Cantankerous, opinionated, and of great wit, Jerome made many friends but probably as many enemies. For all he did, he is best known as the translator of the Vulgate for Damascus I (Dec 10th). Because of his long work on the translation, Jerome is the patron saint of archaeologists, translators, Biblical scholars, and librarians.
The proud sin greatly who, after studying secular literature and having turned to the Holy Scriptures, consider all that they say to be the Law of God, and do not endeavor to come to know the thoughts of the prophets and apostles, but seek out from the scriptures inappropriate texts for their own thoughts, as if this were a good work, and not the most defiled kind of study: to distort the thoughts of Scripture and submit them to their own intentions, in spite of obvious contradictions… It is proper to children and charlatans to try to teach that which they do not know.
-- Letter to St. Paulinus
War broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back,
but they did not prevail
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,
who is called the Devil and Satan,
who deceived the whole world,
was thrown down to earth,
and its angels were thrown down with it.
-- Revelation 12:7-9
The St. Vincent De Paul Society was not started by St. Vincent but his life and work inspires both its inception and continued activity.
You say you are not happy in the Mission. That, in itself, is not a sign that God does not want you there. Perfect contentment is never to be found, in whatever place and condition one may be. This life is full of annoyances and troubles both of mind and of body; it is a state of continual agitation, which snatches peace of mind from those who think they possess it and eludes those who seek it. Did Our Lord lead an easy life? Did He not experience the trials and tribulations we fear? He was the Man of Sorrows, and we want to be exempt from suffering! He speaks to us of the Cross only so that we might have a share in His glory, and we would wish to follow Him without enduring anything!
-- Letter to Stanislaw Zelazewski
We expect so much for free, even when we do deserve it. The brothers, physicians and healers, are known as "unmercinary" physicians because they took no payment for their healing services. They gave freely not out of human generosity but from the gift of healing that they had received. It is this sharing of gifts, of recognizing the nature of "gift" that drove their ministry. When we think about vocation, we should see it in light of the gifts we have received. That is to say, like Cosmas and Damien, we recognize our strengths as gifts given to bring Christ to the world and share them freely. They are not "ours" but have been given to us, meaning that they are our gift to others.
We want for free but we refuse to give for free. That is the lesson of humility we must learn, one that the brothers can teach us. We can hear it reflected in the First Reading today:
King Darius issued an order to the officials of West-of-Euphrates:
"Let the governor and the elders of the Jews continue the work on that house of God; they are to rebuild it on its former site.
I also issue this decree concerning your dealing with these elders of the Jews in the rebuilding of that house of God:
From the royal revenue, the taxes of West-of-Euphrates, let these men be repaid for their expenses, in full and without delay.
I, Darius, have issued this decree; let it be carefully executed."
-- Ezra 6:7-8, 12b
One of my favorite paintings is The Calling of Matthew by Caravaggio which decorates St. Louis of France (San Luigi de Francesci) in Rome. I would often go by and drop a 250 lira coin to turn on the light which shown on it and stare in awe until the light went out (and even after, especially if I did not have the coin). The triad of paintings there in that chapel show the whole of the remarkable apostleship of Matthew, but it is the Calling that holds my attention. To me it is also one of the most powerful calls of Jesus. Not that all of the disciples did not sacrifice everything to follow Jesus but that the ramifications of Matthew as a disciple far exceed the problems caused by surrounding himself with ignorant and back-water fishermen (meaning one should never judge a book by its cover but should see as God sees). The Gospel for today captures that.
As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, "Follow me."
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
"Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
He heard this and said,
"Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."
-- Matthew 9:9-13
My brethren and dear friends, think about this and reflect on it: from the beginning of time God has ordered the heavens, the earth, and all things. Consider the creation of man in this light and reflect on why he has created man, each man, in his image and likeness: why, and with what purpose.
If, then, placed as we are in this world full of danger and misery, we do not know the Lord our creator, what is the point in having been born? Our life is pointless. Thanks to God, we have come into this world. Also thanks to God, we have received baptism, we have entered the Church, and we have received the glorious name of disciples of the Lord. But what use would that name be if it did not correspond to reality? If it does not, then it is in vain that we have come into the world and entered into the Church. Moreover, such a state of affairs would not serve the Lord and his grace. It would be better for us never to have been born than to receive the grace of the Lord and then sin against him.
― From the final exhortation of Andrew Kim Taegŏn
Though celebrated in the both the East and the West, nothing is really known about Januarius. He is the patron of Naples (because he is buried there), blood banks, and volcanic eruptions - most likely because the reliquary which contains his blood liquefies and then seems to boil. Like so many, he seems to have been killed during the persecution of Diocletian. His name perhaps comes from the two-faced Roman god Janus, said to see forward and backwards, which might explain the boiling blood .
Perhaps also, his blood boiling may be a sign of not ire but passion. Perhaps he was "zealous for the Lord" like Elijah; perhaps he emulated Paul; we do not know - but we do know that his name is remembered, meaning that he lived for Christ in such a way that we remember also how he died for Christ.
Beloved, this saying is trustworthy:
whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God? He should not be a recent convert, so that he may not become conceited and thus incur the Devil's punishment. He must also have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, the Devil's trap.
-- 1 Timothy 3:1-7
Let us begin with faith, which is the first of all the virtues that exists in the heart of a justified man. Not without reason, does the apostle add "unfeigned" to faith. For faith begins justification, provided it be true and sincere, not false or feigned. The faith of heretics does not begin justification, because it is not true, but false; the faith of bad Catholics does not begin justification, because it is not sincere, but feigned. It is said to be feigned in two ways: when either we do not really believe, but only pretend to believe; or when we indeed believe, but do not live, as we believe we ought to do.
― The Art of Dying Well, Chap III
Jesus' father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
"Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
-- Luke 2:33-35
The Cross is the means of salvation. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him, he is not talking about burden but about salvation. Unless we take up the Cross and see that the yoke is easy and the burden light, we will have no share in his Kingdom.
Therefore we hold it high and honor it because such a thing has set us free, free to live a life of love rather than a life of sin.
If we ever took the time to think about sin in its rawest form (and we should) we might attempt to convey what Dante does through his magnificent work - no glamor, no reward, no peace. The only joy, peace, fulfillment, and realization of being who we can be comes from God, not just at the end of our journey... but on every step along the way.
"But if you please, I would like to know how far we have to go; because the slope is steeper than my eyes can see.”
Then he said to me “This Mountain is such that, at the beginning it is hardest to climb; when you go on it gets better, the higher you ascend. And when it is so gentle, like floating downstream in a boat, you will be at the end of your path. There you can hope to rest from your troubles!"
― Dante, Purgatorio, IV 85-95
One of my favorite Fathers. Thought this was appropriate as we sit under the gloom of Hurricane Irma.
The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? 'The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord.' The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.
― A homily by St John Chrysostom (Ante exsilium, nn. 1-3; PG 52, 427-430)
After pronouncing his blessing on poverty, the Lord added Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Dearly beloved, this mourning that is promised eternal comfort has nothing in common with the afflictions of this world. No-one is made blessed by the kind of lamentation that the whole human race indulges in. The sighs and blessed tears of the saints have another cause. Holy sorrow comes from contemplating one’s own sins and the sins of others. It does not weep at the actions of divine justice but at the sins committed by human wickedness. It is the one who does evil here who is to be pitied, not the one who suffers it: for what the evil man has done thrusts him down to punishment, while what the just man has put up with leads him up into glory.
Then the Lord added Blessed are the meek, for they shall have the earth for their inheritance. To the meek and gentle, to the lowly and unassuming, to all who are prepared to endure injury – to these the earth is promised. This is not a small or unimportant inheritance, as if “the earth” were somehow distinct from a dwelling-place in heaven: in fact, you must understand it as meaning that only the meek will enter the kingdom of heaven. This earth that is promised to the meek, that is to be given to the gentle to possess, is the body of the saints, whose humility will raise them up and clothe them in the glory of immortality, united at last with the Spirit of unity. Then the outer self will belong to the inner self at last, a peaceful and secure possession.
The meek will possess this inheritance in everlasting peace and their right to it will never grow less. Our present perishable nature must put on imperishability and this mortal nature must put on immortality, so that a danger to the soul becomes a reward and what was onerous becomes an honor.
― Leo the Great, on the Beatitudes
It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe. That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its object. But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period. General theories are everywhere contemned; the doctrine of the Rights of Man is dismissed with the doctrine of the Fall of Man. Atheism itself is too theological for us to-day. Revolution itself is too much of a system; liberty itself is too much of a restraint. We will have no generalizations. Mr. Bernard Shaw has put the view in a perfect epigram: "The golden rule is that there is no golden rule." We are more and more to discuss details in art, politics, literature. A man's opinion on tramcars matters; his opinion on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter. He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a religion, and be lost. Everything matters—except everything.
Examples are scarcely needed of this total levity on the subject of cosmic philosophy. Examples are scarcely needed to show that, whatever else we think of as affecting practical affairs, we do not think it matters whether a man is a pessimist or an optimist, a Cartesian or a Hegelian, a materialist or a spiritualist. Let me, however, take a random instance. At any innocent tea-table we may easily hear a man say, "Life is not worth living." We regard it as we regard the statement that it is a fine day; nobody thinks that it can possibly have any serious effect on the man or on the world. And yet if that utterance were really believed, the world would stand on its head. Murderers would be given medals for saving men from life; firemen would be denounced for keeping men from death; poisons would be used as medicines; doctors would be called in when people were well; the Royal Humane Society would be rooted out like a horde of assassins. Yet we never speculate as to whether the conversational pessimist will strengthen or disorganize society; for we are convinced that theories do not matter.
― G. K. Chesterton, Heretics
In the trenches, we understand the struggle of everyday spirituality and we understand that it is different from the desire to do God's will. The knowledge that God's will must be done is what drives us even if we do not understand what God's will for us is. So many want to make problems, obstacles, doubt, human weakness, and other road-blocks in spirituality into mountains which mean loss of faith, or that the times when we feel empty as proof that there is no God.
The Church has a long history and Teresa is not the first saint to experience the Dark Night of the Soul, nor will she be the last. It is no worse than the times I look up at the Eucharist and see and feel nothing. But I also understand that my inability to feel God's presence at any time is not an indication that God is not there - He is because the Eucharist is there and I have confidence in the promises of Christ. Take comfort in the fact that we can still do God's will, still be willing vessels of His love, even though we are poor clay vessels.
I know this is getting long, but I want to end my reflection by sharing part of the reflection on Teresa from the Universalis web site:
"Mother Teresa’s widespread appeal comes from the directness of her inspiration, and her direct response to it. She went out and did things where they were needed. When we think of big problems we inevitably think that they can only be solved by a big campaign. Perhaps that is true, perhaps not; but while the campaign is getting going, why not go out and help one person in the name of Mother Teresa? If there are 1,000 hungry people in your city, why not make it 999? If each of us did that – well, in most countries where this is being read, there are more Catholics than there are people in need." (www.universalis.com, Sept 5th)
And this is what I mean, I want you to love the poor, and never turn your back to the poor, for in turning your back to the poor, you are turning it to Christ. For he had made himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, so that you and I have an opportunity to love him, because where is God? How can we love God? It is not enough to say to my God I love you, but my God, I love you here. I can enjoy this, but I give up. I could eat that sugar, but I give that sugar. If I stay here the whole day and the whole night, you would be surprised of the beautiful things that people do, to share the joy of giving. And so, my prayer for you is that truth will bring prayer in our homes, and from the foot of prayer will be that we believe that in the poor it is Christ. And we will really believe, we will begin to love. And we will love naturally, we will try to do something. First in our own home, next door neighbor in the country we live, in the whole world. And let us all join in that one prayer, God give us courage to protect the unborn child, for the child is the greatest gift of God to a family, to a nation and to the whole world.
-- Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
(and you should read the whole thing: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1979/teresa/26200-mother-teresa-acceptance-speech-1979/ )
"In this way, I realized that I was an apostle of love. The divine Mendicant convinced me of the truth that men on earth are dependent on one another, for their spiritual as well as their social life. I had a moral responsibility towards all the souls throughout the world, those living at the present time and those who would be created in the future.
This is the reason: the actions of Jesus are infinite in value; one single act of love offered by Him to the Father could save millions of worlds. Hence, if I remained annihilated, the Savior, hidden beneath the cloak of my exterior being, could freely carry out His pastoral mission, baptizing and purifying souls in His Blood, bringing them to perfection, enabling them to run towards the fragrance of His perfume. But, alas! If I simply hesitated to remain in the state of death, if for one moment I desired to be born again out of dust, then I would interrupt the action of Jesus; perhaps just at that moment He was ready to shed a torrent of graces on the entire universe and, if I placed an obstacle in His way, I would become responsible for the lack of good accomplished because of an absence of divine light."
When we think about history, we rarely think about the role of the Faith in that history. Gregory gave us so many things, and helped to steady the ship of Church and state.
The music we appreciate and take for granted today has roots in the chant of the Church sanctioned and popularized by Gregory. It is hard to quantify this gift but it is all around us. He supported and offered sanctuary to Athanasius and others. The structure of Europe benefits from his efforts of Faith when working with the Lombards, a Germanic/Scandinavian people who took over Italy in the wake of the collapsing Roman Empire.
He was obviously a humble, patient, and thoughtful man and it shows in his many letters.
The Hebrews dwelling in Terracina have petitioned us for license to hold, under our authority, the site of their synagogue which they have held hitherto. But, inasmuch as we have been informed that the same site is so near to the church that even the sound of their psalmody reaches it, we have written to our brother and fellow-bishop Peter that, if it is the case that the voices from the said place are heard in the church, the Jews must cease to worship there. Therefore let your Fraternity, with our above-named brother and fellow-bishop, diligently inspect this place, and if you find that there has been any annoyance to the church, provide another place within the fortress, where the aforesaid Hebrews may assemble, so that they may be able to celebrate their ceremonies without impediment. But let your Fraternity provide such a place, in case of their being deprived of this one, that there be no cause of complaint in future. But we forbid the aforesaid Hebrews to be oppressed or vexed unreasonably; but, as they are permitted, in accordance with justice, to live under the protection of the Roman laws, let them keep their observances as they have learnt them, no one hindering them: yet let it not be allowed them to have Christian slaves.
Joseph, a Jew, the bearer of these presents, has informed us that, the Jews dwelling in the camp of Terracina having been accustomed to assemble in a certain place for celebrating their festivities, your Fraternity had expelled them thence, and that they had migrated, and this with your knowledge and consent, to another place for in like manner observing their festivities; and now they complain that they have been expelled anew from this same place. But, if it is so, we desire your Fraternity to abstain from giving cause of complaint of this kind, and that they be allowed, as has been the custom, to assemble in the place which, as we have already said, they had obtained with your knowledge for their place of meeting. For those who dissent from the Christian religion must needs be gathered together to unity of faith by gentleness, kindness, admonition, persuasion, lest those whom the sweetness of preaching and the anticipated terror of future judgment might have invited to believe should be repelled by threats and terrors. It is right, then, that they should come together kindly to hear the word of God from you rather than that they should become afraid of overstrained austerity.
-- Epistle 10 and 35, To Bacauda and Agnellus, Bishops.
The Creator has bestowed abundant energy on the world, and over the ages man has applied his genius to harnessing and using it for his needs. But in our times, in what may be called the technical age of man, the possible uses of energy are increasing enormously: not only energy of the "traditional" kind but also energy which comes from sources which have so far been used little or not at all, such as the sun or the wind or even the waters and vapors hidden in the bowels of the earth: solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy.
Your discussions will focus on these new possibilities, not so much in order to consider the abstract principles as to draw up an inventory of existing concrete achievements in various regions of the universe which may be applied with success elsewhere. And you are concerned above all, we know, with the well-being of mankind and you wish in particular to help the peoples of the underdeveloped countries, whose enormous needs constitute today a ceaseless appeal to all men of feeling.
On many occasions, and most recently at considerable length in the Encyclical Mater et Magistra on the social question, we exhorted our sons of the Catholic Church, and with them all men of good will, to show a greater awareness of their duties towards these less favored brothers.
― From the Address of His Holiness John XXIII to the United Nations Conference on New Sources of Energy 28 August, 1961
"What strikes me is that waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting. As the Advent weeks progress, we hear more and more about the beauty and the splendor of the One who is to come. The Gospel passages read during Mass all talk about the events before Jesus' birth and the people ready to receive him. In the other readings Isaiah heaps prophecy on prophecy to strengthen and deepen our hope...There is a stark beauty about it all.... Advent does not lead to nervous tension stemming from expectation of something spectacular about to happen. On the contrary, it leads to a growing inner stillness and joy allowing me to realize that he for whom I am waiting has already arrived and speaks to me in the silence of my heart. Just as a mother feels the child grow in her and is not surprised on the day of the birth but joyfully receives the one she learned to know during her waiting, so Jesus can be born into my life slowly and steadily and be received as the one I learned to know while waiting."
― Henri Nowen, The Genesee Diary, Thursday December 19
Things to Think About