Homilies: November 2006 Archives

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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Monday of the Thirty–Fourth Week of the Year II

Revelation 14:1–3, 4b–5
Psalm 23:1–2, 3–4ab, 5–6 (R. 6)
Luke 21:1–4

Prayer for the Holy Father

Thousands have taken to the streets in Turkey to protest the apostolic journey of the Holy Father to that country. Threats to his security are rising. Yesterday in his Angelus message the Holy Father asked for our prayers. This is what he said: “With confidence, I wish to follow in the footsteps of my venerated predecessors, Paul VI and John XXIII, and I invoke the heavenly protection of Blessed John XXIII, who for ten years was apostolic delegate in Turkey and felt great affection and esteem for that nation. I ask all of you to accompany me with prayer so that this pilgrimage may bring all the fruits willed by God.” It is crucial that we pray for the Holy Father, not only individually and privately, but also corporately and publicly during the coming days.

The Sights and Sounds of Heaven

In the First Reading, Saint John continues to gaze into the mysteries of heaven. He sees the Lamb and, all around the Lamb, those who bear “His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads” (Ap 14:1). Not only does Saint John see the sights of heaven, he also hears the sounds of heaven: “And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters” (Ap 14:2). He hears the “new song” that is sung before the throne of God by the choir of the elect.

John the Virgin Disciple of the Lord

To John, the virgin disciple of the Lord and the virgin son by adoption of the Virgin Mother, it is given to understand the beauty of chastity. The chaste are those “who follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Ap 14:4). The companions of the Lamb are distinguished by the radiance of their purity: a purity preserved by a special gift of grace, or a purity recovered by a gift of repentance.


Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Last Sunday in Ordinary Time B

John 18: 33-37
Apocalypse 1:5-8
Daniel 7:13-14

November 26, 2006
Mass in Thanksgiving For My Twenty Years of Priesthood

Worthy is the Lamb

As we crossed the threshold into the Sacred Mysteries today, we sang of a breathtaking vision. John, the Beloved Disciple, in solitude on the island of Patmos, lifted his eyes to heaven’s open door. And what did he see? He saw the throne of God, and “the Lamb, standing as though it had been slain” (Ap 5:6). John’s eyes were opened, and so too were his ears. “Then, I looked,” he says, “and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and blessing’” (Ap 5:11-12).

A Glimpse and Foretaste of Heaven

In a word, John was given a glimpse and foretaste of the heavenly liturgy. And then he heard “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, ‘To Him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said. ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and adored” (Ap 5:13–14).

Heaven in the Heart and the Heart in Heaven

The priest, every priest, is a poor man, “a man of unclean lips dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Is 6:5) at the service of this glorious mystery. When the priest, whoever he is and wherever he may be, enters the sanctuary for Holy Mass, the angels enter with him, myriads of myriads of angels and thousands of thousands. Heaven descends to rest upon the altar and, from the altar, the whole Church — that is all who gathered about it — are assumed into heaven. Holy Mass is just this: an hour in heaven. The priest and, with him, anyone who partakes of the Holy Mysteries, believing, hoping, loving, desiring, and adoring, leaves church with heaven in his heart and with his heart in heaven.

Holy Mass: Our Great Thanksgiving

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Votive Mass In Thanksgiving to God

1 Kings 8:55-61
Psalm 144: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11
John 15:9-17

“Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven” (1 K 8:22); and said, “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise” (1 K 8:56). Solomon standing in prayer before the altar is a figure of Christ, the King of Peace, the Eternal High Priest who, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, “is able to save those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). Solomon stands before the altar with his hands spread toward heaven; he is already the image of every priest of the New Covenant who, configured to Christ, adopts that very same posture at the moment of the Great Thanksgiving that is the Mass.

The royal priestly prayer of Solomon is brought to perfection in the prayer of Christ; the prayer of Christ is perpetuated and actualized in the Eucharistic action, the Thanksgiving of the Church. “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19), He said; and so she does. “Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it . . . week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly” (Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Eucharist, p. 744).

This is the Great Thanksgiving of the Church, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. This is the Great Thanksgiving of Jerusalem and of Antioch, of Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. This is the Great Thanksgiving woven into the history and culture of the Western World. This is the Great Thanksgiving that inspired men to raise altars to God and build cathedrals and churches to house them.

Et Ecce Ostium Apertum in Caelo

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Thirty–Third Wednesday of the Year II
Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

Revelation 4:1–11
Psalm 150:1–2, 3–4, 5–6 (Rev 4:8b)
Luke 19:11–28

Heaven’s Open Door

Saint John says, “I, John, looked, and behold, in heaven, an open door” (Ap 4:1). The image of the open door in heaven is a fascinating one. Everyone, after all, is curious about what lies beyond the door of heaven. Everyone wants to catch a glimpse of what goes on in paradise. Countless saints and mystics, beginning with Saint Stephen the Protomartyr, have been allowed to look through heaven’s open door.

Sine Fine Dicentes

John hears a trumpet–like voice inviting him to come up, and in the twinkling of an eye, finds himself in the Spirit standing before the very throne of God and the whole heavenly court. All around the throne of God he sees fantastic creatures “full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing” (Ap 4:8). It is this one phrase that makes today’s First Reading so suitable for the feast of Saint Cecilia: “they never cease to sing” (Ap 4:8). It is this phrase that the Church enshrines in the Preface of the Mass where she describes the hosts of heaven as sine fine dicentes, ceaselessly singing.

The Vicar of Hodnet and His Hymn

And what are the hosts of heaven singing? “Holy, holy, holy. Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come” (Ap 4:8). In 1826, a clergyman of the Church of England named Reginald Heber, the Vicar of Hodnet in Shropshire, wrote a hymn inspired by this text for Trinity Sunday. Another Anglican clergyman composed the tune for it. With the expansion of the British Empire the hymn spread to every corner of the English–speaking world. Heber himself died as bishop of Calcutta in 1826.

Ecce, Sponsus Venit!

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Strong, Serene, Majestic, Invincible

When in 1867 Abbot Prosper Guéranger set about opening a Benedictine monastery for women at Solesmes, he placed the whole enterprise under the protection of Saint Cecilia. Jenny Bruyère, the young woman who would become the first abbess of Sainte-Cécile, had taken the name of Cécile at the time of her confirmation; as a Benedictine her whole life would unfold under the patronage of the Roman virgin martyr.

Abbot Guéranger recognized in Saint Cecilia, “an embodiment of the Roman Church of the first centuries, strong, serene, majestic, invincible.” This fascination with Saint Cecilia was communicated to anyone who came within under the spiritual influence of Solesmes. When the young Suzanne Wrotnowska was received as a Benedictine Oblate of the Abbey of Sainte-Marie de la Source in Paris, a monastery of the Solesmes Congregation, Saint Cecilia was among the saints held up for her imitation and veneration. Later, writing her meditations on the liturgy, she would offer her daughters memorable commentaries on the Mass and Office of Saint Cecilia.

Her Heart Was Enkindled With Fire From Heaven

It is not surprising that Benedictines should feel a certain affinity with Saint Cecilia. One of the responsories for her Office aptly illustrates the monastic life: “The glorious maiden carried the Gospel of Christ always in her breast, and meditated therein day and night, talking with God and praying. V. She spread forth her hands and prayed unto the Lord, and her heart was enkindled with fire from heaven. R. Talking with God and praying.”

At That Time Shall Arise Michael

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Thirty–Third Sunday of the Year B

Daniel 12:1–13
Psalm 15:5, 8–11 (R. v.1)
Hebrews 10:11–14, 18
Mark 13:24–32

Michael, the Great Prince

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book” (Dan 12:1). The prophet Daniel reveals the role of Saint Michael the Archangel in the great final conflict of history. Saint Michael is the guardian angel and champion of the Jewish people and of the Church of Christ.

Spiritual Combat

The Apocalypse of Saint John also describes Saint Michael’s glorious defeat of the powers of darkness: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven” (Ap 12:7). The Church, with Saint Michael as her defender, is at war. Saint Paul tells us that the Church is locked in combat, contending “not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).

Pope Leo XIII and Saint Michael

At the end of the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII had a vision while assisting at Holy Mass: it concerned a great diabolical assault upon the Church. A priest in attendance related that the Pope began to look upwards; his face grew pale. Visibly shaken he withdrew to his private office, and a short time later, having called for the Secretary of the Congregation of Rites, he handed him a document. The document contained Pope Leo’s prayer to Saint Michael. The Pontiff ordered that the prayer be disseminated to the Catholic bishops of the whole world for recitation after every Low Mass.

Therefore My Heart Is Glad

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Thirty–Third Sunday of the Year B

Daniel 12:1–13
Psalm 15:5, 8–11 (R. v.1)
Hebrews 10:11–14, 18
Mark 13:24–32

Know That He Is Near

Next Sunday will be the last of this liturgical year, the end of another year of grace. In the hourglass of the liturgy, the sand of time has nearly run out. In two weeks time, Mother Church will turn it over, and the cycle of holy time will begin again. Already, on this next-to-the-last Sunday of the Church year, we find ourselves in a mysterious climate of “already” and “not yet.” The Word of God today draws us out of ourselves into a kind of expectant tension. “Know that He is near, at the very gates” (Mk 13:29). We are magnetized by the promises of Christ. Today’s Mass lifts us out of ourselves and projects us into the certainty of the glorious advent of the Son of Man.

Ever In My Sight

In the Responsorial Psalm, we heard the verse: “I keep the Lord ever in my sight” (Ps 15:8). This is the voice of the Church speaking of Christ; it is the voice of the Bride speaking of her Bridegroom. “I keep the Lord ever in my sight” (Ps 15:8). How does the Church keep the Lord ever in her sight? By means of the sacred liturgy. “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24). Today’s Postcommunion refers specifically to “these things your Son has commanded us do in remembrance of Him.”

The Grand Plan of Salvation

The liturgy is the means by which we, wide-eyed and full of wonder, are present to the whole mystery of Christ: present to His Passion and His Death, present to His descent into hell, present to His Resurrection and to His glorious Ascension, present to His enthronement at the right hand of the Father, present to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in violent winds and tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost. This is the marvelous plan of the Father, designed and willed from all eternity, an economy of mercy and of love, a grand plan conceived in the inscrutable depths of eternal wisdom! The liturgy is the Father offering us Christ, and Christ offering us to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Pie Iesu Domine, dona eis requiem.

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Commemoration of All the Departed
Who Militated Under the Rule of Saint Benedict

Romans 8:14–23
Psalm 63, 1, 2–3, 4–5, 7–8 (R. 1b
Gospel: John 12:23–28

Members of the Family Even in Death

We saw yesterday that each of the great Orders of the Church has its own festival of All Saints; the same is true of the Commemoration of the Departed. The Augustinians remember all their dead on November 14th, the Dominicans on November 8th, the Franciscans on November 24th, the Carmelites on November 15th, the Jesuits on November 6th, and the Benedictines and Cistercians on November 14th.

The departed remain members of the monastic family in which they were consecrated to God. Those who are still in the purifying fire of God’s just and merciful love rely on our help. They cannot pray for themselves because their time of being able to merit has forever passed, but they are not without gratitude towards those who pray for them.

In ages past one of the principal motives for entering a monastery or for becoming an Oblate was to learn the art of dying well and to secure the suffrages of the community after death: Masses, psalms, and almsgiving. In the Middle Ages it was not uncommon for married men or women to ask for the holy habit and make profession on their deathbed. Monastic profession was deemed a second baptism; moreover, it assured one of a lasting remembrance in the prayers of the community after death.

The chronicles of monasteries and the lives of the saints recount many instances of souls in purgatory returning to beg for Masses and other prayers; there are also accounts of souls returning to thank those who prayed for them and to give them a fleeting glimpse of heaven’s radiance shining on their faces.

The Eclipse of the Requiem Mass

Prayer for the dead went into a marked decline in the period of theological confusion that swept through the Church in the late 1960s and 1970s. A number of factors contributed to this weakening of charity towards the faithful departed. The Mass of Christian Burial came to be called quite inaccurately the Mass of the Resurrection, a term never authorized by the Church and found in no official liturgical book. Whereas the traditional black or violet vestments reminded us that we die as poor sinners in need of God’s purifying mercy and of the supplications of the Church, the use of white vestments was misinterpreted by many, not as a sign of hope in the mercy of God, but rather as a sign of assurance that the deceased had already been welcomed into eternal glory. Funerals turned into something resembling local beatifications or canonizations.

Salvete, Cedri Libani

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November 13
All Saints Who Militated under
the Rule of Saint Benedict

Isaiah 61:9–11
Psalm 102: 1–2, 3–4, 8–9, 13–14, 17–18a (R. 1a)
John 15:1–8

So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1–2). Each of the great Orders in the Church celebrates, in addition to All Saints on November 1st and All Souls on November 2nd, special days in honour of their own “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) and in commemoration of all their beloved dead.
— The Augustinians remember all saints of the Order of Saint Augustine on November 13th and all their departed on November 14th.
— The Dominicans remember all saints of the Order of Preachers on November 7th and all their departed on November 8th.
—The Franciscans remember all saints of the Seraphic Order on November 29th and all their departed on November 24th.
— The Carmelites remember all saints of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel on November 14th and all their departed on November 15th.
— The Jesuits remember all saints of the Society of Jesus on November 5th and all their departed on November 6th.
— The Benedictines and Cistercians remember all saints who militated under the Rule of Saint Benedict on November 13th and all their departed on November 14th.

I and My Childen Whom the Lord Hath Given Me

The proper Benedictine Office for today’s festival is taken in great part from that of All Saints Day on November 1st with a few significant adaptations. At Vespers we read from Isaiah, placing the prophets’s words in Saint Benedict’s mouth: “Behold, I and my children whom the Lord hath given me for a sign, and for a wonder in Israel from the Lord of Hosts who dwelleth in Mount Sion” (Is 8:18). Saint Benedict appears as the paterfamilias of a great household. He stands together with his supernatural offspring in the presence of God, illustrating the grace of spiritual fecundity for all the Church.

Cedars Tall of Lebanon

Today’s Vespers hymn calls our holy forefathers and foremothers “cedars of Lebanon.” The Lebanon cedar is mentioned seventy–five times in the Bible; its bark has medicinal properties and its timber was highly prized for the construction of noble houses, temples, and ships.


November 11
Feast of Saint Martin of Tours, Bishop

Isaiah 61:1-3abcd
Psalm 88:2-3, 4-5, 21-22, 25, 27
Matthew 25: 31-40

Today’s gospel, focusing on judgment and on the arrival of the Bridegroom-King in glory with all his angels, is perfectly adapted to the eschatological impetus given to the liturgy between November 1st and the First Sunday of Advent. In other parts of the Catholic world, a six-week Advent begins on the Sunday following the feast of Saint Martin. This is the tradition of the Church of Milan, for example. The arrival of Martin the soldier announces the arrival of Christ, the true King, the Lord of glory.

Saint Martin of Tours was the first non-martyr to be honoured with a liturgical cult, the first of a long line of “confessors” to make their way into the Church’s calendar. “Though he did not die a martyr’s death, sings the Magnificat Antiphon, this holy confessor won the martyr’s palm.” The hymn Iste Confessor was composed for the feast of Saint Martin. Holy Father Benedict himself dedicated a chapel to Saint Martin at Monte Cassino. Franciscan liturgists of the Middle Ages borrowed from the Office of Saint Martin in composing the liturgy for the feast of Saint Francis, in many cases simply changing Martinus to Franciscus.

Saint Martin was guided by the Holy Spirit through a whole succession of states of life. There is Martin the soldier, Martin the catechumen, Martin the monk, and finally, Martin the bishop. In North America, Saint Martin is often forgotten; in France, over five hundred villages and over four thousand parishes bear his name and witness to the enthusiastic piety stirred up by his memory.

In the reading from the prophet Isaiah, Martin is remembered as one filled with the Holy Spirit, as one anointed, as one sent to bring good news to the poor. He binds up broken hearts, comforts those who mourn, and puts praise in the mouths and hearts of the despondent. The Life of Saint Martin by Sulpicius Severus recounts Martin’s miracles of compassion, of conversion, of generosity, of healing. Together with Saint Athanasius’ Life of Saint Antony, the Life of Saint Martin became the standard reference for the biographers of holy men.

Sacred Signs

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Saint Leo is a model of holiness for all of us. While all are not called to preach, and very few indeed are chosen to teach from Peter’s Chair, all, without exception, are called to hear the Word of God, to repeat it and to turn it to prayer. All are called to the priestly service of God, each member according to his rank in the Body of Christ that is the Church. In today’s Office reading Saint Leo reminds us of this very thing: “In baptism the sign of the cross makes kings of all who are reborn in Christ, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit consecrates them priests.”

Each of us lives out the baptismal priesthood by making of all of life a procession to the altar, by making of every action a holy oblation, by entering into the victimhood of Christ. Is not this the teaching of the Apostle: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy , pleasing unto God, your reasonable sacrifice” (Rom 12:1).

We also remember today our dear friend Adé Béthune, greatly devoted to Saint Leo — not in any conventionally pious way, but with unswerving integrity and zeal. Adé lived toward the altar. Everything in her work and in her life had a Eucharistic finality. I cannot forget the reverence and awe with which she always spoke of Holy Mass — never simply Mass, always Holy Mass.

When, back in the 1940s, Adé began her workshop in Newport for the service of the praying Church, she placed it under the protection of Saint Leo. When she began her association for the promotion of good craftsmanship and art in the service of the sacred liturgy, she called it the Saint Leo League. She had one of her apprentices make a blue & white tile icon of Saint Leo in the traditional Portuguese style to adorn the outside of her shop on Washington Street. As a little girl, Adé’s nickname was “Lion” — lion. When she began taking in apprentices in her Newport studio, she dubbed them her “cubs.” Adé’s name as a Benedictine Oblate was Sister Leo.

Terribilis Est Locus Iste

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November 9

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Today’s festival invites us, in some way, to cross the threshold of the Lateran Basilica and enter the nave, to stand in the midst of it and, with eyes wide open to things visible, begin to contemplate the invisible: the mystery of the Church, Bride of Christ and Mother of Christ’s faithful. To do this, we need not take ourselves 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.

The liturgy summons us today 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. 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 remote and distant God of “there and then,” but the God of “here and now.” This is the wondrous realization that, dawning upon Jacob in the first reading, causes 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).

At Home in Rome

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Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Ps 45: 2-3, 5-6, 8-9
1 Corinthians 3: 9c-11, 16-17
John 2:13-22

God Is In Her Midst

“I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). One cannot go out the front door of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme without seeing the Lateran Basilica. One never tires of the sight. The cathedral of Rome has a quiet pearly radiance in the morning light. Today’s responsorial psalm expresses it perfectly: “God is in her midst; she shall not be disturbed; God will help her at the break of dawn” (Ps 45: 6).

The Bride Made Lovely

In the evening the cathedral of Rome turns to gold in the fires of the setting sun. “I have chosen and consecrated this house, says the Lord, that my name may be there forever” (2 Chr 7:16). Saint John Lateran looks very much like a great vessel come down from heaven, like the bride made lovely for her spouse.

The Emperor Become the Doorkeeper

The Lateran was the palace of the Emperor Constantine; Santa Croce was the palace of his mother, Saint Helena. They would have been able to give each other an imperial wave from their windows. Under the great portico of the Lateran, to the left, is an immense statue of Constantine — “Saint Constantine” as he is often called — regal, self-confident, strong. Constantine guards the entrance of the basilica. The mighty Emperor has become the doorkeeper of the cathedral. It is all in the logic of the Gospel.

The Church Is Alive

Visiting Saint John Lateran one sees the living, breathing Catholic Church in all her diversity. Confessionals line the left side of the basilica; each one bears a sign indicating the languages spoken by the confessor on duty: Italian, French, Spanish, German, Polish, Portuguese, Tagalog, and even English. The confessors themselves come from a variety of nations and belong to diverse religious Orders. Even more impressive is the great numbers of penitents, even on a weekday morning. At several confessionals stand lines of people waiting to be shriven: young people, elderly men and women, people in business suits, university students, bishops, priests, seminarians, and religious in all sorts of habits. Some are pilgrims in the Eternal City; others are true Romans completely at home in their cathedral church. Where mercy flows, where sin is confessed and forgiven, where broken hearts are healed, the Church is alive!


Adoring Silence at the Heart of the Church

To the left of the great nave is the chapel of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a place of silence and adoration. There the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the monstrance all day long. People come and go continuously. Young people stop in to adore, some laden with backpacks of books, others in T-shirts and jeans, still others in Armani suits. There are, of course, the little old ladies like sparrows whose secret prayers spread a balm over the wounds of many. Priests, religious, seminarians, pilgrims from north and south, east and west: all are magnetized by the presence of the Eucharistic Christ. And there is such a silence: an adoring silence, a silence that remains inviolate at the heart of the city and of the Church. The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is a hearth of Eucharistic adoration, a model for every other cathedral in the world.

Mother and Head of All Churches of the City and the World

For Catholics who have not had the opportunity to go to Rome, today’s festival may seem remote and almost unreal. Saint Peter’s Basilica holds a more prominent place in the Catholic imagination. News commentators often mistake Saint Peter’s for the cathedral of the bishop of the Rome. Saint Peter’s gets all the media coverage. The dome of Saint Peter’s is, for many, the icon of Catholicism; to the eyes of the world Bernini’s colonnade is the embrace of the Church, great arms flung open in an embrace that defies the ages.

For all of this, Saint John Lateran remains the Mother Church of the Eternal City and of the world, the church wherein every Catholic can be at home. The inscription on the façade of the Lateran reads: Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarium mater et caput, mother and head of all churches of the city and of world. One cannot visit the Lateran Basilica without coming away with a clearer impression of what it means to be a Roman Catholic.

A Pilgrimage of the Heart

The liturgy summons us today us to make a pilgrimage of the heart. Today’s Mass and Divine Office are 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).

Rome is Home

The distance separating Rome and every other place is swallowed up in the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice. Our mystical pilgrimage to the heart of the Church leads us always to the altar. In a very real sense, for all of us, Rome is home. Transposed into the realm of the faith, the ancient adages hold true: to be Roman is be to be free, to be Roman is to be a citizen of the world.

In the Sweet Obedience of Communion With Peter

Being Roman Catholic means being Catholic at the crossroads of the world, Catholic in the sweet obedience of communion with Peter, Catholic in adhering to the truth taught from Peter’s Chair, a truth resplendent with the blood of the Church’s martyrs and all ablaze with the fire of her mystics. The festival of the Dedication of the Lateran says to those who have ears to hear, “Come to the heart of the Church, live in the heart of the Church. Let zeal for the house of God consume you.”

God At Work Within

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Wednesday of the Thirty–First Week of the Year II

Philippians 2:12–18
Psalm 26:1, 4, 13–14 (R. 2a)
Luke 14:25–33

In the Catechism

Opening the Catechism of the Catholic Church this morning, I discovered that among the ecclesiastical writers cited in the text, there are fifty–nine men and eight women. Three of the eight women cited are Carmelites, and one of the three is Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: an outstanding honour for a young nun who died, hidden in her Carmel at Dijon, at twenty–six years of age on November 9, 1906.

To Light, to Love, to Life

One hundred years have passed since, faced with death, Blessed Elizabeth said, “Je vais à la Lumière, à l’Amour à la Vie — I am going to Light, to Love, to Life.” The influence of the young Carmelite has grown prodigiously all over the world. Her Prayer to the Holy Trinity has been translated into thirty–four languages.

God Is At Work In You

In today’s First Reading, Saint Paul says this: “God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Blessed Elizabeth’s secret of holiness was total surrender to God at work in her for his good pleasure, transforming her into the Praise of His Glory (cf. Eph 1:6). Believing this, one dares to pray, “I trust, O God, that you are at work in me, even now, both to will and to work for the praise of your glory.”

For the Praise of His Glory

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that, “even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity: ‘If a man loves me,” says the Lord, ‘he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him’” (Jn 14:23). And as a kind of commentary on the mystery of the indwelling Trinity, the Catechism gives us Blessed Elizabeth’s magnificent prayer. I know souls who by dint of repeating that prayer day after day have learned it by heart; God alone knows what changes it has wrought in them . . . for the praise of His glory.

Laus Meus in Ecclesia Magna

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Philippians 2:5-11
Psalm 21: 26b-27, 28-30a, 31-32 (R. v. 26a)
Luke 14:15-24

Christ Obedient Unto Death

Nothing is more perilous than an excessive familiarity with the sublime: the juxtaposition of the Holy with the “ho-hum.” Well-known texts like today’s passage from Philippians present just such a danger. “Oh, that again! I know it. I’ve heard it hundreds of times. Onto the next thing.” Saint Paul’s canticle of the self-emptying and glorified Christ — the Christus factus est — is so familiar to us that we risk not hearing it or, at best, giving it no more than a nod of acknowledgement.

Sing the Mystery

Of course, one of the most adequate treatments of the text is its chant melody; there, melody functions as exegesis and as homily. Neum after neum, the meaning of the text is revealed in a way that preaching and commentaries cannot even begin to approach. I wonder how many of you were moved to sing softly the Christus factus est during your lectio divina this morning. I was.

Through the Lens of Psalm 21

The Lectionary offers us another approach. It invites us to read the text through the lens of the Responsorial Psalm. Of course, Psalm 21 — the very prayer intoned by Jesus from the cross — is well known to us. We sing it on Friday in the Divine Office. What is original and new is the way the liturgy puts the triumphant conclusion of Psalm 21 together with the canticle from Philippians. It is this that can save us from the pitfall of an excessive familiarity with both texts.


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Isaiah 25:6, 7-9
2 Corinthians 5:1, 6-10
Luke 23: 44-46, 52-53; 24:1-6a

Perpetual Light

The Church’s prayer for the dead has, for centuries, been crystallized in a single verse drawn from second chapter of the little known Fourth Book of Esdras. Even non-believers know at least the first word of the introit of the Mass of the Dead: Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis. “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them” (cf. 4 Es 2:35). The word “requiem” has passed from sacred usage into the secular realm, becoming part of the vocabulary of poets and novelists, of dramatists and journalists.

The Requiem Mass has inspired some of the greatest music of Western civilization, beginning with the incomparable Gregorian Requiem and flowering into hundreds of other settings: Berlioz, Brahms, Britten, Duruflé, Fauré, Mozart, Verdi and, in our own day, John Rutter. Each year, during the month of November, I try to listen again to the various settings of the Requiem Mass, allowing their beauty to sink into my memory and, in some way, to nourish my prayer for the dead.

Fourth Esdras

The Fourth Book of Esdras is an attempt to sort out life’s huge questions: the goodness of God and the evil ever present in the world; the hope of immortality and the harsh reality of death; the meaning of suffering and faith in God’s mercy. It is a pity that, apart from the single verse taken up by the Liturgy of the Dead, most Catholics are unfamiliar with the Fourth Book of Esdras. The month of November is the perfect time to read it. You can find it in the RSV listed among the apocryphal books and in the supplement to the Vulgate.

A Vision of My Splendour

Esdras speaks to Israel in the name of God, saying, “Care for the injured and the weak, do not ridicule the lame, protect the maimed, and let the blind have a vision of my splendour. Protect the old and the young within your walls. When you find any who are dead, commit them to the grave and mark it, and I will give you the first place in my resurrection. Pause and be quiet, my people, because your rest will come” (2 Es 2:20-24). It is this promise of rest — refreshment, light, peace, and wholeness — that is echoed today, again and again, in the prayer of the Church for the dead.

The Triumph of Grace

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Apocalypse 7:2-4, 9-14
Psalm 23: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12a

Called to the Splendour of Holiness

The message of All Saints Day, or All Hallowmas as it was once called, is that all people — men, women, and children; the healthy and the sick; the rich and the poor; the married and the widowed; the single, the separated, and the divorced; the “very put together” and those not quite right in the head; the handsome and the homely; the clever and the simple — all, without exception, are called to the splendour of holiness.

No Excuses

Blessed Abbot Marmion says that, “When we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, we ought to repeat to ourselves the words that Saint Augustine heard: Cur non poteris quod isti, quod istae? What reasons have we for not tending to holiness? Oh, I know well what each one is tempted to say: ‘I have such or such a difficulty, I have such or such a trial to contend with, I cannot become a saint.’” “But be sure,” says the Irish Abbot, “that all the saints have met with such difficulties, such trials, and much greater ones than yours. Thus then none can say: ‘Holiness is not for me’” (Christ in His Mysteries, p. 399).

The Heavenly Liturgy

Today’s reading from the Apocalypse shows us the saints engaged in the glorious liturgy of heaven. Saint John gazes at “a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Ap 7:9–10).

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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