Seems like an odd thing to celebrate, Mary high-tailing it out of town to hang out with her cousin...suspiciously like the old story of the unmarried pregnant girl shipped off to live with the older spinster/widowed aunt until after the birth.
But that is certainly not the case. She has gone to aid her cousin in her own time of need. Elizabeth has probably aided many others in her day but this is a first for her - she is expecting in her later years.
But the most important thing we celebrate is once again the showing of Jesus to the world as will happen at his birth, his day in the temple, and many others until he his lifted highest on the Cross and then into Heaven. This feast is less about Mary visiting Elizabeth and more about John recognizing Jesus in the womb of the Theotokos. Jesus' divinity shines forth even in his developing humanity. Elizabeth recognizes the irony of the visit: "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:43) Who am I to be served by you? This is echoed at the Last Supper by Peter, and like Mary's response, Jesus calls him to remember the purpose for it all.
This is our day to "leap for joy" in the womb of Mother Church and proclaim the glory of God to all the Earth.
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."
And Mary said:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever."
-- Luke 1:39-56
One man's garbage is another man's treasure.
Beloved by the French reviled by the English in her time and yet, because we are all Catholic, she is today celebrated by the whole Church.
She is a conundrum though. When the noted agnostic George Bernard researched and wrote his celebrated play Saint Joan, he was hard pressed to find any "bad guys" or "good guys" for that matter.
But we see with the eyes of Faith and an understanding of human sinfulness. What the story of Joan teaches us is that we must not be parochial in our thinking but be catholic. We must follow God's will in all things. She was a mystic, called to overcome injustice and deny roles and expectations in order to call all to love and honor regardless of nationality or political necessity. There are no borders for us; we must respect the rights of others, not because we are benevolent rulers but because we are brothers and sisters. Sometimes our conscience (God's voice within us) guides in ways that seem contrary to Church law or teachings, but upon closer examination, if we have truly given ourselves over to Him and not our own vanity, God's will is done, despite opposition from the well-intentioned. How many saints and religious orders and reformers have trod that path!
We ourselves must hear the words of Jesus, when he defends his teachings “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.” (John 18:20-21) A clear conscience gives us strength - there is no need for explanation.
The text below is from the rather one-sided English trial against her, but I think speaks to her nature, which today we interpret one way, but at that time they interpreted in another.
After Jeanne had been admonished in this manner and had heard these exhortations she replied thereto in this way: "As for my words and deeds, which I declared in the trial, I refer to them and will maintain them."
Asked if she thinks she is not bound to submit her words and deeds to the Church Militant or any one other than God, she answered: "I will maintain that manner of speech which I always said and held in the trial."
She said that if she were condemned and she saw the fire and the faggots alight and the executioner ready 'to kindle the fire, and she herself were in it, she would say nothing else and would maintain until death what she said in the trial.
...On Thursday after Whitsuntide, May 24th of the same year, we the said judges repaired in the morning to a public place, in the cemetery of the abbey of Saint-Ouen at Rouen, where the said Jeanne was present before us on a scaffold or platform. First we had a solemn sermon pronounced by master Guillaume Erart, a distinguished doctor of sacred theology, for the salutary admonition of the said Jeanne and of the great multitude of people present.
...The said doctor began his sermon by taking for his text the word of God in the fifteenth chapter of St. John: "A branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine." Then he solemnly explained that all Catholics must abide in the true vine of Our Holy Mother Church which Our Lord planted with His right hand: he showed how this Jeanne had cut herself off from the unity of our Holy Mother Church by many errors and grave crimes, and how she had frequently scandalized the Christian people. He admonished and exhorted her and the multitude of people by salutary doctrines.
When the sermon was over he addressed Jeanne in these terms: "Behold my Lords your judges who have repeatedly summoned and required you to submit all your words and deeds to Our Holy Mother Church, showing and pointing out to you that in the opinion of the clergy many things are to be found in your words and deeds which it is good neither to affirm nor uphold."
To which Jeanne replied: "I will answer you. Touching my submission to the Church, I have answered them on this point. Let all that I have said and done be sent to Rome to our Holy Father the Pope to whom after God I refer myself. As for my words and deeds, they were done at God's command." She said that she charged no one with them, neither her king nor any other; and if there were any fault it was hers and no other person's.
Asked whether she would revoke all her words and deeds which are disapproved of by the clergy, she answered: "I refer me to God and to our Holy Father the Pope."
-- The Trial of Joan of Arc, May 23-24.
What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.
-- Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, I, 1
We must love them, love them in spite of everything, love them always.
-- Retreat Notes
Political loyalty, religious loyalty, family, and friendship. There can be an odd collision of the understanding of loyalty among these three.
Unless Christ is the guiding and foundational N of each. Then they work in harmony and benefit all.
Such was the case for Margaret. Like so many of that period, including Thomas More, the pull of secular thought might call one to be practical, give in, sign the paper, renounce the Faith; there were also political and monetary practicalities that would council to be "prudent" in human understanding of such things. Though assailed for her loyalty on all fronts and she suffered greatly, she held true to Christ regardless of the pressures posed from outside against her interior life. In her loyalty to Christ, she excelled in loyalty to others.
It behooves us all to follow our conscience instead of the fickle winds of human activity and to remain true to the Gospel no matter what the cost.
The crowd joined in the attack on them, and the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After inflicting many blows on them, they threw them into prison and instructed the jailer to guard them securely. When he received these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and secured their feet to a stake. About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew [his] sword and was about to kill himself, thinking that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted out in a loud voice, “Do no harm to yourself; we are all here.” He asked for a light and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.
-- Acts 16:22-34
There is the old saying that goes something like: "God does not call the prepared, He prepares the called." Trite perhaps, but it is something for us to keep in the back of our minds and something that Augustine reminds me of.
As a saint we honor him for his obedience and compassion and as a human we can learn from his lack of self-confidence and humanity. So many of the things that resulted from his weakness in the end shine in his work, even if they did not come to fruition until long after his death.
He was afraid; he had trouble making decisions; he failed to reconcile people, who while they shared a single belief in Jesus, held opposing views as to the value of being victors and of being invaded, on liturgical practices. Yet he ultimately held fast to the mission of his vocation and relied not on his own strengths but on the Lord. His gentleness and compassion managed to let Christ's love spread and Church grow in England, allowing the understanding of the people to be transformed into an understanding of Christ, without loss of dignity or custom.
Augustine reminds us that we cannot let our weaknesses and sinfulness keep us from doing the will of God. We must not take pride in our accomplishments nor despair from our failures.
Your brothers know and are used to the Roman Church, in which you have been nurtured. But I approve of your selecting carefully anything you have found that may be more pleasing to Almighty God, whether in the Roman Church or that of Gaul, or in any Church whatever, and introducing in the Church of the Angli, which is as yet new in the faith, by a special institution, what you have been able to collect from many Churches. For we ought not to love things for places, but places for things. Wherefore choose from each several Church such things as are pious, religious, and right, and, collecting them as it were into a bundle, plant them in the minds of the Angli for their use.
-- From a letter of Gregory the Great to Augustine of Canterbury
Phillip's life is a statement to the power of both the laity and the clergy to bring about change.
When he started, he was a layman, zealous for the Faith; it was only after some ten years was he convinced that he should finish his studies to be more effective as a priest.
That said, he was effective enough as a layman to cause changes in Rome.
Once again the Spirit has seen fit to lose what I had written to remind me that my words are but straw. I leave it to you to learn more about this most wonderful saint.
I will end by saying that Philip reminds us to live out our vocation, to turn thoughts into action, and to do all things in charity, regardless of whether we are clergy, religious, or lay!
-- Daily Meditations, May 3rd and 26th
A busy Day for saints (as are most days), but ones well worth our time. I do not often recall multiple saints but these three show the diversity and unity of the Church throughout time and place. Each was a monastic, showing the rich monastic tradition within and the importance of that tradition to the Church and how it is rarely running away from the world, as the world so often views it.
Each also approached the world and the needs of the Church (and World) differently. Each dedicated themselves to the improvement and betterment of others, each on different scales. Gregory, caught amidst the turmoil of the politics of his time sought reform of both Church and king. Bede focused on a true education of those around him to remove ignorance and superstition and encourage veneration and holiness and stability amidst chaos. Mary cultivated her personal interior garden and that of her sisters to the salvation of the world amid the fracturing of the Church.
All of theses things should be considered even amidst the foibles of human weakness.
So now, my dearly beloved brothers, listen carefully to what I say to you. All who in the whole world bear the name of Christian and truly understand the Christian faith know and believe that Saint Peter, the prince of the apostles, is the father of all Christians and their first shepherd after Christ, and that the holy Roman Church is the mother and mistress of all the Churches. If, then, you believe and unshakably hold this, such as I am, your brother and unworthy master, I ask and command you by Almighty God to help and succor your father and mother, if through them you would have the absolution of all your sins, and blessing and grace in this world and in the world to come.
-- From a letter of Pope St Gregory VII
On the Tuesday before Ascension, Bede began to suffer greater difficulties in breathing and his feet began to swell slightly. Nevertheless, he continued to teach us and dictate all day, and made jokes about his illness: “Learn quickly,” he would say, “because I don’t know how long I’ll last: my Creator may take me very soon.” But it seemed to us that he was perfectly conscious of his approaching end.
...“It is time – if it is my Maker’s will – to return to him who made me, who shaped me out of nothing and gave me existence. I have lived a long time, and the righteous judge has provided well for me all my life: now the time of my departure is at hand, for I long to dissolve and be with Christ; indeed, my soul longs to see Christ its king in all his beauty.” This is just one saying of his: he said many other things too, to our great benefit – and thus he spent his last day in gladness until the evening.
-- Cuthbert's narration of the death of Bede
Come, Holy Spirit. May the union of the Father and the will of the Son come to us. You, Spirit of truth, are the reward of the saints, the refreshment of souls, light in darkness, the riches of the poor, the treasury of lovers, the satisfaction of the hungry, the consolation of the pilgrim Church; you are he in whom all treasures are contained.
Come, you who, descending into Mary, caused the Word to take flesh: effect in us by grace what you accomplished in her by grace and nature.
Come, you who are the nourishment of all chaste thoughts, the fountain of all clemency, the summit of all purity.
Come, and take away from us all that hinders us from being absorbed in you.
-- From the writings on revelation and temptation by St Mary Magdalene de Pazzi
When I was young I often wondered why we relied so heavily on Mary. Jesus was the man, right? It is he whom we should emulate, right?
I grew up in a home with a loving, albeit imperfect, mother. It is only now, after I have seen her mother for many years, watched my wife, and now my daughter mother their children that I understand that it is not that Mary equals or rivals Jesus but that she is unable to stop being a mother. Jesus' earthly mission is completed and he is always there and is our God yet Mary cannot help but cheer for all of his efforts and do what she can to make them come to fruition.
Mary is our aid and comforter not in spite of or in alternate to Jesus but because of Jesus.
We too should look to being like her in supporting and aiding Jesus' mission on Earth; our efforts do not replace Jesus but enhance his love in the world.
John said to Jesus,
"Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us."
Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us."
-- Mark 9:38-40
What profit have workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to mortals to be busied about. God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done. I recognized that there is nothing better than to rejoice and to do well during life. Moreover, that all can eat and drink and enjoy the good of all their toil—this is a gift of God. I recognized that whatever God does will endure forever; there is no adding to it, or taking from it. Thus has God done that he may be revered. What now is has already been; what is to be, already is: God retrieves what has gone by.
-- Ecclesiastes 3:9-15
In 2018, the pope has established yet another Marian feast; it is also another movable feast, set on the Monday after Pentecost - which might not be today - depending upon when you read this.
Okay, I get it, it is May the month of and one letter off from Mary. Mary permeates this month in so many feasts that we can become complacent to her role.
One of the rules of liturgy is to avoid the multiplication of symbols to keep distractions to a minimum and help the faithful to focus in the right place at the right time.
We do not seem to practice this when it comes to Mary. She weaves through the calendar not just in this month but throughout the year. We can become inured to the celebrations of Mary, overwhelmed, or just dismissive of them.
Today calls us to just remember that Christ is the head of the Church, that we are his Body and therefore Mary is the mother of us through being the mother of Jesus. She is Theotokos. She lives for us and for all who seek salvation because she lives for her son. That is something we should celebrate all year long.
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
-- John 19:25-27
How do you operate under pressure?
If we look at the time period that Bernardine operated in then we can truly say that Jesus and the Spirit sustain the Church in truth and charity through its saints. I am always in awe of the Lord's power to keep things together despite all our best efforts to create chaos through selfishness, greed, lust for power, and a general disregard for the needs of others.
And yet Bernadine was not disillusioned by the hypocrisy around him, as many young people can be and use that excuse for inaction, he set himself to service of the sick instead and then set about to preach to others and reform the Franciscans. He shows us that despite what goes on in the world around us and that no matter what our age we can serve the Lord in fidelity and charity.
There is a general rule concerning all special graces granted to any human being. Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand.
This general rule is especially verified in the case of Saint Joseph, the foster-father of our Lord and the husband of the Queen of our world, enthroned above the angels. He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: “Good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your Lord.”
What then is Joseph’s position in the whole Church of Christ? Is he not a man chosen and set apart? Through him and, yes, under him, Christ was fittingly and honorably introduced into the world. Holy Church in its entirety is indebted to the Virgin Mother because through her it was judged worthy to receive Christ. But after her we undoubtedly owe special gratitude and reverence to Saint Joseph.
-- From a sermon on St. Joseph
Popes are an interesting lot and John is no different. He was a man caught between two worlds; not just the world of politics and the world of Faith, but within each of those worlds as well. He practiced intolerance early in his career, supporting the anti-pope and yet was forgiven and eventually elected Pope.
In the West Theodoric the Ostrogoth was an Arian, while many of his subjects were orthodox Catholic. In the East, Justin was Orthodox while many of his subjects were Arian. In the West they looked to the East; in the East to the West. In the East the Arians appealed to Theodoric for help and Theodoric sent John to appeal for justice from the persecution. He was received in honor and argued from love for those who believed something that he did not and Justin relented, with some minor caveats. Theodoric was more political and viewed his non-Arian subjects with suspicion as possibly more loyal to the East. John's success and warm welcome in the East also raised his suspicions. Ironically, the love that John proclaimed brought relief in the East but persecution and his death in the West. His life and martyrdom are an example of the merits and perils of tolerance.
When a few days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea on a visit to Festus. Since they spent several days there, Festus referred Paul’s case to the king, saying, “There is a man here left in custody by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and demanded his condemnation. I answered them that it was not Roman practice to hand over an accused person before he has faced his accusers and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charge. So when (they) came together here, I made no delay; the next day I took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. His accusers stood around him, but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected. Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy, I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these charges. And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”
-- Acts 25:13-21
How does our sin make a saint? This may seem like a strange questions but if we profess that God makes all things new, creates only good, even from evil, then it must be true. If the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures are believed (and they should be) then that is what God tells us again and again, in every book.
So back to the question. This is not an invitation but a call to look at the way God works in the world. Even amidst the selfishness and the evil it causes, among our pettiness, our envy, our sloth, our greed, saints arrive inspired by Jesus and his love of sinners who act to bring that love to others even surrounded by evil.
He also brings grace to us in times of evil. Saint after saint endures suffering and death to bring the love of Christ to fruition.
Zealous for the Faith, Blessed Antonia is one such saint. The evil of attempted rape and final murder performed on her recalls to us the likes of Maria Goretti as well. It is the power and grace of God who turns the evil done to this girl into a powerful witness to His love to us, just as Christ's passion and death are proof positive of His love for us and an example for us to follow.
No matter what happens do not fear for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).
No one can withstand you as long as you live. As I was with Moses, I will be with you: I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and steadfast, so that you may give this people possession of the land I swore to their ancestors that I would give them. Only be strong and steadfast, being careful to observe the entire law which Moses my servant enjoined on you. Do not swerve from it either to the right or to the left, that you may succeed wherever you go. Do not let this book of the law depart from your lips. Recite it by day and by night, that you may carefully observe all that is written in it; then you will attain your goal; then you will succeed. I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.
-- Joshua 1:5-9
Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.
Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.
I am not sure how many garden statues of Isidore are confused for Francis (along with Fiacre - he is also holding a shovel but down not up) but I feel like it is a significant number. It probably does not help that so many of each are so poorly made as to be indistinguishable. Both are noted for their piety and humility so it is probably fine to have either one watching over your flower bed. In your garden though, it might make a difference.
Nor need we think only of those already beatified and canonized. The Holy Spirit bestows holiness in abundance among God’s holy and faithful people, for “it has pleased God to make men and women holy and to save them, not as individuals without any bond between them, but rather as a people who might acknowledge him in truth and serve him in holiness”. In salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people.
-- Apostolic Exhortation GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE 6, Pope Francis
If you think about it, we are all replacement apostles. The use of lots to select Matthias speaks to the work of the Spirit in selecting us for what we need to do. We must also ask did "Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus" (Acts 1:23) stop being called just because the lot did not fall in his favor? It matters not because we probably know as much about him as we do about Matthias, which means both men lived out their call to holiness in simple grace and humility. So it is for us. Those of us called to "greatness" must not find pride or pleasure in it; those of us called to "lesser duties" must also find no shame or displeasure in it. It is our job to "become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (ibid 22b)
"I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another."
-- John 15:9-17
When I was young, the nuns made sure that we understood that Lucia, one of the three children of Fatima, was still alive - that we 'knew' not just a living saint but one who had met the Virgin.
I'm not sure that my young brain processed that in the way they hoped, other than to be impressed that someone that old was still alive; I assumed that God spoke to us all the time, that we had a relationship with Him that meant that everyday, along with Guardian Angels and the Communion of Saints which they also taught we were wrapped in God and that we were not alone and that these things were therefore perfectly normal.
I did not understand. My grandfather was even older but I did not understand time in those numbers. I did not understand childhood faith, nor the greys of life.
When Lucia finally died in 2005, I understood a lot better. Not the conspiracy theories or the whipping of people with rosaries but the simple message of devotion to the Gospel that someone so touched by God can give to the world.
Throughout history there have been supernatural apparitions and signs which go to the heart of human events and which, to the surprise of believers and non-believers alike, play their part in the unfolding of history. These manifestations can never contradict the content of faith, and must therefore have their focus in the core of Christ's proclamation: the Father's love which leads men and women to conversion and bestows the grace required to abandon oneself to him with filial devotion. This too is the message of Fatima which, with its urgent call to conversion and penance, draws us to the heart of the Gospel.
-- From The Message of Fatima, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
We all have stories that affect us. For reasons which I cannot explain (or even seek explanation), Fr. Damien's story touched me at an early age after I read it and has affected me my whole life. There is then, something to be said for reading the lives of of the holy even those who are not saints, especially to the young.
I find my consolation in the only companion of mine who never leaves me, that is, our divine Savior in the holy Eucharist.
It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength we need in our isolation. Without the Blessed Sacrament, a situation like mine would not be sustainable. But with the Lord at my side, well then! I continue to be always happy and content. With this gaiety of heart and a smile on my lips, I work with zeal for the good of the poor unfortunate lepers, and little by little, without much fuss, good is done.
-- Letter to his Brother, 1881
How often do we give our lives over to God? That is to say, how often do we attribute events in our lives to God and the intercession of the saints such that we then live like we believe that happened and allow it to guide our life choices and influence others?
And thank you George for encouraging the laity to be catechists.
Dearly beloved, those days which intervened between the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension did not pass by in uneventful leisure, but great mysteries were confirmed within them and deep truths were revealed.
In those days the fear of death was removed with all its terrors, and the immortality not only of the soul but also of the flesh was established. During that time the Holy Spirit is poured upon all the Apostles through the Lord’s breathing upon them, and to the blessed Apostle Peter, set above the rest, the keys of the kingdom are entrusted and the care of the Lord’s flock.
It was during that time that the Lord joined the two disciples as a companion on the way, and, to sweep away all the clouds of uncertainty forever, reproached them for the slowness of their timid and trembling hearts. Their enlightened hearts catch the flame of faith, and lukewarm as they have been, they are made to burn while the Lord unfolds the Scriptures. In the breaking of bread also their eyes are opened as they eat with him. How much more blessed is that opening of their eyes, to the glorification of their nature, than the time when our first parents’ eyes were opened to the disastrous consequences of their transgression.
Dearly beloved, through all this time which elapsed between the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension, God’s Providence had this in end in sight, to teach his own people and impress upon their eyes and their hearts that the Lord Jesus Christ had risen, risen as truly as he had been born and had suffered and died.
Hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at his death on the cross and backward in believing his Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy.
-- From a sermon of Leo the Great
You may not recognize his name but if you have ever been to Rome and gone to the Pantheon, then you know some of his his work: Boniface transformed the Pantheon from a pagan temple to a church and consecrated it to "St. Mary and the Martyrs", thus preserving it for all time, at least until Contstans II and later the Barberinis stripped it of its bronze ("Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini!").
But if that were all he did, then history would be the only memory of him. We name him "saint" for his charity and his holiness.
This maternal gaze, which instills confidence and trust, helps us to grow in faith. Faith is a bond with God that engages the whole person; to be preserved, it needs the Mother of God. Her maternal gaze helps us see ourselves as beloved children in God’s faithful people, and to love one another regardless of our individual limitations and approaches. Our Lady keeps us rooted in the Church, where unity counts more than diversity; she encourages us to care for one another. Mary’s gaze reminds us that faith demands a tenderness that can save us from becoming lukewarm. Tenderness: the Church of tenderness. Tenderness is a word that today many want to remove from the dictionary. When faith makes a place for the Mother of God, we never lose sight of the center: the Lord, for Mary never points to herself but to Jesus; and our brothers and sisters, for Mary is mother.
The gaze of the Mother, and the gaze of every mother. A world that looks to the future without a mother’s gaze is shortsighted. It may well increase its profits, but it will no longer see others as children. It will make money, but not for everyone. We will all dwell in the same house, but not as brothers and sisters. The human family is built upon mothers. A world in which maternal tenderness is dismissed as mere sentiment may be rich materially, but poor where the future is concerned. Mother of God, teach us to see life as you do. Turn your gaze upon us, upon our misery, our poverty. Turn to us your eyes of mercy.
– Pope Francis, from the homily for the Solemnity Of Mary, Mother Of God, 2019
Today's readings just seemed very appropriate.
This is also the feast of François de Laval. We in the North American Church owe him a great debt of gratitude. Though the Spanish tried very hard to establish the structure for the Faith here, it is Francois who accomplished it. "But in the heart of all this turmoil, we must not be demoralized; if men have the power to destroy, Our Lord’s hand is infinitely more powerful to build. We need only be faithful to Him and let Him work."
Then Peter responded,
"Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?"
He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:46b-48)
Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.
In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. (1 John 4:7-10)
Jesus said to his disciples:
"As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another." (John 15:9-17)
Most often we hear of the movement of monastic missionaries from Europe out into the world at large - it is not often that we hear of them coming to Europe to save the Church.
Angelus and his twin brother were baptized when their mother converted and then were ordained and became one of the first Carmelites to leave the Middle East to preach the Faith in Europe. He even preached in Rome where he met Francis and predicted his stigmata; to return the favor Francis praised him for his upcoming martyrdom.
Angelus initially retreated into a solitary life of a hermit but emerged to travel to Italy and then began preaching to convert and call back those who had fallen away. He was martyred at the behest of a man he was trying to convert.
Just shows that we should never be too proud to listen to those, especially outsiders, who call us to true repentance away from our sins and true conversion away from false belief.
Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. So they procured some men to say, ‘We heard him using blasphemous language against Moses and against God.’ Having in this way turned the people against him as well as the elders and scribes, they took Stephen by surprise, and arrested him and brought him before the Sanhedrin. There they put up false witnesses to say, ‘This man is always making speeches against this Holy Place and the Law. We have heard him say that Jesus the Nazarene is going to destroy this Place and alter the traditions that Moses handed down to us.’ The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently at Stephen, and his face appeared to them like the face of an angel.
...When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.p As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep.
-- Acts 6:8-15, 7:54-60
So many feasts of the apostles are lumped into the Easter Season - fitting of course as they give everything for the message so real and important to them.
In this crowd, it is James we know the most about; related to Jude and Jesus, and head of the Church in Jerusalem, we know of his martyrdom. Philip's fate is lost in obscurity. What we know so well from the Gospels is that Philip often seemed to miss the point of things and we get Jesus' almost exasperated responses. But it is Philip's role to bring the Greek believers to Jesus and for that we celebrate him.
Brothers in the Lord, it is only the happy coincidence of the transfer of the relics to Rome on the same day that brings their feasts together.
Jesus said to Thomas, "I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him."
Philip said to him,
"Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us."
Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
-- John 14:6-9
The feast of Athanasius reminds us of the struggle against the easy way out that human rationality so often provides us. It also reminds us of the whole point of it. If God had wished to merely restore Creation then *poof* it would be done. But that is not how the Father, with the Son and the Spirit Created. Athanasius reminds us that the freewill we exercised is integral to Creation. The *poof* God provided was the exercise of freewill. Jesus chose to take on the "form of a slave" in order to freely exercise the will of the Father. Death has meaning. Every aspect of Creation has meaning. Nothing is chance or accident. Emmanuel (God with us) would have no meaning without this action.
As for death, today is appropriate, for we laid to rest a loved one. The last line sums up the truth and reality of the action of God that Athanasius defends.
The Word of God, ...[o]ut of his loving-kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on mankind’s weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us; he did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work in fashioning man to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen.
If he had wanted simply to be seen, he could indeed have taken another, and nobler, body. Instead, he took our body in its reality....
The immortal Son of God, united with all men by likeness of nature, thus fulfilled all justice in restoring mankind to immortality by the promise of the resurrection.
The corruption of death no longer holds any power over mankind, thanks to the Word, who has come to dwell among them through his one body.
-- From a discourse by Athanasius
To counteract bad culture it is often necessary to take it on and overcome it. The idea of Joseph the laborer as a true model for workers everywhere is an important teaching. This feast, like so many of our major feasts, falls on a day that is recognized by the prevailing culture and transforms it. This feast takes a flawed human understanding of work and transforms it into a correct view of humans and importance and the dignity of the work we do.
It also recalls, in this month of Mary, the importance of Joseph to the success of Mary's "yes" and the raising and guiding of Jesus.
St. Joseph, patron of the Church, pray for us!
Man, created in God’s image, has been commissioned to master the earth and all it contains, and so rule the world in justice and holiness. He is to acknowledge God as the creator of all, and to see himself and the whole universe in relation to God, in order that all things may be subject to man, and God’s name be an object of wonder and praise over all the earth.
This commission extends to even the most ordinary activities of everyday life. Where men and women, in the course of gaining a livelihood for themselves and their families, offer appropriate service to society, they can be confident that their personal efforts promote the work of the Creator, confer benefit on their fellowmen, and help to realize God’s plan in history.
So far from thinking that the achievements gained by man’s abilities and strength are in opposition to God’s power, or that man with his intelligence is in some sense a rival to his Creator, Christians are, on the contrary, convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God’s greatness and the effect of his wonderful providence.
The more the power of men increases, the wider is the scope of their responsibilities, as individuals and as communities.
It is clear, then, that the Christian message does not deflect men from the building up of the world, or encourage them to neglect the good of their fellowmen, but rather places on them a stricter obligation to work for these objectives.
Human activity, to be sure, takes its significance from its relationship to man. Just as it proceeds from man, so it is ordered toward man. For when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, he goes outside of himself and beyond himself. Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. A man is more precious for what he is than for what he has. Similarly, all that men do to obtain greater justice, wider brotherhood, a more humane disposition of social relationships has greater worth than technical advances. For these advances can supply the material for human progress, but of themselves alone they can never actually bring it about.
Hence, the norm of human activity is this: that in accord with the divine plan and will, it harmonize with the genuine good of the human race, and that it allow men as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it.
-- Gaudium et Spes, 34-35, Vatican II
Things to Think About