Homilies: July 2007 Archives

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.”

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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