Homilies: October 2006 Archives

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I preached this homily two years ago in 2004 for All Saints Day during the Year of the Eucharist. I would want to say the very same things again this year, so I thought of sharing the text with the readers of Vultus Christi.

Communion with the saints in this life means being poor in spirit, it means living with outstretched hands, confident that He who promises the kingdom of heaven will give it according to the measure of our emptiness, and of our desire. The Eucharist is the sacrament of the hospitality of God offered freely and without measure to the poor in spirit.

Communion with the saints means weeping as the saints wept, knowing that every tear of ours is counted in heaven, and seeking, even in the midst of tears, the face of Christ the Comforter. The Eucharist is the sacrament of our comfort, the unfailing consolation of the saints.

Communion with the saints means going gently through this life, trusting that more is gained through meekness than through might. The Eucharist is the power of those without power. The Eucharist is the strength of the gentle, the triumph of the meek, the inheritance of the humble.

Communion with the saints means suffering in one’s soul hunger and thirst for the true, the beautiful, and the good, hunger and thirst for the pure joy of a right relationship with God and with others. The Eucharist is the sacrament of justice, bringing justice to every place and to every heart. It is the wellspring of righteousness, the communication of all that is true, all that is beautiful, and all that is good to those who approach it hungering and thirsting for God alone.

On All Hallows Eve

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TUESDAY OF THE THIRTIETH WEEK OF THE YEAR II

Ephesians 5:21–23
Psalm 127:1–2, 3, 4–5 (R. cf. 1a)
Luke 13:18–21

All Hallows Eve

Today is All Hallows Eve: this evening at First Vespers we will cross the threshold into the festival of Angels and Archangels; Thrones and Dominions; Principalities and Powers and heavenly Virtues; Cherubim and Seraphim; Patriarchs and Prophets and Holy Doctors of the Law; Apostles and Martyrs of Christ; Confessors and Virgins of the Lord; blessed Hermits and all other Saints of God.

The Liturgical Preview of Heaven

Do you remember the Angel who spoke to Saint John on Patmos, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the spouse of the Lamb” (Ap 21:9)? In the Spirit he carried the Apostle away to a great, high mountain, and showed him “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal (cf. Ap 21:10–11). This is exactly what the liturgy of All Saints Day will do for us in a mystical way, that is, by means of sacramental signs. All Saints Day is the liturgical preview of heaven.

Festival of the Bride of Christ

All Hallows is the festival of the Bride of Christ. Saint Paul describes the sacrificial love of the Bridegroom Christ for His Bride, the Church: “He loved her and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the Church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25–27).

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MONDAY OF THE THIRTIETH WEEK OF THE YEAR II

Ephesians 4:32—5:8
Psalm 1:1–2, 3, 4 and 6 (R. cf. Eph 5:1)
Luke 13:10–17

I Want to Be a Saint

Saint Paul would have us be nothing less than “imitators of God” (Eph 5:1). This is the Apostle’s way of presenting the universal call to holiness. You will never become saint unless you want to be a saint. It is indispensable to say to oneself frequently, “I want to be a saint.” That is, after all, what God wants for each of us. One who says, “I want to be a saint” is simply aligning his own will with the glorious will of God. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Th 4:3).

Holy Resolve

If, at least once a day, you say to yourself, “I want to be saint,” a number of things will happen. You will begin to adjust your perspective on life. You will set your priorities in order. Things that you judged important will become unimportant, and things that you judged unimportant will become important.

Our Gaze Bent on Him

Say to yourself, “I want to be a saint,” and you will begin to see all the time and the energy you have wasted on the pursuit of trivial things. Saint Teresa of Jesus says, “O Lord, all our ills come from not fixing our eyes on Thee: if we looked at nothing else but where we are going we should soon arrive, but we fall a thousand times and stumble and go astray because we do not keep our gaze bent on Him Who is the ‘Way’” (The Way of Perfection, Chapter 16, 8).

Quaerite Faciem Eius Semper

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THIRTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 125: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52

God Is Light

When, in the beginning, our First Parents opened their eyes, they were bathed in the light of the Face of God. Adam and Eve were created in the most blessed of natural states: purity of heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” says Our Lord, “for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). Before the fall, which darkened their minds and clouded the vision of their souls, Adam and Eve knew an immense and perfect happiness in beholding the radiant beauty of the Face of God. “God is light,” says Saint John, “and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5).

Darkness

After having lived in the Light, Adam and Eve fell into the darkness; but the memory of the Light has left its traces in every human heart. In all of us there is a nostalgia for the Light which never fades, for the sun which never sets, an indescribable yearning for uncreated Light. You may experience it as an ache, as a sense of incompleteness.

The Gladsome Light of the Face of Christ

The darker the obscurity around us, the more deeply do we experience that there is within us a relentless straining toward the Light, the instinct to stretch the wings of our souls and, like the eagle, fly unblinking into the sun. Within the heart of each one of us, the finger of God’s right hand has inscribed an indelible, a sweet and painful longing for what Saint Peter calls his “wonderful light” (1 P 2:9): the gladsome light of the Father shining on the Face of the Son.

Quaerite Faciem Eius Semper

This is the very meaning of today’s poignant Introit: Laetetur cor quaerentium Dominum, “Let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice: seek the Lord and He will strengthen you; constantly seek His Face” (Ps 104:3–4). Quaerite faciem eius semper! The chant melody soars and expands over the word eius: “His.” It is the liturgy’s way of signifying that abiding joy and unfailing strength shine from the Face of Christ and no other. It is the liturgy’s way of making us repeat again and again, “His Face, His Face.”

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TWENTY–NINTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B

Isaiah 53:10-11
Psalm 32:4-5, 18-19, 20-22
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45

Good Friday Revisited

Today’s Liturgy of the Word is a flashback to that of Good Friday when we heard both the First Reading from the prophet Isaiah and the Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. Both texts are inexhaustible. Hearing them again today is an opportunity to encounter the mystery beneath the words, the mystery of the suffering Christ, image of the Father.

Saint Thérèse and Her Father

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, reflecting on Isaiah’s prophecy of the Servant, related it to the humiliation of her own father’s suffering. When Thérèse was seven years old she had a vision of a man in the garden, dressed like her father, but going about with his head veiled. Only later did she realize that this was a mysterious prophecy of her father’s mental illness. Profoundly affected by her father’s suffering, Thérèse lived it as an opportunity to deepen her understanding of the humiliation of Christ in His Passion. Thérèse made some profound connections: she related her father in his sufferings to the humiliation of Christ in His Passion, and related the humiliation of Christ in His Passion to the Fatherhood of God.

The Holy Face

The violence against the Face of Christ in His Passion was, at the deepest level, an attempt by the Evil One to disfigure the Fatherhood of God. Our Lord says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?” (Jn 14:9–10). From the beginning, the Evil One has sought to discredit the Fatherhood of God by sowing suspicion and doubt in the hearts of His children. The cruel disfiguration of the Face of Christ with blows, bruises, spittle, and thorns was the Evil One’s mad attempt to vilify the Father.

In Laudem Gloriae Eius

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FRIDAY OF THE TWENTY–EIGHTH WEEK OF THE YEAR II

Ephesians 1:11–14
Psalm 32:1–2, 4–5, 12–13 (R. 12b)
Luke 12:1–7

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite who died in 1906 at the age of twenty–six read the very same text from Saint Paul that we heard in today’s First Reading, and it transformed her life. She read it and knew beyond any doubt that although Saint Paul addressed his letter to the Church at Ephesus in the first century, it became, when she read it, a message addressed directly to her soul. Elizabeth understood that God had destined her to become “the praise of his glory.”

The young Carmelite discovered the text, through the liturgy. Elizabeth was no Latinist, but this she understood! Four words seemed to her written not in ink but in fire: in laudem gloriae eius, “to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12, 14). These words jumped off the page and lodged themselves in her heart. Such was the impact of these words on Elizabeth of the Trinity that she began to call herself by a new name: Praise of Glory. This became her secret name of grace: the name that, for Elizabeth, summed up the will of God for her and his design on her relatively short life.

We are obliged, I think, to ask ourselves two very hard questions. Why is it that when the saints read the Sacred Scriptures, the words pierce their hearts and bring about a radical transformation of their lives? And why is it that when we read the same Sacred Scriptures, we are so often unmoved, indifferent, and unchanged by them? I leave it to each of you to reflect on these questions and find your own answers. For myself, I know that if Scripture leaves me unchanged — unconverted — it is because of the hardness of my heart. It is because I do not approach the Word of God with humility, compunction, and unconditional surrender to its transforming virtus, its divine power.

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The painting depicts New Amsterdam (Manhattan) circa 1668.

David and Mary Ann went on pilgrimage last week to the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York, about three hours away from here. Auriesville is the site of the martyrdom of Saint René Goupil on September 29, 1642, of Saint Isaac Jogues on October 18, 1646, and of Saint John de La Lande on October 19, 1646. The New Haven Colony had been founded by John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton only eight years before, in the spring of 1638, two years after the ordination of Isaac Jogues to the priesthood.

Captured by the Mohawks in 1642, Isaac Jogues was forced to follow them to their winter hunting grounds, where he did the hard work of the squaws and slaves. After his labours, he wandered about the forest, chanting psalms or praying before the symbols he had carved into a tree: the Holy Name of Jesus and the sign of the Cross.

It was during this captivity that Saint Isaac wrote the following magnificent text. I thank David for having brought it to my attention.

Saint Luke: A Gospel of Icons

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OCTOBER 18
SAINT LUKE, EVANGELIST

2 Timothy 4: 10-17a
Psalm 144: 10-11, 12-13ab, 17-18 (R: cf. 12)
Luke 10:1-9

The Evangelist

Saint Luke comes to us today as the evangelist of the Holy Spirit, as the evangelist of the little and of the poor, the evangelist of the Virgin Mary, and of the holy angels. He comes to us as the iconographer of the healing Christ, the physician of our souls and bodies. He comes to us as the advocate and friend of the women disciples of the Lord, and as the witness of the Acts of the Apostles and of the life of the infant Church. He comes to us as the poet of the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis, as the evangelist of the sacred liturgy, the one who closes his Gospel with the radiant image of a joyful Church semper in templo benedicentes Deum, “continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:52).

Iconographer of the Holy Mother of God

According to an old tradition, Saint Luke, in addition to being a physician (Col 4:14), was a painter. It is recounted that Saint Luke depicted the Virgin Mother with the Infant Christ in three icons. He showed them to her. The Mother of God looked at them with joy and then blessed them, saying, “May the grace of Him to Whom I gave birth be within them.” The iconography of Saint Luke himself makes for a fascinating study; he is nearly always portrayed painting the Blessed Virgin and her Son. Paintings of a saint painting!

Frumentum Christi Sum

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Frumentum Christi sum,
dentibus bestiarum molar,
ut panis mundus inveniar.

I actually sang part of my homily this morning. Yes, I did. I couldn't help myself! I opened my Graduale and sang today's incomparable Communion Antiphon, Frumentum Christi sum, for all to hear. The melody "grinds" the word molar, and then soars over the word panis. The chant melody is a mystical exegesis of the text. It is what I have been arguing for years: sung theology!

The image I chose today, an 18th century Latin American retable, does not depict Saint Ignatius of Antioch, but it does suggest something of his longing to become "purest bread" for Christ's Holy Oblation. Read below what I had to say about identification with Christ, Priest and Victim.

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TWENTY–EIGHTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B

Wisdom 7:7-11
Psalm 89: 12-13, 14-15, 16-17
Hebrews 4:12-13
Mark 10:17-30

Sentire Cum Ecclesia

Allow me to ask a very pointed question. Just how Catholic are you? How does one measure the degree of one’s Catholicism? The wise old Latin aphorism, Sentire cum Ecclesia: to feel with the Church, to have the Church’s sensibility, remains a touchstone of Catholic identity.

One’s response to the canonization of new saints is, in effect, a very reliable spiritual thermometer. When, upon hearing the news of another canonization, one says, “Ho, hum,” and then yawns in jaded disinterest, one’s Catholicism is in peril. One is in grave danger of becoming, for all practical purposes, a kind of Protestant content to plod along in the narrow furrows of an individualistic and privatized piety, disconnected from the mystery of a Church that is universal, a Church that is astonishingly fruitful in every age, place, and culture.

Antipathy Toward the Saints?

I fear that sometimes we fall into a kind of neo–Jansenism. One of the hallmarks of the chilling Jansenist heresy was a certain antipathy toward the saints. The Jansenists, like some Catholics a few generations ago, were in favour of a very lean liturgical calendar quite shorn of the splendours of the saints. At some level, the Jansenists were resistant to the mystery of the Church as a family: a family bound together by the covenant made in the Blood of the Lamb, a family characterized by the mercy that shines on the faces of her saints.

Dextrae Dei Digitus

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FRIDAY OF THE TWENTY–SEVENTH WEEK OF THE YEAR II

Galatians 3:7–14
Psalm 110:1–2, 3–4, 5–6 (R. 5b)
Luke 11:15–26

The Finger of God

“If it is by the Finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk 11:20). Today, the only–begotten Son speaks to us of the Holy Spirit. The Finger of God is none other than the Holy Spirit. It is by the Finger of God, the Holy Spirit Who alone can touch the soul’s most intimate wounds, that the Son liberates from evil, restores to wholeness, and sanctifies.

Dextrae Dei Digitus

The Church, ever attentive to the words of the Word, calls the Holy Spirit by this very name, the Finger of God’s Right Hand, Dextrae Dei Digitus, in the Veni, Creator Spiritus, the solemn hymn by which she invokes the Holy Spirit.

Thou Who art seven–fold in Thy grace,
Finger of God’s Right Hand,
His Promise, teaching little ones
To speak and understand!

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I am preaching today not on the Gospel (Luke 10:38–42), but on the Responsorial Psalm. All the same, I wanted to post this marvelous painting of Saint Martha in her kitchen (Vincenzo Campi, d. 1591). (Click on it to see it enlarged.) It looks exactly like a scene out of Babette's Feast. Through the kitchen window one sees Our Lord in intimate conversation with Mary who is seated next to him. Her feet are crossed: a lovely detail.

TUESDAY OF THE TWENTY–SEVENTH WEEK OF THE YEAR II

Galatians 1:13–24
Psalm 138:1–3, 13_14ab, 14c_15 (R. 24b)
Luke 10:38–42

From My Mother’s Womb

I wonder if in your lectio divina this morning you found the link between the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm? Saint Paul, recounting the story of his conversion to Christ and apostleship, says: “He who from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Gal 1:15). There you have it! “From my mother’s womb. . . .” (Gal 1:15). Today, in the words of Psalm 138, it is the Apostle Paul who prays, “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise thee, for I am fearfully, wonderfully made. Wonderful are thy works” (Ps 138:13-14).

The Prayer of Paul

The Holy Spirit has inspired the Church to sing Psalm 138, repeat it, and pray it in a variety of voices. On Easter Day, the liturgy places Psalm 138 in the mouth of the risen Christ; He sings it to the Father with accents of unparalleled tenderness. On June 24th, the liturgy places the same psalm in the mouth of the infant John the Baptist. In fact, today’s Responsorial Psalm is identical to that given for the Mass of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. Today, however, the psalm belongs to Saint Paul. He sings it for us to hear. Psalm 138 becomes for us a window into the soul of the Apostle. It allows us to hear something of his prayer; it allows us to enter into his prayer, to pray as he prays.

The Face That Changes Us

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MONDAY OF THE TWENTY–SEVENTH WEEK OF THE YEAR II

Galatians 1:6–12
Psalm 110:1–2, 7–8, 9 and 10c (R. 5b)
Luke 10:25–37

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 in the story of the Good Samaritan: the mystery of the healing mercy of God revealed in Christ.

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.

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. Saint Faustina reminded of us the imperative of mercy in action last week. Our Lord said to 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.” That being said, there is more to the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Suscipe Me

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TWENTY–SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 127:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Hebrews 2:9-11
Mark 10:2-16

Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum , et vivam;
et non confundas me ab expectatione mea.

Receive me, O Lord, according to thy word, and I shall live:
and let me not be ashamed of my hope.

Suscipe Me

The Word of God, even while it speaks today of marriage, speaks to all of us: to the married and the unmarried, to those living within monastic enclosure, and to those living in the countless others “enclosures” of parenthood, friendship, elected solitude, and professional responsibilities. To each one of us the Word of God speaks today of the mysterious covenant of love between man and woman, and of the mysterious covenant of love between Christ and His Bride, the Church. When we listen with the ear of the heart to the liturgy and to the sacred gift of life itself, we are drawn more deeply into the mystery of the covenant. The Suscipe (Psalm 118:116) of monastic profession — Receive me, O Lord, take me wholly to thyself — and the message today’s Gospel are related, the one helping us to enter more deeply into the other.

Vir Dei Franciscus

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Vir Dei Franciscus reliquit domum suam,
dimisit hereditatem suam,
inops et pauper factus est;
Dominus autem assumpsit eum.

Consider, for a moment, today’s Entrance Antiphon in the Roman Missal. What richness in so few lines! “The man of God, Francis, left his home, and gave up his inheritance, becoming poor and needy; the Lord however took him up.” In the Old Testament, the phrase, “man of God,” most often designates a prophet, one upon whom the Spirit of God has descended in a mighty rush, one authorized and sent to speak in God’s name. The liturgy presents Saint Francis as a “man of God,” a prophet, one sent to us with a message. (Saint Gregory the Great uses the same expression, vir Dei, in his life of Holy Father Benedict.) The “man of God” is not merely a holy man; he is a man seized by the Spirit of God, one in whose very bones the Word of God burns like a raging fire (cf. Jer 20:9).

The Entrance Antiphon goes on to say that Francis left home and gave up his inheritance; this tells us that, like Saint Anthony of Egypt before him, Francis was apostolic as well as prophetic. Saint Luke, describing the call of the apostles, says: “They left everything and followed Him” (Lk 5:11). Francis’ rupture with home and loved ones was spectacularly radical. “Brought before the bishop . . . he did not wait for any words nor did he speak any, but immediately putting off his clothes and casting them aside, he gave them back to his father. Moreover, not even retaining his trousers, his stripped himself completely naked before all” (Celano, First Life, 15).

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OCTOBER 2
THE HOLY GUARDIAN ANGELS

Exodus 23:20-23
Psalm 90: 1-2, 3-4ab, 4c-6, 10-11
Matthew 18:1-5, 10

October 2, 2006
Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B.
Branford, Connecticut

Sister Lucienne–Marie’s death this morning, on the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, invites us to take up the splendid antiphon, In paradisum. Singing it, one seems to hear the whispering rush of angel wings and the joy of the saints coming out to welcome one greatly loved by Christ. I will invite you to sing it with me after Communion today.

May flights of angels convey you into paradise;
at your journey’s end may the army of martyrs shout your welcome
and escort you to the new and holy city Jerusalem.

We will remember Sister Lucienne–Marie for many things: for her irrepressible enthusiasm, for her childlike sense of wonder, for the smile that would light up her whole face, and for her contagious and passionate love of Sacred Scripture. Sister Lucienne–Marie was a born pedagogue; she taught not only with her sharp mind but her whole heart as well. Hers was a successful monastic life. In old age she was still “full of sap, still green” (Ps 91:14). She was full of joy and open to new discoveries, an inspiration to all the generations coming after her.

Sister Lucienne–Marie would agree that salvation history from Genesis to the Apocalypse is full of the angels. For the patriarchs of old, for the kings and prophets of Israel, the providence of God was personalized in angels sent to guide and watch over them.

An angel announced the advent of the Word and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary, and in humble reverence waited for her “Yes” to carry it back to heaven (cf. Lk 1:26-38). An angel revealed to Saint Joseph his mysterious and fearful role in the plan of God, enlightened him in his dark night, guided him to safety in Egypt and then back again to Galilee (cf. Mt 1: 20-24, 2:13-22). Angels attended Jesus in the mysteries of his birth, life, suffering, and resurrection. Jesus defended the innocence of the little ones by saying to those tempted to despise them that “in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18: 10).

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TWENTY–SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B

Numbers 11:25-29
Psalm 18: 8, 10, 12-13, 14 (R. 9a)
James 5:1-6
Mark 9:38-42, 44, 46-47

Come, Holy Spirit

Do you find the Holy Spirit disruptive? Does he not pose a threat to the routines of the established order? Look at history. The Holy Spirit always seems to get reformers into trouble with the authorities. Every so often the Holy Spirit blows through tidy little cloisters and upsets things, scattering the pages of precious customaries to the four winds. Just when we think we have it right, the Holy Spirit spoils it all by passing through in wind and fire.

I suppose that we would all prefer, at least some of time, an innocuous Holy Spirit, one who, perched on our shoulder, coos soothing nothings into our ears. But such a Holy Spirit is the product of our imaginations, the expression of an angst driven desire to manage and control all things. Face it. The Holy Spirit is always a little threatening, a little wild. Oh, we want the Holy Spirit, but we would prefer a pet Holy Spirit in a gilded cage, lest things get out of hand. That is precisely what happened in today’s reading from the book of Numbers and in the holy Gospel.

About Dom Mark

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

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