Saints: December 2006 Archives

Saint Joseph, Advocate and Defender

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A Priest's Prayer to Saint Joseph

Saint Joseph,
I take you this day as my advocate and defender,
my counselor and my friend.
Open your heart to me
as you opened your home to the Virgin Mother
in her hour of need.
Protect my holy priesthood
as you protected the life of the Infant Christ
threatened by cruel Herod.
In darkness bring me light;
in weakness, strength,
and in fear the peace that passes understanding.
For the sake of the tender love that bound you
to the Virgin Mary and the Infant Christ,
be for me, Saint Joseph, a constant intercessor
and a shield against every danger of body, mind, and soul
so that, in spite of my weaknesses and sins,
my priesthood may bring glory to Christ
and serve to increase the beauty of holiness
in his bride the Church.
Amen.

Ite ad Joseph

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Some years ago I received the inspiration for these prayers to Saint Joseph. It was at a time of darkness and discouragement for many priests. Saint Joseph is the champion and protector of the weak, the vulnerable, and the poor. He is close to priests in their most intimate struggles, frailities, and fears. Go to Joseph.

Is it not significant that in this painting by Juan Simon Gutiérrez (1643–1718) the heads of the Child Jesus and Saint Joseph are touching? Note that the little Jesus and Saint Joseph together hold the fragile branch of lilies, the sign of chastity, in their hands. In most paintings of the Holy Family the most tender intimacy is between the Virgin Mother and her Child; here it is between Saint Joseph and the Child Jesus. The Virgin Mother understands the bonding that must take place between Saint Joseph and her Child; she holds the mystery of it in her Immaculate Heart.

Prayer to Saint Joseph for Priests

O glorious Saint Joseph,
who, on the word of the angel
speaking to you in the night,
put fear aside to take your Virgin Bride into your home,
show yourself today the advocate and protector of priests.
Protector of the Infant Christ,
defend them against every attack of the enemy,
preserve them from the dangers that surround them
on every side.
Remember Herod's threats against the Child,
the anguish of the flight into Egypt by night,
and the hardships of your exile.
Stand by the accused;
stretch out your hand to those who have fallen;
comfort the fearful;
forsake not the weak;
and visit the lonely.
Let all priests know that in you
God has given them a model
of faith in the night, obedience in adversity,
chastity in tenderness, and hope in uncertainty.
You are the terror of demons
and the healer of those wounded in spiritual combat.
Come to the defence of every priest in need;
overcome evil with good.
Where there are curses, put blessings,
where harm has been done, do good.
Let there be joy for the priests of the Church,
and peace for all under your gracious protection.
Amen.

He Who Has an Ear, Let Him Hear

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New York Again

Yesterday I returned to the Italian Consulate in New York City to pick up my visa. The magnificent Church of Saint Jean–Baptiste at Lexington and 76th Street is just a short walk from the Consulate. Sister Barbara Ann, A.S.C.J. and I were there for the 12:15 p.m. Mass. I concelebrated with Father Bernard Camiré, S.S.S., and Deacon Richard Russo assisted. The late John Cardinal O'Connor described Saint Jean–Baptiste as "quite possibly the most beautiful church in New York."

Church of Saint Jean–Baptiste

The beauty of Saint Jean's is more than the effect of its architecture and gorgeous appointments. The church has a spiritual beauty that is the radiance of holiness: the effect of nearly a century of daily adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament exposed. The church is staffed by the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament, spiritual sons of Saint Peter Julian Eymard.

Saint Peter Julian Eymard (1811–1868)

After Mass there was a prayer to Saint Peter Julian Eymard and the veneration of his relic by the faithful. Last August 2nd, on his liturgical memorial, I preached on this saint who has become for me an intercessor, a model, and a friend.

Saint Peter Julian’s Eucharistic vocation unfolded amidst sufferings of the heart and painful detachments. God called him out of the religious family he loved — the Marist Fathers — to begin a new work, a Cenacle entirely devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. From the beginning this new Eucharistic work comprised priests, consecrated women, and laity. He challenged his little family of adorers to set souls ablaze with Eucharistic fire.

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For Peter Julian, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament had an apostolic dimension. He reached out, in particular, to poor adolescents and adults who, for one reason or another, had not received their First Holy Communion, and to “fallen priests,” those unfortunate priests who, out of weakness, found themselves cut off and living in a state of spiritual, emotional, and often material, misery. The very same needs exist today, one hundred-fifty years later.

The number of baptized Catholics who have never received their First Holy Communion is staggering. Who will reach out to them? Who will take them by the hand and lead them to the altar? The preparation of young people and adults for their First Confession and Holy Communion is an urgent work, and one that the Heart of Jesus burns to see carried out.

And what of so many “fallen priests” cast aside, and living in dejection with no one to care for them spiritually? Saint Peter Julian understood that Our Lord was asking him to minister to troubled priests and guide them back to the altar, that is, to spiritual health and to holiness. Jeremiah’s prophecy holds out a series of consoling promises for priests who have fallen: “If you return I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth” (Jer 15:19).

In the Blessed Sacrament Saint Peter Julian Eymard recognized “the treasure hidden in the field” (Mt 13:44) and “the pearl of great price” (Mt 13:46). He gave up all that he had to possess the mystery of the Eucharist and to be possessed by it. Peter Julian Eymard is a saint for the Church today: a Church called to rediscover Eucharistic adoration and to live “from the altar and for the altar”; a Church that will be incomplete so long as so many of the baptized are not receiving the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ; a Church suffering in priests who broken and wounded with no one to care for their souls. Saint Peter Julian, share with us your passion for the Eucharist, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ!

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A New Shoot On An Old Tree

About twenty years after the death of Saint Peter Julian Eymard. one of his disciples, Père Bernard Maréchal, Assistant General of the Congregation, sought to have the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament adopt the Rule of Saint Benedict so as to become "The Congregation of Cistercian Adorers of the Most Blessed Sacrament." When Maréchal's proposal was refused by the General Chapter of 1887, he left the Blessed Sacrament Fathers to pursue his aspirations.

In 1891 Dom Maréchal founded the Cistercian Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament at Pont–Colbert in France. The Congregation joined perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to the traditional Benedictine observance. From France it spread to Holland and to North America. Dom Maréchal's Congregation was weakened greatly by the First and Second World Wars. By 1950 its remaining houses had, for various reasons, abandoned their specifically Eucharistic characteristics.

Monasteries of Adoration Today?

Since that time, especially in the wake of Pope John Paul II's Year of the Eucharist, there has been a revival of interest in Dom Maréchal's project. While there are many monasteries of adoration for women — I am thinking of the Tyburn Benedictines and of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration — there are very few for men. The Monastery of Santa Cruz in Guadalajara, Mexico, a foundation of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome, has, in fact, made Eucharistic adoration a defining characteristic of its identity. Will other monasteries of Eucharistic adoration sprout from the ancient Benedictine–Cistercian tree? "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Ap 2:29).

The Gospel of the Father

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I like this painting by the Dominican Fra Bartolomeo (1473–1517), a disciple of Savonarola, because it shows our Holy Father Saint Bernard together with Saint John the Evangelist and our Holy Father Saint Benedict. The Virgin Mother is looking at the Bambino Gesù while the Bambino looks at Saint Bernard. An angel holds the open book of the Scriptures before Bernard, but Bernard is not reading the text. His eyes are raised to contemplate the Infant Christ. Bernard has passed from the written word to the Word made flesh. Saint John the Evangelist, pointing to his heart, looks on; he recognizes that Bernard is of his spiritual family. Saint Benedict, full of gravity and peace, remains in the background with his hands crossed over his breast, an expression of humility.

December 27
Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

1 John 1:1-4
Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12
John 20:2-8

A Liturgical Theology of the Trinity

On Christmas Day, our eyes were fixed on the Light, the Word made flesh, the Son eternally begotten of the Father. Yesterday, the feast of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr drew our attention to the Holy Spirit indwelling and overshadowing the Body of Christ. Today, Saint John the Beloved Disciple, venerated in the East as Saint John the Theologian (or John the Divine), draws our hearts to the mystery of the Eternal Father. We have, in these first three days of Christmastide, a liturgical theology of the Trinity.

The Gospel of the Father

The Gospel of Saint John has been called the Gospel of the Father and rightly so, for it is the particular charism of Saint John to lead us through the Word made flesh, and by the Word made flesh, and with the Word made flesh, into the bosom of the Father. The magnificent First Preface of Christmas wonderfully expresses the essential movement of Saint John’s Gospel. “By the mystery of your Word made flesh, a new and radiant light floods our spiritual eyes so that, even as we know God in what is visible, we are ravished (rapiamur) unto the love of things invisible.” This sentence of the Christmas Preface is a distillation of the mystical theology of Saint John. Proceeding from what is revealed, we are drawn into what is concealed. Holding fast to what is shown, we are held in the embrace of what is hidden.

Communion

This is the joy of Saint John. “The eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:3). The English word fellowship translates here the Greek koinonia and the Latin communio. Saint John is saying, “Our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Now, communion simply means “union with.” “Our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” But communion is also used in the New Testament to designate the presence and the effect of the Holy Spirit. We have communion — union with — the Father and with the Son by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. This is why Saint John writes in the same epistle, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because he has given us of His own Spirit” (1 Jn 4:13).

Drink to the Love of Saint John!

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BLESSING OF WINE ON THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN, APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST

On the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, at the end of the principal Mass, that is, after the last Gospel, the priest, retaining all his vestments except the maniple, in the following manner blesses wine brought by the people in memory and in honor of Saint John, who drank poison without harm:

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who has made heaven and earth.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

Be so kind as to bless and consecrate with Your right hand, Lord, this cup of wine, and every drink. Grant that by the merits of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, all who believe in You and drink of this cup may be blessed and protected. Blessed John drank poison from the cup, and was in no way harmed. So, too, may all who this day drink from this cup in honor of blessed John, by his merits, be freed from every sickness by poisoning and from any harms whatever. And, when they have offered themselves in both soul and body, may they be freed, too, from every fault, through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Bless, Lord, this beverage which You have made. May it be a healthful refreshment to all who drink of it. And grant by the invocation of Your holy name that whoever tastes of it may, by Your generosity receive health of both soul and body, through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen

And may the blessing of almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, descend upon this wine which He has made, and upon every drink, and remain always.
R. Amen.

And it is sprinkled with Holy Water. If this blessing is given outside of Mass, the priest performs it in the manner described above, but with surplice and stole.

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This Saint John the Evangelist was painted by Francesco Furini sometime in the 1630s. Today it hangs in the Musée des Beaux–Arts of Lyon.

December 27
Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

1 John 1:1-4
Psalm 96: 1-2. 5-6. 11-12. R. v.12
John 20: 2-8

The Logic of the Liturgy

The liturgy has a marvelous logic all its own. On this second day of the Christmas octave, Mother Church gives us an Easter Gospel! While we are yet at the manger, the liturgy compels us to run to the empty tomb! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved is there before us. His virginal love gave wings to his feet. “Draw me in your footsteps, says the bride of the Canticle, let us run” (Ct 1:4). John is the first of those who “hasten with swift pace and light step and unstumbling feet,” arriving even before Peter, and yet deferring to him.

Peter and John

Hans Urs von Balthasar speaks of a double authority in the Church, a double ministry: the Petrine and Johannine. The Petrine authority is firmly established by Christ on the solid rock of Peter; it continues in the Church through the ministry of Peter’s successors, teaching, reproving, testing, correcting, forgiving and calling together in unity. The Johannine authority speaks with the voice of love, with the inimitable accents of direct experience. It is the authority of the saints and mystics, the authority of holiness, the authority of the greatly loved and of the great lovers. “ I belong to my love, and my love to me” (Ct 6:3).

What We Have Seen and Heard

The Church has need of both voices. She needs the strong, unwavering voice of Peter; she also needs the many-voiced Johannine chorus of those who sing: “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have contemplated and touched with our own hands: the Word who is life—this is our theme. That life was made visible; we saw it and are giving our testimony. . . . We declare to you what we have seen and heard, so that you too may share our life” (1 Jn 1:1-3).

Love of Things Invisible

The Johannine chorus speaks with the unmistakable authority of those who have gone into the wine-cellar and rested beneath the banner of love (cf. Ct 2:4-5). Their breath is fragrant with honey and with the honeycomb, of wine and of milk: that is with the imperishable sweetness of the Holy Spirit, with the Blood of the Lamb and with the pure milk of the living Word of God. These are the ones who have eaten and drunk, drunk deeply (cf. Ct 5:1) of the streams of living water that flow ever fresh from the pierced Heart of the Bridegroom (cf. Jn 7:37-38). These are the descendants of Saint John the Beloved, those to whom the Father has given the eagle’s vision, those who are little enough and poor enough to be borne aloft and carried away into the “love of things invisible,” as the Christmas Preface puts it.

Et nox sicut dies illuminabitur

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Soeur Bénédicte's Closet

When, on the occasion of her twenty-fifth anniversary of profession, Sister Bénédicte–Marie de la Croix asked to make her retreat with us, we prepared a room for her and, knowing her Carmelite love of silence and solitude, whitewashed a large closet to serve as her hermitage. In it we placed two things: an icon of Saint John of the Cross and a Bible. Sister Bénédicte was deeply moved. She lived that retreat in the company of Saint John of the Cross. Before coming to know our Sister Bénédicte, I used to be afraid of Saint John of the Cross. He seemed so extreme, so forbidding, so unbearably absolute. It was in contemplating Sister Bénédicte’s icon of Saint John of the Cross; then, in reading him, that he became a friend, a brother, a teacher.

John of the Cross: A Saint for Advent

Saint John of the Cross comes to us in the middle of Advent; he comes to us just one week before the longest night of the year. He comes to us today when, by a wonderful coincidence, God speaks to us through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, saying: “I am the Lord, there is no other; I form the light, and create the darkness” (Is 24:6). Saint John comes to guide us through the night; he is familiar with all its secrets.

Blest night of wandering
In secret, where by none might I be spied,
Nor I see anything;
Without a light to guide,
Save that which in my heart burnt in my side.

That light did lead me on,
More surely than the shining of noontide,
Where well I knew that One
Did for my coming bide;
Where he abode, might none but he abide.

(In an Obscure Night, trans. by Arthur Symons)

Poetry, the best poetry, is born of suffering and forged in the crucible of life. Though I find in the poems of Saint John of the Cross a fire that unfailingly warms and illumines, I have, over the years, come to rely more and more on his Precautions, an incomparable guide for the terrible quotidian, wise rules for coping with the struggles and stress of living with oneself and others.

Our Lady's Hermit

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"Hear and let it penetrate into your heart, my dear little son: let nothing discourage you, nothing depress you: let nothing alter your heart or your countenance. Also do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?" (Words of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Juan Diego)

Saint Juan Diego whom we remember on the day after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is listed in the Martyrology not as a visionary but as a hermit. Graced with seeing the holy Mother of God in all her radiance, Juan Diego’s vocation unfolded in a life of solitude, ceaseless prayer, and watchfulness.

The holiness of Saint Juan Diego was more in waiting than in seeing. In this, he is a model for all of us. Saint Juan Diego is an Advent saint. The Church sets him before us as a model of vigilance. To those who remain close to her, the Virgin Mother teaches perseverance in the prayer of watching and waiting. I think that this is why she so loves the Rosary and asks us to pray it.

The Rosary is the perfect Advent prayer, especially with the additional mysteries of Our Lady's life, all of which are either found in Sacred Scripture or celebrated in the Church's liturgical tradition: 1) The Immaculate Conception, 2) The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 3) Her Presentation in the Temple, 4) Her Betrothal to Saint Joseph, 5) The Annunciation, 6) The Visitation, 7) The Blessed Expectancy of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 8) The Nativity of Jesus, 9) The Presentation in the Temple, 10) The Finding of Jesus in the Temple.

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I am mindful today of the dear friends named Barbara whom God has sent into my life. According to tradition, Saint Barbara was confined to solitude in a tower with two windows. She had a third window added in honour of the Most Holy Trinity. Thus did the deifying light of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit shine in her solitude and in her soul. It is noteworthy too that Saint Barbara lived and died in Turkey, recently visited by the Holy Father. I very much like this painting of Saint Barbara lifting high the adorable Mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood. It is reminiscent of certain depictions of Saint Clare of Assisi. Both saints shine with a eucharistic light.

At Holy Mass today there will be an intercession in honour of Saint Barbara;

For those called to a life of solitude,
that through the intercession of Saint Barbara, virgin and martyr,
they may persevere in adoration of the Most Holy Trinity
and be strengthened in the virtue of hope,
let us pray in silence — for the Lord is near.

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.

Donations for Silverstream Priory

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