May 24, 2017

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ

The Ascension of Jesus

When they had gathered together they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He answered them, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 

When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 

They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven."

— Acts 1; 6-11
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Forty days after his Resurrection, Christ ascended into heaven. His Ascension marked the end of his earthly ministry. Having conquered sin and death, Jesus ascended to receive the glory due him [Philippians 2:8-11], mediate on our behalf [Hebrews 9:24], send the Holy Spirit promised at the Last Supper [John 16:7], and prepare a place for us in eternity [John 14:2]. Immediately following the Ascension, an angel informs the disciples that Christ’s Second Coming will occur in the same way. According to the Catechism [668], "Christ's Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God's power and authority." Our Lord’s Ascension bridges his Incarnation in humility with his coming again at the end of time as King and Supreme Judge of the universe.

Almighty ever-living God, who willed the Paschal Mystery to be encompassed as a sign in fifty days, grant that from out of the scattered nations the confusion of many tongues may be gathered by heavenly grace into one great confession of your name. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Holy Father's Prayer Intentions for June 2017

Pope Francis' coat of arms Please remember the Holy Father Pope Francis' intentions in prayer throughout the month of June:

National Leaders

That national leaders may firmly commit themselves to ending the arms trade, which victimizes so many innocent people.

Urgent Intention - To Be Announced 

The Holy Father will announce the urgent intention for the month of June during the Angelus on the first Sunday of the month. We will add this specified intention at that time.

Pope St. Gregory VII, Reformer Who Courageously Defended Church Authority

Pope St. Gregory VII

May 25th, is the optional memorial of Pope Saint Gregory VII. In the late 10th and early 11th centuries, kings influenced the selection of Church leaders, often appropriating that responsibility completely. Monarchs installed the bishops, and occasionally, even the popes, they wanted in office. The practice, known as “lay investiture”, severely limited the Church's ability to assert Her spiritual authority.

The pope who abolished this practice was Pope St. Gregory VII. Born in 1020 in Tuscany, by 1049, he was making his influence felt as a chief advisor to Pope Nicholas II (who had brought the young monk, then known as Hildebrand, to Rome). The future Pope Gregory VII helped write the "Decree of 1059", placing the election of the pontiff in the hands of the cardinals, not temporal leaders.

The decree was not enforced in earnest until 1073, when Hildebrand was elected pope. Within a year, he initiated the “Gregorian Reform,” stopping simony (the buying and selling of sacred offices and graces) and the unlawful marriage of the clergy. He is best remembered for his vigorous attack on lay investiture, a move that would bring him into direct conflict with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV.

In 1075, Pope Gregory VII proclaimed the universal authority of the supreme pontiff in Dictatus Papae. Noting that such authority came from Christ Himself through Saint Peter, he asserted the pope’s right to "depose emperors or to change laws that conflicted with either God’s law or Church authority." Henry IV, immediately called Gregory a “false monk” and deposed him as pope. Gregory excommunicated Henry, freeing the later’s subjects from any allegiance to him.

Henry was forced, in 1077, to express his penitence before Pope Gregory prior to receiving the conditions of his reconciliation. This reconciliation was short lived, and soon, Henry would support a rival pope (antipope Clement III) and invade Rome. Gregory never gave up his pontificate, but fled the Eternal City in 1084. "I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile," he stated, before dying in Salerno on May 25, 1085. A staunch champion of the Church's freedom against state intrusion, St. Gregory VII was canonized by Benedict XIII in 1728.

St. Bede the Venerable, "The Father of English History"

Saint Bede the Venerable

There is very little that we know about this medieval scholar and saint. What information we have comes from the very end of the work for which he is best known, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People.  In its closing paragraphs he notes that, at the age of seven, his family gave him into the care of the Benedictine monastery at Jarrow, England, where he remained for virtually the rest of his life. There, with “great delight,” he lived the life of one of the most extraordinary and devout scholars of his day.

Though the study of Scripture was his priority, he also chronicled a history of Christianity in England from its beginnings until his own time.  Not only is his history an important ecclesiastical work, it is also highly prized by prized by scholars of many disciplines, as it is the foundation for much of our knowledge of that period of English history.

Bede was also quite well versed in all the sciences of his day, including what was then referred to as natural philosophy, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar and the philosophical principles of Aristotle. Fr. Pius Parsch writes: “True Benedictine that he was, his life revolved around prayer and work. On the vigil of the Ascension he felt death approaching and asked to be fortified with the last sacraments. After reciting the Magnificat antiphon of the feast's second Vespers, he embraced his brethren, had himself placed upon a coarse penitential garment on the earth, and breathed forth his soul while saying softly: ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.’”

St. Bede died in 735 at the age of 62. Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church, and his name was added to the General Roman Calendar in 1899. His feast day is May 25th. He is the patron saint of scholars, historians and lectors. Among his many accomplishments, the Venerable St. Bede is widely, credited for bridging the gap in scholarship between patristic and medieval times. Almighty God, who brings light to your Church through the learning of the Priest Saint Bede, mercifully grant that we your servants may always be enlightened by his wisdom and helped by his merits. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, and with the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Virgin

St. Mary Magdalene de Pazz
May 25th, is also the optional memorial of Saint Mary Magdalen of Pazzi. A highly gifted mystic, she made a vow of chastity at the age of ten. She entered the convent of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in Florence, because the practice of receiving holy Communion almost daily was observed there. For five years her only food was bread and water.

She practiced the most austere penances and for long periods endured complete spiritual aridity. Her favorite phrase was: "Suffer, not die!" Her body has remained incorrupt to the present day; it is preserved in a glass coffin in the church of the Carmelite nuns at Florence.

Purity of soul and love of Christ are the chief virtues which the Church admires in St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi. These virtues matured her spiritually and enabled her to take as a motto, "Suffer, not die!" Purity and love are also the virtues which the Church today exhorts us to practice in imitation of the saint. We may never attain her high degree of holiness, but we can strive to suffer patiently out of love for Christ.

O God, lover of virginity, who adorned with heavenly gifts the Virgin Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, setting her on fire with your love, grant, we pray, that we, who honor her today, may imitate her example of purity and love. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever. Amen. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, pray for us!

Adapted excerpt from The Church's Year of Grace, Father Pius Parsch.

May 23, 2017

Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians

Mary Help of Christians

The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Mary Help of Christians on May 24th. Today, like centuries before, Christians facing persecution, violence and death, have invoked Mary’s protection under this designation. Concerning it, Saint John Bosco wrote of his order, the Salesians' primary mission: "The principal objective is to promote veneration of the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to Mary Help of Christians. This title seems to please the august Queen of Heaven very much."

The tradition of this devotion goes back to 1571, when the whole of Christendom was saved by Mary Help of Christians as Catholics throughout Europe prayed the Rosary. The battle of Lepanto defeating the Ottoman Empire occurred on October 7th 1571. The date was chosen as the Feast of the Holy Rosary. In 1573, Pope Pius V instituted it in thanksgiving for the victory of Christianity over Islamism.

Near the end of the 17th century, Emperor Leopold I of Austria took refuge in the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Pasau, (present day Germany,) when some 200,000 Ottoman troops besieged the capital city of Vienna, but a great victory occurred thanks to Mary Help of Christians: on September 8th, the Feast of Our Lady's Birth, plans were drawn for the battle. On September 12, Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, Vienna was freed by the intercession of Mary Help of Christians. All Europe joined with the Emperor seeking Mary's help and praying the Rosary.

In 1809, Napoleon's men entered the Vatican, arrested Pope Pius VII and brought him in chains to Grenoble, and eventually Fontainbleau. His imprisonment lasted five years. The Holy Father vowed to God that, if he were restored to the Roman See, he would institute a special Feast in honor of Our Lady. Military reverses forced Napoleon to release the Pope, and on May 24th 1814, Pius VII returned in triumph to Rome. Twelve months later, the Pope decreed that the Feast of Mary Help of Christians, be kept on the 24th of May. O Mary, the Church's spiritual pillar and Help of Christians, I beseech you to keep me firm in the Divine Faith, and safeguard in me, for ever more, the freedom and dignity of God's children.

Adapted excerpt from "Mary Help of Christians", the Catholic News Agency.

May 22, 2017

Pope St. Leo the Great on the Ascension of Christ

The Ascension of Christ

St. Leo the Great's 1st Homily on the Ascension of Our Lord

(Sermon 73, sec. IV)

Christ's ascension has given us greater privileges and joys than the devil had taken from us

Accordingly, dearly-beloved, throughout this time which elapsed between the Lord's Resurrection and Ascension, God's Providence had this in view, to teach and impress upon both the eyes and hearts of His own people that the Lord Jesus Christ might be acknowledged to have as truly risen, as He was truly born, suffered, and died. And hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at His death on the cross and backward in believing His Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy. And truly great and unspeakable was their cause for joy, when in the sight of the holy multitude, above the dignity of all heavenly creatures, the Nature of mankind went up, to pass above the angels' ranks and to rise beyond the archangels' heights, and to have Its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with the Eternal Father, It should be associated on the throne with His glory, to Whose Nature It was united in the Son. Since then Christ's Ascension is our uplifting, and the hope of the Body is raised, whither the glory of the Head has gone before, let us exult, dearly-beloved, with worthy joy and delight in the loyal paying of thanks. For today not only are we confirmed as possessors of paradise, but have also in Christ penetrated the heights of heaven, and have gained still greater things through Christ's unspeakable grace than we had lost through the devil's malice. For us, whom our virulent enemy had driven out from the bliss of our first abode, the Son of God has made members of Himself and placed at the right hand of the Father, with Whom He lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

Source. Translated by Charles Lett Feltoe. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

Ascension of Christ Icon

Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we who believe Thine only-begotten Son our Redeemer, to have ascended this day into heaven, may ourselves dwell in spirit amid heavenly things. Amen. (Roman Missal, 6th-8th Century.)

May 21, 2017

Ascension Sunday or Ascension Thursday?


This week we have published two homilies simultaneously for the seventh Sunday in Easter. While some dioceses celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord on Thursday, others do so on the Sunday following. Father Alexander Lucie-Smith, a Catholic priest, doctor of moral theology and consulting editor of The Catholic Herald, wrote a thought provoking article "Celebrating the Ascension on a Sunday is a sad sign of creeping secularisation in the Church" (2012), stating:
I have been away on retreat, staying in a strictly enclosed Benedictine monastery. On arrival I asked what was happening on the Thursday, and this is what I was told: 'Here we celebrate the Ascension on Thursday, by special permission. Celebrating it on Sunday would mean that the novena between Ascension and Pentecost would make no sense.'
Fr. Lucie-Smith acknowledges not considering this aspect of novena prayer before. He continues, "Given that Ascension is on a Thursday and the feast of Pentecost the Sunday after next, that means that there is a nine day gap between the two, and this nine day gap, traditionally the time when the Church waits in prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit, is the reason we keep novenas."

The ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia have retained the celebration of the Ascension on the proper Thursday, while all other provinces have transferred this solemnity to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 28. If moved Thursday is observed as an Easter Weekday.

St. Rita of Cascia, Religious, Patron of the Impossible

Saint Rita of Cascia

May 22nd, is the optional memorial of Saint Rita of Cascia. Most Catholics are familiar with Saint Jude as the patron saint of hopeless causes. What they might not know, however, is that there is another patron of the impossible, whose very life reflects faith in God despite difficult circumstances. She is St. Rita of Cascia.

Born in Italy in 1381, Rita expressed an interest in religious life at a very early age. In obedience to her parent’s wishes, she married at 18. The union was not a happy one. Her husband was a violent man, who passed his violent nature on to their twin sons. Rita did everything she could to be a model wife and mother. She was dedicated to converting her husband and sons, praying constantly for them.

After nearly 20 years of marriage, her husband was stabbed to death by an enemy and her two sons died shortly afterward. Alone, Rita decided to fulfill her lifelong wish to enter a religious order. Denied admittance three times because she was a widow, eventually the Augustinian nuns at Cascia would accept her.

One day, after hearing a sermon on the Passion of Christ, Rita returned to her cell. Kneeling before her crucifix, she implored: "Let me, my Jesus share in Thy suffering, at least of one of Thy thorns". Her prayer was miraculously answered, and she received a gash on her forehead. This was a mystical yet visible mark of Jesus’ wound from the crown of thorns, symbolizing her unity with Christ in his sufferings. Rita's religious life was marked by obedience and extreme penances. 

Upon Saint Rita's death, in 1457, her face became radiant, while a fragrant odor emanated from her wound. The sweet odor is evident to this day on her incorrupt body. Also, it was reported that after her passing, her cell was bathed in heavenly light, and the bell of the monastery rang by itself. Pope Leo XIII canonized her on the Feast of the Ascension, May 24, 1900. Bestow on us, we pray, O Lord, the wisdom and strength of the Cross, with which you were pleased to endow Saint Rita, so that, suffering in every tribulation with Christ, we may participate ever more deeply in his Paschal Mystery. Through Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 28, 2017, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

(In some dioceses the Solemnity of the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday. This homily is based on the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.)

The 12 Apostles
(Click here for today’s readings)

There is a saying you may have heard, which goes, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would they find enough evidence to convict you?” I don’t much like it, actually, because of its accusatory tone, but it certainly fits the context of today’s second reading from 1 Peter, which reflects a time when believers were in fact being punished for the crime of being Christians.

There are not a lot of reliable statistics about the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, but there is ample evidence of the fact. For example, Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor in what is now northern Turkey, wrote the following to the Emperor Trajan around the year 111 AD:

“In the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated them as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly.

Soon accusations spread... An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image..., and moreover cursed Christ—none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do—these I thought should be discharged.”

About 100 years later, a Christian named Tertullian wrote a defense of Christians which reflects the attitude of pagans toward them:

“Monsters of wickedness, we are accused of observing a holy rite in which we kill a little child and then eat it; in which, after the feast, we practice incest... [People consider] the Christians the cause of every public disaster, of every affliction with which the people are visited. If the Tiber rises as high as the city walls, if the Nile does not send its waters up over the fields, if the heavens give no rain, if there is an earthquake, if there is famine or pestilence, straightway the cry is, Away with the Christians to the lion!... [But] The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”

Returning to Pliny:

“[Those who had once been Christians] asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.”

And that is precisely the attitude of St. Peter. “But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.” In other words, suffer for being a Christian if you must, but please! never be arrested for a real crime. That would be a scandal and would only justify our accusers (as we know only too well in our time).

Martyrdom was the case with ten of the persons listed in the first reading. Of the Apostles, only John was not put to death.

The Gospel and the reading from Peter have a total of eight references to glory. This reminds me of another famous quotation from a martyr, St. Irenaeus, who died about the year 200, about 25 years before Tertullian. His most famous saying is usually given as “The glory of God is man fully alive,” but that translation is neither accurate nor complete. It actually reads: “The glory of God is a living man, but the life of man is the vision of God.”

The vision of God is not only the beatific vision we will enjoy in heaven. It is also and already the vision of faith that lights our path on earth. In that light we can accept being falsely accused, being mocked and stalked and talked about, while maintaining our Christian integrity and dignity. 

The “glory” we have been given is to be worthy of the name of Christian by being faithful to the name of Christ.

I close with one last quotation, adapted from Shakespeare:

"This above all: to thine own CHRISTIAN self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day,Thou canst not then be false to GOD OR any man."

Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, May 28, 2017, Year A

Ascension of Christ

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing


God the Father inaugurated His presence among us when Abraham responded to Him in faith. The Nativity of Our Lord inaugurated God the Son’s presence among us when God’s self-expression became flesh and was born among us as one of us. This Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven inaugurates the time of God the Holy Spirit’s presence among us. Jesus Christ ascension into heaven opens the door to the Holy Spirit’s dwelling within those who have been baptized into the Body of Christ.

Our Blessed Lord’s Ascension into heaven challenges us to see God in a new way. Christ’s ascension is not an ending, it’s a beginning. On the surface in appears that Christ’s Ascension is a departure, but actually it is not. Spirit-filled in His resurrection, Christ now comes to us in a new way – in His Holy Spirit.

It is a new beginning. Christ in His humanity is now taken to a new status, the highest of all states of being. Now at the right hand of the Father in the fullness of divinity, Christ comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit — particularly in His Sacraments. He will always be with us, He will never leave us.

The cycle has now come full circle. God has come to us in Christ; God has given Himself to us in Christ; God is now at work among us again, sweeping us up into Christ’s glorious, resurrected, and Spirit-filled humanity. Through Him, with Him, and in Him we are now in Christ’s ascended humanity returned back home to our Father. The scope of this panorama is stupendous, awe-inspiring, and really beyond human comprehension or mortal human words. It is Mystery in the full sense of the word mystery – mystery not in the sense of reading a “Who Done It?” novel, but mystery in the sense that we are gazing into a reality that far exceeds the scope of our ability to depict it or put into words.

To be honest with you, if I were standing in that group of apostles and disciples at Christ’s Ascension I would have been dismayed. I would have been quite intimidated. I would have thought: “Are we to lose Him again?” Timidity would have engulfed my heart and soul. But Pentecost would follow and my timidity would have been erased.

To confess the truth, at times I feel some timidity even now. Our Church in recent years has been racked by scandals. Some priests have abused our children and some bishops have not done their duty. Furthermore, in our highly secularized culture, Christianity is on the defensive. Additionally, as Americans we stand betrayed by our basic institutions, having in recent years faced betrayals from government officials in high office, corporate executives, and accounting firms that have not accounted. We have suffered betrayals from those in our legal and medical institutions, a divorce rate that seems to know no limits, and so on. Everywhere we turn we face losses of varying sorts and degrees of depth.

Will terrorism ever end? Is our economy truly recovering? Will there ever be an adequate supply of jobs? Will our sources of energy dry up? Will there ever be peace between Arab and Jew, Palestinian and Israeli? Will there be an even greater increase in prejudice and hostility toward believing Christians? These and other worrying factors eat away at our courage, our sense of well-being, and our hope for lives lived in peace. We have been intimidated — made fearful and timid.

It is into this sort of world that God sent His only ­begotten Son, not to condemn us but to save us. The post-resurrection message, repeated so often by Christ, is: “Fear not! I am with you. I am with you even to the end of the world.”

The infallible sign of His Presence among us is love. We can love even in a world such as ours. We do, in fact, love in a world such as ours. The power of God’s love is being made manifest among us. You are making that powerful presence felt in your lives and in the lives of those whom you cherish. You are making the presence of the resurrected and ascended Christ real in the lives of those around you.

If there is one sentence I want you to take home with you today it is this: Everything and everyone you love is being redeemed. Those whom you love are being redeemed not just by your love, but by Christ’s love within you that reaches them. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven is at work through you, with you, and in you. He has not left us orphans – He is here. Because of His ascension He is here!

To be sure I face intimidation, as do you. To be sure we all have our moments of being shy and even afraid. But soon, and very soon, Pentecost will burst upon us. God’s powerful and life-giving Holy Spirit will come roaring upon us like a mighty wind from the heights of heaven. The fires of your passions will be re-ignited. For we, you and I with you, have a fire in our bellies, the fire of God’s great and Holy Spirit.

And when He comes we will be enabled to throw off our timidity. We, filled with Christ’s gift of courage, will be able to go out in public and boldly live in the face of whatever challenges life and the people in it throw at us. For Christ Jesus, now at the right hand of our Father, is at work in us bringing order out of chaos, meaning out of absurdity, good out of evil, and life out of death.

The days of Pentecost and all of the days thereafter are at hand. We have a Savior who loves us, a glorious Redeemer who at the right hand of the Father intercedes for us, and the Spirit of God at work in us. By your faith, in your hope, and because of your love, all of the God’s gifts are at work in you, and our world has the promise of being made into a much better place. Because of the Ascension of Christ we are given the task of revealing God’s kingdom here on earth. Christ has established the kingdom. Ours is now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the task of revealing God’s kingdom in all that we say and do.

"Behold," declares God, "I make all things new."

2017 Pentecost Novena to the Holy Spirit Begins May 26th

Pentecost Sunday

May 26, 2017

Jesus told His disciples to pray together after His Ascension. During this time, Mary and the twelve Apostles prayed in the upper room for the coming of the Paraclete for nine days. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples as “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:1-4), man was restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of heaven, adopted as God's children and granted a share in Christ's grace. These nine days of prayer are the basis of the novenas we pray today.

Novena to the Holy Spirit Day 1

Today we pray for Charity

Let us bow down in humility at the power and grandeur of the Holy Spirit. Let us worship the Holy Trinity and give glory today to the Paraclete, our Advocate.

O Holy Spirit, by Your power, Christ was raised from the dead to save us all. By Your grace, miracles are performed in Jesus’ name. By Your love, we are protected from evil. And so, we ask with humility and a beggar’s heart for Your gift of Charity within us.

The great charity of all the host of Saints is only made possible by your power, O Divine Spirit. Increase in me, the virtue of charity that I may love as God loves with the selflessness of the Saints. Amen.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

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Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2017, Year A

Holy Spirit

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing


The readings of this Mass impel me to reflect with you upon two things which are interior within us, two things that are mysterious and can be known only in their expression. One is love and the other is the Holy Spirit. Both cannot be really known in themselves; both are made real for us in their activity, in their expression, in their external manifestations that we bring into our lives in our responses to God’s love for us.

As we all know so very well, talk is cheap and words are without meaning unless expressed in deeds. Love is not simply a nice feeling, a sentiment, or merely a warm emotion. Love becomes real in the decisions we make and in what we do. It is in its actions, actions that result from our choices, that love is realized.

Don’t get me wrong, the words of love are of extreme importance. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I love you.” In fact those three little words can be the most beautiful and powerful of all the words in a person’s life. It is vital for husbands to tell their wives that they love them. It is vital for wives to tell their husbands that they love them. It is vital for children to hear words of love from their moms and dads. But while the words are important the deeds are even more important, even of the essence.

And for friends, too. Friends should not be ashamed to openly declare their love for one another. When you’re told that you are loved a redemptive force is let loose inside you – a powerful force lifts you up out of feelings of depression, loneliness… feelings of being unappreciated and merely used. Probably more lives have been changed by those three little words than by all of the sermons ever preached.

Jesus did not discount the value of the verbal communication of love. He went beyond it. He knew that love is much more than mere words. In fact, He knew of love’s power to change the whole world, telling us even to love our enemies, and that if we truly did, the world would be radically changed. And then Jesus went on to prove it in the way He died for us, in the way He died to redeem our world, to buy it back from this world’s loveless miseries.

What a realist this Jesus is! We, however, are the ones who tend to make love unrealistic. We tend to make love into something soft, dreamy, and cheap, merely a feeling. If you think we don’t, then just take a look at what television does with love, and how Hollywood treats it. Jesus, on the other hand, defines love in terms that are strong, concrete, self-sacrificial, and very real. Love is action; love is a way of living; love is an attitude toward others that expresses God’s attitude toward others. And then Jesus went on to cry out: “The one who hears my words and keeps them is the one who loves me.” That’s how we know that we live and have our being in love.

The Holy Spirit, the Person of the Holy Trinity who is Love personified, acts internally within each one of us. The Holy Spirit is present within our hearts and souls, animating, vivifying, and inspiring us. We can never see the Holy Spirit as separate and apart — standing alone. The Holy Spirit lives and breathes within our souls. We see the Holy Spirit in our actions and in the actions of others.

The Bible assigns several different names to the Holy Spirit, identifying Him as the Consoler, the Advocate, the Sanctifier, and the Paraclete. As the bible presents Him, the Holy Spirit protects and defends us against our Ancient Enemy. He is our Advocate, the One who stands with us particularly when we feel worthless, useless, and of no value in God’s eyes. His consolations strengthen us when we feel weak, inadequate, and powerless.

The word “Paraclete” in Greek translates into English as “to be beside one”. The Holy Spirit stands beside us; He is our Advocate, our Counselor, and our Guide. Jesus bids us to look to the gifts of the Holy Spirit to work within us – Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, and Reverence for the Lord, Strength, and so forth. For us, He is the Empowering One given to us by the Risen Christ. The Evil One seeks to weaken us; the Holy Spirit strengthens us.

The Holy Spirit vivifies us and animates us, that is to say He enlivens us; He gives us a sharing in God’s life. He is beside us to defend us when we are depressed. When the sacraments of the devil beset us the Holy Spirit is our Advocate, our Counsel in order that we might defend ourselves.

And what are those sacraments of the devil? Well, they all begin with “d’s”, just as does the word devil. His sacraments (and there are seven of them) are doubt, disillusionment, discouragement, depression, defeat, despair and death. We need our Advocate, our Consoler, our Defender, our Paraclete, the “one called to be beside us” when we face doubt, disillusionment, discouragement, depression, defeat, despair and death, those works of the devil.

And just like love, we discern the Holy Spirit’s presence within us when we cause external things to happen – when we act and engage with the world around us. The Holy Spirit comes to us so that we in turn will stand beside others and console them with our deeds.

Love and the Holy Spirit – both cannot be known in and of themselves. Both are made present to us, made real for us. Both are realized in acts, in deeds, in things that are done. Both animate and vivify us, filling us with their special life. Both are expressions of God. God makes Himself real for us, expresses Himself, and becomes present to us in both love and in His Holy Spirit.

And so as we approach the Ascension of our Lord and the great Solemnity of Pentecost we should look to God with expectant faith while seeking for His great gift to us — the sending of His Holy Spirit into us, that same Spirit who raised the humanity of Jesus Christ from the dead and who can, if we respond to God, raise up ours also and the world around us.

May 19, 2017

St. Bernardine of Siena on the Mother of God

Saint Bernardine of Siena
You must know that when you 'hail' Mary, she immediately greets you! Don't think that she is one of those rude women of whom there are so many-on the contrary, she is utterly courteous and pleasant. If you greet her, she will answer you right away and converse with you!
— St. Bernardine of Siena  
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Prayer for St. Bernardine of Siena's Intercession

Almighty ever-living God, who gave the Priest Saint Bernardine of Siena a great love for the holy Name of Jesus, grant through his merits and intercession, that we may be set aflame with love for you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, and with the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen.

St. Bernardine of Siena, the Apostle of Italy

Saint Bernardine of Siena

On May 20th, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of Saint Bernardine of Siena. If Bernardine were alive today, there is no doubt that he would be a media sensation. Renowned as one of the most influential preachers of his time, he was even compared to St. Paul by Pope Pius II for both his zeal and the charismatic nature of his words. Though not without his detractors, who would themselves be silenced by Pope Martin V, Bernardine became known as the "Apostle of Italy."

Bernardine was born in the region of Siena, Italy, in 1380, and was orphaned at an early age. He was raised by pious aunts and, by all accounts, led a blameless youth. In 1400, when Bernardine was 20, the plague was at its most terrible in Siena, carrying off almost two dozen people a day. Rather than flee from the contagion, Bernardine and some of his friends instead offered to tend to the sick and dying at the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala. The young man threw himself heart and soul into the work for four months, after which he collapsed from extreme exhaustion. It took several months for him to recover his strength.

Once Bernardine was well, he went back to caring for the sick. This time it was his beloved aunt that he tended for a year. Upon her death, Bernardine began to seriously search out God’s will for his life. His prayerful discernment led him to enter the Franciscan Order at the age of 22. He was ordained two years later.

It would be almost 12 years before the world would hear from Bernardine again. Although the Franciscans were a preaching order, the young man’s voice was so weak and hoarse that he instead retreated into a life of study and prayer. It wasn’t until he was sent on a mission to Milan around 1416 that a miracle seemed to have taken place. Not only was his voice strong and resounding, but his message was a powerful one of both repentance and God’s mercy. Bernardine began to travel — on foot — all over Italy, preaching to large, enthusiastic crowds. It was said that conversions in the hundreds followed in his wake.

Bernardine was especially dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus, and he devised a devotional image that is still seen in churches today. It consists of three Gothic letters, IHS, (the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek) superimposed on a blazing sun. The devotion to the Holy Name and its representation spread in popularity, replacing many of the superstitious symbols that were prevalent in Bernardine’s time. There is even a story about a merchant who made his living painting playing cards, who complained that Bernardine’s preaching against gambling was ruining his business. The saint suggested that he begin painting the IHS symbol instead. The merchant did this, and was so overrun with orders that he soon became a wealthy man.

Not everyone was pleased by Bernardine’s innovation. There were three separate attempts to silence him and declare the symbol heretical. Each time the saint’s detractors were themselves found to be in error. The pope was so impressed with Bernardine that he was invited to Rome to preach and display the Holy Name.

Bernardine refused a bishopric, but could not refuse being made vicar general of the Franciscan Friars of the Strict Observance. With his characteristic energy and enthusiasm, he increased the number of community members from 300 to 4,000 and insisted on scholarship, especially in the fields of theology and canon law.

Bernardine died of natural causes in 1444, while traveling and preaching. He is the patron of advertising and public relations. O God, who gave the Priest Saint Bernardine of Siena a great love for the holy Name of Jesus, grant through his merits, prayers and intercession, that we may ever be set aflame with the spirit of your love. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.