Saints: July 2007 Archives

For the Mass of Saint Sharbel

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Collect

O God who called your priest, Saint Sharbel
to the singular combat of the desert
and imbued him with every manner of piety,
grant us, we beseech you,
that by striving to be imitators of the Passion of the Lord
we may be found worthy of becoming sharers in his kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

General Intercessions

That the Church in East and West
and, in particular the Maronite Church of Lebanon,
may be graced in our own day with men and women of the desert,
lovers of silence and of ceaseless prayer,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That world leaders may forsake violence
and, by the intercession of Saint Sharbel, a son of the Middle East,
choose instead the way of forgiveness that leads to peace,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That the sick, the dying,
and the victims of violence in the Middle East
may experience today the healing love of Christ
and the comfort of the Holy Spirit,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That young people everywhere
may hear the voice that summoned the young Sharbel into the desert,
and so allow the seed of priestly, monastic, and religious vocations
to bring forth grain for the harvest,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That we who celebrate these Holy Mysteries
may do so with something of the faith and burning love of Saint Sharbel,
and so find therein an unfailing source of healing and of peace,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

Collect at the General Intercessions

Prayer of the Maronite Church

O Merciful Father,
through the Holy Spirit, You chose Saint Sharbel as a voice crying in the wilderness.
In the Scriptures he discovered Your Holiness as Word Made Flesh,
and darkness gave way to light.
In the Eucharist he encountered Your Divinity as Bread of Life,
and the poverty of this world gave way to the treasures of Your Kingdom.
In prayer he experienced Your Silence as Mystery Present,
and loneliness gave way to communion.
Through the Virgin Mother he embraced Your Son as Lover of Mankind,
and hostility gave way to hospitality.
We beseech You, through his intercession,
to change our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh,
that with him we may give praise to You,
to Your Only Begotten Son, and to Your Holy Spirit,
now and always, and forever and ever.

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Ex Oriente Lux

Saint Sharbel of Lebanon is one of those in whom the Holy Spirit fashioned a heart of flesh, a heart exquisitely sensitive to the mystery of Divine Love. The hermit priest Sharbel was beatified by Pope Paul VI on December 5, 1965, at the close of the Second Vatican Council. It was as if Paul VI wanted the Council to end with Rome gazing Eastward.

Another Saint Anthony of the Desert

Just before the beatification, a prelate at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome said to Bishop Francis Zayek, the shepherd of Maronite Catholics in the United States, “Reading about the holy hermits of the desert, we used to consider many reported facts as mere fables. In the life of Blessed Sharbel, however, we notice that these facts are authentic and true. Blessed Sharbel is another Saint Anthony of the Desert, or Saint Pachomius, or Saint Paul the Anchorite. It is marvelous to observe how you, Maronites, have preserved the same spirituality of the fathers of the desert throughout the centuries, and at the end of the nineteenth century, 1500 years later, produced a Sharbel for the Church.”

A New Turning

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, a Trappist monk was emerging from a long period of spiritual depression. Thomas Merton had been in the Abbey of Gethsemani for nine years. He wrote in his journal, “Sharbel lived as a hermit in Lebanon — he was a Maronite. He died. Everyone forgot about him. Fifty years later, his body was discovered incorrupt and in short time he worked over 600 miracles. He is my new companion. My road has taken a new turning. It seems to me that I have been asleep for 9 years — and before that I was dead.” Sharbel, the 19th century hermit of Lebanon, pulled America’s most famous 20th century monk out of a spiritual crisis. That is the communion of the saints!

Like a Lebanon Cedar

On October 9, 1977, Pope Paul VI canonized Sharbel, citing the psalm, “The just will flourish like the psalm tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar” (Ps 91:13). The New York Times gave extensive coverage to the canonization in Rome and to the corresponding festivities in Lebanon, days of celebration that brought Orthodox and Catholic Christians together with Muslims.

Holiness in Clusters

Saint Sharbel’s influence continues to grow. In Russia he has an immense following of Orthodox Christians. Muslims continue to seek his intercession, going in pilgrimage to his tomb. In Lebanon and in the Lebanese diaspora he continues to teach the way of silence, the way of the Cross, the way of humble love. On May 10th, 1998, Pope John Paul II beatified Saint Sharbel’s professor, the monk, Father Nimutallah al-Hardini. Holiness grows in clusters.

A Eucharistic Death

Saint Sharbel suffered a stroke on December 16th, 1898 while celebrating the Holy Liturgy. He was reciting the prayer, “Father of Truth, behold your Son, a sacrifice pleasing to you. Accept this offering of Him who died for me.” He fell to the floor holding the Holy Eucharist in his hands. He died on December 24th. Sharbel had lived twenty-three years in solitude. A lifetime of saying “Yes” to Love prepared him for a fully Eucharistic death and an abiding mission in the Church, one that, even today, is prophetic.

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)?

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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.”

Saint Birgitta of Sweden

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Entrance Antiphon

Let us all rejoice in the Lord,
as we celebrate a festival in honour of Saint Birgitta,
at whose solemnity the angels rejoice
and sing praise to the Son of God.

Collect

O God who led Saint Birgitta
along various paths of life,
and wondrously taught her the wisdom of the Cross
in the contemplation of the Passion of your Son,
grant that we, by walking according to your call,
may be able to seek you in all things.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

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Yesterday I returned from preaching a retreat to the Bridgettine Sisters (Order of the Most Holy Saviour) at the Convent of Saint Birgitta, Vikingsborg, in Darien, Connecticut. Saint Birgitta's overlooks a charming inlet of the Long Island Sound. I was without an internet connection all week!

I delivered my conferences without extensive written notes, having only my Bible in hand, and the Constitutions of the Order. The grace of "holy preaching" comes easily when the hearts of one's hearers are open and eager to receive the Word. What were the subjects addressed?

Compunction, Conversion, and Reparation
Gratitude
Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience
Eucharistic Adoration
The Sacred Wounds of Christ
The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Bridgettines in Darien — three Indians, three Mexicans, and one Italian — are admirable in their fervour, their simplicity, and their joy. The chant of the Hours imparts a characteristically monastic rhythm to their day. In addition to the Divine Office, the Bridgettines devote a significant amount of time each day to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed. The Sisters' work of ecumenical hospitality has been somewhat curtailed since the fire that ravaged their guesthouse last July 11th. Restoration of the lovely old house is still in progress.

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I began each retreat conference with a prayer of Saint Birgitta of Sweden. It is a prayer that I cherish. Pray it, and you will know why:

O Lord, make haste and illumine the night.
Say to my soul
that nothing happens without Your permitting it,
and that nothing of what You permit is without comfort.
O Jesus, Son of God,
You Who were silent in the presence of Your accusers,
restrain my tongue
until I find what should say and how to say it.
Show me the way and make me ready to follow it.
It is dangerous to delay, yet perilous to go forward.
Answer my petition and show me the way.
I come to You as the wounded go to the doctor in search of aid.
Give peace, O Lord, to my heart.

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.

Saint John Gualbert, Abbot

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Good for Evil and Blessings for Curses

Good rendered for evil; blessings for curses; pardon, peace, concord, and reconciliation. The Collect for the Memorial of Saint John Gualbert speaks the language of the Gospel, ageless and ever new.

Almighty and ever-living God, source of peace and lover of concord,
to know Thee is to live, to serve Thee is to reign;
establish us in Thy love,
that by the example of the blessed abbot John Gualbert,
we may render good for evil and blessings for curses,
and so obtain from Thee both pardon and peace.

Victory Over Vengeance

John Gualbert’s monastic vocation unfolded in dramatic circumstances. A medieval Florentine nobleman, he lived in an age and culture that, in spite of the Gospel, exalted vengeance as a matter of honour. When his elder brother was murdered, John felt compelled to avenge him.

On a certain Good Friday, riding through a narrow mountain pass, John came face to face with his brother’s killer. The man was alone. The place was isolated. There was no escape. John drew his sword, ready to exact a bloody vengeance. The murderer raised his arms in the form of a cross and, in the Name of Jesus Crucified, begged John’s forgiveness.

The Encounter With Jesus Crucified

Cut to the heart by the grace of the Cross, John dropped his sword, embraced his enemy, and made his way straight to a church in Florence. There, kneeling before the crucifix, John saw Jesus Crucified bow His head, acknowledging his act of forgiveness and, by the same token, forgiving him all his sins. And so, John became a monk.

A splendid stained-glass window telescopes the story into one scene. John is shown as a young nobleman. With his eyes fixed on the image of the Crucified, he is embracing his enemy, the murderer of his brother. The iconography of Saint John Gualbert makes for a fascinating study. In nearly every image the saint is represented looking at Jesus Crucified, embracing Him, or holding the Cross against his heart.

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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