's transmission of the uninterrupted priestly prayer of the Heart of Jesus. It is Eucharistic --"Father, I give you thanks"-- corresponding in its own way to Chapter Seventeen of Saint John.

The Great Thanksgiving

This prayer of Jesus is, in essence, the model of the Preface of every Mass. Listen to it in a liturgical key:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
that you have hidden all this from the wise and the prudent,
and revealed it to little children.
Be it so, Lord, since this finds favour in your sight.
Therefore, with Angels and Archangels, Thrones and Dominations,
and all the warriors of the Heavenly array,
we raise a ceaseless hymn of praise, as we sing . . . .

The Delight of the Child

The Child-Priest praises the Father who has entrusted everything into His hands. None knows who the Child is, except the Father, and none knows who the Father is, except the Child, and those to whom it is the Child's delight to reveal Him. Be certain of one thing, brothers, this Child-Priest is most at ease in conversing with other children because among them He runs the least risk of being misunderstood.

Blessed Are the Eyes That See What You See

And just as in John 17 Jesus addresses His friends, His chosen disciples, so too in today's Gospel, His final words are for us priests. Although Our Lord mentions prophets and kings, He does not mention priests, and this because He is addressing His priests, those of the New Covenant. "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see; I tell you, there have been many prophets and kings who have longed to see what you see, and never saw it, to hear what you hear, and never heard it" (Lk 10:24).

The Joy of Our Youth

This is the affirmation of our priesthood. We need look nowhere else. This is the consolation of our priesthood in the face of our every experience of humiliation and weakness. This is the joy of our priesthood, joy offered by a Child. Welcome it today at the altar, brothers, and there recover, not for ourselves only, but for the sake of the whole Church, the joy of our youth.

A Drop of Water in the Wine

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Twenty-Ninth Saturday II
Mass de Beata in Sabbato

Ephesians 4:7-16
Psalm 121: 1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5
Luke 13:1-9

In the Light of the Ascension

Today's Epistle and the Gradual Psalm (121) that follows it recall the mystery of Our Lord's glorious Ascension. The King of Glory, ascended into heaven and, having "set foot within the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem" (cf. Ps 121:2), sent forth the Holy Spirit and, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, bestowed upon us every gift necessary for the life of the Church and for our sanctification.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

The One Gift of the Holy Spirit shines in seven soul-penetrating rays -- wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord -- and then in a variety of other subsidiary gifts. Every member of the Church, from the smallest to the greatest, from the most obscure to the most in view, has a part to play in her upbuilding. Our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended on high in triumph, distributes His gifts to all.

Grace Builds on Nature

In dispensing His gifts, Our Lord assorts them to each one of us: to our heredity, to our place in history, and to our mental, emotional, and physical capabilities, for grace builds on nature. These gifts of grace, accepted humbly, recognized lucidly, and developed responsibly, perfect the soul in the particular form of holiness intended for her by God.

Holiness

The fruits of the Holy Spirit -- charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity -- flourish in the soil of a human nature enriched by Christ's gifts of grace. Holiness, then, has to do with becoming, by grace, one's true self, one's best self, "unto Him who died for us and rose again" (2 Cor 5:15).

Imitation of Our Lady's Fiat

The true self, the best self, is not the product of human effort and striving. God, the Creator of our human nature, acting through the sacraments, perfects His human creature by means of the grace of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. To do this He needs our trusting assent, He waits for our humble cooperation, modeled after the Fiat of the Blessed Virgin Mary; but even these are His gift to us.

The Arms of the Father

Human effort alone has never produced a saint. Human effort is a mere token of our willingness to be transformed by grace. "So you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do" (Lk 17:10).

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face speaks of the small child at the foot of the staircase, lifting her little leg in a pathetic attempt to reach the first step. For God, she says, that is enough. He descends to that small child, lifts her into His mighty, merciful arms and, delighted with her humble, persistent effort, carries her all the way to the top. Only in this way do we attain the "unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ" (Ep 4:13).

Into Heaven Itself

The liturgy places today's Gradual Psalm in the mouth of the risen and ascended Christ. Our Lord Jesus Christ who addresses us, saying, "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord" (Ps 121:1). It is Christ, our Eternal High Priest, who, having gone before us into the heavenly Jerusalem, calls us to follow after Him. "For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb 9:24).

Peace and Good Things

The "tribes that go up, the tribes of the Lord" (Ps 121:4) represent the diversity of the Church: a Body of many members called into unity by Christ. In the same psalm, Our Lord Himself reveals the mystery of His intercession for us: "For the sake of my brethren, and of my neighbours, I spoke peace of thee. Because of the house of the Lord our God, I have sought good things for thee" (Ps 121:8). It pleases Our Lord to distribute the peace and good things won for us by His passion and death, through the pure hands of His most holy Mother, the Queen assumed into heaven, who stands at His right hand, arrayed in gold (cf. Ps 44:10).

A Fruitful, Holy People

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass gives us the ceaseless prayer of our Eternal High Priest, risen and ascended into heaven. The Mass gives us, not only the grace of Christ, but Christ himself, the Giver of every grace. Participation in the adorables Mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood is, then, the way to become the fruitful, holy people - the saints - that the Father wants us to be.

Wilingness to Be Changed

We have only to bring to the Holy Sacrifice each day the humble tokens of our willingness to be changed, the persevering effort, the little leg raised in an attempt to reach the first step. That is the drop of water added to the chalice of wine by the hand of Christ the Priest. The final effect is divinely disproportionate to our effort, and that is reason enough for ceaseless thanksgiving.

Salus, Vita, et Resurrectio Nostra

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September 14
The Exaltation of the Glorious Cross

Numbers 21:4b-9
Psalm 77:1-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

Glory in the Cross

“It is for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom is our health, life and Resurrection: through whom we have been saved and set free” (Introit). Celebrating today the mystery of the Cross, we fix our gaze not upon an instrument of torture and of shame but, rather, upon the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2). We lift our eyes to the royal throne of the King of glory, the sign of the Son of Man that will appear in the heavens at the end of the age (Mt 24:30). To the eyes of faith, the Cross shines like the sun over the eastern horizon.

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

In Rome, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is the scene of a solemn festival today. Pilgrims from all over the world will cross the threshold of the church established by Saint Helena; they will kneel before the wood of the True Cross. Great numbers of them will go to their confession. The relics of the True Cross will be carried in procession and placed upon the altar during Holy Mass.

Everywhere in the monastery and basilica of Santa Croce one sees the insignia of the holy and glorious Cross; it is painted, carved, and even woven into the cloth of the vestments. It is the life-giving and glorious Cross of Christ, studded with precious stones, and glimmering with the splendour of the stars. The arms of the Cross are thrown open wide to embrace the very limits of the cosmos. What did we sing at First Vespers? “Hail, O Cross! Brighter than all the stars! To the eyes of men thou art exceedingly lovely!” (Magnificat Antiphon I). The art in the basilica cries out, over and over again, the essential relationship between altar and Cross. The altar is the bathed in the glory of the Cross.

The Visible Sign of God’s Healing Mercy

Today’s liturgy -- in the Divine Office and the Mass -- infuses an awe-inspiring awareness of the Cross as the visible sign of God’s healing mercy, the cause of our indefectible and abiding joy. “The Royal Banners forward go; the Cross shines forth in mystic glow” (Vexilla Regis, Vespers). We sing in today’s introit that the Cross of Christ is the source of health (salus), of life, and of Resurrection. The eyes of the Church are filled with the brightness of the Cross. She looks towards the wood of the Cross and is made radiant by the Resurrection. Look to the Cross, and be radiant; let your faces not be abashed (Ps 33:6)!

The Saving Wood

The wood by which Adam fell (Gn 3:12) is today the wood by which Adam is saved. The wood by which Noah, “his sons, his wife, and his son’s wives” (Gn 6:14) were saved from the flood is today the wood by which joy has flooded the world. The wood by which Moses sweetened the bitter waters of Marah (Ex 15:25) is today the wood by which all the world’s bitterness is made sweet.

Health to Sickly Souls Is Given

The First Reading is a dramatic reminder that all of us, without exception, have suffered the venomous bite of the ancient serpent. We cross the wilderness of this life limping, and burning with a fever for which no earthly remedy can be found. Our new Moses, Christ, intercedes with the Father on our behalf and, in response, we are given the mystery of the Cross. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). The Cross is the source of our healing; it is the remedy for every affliction, the antidote for every poison, the medicine for every weakness. One of the antiphons at Matins, rhythmically translated, says: “Cross most gracious / from whose aspect / health to sickly souls is given/ with what praises shall I praise thee / who hast brought us life from heaven?

When We Are Stung by Vipers

Like the children of Israel we have to be brought back again and again. When we are strong and successful, when we “wax fat, grow thick, and become sleek” (Dt 32:15), how easily we forget the works of the Lord! When we experience the gift of salutary failure, when we stumble, fall, and lose our way with darkness all about us, when we are stung by vipers and beset with fever and thirst, then do we turn back, led on by severe and tender mercies to the source of all healing and strength.

The Holy Spirit and the Cross

The Cross is where the weakness of the flesh encounters the power of the Holy Spirit. It was from the Cross that the gift of the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the Church in the kiss of the Bridegroom’s mouth and in a mystery of water and of blood. “He bowed his head, says Saint John, and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30). And again, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (Jn 19:34). The breath, the blood, and the water are the abiding signs of the Spirit poured out whenever the Church assembles in faith at the foot of the holy and life-giving Cross. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, at once, an actualization of the mystery of the Cross and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Secure in the Arms of the Cross

Again, the Cross is where every brokenness, injury, and wound encounters the compassion of the Father. We are called not so much to embrace the Cross as to allow ourselves to be embraced by it, for the arms of the Cross are the strong arms of the Eternal Father’s compassion. When the Holy Spirit begins to work in a soul, that soul is compelled to throw herself into the arms of the Cross because there, and there alone, is she held secure in the embrace of the Father’s unfailing compassion. The Cross of the Son shines with the love of the Father; that compassionate love is the remedy for every misery, shadow, weakness, betrayal, and fear.

Jacob’s Mystic Ladder

We celebrate the glorious Cross as a Trinitarian mystery; the healing compassion of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit await us in the Cross of the Son. By the Cross of Christ, as by the mystic ladder beheld by Jacob in a dream (Gen 28:12) the mercy of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit descend even to us. By the same Cross of Christ, we ascend to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jacob dreamed “that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it” (Gen 28:12). This is the mystery of the Cross revealed in figure and foreshadowing; this is the reality of the mysteries we celebrate here and now.

The Place of Christ’s Priesthood

The Cross is the place of Christ’s glorious priesthood with its descending and ascending mediation. Wheresoever and whensoever the liturgy is enacted, Christ the great High Priest stands in our midst, and his glorious Cross is rendered present. Health and joy descend into the world -- and into our hearts -- by the wood of the Cross and, by the wood of the Cross, the ladder that spans the chasm separating time from eternity, and this world from the next, we who are estranged and exiled from the beauty of the divine glory ascend into the splendour of the Kingdom.

The Mass: Presence of the Cross

The Cross is present in every Holy Mass, not as the memory of a hill far away, but as a dynamic reality drawing us together into unity and then, upward, to the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The Liturgy of the Word is always a preaching and a presence of the Word of the Cross, “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The Liturgy of the Eucharist is always a confession and a presence of the mystery of the Cross in the fullness of its Trinitarian dimensions, and in the actualization of its power.

Through the Cross into the Kingdom

If you have heard the Word of God, you have been embraced by the mystery of the Cross. Held fast in its embrace, let us go to the altar. Through the Word of the Cross, the compassion of the Father, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the glory of the Son have descended into our midst today; let us then, ascend, by the mystery of the Cross present in this Eucharist, to the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit to whom be all glory and praise, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen, Alleluia!

For my first entry from the little "provisional" Cenacle of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus in Tulsa, Oklahoma: a piece from the archives for the feast of Saint Augustine. Details on the move and on my new life here to follow!

This is a most unusual depiction of Saint Augustine washing the feet of Christ. A Capuchin friar named Strozzi painted it in 1629. Augustine, wearing an apron over his black monastic habit, is assisted by an angel. A tonsured monk looks on from a distance. With his right hand Augustine clasps the foot of Our Lord. His gaze is wholly turned towards the Face of Christ, who appears to be instructing him on what he is doing.

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1 John 4:7-16
Psalm 118: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Matthew 23; 8-12

The Doctor of Charity

The words of Saint John in today's First Lesson are the perfect expression of Saint Augustine's own experience. Augustine is called the "Doctor of Charity," and with good reason. Saint John speaks of the discovery of charity that grounds every Christian life:

"Dearly beloved, let us love one another, for charity is of God. And every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is charity. By this hath the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:7-10).

He Hath First Loved Me

For Saint Augustine, however, the words of the Beloved Disciple became intensely personal: "By this hath the charity of God appeared towards me, Augustine, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that I may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though I had loved God, but because He hath first loved me, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for my sins."

The discovery of the love of God came late in Augustine's life. It is always late. One cannot discover the love of God too soon. And so, the Doctor of Charity laments his tardy discovery of the One Thing Necessary:

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new!
Too late have I loved Thee.
And lo, Thou wert inside me and I outside,
and I sought for Thee there, and in all my unsightliness
I flung myself on those beautiful things which Thou hast made.
Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee.
Those beauties kept me away from Thee,
though if they had not been in Thee, they would not have been at all.
Thou didst call and cry to me and break down my deafness.
Thou didst flash and shine on me and put my blindness to flight.
Thou didst blow fragrance upon me and I drew breath,
and now I pant after Thee.
I tasted of Thee and now I hunger and thirst for Thee.
Thou didst touch me and I am aflame for Thy peace....

(Confessions, Book X:38)

Vere tu es Deus absconditus

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Nineteenth Sunday of the Year A

1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Psalm 84, 9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:23-33

Christ in Solitude

Today's Gospel begins with the absence of Jesus. It takes place after the miraculous multiplication of the loaves prefiguring the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus has withdrawn into solitude on the mountain. It is night. There, hidden from the eyes of His apostles, He prays to His "Father who sees what is done in secret" (Mt 6:6). "He went up by Himself on to the hill-side, to pray there; twilight had come, and He remained there alone" (Mt 14:23). In two brief sentences, Saint Matthew twice emphasizes the aloneness of Jesus. This would indicate that we are to attend to the solitude of Our Lord. It is, in some way, an invitation to enter into the prayer of Christ in solitude.

A Stormy Night

Mysteriously, Jesus is away from His apostles and, at the same time, present to them. Not only is it night; it is a stormy night. "The ship was already half-way across the sea, hard put to it by the waves, for the wind was against them" (Mt 14:24). Jesus is present to His apostles in the storm-tossed boat because He is present to His Father, who "probes us and knows us, who knows when we sit and when we stand, who discerns all our thoughts from afar" (cf. Ps 138: 1-2). Jesus is present to the Father for whom "the night shines clear as the day itself; light and dark are one" (Ps 138:12).

Linger over the mystery of Jesus' absence: an absence that is presence; a presence that, in the dark night of faith, we experience as absence. Jesus' presence to the Father renders Him wholly present to us. Yielding Himself to the Father in a movement of adoring love, Jesus yields Himself to us in a movement of compassion. There is no artificial separation here between contemplation and action, between presence to the Father and presence to Peter's fragile bark tossed on stormy seas.

The Hidden God

The Christ of today's Gospel is hidden on the mountain with the Father; the Ascended Christ is hidden with the Father in glory; the Eucharistic Christ (Gesù sacramentato, in Italian) is hidden beneath the sacramental veils. Christ is the Deus absconditus: "Verily thou art a hidden God, the God of Israel the Saviour" (Is 45:15).

With Us As He Promised

Jesus comes to the apostles in the fourth watch of the night; their boat, by this time, is many furlongs from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind is against them. In just the same way, Our Lord comes to us in our stormy nights; He comes to us without leaving the Father, just as He goes to the Father without leaving us (cf. Jn 16:28), for He is with us as He promised, even to the end of time (Mt 28:20).

The Word proceeding from above,
Yet leaving not the Father's side,
Went forth upon His work of love,
And reached at length life's eventide.

(Verbum supernum prodiens, Lauds of Corpus Christi)

The Voice of the Lord

The passage of the Lord, His "visitation" of the Church and of our souls is characterized not by a great and strong wind, nor by an earthquake, nor by a fire, but by "a still small voice" (1 K 19:12). This is the voice that says, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear" (Mt 14:27). And again, this is the voice that says, "Why didst thou hesitate, man of little faith?" (Mt 14:31).

He Is With Me

Saint Bernard says: "When the Bridegroom comes to me, as He sometimes does, He never signals His presence by any token, neither by voice nor by vision nor by the sound of His step. By no such movement do I become aware of Him, nor does He penetrate my being through the senses. Only, by the movement of the heart, as I have said, do I come to realize that He is with me" (Sermons on the Song of Songs, 74).

Peace

What is that movement of the heart, by which we detect the passage of the Lord and become aware of His presence? It is, first of all, interior peace, the effect of the voice of Jesus saying: "Take courage, it is I myself; do not be afraid" (Mt 14:27). It is a pull of the heart that compels us to draw near to Christ in spite of the dark night, which obscures our vision, and in spite of the rolling waves, which threaten to pull us back and drag us down.

Ego autem sum puer parvus

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Ask What Thou Wilt

"The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, 'Ask what thou wilt that I should give thee'" (1 K 3:5). What would you do if the Lord were to appear to you in a dream by night and say to you, "Ask what thou wilt that I should give thee"? What would you ask of God? Health? Long life? A life other than the one you have? A change in present circumstances? God, with a disarming simplicity, makes himself available to Solomon. The Almighty places His power at the disposal of one "created a little less than the angels" (Ps 8:6).

And All These Things

Solomon is a little child before God. "I am but a little child," he says, "and know not how to go out and come in" (1 K 3:7). Solomon asks not for power, nor for victory over his enemies, nor for riches. He asks for "an understanding heart" (1 K 3:9) to judge God's people. "And the word was pleasing to the Lord that Solomon had asked such a thing" (1 K 3:10). King Solomon was given a heart so wise and discerning that there has been no one like him in all of history. "Behold," says the Lord, "I have done for thee according to thy words, and I have given thee a wise and understanding heart, insomuch that there hath been no one like thee before thee, nor shall arise after thee" (1 K 3:12). That is not all. The Lord adds, "Yea and the things also which thou didst not ask, I have given thee" (1 K 3:13). Christ, the true Solomon will say, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Mt 6:33).

Through the Eyes of God

By asking for an understanding heart, Solomon was seeking to enter into the mind of God. He was asking to see things from the divine perspective and to judge things through the eyes of God. Only the childlike and humble can see things from God's point of view.

Be Thou My Vision

Pride is the obstacle to understanding; pride is what blinds the eyes of the heart. With humility comes vision, and with vision understanding. The old Irish hymn sings, "Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart." Jesus, whose adorable Face is the vision of every wise heart, of every pure and humble heart, says: "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will" (Lk 10:21).

The World in a Single Ray of Light

To see things as God sees them one must be lifted up into God. Saint Gregory the Great relates that Saint Benedict was once so drawn into God that he saw the whole world gathered up in a single ray of light. Lifted above all created things, Saint Benedict saw all things as God sees them. In Chapter Seven of his Rule, he who saw all things from this divine perspective gives us the Steps of Humility, a way out of the blindness of pride into the seeing that is the joy of the all the saints.

The Little Way

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus teaches that, in order to be lifted up, one must be very little, very humble. In order to be raised up to the vantage point of God, one must be willing to forsake all other perspectives, and become detached from every other point of view. "If you would see as I see," says God, "confess that all your seeing is blindness."

Listen, You That Have Ears

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Sixteenth Sunday of the Year A

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalm 85: 5-6, 9-10, 15-16a
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13: 24-43

Holding One's Ear to the Word

Wisdom speaks, saying, "Never should thy own children despair" (Wis 12:19). The psalmist sings, "Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild" (Ps 85:5). The Apostle says, "The Spirit comes to the aid of our infirmity, for we know not how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26). Finally, the Word himself, arriving in the Gospel, speaks to those who have ears to hear: "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man. And the field is the world. And the good seed are the children of the Kingdom" (Mt 13:37-38). The Word given us today is not easily synthesized. One must be willing to hold one's ear to today's Word for a good long while before certain harmonics begin to make themselves heard.

The Demon of Routine

The Gospel obliges us to exchange the meaning attached to the images given us in last Sunday's parable of the sower for another level of meaning. Our Lord plays with the same images -- sower and seed, field and harvest -- but today, through them, He is communicating another mystery. The Divine Teacher obliges us at every moment to listen with ears that are quick to hear, and to look with eyes wide open, lest the demon of routine, the enemy of our souls, slip in to sow the confusion of cockle among the wheat.

Sown in the Field of the World

In last Sunday's parable, the seed was the Word. Christ was the sower sent by the Father to sow the seed of the Word profusely, lavishly, almost carelessly, in every human heart. In today's parable, the sower of the seed is again Christ, but the field is the world and the good seed are the children of the Kingdom (Mt 13:37-38). It is not the Word that is sown far and wide; in today's Gospel it is rather the hearers of the Word who are sown in the vast field of the world. The disciples, hearers of the Word, are the seed Christ scatters abroad. Christ implants in the world those in whom His Word has been fruitful, yielding "in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty" (Mt 13:23).

Alongside the Weeds

By planting His Church in every place, Christ has sown His own good seed among the nations, "from the rising of the sun to its setting" (Mal 1:11). We are the seed sown by the Son of Man. We are the seed tossed into the field of the world to "grow together until the harvest" (Mt 13:30) alongside of weeds sown by the enemy.

The Priestly Prayer in the Cenacle

Today's parable is, I think, best illumined by the priestly prayer of Jesus in the Cenacle. It is a prayer for the good seed, "the children of the kingdom" (Mt 13:38), sown in the field of the world. "I have given them thy message, and the world has nothing but hatred for them, because they do not belong to the world, as I, too, do not belong to the world. I am not asking that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them clear of what is evil. They do not belong to the world, as I, too, do not belong to the world; keep them holy, then, through the truth; it is thy word that is truth (Jn 17:14-17). Jesus' priestly prayer shines on today's parable and brings it into focus. Jesus prays not that the seed be taken out of the world, but that the seed be protected from the evil one. He prays for the children of the Kingdom, the seed of His Church, a seed sprouting holiness.

Grace in Weakness

What are the signs of a sprouting holiness in others and in ourselves? The First Reading offers some elements of discernment. First, holiness is the fruit not of striving and straining, nor of any natural talent or psychological predisposition, nor of accumulated good works, nor of a strong will, but of grace. "Of all justice, thy power is the true source" (Wis 12:16). The Vulgate has, "Thy power is the beginning of justice" (Wis 12:16). "My grace is enough for thee," said Christ to Paul, "my strength finds it full scope in thy weakness" (2 Cor 12:9).

Mildness and Forbearance

Second, true holiness is marked by mildness and by forbearance, by what the Vulgate calls the humanitas of God our Saviour (Tit 3:4). "A lenient judge thou provest thyself, riding us with a light rein" says our text from Wisdom (Wis 12:18). Holiness in the children of the kingdom is but the reflection of Christ who alone is holy. The holiness of Our Lord Jesus Christ is characterized, above all, by clemency, mildness, indulgence and mercy. In authentic holiness there is nothing harsh, nothing overbearing, nothing that crushes the spirit or extinguishes hope. We heard the prophecy of Isaiah in yesterday's Gospel: "He will not snap the staff that is already crushed, or put out the wick that still smoulders" (Is 42:3; Mt 12:20). The refrain of today's Responsorial Psalm bears this out, more strikingly in the editio typica. There, we read, Tu, Domine, suavis et mitis es. "Thou, O Lord, art sweet and mild" (Ps 85:5).

To Those Who Pray

Holiness is the Father's gift communicated in Christ Jesus through the inward operations of the Holy Spirit to those accept it, that is, to those who pray. This is where today's passage from Romans comes in. Saint Paul knows the dilemma of those beset by infirmity: those who would pray but do not know how to pray. "The Spirit," he says, "helps us in our infirmity, and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26-27).

Pray Always

One who stops praying seals his own fate. One who prays is certain of obtaining help in infirmity. Pray for the grace never to stop praying. Listen to the reflection of the saintly Jesuit, Père de Ravignan (1795-1858):

Believe me, my dear friends, believe an experience ripened by thirty years in the sacred ministry. I do here affirm that all deceptions, all spiritual deficiencies, all miseries, all falls, all faults, and even the most serious wanderings out of the right path, all proceed from this single source -- a want of constancy in prayer.


The Holy Spirit

Our Lord does not abandon the good seed scattered by His hand in the vast field of the world. "He who is to befriend you, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send on my account, will in His turn make everything plain, and recall to your minds everything that I have said to you" (Jn 14:25). Even as the good seed grows together with the weeds until the harvest, it is secretly nourished and protected by the Holy Spirit.

The Children of the Kingdom

Drawn down by the epiclesis, the Church's solemn invocation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Divine Paraclete, the Source of all fecundity, is poured out upon the good seed. The Mass is the summit of the intercession made by the Spirit "for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom 8:27). The Father who searches the heart of every child of the kingdom, is pleased, in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, to mark His own with the sweetness and mildness of His Christ. By this are "the children of the kingdom" distinguished from "the children of the evil one" (Mt 13:38). On the day of the great harvest, the angels will be sent out to reap the fruits of holiness sprung from the good seed. And on that day, "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen" (Mt 13:43).

Pro Affligentibus Nos

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Commanded from the Heart

“I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6:28). These are not suggestions; they are not pious recommendations. They are clear precepts of Christ: commandments conceived in His merciful Heart and addressed to each of us without exception.

The Prayer From the Cross

It is no coincidence that this Gospel passage should be given us in this month of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. One cannot receive the Forgiving Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist and persist in refusing anyone forgiveness. One cannot approach the Pierced Heart of Jesus and not be drawn into His prayer to the Father from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Obedience

The prevalent culture of options and of personal choices has all but rendered us impermeable to the commandments of Our Lord. We prefer to think of them as suggestions or as “talking points.” Contemporary sensibilities in the world and, alas, even in the Church, resent the objective precept, the non-negotiable commandment, the mandate coming from above. A combination of the effects of original sin and actual sins of pride has conditioned us to want to discuss everything, to debate everything, to argue the value of any law coming from above us or outside of us. Our Lord presents us with just such a commandment. It is not a suggestion. It is not open to discussion. It is not the subject of debate. It is a divine commandment. In obeying it, we obey God. In neglecting to obey it, we neglect to obey God.

Blessings and Prayer

Insofar as we consider ourselves disciples of Christ, we are bound to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who speak evil against us. We are commanded to do good to those who hate us. This good that we are commanded to do is, first of all and above all, prayer.

The Prayer of Christ

There is no greater force for good than prayer. There is no better way to do good to those who hate us than by asking the light of the Face of Christ to envelop them and penetrate them. There is nothing more beneficial to those who afflict us than confident recourse to the pierced Heart of Jesus. There is no more powerful blessing of those who curse us than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered on their behalf. For those speak evil against us there is no prayer more powerful than the prayer of Christ the High Priest who, in every Mass, stands before His Father, pleading and interceding for those who approach God through Him.

To Damage, Crush, Break, Ruin, or Vex

Mother Church, with her ancient experience of human nature, provides us with the means of obeying this commandment of our Lord. The Roman Missal contains a Mass specifically for this purpose. It is entitled Pro Affligentibus Nos, “For Those Who Afflict Us.” The title of the Mass speaks volumes. Opening my Latin dictionary to the entry for affligo, I see that it means to throw down, to afflict, damage, crush, break, ruin; humble, weaken, or vex. If you have ever felt thrown down, if you have ever felt afflicted, damaged, crushed, broken, ruined, humbled, weakened, or vexed, you need to enter wholeheartedly into the Mass Pro Affligentibus Nos.

The Power of Prayer

There is a mysterious power in praying for those who have hurt us, in interceding wholeheartedly
— for those who have spoken ill of us,
— for those who have damaged our reputations,
— for those who have incited others to think less of us,
— for those who have hurt us emotionally, physically, or spiritually,
— for those who have been abusive toward us,
— for those who have cursed us,
— for those have broken our hearts, betrayed us, or rejected us.

Our Lord commands us to pray for them, not only for their sakes, but also for our own. Our own spiritual liberation, our own inner healing from resentment, hatred, and lingering bitterness is contingent upon our persevering obedience to the commandments of Christ in the Gospel.

The Root of So Much Suffering

Prayer for those who afflict us has, at times, immediate and astonishing results. Persons suffering from physical complaints — chronic illnesses, pains, and weaknesses — have been completely healed after praying sincerely for those with whom they are at enmity. Persons suffering from emotional illnesses — depression, chronic jealousy, addictive patterns of behaviour, and irrational fears — have been liberated from these after obeying Our Lord’s commandment to pray for those at the root of their suffering.

Conquerors Through the Sacred Heart

Prayer for those who afflict us sets in motion concentric circles of reconciliation and healing. In praying for those who have hurt you, place no limits on the munificence of God. Ask boldly. Beg God to overwhelm them with His choicest blessings, to make them profoundly and truly happy in this world and in the next. This kind of prayer, made in obedience to the commandment of the Lord, radiates an invisible but supremely efficacious love: the very charity of God “poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which He has given us” (Rom 5:5). “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37)., conquerors, that is, through the Sacred Heart.

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Seventh Monday of the Year II

James 3:13-18
Mark 9:14-29

I am a little late in posting this meditation on today's readings at Holy Mass. Here it is, all the same.

Holy Wisdom

How does one discern a wisdom that is holy? How does one discern a holiness that is wise? Saint James tells us that “the wisdom which does from above is marked chiefly indeed by its purity, but also by its peacefulness; it is courteous and ready to be convinced, always taking the better part; it carries mercy with it, and a harvest of all that is good; it is uncensorious, and without affectation” (Jas 3:17). These are the qualities of a mature holiness, of what I would call a seasoned sanctity.

A Dog is Better Than I Am

Saint James speaks of “the meekness of wisdom” (Jas 3:13). One does not come to gentleness, and to “the meekness of wisdom” overnight. The precocious saint — his is an unwise holiness — is often censorious, harsh, and quick to judge. The seasoned saint —marked by a wisdom that is holy— is meek, kindly, and ever ready cover his brother’s failings with a cloak of mercy. One of the Desert Fathers, Abba Xoius, said, “A dog is better than I am, for he has love and he does not judge.”

Help My Unbelief

In today’s Gospel, the disciples fail in their attempts to deliver a possessed boy. The father of the tormented child utters one of the most powerful prayers recorded in the New Testament. “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24). Jesus responds to the humility and sincerity of his prayer, takes the boy by the hand, and lifts him up. We see the same thing in the wonderful icons of the Harrowing of Hell where, strong and radiant, the Risen Christ, takes Adam and Eve by the hand, and lifts them out of their tombs. Saint Mark adds, “and he arose”(Mk 9:27). The Greek verb used by Saint Mark here is the same one used in speaking of the resurrection of Christ. The sense here is one of full restoration to life.

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Cascades of Jubilation

The Office of Lauds this morning was a torrent of undiluted praise. The Church gives us doxology upon doxology. She expresses her adoration in great cascades of jubilation. In some way, today’s Divine Office is a preview and foretaste of heaven. How is heaven described in the book of the Apocalypse? It is an immense and ceaseless liturgy of adoration. Angels and men together doxologize ceaselessly. In the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all created things become an utterance of glory. Eternity’s ceaseless doxology begins here on earth. If this is apparent anywhere, it should be so in a monastery.

The Doxological Life

In today’s First Reading Moses exemplifies the doxological life. He rises “early in the morning” (Ex 34:5). You recall what God had said to him: “Be ready to come up to Mount Sinai in the morning, and there thou shalt stand before me on the mountain top” (Ex 34:2). God asks for readiness in the morning. He bids us come up in the morning to Mount Sinai. He asks that we present ourselves to Him on the mountain top. How are we to understand God’s commands to Moses?

Christ himself is our morning. You know Saint Ambrose’ marvelous hymn for the office of Lauds, Splendor Paternae Gloriae:

Thou Brightness of Thy Father’s Worth!
Who dost the light from Light bring forth;
Light of the light! light’s lustrous Spring!
Thou Day the day illumining.

If Christ Be Your Morning

For the soul who lives facing Christ it is always morning. For the soul who lives in the brightness of His Face it is always a new day. If Christ be your morning it is never too late to start afresh.

Christ the Mountain

God summons us to the mountain top. Christ Himself is our mountain. Christ is the high place from which earth touches heaven; Christ is the summit marked on earth by the imprint of heaven’s kiss. If your feet are set high on the rock that is Christ you are held very close to the Father’s heart, for Christ is the Son “who abides in the bosom of the Father” (Jn 1:18). “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:11).

“Stand before me on the mountain top” (Ex 34:5), says God. What is God saying if not, “Offer yourself to Me there through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ.” God’s three commands to Moses are fulfilled for us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Christ the Sun of Justice

The Eucharist is the light of the Church’s day. Mother Marie-Adèle Garnier, the foundress of the Tyburn Benedictines in London, called the Mass “the Sun of her life.” Without the Eucharist we have neither warmth nor light. Without the Eucharist there is no new day, no morning, no possibility of starting afresh. That is why the Christian martyrs of Carthage when interrogated by Diocletian’s proconsul could only answer, Sine dominico non possumus, “Without Sunday,” that is without the day of the Eucharist, “we cannot go on.” So long as we have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we have a new day. So long as we remain faithful to the Eucharist we will have before our eyes Christ, “the Sun of justice who rises with healing in His wings” (Mal 4:2).

And Again He Began to Teach

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Week of Sexagesima
Third Wednesday of the Year II

Mark 4:1-20

Behold, the Sower Went Out to Sow

Our Lord presents four situations to those who would hear His teaching: (1) the seed that falls on the path, (2) the seed that falls on rocky ground, (3) the seed that falls among thorns, and (4) the seed that falls into good soil.

The Vice of Routine

The seed of the Word falls on the path when it is received superficially. It lies on the surface; the earth does not open to take it in. Satan, like a great noisy flock of birds, swoops down to carry away the seed before it can sprout and take root. The defect here is in the superficial hearing of the Word, in a lack of intentional listening. Routine, that perennial vice of the devout, is the most common cause of this. Routine sets in where there is a lack of vigilance and a certain unwillingness to be surprised by the Word in its newness.

Hear What God Has to Say

The remedy is a lectio that is intentional and intelligent, humble and watchful. “I will hear what the Lord God has to say” (Ps 84: 9), says the psalmist. Listen to the reading of the text, ready to be surprised by the Word. Say, “O God, suffer not that Thy Word should strike my ears without piercing my heart. Open my mind and heart to receive whatever seed falls from the hand of the Sower.”

Fits of Fervour

The seed of the Word falls on rocky ground when it is received in fast-fading fits of fervour. Yes, fits of fervour fade fast. Instability in the face of temptations, contradictions, and failures, prevents the Word from taking root. One must be steady in hearing the Word. Paul’s words to Timothy apply as much to the practice of lectio divina as they do to the ministry of preaching: “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). The remedy is in meditatio: in the persevering repetition of the Word “day and night” (Ps 1:2). The regular psalmody of the Divine Office is immensely helpful in this regard. Falling steadily, the Word can pulverize even the stoniest of hearts.

The Choreography of Faith

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Week of Sexagesima
Tuesday of the Third Week of the Year I

2 Samuel 6:12–19
Mark 3:31–25

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant that figures so prominently in the First Reading is, according to Saint Maximus of Turin, a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Maximus explains that King David’s rapturous dance before the Ark was a prophetic gesture: “In high rejoicing he broke into dancing, for in the Spirit he foresaw Mary, born of his own line, brought into Christ’s chamber. . . . The Ark carried within it the tables of the covenant, while Mary bore the master of the same covenant.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Ark of the Covenant contained the Law; the Virgin Mary contained the Word made Flesh, the living Gospel, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The Ark was resplendent both within and without with pure gold; Mary was resplendent both within and without with the dazzling radiance of her virginity. The Ark was adorned with earthly gold; Mary was begraced with an imperishable holiness.

True Devotion to Mary

Every authentic expression of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is a way of “dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.” The Litany of Loreto calls upon Our Lady by means of this very expression: Foederis arca, ora pro nobis! Ark of the Covenant, pray for us.

David was not self-conscious in his dance. He was humble, spontaneous, and single-hearted: figuratively and literally moved by grace. Every encounter with the Mother of God — in the liturgy of the Church, in her images, and in the secret manifestations of her presence that comfort us in this valley of tears — should move us to a similar expression of devotion: humble, spontaneous, and single-hearted.

The Kingdom of Heaven Is At Hand

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Sexagesima Sunday
Third Sunday of the Year A

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 26: 1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23

Zebulun and Nephtali

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali (Is 9:1). The day of Midian (Is 9:4). Names of places that are familiar to us, and yet strange. We know them not only from today’s First Reading, but also from Psalm 82: “They plot against your people, conspire against those you love. . . . Treat them like Midian. . . . Make their captains like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunnah” (Ps 82:4, 10, 12).

The Day of Midian

The most obvious connection between today’s First Reading and Gospel is geographical. Our Lord inaugurates His preaching of the kingdom in the very territory signaled by Isaiah’s prophecy. The “land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the land beyond the Jordan” is a half-Jewish half-Gentile region. It is a foreshadowing and type of the Church wherein both Jews and Gentiles will emerge from “deep darkness” (Is 9:2) to contemplate “a great light” (Is 9:2). The cryptic allusion to the “day of Midian” remains. What does it mean?

Gideon

The day of Midian is linked to the vocation and ministry of Gideon; the vocation and ministry of Gideon prefigure the vocation and ministry of Jesus. The seventh chapter of the book of Judges relates that, “the Spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezirites were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulon, and Naphtali; and they went up to meet them” (Jg 6:34-35). Three things are worthy of note: 1) the role of the Spirit of the Lord, 2) the sounding of the trumpet, and 3) the repetition of the formula, “called out to follow him” (Jg 6:34-35).

Ecce Agnus Dei

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Today is Septuagesima Sunday. This means that we are approximately seventy days away from the Pasch of the Lord. The Church measures all time in reference to the Immolation and Glorification of the Lamb. Take heed, then, lest the beginning of Lent catch you unawares. Already, the Church looks forward to singing "Ad coenam Agni providi — At the Lamb's High Feast." Already, she lives for that joy. The photo shows the sculpture of the Lamb of God in the sanctuary of the Gable Church at the Shrine of Knock.

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Septuagesima Sunday
(Second Sunday of the Year A)

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Psalm 39: 1 & 3ab, 6-7a, 7b-8, 9
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

Jesus Comes to John

“Behold, John saw Jesus coming to him” (Jn 1:29). John the Baptist lifts his eyes and sees Jesus coming toward him. Can it be any other way? Is not Jesus, then and now and always, the One who comes toward us “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14), “revealing the Father” (Jn 1:18), “the dayspring dawning upon us from on high to give light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79)? Any movement toward Jesus on our part is, at one and the same time, a free response to His movement toward us and a pure gift of the Father in the Spirit. “No man can come to me,” says Our Lord, “except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him” (Jn 6:44) and again, “Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to me” (Jn 6:45).

Benedictus Qui Venit

Prayer begins, not with any movement of ours toward God, but rather with God’s movement toward us in Christ. No matter how early we rise, no matter how long we spend in prayer, Christ Jesus is there before us. His coming is not the response to our prayer; His coming anticipates our prayer and causes it to well up. His coming is not the fulfillment of our desire; His coming is its source. The coming of Christ causes praise to spring up. We sing it in the Benedictus of every Mass: “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” (Mt 21:9; Ps 117:26).

The Lamb

Our Lord Jesus Christ comes to us as the Lamb. This, Saint John the Baptist knew with the immediacy of sudden recognition, with a certitude born not of reasoning, but of the spiritual intuition that strangely stirs the heart and bends the mind to truth. In a flash of spiritual intuition John looks at Jesus and recognizes the Lamb of the Passover, the spotless Victim whose Precious Blood marks the lintels of the houses of the saved (Ex 12:5). He recognizes the Suffering Servant, the Silent Lamb of Isaiah, “led to the slaughter” (Is 53:7).

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Saturday of the 1st Week of the Year II

1 Samuel 9: 1-4. 17-19; 10, 1a
Psalm 20: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7 (R. 2a)
Mark 2: 13-17

Spiritual Resurrection

We began reading the Gospel according to Saint Mark on Tuesday. Since then, in four days we have seen four signs of spiritual resurrection. The first was the deliverance of the man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mk 1:21-28); the second the raising of Simon’s mother-in-law from her sick bed (Mk 1:29-39); the third, the cleansing of the leper (Mk 1:40-45); the fourth, the raising of the paralytic (Mk 2:1-12). Today’s Gospel continues that sequence. Today too, we witness a spiritual resurrection. Levi, the son of Alphaeus, passes from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from sin to mercy.

Grace and Mercy Granted

Saint Mark, in his account of the call of Levi, employs the very verb used to refer to the resurrection of Christ: kai anastàs. “And rising up, he followed Him” (Mk 2:14). This is more than a mere change of posture; it is change of heart, a resurrection to new life. Levi is given a new name to signify his new life: he becomes Matthew which, according to the Venerable Bede, means “granted,” a name to suited to one to whom Christ has granted heavenly grace and mercy.

Hastening to the Cross

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Wednesday of the 1st Week of the Year II

1 Samuel 3: 1-10, 19-20
Psalm 39: 2 and 5, 7-8a, 8b-9, 10 (R. 8a and 9a)
Mark 1:29-39

Hastening to the Cross

Saint Mark’s Gospel is a series of flashes in quick succession. Saint Mark writes in the style of a news broadcast: one image follows quickly upon another. Each image leaves, nonetheless, a vivid impression on the mind. One of Saint Mark’s favourite expressions is “forthwith,” or “immediately.” Reading Saint Mark’s Gospel just as it is written — and it can be read easily in less than an hour — can leave one breathless. In a sense, from the very first page of his Gospel, Saint Mark depicts Our Lord hastening to the Cross. Everything in the Gospel of Saint Mark is ordered to the mystery of the Cross.

Hospitality

Today’s Gospel contains four episodes. No sooner does Jesus leave the synagogue in Capernaum than we see Him entering the house of Simon and Andrew. “And immediately going out of the synagogue they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. And Simon's wife's mother lay in a fit of a fever: and forthwith they tell Him of her” (Mk 1:29-30). Our Lord lifts her up by the hand — a kind of resurrection — and she goes straight from the sick bed to the kitchen to wait on her son-in-law’s Divine Guest and his disciples. Hospitality.

Healing and Deliverance

Change of scene. The sun has set. There is a crowd at the door. Saint Mark says that, “all the city was gathered together at the door” (Mk 1:33). Just imagine the noise, the anticipation, the pleading. Jesus then heals the sick and casts out many devils. Healing and deliverance.

Contemplation

Change of scene again. A very dramatic one. Saint Mark passes from all the city being gathered at the door of Simon’s house to a setting of solitude in the pre-dawn darkness. “And rising very early, going out, He went into a desert place: and there He prayed” (Mk 1:35). We see Our Lord in prayer. Most of us, I think, would want to linger here with Jesus in this desert place. We would want to hear Him in conversation with His Father and gaze upon His Holy Face. Contemplation.

The Lord, He is God

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How I love this painting by Botticelli (1445–1510)! Saint Jerome is kneeling in his nightshirt in front of his bed. His cardinalatial red hat hangs on the wall behind him. Over his bed is a crucifix with three palms. Saint Jerome receives the Sacred Host from the hands of the priest, Saint Eusebius. Note the beautiful chasuble that Saint Eusebius is wearing, and the apparels on his alb. The most beautiful elements are the painting are the six human faces, all focused on the Body of Christ that a kneeling Saint Jerome is about to receive on his tongue.

January 9

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Wednesday After the Epiphany

1 John 4:11-18
Psalm 71: 1-2, 10, 12-13
Mark 6:45-52

Adoration

How does one discern an authentic spiritual epiphany from something cooked up by our own imagination or desires? First, every authentic epiphany compels one to adore. One cannot experience the Thrice-Holy God without falling to one’s knees (at least inwardly), without humbling oneself, without confessing the sovereign majesty of God. Do you remember what the people did on Mount Carmel, after Elijah prayed and fire descended from heaven to consume the holocaust? “When all the people saw this, they fell on their faces, and they said: The Lord, He is God, the Lord, He is God” (3 K 18:19).

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Yesterday, L’Osservatore Romano contained an article by Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Karaganda, Kazakhstan. It was an invitation to reconsider the traditional practice of receiving Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue. L’Osservatore Romano does not publish mere opinions; one of its functions is to educate Catholics. The kernel of Bishop Schneider’s argument is this: “If some nonbeliever arrived [at Mass at the moment of Holy Communion] and observed such an act of adoration, perhaps he, too, would fall down and worship God, declaring, ‘God is really in your midst.’” Adoration — an adoration that is expressed bodily, that is enfleshed — is the human response to every epiphany of the Divine.

Obedience

Second, every authentic spiritual epiphany calls one to obedience, that is, to conversion of life, to change. After the experience of God, one cannot return to “business as usual.” The Christian life is dynamic. It is movement and it is change, or it is nothing at all. The soul that is not going forward is regressing. This is what Saint Paul means when he says in Second Corinthians that, “we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18).

Peace

Third, every authentic spiritual epiphany produces peace in the soul. When Our Lord visits a soul by His grace, He leaves behind the impression of a parting kiss, a kiss of ineffable peace. So-called spiritual experiences that leave one in a feverish state of confusion and unrest are not of God. The devil can counterfeit any number of spiritual experiences and charisms, but he cannot counterfeit what Saint Paul calls, “the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding” (Phil 4:7).

All Saints Day Homily

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I took this photo of the sacred relics of the saints exposed in the monastery chapel after Second Vespers of All Saints. At Holy Mass I preached on Our Lady of the Beatitudes, Queen of All Saints. Here is the French text, just as I gave it at the Monastère Saint-Benoît in Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne:

« Voici le peuple immense de ceux qui t’ont cherché ».
Oui, Seigneur Jésus, tous ils ont cherché ton Visage.
Tous, ils ont pris à cœur cette parole
que ton Esprit Saint a fait chanter le roi prophète :
« Mon cœur t’a déclaré : je cherche le Seigneur. . .
c’est ta Face, Seigneur, que je rechercherai.
Ne détourne pas de moi ton Visage » (Ps 26, 8-9).

Tous, ils sont devenus miroirs vivants de ta Sainte Face,
selon ce que dit ton Apôtre :
« Et nous tous qui, le visage découvert,
réfléchissons comme en un miroir la gloire du Seigneur,
nous sommes transformés en cette même image,
toujours plus glorieuse,
comme il convient à l’action du Seigneur, qui est l’Esprit » (2 Cor 3, 18).

Seigneur Jésus, la beauté de la gloire de tes saints nous ravit
parce qu’elle est le reflet sur leurs visages de la beauté de la gloire de ta Face !
Aujourd’hui tu nous révèles,
aujourd’hui tu nous redis le secret de toute sainteté :
la recherche de ta Face.

À quiconque cherche ta Face, Seigneur Jésus, tu la révèles,
et celui à qui tu révèles ta Face ne peut que l’adorer.
Cette adoration de ta Sainte Face est transformante,
C’est toujours le roi prophète qui nous donne de chanter chaque nuit :
« Sur nous s’est imprimé, Seigneur, la lumière de ta Face » (Ps 4, 7).

Parmi tous ces visages illuminés par la beauté de ta Face,
il y a un visage qui rayonne d’une splendeur qui fait pâlir le soleil.
C’est le visage de ta Mère, la toute belle, la toute pure.
Tu es toute belle, ô Marie, car sur ton visage nous voyons
le reflet éblouissant de Celui
qui est « le resplendissement de la gloire du Père
et l’effigie de sa substance » (Hb 1, 3).

Toi, la reine de tous les saints,
tu es le signe grandiose qui apparaît dans le ciel :
la Femme revêtue du soleil,
ayant la lune sous ses pieds,
et portant une couronne sertie de douze étoiles.

[A note came from Fr. Mark in France today; he hasn't been able to post to the blog, but he did send this homily which he preached for today's Mass, a Saturday in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Fr. Mark presented the homily in French, of course, and the original text is on-line at Le Blog du Greg. I'm taking the liberty to make a translation and post it here. Some of Fr.'s beautiful prose style will be lost in the process, alas. --RC]

Monastère de l’Incarnation
Saint-Loup-sur-Aujon
Homily for October 20, 2007

Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary
28th Saturday of Year One
Romans 4: 13:18
Luke 12: 8-12


A fruitful faith

The first reading speaks to us of the faith of our father Abraham. What are the characteristics of that faith? Faith is the principle of fruitfulness. It is by faith that Abraham became the father "of a great number of peoples", the father of all the faithful, and finally the father of the Virgin Mary, who carried his faith to perfection.

A life-giving faith

The faith of Abraham is, at the same time, a fountain where life springs forth. Where faith is weak, life also weakens. That is why the Lord says, "It is by faith that the just man shall live." (Heb 10:38). Again, the life-giving faith of Abraham reaches its summit in the Virgin Mary. Elizabeth, impelled by the Holy Spirit, declares her blessed because she has believed what God had said to her. (Lk 1, 45).

A faith molded by hope

Finally, the faith of Abraham is shaped by hope. Faith brings us to the edge of mystery, but it is by hope that we cast the bridge across, which lets us pass even into the Kingdom.

The faith of the Holy Virgin

The faith of Abraham, great as it is, cannot compare to that of Mary, that of the Virgin Mother of Holy Saturday. It is because of this indefectible hope which rose like a flame in the heart of the Virgin, on the day of the great Sabbath after the death of her Son, that the Church gives her all the Saturdays until the end of time. The Church marks them in the holy liturgy with this beautiful Office and Mass "De Beata", of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which become for those who celebrate them the means of passing from hope to hope, even amid trials.

In the unity of the Holy Spirit

The Gospel contains two references to the Holy Spirit. The verse before the Gospel had us pray: "Grant us, Lord, the Spirit of truth, that He may bear witness in our hearts" (Jn 15: 26-27). Within the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is He who seals the communion of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is He who achieves the unity of the Three Persons, being substantially the Love which proceeds from the Father to the Son, and from the Son to the Father. This is why the Church has us say in her prayers, "in unitate Spiritus Sancti — in the unity of the Holy Spirit"

The sin against the Holy Spirit

Where the Spirit of God reigns, there is the unity described in the Acts of the Apostles: "They all, being of one mind, were devoted to prayer, along with several women, among whom was Mary, the Mother of Jesus" (Ac 1: 14). It is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit that one can say, "Jesus is Lord". (1 Cor 12: 3). This is why he who rejects the Holy Spirit places himself outside of the grace of God. Whoever resists the Holy Spirit becomes blind and without sense before the Face of Christ and in the presence of His open Heart. He who resists the Holy Spirit closes his own ears to the word of Christ who pardons, who invites to communion, who calls from death to life. This is why the sin against the Holy Spirit is so grave: it prevents us from walking in the WAY, from adhering to the TRUTH, from opening ourselves to the LIFE.

Receiving Mary

Yet there is a very sure way to never fall into this sin against the Holy Spirit. It is to open oneself to the Virgin Mary. Whoever receives Mary receives the Holy Spirit. Is this not what we see in Saint Joseph at the beginning of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, and again in Saint John at the end of the fourth gospel?

If in our lives there is little evidence of the Holy Spirit at work, the source of all fruitfulness, it is because we give too little place for Mary. All sin against the Holy Spirit contains at its root, a refusal of the mystery of the Virgin Mary, and every refusal of the mystery of the Virgin Mary contains at its root the sin against the Holy Spirit.

Where Mary is

In his discourse on monastic life, the Holy Father said it well: "Where Mary is, one finds the pentecostal breath of the Holy Spirit, one finds vigor and authentic renewal." Have we heard him? Shall we let ourselves be addressed by this prophetic word, or will it be ranked among thousands of sterile good thoughts that remain untouched the day after tomorrow, like rose blooms that never give their scent?

It is moving to see when one goes to the Benedictines of the Holy Sacrament that the Virgin Mary occupies the place of the abbess, in all her regular positions. Among those sisters, the abbess is always Mary. Where Mary is truly abbess, the Holy Spirit reigns. At its basis, this is very evangelical. It is a matter of imitating the gesture of the beloved disciple who, obeying the word of Jesus crucified, "took her into his home". (Jn 19: 27).

All our resistances to the Holy Spirit, everything that prevents us from experiencing the full fruitfulness of the faith of Abraham, everything in us and around us that drives away "vigor and authentic renewal" would disappear as the fog disappeared in the sun this morning, if, if we were to open our hearts to Mary.

The Holy Spirit will teach you

The future of the monasteries of the Congregation depends on the reception we will give to the Holy Spirit, and that reception always happens through the mystery of Mary. Then we will be able to say in all confidence, "Do not worry about how you will defend yourself or how to speak; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you are to say." (Lk 12, 11-12).

And the Virgin's Name Was Mary

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The Most Holy Name of Mary

Sirach 24:17–21
Luke 1:46–48, 49–50, 53–54
Luke1:26–38

Victory in the Name of Mary

In 1683 Pope Innocent XI extended the existing Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary to the universal Church to thank Our Lady for the victory of John Sobieski, king of Poland, over the forces of militant Islam. On September 11th, 1683, Muslim Turks attacked Vienna, threatening the Christian West. The next day, Sobieski, invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary and placing his forces under her protection, emerged victorious.

A Feast Restored to the Roman Missal

In the culture of the Middle East one thinks more readily in terms of centuries than in terms of years. It would seem that Osama Bin Ladin chose September 11th for the attack on the United States in memory of that attack on the West on September 11th, 1683. Symbolic dates are important. Pope John Paul II restored the feast of the Holy Name of Mary with the publication of the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal in 2002, one year after the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

The Invocation of the Name of Mary

The Holy Mother of God is no stranger to the struggles of her children in this valley of tears. She is attentive to every situation that threatens this world of ours, to every assault against the Church and, when we invoke her Holy Name, she is quick to intervene. When it comes to calling upon the Name of Mary, there is no struggle too global and too enormous, and no struggle too personal or too little. In the Bible, the name wields a mysterious power. Names are not to be pronounced casually or lightly. Names are not to be taken in vain. The invocation of the name renders present the one who is named. So often as you pronounce the sweet Name of Mary with devotion and confidence, Mary is present to you, ready to help. So often as you pronounce the sweet Name of Mary, you have her full and undivided attention.

As Oil Poured Out

The saints, drawing on a verse from the Song of Songs, compare the Name of Mary to a healing oil. “Thy Name is as oil poured out” (Ct 1:2). Oil heals the sick, gives off a sweet fragrance, and nourishes fire. In the same way the Name of Mary is like a balm on the wounds of the soul; there is no disease of the soul, however malignant, that does not yield to the power of the Name of Mary. The sound of Mary’s Name causes joy to spring up; the repetition of Mary’s Name warms the heart. If you would touch the Heart of the Father, pronounce the Name of Jesus; if you would touch the Heart of Jesus, pronounce the Name of Mary.

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Monday of the Twenty-Third Week of the Year I
Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Good Counsel

Colossians 1:24–2:3
Psalm 61:5-6, (R. 7a)
Luke 6:6-11

Warning and Teaching

After listening to the teachings of the Holy Father over the past three days, it occurred to me that what Saint Paul says concerning himself in today’s First Reading applies also, by the grace of God, to Pope Benedict XVI:

“We proclaim Christ in you, the hope of glory,
warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom,
that we may present every man mature in Christ.
For this I toil,
striving with all the energy
which he mightily inspires within me” (Col 1:28-29).

To Present Every Man Mature in Christ

For the past three days the Holy Father has given himself tirelessly to an intense proclamation of Christ, the Hope of Glory. He called upon all Catholics, and not just those of Austria, to fix their gaze upon the Face of Christ and upon His open Heart. He warned every man. He taught every man in all wisdom. His teaching addressed all the members of the Church: bishops, priests, deacons, religious, monks, nuns, and lay faithful. His desire was none other than that of the Apostle: to present every man mature in Christ.

The Thoughts of God’s Spirit

Like those who watched Jesus teaching in the synagogue, there were those who watched the Holy Father “so that they might find an accusation against him” (Lk 6:7). The secular media, largely hostile to all things Catholic, cannot be trusted to provide objective coverage of the Holy Father. In First Corinthians Saint Paul says: “Mere man with his natural gifts cannot take in the thoughts of God’s Spirit; they seem mere folly to him, and he cannot grasp them, because they demand a scrutiny which is spiritual. Whereas the man who has spiritual gifts can scrutinize everything, without being subject himself, to any other man’s scrutiny” (1 Cor:15-16).

Yesterday evening, the Holy Father closed his apostolic journey with a visit to the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz. There he pronounced a discourse that was nothing less than his Charter for Monastic Life in the Third Millennium. Pope Benedict XVI addresses point by point the substance of Benedictine life for this generation and for all generations to come. It is a text that one needs to read on bended knee with profound humility and docility.

If You Are Seized With Anguish

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Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year C

Wisdom 9:13-19
Psalm 89: 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17 (R. 1)
Philemon 9b-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33

A Salutary Anguish

I was reading not long ago the counsels of Staretz Ambrose of Optino on having a daily rule of personal prayer. “Every day,” says the Staretz, “read one or more chapters of the Gospel, standing (the attitude of prayer). If you are seized with anguish, read again until it has passed. If it returns, read the Gospel again.” The reading of the Gospel does not always fill us with comfort, light, and sweet assurance. Sometimes the reading of the Gospel produces anguish. A salutary anguish.

Who Then Can Be Saved?

When the disciples heard Jesus say that, “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:25), they experienced a salutary anguish and replied, “Who then can be saved?” (Lk 18:26). If you heard today’s Gospel, for instance, without being seized with a certain anguish, perhaps you didn’t really hear it at all? “And so it is with you; none of you can be my disciple if he does not take leave of all that he possesses” (Lk 14:33).

The Vice of Proprietorship

We hear this teaching of Jesus in its absoluteness and immediately begin to look for loopholes, for a way around it, under it, or over it. We call it impossible, forgetting that Jesus also says in another place — again concerning possessions — that “the things that are impossible with men, are possible with God” (Lk 18:27). “Surely this does cannot apply to me,” one thinks; "one must be reasonable. The scholars are not in agreement on the interpretation of the text." But if one stays with today’s Gospel and refuses to pass over it or around it, one is obliged to look at what Saint Benedict calls, “the vice of personal ownership” (RB 55:18). Vice. Not a very nice word. One does not ordinarily think of a monastery as a place of vice. And yet, Saint Benedict puts his finger on what may well be the last vice to disappear from a monastery, the last vice to be eradicated from the heart of a monk: the vice of personal proprietorship.

Imago Dei Invisibilis

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Twenty-Second Friday of the Year I

Colossians 1:15-20

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of every creature:
For in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones, or dominations,
or principalities, or powers:
all things were created by Him and in Him.
And He is before all, and by Him all things consist.
And He is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead;
that in all things He may hold the primacy:
Because in Him, it hath well pleased the Father,
that all fullness should dwell;
And through Him to reconcile all things unto himself,
making peace through the blood of his cross,
both as to the things that are on earth,
and the things that are in heaven.

Doxological Christology

Today’s passage from the Letter to the Colossians is well known to us. Some of you may even know it by heart. In our monastic cursus of the Divine Office it is the New Testament canticle at Vespers on Thursday of the Second Week; in the Roman Office, it occurs as the New Testament Canticle at Vespers every Wednesday. It is, in fact, a hymn inspired by the Holy Spirit, addressed to the Father, in celebration of the mystery of Christ, a wonderful example of “doxological Christology.”

Thanksgiving

In praising the glory of the Father — the mystery of the Son comes into focus to “enlighten the eyes of the heart” (Eph 1:18). The hymn englobes the whole “economy” of God: redemption, creation, the resurrection and lordship of Christ and, at the end of the text, a confession of the mystery of the Cross, radiating peace over heaven and earth (Col 1:20).

Through Him

Perhaps you noticed that, although the whole hymn celebrates Jesus Christ, He is never explicitly named. Instead, all throughout, the pronoun “He” is repeated again and again. The effect is not at all unlike that of the, “Through Him, with Him, and in Him . . .” that concludes the Eucharistic Prayer.

Indeed Right and Fitting

This is not the only point of resemblance with the Eucharistic Prayer. If you take the text on your own, in lectio divina, and repeat it slowly, you will see that it is crafted like the Roman Preface of the Mass. In fact, if you put the traditional opening of the Roman Preface at the beginning — It is indeed right and fitting, it is our duty and leads to our salvation, that we should praise you always and everywhere, Lord, holy Father, almighty and ever-living God, through Christ our Lord — and if you add, at the end, the traditional conclusion of the preface — And therefore, together with all the Angels, we never cease to praise and glorify you, as we joyfully proclaim, Holy, Holy, Holy — you have, with very few adjustments, a magnificent Eucharistic text, a rich Christological Preface.

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God's Human Face

There is, in these eight or nine verses, an inexhaustible richness of content. If I were to linger over a single phrase, it would be verse 15. “He is the image, the icon, of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Jesus is, to use the title of Cardinal von Schönborn’s book, “God's Human Face.” “No one has ever seen God,” says Saint John the Theologian; “the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known” (Jn 1:18). Jesus Himself says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9), and Saint Paul adds that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

The Eucharistic Revelation of His Face

Today’s message from Colossians moves us to seek the Face of Christ. One who desires to contemplate the Face of Christ needs to immerse himself in the psalms, the prophets, the Gospels, Saint Paul, and the saints and mystics of every age. One who desires to contemplate the Face of Christ needs to spend time, silent and adoring, before the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. And so, we go from the ambo to the altar, where “the Blood of the Cross” (Col 1:20) is given us to drink, and where the Face of Christ, at once hidden and revealed, satisfies the heart’s desire.

Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, Esto Mihi Iesus

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Luke 5:1–11

The Fisherman's Boat

Today’s Gospel opens with the people “pressing upon” Jesus to hear the Word of God. Eagerness to hear the Word is a sign of spiritual vitality. So too is the desire to be close to Jesus. But already Our Lord is intimating that His Word and His presence will be mediated through His Church. “Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat” (Lk 5:3). The fisherman’s boat becomes the pulpit of the Word; even more, it becomes an image of the Church called to bear the Word across the waves of history.

Peter's Marian Holiness

After preaching to the people, Our Lord addresses a personal word to Simon: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). Duc in altum! Put out into the deep! Simon answers the Master honestly, “Master, we have laboured all the night, and have taken nothing!” — and then he obeys — “But at Thy word I will let down the net” (Lk 5:5). This simple exchange opens for us a window into the soul of the Prince of the Apostles. Peering into his soul, what do we see? We see that Simon Peter, for all his blustering masculinity, in the secret of his soul resembles Mary, the Virgin Mother of the Lord. “How shall this be, since I know not man?” —and then — “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:34, 38). “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” — “But at Thy word I will let down the net” (Lk 5:5). A pattern emerges here. It is the Marian pattern of holiness. There is no holiness that is not Marian. Even Simon must, in some way, be conformed by the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary in her humility, in her singleheartedness, in her trusting obedience.

Gratia agentes Deo Patri

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Thursday of the Twenty-Second Week of the Year I

Colossians 1:9-14
Psalm 97:2-3ab, 3cd-4, 5-6 (R. 2a)
Luke 5:1-11

Toward Mariazell

On this eve of our Holy Father’s pilgrimage to the Benedictine sanctuary of Mariazell in Austria, we prepare our hearts to go in pilgrimage with him. Pope Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage will mark the 850th anniversary of the founding of Mariazell, the Basilica of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Another highlight of the Holy Father’s journey will be a visit to the flourishing Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, a vibrant community that has more new vocations at present than it has had in the past two hundred years.

Pilgrimages of the Heart

Last week’s papal pilgrimage to the Holy House of Loreto and tomorrow’s pilgrimage to Our Lady of Mariazell underscore for all Catholics the importance of going in humility and confidence to places made holy by the prayers of the faithful through the ages, and by a mysterious presence of the Mother of the Lord in her images. Not all of us are able to make grand pilgrimages, but each of us can make small ones, inner pilgrimages of the heart, outwardly signified by some gesture of faith.

Visits to the Blessed Virgin Mary

Saint Alphonsus wisely recommends a daily visit to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Listen to him: “And now as to the visits to the Most Blessed Virgin, the opinion of Saint Bernard is well known and generally believed: it is that God dispenses no graces otherwise than through the hands of Mary…. Do you then, be also careful always to join to your daily visit to the Most Blessed Sacrament a visit to the Most Holy Virgin Mary in some church, or at least before a devout image of her in your own house. If you do this with tender affection and confidence, you may hope to receive great things from this most gracious Lady, who, as Saint Andrew of Crete says, always bestows great gifts on those who offer her even the least act of homage.”

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Knowledge, Wisdom, and Understanding

Yes, the gifts of God are dispensed through the hands of Mary. This is true of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit because, as the saints teach us, where Mary is present the Holy Spirit rushes in. In today’s First Reading Saint Paul asks that the Colossians be filled with three of these gifts. “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9). Knowledge, wisdom, and understanding: three of the Holy Spirit’s seven gifts.

Obedience and Thanksgiving

Saint Paul prays that the Colossians may be gifted with knowledge of the Father’s will, but the mere knowledge of the Father’s will is not enough or, rather, it is unbearable and utterly beyond us, without the gifts of wisdom and understanding. We are not saved by knowledge. Our Lord makes this clear in the parable of the two sons (Mt 21:28-31). Going to the first son, and then to the second, the father said, “Son, go and work in my vineyard today” (Mt 21:28). The first son refused, and then turned around and obeyed. The second son said, “I go, sir” (Mt 21:30), but did not go. Mere knowledge of the Father’s will does not make us holy. We are saved and sanctified — that is to say, healed and divinized — by grace and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit that make possible for us to say both the “Amen” of obedience and the “Alleluia” of thanksgiving.

In Darkness

Sometimes it pleases God to withhold the knowledge of His will, or so it seems to us. At certain moments, the will of the Father may be to leave us seemingly clueless. At no time are the gifts of the Holy Spirit more necessary than when we find ourselves saying with the psalmist, “Friend and neighbor Thou hast put far from me: my one companion is darkness” (Ps 87:19).

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Wisdom: The Taste of Love

The gift of wisdom allows me to believe in love when everything around me says, “There is no love for you here.” The gift of wisdom is the faintest taste of love to the palate of the soul, even in those dark hours when, with Job, I would want to cry out, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Jb 13:15). I am reminded of the words of Father Ernest Lelièvre (1826-1889): “I know and am perfectly certain that, of all the calculations I could make, the wisest is to abandon myself to Him.” It is the gift of wisdom makes that kind of resolution possible.

Mercy Above Every Misery

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Twenty-Second Wednesday of the Year I

Luke 4:38–44

Jesus in the House of Simon

Jesus has just left the synagogue of Capernaum. He was teaching the people on the Sabbath; the word of His mouth struck the ears of all by its indescribable authority. Joining to His word a wonderful action, He delivered a man from the unclean spirit who oppressed him. Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus leaving the synagogue and entering the house of Simon.

Simon's Mother-in-Law

It would have been normal, at this point, for Our Lord to want to take some refreshment and there, away from the crowd, to enjoy a moment of respite after the exertions of His ministry. But upon entering Simon’s house what does He find? Simon’s mother–in–law is ill with a high fever. Those in the house — Simon’s wife and Simon himself, no doubt — “besought Him for her” (Lk 4:38).

To Beseech the Lord

Here Saint Luke shows us the prayer of intercession in action. It is striking in its simplicity: “they besought Him for her” (Lk 4:38). This is the secret of an efficacious prayer of intercession: to beseech the Lord. No other verb conveys quite the same meaning: it means to beg eagerly, to importune another, to supplicate, to beg urgently.

And He Stood Over Her

The Heart of Jesus is touched by this prayer. Saint Luke describes what happened then. “And He stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her” (Lk 4:39). There is something divine, something majestic in the demeanour of Our Lord. He stands over the sick woman; He is Lord over all. His mercy is above every misery. Every infirmity is subject to Him; there is no illness, no brokenness, no affliction that can resist His word. He is the Physician of our bodies and of our souls.

At the Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B., September 4, 5, and 6 will be marked by a triduum of Votive Masses in honour of the Holy Spirit.

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The triduum is being celebrated in supplication for the forthcoming General Chapter of the Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, which will be held in Brou-sur-Chantereine, France from September 19th until October 2nd.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, 9-11
Psalm 26: 1-4, 13-14
Luke 4:31-37

Come, Holy Spirit

We begin today a triduum of Votive Masses in honour of the Holy Spirit in supplication for the forthcoming General Chapter of the Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, which will be held in France from September 19th to October 2nd. In a certain sense, a General Chapter must have the same characteristics as the apostolic assembly that preceded the first Pentecost in the Cenacle. What exactly are these? From the description given us by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles 1:13-14, we can learn quite a lot.

In the Light of the Eucharistic Face of Christ

The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles went into retreat in the Cenacle immediately following the Ascension of the Lord from Mount Olivet. Each one carried in his heart the memory of that last glimpse of the Face of Jesus, and each one longed to see His Face again. In the time that stretches from the Ascension to the return of Our Lord in glory, His Face is turned toward us in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that our gaze meets His. The Eucharist celebrated, adored, and contemplated must be at the heart of the General Chapter, just as it must be at the heart of our life from day to day.

Under the Leadership of Peter

The second characteristic is a reference to the unique mission of Peter in the Apostolic College. Saint Peter is named first in the list of those who went into the Cenacle. The successor of Saint Peter is the Pope, the bishop of Rome. If we consider the example of the saints through the ages, we see that the most accurate measure of one’s attachment to the Church, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, is the degree of one’s attachment to the Holy Father. Saint Catherine of Siena referred to the Pope as her “sweet Christ on earth.”

Hans Urs von Balthasar warned prophetically of the critical danger of the “anti-Roman complex.” The core of the Protestant heresy was and remains the assertion of the individual’s perception of truth over the “Splendour of Truth” taught and defended by the Successor of Saint Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. The individual Protestant persists in saying, “I know, I choose, I prefer, and I believe,” over and above what Christ teaches and defines through the mouth of Peter. The Protestant body or sect does the same thing; it is a group of individuals who persist in saying, “We know, we choose, we prefer, and we believe,” over and against what Christ teaches and defines through the mouth of Peter.

When Blessed John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council, he composed a beautiful prayer to the Holy Spirit; in that prayer he affirmed that a second Pentecost could take place only “under the leadership of Peter.” We must be wary of a certain kind of creeping Protestantism that sets parts of the body against the whole; it causes certain members of the Body to resist the direction given by the Head. Positively, we must renew the vow of obedience in all its ecclesial implications. History demonstrates that religious institutes flourish in proportion to their attachment to the See of Peter; they decline in proportion to the degree to which they are infected with the “anti-Roman complex.”

Amice, ascende superius

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The Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year C

Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 67: 3-4ac, 5-6ab, 9-10
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14

The Sanctuary of Humility

Pope Benedict XVI in pilgrimage today to the Holy House of Loreto, called it “the sanctuary of humility: the humility of God who became flesh and of Mary who welcomed him to her womb.” “In following Christ,” he said, “and imitating Mary, we must have the courage of humility.”

Humility: Saint Benedict’s Twelve Steps

Humility. There is no getting around it. But what exactly is it? Saint Benedict never defines humility? The twelve steps in Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule are not definitions. The twelve steps are the traces of humility, clues allowing one to detect, and to collect, the evidence of humility. You know the twelve steps: (1) fear of God, (2) abnegation of self-will, (3) obedience, (4) patient endurance, (5) disclosure of the heart, (6) contentedness with what is, (7) lucid self-awareness, (8) submission to the common rule, (9) silence, (10) emotional sobriety, (11) restraint in speech and, (12) congruity between one’s inside and one’s outside.

Pride: Saint Bernard’s Twelve Steps

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Pride. Saint Bernard, for his part, identifies the twelve steps of pride. If you would diagnose the deadly soul sickness of pride, look for the following twelve symptoms: (1) curiosity, (2) levity of mind, (3) giddiness, (4) boasting, (5) singularity, (6) self-conceit, (7) presumption, (8) self-justification, (9) hypocritical confession, (10) revolt, (11) freedom to sin and, (12) the habit of sinning.

The Dance of the Humble

Saint Benedict uses the image of the ladder. With a little imagination, the twelve steps might also be envisioned as a kind of monastic choreography, as the sacred discipline of the dance, the paschal dance from Cross to tomb, from tomb to glory, from the Amen to the Alleluia. While inflexibility is nearly always an attribute of the proud, the humble sister or brother is supple, flexible. The best dancers are supple, and so too, the best monk.

The Lowest Place

Benedictine humility has about it nothing self-conscious, nothing posed, because the sister or brother living it is too absorbed in dancing the dance to stop in front of mirrors, too caught up in the dynamic of the Crucified to pause for effect. Can one strive for humility? I don’t think so. If one is striving to be humble, one is striving to be something. If I am something, I am not nothing, and if I am not nothing, I have not yet found the way to the “lowest place” (Lk 14:10).

Can one consciously train oneself in humility? Again, I don’t think so, for then I am straining to grasp something, striving to win a coveted prize. Humility achieved is no humility at all; it is a kind of possession, a spiritual trophy that one has to keep polished. If I take the lowest place in order to be seen in the lowest place, I’m no better off than the sister or brother who has taken the first place. If I go to the lowest place, calculating that it will get me invited to the highest place, I’m not being humble, I’m being manipulative and shrewd.

The Wisest Investment of All

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The Holy Father is on pilgrimage today to Loreto. My heart is on pilgrimage with him.

Twenty-First Saturday of the Year I
Matthew 25:14-30

The Mediation of Our Lady

On May 11, 2007, during a homily at the canonization of Father Antônio de Sant’Ana Galvão, O.F.M., in Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI gave one of the clearest statements ever made on the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces, when he said: "There is no fruit of grace in the history of salvation that does not have as its necessary instrument the mediation of Our Lady." In saying this, the Holy Father put to rest, once and for all, the scruples and doubts of those who, misinformed of the teachings of the Church after the Second Vatican Council, or simply ignorant of them, somehow thought it inappropriate to call the Mother of Jesus and our Mother the Mediatrix of All Graces.

Grace for Grace

The Blessed Virgin Mary mediates all the graces given us in Christ in two ways. By carrying the Son of God in her virginal womb and by giving Him birth, Mary brought into the world the Source and Author of all graces. “And of His fullness we have all received,” says Saint John, “and grace for grace” (Jn 1:16). The Father, in giving us the Son has also “with Him, given us all things” (Rom 8:32). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). The Son, in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3) is given us through Mary. “And entering the house,” we read in Saint Matthew’s account of the Wise Men, “they found the Child with Mary His Mother” (Mt 2:11). Theologians refer to this as Our Lady’s remote mediation.

Behold Thy Mother

Our Lady’s role did not end with the birth of Jesus, nor did it end with his Ascension, with the Descent of the Holy Spirit, or with her own Assumption into heaven. The motherhood of the Virgin Mary was extended on Calvary to all the members of her Son’s Mystical Body, and this until the end of time. “When Jesus therefore had seen His mother and the disciple standing there whom He loved, He saith to His mother, 'Woman, behold thy son.’ After that He saith to the disciple, 'Behold thy mother.’ And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own” (Jn 19:27).

Munificent

The Blessed Virgin Mary’s universal mediation is an expression of her universal motherhood. By virtue of her peerless participation in the victimal priesthood of her Son, Our Lady received for distribution all the graces merited on Calvary by His immolation. She distributes these same graces to souls according to their need, according to their openness to receive them, and according to her own mercy and munificence.

The Unsearchable Riches of Christ

Mary is the new Eve, the Mother of all the living. Standing at the foot of the Cross and filled in that hour with the Spirit of her Son, she said “Yes” to the unique role in the work of redemption that, from the beginning, the Father had reserved for her. She continues to participate in that work by dispensing “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8) to all of us, the old Eve's poor children exiled in this valley of tears.

Mary is a true mother and the best of mothers; she loves to give good things to her children. Hidden in the glory of her Assumption, she has entered in “even within the veil” (Heb 6:19) with Christ, our Eternal High Priest. What she obtains in heaven by her omnipotent supplication, she distributes on earth with an indescribable largesse. Theologians refer to this as Our Lady’s proximate or immediate mediation. Saint Bernard says it this way: “It is the will of God that we should have nothing which has not passed through the hands of Mary.”

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Sirach 26:1-4, 13-16
Psalm 130: 1bcde, 2, 3
Luke 7: 11-17

Walking in the Light of His Face

Today we see Jesus on his way into the town of Naim, accompanied by His disciples. “And there went with Him His disciples, and a great multitude” (Lk 7:11). Those who follow Our Lord and walk with Him are an image of the Church, the body of those who walk “in the light of His face” (Ps 88:15).

Death and Life

“And when He came night to the gate of the city, behold a dead man was carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow: and a great multitude of the city was with her” (Lk 7:12). In the dead man the Church sees an image of Augustine before his conversion. In the widowed mother the Church sees an image of the holy mother Monica. In the crowd of mourners, the Church sees an image of those who experience sin and desire to be delivered from it: “those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Benedictus). Saint Luke depicts a striking scene: two crowds, arriving from opposite directions, meet. One is the community of death. The other is the community of life: an image of the Church.

Those Tears of Hers

“And when the Lord saw her, being moved with mercy towards her, he said to her, 'Weep not'" (Lk 7:13). Our Lord looked upon Saint Monica just as he looked upon the mother of the man being carried out for burial. Tears were the language of Saint Monica’s prayer. Saint Augustine himself says: “Thou didst listen to her, O Lord, and Thou didst not despise those tears of hers which moistened the earth wherever she prayed” (Benedictus Antiphon).

Dry Confessions

In Chapter 20 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict says: “Indeed we must grasp that it is not by using many words that we shall get our prayers answered, but by purity of heart and repentance with tears” (RB 20:3). I am always moved at the number of people, lay people especially, who make their confession with tears. If truly we hate our sins and regret them, it is normal that we should weep in going to confession.

It is easy to become indifferent to our sins, or coldly analytical. We may confess them insofar as we see them, but our confessions become a matter of routine. Our examinations of consciences rarely probe beneath the surface. We come to the sacrament with our pathetic little list of peccadillos. Having grown accustomed to our sins, they no longer fill us with horror. And so we begin to make dry confessions. The so-called dry confession is one of the signs of spiritual lukewarmness. “But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot," says the Lord, "I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth” (Ap 3:15).

Joy Comes with the Dawn

Touched by her tears, Jesus told the widow to stop weeping. He did not tell her to stop praying but to stop weeping. He wanted to change the language of her prayer from tears to cries of joy. The psalm says: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the dawn. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness” (Ps 29:5.11).

Et accumbent in regno Dei

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This mosaic of Christ the Redeemer revealing His pierced Side adorns the apse of one of my favourite Roman churches, Sant'Alfonso on the Via Merulana. Sant'Alfonso is also the shrine of the original miraculous icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Twenty-First Sunday of the Year C

Isaiah 66:18-21
Psalm 116:1-2
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
Luke 13:22-30

The Salvation of God

Today, the Word of God shocks us out of any kind of narrowness. The salvation of God will not be shrunken, diminished, limited, or measured by men. People have never been comfortable with the inclusiveness of God. The arms of God are not only divinely comforting; they are frightening in their immensity, disconcerting in their embrace.

A Procession of Return

In the First Reading Isaiah describes an immense procession of return to Jerusalem: a grand liturgy of conversion and of convergence. “They shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them” (Is 66:18-19). The return to Jerusalem signifies a return to God; that is conversion. The reunion of all peoples in Jerusalem signifies the coming together of all peoples in Christ; that is convergence.

Missionaries and Priests

Isaiah announces that missionaries, witnesses to the glory of God and “brethren” to the Chosen People, will be sent forth to the most distant lands. God even announces that he intends to take priests from among the Gentiles, from among those who have no hereditary claim to the priestly office. “And some of them I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord” (Is 66:21). The excluded are included; the unchosen, chosen; those afar off, brought near.

The Divine Hospitality

In the Gospel, Our Lord explodes an exclusive and narrow vision of His Father’s hospitality. Those who have always assumed that they have, by right, a place inside, at the table, may find themselves outside, while those whom many considered outsiders, discover — to the scandal of some, and to the joy of others — that a place inside, at the table, has been reserved for them. This is the mystery of the Divine Hospitality.

Et Deus tuus Deus meus

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Saturday of the Twentieth Week of the Year I

Ruth 2:1-3, 8-11; 4:13-17
Psalm 127: 1-5
Matthew 23:1-12

A Virtuous Woman

The book of Ruth is one of the most charming in all of Sacred Scripture. Its tone is quiet and reflective. Ruth, the book’s heroine is a Moabitess, but she has all the virtues of a daughter of Israel pleasing to God. She is humble, tender, faithful, gentle, and courageous. When her mother-in-law Naomi was not only widowed, but also left bereft of her two sons, and this in a foreign land, Ruth was moved to compassion and chose to remain united to her mother-in-law, and to return from Moab to Bethlehem with her.

Thy God My God

Ruth’s words to Naomi are among the most beautiful expressions of friendship in the Bible. “Be not against me, to desire that I should leave thee and depart: for whithersoever thou shalt go, I will go: and where thou shalt dwell, I also will dwell. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. The land that shall receive thee dying, in the same will I die: and there will I be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17).

Boaz Marries Ruth

In today’s reading, the two women have arrived in Naomi’s country of origin where Ruth asks leave of Naomi to go and glean in the field of Boaz. Boaz is smitten by the young widowed Moabitess and takes her as his wife. The child born of this union is Obed, the father of Jesse, and the grandfather of David.

The Genealogy

The names recalled in today’s reading are familiar to us from the genealogy of Our Lord Jesus Christ given by Saint Matthew (Mt 1:1-17). This is the genealogy that the Church reads on December 17, the first day of the Great O Antiphons, and again at the solemn Office of Vigils that precedes the Mass of Christmas during the night. The Church’s musical tradition has graced this text with a chant melody that renders the long list of names strangely moving and memorable.

Ecce venio, Domine

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Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini's painting from the early 1700s shows anguish and distress on the face of Jephte, the victorious warrior come home from battle. His daughter is the very image of innocence and purity.

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Thursday of the Twentieth Week of the Year I

Judges 11:29-39a
Psalm 39: 4, 6-7a, 7b-8, 9
Matthew 22:1-14

The Spirit Breatheth Where He Will

Today’s First Lesson relates the astonishing and tragic story of the judge Jephte, son of Gilead. The judges were not self-appointed. One became a judge in Israel by virtue of a mysterious action of the Spirit of the Lord. Suddenly and powerfully the Spirit of the Lord would fall upon the least likely candidates, inspiring them to heroic deeds that filled the people with awe. “The Spirit,” says the Lord Jesus, “breatheth where he will; and thou hearest his voice, but thou knowest not whence he cometh, and whither he goeth” (Jn 3:8).

Jephtee

Jephte did not seem to be made of the stuff of judges. He was a thug, and the son of a harlot (Judg 11:1). His half-brothers threw him out of his father’s house. He joined a gang and became a marauding raider (Judg 11:2-3), a kind of gangster in Canaan. When the Ammonites starting causing trouble, the elders of Gilead turned to Jephte for help. Apparently he had made a reputation for himself as a rather formidable fighter. Jephte took a perverse delight in letting them hang for a bit. “Are not you the men who hated me, and cast me out of my father’s house, and now you are come to me constrained by necessity?” (Judg 11:7). Sheepishly, the delegation promises that Jephte will be reinstated with honour among his own if he accepts to lead the sally against the Ammonites.

A Reckless Vow

A lot is at stake for Jephte. He makes an imprudent and reckless vow to the Lord. “If thou wilt deliver the children of the Ammonites into my hands, whosoever shall first come forth out of the doors of my house, and shall meet me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, the same will I offer a holocaust to the Lord” (Judg 11:31). Jephte does slaughter the Ammonites. Returning in triumph, who should come out to greet him first but his daughter, his only child?

Human sacrifice was not unknown in Canaan. Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, his only son comes immediately to mind. The all-important difference is that Jephte’s sacrifice of his daughter was in fulfillment of a vow that the Lord had neither inspired nor required, whereas God himself had called to Abraham and commanded him to offer his son, his only Isaac whom he loved, to test Abraham’s obedience and faith (Gen 22:2).

Dominus tecum, virorum fortissime

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The Lord Is With Thee

Today’s First Lesson gives us the Angel’s greeting to Gideon. “The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘The Lord is with thee, O most valiant of men” (Jgs 6:12). The Archangel Gabriel greeted the Virgin of Nazareth with similar words: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Lk 1:28). Now that “the fullness of time has come” (Gal 4:4), that greeting from heaven has passed into the liturgy of the Church on earth.

At the beginning of Holy Mass and at key moments within the celebration, the priest greets the people, saying, Dominus vobiscum, “The Lord be with you.” He refers to the presence of the Lord in the midst of the Church. The phrase can be understood either as a wish, May the Lord be with you, or as a declaration, The Lord is with you.

When the Angel says to Gideon, “The Lord is with thee, valiant warrior,” he is inviting him to take heart, trusting in the unfailing presence of the Lord. Thus do we hear Gideon say at the end of the mysterious encounter, “I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face” (Jgs 3:22). “And the Lord said to him: ‘Peace be with thee, fear not, thou shalt not die’” (Jgs 3:23).

Presence of Christ

How are we to understand the Dominus vobiscum of the Mass? It is a solemn and joyful affirmation of the presence of the Lord in the midst of the assembly. By His grace Christ is present and living in each baptized person for He is the Vine and we are the branches (Jn 15:5). According to Our Lord’s promise He is present also in the midst of those who come together in His Name. “Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).

The Voice of Thy Salutation

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A thrill of jubilation should pass through the church every time the greeting of the priest, ancient and ever new, reaches the ears of the faithful. Recall what happened when the Virgin Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth: “And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost” (Lk 1:41). At what precise moment did this infilling take place? Elizabeth says, “Behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears” (Lk 1:44).

Chant

The musical tradition of the Roman Church has clothed this greeting in a little melody of two notes (sol and la) that is as sublime as it is simple. Dominus vobiscum. Only at the dialogue that precedes the Preface of the Mass does the greeting assume a more ample and solemn musical treatment, and this is to signify that at that very moment the priest and people are poised to enter into the Holy of Holies of the Mass.

Gesture

In singing these words, the priest extends his arms towards the assembly. He opens his hands as if to embrace all present and draw them into one single prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. This particular gesture is reserved to bishops and priests. Though deacons are allowed to say, “The Lord be with you,” they do so with folded hands. It belongs to the bishop and to the priest to impart the grace of the Lord’s presence to the faithful, and to take them up with him into the prayer of Christ to the Father.

Ignem veni mittere in terram

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Twentieth Sunday of the Year C

Jeremiah 38: 4-6. 8-10
Psalm 39: 2-4. 18. R. v.14
Hebrews 12:1-4
Luke 12:49-53

Fire Upon the Earth

The first sentence of today’s Gospel is a window into Our Lord’s interior life, a laying bare of the thoughts of His Sacred Heart. “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled” (Lk 12:49). This is the sort of self-revelation that we more usually associate with the Gospel of Saint John. “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 6:38). “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Jesus identifies this mysterious fire with the very aim of His mission on earth, with the will of His Father, with the transmission of life, life in abundance. “I came to cast fire upon the earth” (Lk 12:49).

Near the Fire

Origen, in his homilies on Jeremiah, reports what he considers to be an authentic saying of Our Lord: “Whosoever is near me is near the fire; whosoever is far from me is far from the Kingdom” (Homily 20 on Jeremiah). Fire signifies the presence of Jesus, the inbreaking of the Kingdom, the incandescence of His divinity, the blaze that Moses had already contemplated on Horeb, the mountain of God (Ex 3:2). The “deifying light” of the Rule of Saint Benedict (RB Pro:2) is inseparable from the divinizing fire. “Whosoever is near me is near the fire,” says the Lord.

Fire of Destruction?

What is this fire? What does it represent? Is it a fire of destruction and of vengeance? When James and John wanted to bid fire come down from heaven to consume the inhospitable village of Samaritans, Jesus turned and rebuked them (Lk 9:54). His is not a fire of destruction.

The Sword

Is fire merely a metaphor for the divisions announced in the last three verses of today’s Gospel? The division brought about by the coming of Christ, I think, is better served by the metaphor of the sword found in the parallel passage in Saint Matthew: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt 10:34); and in the prophecy of the aged Simeon: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:35).

In conspectu Domini

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Friday of the Nineteenth Week of the Year I

Joshua 24:1-13
Psalm 135:1-3, 16-18, 21-22 and 24
Matthew 19:3-12

In Ranks Before God

In today’s First Lesson Joshua holds a solemn assembly of all the people. The text makes a point of saying that they “stood in ranks before God.” The image resembles that of a monastic choir. The Vulgate says that they “stood in conspectu Domini, in the sight of the Lord.” The RSV puts it this way: “They presented themselves before God” (Jos 24:1).

Faith, Hope, and Charity

Every response to the presence of God engages the three theological virtues. Charity makes us yearn for the presence of God. Hope makes us expect the presence of God. Faith allows us to perceive the presence of God and, at the same time, moves us to respond to His presence worthily.

Believe This

This is why Saint Benedict says in Chapter 19 of the Holy Rule: “We believe that God is present everywhere, and that the eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the good and the bad; but most of all should we believe this without any shadow of doubt, when we are engaged in the Work of God” (RB 19:1-2). Saint Benedict twice uses the verb to believe.

Saint Benedict

Faith shapes behaviour. Saint Benedict draws his conclusions: “We should therefore always be mindful of the prophet’s words, ‘Serve the Lord with fear.’ And again, ‘Sing wisely.’ And yet again, ‘In the sight of the angels I will sing to you.’ We must therefore consider how we should behave in the sight of the Divine Majesty and His Angels, and as we sing our psalms let us see to it that our mind is in harmony with our voice” (RB 19:3-7).

Romano Guardini

Faith shapes behaviour and, at the same time, behaviour — especially repeated patterns of behaviour — strengthen the virtue of faith. In his classic work, Sacred Signs, Romano Guardini demonstrates the value of a standing rightly in the presence of God, of kneeling in adoration, of a Sign of the Cross well made. There are moments, and sometimes, long hours of spiritual darkness in every Christian life. During such dark nights it is important to keep on expressing outwardly the faith that one does not feel inwardly. This is not hypocrisy. It is the exercise of the will fixed steadily on the Deus Absconditus, the Hidden God.

Et vos estote parati

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Nineteenth Sunday of the Year C

Wisdom 18:6-9
Psalm 32: 1 & 12, 18-19, 20 & 22 (R. 12b)
Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19
Luke 12: 32-28 or 35-40

The Liturgy Begins With What is Given

For every Sunday Throughout the Year of Years A, B, and C, the Liturgy of the Hours gives us three antiphons taken from the Gospel: one for the Magnificat at First Vespers, one for the Benedictus, and one for the Magnificat at Second Vespers. Some see in the variety of antiphons given an embarrassment of riches: more than any one choir can master, more than one heart can take in. These subjective appreciations are beside the point; the liturgy begins with what is given. Wisdom begins with our acceptance of the objective givenness of the liturgy; with that acceptance comes the taste of the things of the God, foretaste of the Kingdom.

Note: Nine Gospel antiphons are given for each Sunday of the Time Throughout the Year: three each, destined to be sung at the Magnificat I, the Benedictus, and the Magnificat II for Years A, B, and C. The editors of the American version of the Liturgy of the Hours reduced the nine antiphons to three, thereby deconstructing the magnificent biblical and liturgical harmonics intended by the Church.

The Manifold Mystery of Christ

The Gospel Antiphons of the Divine Office are carefully selected and crafted. Their Gregorian musical expression unlocks for us the hidden meaning of the texts. Like all sacramentals — for that is what the antiphons are — they are a way into the manifold mystery of Christ, mystical portals opening onto the light. Let us then enter today’s Gospel by passing, in succession, through each of this Sunday’s three Gospel Antiphons.

Treasure and Heart

At First Vespers, the Magnificat antiphon was: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, says the Lord” (Lk 12:34). Immediately, we are obliged to ask ourselves hard questions, incisive questions. Where is my treasure? There is my heart. What do I want above all else? There is my heart. What do I cherish? There is my heart. What things do I protect? There is my heart. For what thing or things am I willing to suffer? There is my heart. In what thing or things have I invested myself, my energy, my talents, and my time . . . especially my time? There is my heart.

Saint Dominic

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Eighteenth Wednesday of the Year I

Numbers 13:1-2, 25--14:1, 26a-29a, 34-35
Psalm 105: 6-7ab, 13-14, 21-22, 23 (R. 4a)
Matthew 15:21-28

The Mercy of God

Saint Dominic would spend whole nights weeping and groaning in prayer before the altar. Over and over again he would say, "What will become of sinners? What will become of sinners?" Saint Dominic's great passion was to reconcile sinners by preaching the mercy of God.

The Power of Preaching

Dominic understood that the power of preaching comes from ceaseless prayer. His prayer had three characteristics: humble adoration, heartfelt pity for sinners, and exultation in the Divine Mercy. Saint Dominic prayed constantly; he prayed at home and on the road, in church and in his cell. For Saint Dominic there was no place or time foreign to prayer. He loved to pray at night. He engaged his whole body in prayer by standing with outstretched arms, by bowing, prostrating, genuflecting, and kissing the sacred page. If you are not familiar with the extraordinary little booklet entitled The Nine Ways of Prayer of Saint Dominic, today would be a good day to find it and read it.

The Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Saint Dominic had a tenth way of prayer too: the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary that today we call the rosary. The use of beads was widespread and the repetition of the Hail Mary were both widespread before the time of Saint Dominic. The Hail Mary prayed 150 times in reference to the 150 psalms was practiced in Carthusian and Cistercian cloisters before the time of Saint Dominic.

Irrigated by Grace

Saint Dominic understood that preaching alone was not enough. Preaching had to be irrigated by grace, and grace is obtained by prayer. Inspired by the Mother of God, Saint Dominic interspersed his sermons with the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He exhorted his hearers to continue praying the Psalter of 150 Aves as a way of prolonging the benefits of holy preaching. The rosary allows the seed of the Word sown by holy preaching to germinate in the soul and bear fruit.

Moses Was Very Meek

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Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week of the Year I

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Numbers 12:1-13
Psalm 50:1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5, 10-11
Mt 14:22-36


Miriam and Aaron

Together with Moses, Miriam and Aaron had experienced the wonderful deeds of the Lord: the liberation from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen in the waters of the sea. It was on that occasion that Miriam took a timbrel in her hand and danced to the glory of the Lord, singing: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea” (Ex 15:21). Miriam and Aaron witnessed the wonder of manna from heaven. They had supported their brother Moses in his leadership of the people. A certain resentment however seems to have been festering in their hearts, a jealousy of Moses, and especially of his intimacy with the Lord.

Jealousy

As is so often the case, they look for a pretext, for an excuse to speak against him. They find it in Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman, a stranger, Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro of Midian. Now this marriage is no recent event. You recall that Moses married Zipporah after he had killed the Egyptian, and fled in fear from Pharaoh’s house, before the call of Moses by God, speaking from the burning bush on Mount Horeb (Ex 2:1). Zipporah has been with him for a long time. It is strange that Miriam and Aaron should only now be saying that they have a problem with their brother’s marriage, but jealousy makes people do strange things. Moses hears them speaking against him. Surely, it hurts him, this turning against him of both brother and sister.

The Meekness of Moses

It is here that we encounter the famous verse on the meekness of Moses. “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). We saw the violent side of Moses in the second chapter of Exodus, but that was before his transforming encounter with God in the burning bush. Here Moses is presented as a man who is humble before God. The experience of divine intimacy has chastened him and made him lowly and meek. We see here that humility is a fruit of adoration, adoration being the response of faith to the revelation of God.

Meekness: the Fruit of Adoration

Adoration, particularly Eucharistic adoration, makes one humble, and humility is the ground of every other virtue. If we are resentful, angry, judgmental and unforgiving, it is because we are not humble. We are not humble because we do not adore. Saint Peter Julian Eymard, whom we celebrated last week, saw adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as the great remedy for the wounds of the Church and the brokenness of society, precisely because adoration produces humility, and humility produces peace.

Defender of the Lowly and the Meek

God defends Moses against the spiteful gossip of his brother and sister. God is always the defender of the lowly and the meek. He summons all three to a family conference at the tent of meeting. The Lord descends in a pillar of cloud and orders Miriam and Aaron to come forward. How they must have trembled! God describes His relationship to Moses. “He is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in dark speech; and he beholds the form of the Lord” (Num 12:8).

With Him On The Holy Mountain

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To the Mountain of the Lord

The prophet Isaiah says that, “It shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob’” (Is 2:1-3).

The house of the Lord is no longer the tent of meeting pitched by Moses in the desert (Ex 33:7), the tent upon which descended the pillar of cloud (Ex 33:9), the tent wherein the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Ex 33:11). We heard, in the second reading of the Vigil, that “everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting” (Ex 33:7). Moses used to come out of his ineffable conversations with the Lord so transfigured and radiant that he was obliged to cover his face with a veil, for the skin of his face shone with the glory of the Lord (Ex 35:33-35). The tent of meeting in the desert, set up according the prescriptions of the Lord, was but a figure and foreshadowing of the mystery we celebrate today.

The Tent

In the tent of meeting we discern, “as in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12), an obscure and mysterious revelation of the adorable Trinity. The tent prefigures the Body of Christ, the true, abiding, and indestructible place of meeting between God and man. Everyone who seeks the Father must go out to the new tent of meeting, that is, the Body of Christ, for he himself says, “No one comes to the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6).

In the tent, Moses heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him mouth to mouth (Num 12:8), the same voice that, in the beginning, had uttered, “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3). At the sound of the voice of the Lord, something of old Adam stirred deep inside Moses, and he remembered the voice that, in the garden, had called so gently, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9).

Moses beheld the pillar of cloud hovering over the tent (Ex 33:9). Something of old Adam stirred deep inside him, and he remembered the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8), in the breath of a gentle evening breeze.

Behold the tent, behold the voice, behold the cloud! Are we to look upon such mysteries and fail to see a dark and veiled epiphany of the Three calling us into the communion of their divine life? The tent points to Christ, the voice to the Father, the cloud to the Holy Spirit.

Et divites dimisit inanes

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Eighteenth Sunday of the Year C

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Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23
Psalm 94: 1-2, 6-7abc, 7d-9
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
Luke 12:13-21

Empty Hands

“Even in the night his mind does not rest.” (Eccl 2:23). So does Ecclesiastes describe the inner state of one whose search for happiness has produced little more than anxiety, exhaustion and sleepless nights. Toil, pain, and work amount to nothing in the pursuit of things eternal. The gifts of God are His for the giving. They cannot be produced or merited, purchased or won. In His wisdom, God often allows us to experience the utter vanity of all our toil and labours — even of our spiritual toil and labours — in order to bring us, sometimes by a path of apparent failure, to a state of blessed abjection and poverty. Blessed Jeanne Jugan put it this way, “It is so beautiful to be poor, to have nothing, to await all from God.” Saint Thérèse, in her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love, prayed, “In the eventide of this life, I will appear before you with empty hands.”

Working to Have Nothing

We are all so reluctant to appear before God with empty hands. We would prefer to have something to show for our toil and strain, for our days full of pain and our labours. The spiritual life is not about working to have something; it is, if anything, working to have nothing. This, of course, is unsettling and disturbing.

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To Await All From God

I am reminded of the novice mistress of Saint Bernadette at Nevers, the virtuous but icy Mère Thérèse Vauzou. All her religious life she had toiled and strained in the pursuit of holiness, mortifying her senses at every turn, holding herself with a will of steel to the slightest prescriptions of her rule, driving herself mercilessly towards perfection. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Eccl 1:2). When little Bernadette appeared on the scene, an ignorant peasant girl, unschooled in the spiritual life, rough and unrefined in her manners, and when this mere child admitted to conversations with the glorious Queen of heaven and Mother of God, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, it was altogether more than the virtuous Mère Vauzou could admit. Were all her spiritual labours and mortifications then worthless in the sight of heaven? Had she done so much, so hard, for so long, all for nothing? But, of course. For nothing. That is precisely the point, is it not? To be brought to nothing. To have nothing, to await all from God,” and to be able to say with Blessed Jeanne Jugan, “It is so beautiful.”

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The Peace of the Poor in Spirit

The biographers of Saint Bernadette say little about the final chapter in the life of Mère Vauzou. Long after the death of Bernadette, she was tormented with feelings of guilt and anxiety. She had, after all, treated the little saint harshly and added to her sufferings. In an attempt to recover peace of soul she went to the Cistercian Abbey of Fontfroide to consult with the saintly Père Jean, a monk known for his wisdom. We do not know the details of what transpired in secret between the monk and the distressed religious. We do know that after that meeting Mère Vauzou was freed of her anxiety and guilt, and found peace of heart. In all likelihood, Père Jean helped her to see that holiness is incompatible with achievements and great works, even spiritual ones, and that the Kingdom of heaven is given to the poor in spirit (Mt 5:3).

Idolators or Adorers?

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Monday of the Seventeenth Week of the Year I

Exodus 32:15-34
Matthew 13:31-35

Idolatry

Sins of idolatry and faithlessness are not as remote from us as they may seem. We may not fashion golden calves for ourselves, as did Aaron and the children of Israel, but we are tempted, nonetheless, to seek substitutes for God whenever we feel that He is distant, absent, or not looking.

The Practice of the Presence of God

This is why our holy father Saint Benedict and all the saints so insist on the practice of the presence of God. God is not distant from us, we are alienated from ourselves. God is not absent from our lives, we are absent from our own hearts. The eye of God is ever upon us, but we have roving eyes, ever in search of something to satisfy the cravings of the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we find something that appears to satisfy our itch for novelty, we place it on pedestal. We make it an idol.

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Television

Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel has been quoted as saying that the most corrosive thing in religious life over the past forty years has been the television. I agree with him. A community’s capacity for prayer and, especially, for adoration, is directly affected by its intake of television. There are religious who have no problem spending two hours or more in front of the secular altar of television; the same religious balk at being asked to spend two hours or more in adoration before the altar where Christ is really present. Idolatry.

Theologian Romano Amerio, a theologian at the Second Vatican Council, writes:

The television that daily prints the same images in millions of brains
and returns the next day to overprint others in the same brains like a sheet of paper printed on a thousand times, is the most powerful organ of intellectual corruption in the contemporary world. Nonetheless I will not deny that from those enormous antennae that send out across the world influences more powerful than those of the stars in the celestial spheres, there may come some slight influence that may accidentally be of use to religion. But I do deny that these scraps can legitimate the habitual and uncontrolled use of such technology or become the norm by which to shape the rhythms of religious life. One cannot but be amazed! Certain communities have abandoned the centuries old custom of reciting the night office in church so as to be able to watch television programs that clashed with the keeping of their rule.

Domine, doce nos orare

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Seventeenth Sunday of the Year C

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Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2: 12-14
Luke 11:1-13

Making Connections

In his classic commentary on the liturgy, The Church’s Year of Grace, our wise old friend, Dom Pius Parsch, taught us the importance of making connections. He showed us how to relate the antiphons of the Divine Office to the chants, readings, and prayers of the Mass. He invited us to experience the sacred liturgy as an organic whole. Each individual part can and must serve as the key to another.

Taking It In

Rarely is there but one theme in a Sunday Mass; the liturgy is too vast, too lofty for anything like that. There are, rather, multicoloured threads running through the Divine Office and Mass of any given Sunday. One can focus on one or another of these, or one can stand back, as one would from a tapestry, and take in the magnificent whole. This, of course, requires some investment of time and study on our part. More than anything else, it demands humble prayer. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26).

The Divine Office

Sunday Mass can be approached in a variety of ways. But how, I ask you, does the Church herself approach it? And how does she prolong it even through her evening sacrifice of praise? The Church approaches Sunday Mass and prepares our hearts for it through the Hours of the Divine Office, beginning with the First Vespers of Sunday on Saturday evening. Sunday Vigils (or Matins) follow and, in the day’s first light, Lauds, the morning offering of praise. The Little Hours, though brief, are steeped in the graces radiating from the Holy Sacrifice. The Second Vespers of Sunday, traditionally followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrement, constitute a solemn thanksgiving for the grace of the day’s Gospel and for the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist that fulfills it.

Looking at the Antiphons

Dom Pius Parsch would have us look very closely at the proper antiphons of the Divine Office, especially those of the Magnificat at First Vespers, of the Benedictus at Lauds, and of the Magnificat at Second Vespers. Today, I want to follow his wise counsel, and his method as well.

Magnificat I Antiphon

The Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers placed us in the setting of today’s Mass. Here is the text given in the Liturgy of the Hours: “As Jesus was in a certain place praying, one of his disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Lk 11:1). Domine, doce nos orare. To observe Jesus in prayer to the Father: what an incomparable grace! To contemplate His Face, to read there the secrets of His Heart, to receive from His lips even a fragment of His dialogue with the Father in the Holy Spirit! Did the disciples remember at that moment the word of the Father on the holy mountain, “This is my beloved Son; hear Him” (Lk 9:35)? “One of his disciples,” moved by the Holy Spirit, “said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’” (Lk 11:1).

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Saturday of the Sixteenth Week of the Year I

Exodus 24:3-8

A Mystic Outline of the Mass

We see in today’s lesson from the Book of Exodus a mystic outline of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The first verse describes what is, in essence, a liturgy of the Word: “So Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice: ‘We will do all the words of the Lord, which He hath spoken’” (Ex 24:3).

Actuosa Participatio

What have we here if not a prefiguring of the Mass of the Catechumens, also called the Liturgy of the Word? Moses communicates the Word of God. The people listen, and then commit themselves to carry out what they have heard. Think, for a moment, of the quality of their listening to the Word, and of the density of their silence. One had to listen intently, inclining the ear of one’s heart. Actual participation at its best!

The Altar

After the proclamation of the Word of the Lord and the people’s promise of obedience to it, Moses builds an altar. “And rising in the morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel” (Ex 24:4). One builds an altar for one thing alone: for sacrifice. The altar is surrounded by twelve pillars: a delineation of sacred space and a representation of the communion of the twelve tribes in a single sacrifice.

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Friday of the Sixteenth Week of the Year I

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 18:8, 9, 10, 11
Matthew 13:18-23

The Law Through Moses

In today’s lesson from the Book of Exodus, God speaks to Moses, giving him The Ten Commandments. Saint John, in his Prologue, says: “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17). The Ten Commandments reveal the desire of God that we should be happy and holy. God forbids only the things that will make us unhappy; he commands only the things that make for our happiness and peace.

Holiness and Beatitude

Obedience to the commandments is the path of return to God. Saint Benedict says that, “through the toil of obedience, we return to Him from Whom we have separated by the sloth of disobedience” (RB Pro:1). Returning to God by obedience, we live in communion with Him — in His grace — and that is the beginning of eternal beatitude.

Benefits of the Law

The Responsorial Psalm chants the praises of the Law in a kind of litany. What does the Law do for those who obey it? It refreshes the soul. It gives wisdom to the simple. It rejoices the heart. It enlightens the eye. What does sin do for those who persist in it? It wearies the soul. It makes one foolish. It makes one’s heart heavy with sadness. It dims the eye of the soul. Look at the world dominated by the flesh and the devil. What do you see? People who are weary, bored, burnt out, foolish to the point of being stupid, depressed, angry, and dim.

Christ the Sower

In the parable of the Gospel, Our Lord Himself is the Sower. He scatters abroad the seeds of holiness and of happiness, the seeds of the Kingdom. He gives three examples of how not to receive the Word of the Kingdom.

Let Nothing Affright Thee

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This medieval image is not directly related to today's reflection on the lesson from the Book of Exodus read at Mass. It depicts Saint Birgitta in conversation with the wounded Christ. One who walks in the path traced by the saints -- trust, thanksgiving, submission to the Will of God, and adoration -- will necessarily grow closer to Christ in His bitter Passion. The Passion of Christ is the fulfillment and completion of the mystery prefigured in Israel's Exodus. Does not Our Lord appear to be saying to Saint Birgitta, "Fear not, stand firm, and you will see the salvation of the Lord" (Ex 14:13)?

Exodus 14:5-18

The Sins That Misshape Us

Already, in this exciting fourteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, the characteristic sins of the people of Israel begin to emerge. Characteristic sins? Each of us has them. A characteristic sin is a fault that, by dint of being repeated, shapes, or rather misshapes, one’s personality. A characteristic sin is the root of many other sins that both derive from it and feed it.

Four Sins of the Exodus

One can easily identify four characteristic sins of the people of Israel: 1) lack of trust in God; 2) murmuring against God and against the leaders set over them; 3) rebellion and disobedience; 4) and, finally, idolatry. Note the sequence of these sins. At the origin of them all is a lack of trust in God; this lack of trust manifests itself in fear. Lack of trust leads directly to murmuring against God Himself and against those who represent Him. Murmuring sets the stage for rebelliousness: a willful and malevolent expression of pride and disobedience. Rebelliousness opens the way to idolatry. Once one has rebelled against God and the authority constituted by Him, one is driven to erect idols in their place.

Be Still

In today’s lesson from Exodus, we see the first two sins clearly. The people lack trust in God their Saviour. They murmur against Moses, the leader and liberator given them by God. Moses replies in words that we all do well to heed: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today . . . . The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still” (Ex 14:13-14). “You have only to be still” -- this is Moses’ way of saying, “Allow God to be God; allow the mighty Saviour to save you; allow the merciful One to liberate you.”

Et adoravit in terram

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Genesis 18:1–10a

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The Most Holy Trinity

The episode recounted in today’s passage from Genesis — the hospitality of Abraham — is the subject of Saint Andrew Roublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity. What the reading delivered in words the icon delivers in form and line and color. The tradition speaks not of “painting” an icon, but of “writing” one. The icon invites, in its own way, to a kind of lectio divina.

Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Contemplatio

Seeing the icon, one begins to read it: lectio. Its message enters not through the ears but through the eyes. By searching out the icon, by looking at it again and again with perseverance and openness, one discovers its secrets: meditatio. Then one begins to pray before the icon, reflecting the image itself back to God as the expression of the heart’s desire, contrition, adoration, and thanksgiving: oratio. When the icon becomes something interior, when the soul receives a gentle impression of the image that draws it to adoration, one can begin to speak of contemplatio.

Visual Fasting

People pulled in many directions at once or solicited by multiple desires find it difficult to enter into the mode of expression proper to the icon. Contemplation of the icon requires visual fasting: a willingness to forego the satisfaction of a thousand glances in order to gaze in singleheartedness upon “the one thing necessary” (Lk 10:42). This is what is meant perhaps by the traditional monastic practice of “custody of the eyes.” By it one learns to keep one’s eyes for one thing only: the “glory of God shining on the face of Christ” (cf. 2 Cor 4:6). A wise old monk once commented that the interior focus of a community could be discerned in its outward practice of custody of the eyes. By this he meant that one who truly seeks God has eyes for God alone and is willing to fast visually in preparation for seeing what lies hidden, “even within the veil” (Heb 6:19).

Cultural Conversion

Certain cultural prejudices make it hard for us to adjust to icons. Insofar as we are children of this age we are shallow. We prefer what holds a more immediate appeal to the senses. A worldly sensibility looks for something more naturalistic, something more romantic or sentimental. Dom Gregory Collins of Glenstal Abbey in Ireland says that, “Living the kind of spiritual life demanded to . . . contemplate the icon, means re-educating one’s sense of sight. It entails purification from superficial seeing, a move away from a mode of perception that stops short of the hidden depth of things or which remains captivated only by their surface glitter.”

Plainchant

Dom Gregory suggests too that there is an analogy between plainchant and the icon. The icon is to the eyes what plainchant is to the ears. In a monastery one expects to find — what shall I call it? — the ear purified and refined through a kind of fasting so as to hear the “still, small voice” that Elijah recognized on Horeb. “And when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with a mantle, and coming forth stood in the entering in of the cave” (3 K 19:13). The austerity of the traditional chant of the Church — its poverty, its chastity, its uncompromising obedience to the Word — makes it increasingly foreign to our culture and, paradoxically, increasingly attractive to young people challenged by the radicality of life for God alone.

The Church: Divine Pity's Inn

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Fifteenth Sunday of the Year C

Deuteronomy 30:10-14
Psalm 68: 14 and 17, 30-31, 36ab and 37 (R. cf. 33)
Colossians 1:15-20
Luke 10:25–37

A Hidden Meaning

Today’s Gospel, the parable of the Good Samaritan, is familiar to us. It is, perhaps, too familiar. That is often our problem. We assume that we have grasped the message of a Gospel because we have heard it so many times when, in fact, its message may not yet have grasped our hearts. The Fathers of the Church discerned a mystery — a hidden meaning — in the story of the Good Samaritan: the mystery of the healing mercy of God revealed in Christ.

The Divine Pity

The Good Samaritan is none other than Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In Christian art through the centuries, the figure of the Good Samaritan is often depicted as the merciful Jesus. In the days of His flesh, as He journeyed in this world, Christ came to where we were (cf, Lk 10:33). And when He saw all of us, sinners, stripped, and beaten, and left for dead in a ditch, He had compassion (cf. Lk 10:33). The human Heart of God, the Sacred Heart, was moved. God, looking upon us through the eyes of His Christ, was moved to pity at the sight of our suffering.

Ite ad Ioseph

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Saturday of the Fourteenth Week of the Year I

Genesis 49:29-32; 50:15-24

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Jacob's Repose

The death of Jacob the Patriarch plunges his sons into grief. Joseph, in particular, is affected by his father’s death. “Joseph fell on his father’s face, and wept over him, and kissed him” (Gen 50:1). Jacob’s death becomes an occasion of national mourning. “And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days” (Gen 50:3).

Do Not Fear

Joseph’s brothers become unsettled and anxious. They fear that now with their father dead, Joseph will take retribution on them. They send Joseph a message asking for forgiveness. Joseph, whom we have seen weeping before, weeps again. The words that he speaks are among the most beautiful of the Pentateuch: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen 50:21).

The Two Josephs

The Patriarch Joseph emerges from this last page of the Bible’s first book as an icon of the unfailing and merciful providence of God. “Do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen 50:21). The Joseph of the Old Testament represents the same mystery as the Joseph of the New Testament. Those graced with a strong devotion to Saint Joseph know that he is a good provider, fulfilling in wonderful ways the promise of the first Joseph in Egypt.

Go to Joseph

Return for a moment to Chapter 41 of Genesis. “When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do” (Gen 41:55). A marvelous eighth mode antiphon for the liturgy of March 19th takes this very text and applies to the Joseph of the New Testament: Clamavit populus ad regem alimenta petens, quibus ille respondit: Ite ad Ioseph. You will find it in the Processionale Monasticum(page 148).

I Will Provide For You

Both Josephs are images of the Fatherhood of God, the Giver of our daily supersubstantial bread. Both Josephs send us to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, "the living Bread come down from heaven" (Jn 6:51). The words of the Patriarch Joseph become for us the words of the heavenly Father: “Do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen 50:21). The last page of Genesis sends us to the Most Holy Eucharist.

When God Asks Us to Change

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Rembrandt shows Jacob on his deathbed in Egypt, blessing the sons of Joseph. God was faithful to His promise. Joseph closed his father's eyes.

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Friday of the Fourteenth Week of the Year I

Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30
Psalm 36, 3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40
Matthew 10:16-23

God With Us in Change

In today’s lesson from Genesis God reassures Jacob, who is about to make an enormous change in his life. Who among us is not resistant to change? We cling to our little securities. We are possessive and territorial: quick to say “my” and “mine” where the saints were quick to say “thy” and “thine.” We require change of others but bristle when asked to change ourselves.

Salutary Change

Uprootings and detachments are never easy, but they are salutary. People who emigrate are obliged to leave many things behind. They are compelled to learn new ways of being, of relating, and of doing. More often than not they are obliged to learn a new language. God knows that for us change can be a frightening thing. This is why He intervened, calling Jacob by name “in visions of the night.” (Gen 46:2).

Night

In Sacred Scripture, the night evokes a number of things. It is the obscurity in which faith is put to the test. It is the darkness in which one learns to hope for the dawn. God speaks, more often than not, during the hours of the night. He covers His most luminous works with night’s darkling veil: the Exodus, the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist, and the resurrection. “If I say, ‘Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to Thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with Thee” (Ps 138:11-12).

God Hides and Speaks

The saints and mystics of every age learned, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to cherish the night. We see this in Saint Gregory Nazianzen, and in the author of The Cloud of Unknowing; we see it in Saint John of the Cross, in Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and in the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman. The same God who hides himself in the dark night of faith, visits us by night to comfort us and to speak His secrets to our hearts.

Mansit solus

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Genesis 32:23-33

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And He Withdrew From Them

The patriarch Jacob prefigures Our Lord at prayer in the Garden of Gethsemani. “How so?” you ask. When Jesus, as was His custom, went out to the Mount of Olives, his disciples followed Him. But, “when He came to the place He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation’” (Lk 22:39-40). And then, He separated Himself from those dearest to Him.

Jesus distanced Himself from the men whom He had chosen to be His own, and so entered the dark struggle alone. Saint Luke says, “And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed.

And Jacob Remained Alone

Jacob, for his part, sees to it that his two wives, his two maids, his eleven children and all his possessions are transported across the stream. He separates Himself from every earthly good and from all his attachments. The text goes on to say, “and Jacob remained alone” (Gen 32:24). Mansit solus.

Love of Solitude

First, the patriarch Jacob, and then, Our Lord Jesus Christ, exemplify for us the two conditions of true prayer: detachment from all things earthly, and solitude. A soul’s progress in Divine Intimacy is proportionate to her detachment and to her love of solitude. Mansit solus. “And he remained alone” (Gen 32:24).

Undivided Attention

Even the worthy celebration of the sacred liturgy requires these two things of us: detachment and solitude. Liturgical solitude is the nuptial aloneness of the Bride, that is, the whole assembly, with the Divine Bridegroom. It is the Church’s offering of undivided attention to Him Who is the Offerer and the Offering. Just before entering into the most sacred moment of the Holy Mysteries, the Byzantine Divine Liturgy has the faithful sing: “let us now lay aside all earthly cares. So that we may welcome the King of all invisibly escorted by Angelic hosts.” The Great Silence, that in the traditional Roman Missal envelops the entire Canon of the Mass, including the words of consecration, is another expression of the same dispositions of detachment and solitude.

Et ero custos tuus

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Genesis 28:10-22

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I Will Be Thy Keeper

For all who, like the patriarch Jacob, journey, and seek, and dream, there is a message of hope in today's First Reading:

I will be thy keeper whithersoever thou goest,
and will bring thee back into this land:
neither will I leave thee,
till I shall have accomplished all that I have said (Gen 28:15).

Because He Hoped in Me

The Responsorial Psalm — the very one sung nightly at Compline in monasteries the world over — reiterates the promises of God:

Because he hoped in me I will deliver him:
I will protect him because he hath known my name.
He shall cry to me, and I will hear him:
I am with him in tribulation,
I will deliver him, and I will glorify him.
I will fill him with length of days; and I will shew him my salvation (Ps 90:14-16).

House of God and Gate of Heaven

Seized by a strange awareness of the presence God, Jacob wakes from sleep and says:

"Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not."
And trembling he said: "How terrible is this place!
This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven" (Gen 28:16-17).

The Church sings these very words in her liturgy of Dedication. As the entrance procession crosses the threshold of the temple and advances toward the altar, Jacob's mystic utterance becomes the Church's chant of eucharistic amazement:

Terribilis est locus iste:
hic domus Dei est,
et porta caeli:
et vocabitur aula Dei.

It is significant that in the liturgical and mystical traditions of the Church Jacob's expressions of holy awe become titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, Our Lady is the House of God and the Gate of Heaven. Her virginal womb became, by virtue of the Incarnation, a fearful and wondrous place.

Eucharistic and Marian Amazement

He whom the whole world cannot contain enclosed himself within Mary, just as today He encloses Himself within the fragile body of His Church. He who today hides Himself in the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, first hid Himself, for our sakes, in Mary's womb. Eucharistic amazement is inseparable from a certain Marian amazement. Both find expression in the liturgy of the Church and in the poetry of her saints.

Abandonment

One's awareness of the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary grows in proportion to one's abandonment to the designs of God and to all the dispositions of His providence, however disconcerting these may appear to be at certain moments of life's journey. The act of consecrating or entrusting oneself to Mary is the shortest and surest way of abandoning oneself to all that God permits and ordains.

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Isaiah 66:10 – 14
Galatians 6:14 – 18
Luke 10:1 - 20

Joy and Thanksgiving

Today’s Holy Mass invites us to joy and to thanksgiving: an invitation that we need to hear again and again. In the Collect we asked for nothing less than “a holy gladness” in view of “joys that will never end.”

O God, who by the abasement of your Son
have lifted up a fallen world;
grant to your faithful a holy gladness,
so that having delivered us out of the servitude of sin,
you may give us to taste fully of joys that never end.

As the Word of God unfolded, it revealed the reasons for our joy, and quickened our thanksgiving.

Reasons for Our Joy

Joy, because the Mercy of God descends upon us here and now.
Joy, because God promises us a river of peace and an overflowing torrent of glory.
Joy, because God promises to comfort us as a mother caresses her little child.
Joy, because of the saving wood of the glorious Cross.
Joy, because Our Lord sends forth His own to heal the sick
and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is nigh.

A Quickening of Gratitude

It is joys such as these that cause thanksgiving to spring up. In a heart touched by divine joy there is no room for self-pity; there is, instead, a quickening of gratitude, a need to say to God, “I thank Thee, O God, with all my heart, for all that Thou hast permitted and ordained.”

Mercy From Above

The Introit — the very one we sing on February 2nd, the Presentation of the Lord — set the tone: “We have received Thy mercy, O God, in the midst of Thy temple. According to Thy name, O God, so also is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth: Thy right hand is full of justice” ({s 47:10-11). So often as we assemble in Christ, that is, in His Body, the new and abiding Temple of “adoration in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24), mercy descends from above. The mercy of God falls over us “like the precious ointment on the head, that ran down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, which ran down to the skirt of his garment: as the dew of Hermon, which descendeth upon Mount Sion.”

Envy, An Ugly Sin

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Thursday of the Twelfth Week of the Year I
Genesis 16:1-12, 15-16

The painting of Hagar in the wilderness is by Giovanni Lanfranco. It hangs in the Musée du Louvre. It depicts Hagar in Genesis 21:16-17. Wearily, she turns her head and, in disbelief, sees the compassion of God in the face of the angel sent to console her.

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Life is messy

One hardly knows whom to pity more in today’s First Reading: Sarai who is growing old in bitterness and sterility or Hagar who becomes the object of Sarai’s abuse. Caught in the middle is poor Abram. He wants to please Sarai and comfort her and, at the same time, surely felt something for Hagar, the mother of his child. Life is messy.

Envy

Sarai is eaten up by envy. Envy is one of the seven capital sins. It is a root sin that produces a number of poisonous offshoots. What is envy? It is sadness at the sight of another’s goods, opportunities, talents, or advantages. Envy itself may lurk below the surface but it comes out in sarcasm, in bitter comments, in nasty criticisms.

The Diabolical Sin

Saint Augustine saw envy as the diabolical sin. “From envy,” he says, “are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbour, and displeasure caused by prosperity.” How does one if one is harbouring envy in one’s heart? If when another person is praised or acknowledged you feel a twinge of displeasure, it is rooted in envy. If when another person is given opportunities for personal growth, education, or travel, you feel resentment, it is rooted in envy. If when another person shows the ability to do something well, you can resist the temptation to snipe and criticize, it is rooted in envy. Envy is an insidious sin. In community life it can be deadly, especially when it goes unconfessed and when there is no repentance for it.

Recognition, Repentance, and Confession

Priests with a long experience of hearing confessions will tell you that envy is a sin rarely confessed. Why? Surely not because no one commits the sin of envy! Envy is not confessed because it is not recognized. It is not confessed because there is no repentance for it. Saint John Chrysostom says that one committing the sin of envy is “engaged in making Christ’s body a corpse.” Surely, a frightening description of the sin!

Just Go Away

Sarai’s envy cause her to become so abusive that Hagar runs away. This is what the envious person really wants: that the other should just go away, disappear, get lost, drop dead. The Catechism says that envy can lead to the worst crimes. Sarai doesn’t kill Hagar in a bloody way; she eliminates her by making her life unbearable. There is no mention of Hagar taking her child with her. She is obliged to leave her baby behind. Hagar becomes a woman on the run, without a home and without security, like so many homeless abused women in the bus stations and shelters of every big city. Abram looks on helpless.

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Saturday After Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:9-14
Psalm 85:1-2ab, 2c-4, 5-6
Luke 5:27-32

The Voice of Mercy

While we are yet on the threshold of Lent, Mercy passes by, looks into our hearts, sees every bit of your story and of mine, and, astonishingly, says, “Follow me” (Lk 5:27). He wants us for himself. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:32).

Saint Augustine

We do well to attend to the traditional Lenten Stational Churches of Rome. We are, after all, Roman Catholics; our liturgy and our piety are shaped by the practices of the Church that is at Rome. The best peoples’ missals used to offer a map of the Eternal City marking the location of the Stational Churches so that, at least in spirit, Catholics the world over could follow the Christians of Rome in their Lenten progress. Every day in Lent offers us the opportunity to make a spiritual pilgrimage to the designated Stational Church. I speak of this because today’s church, that of Saint Augustine, is wonderfully suited to today’s gospel. The Confessions of Saint Augustine are confessions of the Mercy of God. “Though I am but dust and ashes,” says Augustine, “allow me to speak in your merciful presence, for it is to your Mercy that I address myself” (Confessions, Book I, 7).

Mercy on the Face of Christ

Our friends from the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation would tell us that the core of their commitment is in the event of an encounter with Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Today’s gospel relates exactly such an experience: the event of Levi’s encounter with Jesus. The richness of God’s Mercy is revealed in Jesus. We see the Mercy of God on His face. We hear the Mercy of God in His voice. We feel it in the touch of His hands. We experience it flowing from His heart. Christ, being the Mercy of God, is the Way to those who, confused and disoriented, have lost their way in life. Being the Mercy of God, He is the Truth to those who go stumbling in the darkness and knocking at all the wrong doors, hoping to find truth at home. Being the Mercy of God, He is the Life to those deceived by a culture of death.

And He Arose

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Monday of the Seventh Week of the Year I
Mark 9:14–29

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A Tormented Child

Today's Gospel recounts the deliverance of a boy tormented by an evil spirit from his infancy. "And oftentimes hath he cast him into the fire and into waters to destroy him. But if Thou canst do anything, help us, having compassion on us" (Mk 9:21). The Evil One throws the boy into extremes; this is characteristic of the devil's work. Whereas the action of the Holy Spirit is marked by a sweet discretion, by gentleness, and by moderation, the action of the Evil One is marked by exaggerations, by excesses of all sorts, by imprudent starts and by bitter endings. These are the things that cast the soul into discouragement and sadness.

Faith

How does one restore order and balance to a soul that has lost both? "And Jesus saith to him: If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mk 9:22). Our Lord asks for one thing only: a little faith. Here, faith means trust. Faith is not an intellectual assent to a metaphysical construct; it is the word or action by which one entrusts oneself (or another) to God. "And immediately the father of the boy crying out, with tears — the perfect definition of the prayer of supplication: a crying out with tears — said: I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief" (Mk 9:23). The father responded to the word of Our Lord by asking Him to place within his soul the dispositions of faith necessary for his son's deliverance. Not only does he ask for his son's healing; he asks that his own faith be made whole.

Struggle and Death

A terrifying struggle and a kind of death follow. And crying out and greatly tearing him, he went out of him, and he became as dead, so that many said: He is dead" (Mk 9:25). Struggle and apparent death are part of the healing process.

And He Arose

The narrative culminates in a spiritual resurrection. "But Jesus taking him by the hand, lifted him up; and he arose" (Mk 9:26). "And he arose" — how easy it is to pass over this little phrase that, in some way, is the key to all the rest. This is a true resurrection into newness of life. Henceforth, nothing will be the same in the young man's life, and nothing will be the same in the life of his father.

Prayer and Fasting

The disciples are puzzled by the Our Lord's boy's deliverance. They had attempted to deliver him and had failed. "And when He was come into the house, his disciples secretly asked Him: Why could we not cast him out? And He said to them: This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting" (Mk 9:28). Our Lord refers here to "The Soul of the Apostolate," to the hidden life, the source of all spiritual authority and fruitfulness.

In seeking the intercession of Saint Gabriel the Wonderworker during this novena, we, like the father in the Gospel are saying, "I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief" (Mk 9:23). To the prayer of supplication we do well to add some form of fasting — and there are many, many forms of fasting — taking care to practice moderation and discretion. Fasting, by engaging the body, becomes a physical investment in prayer. Fasting anchors prayer in the heart.

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Seventh Sunday of the Year C
1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
Psalm 102: 1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 15:45-49
Luke 6:27-38

The Ten Commandments of Mercy

I counted ten commandments of mercy in today’s Holy Gospel.

1. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Lk 6:27).
2. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Lk 6:28).
3. Give to everyone who asks of you (Lk 6:30).
4. Do to others as you would have them do to you (Lk 6:31).
5. Lend expecting nothing (Lk 6:35).
6. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Lk 6:36).
7. Judge not, and you will not be judged (Lk 6:37.
8. Condemn not, and you will not be condemned (Lk 6:37).
9. Forgive and you will be forgiven (Lk 6:37).
10. Give, and gifts will be given to you (Lk 6:38).

Who Are the Saints?

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Saturday of the Sixth Week of the Year I
Mark 9:2–13

Jesus Alone With His Friends

Who are the saints? The saints are those who allow themselves to be taken by Jesus “up a high mountain apart by themselves” (Mk 9:2). The saints are those who accept the invitation of the Master to go with him to a place of solitude and to remain with him there. The saints are those who, leaving behind what is familiar and reassuring, choose the company of Jesus alone — a wondrous and fearful thing — amazed that Jesus has chosen to be alone with them. “It is not you who seek my company,” he says, “it is who seek yours.”

Those to Whom God Speaks Face to Face

The saints are the blessed companions of Moses to whom “the Lord used to speak face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33:11). They are the friends of Elijah fed by an angel in the wilderness (1 K 19:5-7): Elijah to whom God spoke not in a great wind, nor in an earthquake, nor in fire, but in “a still small voice” (1 K 19:13).

Seekers of the Face of God

The saints are those in whom the prayer of David is a ceaseless murmur by day and by night: “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Ps 26:8-9). The saints are those before whom Jesus shows himself transfigured, “his garments glistening, intensely white” (Mk 9:3), his face “shining like the sun” (Mt 17:2) — and this as “in a mirror darkly” (1 Cor 13:12). The saints are those who, having caught a glimpse of “the fairest of the sons of men” (Ps 44:2) cannot detach their gaze from his face, those who live with their eyes fixed in his.

The Measure of Our Weakness

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Sixth Friday of the Year I
Mark 8:34-9:1

I just came from the altar, having celebrated the Votive Mass of the Most Precious Blood. This particular Votive Mass is profoundly significant here at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme where the the relics of Our Lord's Passion are preserved and venerated. The Wood of the Cross and the Thorns of the Crown were soaked in the Precious Blood of the Lamb. I remembered my dear friend Father Jeff Keyes, C.PP.S. who offered Holy Mass at this same altar just a few weeks ago.

Holding Fast to Christ

Our Lord calls any man who would come after Him to "deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him" (cf. Mk 8:34). If I love Christ I will choose always to remain with him, to abide close to him. “I found Him whom my soul loves. I held Him and would not let Him go” (Ct 3:4).

Our Lord's call to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him is not, first of all, a call to suffer. It is a call to be with Him, to “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (cf. Rev 14:4). The sequela Christi, the following after Christ is the expression of our desire to be with Him.

To the Father by the Way of the Cross

Today’s gospel presents us with dynamic images; there is movement. Attend to the verbs: “to come after Me,” says Jesus, and again, “follow Me.” If Jesus says, “follow Me,” it is because He is moving on. “I go to the Father” (Jn 14:28).

The Necessity of the Cross

The Christian life is movement. Why then, you may ask, cannot one simply leave the weight of the cross behind? Would that not make the movement forward easier? Why struggle beneath the weight of the cross if its burden slows our steps? If Our Lord says that we are to come after Him without leaving the cross behind, it is because the cross is somehow necessary. It was concerning this very point that the risen Jesus enlightened the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (Lk 24:26).

Why is the carrying of the cross necessary to us? Because the cross, by revealing our weakness, opens us to the grace of Christ. “My grace is sufficient for you,” said Christ to Paul; “for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). What does that mean if not that the power of Christ is made perfect in bearing the cross? Paul understood. “When I am weak,” he says, “then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). “When, beneath the burden of the cross I come to know my weakness and accept it, then I am strong.” Why did Our Lord choose to fall three times beneath the cross, if not to give us in His weakness a mirror of our own and a reason to hope?

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Blessed Marmion and the Way of the Cross

Blessed Abbot Marmion made the Way of the Cross faithfully every single day of the year with the sole exception of Easter Day. I never tire of returning to his meditations on the Way of the Cross in Christ in His Mysteries. A little known fact about Blessed Abbot Marmion is that he waged a life-long battle against depression. Robust in appearance and outwardly jovial, he was obliged to face his hidden weaknesses and accept them. What was the source of his hope? It was, I think, his daily encounter with the suffering Christ in the Way of the Cross.

The Cross: Our Only Hope

In less than six weeks we will be singing the Passiontide Vespers hymn that, in the second to the last verse, raises a mighty cry of triumph: O crux, ave, spes unica — “Hail, O Cross, our only hope!” Christ fills with His grace every weakness, every poverty, every brokenness revealed by our acceptance of the cross. The cross, especially when we stumble and fall beneath its weight, allows us to take the measure of our weakness and so, reveals the immeasurable measure of Christ’s all-sufficient grace.

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The Mother of Sorrows

There is something else too, or rather someone else. There is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the compassionate Mother of Sorrows. She is ever present on the via crucis, never far from one who falls once, three, or one hundred times beneath the cross, for in each one she recognizes her Son. All of the saints devoted to the Passion of Christ encountered the Mother of God on the via crucis. They chose to remain in spirit by her side all the way to Calvary, standing with her at foot of the cross, suffering with her as she received the body of her Jesus in death, weeping with her at the tomb. The tears of the Sorrowful Mother, mingling with the Precious Blood of Christ, fall into the hearts of her children. The Virgin Mary’s tears are seeds of hope sown in a fertile soil to bear fruit for the whole Church.

Grace Measured to Every Weakness

The first sign of a faith made fruitful by love is adhesion to the cross. In holding out the cross, Christ offers grace measured to every weakness and, in that, He offers each of us a hope that will not disappoint.

The Joy of All Our Days

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A Feast in Europe

In all of Europe today is the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, co–patrons of Europe with Saint Benedict, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Birgitta of Sweden, and Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

The Ascension of the Lord

The Gospel given us today is Saint Mark's account of the Ascension of the Lord (Mk 16:15–20). This particular pericope is constructed like a triptych. The central panel is the radiant image of the ascended Lord Jesus, the King of Glory, seated at the right hand of the Father. "So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God" (Mk 16:19).

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O Jesus, our redemption,
our love, and our desire,
God, Creator of all things,
become Man in the fullness of time.

What tender love, what pity
compelled you to bear our crimes,
to suffer a cruel death
that we, from death, might be saved?

You descended into death’s dark cavern,
and from it, brought forth captives free;
Your triumph won, you take your place,
you, the Victor, at the Father’s right.

It was a tender love, a costly compassion
that pressed you our sorrows to bear;
granting pardon, you raised us up
to fill us full with the splendour of your face.

You are already the joy of all our days,
who in eternity will be our prize;
let all our glory be in you,
forever, and always, and in the age to come.

(Iesu nostra redemptio, Hymn at Vespers of the Ascension)

The Things That Are Above

It is in the light of the glorious mystery of the Ascension, recapitulating the whole work of redemption, that Saint Paul writes: "Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:1–3). This, it seems to me, is the message that contemporary Europe and the whole Western world need to hear.

Go Into the World

The first panel in Saint Mark's triptych depicts Our Lord's command to "go into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15). Baptism is the necessary response to the prevenient gift of faith. Those who, having heard the preaching of the Gospel, refuse to put their belief in Christ, will be condemned by their own hardness of heart. The preaching of the Gospel is made compelling by the signs that accompany it. "And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mk 16:17–18).

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Preaching Everywhere

The third panel of the Gospel triptych shows the Church's obedience to the command of the Lord. Saints Cyril and Methodius are, in fact, examples of the last verse of the Gospel: "And they went forth and preached every where, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen" (Mk 16:19–20). Saint Mark's phrase, "and the Lord worked with them," corresponds to Saint Matthew's expression of the same mystery: "Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20).

The Soul of the Apostolate

The preaching of the Gospel is sustained by the contemplation of the risen and ascended Christ hidden for our sake in the sacred mysteries until His return in glory. Those who seek His Face and His Heart hidden in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist will not be disappointed in their hope. The central panel of today's Gospel reveals what Dom Chautard called "the soul of the apostolate." Without seeking the Face of Christ and exposing ourselves to the flames that emanate from His Sacred Heart, it is impossible to hear the commands of the Lord, and impossible to carry them out.

Reading the Signs

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Tuesday of the Sixth Week of the Year I
Mark 8:14–21

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Unintelligence

My French Bible subtitles today’s passage from Saint Mark: “The Unintelligence of the Disciples.” This does not suggest that the disciples were feebleminded; it means, rather, that they were incapable of reading the signs given by Jesus. The word “intelligent” derives from legere, to read, and intus within or inside. The disciples witnessed the multiplication of the loaves in a desert place. They saw Our Lord feed four thousand men and, with their own hands, distributed the miraculous bread to the people. They counted seven baskets left over. And still, the meaning of the sign escaped them. They were unintelligent: incapable of reading inside the meaning of the event.

Except for One Bread Only

We saw yesterday that the Pharisees, blind to the meaning of the multiplication of the loaves, asked Jesus for a sign from heaven. He sighed from the depths of his heart and left them. Today, we see Our Lord in the boat with his disciples. Listen carefully to what Saint Mark says, following the Greek and Latin texts closely: “Now they had forgotten to bring breads; and except for one bread only, they had none with them in the boat” (Mk 8:14).

The Bread of Life

By translating the second “bread” in the sentence as “loaf,” the American lectionary misses the point entirely. Both the Greek text and the Latin typical edition of the lectionary use the same word twice. “They had forgotten to bring bread (plural); and except for one bread only, they had none with them in the boat” (Mk 8:14). The “one bread” with the disciples in the boat is none other than Jesus himself. “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35). “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6:51). This is the unintelligence of the disciples: the one Bread necessary, the Bread of Life, is in the boat with them, and they fail to recognize him.

Sin Couching at the Door

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Monday of the Sixth Week of the Year I
Genesis 4:1–15, 25

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Cain's Fallen Countenance

The Sacred Liturgy sends us today to Chapter 4 of the book of Genesis: it recounts the first enmity, the first hostility between brothers. “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell” (Gen 4:3-4). There you have the first indications of enmity: anger and the fallen countenance. The bile of enmity secreted in the heart makes for a bitter face.

The Beast at the Door

God himself intervenes to save Cain from further sin. “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it’” (Gen 4:6-7). The whole psychology of sin is contained in these two verses. God reads the anger in Cain’s heart on his face and immediately offers him a way out of it. It is not too late for Cain to “do well.” God warns Cain of the sin that, like a wild beast, is couching at his door. Sin wants to devour Cain, but God tells him that he must “master it.” The taming of the beast! Master the beast of anger lest it overcome you and eat your heart!

Beatitude: The Bliss of Blessedness

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Lourdes is the spiritual capital of the poor, the hungry, and of those who weep. The coincidence of today's Gospel with the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes invites us, rosary in hand, to make a spiritual pilgrimage to the grotto of Massabielle.

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Sixth Sunday of the Year C
Jeremiah 17:5-8
Psalm 1:1-4. 6 R. Ps 39:5
1 Corinthians 15:12. 16-20
Luke 6:17. 20-26

Beatitude

Blessedness, beatitude: words that are rarely part of our every day conversations. And yet who among us does not long for blessedness, for the happy life. There is no one who is not inhabited by a thirst for happiness, for beatitude. We come into the world with an immense emptiness inside: a capacity for the divine. What is blessedness? It is the possession of God. Nothing more and nothing less than the possession of God. The psalmist says: “To be near God is my happiness. . . God is my possession forever” (Ps 72: 28,26).

The Certainty of Being Loved

What is beatitude? During this life it is the certainty that we are loved by God, enfolded in God, held in the Heart of Christ: a certainty that comes not from sight but from faith. After this life, faith will dissolve into vision. Then we shall see with our own eyes the Love that enfolds us, the glory of the One who hides us in the secret of His Face. This is the meaning of blessedness.

The Happy Life

Beatitude is not something which God holds in reserve for the future. Beatitude is for today. Blessedness, the happy life intended by God for each of us, is for this very moment. God does not fill us with the longing for blessedness in order to frustrate us. He who gives the thirst, gives the spring. He who gives the hunger, gives the bread. He who gives the desire, gives the possession of that which is desired.

Exiles From Ourselves

Why then are so many dying of spiritual thirst? Why are so many tormented by the pangs of hunger of the soul? Why are so many embittered and unfulfilled? It is because we have lost the way to our own hearts. We are all, in varying degrees, alienated from the deepest part of ourselves. Saint Augustine experienced this. “You were with me,” he says, “and I was not with you” (Confessions X, 38). We are all exiles from the secret place within where a fountain of living water runs silent and deep. God planted each of us like a tree beside the flowing waters (Ps 1:3). Yet strangely, our roots have grown away from the source of life. Foreign, parasitical growths have entwined themselves around our roots, rendering our leaves dull and brittle, our fruit, bitter and sparse.

Tragic Delusions

The real problem is not that we experience inner poverty, not that we are consumed with spiritual thirst, not that we long for something more, weep over the shallowness of our roots, and lament that we are indeed exiles from our inmost selves. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that it is far worse to delude ourselves into believing that we are rich and satisfied. “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Lk 6:24).

The Way to the Heart

It is far worse to think that professional success, for example, can silence the cravings of the heart. Nor is it enough to be young and rich and beautiful. “Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger” (Lk 6:25). It is far worse to think that all is well and that we are in the best of all possible worlds because when all is said and done, we seek the right things, try to get along, and toe the line. Holiness is something more. Jesus says to us, “Woe to you!” And He asks the question: “Do you know the way to your own heart?”

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Where Dragons Lurk

More often than not, the path to the deepest part of ourselves, the way to the hidden valley of the heart where the water of life murmurs its secret song, is overgrown with briars and weeds, strewn with fallen trees and blocked with rocks and rubble. There are dragons waiting to devour us, and monsters lurking in ambush. Now and again we begin the descent into the heart, but quickly become discouraged at the sight of the obstacles which stand in our way, or frightened by the dragons, or terrorized by the monsters. It is more convenient, more comfortable to live at the surface.

Signposts in the Form of the Cross

Woe to us if we live at the surface! Woe to us if we choose the convenient! Woe to us if we prefer the comfortable way! It is a great mercy, a severe tenderness of God, when He obliges us to turn back, when He compels us to seek out the way that leads to blessedness, the path to our own hearts. Poverty will do it. Hunger will do it. Failure will do it. Illness will do it. Rejection and exclusion will do it. Loneliness and loss will do it. Sorrow and tears will do it. Disappointment and pain will do it. Hurt and betrayal will do it. All of these are signposts constructed in the form of the Cross that say: “This way to blessedness.” And if all of these do not convince us to return to ourselves, then death itself will do it, because in the hour of death we will be obliged to descend into the depths of our own hearts and see ourselves as we really are.

Da nobis quaesumus

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Friday of the Fifth Week
of the Year I
Mark 7:31–37

Mediators and Intercessors

"And they brought to Him one deaf and dumb; and they besought Him that He would lay His hand upon him" (Mk 7:32). I am struck by the role of "the others" in today's Gospel: those who brought the man who was deaf and dumb to Jesus. They are mediators and intercessors. "And they besought Him that He would lay His hand upon him."

Beseeching

It is urgent that we recover the language of beseeching both in our liturgical and in our solitary prayer. The hapless translations of the liturgy to which we have been subjected for at least thirty–five years systematically eliminated the language of beseeching. The distinctive da nobis quaesumus of the Roman Rite disappeared from liturgical prayer not only in English but in other vernaculars as well.

To Hear and to Speak

The man in today's Gospel has, in fact, lost the ability to hear and to speak: to hear the Word of God and to speak the praises of God. Is this not the essential structure of the sacred liturgy? The Word of God heard; the Word of God repeated; the Word of God become praise, thanksgiving, and supplication in the mouth of the hearer; the Word of God held in the heart.

Touched By Christ

Both hearing and speaking are restored by the physical touch of Christ, that is, by contact with His vivifying Flesh. The hand of Jesus is the hand of God. the touch of Jesus is the touch of God. Every contact with Jesus is contact with God. I hold in my heart all that Blessed Abbot Marmion wrote concerning this in his classics, Christ in His Mysteries and Christ, the Life of the Soul.

A Place Apart

"And taking him from the multitude apart" (Mk 7:33). Our Lord does this not only because He wants to act quietly and without attracting attention, but also because He desires to grace this man with a moment of divine intimacy that will remain forever within his heart. There are certain healings which can take place only in solitude, in a place apart. By this I do not mean that Our Lord acts apart from His Body, the Church, nor that sacramental and, when God so wills, even charismatic mediations, such as the intercession of the saints, are not necessary. I do mean that what happens in solitary communion with Our Lord is the fruit of the intercession — beseeching — of the Church, flowing from the sacraments and leading back to them.

Eucharistic Healing

For us, healing contact with the Flesh of the Word is realized sacramentally not by means of saliva from the mouth of Christ nor by means of His finger in our ears, but by the ineffable gift of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood in the Eucharist. The liturgy itself, and the prayer before Holy Communion attributed to Saint Thomas Aquinas ascribe to the Holy Mysteries the divine virtus (power) by which we are healed of our infirmities and restored to the wholeness willed for us by God for His glory.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

"And looking up to heaven, He groaned, and said to him: Ephpheta, which is 'Be thou opened'" (Mk 7:34). Our Lord's "looking up to heaven" is the expression of His filial and priestly prayer to the Father; His "groaning" is the expression of the Holy Spirit. This one verse is a mysterious epiphany of the Trinity.

O Lord, Open Thou My Lips

"And immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right" (Mk 7:35). To speak right! Is this not why the Church makes us begin every day with the verse, "O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise? Is this not why the rubrics place this verse before the articulation of any other prayer? He who "speaks right" has entered into "all the truth" (Jn 16:12). He who "speaks right" has entered into the prayer of Christ to the Father. He who "speaks right" has received "the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father" (Jn 15:26). For this — for ourselves and for one another — let us beseech the Lord.

Eight Days Would Be Enough

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The Saints in Our Lives

The saints come into our lives, each one with a particular mission. We do not choose the saints to whom we are devoted in a special way; it is they who, in obedience to a mysterious design of God, make themselves known and devote themselves to us. This is something I have experienced over and over again. When a particular saint offers me the gift of his or her friendship, it is because God chooses, through this saint, to teach me something, to offer me a particular gift or, quite simply, to give me a heavenly companion for my journey, a counselor, and a friend.

Saint Peter Julian Eymard, Apostle of the Eucharist

Last December I was given a first class relic of Saint Peter Julian Eymard. Then, several trips to the Italian Consulate in Manhattan gave me the opportunity to pray in the magnificent Church of Saint Jean–Baptiste. The Church contains an altar dedicated to Saint Peter Julian and an important relic. Saint Peter Julian Eymard seemed to be approaching me with a message and with a gift.

I just finished reading two biographies of the saint; both books are in Italian. I found them here in the abbey library. San Pietro Giuliano Eymard, Apostolo dell'Eucaristia by Quirino Moraschini and Mondolfo Pedrinazzi, S.S.S. (Roma 1962), and Il Beato Pietro Giuliano Eymard by Paolo Dott. Fossati, Sacerdote Adoratore (Milano 1925).

What I found most striking is this particular teaching of Saint Peter Julian Eymard. Excuse my translation from the Italian, itself a translation from the French.

"The secret for arriving quickly at a life centred in the Eucharist is, during a certain period of time, to make Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament the habitual object of the exercise of the presence of God, the dominant motive of our intentions, the meditation of our spirit, the affection of our heart, the object of all our virtues. And if the soul is generous enough, one will come at length to this unity of action, to familiarity with the adorable Sacrament, to think of it with as much and even greater ease than of any other object. Easily and gently one's heart will produce the most tender affections. In a word, the Most Holy Sacrament will become the magnet of devotion in one's life and the centre of perfection of one's love. Eight days would be enough for a simple and fervent soul to acquire this Eucharistic spirit; and even if one should have to put weeks and months to acquire it, can this ever be compared with the peace and the happiness which this soul will enjoy in the Divine Eucharist?"

A Eucharistic "Conversion of Manners"

What exactly is Saint Peter Julian Eymard saying here? To use the classic Benedictine expression, he is talking about a conversatio morum, a Eucharistic conversion of the way one lives, a turning toward the mystery of the Eucharist. the first expression of this Eucharistic conversion will be the re–ordering of one's priorities beginning with the organization of one's day. He is suggesting an intensive eight–day exposure to the healing radiance of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Power Comes Forth From Him

I have always loved the Communion Antiphon Multitudo languentium (p. 471 in the Graduale Romanum). The theological and musical summit of the antiphon is in the last line: Quia virtus de illo exibat et sanabat omnes. "For power came forth from Him and healed them all" (Lk 6:19). The fact that the liturgy makes us sing this text during Holy Communion tells us that healing power radiates from the Body and Blood of Christ received from the altar, and contemplated and adored in the tabernacle and in the monstrance. Saint Peter Julian Eymard is suggesting that eight days of conversion, i.e. of turning toward the Most Holy Eucharist is sufficient to begin the healing of one's heart and the renewal of one's life.

Bringing the Messy Bits to Adoration

My friend Lisa H. is famous for counseling folks with problems of all sorts to bring them to Eucharistic adoration. Lisa is 100% right. Bring your whole life to adoration, especially the messy bits, the very parts that you would be tempted to hide or disown. Bring your broken heart and your wounds to adoration. Try it for eight days. It will be the beginning of a Eucharistic conversatio morum.

The Human Face of Divine Mercy

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The painting (1488) is by Bartolomeo di Giovanni and was commissioned for the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence. The six-sided altar at the centre of the composition points to the Sixth Day Sacrifice of the Cross. There is fire burning on the altar, a sign of the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Virgin Mary's gesture indicates that she is offering the Infant Christ and participating in His sacrifice. Simeon's gesture is one of acceptance; he is an image of the Eternal Father. Saint Joseph holds the turtle doves in his cloak; Joseph was chosen by God to veil the mystery. Anna, entering the painting at the extreme left, holds the lighted candle of her faith and hope as she witnesses the arrival in the temple of the long–awaited Priest and Victim, the Consolation of Israel.

The Face of a Little Child

In today’s splendid Entrance Antiphon we sing that we have received Mercy “in the midst of the temple” (Ps 47:10). At the heart of today’s mystery shines the face of a little Child, the human face of Divine Mercy. The four other figures in today’s Gospel — Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna — are held in His gaze. In his letter for Lent 2006, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the gaze of Jesus. “The gaze of Jesus,” he said, “embraces individuals and multitudes, and he brings them all before the Father, offering himself as a sacrifice of expiation.”

Today we meet the gaze of the Infant Christ, “made like his brethren in every respect” (Heb 2:17) and, looking into his eyes, we see that he is already our “merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17).

The Presentation of Christ Our Priest

Today in the midst of the temple the Father presents his Christ, our Priest, to us; today the Father presents us to Christ our Priest. Of ourselves we have nothing to present; we can but receive him and allow ourselves to become offering in his hands. “We have received your Mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple” (Ps 47:10). It is the Infant Christ, presented to us as our Priest, who in turn presents us to the Father. It is fitting that the symbol of the Infant Christ should be the living flame that crowns our candles. This Child has a Heart of fire, and so the prophet says, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire . . . and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord” (Mal 3:2-3).

The Infant Priest and Victim

Today’s observance of the World Day for Consecrated Life must not be allowed to degenerate into a celebration of ourselves. Consider the images that the liturgy sets before us: a flame that burns, consuming the wax that holds it aloft; a Child with the all-embracing gaze of the “Ancient of Days” (Dn 7:13); an Infant who is already priest and victim.

Identification with Christ the Victim

One consecrated is a taper offered to the consuming flame of love. One consecrated has eyes only for the gaze that reveals a Heart that is all fire. One consecrated is presented and handed over to Christ the Priest. One consecrated is inescapably destined for the altar of sacrifice, for identification with Christ the Victim. Consecrated life cannot be anything less than this, nor can it be anything more. This is why the Apostle says, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).

The Woman Wrapped in Silence

Each of the four figures surrounding the Infant Christ in the temple is an icon of consecrated life, beginning with his all-holy Virgin Mother. How does today’s Gospel present her? She is a woman wrapped in silence. Even when addressed by Simeon, she remains silent. Her silence is an intensity of listening. She is silent so as to take in Simeon’s song of praise, silent so as to capture his mysterious prophecy of soul-piercing sorrow and hold it in her heart. She is silent because today her eyes say everything, eyes fixed on the face of the Infant Christ, eyes illumined by the brightness of his gaze.

Wordlessly Mary offers herself to the living flame of love. She is the bride of the Canticle of whom it is said, “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil” (Ct 4:1). Consecrated life in all its forms, and monastic life in particular, begins in the silence of Mary that, already in the temple, consents to the sacrifice of her Lamb and to the place that will be hers beside the altar of the Cross.

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Malachy 3:1-4
Psalm 23: 7, 8, 9, 10
Hebrews 2: 14-18
Luke 2: 22-40

Susception Day

“We receive, O God, your mercy, in the midst of your temple” (Ps 47:10). This is the word from Psalm 47 that the liturgy places on our lips and in our hearts today. In the Middle Ages today’s feast was sometimes called Susception Day, from “suscepimus,” the first word of the entrance antiphon. Often translated as, “we receive,” or “we accept,” “suscepimus” has yet another meaning. This other meaning, while crucial to understanding the mystery we celebrate today, is often overlooked. “Suscipere” means to take up a new born child, and so acknowledge it. In ancient Rome a father acknowledged a child as belonging to him by taking the little one into his arms in the presence of witnesses. Knowing this, the entrance antiphon becomes transparent for us, illumined as it is by the word of the Gospel: “Simeon took him into his arms” (Lk 2:28). “We take up into our arms, O God, your Mercy, in the midst of your temple.”

To Cradle Mercy in Our Arms

The one thing that everyone finds irresistible is to hold a baby, even if only for a few moments. Elders are transformed by it. Boys suddenly become tender and girls motherly. Even little children vie for the privilege of holding the newest arrival. As the little one is passed from one person to the next, faces grow bright with awe and delight. A little child has the power to light up a room. The little child we celebrate today has the power to light up the world: “A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Lk 2:32). The entrance antiphon names the Child “Mercy.” Today, it is given us to cradle Mercy in our arms.

Guided by the Infant

An antiphon from today’s Office sings that, “the ancient carried the Infant, but the Infant guided the steps of the ancient.” Simeon, the image of all that in us has grown old with waiting, carries Mercy in his arms, but Mercy, by the light that shines on his face, guides the old man’s steps. If we would be guided by Mercy, we must first receive Mercy, the Mercy of God that comes to us in the outstretched arms of a little Child seeking to be held.

In the Middle of the Temple

The entrance antiphon says that Mercy is given us “in medio templi” — in the middle of the temple. This places the Infant Christ, the human Face of Divine Mercy at the heart of today’s mystery. As in the icon of today’s feast, all of the other figures in the Gospel are seen in relation to the Child. All of the other figures are seen, in fact, in the light of his face. “What can bring us happiness?” they ask. “Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord” (Ps 4:7). “Look towards him,” they say one to another, “and be radiant” (Ps 33:6). Christ is placed in our arms today that we might gaze upon the human face of Divine Mercy and, in the light of that face, be transformed.

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It will soon be possible to obtain magnificent reproductions of the icon of the Virgin Mother, Adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Christ. This icon, inspired by the teachings of Pope John Paul II during the Year of the Eucharist, was blessed last June on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. I will be carrying the original with me to Rome on Wednesday.

The Presence of Mary

For the Church, all the days between Christmas and Epiphany are one continuous celebration: the festival of the Advent of God among us. Through it all, there is a mysterious presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a nearness of the Mother, a pervasive tenderness. In today’s Gospel, the Virgin Mother is all silence, but her silence is — to borrow an image from the Gospel of Saint John — like a fragrance filling the house (cf. Jn 12:3). “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).

On today’s Solemnity of the Mother of God, the Holy Spirit gifts the Church with a renewed consciousness of the presence of Mary. It is as if the Church, surprised by the nearness of the Mother of God on the threshold of the New Year and graced with a new awareness of just how close Mary always is, wants and needs today to acknowledge her unfailing presence. The Virgin Mother’s nearness to the Church is like her breath, warm on the face of the sleeping Infant Christ.

The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins compared this presence of the Blessed Virgin to the air we breathe:

This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—

Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

Adoro Te Devote, Latens Deitas

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Caesar van Everdingen painted this magnificent Holy Family in 1660. Saint Joseph, with the open book of the Scriptures on his lap, appears absorbed by the immensity of the mystery entrusted to him. If you look closely you will see that he holds his reading glasses in his right hand. This Joseph is in the prime of life; he is manly and strong. The Virgin Mother and the Infant Christ gaze straight ahead at us.

The Living Bread Entrusted to Saint Joseph

The feast of the Holy Family invites us to confess a God who comes close, a God who comes down, a God who disappears into what is human to reveal therein what is divine, a God who assumes all that is human to confer what is divine. All the shadows and figures of the Old Testament converge in Christ the Sacrament of God, the Child of the Virgin Mary, born in Bethlehem. the “House of Bread,” and entrusted to Joseph.

Joseph Most Obedient

Look closely at the obedience of Saint Joseph, his obedience in the dark night of faith. Joseph’s obedience allows the whole mystery of Israel — the going down into Egypt and the back up — to be revealed and completed in Christ. In some way the “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19) of the Last Supper is made possible by Joseph’s obedience to the commandments delivered to him in the night.

Twice Saint Joseph obeys the word of the angel who visits him by night. Twice Saint Matthew uses the very same formula to evoke the obedience of Saint Joseph: “And Joseph rose and too the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Mt 2:14); and again, “And he rose and took the child and his mother and went into the land of Israel” (Mt 2:21).

Where is the source of Saint Joseph’s obedience? Is it in the word of the Angel? The Angel appears in a dream. Is anything more fleeting than a dream? If we remember our dreams at all in the morning, we do so in a vague and hazy way. Rarely do we find in our dreams the strength to make great changes in our lives. Dreams may sow suggestions in the imagination; rarely do we translate them into action, especially when they ask of us what Saint Benedict calls “things that are hard and repugnant to nature in the way to God” (RB 58:8).

The Viaticum of Saint Joseph

Saint Joseph finds the strength to obey in the Infant Christ, his Viaticum. He finds it in the presence of “the living bread which came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). He gazes upon the Child held against the breast of the Virgin, and from that contemplation draws the strength and the courage to pass from dreams to action — to obey. The Infant Christ was the Viaticum of Saint Joseph: his food for the journey.

Et cum hominibus conversatus est

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Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Year C
Sunday Within the Octave of Christmas

1 Samuel 1:20-22. 24-28
Psalm 83
1 John 3:1-2. 21-24
Luke 2:41-52

The Hearts of Grandmothers

The life of families, like that of the Church, is, more often than not, carried in the arms of women and held against their hearts. In Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, during the years of Soviet Communist repression, faith and family were held together by a silent but formidable army of church-going little grandmothers, poor women content to pour out their hearts for their husbands, their children, and their grandchildren, weeping and groaning before the holy icons in their temples.

Hannah’s Oblation

Holy Hannah in today’s first reading is the prototype of all the women who weep and pray in the temples of the world, saving it from annihilation. Hannah is familiar to us; we sing her canticle at Lauds in the Divine Office. Humiliated by her childlessness, the dreaded curse of all women in the Old Testament, Hannah went on pilgrimage to Shiloh. There, “deeply distressed,” she prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly and loudly, disturbing even the priest Eli (1 Sam 1:10-18). God heard her plea and, counting her tears, gave her a son, Samuel. Hannah vowed to give back to God the child received from God “that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and abide there forever” (1 Sam 1:22). And so it is, that Samuel, God’s gift to Hannah, becomes Hannah’s offering to God. “I have made him over to the Lord," she declares, "for as long as he lives” (1 Sam 1:28).

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Samuel

Little Samuel, “appearing in the presence of the Lord and abiding there forever” (1 Sam 1:22) is a figure of Christ who ministers “in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord” (Heb 8:2). Hannah is a figure of the Virgin Mother Mary, a figure of the Church, a figure of every one who, with faith and hope, sheds bitter tears in the presence of the Lord.

Praise

The Responsorial Psalm emphasizes that praise is the outstanding characteristic of those who dwell in the house of the Lord. “Blessed are they who dwell in your house! Continually they praise you” (Ps 83:4). This is true of the house of Nazareth in which the Praise of the Father dwelt in the flesh. It is true of the Church. It is also true of the monastery in which Christ dwells. Uninterrupted praise is a sign of the abiding presence of Christ in our midst. If praise is to flourish among us we cannot go around locked in introspection, moaning over ourselves and grumbling about others; we have to seek Christ in the eyes of those whom God has given us to love. Every human relationship, every friendship, every situation of life together, is potentially sacramental, that is, charged with grace, and where grace abounds, praise flourishes irrepressible.

The Household of God

In the Second Lesson, Saint John tells us that the Father has given us His love; we are His children (1 Jn 3:1), the cherished members of His household, the family of God. Saint Benedict sets up the monastery as the household of God; the perfection of life together in the monastery is liberation from fear. We don’t always get that piece of the Benedictine paradigm quite right. Fear causes one to lie or at least to dissimulate what one is really thinking. Fear is at the root of the scheming and whispering, the possesiveness and unwillingness to change that so often poison life together. In monastic communities, as in marriages and friendships, fear is the silent killer. Saint Benedict is clear: if we persevere in climbing the ladder of humility in the context of life together, we will arrive, through the Holy Spirit, at “the love of God which, being perfect, drives out all fear” (RB 7:67-68).

Anna of the Face of God

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December 30
Sixth Day of the Octave of Christmas

1 John 2:12-17
Luke 2:36-40

Holy Anna

The sacred liturgy treats the holy prophetess Anna, daughter of Phanuel, with a particular sympathy. It is worthy of note that the Lectionary separates the account of her meeting with the Holy Family from that of Simeon, by whom she is often overshadowed. Holy Anna, in her own right, is deserving of more than just a passing consideration. December 30th is her day.

Miriam

Saint Luke introduces the prophetess Anna as the worthy representative of all the prophetesses of the Old Testament. First among these is Myriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. After the crossing of the Red Sea and the spectacular defeat of the Egyptians by the mighty hand of God, Myriam, “the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea’” (Ex 15:20-21). Miriam’s ecstatic singing and dancing roused the Israelites to the heights of an impassioned devotion; thus did she bear witness to the immanence of the Spirit of God.

Deborah

In the Book of Judges we encounter Deborah, prophetess, judge, and “mother in Israel” (Judg 5:7). “She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel, in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came to her for judgment” (Judg 4:4-5). In many ways, Deborah, the heroine of Israel, bears a resemblance to Joan of Arc. When Deborah directs Barak to go to war against Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, Barak replies, “If you go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (Judg 4:8). Sisera is put to death at the hands of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. Deborah, learning of the demise of the enemy, intones, together with Barak, a rather blood-curdling hymn of victory.

Deus noster in terris visus est

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December 29
The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

1 John 2:3-11
Luke 2:22-35

Victim, Priest, and Temple

The very first sentence of today’s holy gospel evokes a profound sense of the sacred. “When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” (Lk 2:22). The verb to present is part of the ritual vocabulary of the Temple. It denotes a liturgical action, a priestly function. Concerning the Jewish priest, we read in the book of Deuteronomy that “the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes, to present himself and minister before the Lord” (Dt 18:5). The same verb is used to designate the offering, the presentation of the victim made over to God. Saint Paul, for example, writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). Christ comes to the Temple as both victim and priest and, by His coming, He fulfills that word of the prophet Malachi so gloriously interpreted by Handel in The Messiah: “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple” (Mal 3:1).

The Four Righteous Elders

Simeon, coming upon the scene, reveals the hidden meaning of this presentation just as, in every sacrament and liturgical rite, the Word discloses the meaning of the sacred action. Simeon is one of four elders who, in the bright iconography of Saint Luke’s infancy narrative, surround the Infant Christ. Elizabeth, Zachary, Simeon, and Anna — all four, righteous and devout — are the venerable and last representatives of the old covenant. In their person, as Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in his well-known Eucharistic hymn, “the former, ancient rites give way to the new.”

The Consoler

Saint Luke describes Simeon as “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). Consolation is the meaning of the name of Noah, the first saviour of the human race at the time of the flood. At the birth of Noah, Lamech, his father, prophesied, saying, “This one shall console us in our sorrows and in the toil of our hands” (Gen 5:29). Noah, the consoler and saviour, is a type, a figure of Christ. The true Consoler, the true Saviour is God himself, even as He spoke through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah: “I, I am He that comforts you” (Is 51:12).

To Treasure the Infant Christ

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December 28
Feast of the Holy Innocents

1 John 1:5-2:2
Matthew 2:13-18

The Child in Egypt

The name Egypt occurs three times in today’s gospel. “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt” (Mt 2:13). “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Mt 2:14). And finally, Saint Matthew cites the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Mt 2:15; Hos 11:1). As with so many proper names of persons and places in Sacred Scripture, Egypt enfolds and discloses a deeper mystery.

Egypt is a name and a place charged with ambivalence. On the one hand, it is the land of abundance, a refuge in time of famine (Gen 12:10; 42:1-3), a safe place for the political refugee (1 K 11:40; Jr 26:21). On the other hand, Egypt symbolizes the servitude and genocide out of which the Lord delivered his people. Hear the words of the Lord, speaking to Moses out of the burning bush: “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:7-8).

The descent of the Infant Christ into Egypt and his return is a fundamental points of correspondence between the Old Testament and the New. The Infant Christ is the new Joseph in Egypt. In Christ, the words spoken concerning Joseph are fulfilled: “The Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had, in house and field” (Gen 39:5). Like the innocent Joseph, the innocent Christ is a guest in Egypt, receiving Egyptian hospitality, finding in Egypt a place of safety, a refuge from the murderous threats born of jealousy.

The Blood of Jesus

Christ is the new Moses and Christ is the Paschal Lamb in Egypt slain. His blood marks the souls of the faithful as once the blood of the immolated lamb marked the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the Jews in Egypt (cf. Ex 12:7). This is the very blood of which Saint John speaks in today’s first reading, saying, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).

The Gospel of the Father

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I like this painting by the Dominican Fra Bartolomeo (1473–1517), a disciple of Savonarola, because it shows our Holy Father Saint Bernard together with Saint John the Evangelist and our Holy Father Saint Benedict. The Virgin Mother is looking at the Bambino Gesù while the Bambino looks at Saint Bernard. An angel holds the open book of the Scriptures before Bernard, but Bernard is not reading the text. His eyes are raised to contemplate the Infant Christ. Bernard has passed from the written word to the Word made flesh. Saint John the Evangelist, pointing to his heart, looks on; he recognizes that Bernard is of his spiritual family. Saint Benedict, full of gravity and peace, remains in the background with his hands crossed over his breast, an expression of humility.

December 27
Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

1 John 1:1-4
Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12
John 20:2-8

A Liturgical Theology of the Trinity

On Christmas Day, our eyes were fixed on the Light, the Word made flesh, the Son eternally begotten of the Father. Yesterday, the feast of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr drew our attention to the Holy Spirit indwelling and overshadowing the Body of Christ. Today, Saint John the Beloved Disciple, venerated in the East as Saint John the Theologian (or John the Divine), draws our hearts to the mystery of the Eternal Father. We have, in these first three days of Christmastide, a liturgical theology of the Trinity.

The Gospel of the Father

The Gospel of Saint John has been called the Gospel of the Father and rightly so, for it is the particular charism of Saint John to lead us through the Word made flesh, and by the Word made flesh, and with the Word made flesh, into the bosom of the Father. The magnificent First Preface of Christmas wonderfully expresses the essential movement of Saint John’s Gospel. “By the mystery of your Word made flesh, a new and radiant light floods our spiritual eyes so that, even as we know God in what is visible, we are ravished (rapiamur) unto the love of things invisible.” This sentence of the Christmas Preface is a distillation of the mystical theology of Saint John. Proceeding from what is revealed, we are drawn into what is concealed. Holding fast to what is shown, we are held in the embrace of what is hidden.

Communion

This is the joy of Saint John. “The eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:3). The English word fellowship translates here the Greek koinonia and the Latin communio. Saint John is saying, “Our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Now, communion simply means “union with.” “Our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” But communion is also used in the New Testament to designate the presence and the effect of the Holy Spirit. We have communion — union with — the Father and with the Son by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. This is why Saint John writes in the same epistle, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because he has given us of His own Spirit” (1 Jn 4:13).

A Night As Bright As the Day

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The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Mass During the Night

Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7
Psalm 95: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
Titus 2: 11-14
Luke 2:10-11

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined” (Is 9:2).
Following the ancient tradition of the Church
you prepared your encounter with the Light
by means of a night vigil of psalmody and reading.
The Word heard became the Word held;
the Word held became the Word offered;
and the Word offered becomes, in this nocturnal Eucharist,
a Light, no longer beheld from without, but blazing within.
“Did not our hearts burn within us
while he talked to us on the road?” (Lk 24:32).

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Cistercians and Franciscans — and yes, Carmelites too! — have this in common: a tender love for the mystery of the Word made flesh and a holy delight in the little Child of Bethlehem. Some of the most beautiful Christ–masses of my life were spent at Bethlehem Monastery of the Poor Clares, first in Newport News Virginia and then in Barhamsville. Imagine my delight when I found Bernardino Fasolo's painting (1526) of the Nativity depicting Our Lady and Saint Joseph, Saint Elizabeth and Saint Zechariah, Saint John the Baptist (the little boy kneeling with folded hands), Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Francis holding the cross, and Saint Clare holding the monstrance! All eyes are fixed on the Bambino Gesù. And He, with His little hand grasps His cousin's staff, fashioned in the form of the cross, as if to say: "For this, have I come: to be the Lamb of God."

Vesperal Mass of the Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 88: 3-4, 15-16, 26 and 28
Acts 13: 16-17, 22-25
Matthew 1:1-25

All the World Desires to Behold His Face

“The King of peace is greatly glorified, and all the world desires to behold His face” (First Antiphon of Vespers). This evening, the inexpressible and inarticulate groanings of the cosmos, the desire of the everlasting hills, the hope of the patriarchs, and the promises of the prophets all come to flower on the lips of the Church. She enters more deeply into the mystery of the Advent of the Lord with a heart dilated by the immensity of her desire. The Church, in whom all the peoples of the earth are gathered, beholds the glory of God shining in the human face of His Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Tranfixed, she drinks deeply from the human eyes of God as from great pools of living water.

The King of peace has come to strengthen the bars of her gates, to bless the children within her, to establish peace in her borders, to feed her with finest wheat (Ps 147:2-3). The Word is sent forth from the silence of the Father (Ps 147:4); running swiftly He comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills (Ct 2:8), melting all that is frozen, causing streams to flow at the breath of His mouth (Ps 147:11-12).

Fire Upon the Earth

In this Vesperal Mass of the great vigil, the Church reads one of her Advent prophet’s most lyrical and jubilant pages. Isaiah stands irrepressible upon the heights, guiding us through the portals of First Vespers into the mystery of the holy night. “For Zions’s sake, I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest” (Is 62:1). Now her vindication goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. Zion is vindicated. The Church is vindicated. All who have waited, and believed, and wept, and hoped against hope are vindicated. Healing comes as a burning torch to purify, to cleanse, to ignite a fire upon the earth, and to warm hearts long grown cold. “I have come,” He says, “to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled” (Lk 12:49).

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Today is Our Lady’s Sunday in Advent.
Pope Paul VI, influenced, no doubt, by the ancient practice
of the venerable Church of Milan,
desired that the Fourth Sunday of Advent
should become a veritable festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He wanted to envelop the Christmas mystery
in the gentle presence of the Virgin Mother.

By designating the Fourth Sunday of Advent our Lady’s Sunday
and by restoring to January 1st
its ancient title of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God,
Pope Paul VI sought to give us the Infant Christ, the Redeemer of the world,
circled round by the tenderness of the Blessed Virgin.

The liturgy celebrates the Virgin Mother
before Christmas Day and again eight days after it.
This is the Church’s way of teaching us
that the Blessed Virgin Mary is indispensable to every advent of Christ.
If you would welcome Christ, welcome Mary.
If you would receive Christ, seek Mary.
If you would know Christ, know Mary.
If you would love Christ, love Mary.

The Blessed Virgin is present in every part of today’s Mass.
The Introit, for example, is her song before it is ours.
It can only be ours because it was first hers.
“Send down dew from above, you heavens,
and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, Him, the Just One:
may He, the Saviour, spring from the closed womb of the earth” (Is 45:8).
There is no prayer that does not begin
in an intense longing for the dew from above.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness;
they shall have their fill” (Mt 5:6).

The Collect is familiar and worn like a thing much loved
because it is the prayer that, three times each day,
concludes the Little Office of the Incarnation
that we call the Angelus.
It sums up the whole economy of our salvation:
the message of an angel to the Virgin;
the immensity of her “Yes”;
the bitter Passion and the Blood outpoured;
the Cross, the Tomb, and the triumph of the Prince of Life.
Of all these mysteries, Mary is the mystical portress
and the keeper of the gate.
This is why the saints teach that love for Mary
is a sure sign of predestination.
Understand this aphorism as the saints did:
one who loves Mary
is destined to imitate her “Yes”
and to follow her through the passion and cross of her Son
into the glory of His resurrection.

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Almighty and ever-living God,
seeing that the birth of Thy Son according to the flesh
is drawing near,
we beseech Thee that Thy Word
may grant mercy to us, Thy unworthy servants,
for He deigned to become flesh of the Virgin Mary
and to dwell among us.

The Realism of the Liturgy

You may have noticed that the Collects of Advent, as well as the Prayers Over the Offerings and the Postcommunions, make frequent mention of sin. Like heavy chains bound to our feet, sin impedes our going forward to meet the Lord. This is the realism of the liturgy. The Church never pretends that we are not engaged at every moment in spiritual combat. The joy of Advent is not about denying the things that keep us from God; it is the acknowledgement of those things and, then, their surrender to the all-powerful mercy of the Word made flesh.

Saved for Joy

Today’s Collect looks to tomorrow and the next day.

Almighty and ever-living God,
seeing that the birth of Thy Son according to the flesh is drawing near. . . .

The words of this first phrase of the Collect are those that we will hear solemnly proclaimed tomorrow in the Martyrology: Nativitas Domini nostri Iesu Christi secundum carnem, “the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.” It is the custom in some Benedictine monasteries for the Cantor to don a rose-coloured cope to sing the Announcement of Christmas, the dawn of our salvation.

Our liberation from sin is a liberation for joy. Christ comes not only to save us from sin, but also to save us for joy. “I will not leave you desolate,” says the Lord, “I will come to you” (Jn 14:18); and again, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn 16:24).

The Word Became Flesh

Here is the petition of today’s Collect:

We beseech Thee that Thy Word may grant mercy to us, Thy unworthy servants,
for He deigned to become flesh of the Virgin Mary and to dwell among us.

The Church speaks of the Word; she uses the language of the sublime Prologue of Saint John, the very Gospel that we will hear at the Mass of Christmas Day. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was toward God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

23 December, O EMMANUEL

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Murillo's painting of the Infant Christ distributing bread to pilgrims is an invitation to consider the mystery of the Eucharist, God–With–Us, the Child of Bethlehem, the House of Bread. An Angel assists the Infant Christ. Behind Him (not visible in this detail) is His Mother, her body forming a kind of Eucharistic throne, a variation on the Sedes Sapientiae motif. Perhaps the sequence of the Mass of Corpus Christi provided a subtext for this painting:

Ecce, panis Angelorum,
Factus cibus viatorum:
Vere panis filiorum.

Behold, the Bread of Angels sent
For pilgrims in their banishment,
The Bread for God's true children meant.

O Emmanuel (Is 7:14; 8:8),
our King and Lawgiver (Is 33:22),
the expectation of the nations and their Saviour (Gen 49:10):
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

The Last of the O Antiphons

On December 23rd we come today to the last of the Great O Antiphons. We are accustomed to seven, but, in other times and places, and even now, there are nine or even as many as twelve.

O Virgo Virginum

O Virgo Virginum, the last of the Great O Antiphons in the old English liturgy of Sarum , occurs on December 23rd. Its structure is quite different from all the other Great O Antiphons. The first part is a question addressed to the Virgin Mary; in the second part she replies with another question, and then, gives her answer.

“O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
That which ye behold is a divine mystery.”

It is touching that the Anglican Church, despite all the vicissitudes of her history, remains attached to this lovely Great O addressed to Our Lady.

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O Emmanuel

In today’s Roman liturgy the O Antiphon is, like the six that preceded it, addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems to me that, with each succeeding day, the O of our invocation, and the Veni of our supplication has grown more confident, more intense and, in a sense, more urgent.

Afraid Never Again

Mother Marie des Douleurs, writing in 1964, offers us a somewhat anguished meditation on today’s Great O. It appears to come out of an experience of weakness, fear, and uncertainty. Some would dismiss it as deeply pessimistic and too gloomy for Advent. I sense something else in it: the prayer of woman wrestling with her inner demons, as we all do, and confident nonetheless in the mystery of God-with-us. This is what she wrote:

Preaching on the Propers — Again

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The Bambino clasping His Mamma's hand is by Michelangelo. Already, I see in this something of the Pietà.

December 22

1 Samuel 1:24-28
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd
Luke 1:46-56

Preaching on the Propers

Some of you have asked why I so often preach on the Collect of the Mass. There are several reasons for this. First, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal recommends that priests preach not only on the Gospel of the day or on the other readings, but also on the Proper and Ordinary of the Mass, that is, on the other parts of the Mass, both those that change according to the season and day, and those common to every celebration.

Devotion to the Collect

The Collect of the Mass is a privileged element of the sacred liturgy. It instructs us in the mysteries of our faith and articulates the prayer of the whole Church, a prayer that that is the fruit of the Word of God heard (lectio) and repeated in antiphons and responsories (meditatio). In the great seasons of the Church Year and on feasts, the same Collect is repeated at Mass and at all the Hours of the Divine Office, except Compline. This repetition of the Collect is intended to anchor it our hearts. Dom Guéranger, the restorer of Benedictine life in nineteenth France, once told a novice bewildered by the vast variety of pious devotions, that a single one was indispensable and sufficient: devotion to the Collect of the day.

An Inspired Prayer

The Collect of the day is a distillation of the Church’s own reflection on the Word of God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Collect rises in the soul of the Church. At Mass and the Divine Office, it comes to flower on the lips of her children to bear fruit in their lives.

Unspeakable Groanings

None of us know how to pray rightly. Often in our prayer we ask for things according to our own dim lights. We ask God for the things we think we need or for the things we think we want. But our needing and our wanting are, more often than not, obscure and flawed. This is the “infirmity” of our prayer. Saint Paul says: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God” (Rom 8:26-27). The Collect articulates for us the unspeakable groanings of the Spirit. When we pray the Collect, making it our own, we are asking according to God, and not according to our own dim and limited perceptions.

Ave, gratia plena

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Deus, aeterna maestas. cuius ineffabile Verbum,
Angelo nuntiante, Virgo immaculata suscepit,
et, domus divinitatis effecta, Sanctus Spiritus luce repletur,
quaesumus, ut nos, eius exemplo,
voluntati tuae humiliter adhaerere valeamus.

O God, Eternal Majesty,
at the announcement of the angel,
the immaculate Virgin received your ineffable Word within herself
and, having become the dwelling of the divinity,
was filled with the light of the Holy Spirit;
we beseech you, that following her example,
we may be able to adhere humbly to your will.

If we are to profit fully from today’s Collect, we have to listen to it with the ears of the heart and look closely at the images it sets before us. In addition to the Father and the Son evoked in every Collect, in today’s there are the same three persons present in Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation: the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit, and the Archangel Gabriel.

Aeterna maiestas

Today’s prayer addresses God, as Eternal Majesty. This form of divine address is very rare in the liturgy. Why does the Church use it in her prayer today? It sets the opening of the prayer in the heights of heaven. One can only think of Isaiah’s vision in the temple: “In the year that King Ozias died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple” (Is 6:1).

The painting of the Annunciation by the Florentine Dominican Fra Bartolomeo (1472–1517), a convert of Savonarola, shows us the Father of Eternal Majesty blessing with His right hand while, with the other, He sends the Holy Spirit, under the form of a dove, into the house of the Virgin at Nazareth.

There can be nothing brashly familiar in our approach to the mystery. We begin the Collect today in holy amazement, in the fear of God that is a mixture of face-in-the-dust adoration and speechless awe. We describe God as we experience him: aeterna maiestas, eternal majesty. The eternal majesty of God in heaven penetrates the little house of Nazareth to reach the Virgin, ravishing in her humility.

Quid ergo faciemus?

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Third Sunday of Advent C

Luke 3:10-18
Philippians 4:4-7
Isaiah 12:2-6 (Responsorial Psalm)
Zephaniah 3:14-18

A Prophet All Ablaze

Today’s gospel begins rather abruptly. John the Baptist has been preaching a message of repentance to the multitudes. He is no ordinary preacher. John burns; he is all aflame with the fire of the Word of God. He aims his words like blazing arrows to pierce the most hardened hearts. John is not intimidated by his hearers. He is not diplomatic. The Baptist is not impressed by the rich and the powerful. He doesn’t seek to please the influential, nor to flatter the pious. He doesn’t court the favour of the establishment.

The Sword of the Word

When it comes to sin, John is absolutely lucid; he knows well just how twisted and hardened the human heart can become. Jeremiah had said it before him: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). John knows only one remedy for the corruption and deceit of the human heart: the Word of God, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).

The Malignant Growths of Sin

To be wounded by the Word is the first stage of healing. Not only is the Word blazing arrow and two-edged sword; it is a scalpel as well. The Word is the scalpel by which the Holy Spirit removes from our hearts the malignant growths of sin.

There are some who come to the sacred liturgy or go to lectio divina armed against the Word, wearing helmets and clutching shields. It is, in fact, possible to go through the motions of worship clothed in an invisible armour protected by the hard shells of routine piety, self-sufficiency, and habitual inattention to the proclamation of the Word. It is even possible to listen to the Word of God, holding all the while a shield in front of our hearts, lest we be struck by the Word, and wounded.

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Second Saturday of Advent

Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11
Psalm 79: 80:2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19
Matthew 17:9a, 10-13

The Splendour of Your Glory in the Face of Christ

Almighty God,
let the splendour of your glory, we pray,
rise like the dayspring in our hearts
to dispel every darkness of the night;
that the advent of your only-begotten Son,
may reveal us to be children of the light.

Today’s collect is the fruit of a long contemplation of the light that shines from the Scriptures: another example of the oratio — prayer — that is the fruit of lectio —hearing the Word — and of meditatio — repeating it. The splendour of the Father’s glory that rises like the dawn in our hearts is Christ, “the reflection of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3). “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 Cor 4:6).

O Dayspring

The Jews of old expected the advent of the Messiah in the radiance of a rising sun. Isaiah cries, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 60:1). Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist blesses God, saying, “The Orient shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:78-79). The Church, on December 21st, will sing, “O Dayspring, brightness of eternal Light and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

The Light of Bethlehem

Christ’s first advent in the cave of Bethlehem, marked by the rising of a star in the night, was a mystery of light. “In Him was life,” says Saint John, “and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:4-5).

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Not a Caravaggio, although it could be taken for one! This painting of Saint John the Baptist is by the Spaniard Bartolomé González y Serrano (1564–1627). The Baptist looks pensive, perhaps even discouraged. He came, "neither eating nor drinking", and they said, "He hath a devil" (Mt 11:18). Does the Forerunner see already that the Lamb of God, the Bridegroom Himself, will be treated dismissively as "a glutton and wine drinker, a friend of publicans and sinners" (Mt 11:19)?

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 48:17-19
Psalm 1: 1-2, 3, 4, 6
Matthew 11:16-19a

The Utmost Vigilance

The Collect given us by the Church today makes us ask for the grace of the utmost vigilance. Cum summa vigilantia, says the text. “Grant, we beseech you, Almighty God, that Your people may await the advent of Your Only-begotten Son with the utmost vigilance.” The prayer goes on to make reference to the teaching of Our Lord in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins: “ . . . so that as He Himself, the Author of our salvation taught us, we may keep watch with lamps burning, and go forth to meet Him when He comes.” “At midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him’” (Mt 25:6). A heart held in readiness for the Bridegroom listens for the faintest sound of His footsteps falling in the night. There are times when prayer is nothing more than this: a waiting in the night, a straining to listen, a readiness to respond to the first sign of His advent.

The Listening Which Changes Life

The prayer of vigilance obliges one to listen closely to the Word, and listening leads to change. “Thus saith the Lord thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord thy God that teach thee profitable things, that govern thee in the way that thou walkest” (Is 48:17). Recall what Pope John Paul II wrote eleven years ago in Orientale Lumen: “When a person is touched by the Word obedience is born, that is, the listening which changes life” (OL, art. 10). I think that in writing this, Pope John Paul II gave us the most profound definition of monastic obedience ever formulated.

The Refusal to Listen

If one’s life is not changing, might it not be because one is not listening? If one is not listening, might it not be because one refuses to be touched by the Word? We must, all of us, be vigilant lest we grow hardened in an attitude of resistance to the listening which changes life. It is paradoxical that those who, two generations ago, were the most eager to embrace radical changes in the Church are the very ones who today are the most resistant to reform. In today’s Gospel, Our Lord reproaches those who, having ears, refuse to listen: “But whereunto shall I esteem this generation to be like? It is like to children sitting in the market place. Who crying to their companions say: We have piped to you, and you have not danced: we have lamented, and you have not mourned” (Mt 11:16–17).

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Almighty God who command us to prepare
the way for Christ the Lord,
mercifully grant that we may not grow weary in our infirmities
as we wait for the consoling presence of the heavenly Physician.

No Quietism

Advent is about waiting, but in this waiting there is nothing passive, nothing of the quietism that would have one sit like an inert lump without passion, energy, or desire. Advent has been called the Lent of Winter, and with good reason. The very qualities that characterize the Lent of Spring, should characterize Advent. Does not Saint Benedict say that “a monk’s life ought at all times to bear a Lenten character” (RB 49:1)? What is the essence of this Lenten character? Saint Benedict, after inviting us to a spontaneous generosity in prayer, in self-denial, and in silence, sums it all up by saying, “and so with the joy of spiritual desire, look forward to holy Pascha” (RB 49:7). The “joy of spiritual desire” is the key to “preparing the way of the Lord” (Is 40:3).

Roman Realism

The second part of today’s Collect is another example of the realism and confidence found everywhere in the Roman liturgy: “mercifully grant that we may not grow weary in our infirmities as we wait for the consoling presence of the heavenly Physician.” The prayer does not deny that we are beset with infirmities. It makes us admit our weakness. It does not minimize the temptation we all have to weariness, to the classic monastic complaint of accedia: a loss of energy, a kind of “throwing in the towel,” a giving in to the dullness and inertia of routine.

Christ the Physician

We are waiting for the “consoling presence of the heavenly Physician.” Christ, the Physician of our souls and bodies is sent to minister to us in our infirmity. This is the thrilling message of the first reading: “It is he that giveth strength to the weary, and increaseth force and might to them that are not. Youths shall faint, and labour, and young men shall fall by infirmity. But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Is 40:29-31). We are waiting for the consoling presence of Him who says, “Come to Me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:28).

The “heavenly Physician” of the Collect comes to us today in the mystery of His Eucharistic Advent: the sacrament of our healing, the remedy for every infirmity. Approach then the Holy Mysteries with Saint Benedict’s, “joy of spiritual desire” (RB 49:7). The heavenly Physician “stands at the door and knocks” (Rev 3:20).

Gaudens gaudebo in Domino

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December 8
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Genesis 3:9-15, 20
Psalm 97: 1, 2-3ab, 3cdd-4
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
Luke 1:26-38

A Song From the Womb

“Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, and with the robe of justice He has wrapped me about, as a bride adorned with her jewels” (Is 61:10). A song intoned from the womb! The Church takes the jubilant words of the prophet Isaiah and places them in the mouth of the Immaculate Conception, the Child full of grace just conceived in the womb of Saint Anne.

Prelude to the Magnificat

Gaudens, gaudebo in Domino.” “Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord.” If you would understand the text, you must sing it as the Church sings it today. The exegesis of the text is in its ravishing third mode melody; it soars pure as crystal in a kind of ecstatic cry of undiluted joy in God.

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Mary herself intones the first chant of the Mass today: a kind of prelude to her Magnificat. Already — just conceived — the Child Mary begins to sing, and with her the whole Church. On no other feast of the year does the liturgy allow the Virgin Mary to open the Mass by singing in the first person singular. “Rejoicing, I will rejoice” (Is 61:10). Mary’s message, from the first instant of her Immaculate Conception, is one of joy in God.

The Tree

The joy of the Immaculate Conception springs from the mystery of the Cross. The Collect says that Mary was “preserved from all stain” in foresight of the death of Christ on the Cross. Here enters the figure of the tree glimpsed in today’s First Lesson from Genesis. The tree of Eve’s mourning and weeping becomes for Mary the tree of “an unutterable and exalted joy” (1 P 1:8). Mary is the first to taste of the sweet fruit of the Tree of Life; Mary is the first to sing of the joy of the Cross. There is an extraordinary medieval painting that shows the Tree of Life with Mary on one side and Eve on the other. Eve, completely naked, is giving the bitter fruit of her sin to her own communicants in evil. From her side of the tree a skull looks out, grimacing in death. On the other side of the tree is Mary, crowned and clothed in grace and beauty. She takes pure white hosts from among the branches of the tree and, like a priest distributing Holy Communion, places them in the mouths of her own communicants in eternal life. In the branches of Mary’s side of the tree there is a crucifix. The Face of the Crucified is turned toward those who partake of the fruit of the Cross.

On Saint Nicholas Day

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Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
December 6
Commemoration of Saint Nicholas, Bishop

Isaiah 25:6–10a
Psalm 22:1–2, 3–4, 5, 6 (R. 6cd)
Matthew 15:29–37

The Eucharist

The liturgy of the Wednesday of the First Week of Advent is entirely illumined by the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Even before the readings, the Church alludes to the mystery of the Eucharist in the Collect. We pray that, “at the coming of Christ . . . we may be found worthy of the banquet of eternal life, and ready to receive the food of heaven from His hand.” This refers not only to the “hidden manna” (Ap 2:17) of heaven, but also to the Bread of Life given us from the altar by the hand of the priest who, in feeding us, is an icon of Christ “nourishing and cherishing” (Eph 5:29) His Body the Church.

Isaiah’s Prophecy

In the First Lesson Isaiah prophesies that the day will come when God Himself will be “a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress; a refuge from the whirlwind, a shadow from the heat” (Is 25:4). And on that day “the Lord of hosts shall make unto all people . . . a feast of fat things, a feast of wine” (Is 25:6). In the Responsorial Psalm, the Lord “prepares a table” (Ps 22:5), opening to us the hospitality of His house “unto length of days” (Ps 22:6).

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

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Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 11:1–10
Psalm 71:1–2, 7–8, 12–13, 17 (R. 7)
Luke 10:21–24

Grace Upon Grace

Saint John, in his Prologue, declares us that we have all received of the fullness of the Word made flesh, “and grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16). The prophet Isaiah tells us today just what this fullness of grace is: “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2–3). There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven graces, or seven “spirits” as the prophet calls them. The number seven, as you know, signifies a superabundant fullness. It is of this fullness that “we have all received, and grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

The Same Spirit

All who belong to Christ are given a share in the Spirit of Christ. As the psalmist says, the anointing of the Head runs down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, and reaches even to the hem of his garment (cf. Ps 132:2). Saint Paul says, “Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all. And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit. To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom: and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; to another, faith in the same Spirit; to another the grace of healing . . . but all of these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as He will” (1 Cor 12:4–11).

The Order of Holiness

Isaiah goes on to describe the effects of this anointing with the Spirit of the Lord. A new order appears: one characterized by justice, by equity for the meek of the earth, and by fidelity. In a word, the new order is the order of holiness: participation in the very life of God. What are the signs of this new order? “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb: and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: the calf and the lion, and the sheep shall abide together” (Is 11:6). (This is an apt description of most monasteries.)

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First Tuesday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Luke 10:21-24

The photograph is of the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar of the church of Bethlehem Monastery of the Poor Clares in Barhamsville, Virginia.

The Advent Collects

The Collects of the Advent liturgy merit our close attention. Crafted under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they are a distillation of life-giving doctrine. Our own personal prayer derives from the prayer of the Church and flows back into it.

What the Church asks for all her children in the Collect of the Mass and Divine Office, I must learn to ask for myself and for those recommended to my prayer. It is through the sacred liturgy and, in a particular way, through the daily Collect, that the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26).

Today’s Prayer

Today’s Collect comes from the rotulus or scroll of Ravenna and, according to some scholars, could date from as early as the fifth century:

Lord God,
be gracious to our supplications
and in tribulation grant us, we pray,
the help of your strong and tender love;
that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come,
we may be untainted, even now, by the contagion of our old ways.

The Collect makes two requests of God. The first is, “be gracious to our supplications and in tribulation, grant us we pray the help of your pietas, your strong, fatherly love.” The tone of the prayer is humble and full of confidence. We ask God to be gracious to our supplications. Supplication comes from the Latin verb supplico, meaning to kneel down or to bend low. We approach God humbly, making ourselves close to the dust of the earth from which we were created (cf. Gen 2:7).

Pietatis Auxilium

The first request is for the help of God’s pietas, his strong, faithful, fatherly devotedness, in our tribulation. Tribulation means affliction, oppression, distress, or trouble. No one of us is entirely free from tribulation. Each of us has his troubles or, as Julien Green says, “each man has his night.” Today’s Collect teaches us that in the midst of trouble we can and must kneel in the dust, beseeching God to grant us his pietatis auxilium, the help of his fatherly love.

Domine, non sum dignus

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Monday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 2:1–5
Psalm 121:1–2, 3–4ab, 4cd–5, 6–7, 8–9
Matthew 8:5–11

Saints in Advent

We celebrate the Holy Mysteries today in the company of two saints, both of them lights from the East: Saint Barbara, Virgin and Martyr, and Saint John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church. Saint Barbara, according to the legend, was enclosed in a tower (some accounts say it was a bathhouse) by her pagan father. There were two windows in this improvised prison cell.

Three Windows

Taking advantage of her father's temporary absence, Barbara instructed the servants to make a third window in honour of the Most Holy Trinity. The light poured into Barbara's cell from three windows; her soul, meanwhile, was flooded by what Saint Benedict calls "the deifying light" of the Three Divine Persons. Thus was Saint Barbara found, as today's Collect puts it, "vigilant in prayer and joyful in singing His praises," at the hour of her martyrdom.

God is Light

In this, Saint Barbara speaks to all who feel hemmed in and imprisoned by the circumstances of life. To all who feel shut in and imprisoned, to all who live behind walls, Saint Barbara says, "Lift your eyes to the light of the Most Holy Trinity. Let the glorious radiance of the Three Divine Persons shine in your solitude." Her message is that of Saint Paul who says, "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 shall appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:2–4). Her message is that of the Apostle John: "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness" (1 Jn 1:5).

Ecce Mater Tua

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Thirty–Fourth Wednesday of the Year II

Apocalypse 15:1–4
Psalm 97:1, 2–3ab, 7–8, 9 (R. Apocalypse 15:3b)
John 19:5b–27

The Heart in Pilgrimage

Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia. Where Peter is, there is the Church. It follows then that when Peter is in pilgrimage, the Church is in pilgrimage with him. Each of us is capable of making the pilgrimage of the heart. The psalmist says, “Blessed are the men whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (Ps 83:5).

The Domus Mariae

This morning Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the Sacred Mysteries in an open space adjacent to the Domus Mariae, the Holy House of Mary near Ephesus. The Gospel at the Holy Father’s Mass was from the nineteenth chapter of Saint John: “Woman, behold thy son. . . . Behold thy mother.”

Mother of Unity

In his homily the Holy Father recalled the place of the Mother of Jesus in economy of salvation, her unique place in the household of God. “The Virgin Mary,” he said, “the Mother of Christ and of the Church, is the Mother of that mystery of unity which Christ and the Church inseparably signify and build up, in the world and throughout history.” The Virgin Mary is the Mother of Unity. After the Ascension of her Son, the unity of the infant Church was the chief concern of her maternal heart. The Mother of Christ is entirely at the service of the unity of His Mystical Body in all its manifestations. Just as a family disintegrates in the absence of the mother, so too do the children of the Church splinter into factions when Mary, the Mother of the Whole Christ, is not at the heart of their experience.

Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

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