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Haec est domus Domini

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The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

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

God is in His Holy Place

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

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

House of God and Gate of Heaven

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

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The Temple of His Body

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

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

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Divine Hospitality

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

The Gate of Heaven Upon Earth

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

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

Salus, Vita, et Resurrectio Nostra

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September 14
The Exaltation of the Glorious Cross

Numbers 21:4b-9
Psalm 77:1-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

Glory in the Cross

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

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

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

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

The Visible Sign of God’s Healing Mercy

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

The Saving Wood

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

Health to Sickly Souls Is Given

The First Reading is a dramatic reminder that all of us, without exception, have suffered the venomous bite of the ancient serpent. We cross the wilderness of this life limping, and burning with a fever for which no earthly remedy can be found. Our new Moses, Christ, intercedes with the Father on our behalf and, in response, we are given the mystery of the Cross. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). The Cross is the source of our healing; it is the remedy for every affliction, the antidote for every poison, the medicine for every weakness. One of the antiphons at Matins, rhythmically translated, says: “Cross most gracious / from whose aspect / health to sickly souls is given/ with what praises shall I praise thee / who hast brought us life from heaven?

When We Are Stung by Vipers

Like the children of Israel we have to be brought back again and again. When we are strong and successful, when we “wax fat, grow thick, and become sleek” (Dt 32:15), how easily we forget the works of the Lord! When we experience the gift of salutary failure, when we stumble, fall, and lose our way with darkness all about us, when we are stung by vipers and beset with fever and thirst, then do we turn back, led on by severe and tender mercies to the source of all healing and strength.

The Holy Spirit and the Cross

The Cross is where the weakness of the flesh encounters the power of the Holy Spirit. It was from the Cross that the gift of the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the Church in the kiss of the Bridegroom’s mouth and in a mystery of water and of blood. “He bowed his head, says Saint John, and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30). And again, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (Jn 19:34). The breath, the blood, and the water are the abiding signs of the Spirit poured out whenever the Church assembles in faith at the foot of the holy and life-giving Cross. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is, at once, an actualization of the mystery of the Cross and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Secure in the Arms of the Cross

Again, the Cross is where every brokenness, injury, and wound encounters the compassion of the Father. We are called not so much to embrace the Cross as to allow ourselves to be embraced by it, for the arms of the Cross are the strong arms of the Eternal Father’s compassion. When the Holy Spirit begins to work in a soul, that soul is compelled to throw herself into the arms of the Cross because there, and there alone, is she held secure in the embrace of the Father’s unfailing compassion. The Cross of the Son shines with the love of the Father; that compassionate love is the remedy for every misery, shadow, weakness, betrayal, and fear.

Jacob’s Mystic Ladder

We celebrate the glorious Cross as a Trinitarian mystery; the healing compassion of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit await us in the Cross of the Son. By the Cross of Christ, as by the mystic ladder beheld by Jacob in a dream (Gen 28:12) the mercy of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit descend even to us. By the same Cross of Christ, we ascend to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jacob dreamed “that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it” (Gen 28:12). This is the mystery of the Cross revealed in figure and foreshadowing; this is the reality of the mysteries we celebrate here and now.

The Place of Christ’s Priesthood

The Cross is the place of Christ’s glorious priesthood with its descending and ascending mediation. Wheresoever and whensoever the liturgy is enacted, Christ the great High Priest stands in our midst, and his glorious Cross is rendered present. Health and joy descend into the world -- and into our hearts -- by the wood of the Cross and, by the wood of the Cross, the ladder that spans the chasm separating time from eternity, and this world from the next, we who are estranged and exiled from the beauty of the divine glory ascend into the splendour of the Kingdom.

The Mass: Presence of the Cross

The Cross is present in every Holy Mass, not as the memory of a hill far away, but as a dynamic reality drawing us together into unity and then, upward, to the Father, with the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The Liturgy of the Word is always a preaching and a presence of the Word of the Cross, “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The Liturgy of the Eucharist is always a confession and a presence of the mystery of the Cross in the fullness of its Trinitarian dimensions, and in the actualization of its power.

Through the Cross into the Kingdom

If you have heard the Word of God, you have been embraced by the mystery of the Cross. Held fast in its embrace, let us go to the altar. Through the Word of the Cross, the compassion of the Father, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the glory of the Son have descended into our midst today; let us then, ascend, by the mystery of the Cross present in this Eucharist, to the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit to whom be all glory and praise, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen, Alleluia!

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Birthday

Today, June 2nd, is my 55th birthday! When I went downstairs for collazione this morning, I discovered that Fra Bernardo Maria had baked a lovely breakfast cake for the occasion. Perfect with morning coffee!

At 8:45 Fra Ryan Maria and I set out out for the Church of Saints Marcellinus and Peter on the Via Merulana. Sister Barbara, A.S.C.J. joined us on the way. Thus did three happy Americans celebrate the festival of two glorious Roman Martyrs. After Mass, Sister Maria, a Polish religious belonging to the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth, joined us outside the church. Learning that it was my birthday, she said that she had the devotion of saying as many Gloria Patris as the person being celebrated has years!

A Priest and an Exorcist

Under the Emperor Diocletian, Peter, an exorcist of the Church of Rome, was sent to prison. There he converted the jailer and his entire family to the faith of Christ. They were all baptized by the priest Marcellinus. Condemned to death by the judge Serenus, Marcellinus and Peter were beheaded after atrocious torments.

Keeping Festival

The festival of Saints Marcellinus and Peter is kept as a solemnity in their church. Hence there was a Gloria and Credo at Mass. Fra Ryan Maria read the first and second readings.

At the end of Mass, the parish priest asked me to read the traditional prayer of supplication to the Holy Martyrs. Their reliquary was set amidst crimson flowers and a blaze of candles on the altar. Romans are unabashedly devoted to their saints: a salutary lesson for those who have espoused a dreary liturgical minimalism!

Marcellinus and Peter are named in the Roman Canon. I have a longstanding devotion to the saints of the Roman Canon and it was with no little emotion that I pronounced the names of Marcellinus and Peter at Mass this morning.

Confession

After Mass I went off to the Chiesa Nuova to make my confession! A great way to celebrate 55 years of mercy upon mercy! "Confess ye unto the Lord for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever" (Ps 117:1).

Thy Eyes Are as Doves' Eyes

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Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes (Ct 4:9).

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Oblates' Pilgrimage to Santa Maria Nuova

Yesterday I accompanied a group of Benedictine–Cistercian Oblates of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme to the tomb of their patroness Saint Frances of Rome in the Church of Santa Maria Nuova near the Coliseum. Don Teodoro, a young Olivetan Benedictine monk in residence at the adjoining monastery, welcomed us and gave us a marvelous guided visit of the church.

Saint Frances of Rome

We lingered at the tomb of Saint Frances of Rome; her body is visible in its glass–fronted shrine. She is clothed in her black habit with the distinctive long white muslin veil; in her hands she holds a little breviary, a sign of her dedication to the Opus Dei, even as a married woman.

Ancient Icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The sacristy of Santa Maria Nuova holds one of Rome's (and the world's) great Marian treasures: a 5th century icon of the Holy Mother of God. The icon was uncovered in 1950 by Professor Pico Cellini during his restoration of the church's works of art. It was before this icon that Saint Frances of Rome pronounced her oblation on August 15, 1425. It is one of the seven most ancient icons of the Blessed Virgin in Rome.

The face of the Holy Mother of God holds one spellbound. The enormous eyes, full of a mysterious light, seem to radiate the secret of the things that, according to Saint Luke, the Blessed Virgin Mary "held in her heart" (Lk 2:19). One's first impulse is to fall to one's knees before this icon of the 5th century. It has been called one of the finest examples of Christian poetry translated into art.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

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Today, being the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena, the destination of our weekly passeggiata was the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where the body of the saint is enshrined beneath the altar. Folks of all sorts were queued up to pray at the tomb from behind the altar. We took our places and each of us had a moment of prayer resting our heads on the effigy of Saint Catherine. I remembered all my Dominican friends there and even placed my rosary on the tomb while I prayed.

I cannot think of Saint Catherine without recalling her burning love for the Precious Blood of Christ. One’s dying words are not improvised. They are the expression of a lifetime. Saint Catherine, having lived immersed in Blood of Christ, died with the Blood of Christ on her lips. On the January 30th before her death, she prayed for the Church, the Bride of Christ: “O Eternal God, accept the sacrifice of my life within this Mystic Body of holy Church. I have nothing to give but what you have given me. Take my heart, then, and squeeze it out over this Bride’s face.” For the Blood of Jesus' Heart, Catherine gave her own heart’s blood and, like her Bridegroom and Lord, she gave it for the Church. Her last recorded prayer, uttered three months later, is this:

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Lord,
you are calling me to come to you,
and I am coming to you —
not with any merits of my own
but only with your mercy.
I am begging you for this mercy
in virtue of your Son’s most sweet Blood.
Blood!
Blood!
Father,
into your hands I surrender my soul
and my spirit.

It was April 29th, 1380. Catherine was thirty-three years old. Her identification with the Blood of the Paschal Lamb was complete. Today, with my forehead resting against Saint Catherine's tomb, I prayed through her intercession: "Blood of Christ, purify my mind, flood my soul, inflame my heart."

Also in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is Michelangelo's breathtakingly beautiful "Christ the Redeemer." See it above. The sacristy contains wonderful frescoes by Fra Angelico. The side chapel dedicated to Saint Dominic is dark and recollected. There too I offered a prayer for Father Jacob and my other Dominican friends.

Our Lady of Good Help

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Father Abbot sent me to offer Holy Mass this morning in our lovely little chapel of La Madonna di Bon Aiuto (Our Lady of Good Help). There were about fifty faithful present.

The chapel was built in 1476 by order of Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484) into the ancient Roman Castrense amphitheatre that forms the wall surrounding the monastery gardens. The chapel enshrines an ancient fresco of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

At one time the image was in a kind of wayside shrine with no more than a roof to protect it. A written account in the archives of our monastery relates that one day when Pope Sixtus IV was taking a walk from Saint John Lateran, he chanced upon a group of monks from Santa Croce and stopped to chat with them. All of a sudden a terrible thunderstorm with flashes of lightning came crashing down upon them. The little group sought refuge beneath the roof constructed over the image of the Madonna. The Pope invoked the bon aiuto (kindly help) and protection of the Mother of God.

Following this incident, the Pope gave orders that the image be removed from the wayside shrine and that a chapel be built on the spot in honour of the Blessed Virgin under the title of Bon Aiuto.

The Cistercian Monks of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme were charged with the care of the chapel and were also given the adjoining prairies, which property they held until the invasion of the French in 1849.

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The chapel remains a place of supplication to the Mother of God to the present day. It is opened during the month of May for daily Mass. The postulants and novices of Santa Croce also gather there daily during the month of May for the recitation of the Holy Rosary in common. The feast of the Madonna di Buon Aiuto is celebrated on the last Sunday of May with a Solemn Mass and a procession with the sacred image through the streets of the neighbourhood.

There is a beautiful reproduction of the Madonna di Buon Aiuto in the Basilica of Santa Croce. People often linger before the image in prayer, light candles, and bring flowers to the Mother of God. Apart from the Rosary, the prayer most commonly associated with the image of the Madonna di Buon Aiuto is the Memorare, attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

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This is the view from the window directly across from my cell. Looking west across the terrace and gardens of Santa Croce, I can see the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in the morning light. I shall never grow accustomed to seeing such sights. In Jam, Christe, Sol Iustitiae, the hymn at Lauds during Lent, we sing:

O Christ, Thou Sun of Justice, come,
Pierce with Thy rays our mental gloom;
With virtue light our souls once more,
And unto earth Thy day restore.

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The Monastery of Tor De' Specchi of the Benedictine Oblates of Saint Francesca Romana is open to the public but one day a year on March 9th, the feast of this most Roman of saints. Together with Sister Barbara Matazzaro, Paul Zalonski, and I made our pilgrimage there this morning. The sun was shining brightly and the day was glorious.

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The inner cloister was bathed in light. The lemon trees looked like something out of a medieval illuminated manuscript.

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We made our way through the monastery, stopping to admire the famous frescoes that depict the life of Saint Francesca Romana. In the chapel with its magnificent choir stalls, Holy Mass was being celebrated.

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This is one of twenty–seven frescoes depicting the life, miracles and visions of Saint Francesca Romana. This image depicts a miracle performed by Saint Francesca. A man named Gianni called for her help when surgeons decided to amputate one of his legs due to a serious infection. She applied ointment to the leg and it suddenly healed. In the left section of the composition, Santa Francesca gestures toward Gianni who lies in bed with his leg exposed; his bandages are below the bed. At the right of the composition, Gianni kneels to the Saint outside the doors of her convent.

The Ointment of Saint Francesca Romana is still made at the monastery; it is blessed as a sacramental for spiritual and physical healing. We were each able to obtain a little container of the blessed ointment and a small bottle of Acqua di Santa Francesca Romana as well.

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Today's reflection on beseeching reminded me that I wanted to present one of Rome's loveliest churches for beseeching and for adoring: San Claudio on the Piazza San Silvestro. This is one of the many churches in Rome where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed during the day, drawing the faithful to beseech and to adore.

San Claudio is served by the Sacramentini, the Blessed Sacrament Fathers. A reliquary to the right of the sanctuary contains a likeness of the body of Saint Peter Julian Eymard which, in turn, contains the saint's head. The body of the saint is in the Church of Corpus Christi, avenue de Friedland, in Paris.

At the entrance of the church is a niche containing an image of the Madonna del Santissimo Sacramento: the Virgin holds the Infant Christ offering the mysteries of His Body and Blood. Around the apse of the niche one reads: "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed" (Pr 9:5).

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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