Sunday, August 30, 2015

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 6, 2015

Click here for the Readings
First Reading Commentary
In this Reading, Isaiah is visualizing a very festive atmosphere.  He is speaking of the future when God will free the Israelites from captivity.  When we read this, however, we can also deduce that this prophecy was brought to its fullness by Christ as we will read in this weekend’s Gospel. 
But how can we apply this message to our lives today?  First of all we see the words, “Be strong, fear not!”  Similar words can often be found in the New Testament, even from our Lord Jesus Christ.  In modern times, Saint John Paul II had often used the phrase, “Do not be afraid.”  Fear can be measured in accordance to the strength of our faith.  If our faith is weak, more than likely we will have many things to fear.  If our faith is strong, we might be a little apprehensive on occasion.  If our faith is unshakeable, we will fear nothing. 
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”  These words speak of healing.  Whether emotional or physical, we have all been in need of healing.  Again, if we have enough faith, we will look to our Lord for guidance. 
The final two sentences speak of abundance; and this abundance is not about material possessions.  Instead, this abundance awaits us in our heavenly homeland where we will no longer be afraid or be in need of healing.  But even here and now, a life focused on Christ is an abundant life which is a stumbling block to the secular mind.
Second Reading Commentary
Saint James is specifically referring to the Christian assembly meetings of his day.  We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Unfortunately, another phrase that tends to cloud our rationale is, “If it seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t true.”  And what seems too good to be true?  God’s immeasurable love for all of us!  Fortunately, this is indeed all too good and very true.  God does not love the “man with gold rings and fine clothes” more than the “poor person in shabby clothes,” or vice-versa.  Our human weakness coerces us into forming opinions based on appearances, forgetting that God loves everyone. 
Even those among us whose faith is very strong cannot fully comprehend how much we are loved by God.  Because of this, it is very difficult for us to love unconditionally.  Even in our relationships where the strongest bonds of love exist, we still have fears, uncertainties and insecurities.  So what do we do with all these shortcomings?  Saint James instructs us “to be rich in faith.”  God understands us better than we understand ourselves and perhaps at times we don’t give Him enough credit for how well He knows us.  If we are “to be rich in faith,” then our shared calling is to conduct ourselves as children of God and be the Face of Jesus to all those we meet as well as the Hands and Feet of Jesus to those who need our help.  And when we fall short of this calling, Jesus’ ocean of mercy awaits us; plus we already have the grace to be forgiving of one another.
Gospel Commentary
“He put His Finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue.”  Jesus often used outward signs to perform His miracles.  For Him, this is not necessary.  It is more for our benefit as visualization helps our faith.  The Church also uses outward signs in religious ceremonies such as oil and incense. 
“He looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’-- that is, ‘Be opened!’”  Jesus doesn’t groan because He is finding this miracle difficult to perform; it is more about Jesus’ visual expression of pity and sorrow which He feels for this man.  The word “Ephphatha” is from an ancient Aramaic language. 
“And immediately the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.”  Jesus is successful in working another physical miracle.  These physical miracles that we find in the Gospels should also speak to us spiritually.  There are those in the world who are spiritually deaf and unable to speak because they have either never heard of Jesus or turn away when they are being evangelized; and therefore, they are unable to speak His praises.  Of course, it goes without saying that we should never stop praying for individuals such as these.  We all need to pray for others and we all need to be the subject of someone else’s prayers. No one gets through this life, this valley of tears, without failures and sufferings.  After all, some of our canonized saints, before their conversion, led questionable lives.   When we have a strong faith along with a personal relationship with our Lord, then, much like the witnesses in this Gospel, no one can stop us from sharing our faith.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Cantate Domino Canticum Novum

“Sing to the Lord a new canticle; let His praise be in the Church of the Saints,” says Saint Augustine. He also preached these words: “Canticum res est hilaritatis, et, si diligentius consideremus, res est amoris” – “A song is a thing of cheerfulness, and, if carefully examined, it is a thing of love.”

Thus if we’re joyful and in love, we should be singing. Oh how the Church takes care of her children! The liturgy invites us in the Mass and the Divine Office to express our joy, express our love in song. In the liturgy our voices soar towards our Lord, like burning incense.

The Apostle Saint John writes: “Nos diligimus, quoniam ipse prior dilexit nos” – “We love, because He loved us first” (1 John 4:19).

Saint Augustine continues his homily by reiterating what Saint Paul wrote: “Quia caritas Dei diffusa est in cordibus nostris per Spiritum Sanctum, qui datus est nobis” – “Because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who is given to us” (Romans 5:5). And so, it is God’s gift of love which has been given to us that enables us to love God in return.

And since His love has been poured into our hearts, it is not only our voices that we raise to God, but also as the liturgy commands us and hopefully we are compelled to do, “Sorsum corda” – “Lift up your hearts.” What greater expression of love is there than our Lord’s own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity which He gives to us. If we are truly in love with Him, then receiving Him unworthily should never be considered.

Saint Augustine continues by saying that our Lord calls out: “Amate me, et habebitis me, quia nec potestis amare me, nisi habueritis me” – “Love Me, and you will have Me, because you would be unable to love Me, unless you possess Me.” We possess Him by living lives which embrace the call to holiness, remaining in a state of grace, receiving His Most Precious Body and Blood, and by daily conversation with Him.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has been a great teacher on liturgy, and the importance of beauty in the liturgy. The tradition of the Church, as we are reminded by our Holy Father, is that angels of God chant rather than speak. This is heightened conversation as everything in worship should be heightened.

In his [Cardinal Ratzinger] book, “The Spirit of the Liturgy” he writes: “When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. Areas of his existence are awakened that spontaneously turn into song. The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love. It is the utter depth of love that produces the singing. The Holy Spirit is love, and it is He Who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit Who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father. In liturgical music, based as it is on biblical faith, there is, therefore, a clear dominance of the Word; this music is a higher form of proclamation. Ultimately, it rises up out of the love that responds to God's love made flesh in Christ, the love that for us went unto death. After the Resurrection, the Cross is by no means a thing of the past, and so this love is always marked by pain at the hiddenness of God, by the cry that rises up from the depths of anguish, Kyrie eleison, by hope and by supplication. But it also has the privilege, by anticipation, of experiencing the reality of the Resurrection, and so it brings with it the joy of being loved, that gladness of heart that Haydn said came upon him when he set liturgical texts to music. In the West, in the form of Gregorian chant, the inherited tradition of psalm-singing was developed to a new sublimity and purity, which set a permanent standard for sacred music, music for the liturgy of the Church. Polyphony developed in the late Middle Ages, and then instruments came back into divine worship -- quite rightly, too, because, as we have seen, the Church not only continues the synagogue, but also takes up, in the light of Christ's Pasch, the reality represented by the Temple.”

In the liturgy, then, whether it’s the Mass or the Divine Office, bring your voice, bring your heart, and bring your whole self, body and soul, and lift it up to God in worship and angelic conversation.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Reflections by Holy Father Bruno

A Commentary on the Psalms by Saint Bruno:
"How lovely is Your dwelling place. My soul longs to enter the courts of the Lord," the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God.

The psalmist tells us why he longs to enter the courts of the Lord: "Blessed are those who dwell in Your house," the heavenly Jerusalem, O Lord, God of all heavenly powers, my King and my God. It is as if he said: "Who would not wish to enter Your courts, since You are God, the Creator, Lord of powers, King, and since all who dwell in Your house are blessed?" Court and house are the same thing to him. When he says "blessed" he means that they are possessed of as great a blessedness as it is possible to conceive. So it follows that they are blessed because "they will praise You with loving devotion, world without end," that is "for eternity." They would not praise Him for eternity, if they were not blessed for eternity.

No man can attain this blessedness of himself, even though he has hope, faith and charity. But "that man is blessed" whom You help to climb the ladder to blessedness which he has set up in his heart. That is to say: the only man that can be said to be likely to attain blessedness is he who, once he has set his heart on climbing to blessedness by the many steps of virtue and good works, receives help from Your grace. No man can, of himself, ascend to such heights; as the Lord says, "No one has ascended into heaven except the Son of man Who is in heaven."

I say that "he has set up the ladder" because he is living now in this vale of tears of tribulation, compared with that other life which may be called a mountain and full of joy in comparison with this present one.

Since the Lord said, "Blessed are they whose strength is in You," one might ask, "Will God's help be forthcoming?" To which we reply: "Help from God is there for the blessed." For the Lawgiver, Christ Himself Who gave us the law, gives and will go on giving His blessings, the innumerable gifts of grace, by which He blesses His own. This means He will raise them up to blessedness. As they make the ascent, they will, by His blessings, mount from strenght to strength. In time to come, in the heavenly Sion, Christ Himself, the God of gods, will deify those who are His own. To put it another way: the God of gods, the divine Trinity, will be seen in a spiritual way among those who dwell in Sion; or, yet again, by the light of the intellect they will see among themselves God, Whom here they cannot see; for God will be All in all.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Christ, the Power and Wisdom of God

For today’s feast of the Apostle Saint Bartholomew, the Carthusians at the hour of Matins listened to some words of wisdom by the Cistercian, Baldwin of Forde. He was the archdeacon of Exeter, and in the year 1169 entered the abbey of Forde and six years later became the abbot. After serving as abbot for six years, he became the bishop of Worcester, and then in 1184 he became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here’s an excerpt from Matins.
* * * * * *
The Word of God is living and effectual and more piercing than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Behold, how great the power and wisdom contained in the Word of God! The text is highly significant for those seeking Christ, Who is precisely the Word, the Power and Wisdom of God. This Word, from the beginning, is co-eternal with the Father, and in His time was revealed to the Apostles and through them was announced and accepted with humble faith by the people. Wonderful condescension, Christ, God's Word, God in the Heart of the Father, descends to the heart of man, to be formed and to train, according to a New Way. The Apostle to the Galatians explains this when he says: My little children, of whom I am in laborr again, until Christ be formed in you! (Galatians 4:19). When Christ is preached, that is, listening to the Word of God, we are able to believe because faith comes from hearing. Then we can love. Everything is connected: there is no love without faith, and no faith if the Word is not heard. For he who loves believes, and he who believes hears the Word, as the Spirit reveals it interiorly.

This Word of God is living, and the Father has given the power to have life in it, nothing more or less, as the Father has life in Himself. So the Word is not only alive, but it is also life, as He Himself says: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (Saint John 14:6). Since the Word of God is life, it is alive and can give life. For as the Father raises up the dead and gives life, so the Son also gives life to whom He wills. (Saint John 5:21). The word of God gives life when He calls the dead from the grave and says, Lazarus, come out! (Saint John 11:43). When this Word is preached, Christ gives to the preacher's voice, perceived externally, the power to operate within; for the dead become alive again and relive the joy of the children of Abraham. This Word, then, is living in the Heart of the Father, living on the mouth of the preacher, alive in the hearts of those who believe and those who love. And precisely because this Word is so alive, there is no doubt that it is also effective.

The Word of God is effective in its operations, and is effective when it is preached. Indeed it does not return empty, but produces fruit everywhere it is proclaimed; and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword when it is believed and loved. When the Word is spoken, its pierces the heart like sharp arrows, enters as a nail struck with force, reaching and penetrating the secret intimacy of the soul. In fact, this Word is more penetrating than a double-edged sword, because its power of engraving surpasses that of the most tempered blade and its acuteness that of any intelligence. No wisdom human, not any product of intelligence is as fine and thin as it, nor more acute than any sharpness of human wisdom and as ingenious as its reasoning.
With power received from on High the ministers of the Church wield the sword of God's Word as it is written: The two-edged swords in their hands (Psalm 149:6). And also: A sword is in their lips (Psalm 59:8). Will the Word not reach all the ears of those seeking salvation? If the tongue of the wicked, as the prophet says, is a sharp sword (Psalm 57:5), how much more will be the tongue of Peter, because he has the capacity for the unequivocal Word of truth. The Word of God penetrates not only the intelligence, subtlety and insight of man, but it is also able to separate truth from falsehood, good from evil, the honest from the corrupt. The Word of God works in all, taking advantage of grace to carry to completion in the faithful fear, love and every other virtuous seed that God has placed in us. Even more amazing is the fact that it arouses the secrets of hearts, shakes our deepest sensibility with expert force, penetrating even to the division of soul and spirit.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 30, 2015

First Reading Commentary
The opening verse is proclaimed at a very exciting moment for the people of Israel as they are nearing the Promised Land.  God gives them “statutes and decrees” which, if observed carefully, will give the Israelites prosperity, “wisdom and intelligence.”  These “Commandments of the Lord” will make the Israelites the envy of all nations as other nations will observe that no other nation “has gods so close to it as the Lord” is to the people of Israel. 

When God became Man and dwelt among us, He made Himself subject to His own decrees.  But in doing so He brought the law to fulfillment; and the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey became the Promised Land filled with eternal joy and peace. 

Jesus has brought fulfillment to the law which can be summed up in one word, “Love”.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39).  This law of love prepares us as we journey to the eternal Promised Land.  And this law of love does not cease when this life has ended; on the contrary, when we enter our Promised Land this law of love will exist at a level that we currently cannot fathom or comprehend. 

God freely gives.  The people of Israel were able to go to the Promised Land because God gave it to them.  We have received the gift of eternal life because Jesus had freely given His life.  As disciples of Jesus, we are called to freely give of ourselves by loving and serving God and each other.
Second Reading Commentary
In last week’s commentary the Gospel story of Mary, the sister of Martha was used as an example of how we must listen to Jesus speak to us.  That particular Gospel story is not meant to convey the message that Martha was doing anything wrong by serving Jesus and the others who were present.  Actually those two women sum up the message of today’s Second Reading.  When Jesus speaks to us, we, like Mary, “humbly welcome the word” that is “able to save” our “souls”.  Once we have heard our Lord speak, then we would be wise to listen to the advice offered by our Blessed Mother: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). 

In this Reading, Saint James seconds that advice when he says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”  Martha is that example of a doer.  There is a Mary and Martha within each of us.  Mary is like a contemplative monk who spends time at the Feet of Jesus listening to Him speak; but our Lord’s words should lead us into action much like Martha who can be compared to someone like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, for example, who devoted her life to serving God’s people in the poorest of the poor.  But Mother Teresa knew that she could do nothing if it weren’t for the strength and encouragement she received from our Lord through prayer. 

God has a message for all of us; and He also has a plan of action for us to fulfill; and both the message and plan of action will be different for each of us as our individual callings are in accordance to the gifts He has given us.  God’s plan for us as individuals is discernable as long as we open our hearts and minds to hear His Voice and continue to devote ourselves to Him while making every effort to remain “unstained by the world.”  We know not where God is leading us in the future of this life, thus it is necessary to continue to sit at the Feet of Jesus as often as possible to receive from Him strength, motivation and encouragement. 
Gospel Commentary 
Critics of our faith will often cite this Gospel in an attempt to prove their point of view that the Church has many doctrines and traditions that were instituted by human beings.  We must remember, however, that Christ set up His Church with a governing body who are the apostles and their successors.  In Luke 10:16 Jesus tells His disciples: “Whoever listens to you listens to Me.”  While it may be true that our faith has precepts, traditions, documents and rubrics that were instituted by human beings, they were instituted by the Church’s governing body who has been vested with power and authority from on High. 

Today’s Gospel, however, is not so much about Church doctrines or traditions as it is about the condition of the human heart.  Jesus lists a bunch of very unfavorable qualities that can come “from within” us.  On the surface we can easily fool others by our good behavior and pious deeds but “not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  

Judas Iscariot is an example of how we can deceive or be deceived.  Who would ever believe that an apostle would betray Jesus?  The other apostles never suspected him.  Certainly we would view the office of apostle as one of high honor and dignity, incapable of betrayal; but Jesus alone knew what was in Judas’ heart. 

If we refer back to the First Reading’s commentary, we can apply Jesus’ law of love to this Gospel.  What is our motivation?  Hopefully it is love for our Lord and each other.  Unfortunately we are sinful human beings which means that our hearts are not always in tip-top loving condition; but because of our Lord’s mercy, the damage is not irreparable.  A heart that freely gives love to others is a heart that is devoted to and is knowledgeable of the ways of our Lord. 

Referring back to the Second Reading’s commentary, we can grow in our devotion and knowledge of Him by spending time with Him and listening to His words.  And as the prayer warriors of our faith often teach us, the more time we devote to Him, the more we will continue to advance in the on-going process of being transformed and renewed; and the more we continue to grow in this process, the more we will become like Jesus.           

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Regina Mundi Dignissima

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said: “God wills that all His gifts should come to us through Mary.” What, then, should our response be to our Lady? The Carthusian, Dom Louis Rouvier, offers this answer: “Our response to the advances of our gentle Mother should be one of boundless gratitude, even though, in her humility, she seeks our thanks only that she may unite them with the ceaseless Magnificat she sings to the divine Majesty.”

And there’s that word: “Majesty!” Today the Church celebrates Mary: first, we commemorate liturgically her Queenship and on the traditional calendar her Immaculate Heart is honored. Although not completely fallen out of use in our modern day, words like “king” or “queen” or “majesty” are not a part of the daily vocabulary for many of us.

The book of Genesis (2:18) tells us that by God’s design, “it is not good for man to be alone.” When God became Man, He desired to experience every facet of man, that is, He made Himself subject to His own laws. Thus, our Lord Jesus Christ saw to it that He would not be alone, but would associate Himself with a suitable helper, one that would be His Mother, and one that He would address in Sacred Scripture with the same title that Adam used to name his helper: “Woman.” Who else could be a “suitable” helper for the God-Man, other than she who is Immaculate?

Saint Bernardine of Siena explains: “Indeed, from the moment Mary consented to the divine maternity, she merited to receive dominion over all creatures, and the scepter of the world was placed in her hands. As many creatures as there are to obey God, so are there to obey Mary. Angels and men, all that is in heaven and on earth, being subject to God, are, by that very fact, subject to His most holy Mother.”

Saint Anselm adds: “Just as God is the Lord of the Universe, because He has by His word created every being in its own nature, so is Mary the Mistress of the world, restoring all things in their primal dignity by the graces she has merited.”

Jesus is the King of kings and His holy Mother is the Queen. But shouldn’t a queen be the wife of the king? The Old Testament symbolizes the reality or actuality of the New. In the New Testament we read: “And a great sign appeared in heaven, a Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). The Scriptures continue by revealing that this Woman wearing a crown was with Child, and He was to rule all nations (cf. Revelation 12:2, 5). In the Old Testament the psalmist writes: “At Your right stands the queen, clothed with splendor in robes embroidered with pearls set in gold” (Psalm 44 [45]:10).

Most important about what the Old Testament teaches us is that it was the mother of the king, not the wife, who was the queen. In the First Book of Kings, chapter 3, Asa takes over as king of Judah when his father Abijam had died. Asa removed Abijam’s mother from her position as queen mother. In the thirteenth chapter of Jeremiah are these words: “Say to the king and to the queen mother, ‘Humble yourselves, sit down.’” Also, “We are going down to visit the princes and the family of the queen mother” (2 Kings 10:13). One more, “This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother…” (Jeremiah 29:2). There are other examples in the Old Testament which delineate that the mother of the king was the queen.

Perhaps the most important verses in the “symbolism” of the Old Testament and the Davidic kingdom, may “actually” reveal something about the relationship between the King of kings and the Queen Mother in the heavenly Kingdom. These verses are found in the First Book of Kings (cf. 2:12-20). Solomon is the king, and Adonijah asks Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, to intercede for him. Adonijah needs a favor from the king and he asks Bathsheba to approach the king because as Adonijah explains: “he cannot deny you anything.” When Bathsheba approaches Solomon, the Scriptures tell us that “the king arose to meet her and bowed to her.” Next, the king “sat down upon his throne, and a throne was set for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right hand.” The conversation went like this as Bathsheba spoke: “I desire one small petition of you, do not refuse me.” Then the king said: “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” God made Mary irresistible; He cannot refuse her.

In the Litany of Loreto, our Blessed Mother is invoked as “Queen” thirteen times:

Regina Angelorum – Queen of Angels
Regina Patriacharum – Queen of Patriarchs
Regina Prophetarum – Queen of Prophets
Regina Apostolorum – Queen of Apostles
Regina Martyrum – Queen of Martyrs
Regina Confessorum – Queen of Confessors
Regina Virginum – Queen of Virgins
Regina Sanctorum omnium – Queen of all Saints
Regina sine labe originali concepta – Queen conceived without original sin
Regina in cælum assumpta – Queen assumed into heaven
Regina Sanctissimi Rosarii – Queen of the Most Holy Rosary
Regina familiæ – Queen of the family
Regina Pacis – Queen of Peace

Ora pro nobis – Pray for us!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Instaurare Omnia in Christo

The title of this post are words chosen by Saint Pius X for the motto of his pontificate. They are taken from the Latin Vulgate in Ephesians 1:10, “Restore All Things in Christ.”

Saint John Chrysostom said: “The Church is your hope, the Church is your salvation, the Church is your refuge.” In the Encyclical, E Supremi, Pope Pius X wrote: “The way to reach Christ is not hard to find; it is the Church. It was for this that Christ founded it, gaining it at the price of His Blood, and made it the depositary of His doctrine and His laws, bestowing upon it at the same time an inexhaustible treasury of graces for the sanctification and salvation of men.” This particular Encyclical was addressed to the hierarchy of the Church. Why was it necessary, then, to point this out? The Holy Father felt that society had become “estranged from the wisdom of Christ.” He charged the cardinals, bishops and himself to “use every means and exert all our energy to bring about the utter disappearance of the enormous and detestable wickedness, so characteristic of our time -- the substitution of man for God.” It would seem that the Church of then under Pope Pius X faced similar problems as the Church of now under Pope Francis. Pope Benedict XVI warned us of the evils of moral relativism, in which man becomes his own god.

Seminary training was also a shared concern of both Pius X and Benedict XVI. Pope Pius X wrote in that same Encyclical: “Venerable Brethren, of what nature and magnitude is the care that must be taken by you in forming the clergy to holiness! All other tasks must yield to this one. Wherefore the chief part of your diligence will be directed to governing and ordering your seminaries aright so that they may flourish equally in the soundness of their teaching and in the spotlessness of their morals.” During a Wednesday General Audience from Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict XVI said that the new evangelization will be just a slogan if priests are not well-formed. He said: “Today we see a need for each priest to be a witness of the infinite mercy of God with a life completely conquered by Christ and for them to learn this from the very first years of their preparation in the seminary.”

The concerns of teaching by Pope Pius X also extended to the lay faithful. In the Encyclical, Acerbo Nimis, he referred to his day as a “very troublesome and difficult time.” Surely we can relate! The Holy Father wrote that “the chief cause of the present indifference and, as it were, infirmity of soul, and the serious evils that result from it, is to be found above all in ignorance of things divine.” Today’s secular cultural influences have emptied souls of things divine and filled them with things temporal and the rewards of here and now. Saint Pius X turned the attention of the Church towards Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Holy Father’s efforts in this area were so great that Saint Pius X is often referred to as “the Pope of the Eucharist.” In a five year span he issued Decrees on Holy Communion. He desired all Catholics to receive Holy Communion frequently, and daily, if possible. He dispensed the sick from the discipline of Eucharistic fasting and promoted giving Holy Communion to children once they had reached an age of discretion. This was a change from the previous requirement.

Many popes, saints, holy men and women turn our attention towards our Blessed Lord in the Sacrament of His Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. But if our focus has not been there for some time, then we must first turn towards the Sacrament of our Lord’s mercy. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is not only Food for the soul that receives Him worthily, but in Adoration, Jesus is also our Companion, Brother, Friend, Love, Savior and God. He waits for us!

After the death of Pope Pius X in 1914, pilgrimages were made to his tomb; and there were many accounts of favors granted through his intercession. May he intercede for the Church now and turn our hearts, minds and souls to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Sancte Pio X, ora pro nobis!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bernardus, Doctor Mellifluus

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is a Doctor of the Church. He was a twelfth century Cistercian Abbot of the monastery of Clairvaux, and an edifying example of holiness to the monks under his care.

“Amor” or “Amo” (Love) seemed to be a popular word in his vocabulary. “Amor per se sufficit; is per se placet” (Love is self-sufficient; it is pleasing to itself). “Amo quia amo; amo ut amem” (I love because I love; I love in order to love). “Magna res amor, si tamen ad suum recurrat principium, si suæ origini redditus, si refusus suo fonti” (Love is a great thing, only if it returns to its beginning, if it returns to its origin, if it flows back to its fount). And Saint Bernard went on to say that love must always draw from that endless stream.

The greatness of love is true because it is caused by the greatness of God – Who is Love. God is the Beginning, the Origin, the Fount and Endless Stream of love. Saint Bernard said that love is the only adequate means by which the creature may respond to its Creator, although the weakness of the creature will always make that response inadequate.

This holy man of God asks: “Why should Love not be loved?” Saint Bernard talks about emptying ourselves, “renouncing all other affections” submitting all our “being to Love alone,” responding “to Love by giving love in return.”

This is a broken world we live in and we are a fallen nature. We will never be able to give back to God what He has given to us. And so, Saint Bernard asks the frightening question: “Can it be that all will perish… simply because it is futile to race against a Giant, or to contend with Honey in sweetness, with the Lamb in gentleness, with the Lily in whiteness, with the Sun in splendor, with Love in love?”

If justice always prevailed over mercy, then these examples from this Doctor of the Church would be a blood pressure raising thing to ponder for anyone with a conscience. But this saint and heavenly intercessor won’t let us go there. He offers the answer: “Even though the creature loves less than the Creator… nevertheless if he loves with all his being, he lacks nothing.”

There’s great hope in that statement but great conviction is required of the creature. God must be loved above all things; He must be the Center of our lives. Do we love with all our being? Does our love return to its Origin, to its Source, to Love Himself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the Source and Summit of the Christian life (cf. CCC 1324). The document from the Synod of Bishops XI Ordinary General Assembly reads: “Receiving Communion means to enter into communion with the Lord and the saints of the Church, both in heaven and on earth. Thus, Communion and contemplation follow each other. We cannot receive sacramental Communion, without making it personal… it is the sacrament of infinite value.” The document also teaches that Communion and Adoration are inseparable. “Adoration of the Eucharist begins in Communion and leads to acts of Eucharistic piety, adoring God the Father, in Spirit and in Truth, in the risen and living Christ, truly present among us.”

If Communion and Adoration are inseparable, then our reception of the Eucharist at Mass does not end there. We are called to Eucharistic piety by also adoring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament; in adoring the One we love with all our being, the One Who loved us first. During Eucharistic Adoration, consider keeping close to your heart these words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: “Lord Jesus, what has made You so small? Love!” Jesus continues to suffer in the Blessed Sacrament, continues to make Himself vulnerable by permitting Himself to be contained in a Monstrance or in the Tabernacle. How deeply we must love, how small we must become when meditating on the words of Sacred Scripture and Saint John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We will never be able to compete with our Lord’s deliberate “smallness,” but if we love Him with all our being, we lack nothing.
Sancte Bernarde, ora pro nobis!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 23, 2015

First Reading Commentary
The beauty of this Reading is that it addresses both sides of the fence.  One side trusts in the Lord completely and serves Him devoutly.  The other side is not necessarily against the Lord, but it is the side in which individuals do not surrender their lives to Him and tend to trust more in their own abilities, completely ignoring the fact that their abilities are a gift from God; and for them God simply becomes a last resort when things turn bleak.  Perhaps some of us in the course of our life have been on both sides of the fence. 

Joshua tells the people, “Decide today whom you will serve.”  As we read through Sacred Scripture, we’ll see evidence of many false gods.  Today, there are many things and even people who can become gods to us.  Certainly money can be a god.  If we are wealthy, and becoming wealthier is an obsession, then money is a god because we are not in control of our wealth; our wealth is in control of us.  In just the opposite scenario, if we are struggling to make ends meet, and are willing to do something immoral to get money, then that becomes a god to us.  Any kind of an addiction can be considered a god.  People can also be gods to us.  Whenever we adhere to someone whose advice, suggestion or ultimatum is contrary to the teachings of our faith, then that person becomes a god to us.  We can even become our own god when we live our lives for our own benefit and ignore the needs of others.  On the flip side, whenever we follow the advice of someone whose ideas are in line with the teachings of our faith, then that person is not a god but a servant of Almighty God, who is doing his/her part to build up the Body of Christ. 

Choosing to serve other gods always ends in disappointment.  No matter how long we search for fulfillment, the search will never end until we find God.  Any pleasures we find outside of God are temporary.  Those of us who have been on that side of the fence could testify to this.  Surrendering to God and turning ourselves over to His care doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free life; but it gives us peace because we trust that no obstacle is stronger than His love for us. 

“Decide today whom you will serve.”  When reflecting on this statement, those of us who have been on both sides of the fence will easily answer in same manner as the people in this Reading:  “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods.  Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”  

Second Reading Commentary
Although lectors may worry about being stoned to death while proclaiming this Reading, in reality this Reading is not as harsh as it seems; nor does it in any way suggest that women are inferior to men.  Biblical proof of gender equality can be found in the very first book when Adam speaks of Eve with the words, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23).  This verse signifies equality as well as oneness as we find in the Sacrament of Matrimony whereby the two become one. 

Part of this Reading is about mutual service to one another as the first verse suggests: “Be subordinate to one another.”  As we read on we see that “wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.”  The key to this verse is the last four words, “as to the Lord.”  To comprehend this verse more clearly, we need to look at what kind of Divine Person our Lord Jesus Christ is as revealed by His human nature.  Certainly He is not an overbearing dictator; nor did He ever do or say anything that would lead anyone to believe that men and women are not equal.  On the contrary, Jesus is a humble, forgiving, loving, compassionate Servant.  If wives are to be faithful to their vocation as prescribed in this Reading, then their husbands should exhibit these same Christ-like qualities; and since a servant is one of those qualities, this would mean that service in a marriage is mutual. 

For husbands, this Reading prescribes that they “should love their wives as their own bodies.”  For certain, if husbands love Christ, then that love will overflow into their marriage.  Putting Christ first in our lives can only enhance all other relationships.  The relationship of a man and a woman in marriage, however, is only part of the story. 

On a larger scope this Reading is about Christ and the love He has for His Body, the Church.  Christ’s love for His Church is the model for love in marriage.  Jesus gave of Himself and sacrificed Himself because of His love for the members of His mystical Body.  The bond between a man and a woman in marriage also requires love, giving of oneself and sacrifice. 

Finally and equally as important, just as Christ is the Head of the Church, so should Christ be the Head in a marriage.  Since matrimony is a Sacrament, Christ is already present; but a husband and wife must put Jesus in charge of their marriage and follow His leadership by living out His example of love and sacrifice. 

Gospel Commentary
This Gospel begins right after Jesus proclaims that He is the living Bread and whoever eats this Bread will live forever; and as a result of this proclamation “many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.”  It’s seems appropriate to reiterate what was in last week’s commentary.  Jesus could have easily stopped all those who were leaving by explaining further that He didn’t mean it literally; but He didn’t stop them because He did mean it literally. 

“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?”  This question would seem to imply that Jesus is of Divine origin; also He would seem to be hinting about His eventual Ascension into heaven.  

When we look for the similarities of this Gospel and the First Reading, “choice” is the predominant theme.  We can either choose our Lord or choose to live our lives according to our own design.  If we choose to live by our own design, for certain we will fail and ultimately that will leave us with the question, “To whom shall we go?”  Saint Peter knows the answer is Jesus as indicated by his proclamation, “You have the words of eternal life.”  Mary, the sister of Martha, was also aware that Jesus has the words of eternal life as she sat “at His Feet listening to Him speak” (Luke 10:39).  We too have the opportunity to sit at the Feet of Jesus and listen to Him speak.  Our Blessed Mother encourages us to do this when she exhorted us at the Wedding in Cana, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).  There are many ways for us to sit at the Feet of Jesus: First and foremost is at Mass, attentively listening to His words as the Gospel is being proclaimed.  We could also attend Eucharistic adoration and wait for Him to speak to us in the silence and stillness of our hearts; or if we carry a pocket-size New Testament, we could be virtually anywhere and prayerfully read the Gospels.  There are many ways for us to hear Jesus speak and it’s important that we do because in these troubled times we simply cannot afford to make the choice to be without Him.  Whatever ways we choose to sit at the Feet of Jesus, we can be sure that it is a necessary step for us to take if we are to grow in our relationship with Him.  It also properly prepares our hearts to receive Him in Holy Communion.          

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Saint Clare of Assisi

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Clare of Assisi. It was Saint Francis of Assisi who saw in Clare something special, extraordinary – a soul who would be a great witness to the Gospel way of life. She is the co-foundress of the Order of Poor Clares. 

Pope Gregory IX came to Assisi in 1228 for the purpose of canonizing Francis, but also made a stop at San Damiano to try and convince Clare to ease up on the strictness of her life of poverty. Even if it was a vow that led to such rigidity, Pope Gregory IX was willing to absolve her from it. But Clare resisted and said to the pope: “Holy Father, I crave for absolution of my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.” This impressed the Holy Father and in September of 1228 he granted her the Papal Bull, Privilegium Paupertatis (Privilege of Poverty). Here is that text: 

“Gregory Bishop Servant of the Servants of God. 
To our beloved daughters in Christ Clare and the other handmaids of Christ dwelling together at the Church of San Damiano in the Diocese of Assisi. Health and Apostolic benediction. It is evident that the desire of consecrating yourselves to God alone has led you to abandon every wish for temporal things. Wherefore, after having sold all your goods and having distributed them among the poor, you propose to have absolutely no possessions, in order to follow in all things the example of Him Who became poor and Who is the way, the truth, and the life. Neither does the want of necessary things deter you from such a proposal, for the left arm of your Celestial Spouse is beneath your head to sustain the infirmity of your body, which, according to the order of charity, you have subjected to the law of the spirit. Finally, He who feeds the birds of the air and Who gives the lilies of the field their raiment and their nourishment, will not leave you in want of clothing or of food until He shall come Himself to minister to you in eternity when, namely, the right Hand of His consolations shall embrace you in the plenitude of the Beatific Vision. Since, therefore, you have asked for it, we confirm by Apostolic favor your resolution of the loftiest poverty and by the authority of these present letters grant that you may not be constrained by anyone to receive possessions. To no one, therefore, be it allowed to infringe upon this page of our concession or to oppose it with rash temerity. But if anyone shall presume to attempt this, be it known to him that he shall incur the wrath of Almighty God and his Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul. 
Given at Perugia on the fifteenth of the Kalends of October in the second year of our Pontificate.” 

Since the establishment of Holy Mother Church by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, there has never been a so-called “golden age” of the Church. She has always had her problems and challenges. Perhaps the battle that has always existed is, “the way of Christ versus the way of the world.” Secularization is a huge challenge for today’s Christian. The weaknesses of our nature is prone to surrendering to that which is constantly before us; and in our modern day culture, that is secularism. Saint Clare teaches us by her own example that through the grace of Almighty God, we can live for Christ alone and overcome the enemy of our times. 

Clare had a great love for the Blessed Sacrament. In her letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, Clare writes about how happy it is “to cleave with one’s heart to Him Whose beauty all the heavenly hosts behold forever, Whose love inflames our love.” Clare adds that contemplating Jesus “makes us glow with happiness.” He is “the Mirror without spot.” Then she instructs Agnes and us by urging us to “look into that Mirror daily.” If we are to conquer our weaknesses and live for God, daily prayer, and most especially spending time with the Blessed Sacrament are a must. 

In sacred art, Saint Clare is often depicted with a ciborium. This not only exhibits Clare’s love for the Eucharist but also proclaims the story in which soldiers scaled the walls of San Damiano during the night. Clare rose from her bed, went to the chapel and grabbed the ciborium, taking our Eucharistic Lord to an open window. The soldiers had already placed a ladder beneath that window to climb and enter through it. Clare raised the Blessed Sacrament which caused the soldiers on the ladder to fall while the rest ran away. This is the power of that “Mirror” which Clare exhorts us to look into daily. 

Sancta Clara, ora pro nobis!

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Ministry of Care and Service

Deacons, today we pray especially for you on this, the Feast of Saint Laurence, deacon and martyr. 

The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek word, “diakonia” which means “care” or “service.” 

Saint Ambrose describes a deacon as having three characteristics: 

First, a deacon having been sacramentally constituted in the service of self-giving, lives his diaconal ministry giving witness to Christ in martyrdom, the service of charity by acceptance of that greater love which is martyrdom. 

Second, in virtue of the link which binds him to the bishop, the deacon lives ecclesial communion by specific service to the bishop, beginning with the Eucharist and in reference to the Eucharist. 

Third, in virtue of the Sacrament, the deacon devotes himself fully to the service of a constituent charity and not merely to a human or social fellowship, and thus manifests the most characteristic element of the diakonia. 

In De Officiis, Saint Ambrose describes a very heartfelt but intense moment between Laurence and Sixtus II, the pope who was being led to execution. Here is the exchange according to the Ambrosian text: 

Saint Laurence wept when he saw his bishop, Sixtus, led out to his martyrdom. He wept not because he was being let out to die but because he would survive Sixtus. He cried out to him in a loud voice: “Where are you going Father, without your son? Where do you hasten to, holy bishop, without your deacon? You cannot offer sacrifice without a minister. Father, are you displeased with something in me? Do you think me unworthy? Show us a sign that you have found a worthy minister. Do you not wish that he to whom you gave the Lord's Blood and with whom you have shared the sacred mysteries should spill his own blood with you? Beware that in your praise your own judgment should not falter. Despise the pupil and shame the Master. Do not forget that great and famous men are victorious more in the deeds of their disciples than in their own. Abraham made sacrifice of his own son, Peter instead sent Stephen. Father, show us your own strength in your sons; sacrifice him whom you have raised, to attain eternal reward in that glorious company, secure in your judgment.” 

Sixtus replied: “I will not leave you, I will not abandon you my son. More difficult trials are kept for you. A shorter race is set for us who are older. For you who are young a more glorious triumph over tyranny is reserved. Soon, you will see, cry no more, after three days you will follow me. It is fitting that such an interval should be set between bishop and Levite. It would not have been fitting for you to die under the guidance of a martyr, as though you needed help from him. Why do you want to share in my martyrdom? I leave its entire inheritance to you. Why do you need me present? The weak pupil precedes the master, the strong, who have no further need of instruction, follow and conquer without him. Thus Elijah left Elisha. I entrust the success of my strength to you.” 

Saint Ambrose continues his text by telling us that Laurence’s longing for martyrdom was due to his desire to be a holocaust for Jesus Christ. 

It has been said that Laurence was roasted to death on a grid-iron three days after the death of Sixtus. 

Sancte Laurenti, ora pro nobis!

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 16, 2015

First Reading Commentary
Saints Augustine and Ignatius teach that the house wisdom has built is the Church.  And at this house, Saint Gregory adds, is where all instruction, the seven sacraments, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are received. 

The “seven columns” are symbolic and are meant to show the strength and stability of true wisdom which comes from the Church; there is also, however, a mystical dimension to the number seven such as the seven sacraments and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

The Fathers of the Church explain the meat, wine and table to mean the table of our Lord which offers His precious Body and Blood. 

“Let whoever is simple turn in here; to the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!”  Saint Augustine explains this passage with these words: “Uncreated Wisdom took Flesh of the Blessed Virgin, prepared the table of bread and wine, as Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, and chose the weak of this world to confound the strong.” 

The final verse is the Church’s instruction to forsake the wisdom of the world, which is nothing more than “foolishness,” and come to receive the true wisdom of our God which brings peace because true wisdom enables one to look beyond suffering and see a future of eternal joy.        

Second Reading Commentary
For the most part, practicing Christians have an understanding of what is right and wrong, moral and immoral, God’s way and the way of the world; but the fragrance of this knowledge is a healthy prayer life lest this gift of wisdom should become stagnant and fall prey to evil.  A good prayer life rewards with an ardent awareness of God’s Presence. 

Practicing Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; but today there seems to be an invisible dividing line among those believers.  On one side are those who simply believe and accept the Church's teaching on the Eucharist.  But on the other side are those who are head over heels in love with the Eucharist.  Why does this difference exist?  Surely the latter cannot see Jesus under the guise of bread and wine - or can they?  Maybe not in the physical sense but God created humanity to be receptacles of His love and a vibrant prayer life opens the soul's gate and permits God's love to gush; and this torrential love of God radiates immensely from the Eucharist. 

Saint Peter Julian Eymard, called the apostle of the Eucharist by Pope Saint John XXIII, once wrote: "To pray is to glorify the infinite goodness of God. It is to set divine mercy into action, to delight in and release the infinite love of God for us." 

Saint Paul closes this Reading with a description of the daily life of the Church; and more specifically the Church’s daily liturgical life which is both the Mass and the Divine Office.    

Gospel Commentary
This Gospel opens with a very important point: Our boundless God condescended to be among us, to offer us His very Self, and His gift of Self rewards us with eternal life.  Not even a multilingual person could find the words that would do justice for such an unfathomable act of love and humility. 

Jesus states that His Flesh and Blood are “true Food” and “true Drink”; and whoever partakes of this Food and Drink will have eternal life.  The Greek text uses the word "alethos" for “true” which more accurately means "indeed" or "without a doubt"; Jesus continues by saying: “Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life.”  Again in the Greek version the word used for "eat" is "trogo" which really means "chew".  Thus it seems obvious that our Lord is not even remotely suggesting that His Body and Blood take on a symbolic significance; instead He is scandalously attaching to His words a very literal meaning. After consuming the Eucharist, Christ's Body and Blood dwell within us. 

How appropriate the words of our Blessed Mother when she visited Elizabeth: "Magnificat anima mea Dominum, et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo - My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!"  Our Blessed Lady at that time also had Jesus dwelling within her.  After receiving our Eucharistic Lord in a state of grace, somewhere floating around in our meditation is the mind boggling, overwhelming reality of being living and breathing tabernacles.  Who can begin to explain this display of love for such undeserving creatures? 

Thus our Almighty, ever-living God humbled Himself and became Man to freely offer Himself “for the life of the world” but still maintained His unprecedented Divine power by seeing fit that His Eucharistic Self would sustain us forever.