Blessed Virgin Mary: October 2012 Archives

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Saint Luke, Evangelist

The Evangelist

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

Iconographer of the Holy Mother of God

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

Saint Luke at the Cross

I know also of one painting of Saint Luke, different from all others and profoundly moving. It is by the Spanish artist Francisco Zurbaràn and dates from 1660. Zurbaràn shows Saint Luke standing on Calvary; he is holding an artist's palette in his hands and contemplating Jesus Crucified with rapt attention. Saint Luke is memorizing the scene so as to depict it in a painting, just as he depicts it in his Gospel.

A Rosary of Icons

Open the Gospel of Saint Luke and what do you see? Icons of the Virgin Mother and the Child Christ, of the healing Christ, of Christ in prayer, of the suffering Christ, of the Crucified Christ, and of the mysterious risen Christ appearing on the road to Emmaus. These Gospel icons, written by Saint Luke with an extraordinary spiritual sensitivity, invite us to the contemplation of the Face of Christ in much the same way, as do the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

The Lectio Divina of the Icon

Irish Benedictine Dom Gregory Collins has written an extraordinary little book on icons: “The Icons and Lectio Divina: Ancient and Post Modern Insights.” Dom Gregory applies the four moments of lectio divina to the practice of prayer before an icon. Lectio becomes a reading of the imagery, an attempt to “receive” the message it expresses through colour and form.

Meditatio takes the images received and turns them over in the mind; it can also mean focusing on a single detail of the icon: the face, the eyes, a hand, a gesture. Meditatio before an icon allows one to linger for a long time in the transforming presence of the light of God. “We all,” says Saint Paul, “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

Oratio is the prayer that, like a flame, shoots up in the heart. Gazing upon the icon, like repeating the sacred text, feeds the flame of oratio. Finally, one is surprised by a holy stillness. The “fiery darts of prayer” are absorbed into something more obscure: contemplatio. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).

Dom Gregory’s insights may help us to read the Gospel of Saint Luke more deeply, searching on each page for the icon that slowly emerges from between the lines and behind the words, becoming visible to the eyes of faith. “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Ps 26:8-9).

We Become What We Contemplate

Philosophers, psychologists and saints agree that we become what we contemplate. Look at goodness and you will become good. Look at beauty and you will become beautiful. Look at truth and you will become true. Look at purity and you will become pure. Saint Clare of Assisi, herself so marked by Gospel of Saint Luke, wrote to Agnes of Prague: “Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him” (Second Letter to Agnes of Prague).

Contemplating the Mysteries With Saint Luke

Understood in this way, the contemplation of the “icons” of Saint Luke’s Gospel, especially through the prayer of the Rosary, is transforming. The Rosary is, I have always believed, a uniquely Lukan prayer. Consider Saint Luke’s icon of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26 38) and, with Mary, become “Yes” to the Word. Look at the Visitation (Lk 1:39 56) and learn the language of Mary’s praise. Look at the Child lying in the manger (Lk 2:16) and become little and poor.

Look at the merciful Christ (Lk 4:40 - 5:26) and become merciful; at the healing Christ (Lk 7:1-10) and become an instrument of healing; at the solitary Christ in prayer (Lk 11:1), and learn to converse with the Father.

Look at the icon of Christ in Gethsemane (Lk 22:39-46), agonizing and comforted by an angel, and enter into his submission to the Father’s will. Look at the crucified Jesus (Lk 23:33-47) and learn from him to forgive and to show mercy, even in the hour of darkness. Look at the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32) and know that he walks with you always, opening the Scriptures, breaking the Bread, causing your hearts to burn with a mysterious fire. Finally, look at the icon of the Church in the last sentence of Saint Luke’s Gospel -- “They were continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:53) -- and learn to bless God always and everywhere, learn to give the last word to praise.

To the Altar

The Benedictine vocation is that of the Church in the temple at Jerusalem: to bless. The transformation that begins in the contemplation of Saint Luke’s Rosary of Gospel icons is perfected, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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The Ancient Order of Hibernians evolved from a need in the early 1600s to protect the lives of Catholic priests who, by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, risked death to keep the Holy Faith alive in occupied Ireland after the reign of England's King Henry VIII. When England Implemented its dreaded Penal Laws in Ireland, various societies were formed across the country to assist Catholic priests in ministering to the spiritual needs of the faithful. These groups worked to aid and comfort the people by whatever means available. Similarly, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was founded on May 4th, 1836 at Saint James Church in New York City, to protect Catholic clergy and church property from the machinations of anti-Catholic bigotry, cloaked in the guise of American patriotism, and from the nativist prejudice against immigrants.

Homily at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock
Pilgrimage of the Ancient Order of Hibernians
In Thanksgiving for the Gift of the Priesthood
Saturday, 13 October 2012

When John Byrne rang me a few days ago, inviting me to join you here in Knock today, I could not refuse him. Like my father and my great-grandfather before me, I am a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Father McKeon Nº 7, in New Haven, Connecticut. More significantly, Our Lady of Knock herself has played a decisive role in my life since I first offered Holy Mass here, as a young priest from America over 25 years ago.


The Icon of Knock

Knock is a kind of life-size icon, that is to say, a message deployed in images. An icon is an image through which heavenly realities are made visible on earth, and through which we, pilgrims who go mourning and weeping in this vale of tears, are given a glimpse of the radiant joys of heaven.

To Be Read from Left to Right

Knock must be read, as one would read a text, from left to right, beginning with Saint Joseph. Consider well Saint Joseph -- humble Joseph, silent Joseph, strong and brave Joseph -- and in him you will see the model of the original mission of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, that is, the protection and safeguard of priests.

Saint Joseph, Protector of Christ, Lamb and Priest

To Saint Joseph was entrusted not only the tender Lamb born of the Virgin Mary, the Lamb who, upon the altar of the Cross, would become the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim, but also the Eternal High Priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews (10:7) tells us that the priesthood of Christ began at the very instant of His conception, by the power of the Holy Ghost, in His Virgin Mother's womb.

Priest From Conception

Coming into this world, that is, coming into the sanctuary of His Mother's womb, the Son, the Eternal Word made flesh, presented Himself to the Father as Priest and Victim, saying, Ecce, venio, "A body Thou has fitted to me; behold, I come to do Thy will" (Hebrews 10:5-7). There was not a moment when Christ Jesus was not a Priest: the Priest for whom all the world waited in anticipation; the desire of the everlasting hills; the Mediator who would, by His own Body, as Saint Catherine of Siena says, bridge the great chasm between earth and heaven; the Redeemer who would give back to God what belonged to God, and give to men what God had, from all eternity, prepared for them.

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Saint Joseph, Guardian of Priests

Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, was placed, from the first instant of His conception, in the care and under the protection of Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph is the guardian of priests; he is the father of every man called to represent the fatherhood of God by being a living sacramental image of Him who said, "He that seeth Me seeth the Father" (John 14:9). Saint Joseph's mission has not ended. It is, I daresay, more necessary today than in those dark hours long past of Ireland's history, when the men of the Ancient Order of Hibernians took it upon themselves to be other Josephs for other priests in whom the one priesthood of Christ is prolonged through the ages, and will be prolonged until the end of time. Just as Saint Joseph cannot be understood apart from his relationship to Jesus, the Lamb of Sacrifice and the Priest who offers the Sacrifice, the Ancient Order of Hibernians cannot be understood apart from its historical relationship to the priesthood.

Mary, the Temple Fashioned by God for God

Here at Knock, Saint Joseph appeared bowing in reverence and in awe towards his Virgin Bride -- the love of his life, the joy of his heart, the light of his eyes: Mary. Our Lady appeared at Knock as the image of the Ecclesia Orans, the Church-in-Prayer. The position of her hands, the raising of her eyes, her whole being is liturgical. Mary is the living sanctuary of adoration in spirit and in truth. Her body is the temple fashioned by God for God. Her Immaculate Heart is the altar of the perfect sacrifice. Her womb is the tabernacle of the living Bread come down from heaven. And through her eyes, as through the crystal of a monstrance, one can gaze into the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.

Contemplate Our Lady of Knock

Our Lady revealed herself here at Knock as she is, indeed as she stands near the priest at the altar so often as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. Contemplate Our Lady of Knock, and you will understand what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council meant when, fifty years ago, they summoned us to full, conscious, and actual participation in the Holy Mysteries. Our Lady of Knock is heaven's perfect, shining illustration of what it means to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on earth.

Saint John the Evangelist

After Saint Joseph and Our Lady, we come to Saint John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Here at Knock, Saint John represents the preaching Church, the teaching Church. All that Saint John preached and taught, he drew out of the Heart of Jesus, that beating Heart upon which he rested his head at the Last Supper; the Heart he saw pierced by the soldier's lance on Calvary; the Heart that he recognized in his vision on the island of Patmos in the wound of the immolated Lamb who lives forever.

The Grace of Johannization for Priests

If you would ask one grace for the priests of Ireland today, ask this -- and I will allow myself to coin a word -- ask that they may be entirely johannized by the Holy Ghost: that each priest may become for the Heart of Jesus and for the Heart of Mary another John, so as to be another John in the heart of the Church. Saint John represents the fulness of priestly holiness in intimacy with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

The Sacrifice of the Lamb Renewed

And finally, we come to the altar, to the Lamb, to the Cross, and to myriads of choirs of angels singing, "Holy, Holy Holy"; but now, what is represented at Knock in image and symbol, will be given to us in reality, for the source and the summit of Knock is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is time, then, to leave the ambo for the altar in the blessed company of Saint Joseph, Our Lady, and Saint John; time for the Sacrifice of the Lamb, to whom be all glory and praise here at Knock, and from the rising of the sun to its setting, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Blessed Bartolo Longo

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Blessed Bartolo Longo

There is a marvelous figure of holiness inscribed on the calendar today: Blessed Bartolo Longo, the great Apostle of the Rosary and the founder of the shrine of the Madonna of the Rosary at Pompei in Italy. Born in 1841, Blessed Longo died in 1926. He was a contemporary of Saint Faustina. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1980. Several times in his pontificate, Pope John Paul II called our attention to the example of this holy layman, calling him “l’uomo della Madonna,” Our Lady’s man.

Divine Mercy Displayed

Blessed Bartolo Longo’s story is a dramatic illustration of Divine Mercy. The mystery of Mercy announced by Saint Faustina played itself out in the life of Blessed Longo. As a young man, following studies in Law, Bartolo Longo abandoned his faith and allowed himself to be drawn into paths of great spiritual darkness. He practiced spiritism, found himself entrenched in the occult, and became a practicing Satanist. Longo went so far as to have himself ordained a priest of Satan. He very nearly lost his sanity, becoming a mere shadow of himself.

Spiritually Sick

In one particular séance Longo was distressed to see the face of the deceased king of Naples and the Two Sicilies: Ferdinand II. That same night he saw the soul of his mother circling his bed, begging him to return to the Catholic faith. His practice of the occult had so affected him that he was barely recognizable to those who once knew him as a handsome young man, full of vitality and promise. A Catholic friend, seeing him in such a pitiful spiritual, psychological, and physical state, begged him to at least meet with Father Radente, a wise Dominican priest. After some time, Longo made a thorough confession and, under the direction of this priest, began the reform of his life. He entered the Third Order of Saint Dominic, receiving the name, Brother Rosario.

Conversion and Healing

Bartolo’s Dominican spiritual father told him that the Mother of God promised that anyone who promoted her Rosary would assuredly be saved. The rest of Blessed Barolo’s life was dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary. The Rosary was his lifeline. The Rosary was the anchor of his salvation. The Rosary was the means by which the Holy Mother of God brought him back from hell. It was through the prayer of the Rosary that the Blessed Virgin healed his soul, restored him to health, and entrusted him with a mission. Later Blessed Bartolo wrote, “What is my vocation? To write about Mary, to have Mary praised, to have Mary loved.”

Rosary Apostolate

Blessed Longo reached out to the desperately poor, ignorant, and needy people of the town of Pompei. He taught them to pray the Rosary. The Rosary did for that entire town what it had done for him in his personal life; it brought healing, refreshment, holiness, joy, and peace. With the help of the Countess Mariana de Fusco whom he later married on the advice of Pope Leo XIII, while preserving with her his vow of chastity, Bartolo Longo undertook the construction of the church of the Madonna of the Rosary of Pompei. The city that grew up around it became the City of the Rosary.

He founded a congregation of Dominican Sisters to care for the poor. He established a school for boys. He wrote tirelessly in the service of Madonna and of her Rosary. His beautiful supplication to the Madonna of the Rosary has been translated into countless languages. Pope John Paul II prayed it when, on October 7, 2003, he visited Pompei to conclude the Year of the Rosary. In Italy, every year on the first Sunday of October, everything comes to a halt at noon while people, young and old, poor and rich, healthy and sick, pause to pray Blessed Longo’s supplication to the Virgin of the Rosary.

Divine Mercy Available to All

Saint Faustina made known the mystery of Divine Mercy. Blessed Bartolo Longo experienced Divine Mercy in a dramatic and deeply personal way. The same Divine Mercy is available to us: the mercy that brings back from hell, the mercy that raises the soul from spiritual death, the mercy that heals, restores, forgives, and repairs the past.

The Divine Mercy comes to us through the intercession of the Mother of God and, most efficaciously, through the humble prayer of the Rosary. It comes to us in the Sacrament of Penance: the mystery of the blood and the water from the side of Christ washing over the soul. And the Divine Mercy comes to us in the mystery of the Eucharist. The Mass is the real presence of Crucified Love. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is Divine Mercy flowing from the Heart of the Lamb, making saints out of sinners.

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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