Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feast of St Andrew Apostle

"The Apostle Andrew was born at Bethsaida, a town of Galilee, and was the brother of Peter.  He was a disciple of John the Baptist, and heard him say of Christ, Behold the Lamb of God, whereupon he immediately followed Jesus, bringing his brother also with him.   Some while after, they were both fishing in the Sea of Galilee, and the Lord Christ, going by, called them both, before any other of the Apostles, in the words, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.  They made no delay, but left their nets, and followed him.  After the death and Resurrection of Christ, Andrew was allotted Scythia as the province of his preaching, and, after labouring there, he went through Epirus and Thrace, where he turned vast multitudes to Christ by his teaching and miracles.  Finally he went to Patras in Achaia, and there also he brought many to the knowledge of Gospel truth.  Aegeas the Proconsul resisted the preaching of the Gospel, and the Apostle freely rebuked him, bidding him know that while he held himself a judge of his fellow men, he was himself hindered by devils from knowing Christ our God, the Judge of all.

Then Aegeas, being angry, answered him, Boast no more of this thy Christ.  He spake words even such as thine, but they availed him not, and he was crucified by the Jews.  Whereto Andrew boldly answered that Christ had given himself up to die for man's salvation ; but the Proconsul blasphemously interrupted him, and bade him look to himself, and sacrifice to the gods.  Then said Andrew, We have an altar, whereon day by day I offer up to God, the Almighty, the One, and the True, not the flesh of bulls nor the blood of goats, but a Lamb without spot: and when all they that believe have eaten of the Flesh thereof, the Lamb that was slain abideth whole and liveth.  Then Aegeas being filled with wrath, bound the Apostle in prison.  Now, the people would have delivered him, but he himself calmed the multitude, and earnestly besought them not to take away from him the crown of martyrdom, for which he longed and which was now drawing near.

Some short while after, he was brought before the judgment seat, where he extolled the mystery of the cross, and rebuked Aegeas for his ungodliness.  Then Aegeas could bear with him no longer, but commanded him to be crucified, in imitation of Christ.  Andrew, then, was led to the place of martyrdom, and, as soon as he came in sight of the cross, he cried out: O precious cross, made so fair and goodly by the sweet body of my Lord, how long have I desired thee! how warmly have I loved thee! how constantly have I sought thee!  And, now that thou art come to me, how is my soul drawn to thee!  Welcome me from amongst men, and join me anew to my Master, that as by thee he redeemed me, so by thee also he may take me unto himself.  So he was fastened to the cross, whereon he hung living for two days, during which time he ceased not to preach the faith of Christ, and, finally, passed into the Presence of him the likeness of whose death he had loved so well.  All the above particulars of his last sufferings were written by the Priests and Deacons of Achaia, who bear witness to them of their own knowledge.  Under the Emperor Constantine the bones of the Apostle were first taken to Constantinople, whence they were afterwards brought to Amalfi.  In the Pontificate of Pope Pius II, his head was carried to Rome, where it is kept in the Basilica of St. Peter."

-- From the 1911 Breviary of St Pius X (1955 ed)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Memorial of Blesseds Denis & Redemptus

"Blessed Denis and Blessed Redemptus died for their faith on November 29th, 1638. Both of these two men are interesting as they were late vocations, having both had successful careers before becoming Carmelite friars. And both earned the title of the first martyrs of the Carmelite Reform.

Blessed Denis of the Nativity was born Denis Berthelot at Honfleur, France on December 12, 1600. As a young man he sailed abroad to Spain, England and America, becoming a skilled pilot, and a cartographer. Because of his valor and genius, he became first pilot of the kings of France and Portugal. Some of his cartography, the Maritime Tables, is still preserved in the British Museum.

In 1635, he joined the Carmelite community in Goa where he was an example of virtue to all. He was graced with the gift of contemplation.

Blessed Redemptus of the Cross was born Thomas Rodrigues da Cunha in Portugal in 1598. His early career before becoming a Carmelite included military service in India at Goa where he too joined the Carmelites and became a lay brother.

Shortly after the Ordination to the priesthood of Blessed Denis, the Portuguese ambassador to the sultan of Achen wanted Bl. Denis to join him as a spiritual guide, as well as a Maritime expert, and someone versed in the Malayan language. Father Denis, in turn, took as companion, Brother Redemptus.

However, the sultan of Achen imprisoned them. They were tormented and their persecutors tried mightily to convince them to renounce their Catholic faith and become Muslims. This they steadfastly refused to do and they suffered a cruel death for their Christian faith on November 29, 1638. Their last words were: “Jesus, Mary.” Blessed Denis is commemorated today particularly in the diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux."

-- Biography from The Carmel of St Joseph
Blesseds Denis & Redemptus, pray for us!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday in Advent

"Today as we begin the holy season of Advent, we have to reflect upon the fact that Advent, for all practical purposes, is the forgotten season in the Church. It is rarely celebrated by anyone anymore because what happens is that people begin celebrating Christmas a month, a month and a half, even two months before Christmas begins. Advent is a season of penance, not a season of celebration. There is no place during Advent for Christmas parties. There is no place during Advent for all the festivities. That is to take place after Christmas Day – not beforehand. It would be like celebrating the birth of your baby a month before the baby is born; it does not make any sense. In that month prior to the birth of the child, the parents are preparing the home and getting themselves ready. They do not send out birth announcements and have parties a month beforehand, but rather it is a time when they draw into themselves and prepare themselves. That is what this season is about.

It is a time of penance, which is why we wear purple during Advent, but not a penance like the penance that is done in Lent. That is a penance which is done in reparation for our sins; this is a penance which is done in preparation for the coming of the Lord so that we will be spiritually prepared to be able to celebrate Christmas. Of course, as we look to the first coming of Christ two thousand years ago, we also look forward to the Second Coming of Christ. It is to prepare our hearts so we will be able to be ready when the Lord comes, because He tells us very clearly in the Gospel reading today that we do not know either the day or the hour and we have to be prepared. Most Americans, quite frankly, are not prepared.

Two thousand years ago, when Our Lord came into the world, the Jewish people knew the time of His coming. But at the time when Jesus came into this world there was chaos. A census had been called by Quirinius, the governor, and Mary and Joseph had to go down to Bethlehem. If we think of what would have been happening in Bethlehem at that time, it would have been a very busy place. All the shopkeepers would have been busy about selling their goods to all of the visitors who needed to eat and have provisions. They would have been doing quite well business-wise at that time. The inn was full and there was no room. There would have been hustle and bustle with people jockeying for position and trying to get ahead of somebody else and seeing what they could get away with. Sounds sort of like America, doesn’t it? Chaos, shopping, money, looking out for one’s self. Because of all the chaos and all the external things that were going on, the people totally missed the birth of Christ.

The angels did not come down, of course, to tell the shepherds about Our Lord’s birth until after He had been born. The star for the magi did not appear telling them to come to Bethlehem until after Our Lord had been born. This being the case, we need to consider our own situation. I am always saddened at this time of the year when I drive down the street to see houses lit up with lights already. And Americans, with their penchant for competition, have actually determined now to get into a competition to see who can have the largest electric bill and who can have the most lights in their front yard – by the thousands these days – trying to impress other people. When Christmas is over the show is gone, and what is there other than electric bills to pay? This is not the season for lights. The Light of the world has not come yet. We are preparing for His coming, not celebrating it as yet. And so in a Christian place there is no room at this time for all the lights and all the festivities and all the parties and all the chaos.

As the Church begins Her new year today, we can look at the secular practice and perhaps learn something from it. When we begin a new calendar year, people always make resolutions. Now that the Church is beginning a new year today, I would recommend that we too should make some resolutions. Saint Paul in the second reading today tells us that we need to put aside all the things that are of the flesh: the drunkenness, the lust, the promiscuity, the rivalry, the jealousy, all these things. He tells us we need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what this season is about: becoming more Christ-like, preparing ourselves like our Blessed Lady and Saint Joseph did for the coming of the Christ child into this world.

So if I might make a few suggestions on how to prepare yourselves, start with the secular and work to the spiritual. First of all, turn off the TV and turn off the radio. Allow some silence to enter into your homes and into your hearts. Do not put up any lights or any decorations for Christmas for at least three more weeks. This is not the Christmas season yet. Let Advent be Advent and celebrate Christmas during Christmas. Simplify the way you celebrate Christmas and prepare it that way so you do not have to spend days and weeks in malls and department stores in the midst of the chaos, but rather prepare spiritually for Christmas. Imagine the amount of time you would have to spend in prayer if you did not watch TV and listen to the radio and go shopping as much.

And so pray at least one half hour a day, preferably in front of the Blessed Sacrament. There are fifty adoration chapels in the Twin Cities where the Lord is exposed 24 hours a day on the altar for your adoration. There is a chapel somewhere near you. If you can get there, that is the best. Of course, a church with the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle works perfectly fine as well. If that does not work, at least have a place set aside in your home where it is designed for prayer. And I am talking about the silent prayer of the heart. This is not the time to pray your Rosary or read a spiritual book or do anything else, it is to talk to God in your heart in silence, a half hour at least. Then pray your Rosary and read the spiritual books. If you can make it to daily Mass, what a blessing that will be for you. What better way is there to be able to receive Jesus into your heart on Christmas than to prepare by receiving Him in the Eucharist everyday? It is the greatest way to be like Our Lady, who carried Jesus in her womb for those nine months. The closest we can come is to carry Him in our hearts for a half hour at a time when we receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

Get to Confession. If you have not been to Confession since last Easter, do not wait until two days before Christmas. Get there this week and then go again right before Christmas. If you can put aside the time to pray and you can get to Confession, you will be astounded at the changes that will happen in your life. If you set aside some place and time for silence, the things that you will recognize and see within yourself will be quite wonderful. In the midst of the chaos, we cannot think clearly, we cannot see clearly, we cannot hear. God, remember, speaks in the silence. If we fill our hearts and our minds and our lives with noise and chaos, there is no place for God; and it does not matter how loudly He speaks, we will not be able to hear.

In the first reading, we hear about the mountain of the Lord’s house and how instruction is going to come forth from there and people of every nation are going to stream toward it. The mountain of the Lord’s house is the Church; it is Jesus Christ. Instruction has come forth; the question is whether or not we want it. The instruction of the Church is to make this a holy season of penance and preparation. It is to have a subdued attitude during this time, because if Our Lord were to come into the world today with all of the chaos, the same thing that happened two thousand years ago would happen again. We would miss Him. We would not be prepared and we would not recognize Him. But if we are taking the time to pray, if we are frequenting the Sacraments, if we are trying to develop the spiritual life and grow in virtue, then our hearts are going to be focused on Christ – not on gifts, not on lights, not even on the electric bill that we have run up because of having ten thousand lights in our front yard. Our focus will be on Jesus, the real Light. And when Christmas comes and all of these other people who are celebrating Christmas for the wrong reason unplug their lights and put them away and the darkness fills their houses and their yards – and in so many cases, tragically, their hearts as well – it will be light that will fill your hearts because Jesus is the Light that came into the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome that Light. The Light of Jesus Christ and the true light and the true joy and the true spirit of Christmas will continue to shine in your hearts long after Christmas Day has come and gone because you will have prepared yourself to receive the Light and you will be able to shine with a light that is far brighter than ten thousand lights in your front yard because you will be radiant with the love of Jesus Christ. You will bring His light into the darkness of this pagan society, into the darkness of this secular world. The real Light will shine within you if you prepare yourself properly.

So as we begin this new year, climb that mountain of the Lord. Look for the instruction of Jesus and seek Him with your whole heart and soul and strength. Spend this time as a spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord. Keep your heart fixed on Him so that when He speaks you will hear Him, when He appears you will recognize Him, and you will be prepared in the most perfect way by a heart filled with love to receive the true coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas."

-- From a homily by Fr Robert Altier, ocds (28 November 2004)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Surrender to Love

"Seeing that God was not loved, she, Thérèse, would 'make reparation' too. The Love of God, Merciful Love, was not known. So seldom did people have recourse to Mercy; everyone appealed to Justice. They kept accounts with God, while he wished to give himself according to his own exigencies. Thérèse said to herself. "God has so much Love to give, and he can't do it; people present only their own merits, and these are so paltry." She therefore presented herself before God, saying: "Give me this love; I accept to be a victim of Love that is, to receive all the Love which others do not receive because they will not let you Love them as you wish. Such was her confidence in the Mercy which exceeds justice."

She then dreamt of making her offering to Merciful Love. But it was not directly in order to receive Love, it was 'to please God"-, it was so that God might have the opportunity to give himself as intensely as he desired. She would be a victim of Love, she accepted to be consumed by Love, if only God could have his way. Her object was to please him, no to be a saint; it was not even directly to give him to others, but only to please him. Her offering was God-centered. Thérèse looked only at God and she lived by this Love. She wanted to delight God, to give him joy, to let him Love. 

In the Gospels she also pondered the scene with the children. To enter God's kingdom, one must be a child. True, one must also be a saint. But who is greater? The smaller, because it is the weaker. Not by reason of any merits, but because the child, in its weakness and poverty, offers God the widest vessel, capable of holding all. Here we have the essence of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus' mystical theology. 

She also found in St. John of the Cross the most distant horizons of Love, In the Living Flame and the Spiritual Canticle he describes in a rich and comprehensive way the working of God's Love in the soul. These descriptions correspond clearly to Thérèse's experience"

-- God is Love by Fr. Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, ocd

Friday, November 26, 2010

God is Love: certitude in times of darkness

"A little later her sister, Mother Agnes, now Prioress, gave her to Mother Marie de Gonzague as an assistant in the formation of the novices, 28 among whom in 1894 was her sister Celine. Assigned to the novitiate, Thérèse found an opportunity to explain her teaching, which otherwise she would never have formulated. Obliged to speak to her sisters, she told them what she felt and experienced. When they questioned her, she quoted by heart passages from St. John of the Cross - as she often did at recreation - for that was her life. 

Thérèse thus explained a little of her doctrine, but always in the midst of distress, because of the opposition of her surroundings and the sermons she had to listen to. Her teaching was quite different from all this. In her obscure contemplation she had made the discovery of the God who is Love, an obscure discovery but one which she grasped almost by second nature and which created certitude in the depths of her soul. God is Love. She could say: "I contemplate and adore the other divine perfections ... through Mercy. All of these perfections appear to be resplendent with Love." There was nothing but this in God. 

The searching went on in darkness. Thérèse only explained what she had to explain, either for the novices or when asked to write the story of her life later. Habitually she lived in the dark. We might say that she found herself bogged down in what is often called the purification of the spirit. This consists far less in keen sufferings marked by distinct stages - some of these there were indeed - than in a muddled fog or kind of quicksand in which one becomes enmired and unable to move." This trial continued in anguish, but with upward thrusts toward God and convictions that she had found him. There was an apparent contradiction between her progressive discovery of sin and of sinful tendencies in herself and others, and her discovery of God. 

The God whom Thérèse discovered was the God of Love. At the same time she saw that around her, and even in her Carmel, God was not known. The God who is Love was not known! They knew the God of justice, quid pro quo, and they tried to acquire merits. But, thought Thérèse, this was not the way to win him. God is Love, God is Mercy. But what is Mercy? It is the Love of God which gives itself beyond all demands and rights. 

The Council of Trent declared that God bestows his gifts in two ways: out of justice, that is, as a reward for merits, and out of Mercy, that is, surpassing all merit. Thus he is true to his own nature, for he is Love, Goodness which pours itself out. He has a need to give. Therein ties his joy. 

Thérèse read the Gospels. What did she find there? Mary Magdalen: God had forgiven her much, and therefore she loved much." Thérèse also contemplated the prodigal son and the fathers joy in receiving him back: joy, for this was his opportunity to give himself. There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance. What glorifies God and "delights him' is to be able to give himself, and give himself freely. This was Thérèse's discovery: what gives God joy is the power to give more than what is required by strict justice, freely, based on our needs and the exegencies of his nature which is Love, and not on our merits. 

Thérèse felt acutely the tension of her surroundings, the opposition between her light, her needs, and what she saw being practiced around her . People kept score with God. When you stood before the eternal Father who was to judge you, he would look at your list of merits. You would have obtained so many indulgences, you would have so many merits, and your place would be assigned. For her part Thérèse said: I shall take care not to present any merits of mine, but only those of our Lord. As for me, I shall have nothing, I do not want to present anything, I prefer to let God love me as much as he wants." Then she added, "It is because of this that I shall get such a good reception." Here we have the heart of her teaching."

-- God is Love by Fr. Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, ocd

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Memorial of St Catherine of Alexandria

"Catherine was a noble maiden of Alexandria, who from her earliest years joined the study of the liberal arts with fervent faith, and in a short while came to such an height of holiness and learning, that when she was eighteen years of age she prevailed over the chiefest wits.  When she saw many diversely tormented and haled to death by command of Maximinus, because they professed the Christian religion, she went boldly unto him and rebuked him for his savage cruelty, bringing forward likewise most sage reasons why the faith of Christ should be needful for salvation.

Maximinus marvelled at her wisdom, and bade keep her, while he gathered together the most learned men from all quarters and offered them great rewards if they would confute Catherine and bring her from believing in Christ to worship idols.  But the event fell contrariwise, for many of the philosophers who had come to dispute with her were overcome by the force and skill of her reasoning, so that the love of Christ Jesus was kindled in them, and they were content even to die for his sake.  Then did Maximinus strive to beguile Catherine with fair words and promises, and when he found it was lost pains, he caused her to be hided, and bruised with lead-laden whips, and so cast into prison, and neither meat nor drink given to her for the space of eleven days.

At that time Maximinus' wife and Porphyry the Captain of his host, went to the prison to see the damsel, and at her preaching believed in Jesus Christ, and were afterwards crowned with martyrdom.  Then was Catherine brought out of ward, and a wheel was set, wherein were fastened many and sharp blades, so that her virgin body might thereby be most direfully cut and torn in pieces, but in a little while, as Catherine prayed, this machine was broken in pieces, at the which marvel many believed in Christ.  But Maximinus was hardened in his godlessness and cruelty, and commanded to behead Catherine.  She bravely offered her neck to the stroke and passed away hence to receive the twain crowns of maidenhood and martyrdom, upon the 25th day of November.  Her body was marvellously laid by Angels upon Mount Sinai in Arabia."

-- From the Breviary of St Pius X (1955 ed)

** Painting by Tiziano Vecellio

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

May the history of the Lord's great marvels continue

"When the gift of religious consecration is accepted and takes root in hearts you have chosen and set aside-like the "three" you took up to Mount Tabor, O Jesus-this gift becomes a hymn of praise and thanksgiving, an ardent supplication "to be with you"! This is because you are our only Love and our only Lord, you who are-both the only Son of the Father, in whom he was well pleased, and "the fairest among the sons of men".

With these sentiments we open ourselves to the grace offered us on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the foundation of our Teresian Carmelite community**. Accepting this grace is a way of "being with him"; indeed, if we are to live this gift, this "being" is indispensable. The reason is simple, for it means entering, to the extent granted to us, into a "sacred" history, whose principal agent is the Lord himself.

This history of salvation passes through humble, frail creatures marked with his seal; a history that unfolds in the human flow of the most varied and complex events, those of a little community belonging to the society of its time and which therefore-as Jesus said- must "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's"!
Drawn more and more by the "beauty of God and the love of Christ, the Beloved", we would like "not only to recall and recount a glorious history", but -humbly aware that everything comes from God-to entrust ourselves to the Spirit, so that the history of the Lord's great marvels may continue in our poverty."

-- Written by a discalced carmelite nun of the Monastero di San Giuseppe a Roma and published in L'Osservatore Romano on 19 February 1997

** Carmel of St Joseph in Rome

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Memorial of Bl Miguel Agustín Pro

"Today we honor a remarkable man, Blessed Miguel Pro, a Jesuit priest executed in Mexico 72 years ago. His life was more interesting and exciting than any James Bond movie. Even as a toddler Miguel was anything but ordinary. Soon after learning how to crawl, little Miguel escaped everyone’s notice and crawled out onto a third-story window ledge high above a busy street. His mother rescued her little boy before it was too late. The end of Miguel Pro’s life was just as extraordinary: when he was only 36 years old he was executed by a firing squad.

Miguel Pro was born January 13, 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico to the mining family of Miguel and Josefa Pro. As a boy he was an outgoing, fun-loving, practical joker. At family gatherings he was the musician who played the guitar or mandolin. He wasn’t especially religious as a young man. For a while he was rather cool to his religion. But he felt called to the priesthood and when he was 20 years old, entered the Jesuit seminary.

1910 was the start of a revolution in Mexico that was especially hostile to the Catholic Church. By 1914 the fighting came close to the Jesuit seminary. Its rector decided to hide anything of value, provide all the Jesuits with street clothes, and evacuate the premises. On August 15th Miguel and his companions left town and eventually wound up in Laredo, Texas. From there they journeyed to Jesuit houses in California, Nicaragua, Spain and Belgium where he was finally ordained a priest in 1925. Miguel returned to Mexico in 1926. Within weeks the government prohibited all public church services and ordered the arrest of all priests. Father Miguel started to work undercover as a priest and secretly brought people communion.

Two of Father Miguel’s brothers were active in the resistance and belonged to the Religious Defense League. A few times Miguel was thrown into jail with his brothers but was able to be released. Finally the police issued a warrant for his arrest. Fr. Pro responded by going about in disguise. Once he dressed as a mechanic in order to preach to a group of taxi drivers. Another time, when the police were chasing him down a busy street, he ran up to a young woman, locked arms with her and whispered, "Help me, I’m a priest." The young woman obliged and the "couple" walked away unnoticed.

The way Father Pro usually travelled around town was by bicycle. He would stop and give communion to parishioners in one place, then go off to another to hear confessions, perform marriages or visit the sick. He also distributed food and clothing to the poor.

On November 13, 1927 a car drove up alongside the car of the Mexican President General Calles and tossed a bomb at him. The General escaped without injury but was determined to punish his attackers. Police discovered that the rebels’ car at one time belonged to Miguel’s brother Humberto Pro. Though all the Pro brothers had solid alibis, they were all marked men. A couple of days after the bombing Father Pro was celebrating Mass for a group of sisters. After Mass he told the Mother Superior: "Some time ago, Sister, I offered my life to God as a sacrifice for Mexico. This morning at Mass I felt that he had accepted it." The police soon captured the three brothers and without a trial they were sentenced to death by firing squad. In jail Father Pro counseled his brothers, the other prisoners and even the jailer.

General Calles wanted to make an example of Father Pro and his brothers. He invited the press, photographers and others to attend the execution. He hoped to portray Mexican Catholics as cowards.

Father Pro was the first prisoner led out to execution. One of the policemen who had arrested him turned, and with tears in his eyes, begged Father Pro to forgive him for what he had done. Father Pro put his arm around the policeman’s shoulders and said, "You not only have my forgiveness, you also have my thanks." The priest also asked God’s pardon for all the police assigned to the firing squad.

Meanwhile, Father Pro’s sister and an attorney were rushing to the jail with a stay of execution. The Argentine Ambassador even telephoned the jail and was able to stop the execution of Roberto Pro, the youngest of the Pro brothers. Roberto would later emigrate to the United States.

Inside the prison courtyard, General Cruz granted Father Miguel Pro’s final request to have a few moments for prayer. Father Pro knelt silently for two minutes then stood up. He was offfered a blindfold but refused. Instead he stretched out his arms in the form of a cross and said in a loud voice, "Viva, Cristo Rey" ("Long live Christ the King!") Shots rang out from the firing squad and Father Pro fell to the ground. He was still breathing, so General Cruz walked over and fired a final rifle shot to the priest’s head.

We have an excellent photographic record of Father Pro’s martyrdom thanks to General Calles’ desire to make a public spectacle of the humble priest. The newspaper reports and photos of the event, instead of making a mockery of the Church, only highlighted the heroism of this dedicated man. As a result, possession of the execution photos became a crime.

That night the bodies of Miguel and Humberto Pro were taken to their father’s house where mourners streamed past the caskets all night long. One of Father Pro’s sisters was weeping bitterly as she stood by his casket. Her father comforted her by saying, "Is this how you behave in the presence of a saint?"

The next morning over five hundred cars joined in the funeral procession and thousands of people lined the streets with flowers. Although the General had outlawed any public display of emotion, the people came out in open defiance knowing that there were not enough jails in all of Mexico to hold the crowd of mourners.

Sometime before his death, Father Pro told a friend, "If I ever get arrested and wind up in Heaven, get ready to ask me for favors." He also joked that if he came upon any somber-looking saints in heaven, he would do a Mexican hat dance to cheer them up. At his funeral an old blind woman in the crowd who came to touch his body left with her sight restored. Others testified to his miraculous help within a week of his death.

Father Miguel was a man of faith, courage and ingenuity. His great trust in Christ the King enabled him to be fearless in the face of intolerance, violence and even death. The life of Miguel Pro is proof that we can find great strength and courage, great love and lasting hope in Christ the King. Long live Christ the King!"

-- From a homily by Fr Peter Grace, CP, from St Anne's Basilica, Scranton, PA
(23 November 1999)
Copyright ©1999 St Ann's Media

Monday, November 22, 2010

Memorial of St Cecilia

"Cecilia was a Roman maiden of noble birth, trained up from her earliest years in the teaching of the Christian faith, and who by vow consecrated her virginity to God.  She was afterwards given in marriage, against her will, to Valerian.  On the first night she said to him : Valerian!  I am under the wardship of an Angel, who keepeth me always a maiden.  Therefore do nothing unto me, lest the anger of God should be aroused against thee.  Valerian was moved at her words, and dared not to touch her.  Also he added even this, that he would believe in Christ, if he could see the Angel.  Cecilia answered him that that could not be unless he were first baptized, and for the sake of seeing the Angel he was willing.  So she bade him go unto Pope Urban, who was hiding in the sepulchre of the Martyrs on the Appian Way on account of the persecution.  And he went unto him and was baptized.

Thence he came back to Cecilia, and found her praying, and the Angel with her, shining from the glory of God.  As soon as he had recovered from the shock of wonder and fear, he brought his brother Tiburtius, and Cecilia taught him Christ, and he was baptized by the same Pope Urban, and he also was vouchsafed to see the Angel whom his brother had seen.  A little while after, both of them bravely suffered martyrdom under the Prefect Almachius, who then caused Cecilia to be taken, and asked of her, first of all, where was the property of Tiburtius and Valerian?

To him the Virgin answered that all their goods had been given to the poor.  Thereupon he was filled with fury, and commanded her to be taken home, and burnt in the bath.  She was in that place a day and a night, but the fire had not harmed her.  Then was sent the executioner, who gave her three strokes of the axe, and, as he could not cut off her head, left her half-dead.  Three days thereafter, upon the 22nd day of November, in the reign of the Emperor Alexander Severus, she winged her flight for heaven, glorified with the two palms of virginity and martyrdom.  Her body was buried in the cemetery of Callistus by the aforementioned Pope Urban, who also consecrated a Church in her name in her own house.  Her relicks were brought into the city by Pope Paschal I, along with those of Tiburtius, Valerian, and Máximus, and all laid together in the said Church of St. Cecilia."

-- From the 1911 Breviary of St Pius X (1955 ed)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Solemnity of Christ the King

"Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Normally when we think of the king, we think of one who is arrayed in glory, we think of the one with the power, we think of the one that everyone has to bow down before. We look, for instance, in the Book of Esther and we hear about the king who is there and seated on his throne. Esther could not enter into the royal throne room unless the king had actually summoned her, otherwise, she would be killed – and not only she as the queen, but anybody; no one could enter the presence of the king or else they would be put to death, unless the king had personally summoned them. So you see the fear that was instilled in people when they thought about a king. We think of all the pageantry and all the things that go along with royalty in the modern day. This is not the idea that the Church has when we celebrate this feast. We need to set aside all of these ideas about what kingship is and what royalty is (and all of the things that have grown up around it) and we need to ask ourselves what, specifically, does this feast really mean? What is this all about?

We see it most clearly in the Gospel reading today, where we see right above Our Lord the inscription: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. It is not about the one with all the power. It is not about the one whom everyone else in the kingdom is to serve. But rather, the royal office in the Church is one of service. That is why in the first reading we hear about David, who is going to shepherd the people. In this particular reading, we hear about how the people of Israel are brought together. David was king of the southern kingdom and then became the king also of the northern part of the kingdom. Under him the two kingdoms were brought together and the people of Israel were once again brought together as one. Then, of course, it split up right after his son Solomon and never again were the two kingdoms united. But there is the complete promise given by the prophets that there will be one shepherd and there will be one flock. And that one shepherd is going to be the Son of David, that is, Jesus Christ: the one Shepherd of the one flock. All are united in Him in the one Mystical Body of Christ.

So we see, then, that it is an office of service, an office of the shepherd - which, actually, we have to keep reminding ourselves is what the word "pastor" means. Pastor, in Latin, means "a shepherd." So it is not the one with all the power but rather it is one who has been invested with a certain authority to be able to serve. A parent can understand that very well. Being a parent is not a power position; that is not God’s intent. But rather, it is a position of service and in order to serve the needs of your family there is an authority which is given by God so that parents can make the determinations and give the guidance and set the course for their family. Parents are given authority over their children because they need to lead; they need to shepherd their children.

That is precisely the case with Our Lord. In fact, we hear in the second reading today that in Him and through Him all things were created. And so all things exist in Him and all things exist for Him. We can ask ourselves: "Why would the Lord go to the Cross for us? Why would He want to do this?" Any parent, I think, can understand. Your children, of course, have in one sense been created through you. It is God who is the Creator, but as parents you have cooperated in the creation of your children. Now there are very few parents that I know who, if they were asked if they would die for their children, would ever say "no" that they would not. Because of that union of the parents with their children, because the parents know that the children were created through them and that they live their lives in service for their children, almost every parent would say, "Absolutely, I will die for my children." Now put yourself into the position of the One who actually created you, the One for whom and through whom all things exist. If you, who cooperated with Him in the creation of your children, would be willing to die for the ones who were created through you, how much more will the One who is actually the Creator of all be willing to die for those whom He created? That is precisely where His kingship is seen most clearly.

But when we look at what we did for Him - the glory of Christ, the kingship of Jesus Christ - we need to look once again at the Cross, because the Cross is the throne which humanity has erected for our King. We indeed put a crown upon His head and we placed Him on a throne. We lifted Him up and we exalted Him above all humanity, indeed above all creation. There He was, suspended between Heaven and earth, so that when He was lifted up from the earth He would draw all things to Himself. It is only in His Crucifixion that we will be able to understand clearly the service of Jesus Christ. As Saint Paul said in the second reading that all things are reconciled to God through the blood of His Cross, it is only in that. So as the chief priests and the leaders of the people would revile Him saying, "If you are the Christ, come down from that cross," or as the thief would say, "If you are the Christ, save yourself and us as well," He did not need to save Himself; the thief had it wrong and so did the chief priests. It is because He was the Christ that He stayed on the Cross. And it is by staying on the Cross that He saved us.

Ask yourself, even in a worldly sense: "If the king were to lead his people into battle and when things began to get difficult, the king retreated while saying to all of his subjects: ‘You stay here and fight. I’m going back to the castle,’ what would the people think of their king?" They would lose all respect for him. It is known that when the king would die in battle that was the end of the war: The people all dispersed; the troops would go, each their own way. Our King has led us into battle and He did not withdraw; He did not come down from the Cross. Even the soldiers would revile Him – the soldiers, who would know fully well that the king leads the people into battle; the king does not stay behind. Our King led us into battle, and rather than raising up a flag that would be a standard for everyone to be able to see and rally around, He Himself became the standard around which each one of us would rally in this battle. This is why Saint Paul said that He has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of light, to the kingdom of His heavenly Father, to the kingdom in which we have an inheritance along with Him. Had He come down from the Cross, none of us would have that inheritance; all of us would still belong to darkness and to night; all of us would still be stuck in our sins and nothing would be reconciled, nothing would be forgiven.

He demonstrated His love for us completely. He demonstrated His fidelity. And now, because of that, each one of us can do the same for Him. Even if we look on the natural level (again, going back to that analogy of parenthood), when we look at parents, the ones who in history have been held up with the highest honor are the mothers who died giving birth to their children –someone would die so that someone else would have life - or the fathers who have died defending their families so their families would be safe. They are the ones who have been held up as the highest of the heroes among family life. We are the family of God. He is our Father. When we look upon Him, we see the One who died so we could have life, we see the One who died so the inheritance which is promised to us would be ours, we see the One who has given His life so that each one of us could continue to live forever. He has delivered us from the darkness and brought us into the kingdom of light. He is the Shepherd of our souls.

Again, when we think about the Crucifixion, just consider what Saint Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Hebrews and what Saint John tells us in his Gospel. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Saint John, when He talks about being the Good Shepherd, that He Himself is the sheepgate and no one can enter into the pasture except through Him. There is no way other than Him that we have eternal life; He is the only gate through which we can pass. But Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Hebrews, tells us that Jesus has passed through the veil – and His veil is His flesh, the flesh that has been torn. He reminds us that the veil, the curtain in the temple, was torn in two. But the real veil is the flesh that Jesus took to Himself, the flesh that was torn in two on the Cross so that we could have entrance into the Holy of Holies. Not just into a natural kind of place where the sheep would go, but rather, into Heaven itself, into the place that God has prepared for His sheep. As the Scriptures say: "We are His people, the sheep of His flock." He tells us that His sheep know His voice and He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him and they will follow Him. When we look upon our Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep, when we understand the love that He has for us because He died for us, when we see that absolute selflessness, it is then that we can have the courage to follow where He has led, that we can enter into this battle against Satan, against sin, against darkness.

Only in Him can we be victorious – but only when we are lifted up with Him and glorified with Him, when we are crowned as He was crowned, when we are nailed to the Cross with Him. He will not ask of any of us what He was unwilling to do Himself. He is not the kind of king that will send us off into battle, but is unwilling to do it himself. He is the One who has led us into this battle and He is the One who will bring us through the battle to be victorious. He has shown us the way and indeed He is the way, the only means for us to be able to enter into Heaven. And the way is through His Body, which was torn open for us on the Cross, the veil that has been opened so that we could enter the sanctuary, so that we could enter into the sheepfold. There we will find our pasture for eternity.

That is what we celebrate today on this Feast of Christ the King: the love of Jesus Christ for us. He is not the King because He is the Creator; He is not the King because He is God; He is the King because He is the Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep so that His sheep could have life. And so today we celebrate not only the Feast of Christ the King, but the last Sunday in the Church’s liturgical year. Next Sunday we begin Advent and the beginning of the new Church year. Again, as we consider these realities, [realize] that the Church places this at the end of the liturgical cycle to remind each one of us that this is the ultimate point of history: the Cross of Christ, the Kingship of Jesus Christ Crucified. He is not only the Creator, but the pinnacle of all creation. The Crucifixion is the central point of history; it is there that all history revolves.

And so we look at Jesus Christ upon His Cross, and we look at the inscription and all of the elements. Look upon that Cross. See Him crowned. Remember the purple that we placed upon Him, the royal colors. Look at the inscription above Him: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Look at the love and the devotion and the fidelity that your King has for you and ask yourself if you are willing to follow in the path that He Himself has walked, if you are willing to follow Him into battle so that you can fully be delivered from the kingdom of darkness, so that you can accept the inheritance which is yours in the kingdom of light - the inheritance won for you by your King on the Cross. Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. The office of king is one of service and for each one of us who has been baptized into Christ, each one of us is also a king, each one of us is a priest, each one of us is a prophet. We are called today to exercise that kingly office with Him, to give our lives in the service of our King, so that through Him, through His flesh torn open on the Cross, we will be able to enter into the sanctuary where forever not only will we be crowned with our royal dignity, but we will be able to exercise the priestly office in the eternal worship of Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords."

-- From a homily by Fr Robert Altier, ocds (25 November 2001)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Religious vocation & the family's sacrifice

Fear not offering your children back to God. He will reward you in unimaginable ways.

** Please keep in mind that this is just a clip. Many scenes have been cut out.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Memorial of St Raphael of St Joseph (Kalinowski)

"Born at Vilna on Sept. 1, 1835, into a noble family, Joseph Kalinowski was a pious and studious youth. After spending seven years at the Institute of Nobles and earning a gold medal at graduation, he attended the school of agronomy of Horki for a year, during which his religious fervor cooled. In 1835 he was admitted to the Academy of Military Engineers in Petersburg, completing the course there with the rank of lieutenant (1857) and remaining on as an assistant professor in mathematics. Having entered the command of engineers at Petersburg (1859), he was sent to Kursk and to Odessa, commissioned with the planning of the railroad of Kursk-Kiev-Odessa and then assigned to the fortress of Brest-Litowski (1860). In 1862 he became a captain of the general staff. These were years of great activity, but also of profound faith, lived in charity, in prayer, and in the study of religious works. However, his living of Christianity was not up to the level which he later desired. His health caused him to retire on May 5, 1863; yet he received a commendation full of praise from Alexander II of Russia.

In the same year Poland began its insurrection against Russia. Kalinowski, who already in 1862 at Brest-Litowski had declared himself contrary to the first revolutionary movements and pointed out their dangers, at the start opposed the insurrection and affirmed that «Poland had no need of shedding blood, but of working.» Nevertheless, under the pressure of events and after long meditation, he decided while in Warsaw to participate in the insurrection. In May he entered the national government and was made commissioner of the war ministry in Lithuania, a charge which he accepted with the explicit condition that he would not have to condemn anyone to death. In June, at Vilna, one of the leaders of the insurrection, Sigismund Sierakowski, was hanged. Kalinowski, who was present, fell to his knees and made the resolution to consecrate his life to the service of God.

A short while later, at midnight between the 25-26 of March, 1864, he too was captured and imprisoned in the ex-convent of the Dominicans, where life was organized in convent style, with common prayer, meditation and Mass. But, above all, Kalinowski determined to return to the sacrament of confession. He prayed much, he contemplated the mysteries of the passion for long periods; but he still did not have a clear idea of the future, even though he did think of becoming a Capuchin. Meanwhile the insurrection, precisely because of the counsel given to Traugutt by Kalinowski, who, according to his own testimony, «had never been a convinced partisan» of the struggle, was extinguished. Joseph, motivated by his basic honesty and in order not to implicate the innocent, revealed his whole role in the insurrection and was condemned to death by the government of Murawiew, a penalty that was afterwards commuted to ten years of forced labor in Eastern Siberia.

He left for Siberia after he had been invigorated in spirit and requested the New Testament, Job, the Psalms, and the Imitation of Christ. He reached the salt mines of Usolje-Sibirskoje in 1865, and there he was to remain until 1868, the year in which an amnesty reduced his penalty to simple exile. He settled at Irkutsk, near lake Bajkal, on the Mongolian border, where he carried out a true apostolate, even though afflicted by physical and moral sufferings that refined his spirit and united him ever more to God. In 1872 he left Irkutsk; but he had to remain in eastern Russia for two years, according to the requirements of the law. He chose Perm, on the Kama, but left it a year later because of his health that was ever more shaken. His final liberation occurred in 1874, but he was explicitly forbidden to make his abode in Lithuania.

The years in Siberia and in exile were years of extraordinary grace for Joseph. All witnesses and his companions in exile are unanimous in stressing the great patience of the servant of God, his availability in the service of all, the charity that urged him to deprive himself of what was necessary for himself in order to alleviate the sufferings of others, his continual prayer, his exceptional devotion to Our Lady. Father Wenceslaus Novakowski, O.F.M.Cap., a companion in prison and in deportation, vouches for the veneration that all had for Joseph, even to the point of inserting a special invocation into the recitation of the litany of the saints: «Through the prayers of Kalinowski, deliver us, O Lord!» It was during this long period of trial that the servant of God, a born contemplative, decided to become a Discalced Carmelite, as Card. Kakowski assures us. During the ten years of trial, of suffering and of misery, with the thermometer at times reaching 45 degrees below zero (Cent.), he never left out his meditation; now, however, he reentered civilian life. His passport was restored, and in Warsaw he was able again to embrace those dear to him. Here he consented to become the preceptor of prince August Czartoryski, and this charge obliged him to follow the young man outside Poland. After a pilgrimage to Czestochowa, he left for Paris on Oct. 23, 1874, with «Gucio»— the diminutive nickname given to prince August—and there took up residence in the Hotel Lambert, the center from which the Czartoryskis helped and supported all the Polish political émigrés. During the following year Kalinowski continued to form the soul of his Gucio; meanwhile he had to accompany him to Menton and then to Neuilly, since the prince's lungs were already undermined. He filled the role «of father, mother, brother, companion, guardian.» And he did this with an extraordinary affection for the youth, remaining ever at his side with an interest stronger than that which could be aroused by any blood relationship.

Joseph accompanied Gucio on his travels in France, Poland and Italy. Guiding him by word and by the example of a coherent and affable Christian life, he took every possible care to strengthen his ward both in virtue and in physical health. Meanwhile, though outwardly everything seemed to be proceeding in an ordinary fashion, his decision to leave everything in order to consecrate himself to God in the religious life went on maturing. It was during the summer of 1876, at Davos, in Switzerland, where he had accompanied the prince, that Joseph made the definitive decision to become a Discalced Carmelite, after he had long considered all the aspects of this step. He was helped by the prayers of the princess Witoldowa Grocholska Czartoryska, an aunt of Gucio and a Discalced Carmelite nun with the name of Sr. Mary Xavier of Jesus, at Krakow-Wesola. During the following year he realized his decision.

During the first days of July, 1877, Joseph left the Hotel Lambert, and on the 14th of the month he was at the feet of the provincial of the Discalced Carmelites of Austria, on whom Poland then depended. He was sorrowed by his separation from Prince August — who later was to meet Don Bosco, become a Salesian (1887), and complete his time on earth in a short while (1893) and with such a repute for holiness as to warrant the beginnings of a canonization process. Meanwhile, on July 15, Joseph was immediately sent from Linz to Graz, the seat of the novitiate, which he began at the age of fortytwo, on Nov. 28, 1877, taking the new name of Raphael of St. Joseph. He made his first profession on the same day of the following year, then went on to Raad (now Gyor, Hungary) for his studies in philosophy and theology, where he also made his solemn profession in the hands of the future Card. Gotti, at the time general of the Order (Nov. 27, 1881). He was then transferred to Poland, to the one decrepit convent for male religious that the Order had been able to keep open in the ancient hermitage of Czerna. There he completed his theological studies and received the various sacred orders, including the priesthood, conferred on him by Albin Dunajewski, bishop of Krakow (Jan. 15, 1882).

Almost immediately following his ordination as a priest he was named vice-master of novices, and in 1883 prior of the convent of Czerna. This office he later occupied almost continually, though he also served alternately as provincial councilor, confessor and director of the Discalced Carmelite nuns who from the one monastery of Krakow-Wesola — a monastery of «concentration» for various suppressed communities — had already overflowed into another monastery at Karkow--Lobzow (1875). Thanks to Fr. Raphael's interest, other Teresian monasteries later arose at Przemysl (1884) and Leopoli (1888). In 1900 he became the vicar-provincial for all these monasteries; he gave of himself unsparingly for the nuns of the Order so that, in line with the purest Teresian tradition, they would be authentic praying sentinels of the Church, for the good of the whole people of God.

Then, while the last Discalced Carmelite friars of the convents formerly existing at Berdyczow (Russia) and Lublin were dying out, Father Raphael founded a new convent at Wadowice (1892). He also built a church there which in a short time became an active center of spirituality, plus a seminary fostering excellent vocations on which he knew how to impress his hallmarks of serious formation and of Carmelite fidelity. He died a holy death at Wadowice on Nov. 15, 1907, and his body was transferred to the conventual cemetery of Czerna (Krakow).

The spiritual life of Father Raphael was marked by consistency. From the moment that he recognized his vocation to Carmel—thanks to his assiduous ascetical preparation—he was a coherent and convinced Discalced Carmelite, a man of God, solicitous about continuous communion with Him. Contemporaries are in accord in describing him as a «living prayer,» and he himself never ceased reminding his religious: «Our principal obligation in Carmel is to converse with God in all our actions.» For this reason he wished the renewal of Teresian Carmelite life in Poland to be built upon solid bases of true prayer, nourished and sustained by austerity, silence and recollection, realities that he himself first lived.

Another element of the Carmelite vocation with which he wished his life to be permeated, and which he insistently recommended to the friars and to the nuns, was intimacy with Our Lady. He venerated and loved her as the mother and the «foundress» of the Order; he strove to be always aware of her presence and to work for her glory. «For Carmelite friars and nuns,» he said, «honoring the Most Holy Virgin is of prime importance. And we love her if we endeavor to imitate her virtues, especially her humility and her recollection in prayer. ... Our eyes must be constantly turned to her; all our affections must be directed to her. We must ever preserve the memory of her benefits and strive to be ever faithful to her.» As expressions of his devotion are two booklets, Maria zawsze i we wszystkim (Mary always and in everything, Krakow, 1901), a filial invitation to do everything under her gaze and for love of the Virgin, and Czesc Matki Boskiej w Karmelu Polskim (The cult of the Mother of God in the Polish Carmel, Leopoli-Warsaw, 1905), and also the zeal that he expended in spreading the Third Order as well as the Confraternity of the Scapular in Poland and Romania.

A true apostle of Our Lady, he did not tire in recommending this devotion to as many as came to him for spiritual direction. He was a much sought-for confessor, and a wise guide of souls. People came to him even from distant places, drawn by his fame of holiness and by his prudence and secure counsel. Ever available to all, he had taken as his program for spiritual direction the words of St. Paul: «Charity, joy, peace!» (Gal. 5:22). And his words instilled serenity and peace in all, even in non-Catholics, for whom he always had special apostolic interest. In this matter, he reminded his friars that the Order in Poland had a special mission to pray and to work for the unity of the Church and for the conversion of Russia. This was what he had learned from the history of the missionary origins of the Teresian Carmel in Poland and what he sought to achieve by immolating himself, so that there would be but one fold under one Shepherd.

As mentioned above, the Discalced Carmelite nuns benefitted from his special care and attention, also because of his official appointment by his superiors. He knew them individually, and guided them with gentle strength in the spirit of St. Teresa and of the first superiors of the Polish Carmel. For this reason too, with the collaboration of the nuns, he gathered together and published the history of the old Teresian monasteries of the nation: Kiasztory Karmelitanek Bosych w Polsce, na Litwe i Rusi (Monasteries of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Poland, Lithuania and Russia, 4 voll., Krakow, 1900-4). Esteemed for his holiness even during life, Father Raphael's intercession was invoked immediately after his death; and to judge by the graces that are attributed to it, the Lord seems to be pleased with this devotion."

-- From a biography by Valentine Macca, OCarm

Thursday, November 18, 2010

We must have faith in Jesus Christ but we must act upon that faith

"If we do not have faith in God, yet we just go through the motions, what good is it? Let us say that there is a kid who does not like to go to church and does not believe in God but his mom forces him to go to church. He sits in the back pew with his arms folded and his bottom lip sticking out being a little snot, and at the same time he says, “Well, I went to church, didn’t I? I should be able to go to heaven now because I did such a great job and I went to church every Sunday.” There was no faith. He did not want to be there, he kicked and screamed and made a scene, but all of a sudden he is going to try to justify himself because he was actually there. Well, if there is not faith there is no justification.

It begins with faith in Jesus Christ, Who died for our sins so that we could be forgiven, but then it is to go to the next step. This, again, is where there is the difference between a Catholic and a non-Catholic. For the non-Catholics, they say that you are justified by faith alone. Nowhere does Scripture say that. In the eighth chapter of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which we will hear in a few days, Martin Luther put the word “alone” in there when he translated Scripture. It is not there. It is not there in any Protestant translation today; they have taken it out. But that was his justification for saying that you are saved by faith alone. He put the word “alone” in! It is not part of Scripture. In fact, the only place in the entire Bible where the words “faith alone” are mentioned is in Saint James 2:24 where it says explicitly: You are not saved by faith alone. So if we are going to look at Scripture to see what it says, it is very clear: We must have faith–there is no salvation without faith–but we must also act upon that faith. That is the point we have to understand.

If we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins then we need to do what must be done in order for our sins to be forgiven. We need to go to Confession and then we need to change our lives to live according to the way of Christ. Otherwise, what is happening are two things. Just like the scholars of the Jewish law, according to Jesus they locked the door to heaven; they did not get in and neither did anyone else. It is the same basic principle. If all we are doing is saying, “Well, you have to have a generic faith that Jesus died for your sins, and you get to go to heaven,” it does not work that way. Remember, Jesus Himself told us the way that leads to perdition is wide and smooth. It is a pretty easy road, isn’t it? “Just believe in Jesus. You can do anything you want and you can still go to heaven.” It does not work. It never has and it never will. We must have faith in Jesus Christ–there is no salvation apart from it–but we must act upon that faith.

Saint James tells us, Show me your faith without works, and I will show the faith that underlies my works. Not empty works of the law, not just showing up and sitting with a bad attitude and saying, “Well, I went to church, didn’t I?” but to truly be there with a heart filled with love. If we truly believe what we profess and if we really, truly believe what we know to be true, that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament and that the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ, then how could we ever possibly sit there distant and with a bad attitude? But having that faith, then we have to act in love because He is God, truly present among us. It must change the way that we live, the way that we act, the way that we are so that through faith in Jesus Christ we will put that faith into practice and we will truly be righteous in the sight of God."

-- From a homily by Fr Robert Altier, ocds (13 October 2005)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Salve Regina, Mater Misericordiae

"The crowd of us who gathered there was made up of all types. There were the long, ganging friars of sparerib proportions, the short fat ones, and the simple, run-of-the-mill physiques - the whole line-up constituting a somewhat formidable wall of brown as Brother Myles would work his way to hook number six, where his own mantle hung. No one quite understood why he had cut a big red number six from an old calendar to paste above his hook, for there was no mistaking Brother Myles's mantle. Its tiny size distinguished it from all the rest. For he was the smallest friar in the monastery, the smallest friar in the province. In fact, as he so often put it himself (and sadly), he was probably the smallest friar in the world.

But on Saturday night as he clothed himself in white, he would realize that fellow Carmelites on every continent were doing the same thing. And he would wonder how he had ever managed to get in on this Saturday night treat to our Lady, this token of love for God's mother and his own, the Salve Regina. While he stood in line wearing the color that was symbolic of his purity and holding a burning candle in his hand, Myles would think about Mary who was the patroness of his Order and the light of his life. He admitted to himself that someday as a priest he would not be able to save even one soul without the help of Mary; that as a man, he would not even be able to save his own soul without her.

When eight o'clock struck, the community would file out into the sanctuary - first the lay brothers, then the clerics, the priests, two acolytes, a brother with the holy water and finally, the esteemed Father Prior in a flowing silk cope. Lined up on both sides of the sanctuary, running straight down from the foot of the altar to the communion rail, a small army of personified devotion, the friars would join their voices to the first peals of the organ, Salve Regina, Mater Misericordiae, 'Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.' Walled in by the rising heights of big Brother Berthold on his left and big Brother Hubert on his right, Brother Myles would be all but hidden from the eyes of men. But it did not faze him. He would simply thrust his candle a bit higher so that Mary would not overlook his presence and join with full heart into the solemn beauty of the chant. Myles did not know much about harmony or counterpoint, and his voice, like most of the others, was untrained in the finer points; but he would sing hist best and make his chant what it should always be, a prayer.

'Hail Holy Queen,' little Myles would pray, 'all that I live for and hope in, my Sweetness. Here I stand crying up to you in self-chosen banishment from the sighs, conscious of sorrow and tears, and burdened with my dose of the taints of original sin. Look down upon me, Mary, now as I live; but when this exile is over, bring me to heaven where I may see in all His glory your divine Son. Mother of meekness, Mother of pure love, Mother of sweetness, pray for me and for all these men here who are far better than I and perhaps more loved by you. Pray that they may become great saints and I, a little saint. For being the smallest friar in the world, I was made for little things, but whatever you make us, see to it that we are someday worthy of redemption.'

At the final notes of the chant, Father Prior, receiving the aspergill, would start around the sanctuary to flick the tony blobs of holy water upon the heads of his subjects. Brother Myles, leaning out from between his towering companions, would catch a drop and bless himself, then go into a deep bow with the rest of the community for a silent 'Our Father.' And while he prayed he could not help seeing the smallest pair of sandals in the world and an ingrown toenail that was forever making him realize the inescapable factor of little pains in life, that perfect relief would only come in heaven.

Then when the Salve was at an end, the brothers would come to the center of the altar, genuflect, two by two, and as they started into the sacristy, the low monotone of the De Profundis would rise to their lips. Brother Myles would say this prayer with all the reverent enthusiasm he could muster. After all, this psalm meant liberation or relief for the souls who languished in Purgatory. So he would say it for them just as he would want others to say it for him when he had hung his mantle on hook number six for the last time.

It was his gracious gift to all those men who had sung the Salve Regina on Saturday night for centuries back, Discalced Carmelites like himself. Time had borne them into another world and they had left a vacant place in the white line-up. Some day Brother Myles would also leave a vacant place and nothing could ever change it. But as he passed through the door on Saturday nights, the Mother whom he had honored, probably felt that it would take a very big man indeed to fill up the little opening that Myles would leave when he went to collect his great reward."

-- Men in Sandals by Fr Richard of the Immaculate Conception (Madden), ocd

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How fortunate we are to follow our vocation!

"The birds sing louder to the rising sun as though endorsing my early morning picture of a bright and happy world, but one is obliged to follow on to the slightly sobering question: how many people do, in fact, find and follow their real vocation?

We Religious... how fortunate we are, for we have not only found it, but have, as far as human frailty permits, positively chained ourselves to it! That in itself is a great grace, and how many people out in the world, doing so precariously the thing which they love, would give their whole fortune to know that they would be able to go on doing it, better and better, crescendo upon crescendo, until they died! That can be true of every Religious. If we miss it, we miss it by our own fault, for there is nothing between us and it but the missing of our daily proffered grace. Health and age do not affect the issue because neither affects the soul but only the body. The value of a Religious who is constantly growing in the love of God, is a value which increases with every hour lived, and which cannot help but increase since its measure is the love of God.

It is true that almost the same may be said of those who find and follow their genuine vocation in the world, and if they love God, indeed, then exactly the same may be said. More often it is only true - with a difference. Who does not remember the names of those past-masters in art whom the world still flocked to see, to hear, to follow and to love, when they were old, because of the supreme point of ability and perfection which they had reached in their own subject, and which the passage of the years could never mar. But, even so, upon what a thread such earthly success hangs! An accident, an illness, a failure of some human organ and sense, and the earthly part of their career is at an end.

And, how small a number of them there are! Names which shine out in history are few and far between. Yet we were  all created for some individual purpose, within the greater purpose of our eternal salvation and, generally speaking, the quickest and surest way of reaching that purpose should, one would think, logically be open to us. Then how do we come to miss it?

And the answer, on supposes, is that the easiest way either to miss or to lose it is not to be sufficiently aware of its importance. That, after all, is how we come to miss and to lose things. First, of its immense importance to us, because it is our unique opportunity of doing the thing which we were created to do in the supernatural order. Then its natural importance to us also, because we shall so obviously do whatever we were created and equipped to do a great deal better than anything else which we might choose, or which might merely be chosen for us by others less wise and less loving than God. And further, its immense importance to those with whom we live, because a misfit is never a really happy person, nor a very congenial companion in any surroundings.

It is difficult to trace precisely what that unawareness consists in. Sometimes it arises from fear or nervousness: we get the opportunity but it involves a break-away from present circumstances and our courage fails us. We delay, we drift, and gradually the opportunity evaporates until, we hardly know how, it is no longer open to us. Or we set about considering the drawbacks to some new proposition. We forget that everything in life has its drawbacks and, finding small flaws in what is offered us, decide against what we may later discover to have been a chance in a lifetime.

But, in point of fact, if only we are wise enough to be on the lookout for it, it is not easy to miss our vocation, for, when we are young, it knocks at our door with astonishing persistence. Who does not know that idea which comes back and back into the mind? The particular way of life, or profession, or occupation, from which we never seem able to get away, but which is always turning up and meeting us in the most unlikely places."

-- Catch us those little foxes by A Carmelite Nun

Monday, November 15, 2010

Memorial of St Albert the Great

"Albert, called the Great, because of his extraordinary learning, was born in Suabia, at Lauingen on the Danube, and very carefully educated from boyhood.  To further his higher studies he left his native country and went to Padua.  At the urging of blessed Jordan, Master General of the Order of Preachers, he asked admission into the family of the Dominicans, in spite of the futile protests of his uncle.  After his election to membership among the brethren, Albert was dedicated in all things to God, and was conspicuous for his piety, his strict observance of the rule, and especially for his tender and filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Always before study he spent some time in prayer.  After his profession of apostolic religion, he so regulated his schedule of life that he became an accomplished preacher of the word of God and an efficient instrument for the salvation of souls.  Soon the Order sent Albert to complete his studies at Cologne, where he made such progress in every branch of secular science that he surpassed all his contemporaries in scholarship and achievement.  In the meantime, as Alexander IV testifieth, he drank so deeply of the health-giving waters of doctrine, sprung forth from the fountain of the divine law, that his soul was flooded with their abundance.

That others might share the rich treasure of his learning, Albert was appointed professor at Hildesheim, then Freiburg, Ratisbon and Strasbourg successively.  He became the marvel of all.  During the period when he taught sacred theology in the famous University of Paris, he became world-famous, and received the degree of Master of Theology.  Examining the teachings of pagan philosophers in the light of sound reason, he demonstrated clearly that they were in fundamental accord with the tenets of the faith.  He expounded most brilliantly the thesis on the extent of the power of human understanding to comprehend divine mysteries.  How great was his genius, how brilliant his intellect, how zealously he applied himself to study until he had become learned in every branch of scholarship, especially sacred theology, is best shewn by his numerous writings.  These encompass every known subject.  Albert returned to Cologne to become president of the university conducted by his Order.  He was so successful that he became ever more widely acknowledged as an authority by the schools; his reputation for learning increased.  Among his pupils was his beloved Thomas Aquinas.  Albert was first to recognize and acclaim the greatness of that intellect.  He had a deep devotion towards the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and composed some magnificent works upon it.  He also pointed out wider fields for the study of the mystical things of the soul.  He succeeded so well that the zeal of this great master spread far and wide in the Church.

Amid so many very important duties Albert shone as an exemplar of the religious life.  His brethren, therefore, selected him to be prior of the German province.  He was summoned to Anagni, in the presence of the Supreme Pontiff, Alexander IV to refute that William who had been impiously and arrogantly attacking the mendicant orders.  Soon after this the Pope appointed Albert Bishop of Ratisbon.  As Bishop, Albert devoted himself almost entirely to the care of his flock.  Yet he retained meticulously his humility and love of poverty.  Up to the time he resigned his see, Albert was prompt and energetic in fulfilling the duties of his episcopal office.  He ministered to the spiritual needs of souls throughout Germany and the neighbouring provinces.  He was careful that the advice he gave to those who sought his counsels was wise and salutary.  So prudent was he in settling disputes that at Cologne he was called the peacemaker.  From far distant places, prelates and princes invited him to act as an arbiter to resolve differences.  Saint Louis, King of France, presented him with some relicks of the sacred Passion of Christ, and Albert cherished them devoutly all his days.  In the second Council of Lyons he was instruméntal in bringing to a successful conclusion several weighty matters.  He taught until he was worn out with age.  His last days were spent in holy contemplation.  In the year 1280 he entered into the joy of his Lord.  By the authority of the Roman Pontiffs, the honours of the altar had long since been conferred upon Albert in many dioceses and in the Order of Preachers, when Pius XI, gladly accepting the recommendations of the Congregation of Sacred Rites, extended his Feast to the universal Church, and conferred upon the title of Doctor.  Pope Pius XII appointed him the heavenly patron with God of all those who study the natural sciences."

-- From the Breviary of St Pius X (1955 ed)

** Painting by Tomasso da Modena