Sunday, November 29, 2015

2nd Sunday of Advent - December 6, 2015

First Reading Commentary
Baruch was a disciple and secretary of the prophet Jeremiah and shared in the prophet's labors and sufferings.  The ancient Fathers actually considered this book to be a part of the prophecy of Jeremiah.  It is Saint Jerome who has always testified that many things in the prophecies of Baruch dealt with the end times and the glorious return of Jesus Christ.    At the time this was written it was a message of hope for captive Israel as Jerusalem is seen as the promised cream-of-the-crop safe haven for all exiles. 
When reading this with prophetic eyes, Jerusalem represents the entire people of God whose hope is in Jesus Christ.  Lofty mountains made low and gorges filled to level ground are images of promised comfort, peace and security in what can now be considered difficult and troubling times. 
This Reading offers assurances that our Lord is leading us in joy by the light of His glory and we will advance in His glory.  These are the kinds of messages that the Christian soul must trust in, take hold of and never let go of because the enemy seeks to destroy hope.
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul uses the word "partnership"; the Latin translates into "fellowship."  In his letters Paul used this type of language occasionally and it is believed to have a twofold meaning.  The first seems most evident in that he is referring to those who accept his message and hence share in the graces of Christ.  The second meaning refers to almsgiving and the support of Paul's ministry.  Both meanings may very well apply in this Reading. 
"And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value."  This requires a healthy spiritual life as discerning what is of value has nothing to do with temporal goods.  Discernment is needed when circumstances occur whereby determining what is right and what is wrong is not vividly clear.  Living a moral life and spending time with our Lord in prayer keeps us close to Him and is immensely helpful in the process of discernment.  Staying close to Jesus is, as Saint Paul says, to be filled with the fruit of righteousness.
Gospel Commentary
This weekend’s Gospel mentions the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.  For historical clarity, there was actually only one high priest at a time and Caiaphas held this office the entire time that Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea. 
Here we see John, the son of Zechariah, chosen to be the one who would fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah.  When Isaiah first revealed this prophecy, he was referring to the Jews being freed from Babylonian captivity.  As far as the coming of the Messiah, it was believed that it would be Elijah who would come and be the one chosen to prepare the way of the Lord.  But it was John raised up in the spirit of Elijah who was chosen. 
It's important to note that John's baptism was not for the remission of sins.  John preached for repentance and a change of heart and his baptism was merely a ceremony to signify an acceptance of what he preached.  It is the baptism ordained by Christ that washes away sin. 
John's proclamation of the coming of the Messiah also offers something new: "All flesh shall see the salvation of God."  Not only would the Messiah achieve salvation, but His salvation would not be limited to the boundaries of Israel; instead it would be available to everyone.  This must have been shocking news to the hearers of this message. 
God chose John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus Christ; but Christ will come again and the way of the Second Coming must also be prepared and God has left that responsibility not just to one person but to all disciples of Christ in the spirit of evangelization.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Consumed by Love

Today on the Carthusian calendar is the feast of Blessed Béatrice d’Ornacieux. At the very young age of thirteen she joined the Carthusian Order and became a nun of the Order at Parménie where her novice mistress was another well-known Carthusian, Marguerite d’Oingt.

Béatrice was subject to demonic torments and often was attacked with impure illusions and nightly fantasies which included seeing dangerous animals and hearing frightening sounds. Like anyone would do in these types of occurrences, she pleaded with God to be delivered from these attacks and even asked Him to be taken from this earth. Her prayers received a miraculous response with a Voice that said: “Receive the consolations that I give you and do not refuse the sufferings that I send you.” After that encounter she was able to completely surrender herself to the will of God.

Béatrice was intensely in love with Jesus Christ and lived a life of penance in order to follow Him in His sufferings. In response to her love, Jesus gave her the wonderful gift of possessing an intimate knowledge of Himself but she would, however, later experience the “dark night of the soul” in which she felt completely abandoned by the Lord. This caused her great suffering. After that period of refinement she once again regained full intimate union with Jesus, a union that would never again be interrupted.

In the year 1300, Béatrice was the foundress and Prioress of a new monastery at Eymeu where she continued to live in holiness until her death in 1309.

When the Carthusian Order gave up the monastery at Eymeu, Béatrice’s relics were moved to Parménie. An uprising of the Albigensians caused the nuns to flee Parménie. Shortly after, the monastery was burned down and Béatrice’s relics were lost. In the seventeenth century her relics were found and in the year 1697 pronounced authentic by a Cardinal of that region. Later, in the year 1839 the relics were once again inspected by the Bishop of Grenoble and thirty years later in 1869 Pope Pius IX gave permission for her feast to be celebrated by the Carthusian Order.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

1st Sunday of Advent - November 29, 2015

Click here for the Readings
First Reading Commentary
By God's grace the Church in her liturgy gives us the opportunity to visit over and over again the events in the life of our Savior as well as be reminded of the promises we await. 

As the First Sunday of Advent launches a new Church year, the prophet Jeremiah speaks of a "just shoot" that will rise from the house of David to do what is right and just.  This prophecy has always been understood to mean the Messiah. 

In the verse, "This is what they shall call her," the word "her" used here is translated from the Hebrew and is understood prophetically to mean the Church and literally Jerusalem.  The Church, then, is foreseen as "The Lord our justice" meaning it is the Church that is founded by Jesus Christ, the Just One; and she shall dwell secure under His protection.

Second Reading Commentary
You can't help but be impressed by Saint Paul's letters.  In this Second Reading which is from the first of two letters from Paul to the Thessalonians, he instructs the faithful to increase in love for one another, to be blameless in holiness and conduct themselves in a way that is pleasing to God.  Paul not only instructs in these matters but was also a living example of these words.  This is very prodigious when you consider that this was a man who was beaten, imprisoned and suffered many hardships, more than most will ever be asked to endure or even imagine.  Paul's experience in Thessalonica was one of persecution and when he left there and went to Berea, another city in Greece, he still experienced trouble from those who were from Thessalonica. 

Paul is quick to point out that his instructions are given through the Lord Jesus.  Jesus is the secret to Paul's endurance and apparent love for his enemies. 

Advent evokes thoughts of the expected birth of a Child Who is Jesus Christ our Lord, Who has ascended into heaven and now we await His glorious return.  But Paul shows us that Jesus Christ can still be very active in our lives now; and the choice to remain close to Him produces endurance for whatever trials may come and demonstrates the power of His grace and Presence while enabling us to be living witnesses of His love.

Gospel Commentary
During Advent the natural tendency is to focus on the expectation of a Child Who is destined to be the Savior of the world; but the season of Advent is actually designed for both the First and Second Coming of Christ.  Saint Cyril of Jerusalem confirms this with these words: "We preach not one coming only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the first.  The first revealed the meaning of His patient endurance; the second brings with it the crown of the Divine Kingdom." 

Today's Gospel focuses on the Second Advent or the Second Coming of Christ.  The opening verses sound frightening.  This type of language, however, was often used by the prophets when describing a troubled world, or the fall of nations and their rulers.  By using that interpretation one can certainly relate to what it's like to live in a troubled world; a world plagued by wars, terrorism, murder, dishonesty and immorality. 

The promised Second Coming of Christ relieves troubled hearts much like the ancient world had expectations of relief when the long-awaited Messiah would finally come. 

In this Gospel Jesus assures us that our redemption is at hand; however, He also warns us not to lose hope by being reeled in and surrendering to the anxieties of daily life, rendering dismay and feelings of being caught in a trap upon His return.  Jesus also offers a solution on how to avoid these temptations: Be vigilant at all times and pray. 

When Christ returns, He will make right all that is wrong.  In the meantime, prayer is the way to escape the temptations of this life because prayer in a sense is a fleeing to a safe haven Who is Jesus. 

The Second Coming will occur someday but faithful souls need not wait for that day to find comfort because constant prayer maintains a mysterious closeness to Jesus Who is our refuge now and forever.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Saint Hugh of Lincoln

Today on the Carthusian calendar is the feast of Saint Hugh of Lincoln. Here’s an excerpt from Magna Vita Sancti Hugonis by Adam of Eynsham.
* * * * * *
Hugh was a canon of Villarbenoit in Dauphine where he had entered as a youth. The potential qualities of saint and scholar were recognized in the boy and fostered by his tutor. With all his longing for holy orders Hugh shrank from promotion. The desire to be a priest was tempered by the sense of utter unworthiness.

At first sight Hugh was in love with the monastery of La Grande Chartreuse in its high solitude of the Dauphine Alps. It was here he would dwell, swiftly his mind was made up. The prior of Villarbenoit on the day he paid a visit to La Grande Chartreuse, taking Hugh with him for company, brought sorrow upon himself. For Hugh seeing the place was filled with rapture and an immediate resolve. Amazing and wonderful was this great monastery in the very heart of the mountains; amazing and wonderful this place, no other than the house of God and gate of heaven. It was the spirit of the place that thrilled him and held him captive.

On that first visit Hugh, young as he was, recognized the powerful charm of the Carthusian life. The solitude that is the essence of the Carthusian rule is tempered by the fact that the life is communal.

Youthful enthusiasm an excellent thing in itself is no evidence of religious vocation. Besides, it is written in the Carthusian constitutions that the severity of the Carthusian life must be set out plainly to all who seek admission. And then he was so young, this canon from the priory of Villarbenoit, and he looked delicate.

During that visit Hugh confided his hopes of becoming a Carthusian to others than the prior, and these so far from shaking their head at the presumption highly approved. They did more, they promised to back him up, urged him to stick to his purpose, did all they could to welcome him to the charterhouse.

Here was a horrible dilemma. That God had called him to the Carthusian life Hugh was convinced ; at the same time how could he resist the prayer of the dear old man who had been to him not only a foster-father but his superior, to whom he had promised obedience? His soul was torn and perplexed. His feelings counseled surrender. Hugh took the vow. While the prior lived he would not leave him.

And then having taken this oath to stay with the canons Hugh realized that it was a mistake, an oath that ought not to have been taken. He had acted in good faith; for the moment it had seemed that it was God's will he should stay at the priory. But it was clear he must not stay.

Once convinced that this oath taken under stress need not be kept, an oath which God did not desire to be kept, Hugh put his affairs at the priory in order and then without saying a word went quietly off to La Grande Chartreuse. He was welcomed joyfully and with the greatest kindness.

For sixteen years did Saint Hugh live at La Grande Chartreuse; the first ten in the uninterrupted solitude his soul desired. Prayer is the chief business: common prayer in the church, private prayer in the quiet of the hermit's cell. What finer life could Hugh, a man of prayer and of study, desire than this steady progress through the years?

With prayer went the training in obedience, poverty and chastity. La Grande Chartreuse trained men to be of strong character, of resolute will. The practice of obedience developed the talent to rule and command the obedience of others. In Hugh the daily exercise in humility produced a courage so robust and fearless that no room was left for subservience to the princes of this world.

The devil has his own methods for projecting evil, and unabashed by failure, aims to reduce the solitary to the mortifying humiliation of confessing partial surrender. In the case of Hugh the Carthusian the devil had no success at all. The torture of an imagination that day and night prompted the flesh to revolt, inviting a rush of wild rebellious feelings, threatening destruction to the health of the soul, had to be endured. Hugh did endure it; but held out stubbornly against any consent of the will to the pictures presented in the mind; refused flatly any recognition of the suggestions that surged so furiously within. They were not his, these vile intrusions of the devil; they did not belong to him, these loathsome pictures of the obscene. He would never receive them or own them. Hugh unflinching held to his course, answering temptation with prayer.

For Hugh came the end of the life of contemplation, of detachment from the world, the life of prayer and study he had set his heart upon. The business of the monastery was in his hands; the employment of servants on the monastery lands; the reception of visitors the procurator was guest master and would himself take guests to their appointed quarters.

Obedience does not come readily or easily to men like the twelfth-century lay brothers; but they rallied to Hugh, the new procurator. They said of him that he brought peace to their souls. Rare characters these lay brothers. Of iron will and gentleness of heart they walked with God and were without fear of man.

Hugh, later, by the order of the bishop of Grenoble became the prior of Witham. Hugh was now forty and prior of Witham, where as yet no priory stood, where everything remained to be done. He at once faced the situation and set about the work. The years of ordered discipline, the fine training in obedience left no room for fretful indulgence in regret or feeling of disappointment ; pride could not whisper a protest against the personal discomfiture, nor self-pity allow a sense of irritation at the depressing environment; for pride in Hugh, the Carthusian, there was none, and of self-pity he was ignorant. Banished from La Grande Chartreuse to this desolate spot in Somerset, the prior of Witham neither hesitated nor looked back.

Far too wise to seek the burden of responsibility shrinking in distress of mind every time it was forced upon him Hugh, once the burden was upon him, would never surrender the responsibility until authority sanctioned release. Good work prospered at Witham, the monastery walls rose steadily. The Carthusian life of prayer deepened with the years. In the few short hours given to sleep by the prior it was said by those who had business to come near him that they often heard him murmur Amen, amen while he slept, as though he were still at prayer.

Five years did Hugh rule Witham charterhouse as prior. The monastery was not completed when he was called to be bishop of Lincoln, but the greater part was built, and of stone that it might endure. He warned the monks against wooden structures that were liable to catch fire. And now, Anno Domini 1186, king Henry knew the man he must have for bishop of Lincoln his friend Dom Hugh, the Carthusian prior of Witham. Every year since the coming of Hugh to England the regard and affection of the king for his Carthusian friend had increased. On a rough crossing from Normandy to England when it seemed that the king and all his ships might be lost Henry had called on the mercy of God to heed the prayers of 'my Carthusian Hugh' in his cell at Witham or chanting the divine office with his brethren, and had come safely to land.

A hermit to rule! Dreadful thought! How could a monk trained to solitude manage the vast diocese of Lincoln? The canons were neither irreligious nor worldly beyond their fellows, but their hearts were dismayed and they trembled in mind at the prospect of this recluse, an austere Carthusian, a stranger to all their ways, coming into their midst. In the end a unanimous vote was given by the canons for the prior of Witham and messengers from the canons were sent to the priory with letters from the king and the archbishop announcing the result of the election, and calling on Hugh to present himself at court in order that a date might be fixed for consecration to the see of Lincoln.

On Saint Matthew's Day, September 21, 1186, was Saint Hugh consecrated, in the chapel of Saint Catherine in Westminster Abbey. All the vestments and ornaments that it was necessary for the bishop to put on, from the miter on his head to the sandals that covered his feet, were at Hugh's request of the simplest and plainest material.

Saint Hugh could command both respect and affection. His clergy loved him and revered him. His displeasure frightened people. Rarely was the bishop moved to anger, but when he saw one of his lay servants ill-treating a child the wrath of Saint Hugh exploded and he soundly cuffed that offending servant. Over and over again he had made it known to his attendants that he would not have children harshly treated or roughly handled, and since neither rebuke nor reprimand were effective, Saint Hugh came down heavily on the man who dared misuse one of God's little ones. In the diocese of Lincoln and in his own cathedral the bishop faced the fury of the anti-Jewish mob; in God's name he demanded an end to the wickedness, and would not be denied. Saint Hugh was most careful that the business of his court should be in every way worthily conducted; since that business was the administration of justice, the justice of God. Heavily the responsibilities of office bore upon him; and the cares and anxieties of his bishopric were at times so oppressive that more than once Saint Hugh begged the pope to let him return to the peace of the Carthusian cloister, to resign his See as other Carthusian bishops had been allowed to do. The Carthusian training and discipline prevailed. Modified the rule must be; the spirit of the sons of Saint Bruno was unquenched in the years when Hugh was bishop of Lincoln. There was no internal relaxation in the crowded hours. In his spare diet which required total abstinence from flesh-meat the only concession was an additional ration of fish. To others the bishop's hospitality supplied a generous table at all times. The hair shirt was retained, the white habit of the order was worn save when occasion demanded the official and ceremonial vestments. The bishop clung with devotion to the daily singing of the divine office.

Becoming ill, Saint Hugh, with fast unbroken, went to church at Dover and there said Mass. It was the last time he was to celebrate the holy mysteries, to offer the holy sacrifice. For two months more the flame of life flickered.

Saint Matthew's Day, September 21, was the anniversary of his consecration as a bishop and Saint Hugh decided that he must now receive the viaticum and be anointed with the oil of the sick. So after making a general confession of all his sins from boyhood the holy Eucharist was brought to him. St Hugh rose up from bed and knelt down to adore his Lord. The sacred Host was placed upon his lips. A short time after he was anointed. Strengthened by the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, Saint Hugh said cheerfully to his attendants: 'Physicians and diseases may now do their worst with me, for I care little for either of them. God Himself has come to me; I trusted to Him and I have received Him. I will hold Him and cleave to Him for ever.'

The clergy were saying Compline when the change in the bishop's countenance told them that the end was near. Saint Hugh made a sign and very tenderly his chaplains lifted the worn-out body and placed it on the ashes above the bare ground. Peacefully and quietly the bishop gave up his soul to God. It was just when they had reached Nunc Dimittis servum tuum Domine that he died, Thursday, November 16, A.D. 1200.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - November 22, 2015

Surprisingly, this Solemnity of Christ the King is not that old.  It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  Identifying Christ as King may seem obvious but the reason His Holiness placed this Solemnity on the liturgical calendar seems even more fitting for us today than in 1925.  Pope Pius XI felt that the culture of his day was living as if Christ didn't exist.  In our highly secularized culture of today this Solemnity reminds us that Jesus Christ is our Ruler and He is Head over all nations and governments.  On the old calendar or what the Church now calls the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, this Solemnity was and is celebrated on the last Sunday of October, just before the Solemnity of All Saints.  On the revised calendar or Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, it is the final Sunday of Ordinary Time, hence the final Sunday of the liturgical year.  Traditionally for this Solemnity, an appropriate hymn from the Latin Motet begins with the words: Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat – Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules!

First Reading Commentary
This First Reading is apocalyptic as it deals with the last days and eternity. 
Without working the brain too hard, Jesus can be seen as the fulfillment of this Reading especially with the use of the words, "Son of Man," as Jesus often referred to Himself using those very same words. 
We also identify Jesus in this Reading by referring to the Gospels: "You shall see the Son of Man, sitting on the right Hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Matthew 26:64); also, "All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18). 
Most comforting is the final verse which assures us that His dominion is everlasting and shall never be destroyed.
Second Reading Commentary
The Book of Revelation can be very confusing and often avoided by many who admirably make Scripture reading a daily practice.  This Reading, however, is a pretty clear description of the Kingship of Jesus Christ.  He is described here as the "Ruler of the kings of the earth" which fittingly makes Him the King of kings. 
As with any ruler, citizens cling to the hope that their leader will make decisions that are best for their well-being and future.  Jesus saw fit to love us, sacrifice Himself for us, free us from our sins, destroy death and offer us the gift of eternal joy and peace.  And thanks be to God, Jesus is not subject to term limitations.  His Kingship is forever! 
Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters respectively of the Greek alphabet and are used here to signify that Jesus is the beginning and the end, "the One Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty" - the Everlasting Universal King.
Gospel Commentary
One of the writers of the early Church, Origen Adamantius, had written a commentary on the Lord's Prayer; and he reminds us that the Kingdom of God cannot be seen because it is within us.  He adds: "When a man prays that God's Kingdom may come, he is praying, as he should, for the Kingdom of God, which is within him, that it may rise, flourish and reach its full growth." 
In this Gospel, Jesus tells Pilate: "My Kingdom does not belong to this world."  If God's Kingdom is to rise, flourish and reach its full growth within us, then it's important to let go of worldly attachments – to be in the world but not of it.  And letting go doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be cast out or thrown away; but if by some unfortunate circumstance any worldly possessions were lost forever, our spiritual life needs to be strong enough and mature enough to be able to proclaim harmoniously with the holy man Job: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).  It is certain, then, that the unshakeable Kingdom of God can make its presence known to the world through us.
Continuing with Pilate's interrogation, Jesus adds: "I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My Voice."  Missing from this Gospel passage is Pilate's next question: “Quid est veritas?” - "What is truth?"  The dictionary defines truth as: Conformity to fact or actuality.  Jesus proclaims Himself to be the Truth when He says: "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  No man comes to the Father, but by Me" (John 14:6).  Christians absolutely believe that Jesus is the Truth and must continue to draw ever closer to Him because today's world constantly challenges beliefs and tempts disciples to question faith.  But in truth, Sacred Scripture warns that this would happen: "For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3). 
The truth is that Jesus is the only Way and by diving deeper into Sacred Scripture and the events of Christ's persecution and death, what is found there is that in our Lord's day the population was defined mostly by two categories: Jew and Gentile.  And perhaps by allowing Himself to be betrayed by one and crucified by the other, exposes the truth and reality that all are in need of His saving grace.  All need to prostrate themselves before the Feet of the King of kings.  Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat --Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Temple Within

On this feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, for a portion of the Lessons proclaimed at Matins, the Carthusians listened to an excerpt from "The Life in Christ" by the fourteenth-century Byzantine writer, Nicholas Cabasilas. Contained in these writings are instructions concerning the house of prayer not built by human hands, that is, the soul of man. It is a reflection on the Gospel story of Jesus casting out those who bought and sold in the Temple.
* * * * * *
Virtuous men keep prompt vigilance against the roots of evil and resist it from the outset; guarding their heart for God alone, dedicating it to Him as a temple, a remembrance of God. They know, in fact, that this sacred place should not be exposed to folly. They know that nothing equals the sacred soul that is consecrated to God. It must be very impenetrable to those who sell and buy, and be free from hawkers and moneychangers. For him who prays, this house of prayer must be free from turmoil. Truthfully, the term "house of prayer" was not always present in the temple of Jerusalem where at times no one was praying. Instead, the expression "house of prayer" well suits Christians, who according to the prescription of Saint Paul (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17), must be constantly devoted to union with God through constant prayer.

Let us consider this further: The Savior who repelled other offences by means of words in one case employed both His Tongue and His indignation, Hand and whip alike, giving us occasion to consider how important He regards this matter. It was not so much because He wished to honor that Temple that He did these things, since He foresaw that it would be razed to the ground; rather He did this because He wanted to show how much He desires that each one of the faithful with whom He promised to abide should be freed from anxieties and cares, and at the same time how vehement was His passion and how great the need for constancy and sober reason. Above all, it is the Savior Himself Who takes the matter in hand. Unless we receive Him within ourselves it is impossible to cast out that which disturbs. It was for these reasons that the Mosaic Law decreed that sacrilege was punishable by death and that the Holy of Holies had to have a veil. Uzzah died because he wanted to support with his unhallowed hand the tottering Ark (cf. 2 Samuel 6:6-7); and Uzziah acquired leprosy from the holy things (cf. 2 Chronicles 26: 16, 19). There are many such things which require that the baptized soul, like a pure and sacred precinct, should be inviolate for the true God. It is important, therefore, that those who live in Christ should keep the soul uncorrupted by worldly cares. Even if something enters the mind which seems to be important, it should not turn aside its reasoning, just as Peter, when he heard the Savior’s call, paid no heed at all to the things which he had in hand. In fact, anyone who lives in Christ, hears a continuous and constant call by the grace infused from the sacraments.

The grace which dwells in the believer, as Saint Paul teaches, is the Spirit of the Son of God crying in our hearts, "Abba! Father!" (Galatians 4:6). In this way they despise all things in order that they may always be able to follow Christ, for as it says, "it is not good to forsake the Word of God and to serve tables" (Acts 6:2). They do this first because for them nothing comes before God, and second, because they expect to find all other things with Him, since He is the dispenser of all good things. Indeed those who first seek the Kingdom of God have a promise from Him Who cannot deceive that all other things will follow (cf. Saint Matthew 6:33). For these reasons the Savior withdraws from all earthly cares those who cleave to Him. He does not want them to weary themselves with anxiety for the things He has already taken care of for them. If, then, it is harmful to be anxious about these things, what shall we say about being distressed over them? This not only distracts the soul from the remembrance of God, but it also completely obscures the intellect.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 15, 2015

Click here for the Readings
First Reading Commentary
This Sunday is the next to last Sunday of the liturgical year as the following Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King closes out the Sundays of Ordinary Time.  Since we're arriving near the end of the liturgical year, the Readings focus on the end times or last days before the Second Coming of Christ. 
In this Reading Daniel begins by telling us he heard the “word of the Lord”. This intimates that Daniel is at prayer, most likely in solitude, and in silence, waiting to hear the gentle whispers, waiting to feel a movement of the heart.
The name of the archangel Michael appears whose name means "who is like God."  In the last days, Michael will be the defender of the Church who will guard her from evil; and those whose names are written in the Book of Life, that is, those who will live in eternal peace, shall escape the distress and will shine brightly like the stars forever. 
Frequently in Sacred Scripture the stars are synonymously linked to the souls that are saved.  In the Old Testament Joseph had a dream that eleven stars were worshipping him (cf. Genesis 37:9); thus stars are worshippers.  God created the stars for the service of all nations under heaven (cf. Deuteronomy 4:19); hence the stars are created by God to serve.  In the Book of Judges (cf. 5:20) the stars remained in their order and courses and fought against Sisera; therefore the stars are fighters for justice and morality.  The Book of Sirach (cf. 43:9) proclaims the stars as the beauty of heaven.  What a magnificent description of the saints!  The stars are also exalted (ibid. cf. 44:21).  Finally, God knows the number of the stars and calls each by their name (cf. Psalm 146 [147]:4).  There are other examples where the stars seem to represent what we all desire to be: those who live forever, shining brightly like the splendor of the firmament.
Second Reading Commentary
The first verse refers to the priestly ministry of the Old Covenant whereby their sacrifices were offered frequently and yet those sacrifices were unable to absolve sins. 
In the New and Everlasting Covenant Jesus was both Priest and Victim and He offered Himself for our sins and His sacrifice need not be repeated over and over because His sacrifice is sufficient and eternal. 
Mass offers a glimpse into eternity, the One and Only sufficient Sacrifice offered for the people of God past, present and future so that sins may be forgiven.  Our Lord's wait until His enemies are made His footstool is prophesied in the Old Testament: "Sit at My right Hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool" (Psalm 109 [110]:1).
Gospel Commentary
More than likely the somewhat cataclysmic opening verses of this Gospel are better interpreted as a comparison instead of a literal meaning.  That is to say, when Christ returns, He, the True Light of the world, will shine so brilliantly that the brightness of the sun and moon cannot compare in illumination.  There is nothing more powerful than Him, therefore, upon His return, anything that is powerful will seem weak in comparison. 
Indeed that day will be like none other.  The Venerable Bede refers to it as the day when angelic powers shall tremble and the very pillars of heaven shall be moved. 
Jesus tells us about the signs that will give us a clue that He is near; but explains further that no one knows the day or hour of His return.  Some Christian faiths are obsessed about this day.  As Catholic Christians, we know that Christ will come again; and as long as we are living our faith, it is not something to be afraid of.  Saint Augustine said: "The man who is free from anxieties waits for the coming of his Lord without fear.  What sort of love of Christ is it to be afraid of His coming?"  In our lives we try to prepare for just about everything we know is going to happen. 
If we're traveling, we pack a suitcase.  If we're expecting the birth of a child, we buy diapers, baby clothes and all the necessities to care for the baby.  We buy gifts for Christmas, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.  We educationally prepare ourselves to receive the Sacraments for the first time.  Preparation is a way of life and preparation is the key to this Gospel.  We know not the day or hour that Jesus will return but we do know that He indeed will return. 
Saint Gregory assures us that it is a very great mercy of God for us to not know when this day will come so that we may always be prepared for it.  Saint Bonaventure adds that God purposely chose to leave us in this uncertainty to prevent our attachment to temporal things. 
Looking for the signs to know when He is near is not really necessary because as Spirit-filled Christians, we know that He is always near.  We need not lose any sleep worrying about when that day will come because if we are prayerful and faithful servants of the Lord, then our lives are icons of holy preparation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Grant Them Eternal Rest

Most merciful Jesus, I offer Thee the virtues and merits of Thy holy life and of Thy Passion, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Thy Mother, of all the Saints and Elect. I offer them to Thy Heart and, through this same Heart, to Thy Divine Father, for the souls in Purgatory.

Most faithful and most good Jesus, vouchsafe to draw from Thy Wounds and Thy merciful Heart that which will give eternal rest to the souls of the departed. Most merciful Jesus, through Thy compassionate Heart, grant eternal rest to each and all of them.

O most sweet Jesus, I beseech Thee, through the kindness of Thy Heart, to take pity on the souls detained in the flames of Purgatory. Remember, O most merciful Jesus, all the favors and mercies Thou hast shown towards us; remember Thy pains, the Wounds Thou hast received, all the Blood Thou hast shed; and finally, the very bitter death Thou hast accepted for us. I beseech Thee to pour out on the souls in Purgatory the virtue, efficacy, fruit and merit of Thy sufferings and Thy Passion, in order that each soul there may be entirely released, or at least greatly relieved. O Jesus, remember that these souls are Thy friends, Thy children, Thy Elect, whom Thou hast redeemed. Let Thy justice be satisfied with the grievous punishment they have endured until now. For Thine own sake, O Lord, show mercy and remit the rest of their sufferings.

And then, O sweet Jesus, if it can contribute to Thy glory, grant that I may pass from this life straight into life eternal. But, O my God, if Thou hast otherwise decreed, and the contrary is for Thy greater glory, I resign and give myself into Thy loving Hands. Do with me as Thou wilt, most loving, most faithful and most merciful Lord Jesus.

Jean Michel de Vesly
General of the Carthusian Order from 1594 to 1600

Sunday, November 1, 2015

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 8, 2015

Click here for the Readings
First Reading Commentary
Zarephath is located in what is modern day Lebanon.  This Reading offers a foretaste of the abundant blessings that would flow from God to His people via the Incarnation of Jesus Christ of Whom Elijah prefigures.  In this Reading's example, God showers blessings upon a woman and her son through the intercession of Elijah the prophet. 

After perusing this text you might be recalling the multiplication of the loaves and fishes story in the Gospels.  There are a couple of things to consider here.  First, God supplies the blessing, and Elijah intercedes on behalf of the woman and her son; but it is the woman's obedience to Elijah that seems to trigger the blessing.  In other words, the woman is rewarded for taking a leap of faith. 

The other thing to consider is something that Catholics don't talk about too much - the biblical principle of tithing.  The woman barely has enough ingredients to feed herself and her son but obeys Elijah's command to feed him first and then go and prepare something for herself and her son.  She not only displays an act of faith by trusting in the words of Elijah but also gives to God or the work of God first.  She trusted that what was left would be at the very least sufficient.  It was not only sufficient but abundant. 

It's easy to get caught up in negativity when serving God.  "I'm too nervous to be a Reader at Mass." – "My voice isn't polished enough to sing in the choir." – "Father will yell at me if I make a mistake while serving at the altar." -- "I don't have the endurance to get involved with the Pro-Life movement," – etc., etc., etc.  God is looking for leaps of faith and says to human hearts: "Give Me what you have and watch what I can do with it." 

A poor, humble girl named Miriam became the Mother of God.  One of Christianity's staunchest enemies became one of its greatest apostles in Saint Paul.  An uneducated Polish nun named Faustina became the herald of the Divine Mercy message.  A thespian in Nazi occupied Poland would later become Pope John Paul II.  Jean-Marie Vianney was a man of limited knowledge who failed his entrance exams to enter the seminary; but he was certain of his vocation and would eventually become a priest and convert the entire town of Ars.  This man of limited knowledge is today the patron saint of priests. 

Saints come from all walks of life and for many of them it was an unbelievable and miraculous road that led to their eventual canonization.  But it was their faith that helped pave that road.  They gave what they had and God multiplied it.  Let us pray: "Lord, I've done all I can do – now do all You can do."

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Augustine of Canterbury taught that when Christ died He put chains around the devil in the sense that he would not be able to tempt us beyond our limits of resistance.  The reality of this teaching might cause the shedding of tears when reflecting on the reality of our own lives.  But our brokenness is never irreparable unless we make that choice. 

Christ will appear a second time and bring salvation to those who eagerly await Him.  To eagerly await Him is to be faithful to the Gospel message.  Christ also dwells in another sanctuary not made by hands – the human soul.  Eagerly awaiting Him and living out the Gospel means to pray that the Indwelling of Christ will be manifested daily in our lives so that Christ can clearly be seen in us. 

Jesus only needed to offer Himself once.  We are sinners but the gift of Christ's mercy is the cure for our illness.  And with the cure comes yet another gracious invitation from Jesus to be in His service.

Gospel Commentary
After reading this Gospel don't be tempted to throw away your clothes and jewelry and put on sackcloth unless you have a very radical Saint Francis-like calling to serve Christ.  Don't shy away from sitting in the front pew at your parish.  Don't feel that you shouldn't pray before the Blessed Sacrament but rather somewhere that you cannot be seen; and don't feel like you need to cut your prayer time in half.  It would be, however, beneficial for your soul not to engage in devouring the houses of widows. 

What is in your heart?  That is a key question to understanding this Gospel.  It isn’t so much important that anyone else knows what is in your heart; but it is important that you know because God knows.  Scripture tells us that God does not judge by the appearances of a man, but instead looks into the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). 

Traditionally this Gospel story is titled, "The Widow's Mite".  According to what is written in the Talmud, there were thirteen receptacles or containers in which to place offerings in the temple.  These receptacles were shaped like trumpets. 

Jesus, proving Himself to be God, brings to the attention of His apostles the hidden truth behind the widow's offering.  He does this to stress the importance of the intention of the heart when serving God.  The moral worth of the widow's offering is measured in accordance to the sacrifice she made. 

There are virtually two reasons for doing anything.  One's intentions will either be honorable or dishonorable.  In matters of prayer, for example, honor and dishonor can be more specific by suggesting that on the honorable side, one prays out of true love for God and seeks a more intimate relationship with Him.  On the dishonorable side, it is done to be somewhat glitzy.  Do I go to church and pray before the Monstrance or Tabernacle because I truly love Jesus and have a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; or is it because I want to impress Father? 

Am I singing in the choir because God gave me this voice and I'm using it to serve Him; or is it because of all the compliments I receive from parishioners? 

Temptation is a powerful force and it's easy for even the most devout to occasionally catch themselves on the wrong side of the fence.  Sometimes holy intentions result in nothing more than feeding egos.  Jesus teaches us that gifts should not be judged by their absolute value.  How true this is, otherwise, how could God love us so much?  Deeming God as our greatest gift maps out for us a life of service to Him; and even when holy intentions go awry, His boundless mercy heals us and once again sets our sights to giving Him all the glory.  "He must increase; but I must decrease" (John 3:30).