February 22, 2017

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp

"When the pyre was ready, Polycarp took off all his clothes and loosened his under-garment. He made an effort also to remove his shoes, though he had been unaccustomed to this, for the faithful always vied with each other in their haste to touch his body. Even before his martyrdom he had received every mark of honor in tribute to his holiness of life.

There and then he was surrounded by the material for the pyre. When they tried to fasten him also with nails, he said: 'Leave me as I am. The one who gives me strength to endure the fire will also give me strength to stay quite still on the pyre, even without the precaution of your nails.' So they did not fix him to the pyre with nails but only fastened him instead. Bound as he was, with hands behind his back, he stood like a mighty ram, chosen out for sacrifice from a great flock, a worthy victim made ready to be offered to God.

Looking up to heaven, he said: 'Lord, almighty God, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to the knowledge of yourself, God of angels, of powers, of all creation, of all the race of saints who live in your sight, I bless you for judging me worthy of this day, this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ, your anointed one, and so rise again to eternal life in soul and body, immortal through the power of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among the martyrs in your presence today as a rich and pleasing sacrifice. God of truth, stranger to falsehood, you have prepared this and revealed it to me and now you have fulfilled your promise.

'I praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal priest of heaven, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through him be glory to you, together with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.'

When he had said 'Amen' and finished the prayer, the officials at the pyre lit it. But, when a great flame burst out, those of us privileged to see it witnessed a strange and wonderful thing. Indeed, we have been spared in order to tell the story to others. Like a ship’s sail swelling in the wind, the flame became as it were a dome encircling the martyr’s body. Surrounded by the fire, his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace, not like flesh that has been burnt. So sweet a fragrance came to us that it was like that of burning incense or some other costly and sweet-smelling gum."

Excerpt from the Divine Office of Readings for the Feast of Saint Polycarp, February 23, "The martyrdom of Saint Polycarp by the Church of Smyrna".

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop and Martyr

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna
February 23th, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of Saint Polycarp (69 AD – 155 AD), the 1st century bishop, martyr and renowned Apostolic Father. Polycarp was widely venerated largely through the accounts of his heroic martyrdom as recorded by the Church in Smyrna. Tradition holds he was born a pagan before being befriended by Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist who catechized Polycarp in the Faith. As Bishop of Smyrna, (a city in Turkey) Polycarp defended orthodoxy and was a staunch opponent of heresy, most notably the Gnostic sects of Marcionism and Valentinianism.

He is honored in both the Eastern and Western Church as one of the three chief Apostolic Fathers (together with Saint Clement of Rome and Saint Ignatius of Antioch). His pupil Saint Irenaeus of Lyons praised his personal holiness and great devotion to God. Some scholars contend that Polycarp may have been responsible for compiling, editing and publishing the New Testament. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that his influence on the development of the early Church was unrivalled and profound.

Polycarp wrote several epistles to various Christian communities in his capacity as bishop. The only surviving letter, his letter to the Philippians, he reminded that Church not to submit their faith to the "gnostic" preachers whose claim was to present a more intellectually sophisticated gospel. Polycarp wrote, citing St. John:
For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist, and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan. Let us therefore, without ceasing, hold fast by our hope and by the pledge of our righteousness.... Jesus Christ, who took up our sins in His own body upon the cross, for our sakes, endured all things – so that we might live in Him.
At the age of 86, in the seventieth year of his episcopate, Polycarp was revered as a holy and wise man. During a wave of Christian persecution the future saint gave his courageous final testimony. The Martyrology recounts the events thusly:

"At Smyrna, the death of St. Polycarp. He was a disciple of the holy apostle John, who consecrated him bishop of that city; and there he acted as the primate of all Asia Minor. Later, under Marcus Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, he was brought before the tribunal of the proconsul; and when all the people in the amphitheater cried out against him, he was handed over to be burned to death. But since the fire caused him no harm, he was put to death by the sword. Thus he gained the crown of martyrdom. With him, twelve other Christians, who came from Philadelphia, met death by martyrdom in the same city."

Saint Polycarp could have saved his life, but he refused to renounces his faith in Christ. May we have the courage to live lives of heroic virtue, whether in times of societal persecution, in the face of intimidation or when fighting our own personal weakness. Loving God of all creation, who were pleased to give the Bishop Saint Polycarp a place in the company of the Martyrs, grant, through his intercession, that sharing with him in the chalice of Christ, we may rise through the Holy Spirit to eternal life. We ask this 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.

Homily for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017, Year A

The Sermon on the Mount
Detail, The Sermon on the Mount, William Brassey Hole, c. 1900.

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Today’s scripture readings provoke the question: What kind of God is God? Who among us has not pondered the answer to that question? What do we expect God to do for us? As revealing as the answer may be, a further question arises: What does God expect of us? More often than not we don’t want to even begin to answer that one. Nevertheless in moments when we do take time to reflect on life’s bigger questions we ought to face it. Where do we place our trust — in God or in material comforts and success? To what or to whom do I give my heart? Jesus who well knows the human heart clearly warns us that where our treasure is, there we will know what is in our hearts.

The danger to our hearts and to our eternal life with God in heaven lies in our ensnarement in the values of this world –power, wealth, fame, and the glitter of this world’s treasures, treasures that are by no means safe and secure in our hands. Setting our hearts on them means that we are not setting our hearts to what is truly lasting and of great value. Setting our hearts on them means that we give scant attention to God’s love for us, a love which God expresses in today’s first reading: Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will never forget you.

I am frequently puzzled by preachers who project God as vengeful, full of anger, wrath, and ever ready to punish us at any opportunity. I have come to recognize that we can find whatever version of God that we want to find in the Bible. Moreover I realize that much of the vengeance that can be found in those preachments is the result of human manipulation for political and selfish purposes. Look around you, watch the news, read the newspapers, pay attention to advertising– you need little more confirmation of my observation than this. The result is that all kinds of people use God as an excuse for doing the very things that Jesus taught us we should not do. But the sad fact remains that the average person is more motivated by fear than by love. Ask yourself this question: “How many bad decisions have I made because they were grounded in fear and not in love?”

God is a God of justice and justice requires a certain restoration in which we suffer the consequences of our actions. Crimes ought not to go unpunished. But restorative justice is not vengeful. Usually sins bring with them their own punishment. But vengeance? I am reminded of one occasion when Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem and was rejected by the citizens of a Samaritan town. St. Luke reports it as follows:
When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9: 51-55)
When you stop and consider it, the punishment of those Samaritans was that they denied themselves of the healing and loving presence of God in Christ. While His disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven upon them, Jesus would have none of it. Their punishment did not have vengeance on top of it. Our Blessed Lord did not come down from heaven to reveal a vengeful God.

We need to see that God’s chastisements are designed to bring us to repentance and a return to union with Him. An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth is an expression that was found in cultures surrounding the Jews. Retribution is not in God’s thinking. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is clearly not found in the heart of Jesus. He is interested, very interested, in finding that we treasure His love in our hearts and that we are willing to forego the attractions of this world in order to secure that “pearl of great price.” Repentance and reconciliation are many times necessary for us in order to return to union with God in our hearts and souls. When it comes to repenting we need not fear. His heart calls to our heart. Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I, God declares, will never forget you.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Jesus tells us. This teaching ought to give us pause and prompt us to do some serious reflecting. If our hearts are filled with worldly visions and values we put our souls, our inner selves, into mortal danger, the danger of ignoring what God offers us, namely eternal life with Him in heaven. God brought us into being, into a life that has purpose. We are purpose-made to live in happiness with God forever in heaven. Whether or not we will live in heaven with God in eternal happiness depends on the choices we make here in this life. It is of the greatest importance, then, to see that God is not a wrathful and vengeful God; rather we need to see and understand that God is friendly, and wants us to be happy. He did not make us for His wrath, He made us for His love.

We have choices to make, choices that bring with them enormous and everlasting consequences. Satan is busily at work trying to convince us that we are unworthy and that in our unworthiness a God of vengeance is going to strike us down, so why bother with God at all? We face problems, sometimes problems that seem to be unbearable. Satan busily tries to convince us that God simply doesn’t care, that He’s not a friendly God, that He’s a punishing God, and that religion is therefore useless nonsense.

I do not believe that God intended for us to live in fear. Jesus taught us over and over to allow love and compassion to guide our every move. This fundamental message from the Bible is reinforced by the beauty in the world and in the universe around us. I believe that God intends for us to live hope-filled lives of joy, and to share that hope and joy with as many people as possible.

There are moments when we all experience God’s goodness in His creation, in the heavens above, in the great and majestic mountains, in beautiful lakes, on rivers, and in forests. There are moments when we experience the glories of nature crying out and pointing to the glorious and beautiful goodness of God. Jesus calls us to see that when He cries out: Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow without doing any work, and without running around in circles, yet I tell you that even King Solomon in all of his glory was never dressed as beautifully as these flowers.” 

In few weeks from now we will be surrounded by Easter Lilies in celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead. How appropriate that we should remember to stop worrying! These beautiful flowers, along with all of the budding, blooming creation of spring, are evidence that God is friendly and he wants us to be happy. So be happy. Repent, convert, turn away from the miseries of sin, and set yourself on the path to real happiness.

There are treasures in heaven, treasures beyond anything we can imagine or value. How foolish to live life here without ensuring that we will die in God’s good graces and in His loving embrace. The attraction of things here below ought not so capture our souls that we give no attention or thought to what awaits us in the next life. The worldly are wrong because all their decisions are based on what pleases us only in this life. They are wrong because they sell short the reason we have life in the first place, and the goal we have in living as God would have us live. Their vision is totally focused on the things here below, things that are quickly passing. Their vision blinds us to the things that await us if we respond to God’s invitation to live in love with Him now so what we can be happy forever living with Him in heaven.

No man can devote himself to two masters. We must not love the things of this world to the exclusion of the love of God. St. Augustine observed that we are, each one of us, filled with longings, yearnings, and a deep-seated hunger. Said he: “O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”

So, then, in your heart of hearts, what are you seeking?

February 21, 2017

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

Cathedra Petri
The Cathedra Petri (Chair of Peter) in the apse of Saint Peter's Basilica.

On February 22nd, the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter during which we remember the papacy and Saint Peter as the first bishop of Rome. This feast recalls Christ giving Peter the special mission of teacher and pastor, an office that has continued across time to the present Pope, Francis. We acknowledge the unity of the Church, founded upon the Apostle Peter, and renew our faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, extended both to truths defined ex cathedra, and to all the decrees of the ordinary Magisterium.

In Caesarea Philippi, following Peter's profession of faith that Jesus was the Messiah, [Matthew 16: 13-20] Christ declares to Peter:
[Y]ou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Upon our Lord's solemn words, since early times, the Roman Church has held a special commemoration of the primatial authority of St. Peter. As witness one of the most renowned of the Apostolic Fathers, the Roman See has always held a peculiar place in the affection and obedience of orthodox believers because of its "presiding in love" and abiding fidelity and service over all the Churches of God.

"We shall find in the Gospel that Jesus Christ, willing to begin the mystery of unity in His Church, among all His disciples chose twelve; but that, willing to consummate the mystery of unity in the same Church, among the twelve He chose one. He called His disciples, said the Gospel; here are all; and among them He chose twelve. Here is the first separation, and the Apostles chosen. And these are the names of the twelve Apostles: the first, Simon, who is called Peter. [Mt. 10, 1-2] Here, in a second separation, St. Peter is set at the head, and called for that reason by the name of Peter, 'which Jesus Christ,' says St. Mark, 'had given him,' in order to prepare, as you will see, the work which He was proposing to raise all His building on that stone" (Jacques Bossuet, The See of St. Peter).

Pope Benedict explains the spiritual significance of the feast for the Church.
This is a very ancient tradition, proven to have existed in Rome since the fourth century. On it we give thanks to God for the mission he entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his Successors.
"Cathedra" literally means the established seat of the Bishop, placed in the mother church of a diocese which for this reason is known as a "cathedral"; it is the symbol of the Bishop's authority and in particular, of his "magisterium", that is, the evangelical teaching which, as a successor of the Apostles, he is called to safeguard and to transmit to the Christian Community ....

The See of Rome, after St Peter's travels, thus came to be recognized as the See of the Successor of Peter, and its Bishop's "cathedra" represented the mission entrusted to him by Christ to tend his entire flock ...
(Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Feb. 22, 2006).
Today's first reading (1 Peter 5:1–4) is from Peter himself. He enjoins both the Church's ordained ministers, and us, to: "Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock." May we tend God's flock in imitation of Christ and in union with the Holy Father and our brothers and sisters in the Church on earth. Grant, we pray, almighty God, that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast on the rock of the Apostle Peter's confession of faith. 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.

Saint Peter Damian — His Wisdom in 12 Quotations

Saint Peter Damian

Saint Peter Damian was an 11th century reformer Benedictine monk, cardinal and scholar who advised Pope Leo IX. He was prayerfully pious and strident in his defense of orthodoxy. He observed that "when you spurn this life and its wisdom, you may deserve by happy exchange to be filled with the divine Spirit, who will urge you on to eternal glory." Here is a selection of his wisdom in 12 quotes.

Through a woman [Eve] a curse fell upon the earth; through a woman [Mary] as well there returned to the earth a blessing.
I scourge both flesh and spirit because I know that I have offended in both flesh and spirit.
And what more should I say since it expels the whole host of the virtues from the chamber of the human heart and introduces every barbarous vice as if the bolts of the doors were pulled out.
Truly, this vice is never to be compared with any other vice because it surpasses the enormity of all vices.... It defiles everything, stains everything, pollutes everything. And as for itself, it permits nothing pure, nothing clean, nothing other than filth...
For the wisdom of the flesh brings death, but that of the spirit brings life and peace, since the wisdom of the flesh is the enemy of God; it is not subject to God's law, nor can it be. And since the wisdom of the flesh is unable to bear the yoke of God's law, it cannot look upon it either, for its eyes are clouded with the smoke of pride.
We hold our tongues in check because if they are undisciplined they empty the soul of the strength of heavenly grace, and weaken its healthful vigour.
The best penance is to have patience with the sorrows God permits. A very good penance is to dedicate oneself to fulfill the duties of everyday with exactitude and to study and work with all our strength.
He pours light into our minds, arouses our desire and gives us strength... As the soul is the life of the body, so the Holy Spirit is the life of our souls.
Do not be depressed. Do not let your weakness make you impatient. Instead, let the serenity of your spirit shine through your face. Let the joy of your mind burst forth from your lips.
Nobody can fight properly and boldly for the faith if he clings to a fear of being stripped of earthly possessions.
By what right or by what law can one bind or loose the other when he is constrained by the bonds of evil deeds common to them both?
It is not sinners, but the wicked who should despair; it is not the magnitude of one’s crime, but contempt of God that dashes one’s hopes.
Saint Peter Damian, Holy Bishop and Doctor of the Church, pray for us!

The Holy Father's Prayer Intentions for March 2017

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

Support for Persecuted Christians.

That persecuted Christians may be supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church.

Beginning in 2017, the Pope will present one prepared prayer intention per month, rather than two. Should an urgent need arise, an additional intention may be added.

February 20, 2017

St. Peter Damian Concerning True Happiness & Wisdom

Saint Peter Damian

The following commentary is excerpted from The Fifty-Eighth Treatise of Saint Peter Damian entitled: Concerning True Happiness and Wisdom, Chapter 6.

"And so, beloved, if you cannot yet be content with the life of the spirit alone as your only bride, but are held bound by the evil caresses and allurements of life in the world, at least let the love of everlasting life hold first place in the household of your heart, as befits the first-born; and let concern for earthly things be in a place of subjection, as an inferior to be kept in check. In the Song of Songs [Chapter 2:6] it is said: 'His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.' Now the left hand is said to be under the head when this life is scorned and despised by the mind, which is the head and source of our thoughts.

He is held in the embrace of the right hand who at all times takes pleasure in longing for eternal life alone. And because Solomon also says: 'Give a portion to seven and also to eight', [Ecclesiastes, Chapter 11:2] hasten forward in this life, which is signified by the number seven, in suchwise that you may now strive with all your powers to abide in the love of life everlasting, which through the number eight signifies the glory of the Resurrection. Show only a careless and fleeting concern for this world; fix your unwavering and enduring purpose of unfailing love on the world to come, which is everlasting.

Moreover, I would like to remind you that what I have said of this mortal life applies also to the wisdom of the world, so that in your soul mortal life and earthly wisdom may yield, trodden down, as it were by the heel of the mind. But may the love of eternal life and zeal for spiritual wisdom surpass all other things, set on the highest pinnacle of your heart, so that when you spurn this life and its wisdom, you may deserve by happy exchange to be filled with the divine Spirit, who will urge you on to eternal glory. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Pope Pius XI on Eucharistic Adoration

Pope Pius XI

An earlier post included this quote from Pope Pius XI in part. Below are the Holy Father's words in their entirety. As Pius XI notes, the Eucharist abounds in grace.

"When Christ manifested Himself to Margaret Mary, and declared to her the infinitude of His love, at the same time, in the manner of a mourner, He complained that so many and such great injuries were done to Him by ungrateful men — and we would that these words in which He made this complaint were fixed in the minds of the faithful, and were never blotted out by oblivion: 'Behold this Heart' — He said — 'which has loved men so much and has loaded them with all benefits, and for this boundless love has had no return but neglect, and contumely, and this often from those who were bound by a debt and duty of more special love.' In order that these faults might be washed away, He then recommended several things to be done, and in particular the following as most pleasing to Himself, namely that men should approach the Altar with this purpose of expiating sin, making what is called a Communion of Reparation — and that they should likewise make expiatory supplications and prayers, prolonged for a whole hour — which is rightly called the 'Holy Hour.' These pious exercises have been approved by the Church and have also been enriched with copious indulgences."

— Pope Pius XI 

Optional Memorial of Saint Peter Damian, Reformer

St. Peter Damian
On February 21st, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of Saint Peter Damian (1007-72), the reforming bishop and cardinal who lived as an ascetic hermit, scholar and advisor to popes. Although the austerities that St. Peter Damian undertook during his life in the 11th century may seem extreme to us in the 21st, they nonetheless prepared him to be one of the great reformers of the Church in an era when it took great holiness and strength of character to prevail against the status quo.

He was born in the city of Ravenna, Italy, in the year 1007, and lost both his parents while still a young boy. He was brought in by an older brother who, unfortunately, treated him more like a slave in his household than a member of the family. Fortunately, Peter's brother, the arch-priest of Ravenna, took pity on him and took him into his own household. There, he made sure his younger sibling attended good schools, and Peter, who proved to be an apt student, would became a professor of tremendous renown.

But he realized that this was not the life he was created for. Even as a young man, he began to practice severe austerities, wearing a hair shirt while fasting and praying almost constantly. After meeting two Benedictines of the reform of St. Romuald at Fonte Avellana, Peter left teaching and went to live with the brothers in a hermitage. There, he overdid his asceticism to the point where he suffered greatly from insomnia, which he overcame with difficulty. After that, he became more prudent in caring for his health and physical well-being.

By the 1040s, Peter (who had taken his second brother’s name, Damian, as his surname) was gaining renown in the Church as both a leader and a great reformer. He was so respected by the brothers he lived with that they decided by acclaim that he should become abbot upon the death of their present spiritual leader. Always one who preferred a life of solitude and prayer, Peter refused until the abbot himself made it a matter of obedience. Thus, in 1043, Peter succeeded to the leadership of his community and went on to found five other hermitages in Italy. In all of them, he urged the brothers to a life of solitude and prayer.

But such solitude was to elude Peter himself. The Holy See often called upon him to mediate conflicts between religious and religious communities and, in 1057, Pope Stephen IX appointed him cardinal-bishop of Ostia, an area southwest of Rome. Peter accepted the post with great reluctance, but used it to continue and intensify his mission of reform. He targeted specifically the practice of simony, in which clergy would charge money in return for spiritual services. He also insisted on the practice of clerical celibacy, and urged diocesan priests to live together in order to promote a deeper prayer life and religious observance. It was his desire to "restore a primitive discipline" that was lacking in the priests of his time. Known for the vehemence of his teaching, it was said of him that "his genius was to exhort and impel to the heroic, to praise striking achievements and to record edifying examples... an extraordinary force burns in all that he wrote."

And yet, Peter’s desire was always to live the life of a simple monk, a wish that was finally granted by Pope Alexander II who nevertheless reserved the right to call on him from time to time to settle disputes for the Holy See. It was while returning from one of these missions in 1072 in the city of Ravenna that he contracted the fever that would kill him eight days later, surrounded by monks praying the Divine Office.

Saint Peter Damian was pronounced a Doctor of the Church in 1828 by Pope Leo XII. In his poem, the Divine Comedy, Dante places Damian in the "Seventh Heaven," the place where the holiest saints contemplate God. All-powerful God, help us to follow the teachings and example of Peter Damian. By making Christ and the service of His Church the first love of our lives, may we come to the joys of eternal light. We ask this 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.

February 19, 2017

Feast of Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto

Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto

February 20th, dioceses in Portugal celebrate the feast of Blesseds Francisco, 11, and Jacinta, 10, the youngest non-martyrs to be beatified in the Church's history. The brother and sister, who tended their families’ sheep herds together with their cousin Lucia Santo in Fatima, Portugal, witnessed apparitions of Mary, known as Our Lady of Fatima. Our Lady urged man to pray the rosary and to return to God.

Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three children, Portuguese shepherds from Aljustrel, received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. At that time, Europe was involved in an extremely bloody war. Portugal itself was in political turmoil, having overthrown its monarchy in 1910; the government disbanded religious organizations soon after.

At the first appearance, Mary asked the children to return to that spot on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months. She also asked them to learn to read and write and to pray the rosary “to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” They were to pray for sinners and for the conversion of Russia, which had recently overthrown Czar Nicholas II and was soon to fall under communism. 90,000 people gathered for the final apparition, October 13, 1917.

Less than two years later, Francisco died of influenza in his family home. He was buried in the parish cemetery and then re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1952. Jacinta died of influenza in Lisbon, offering her suffering for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world and the Holy Father. She was re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1951. Their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, became a Carmelite nun and was still living when Jacinta and Francisco were beatified in 2000. Sr. Lucia died in 2005. The shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is visited by 20 million people a year.

O God who granted these two shepherd children the grace to become little burning bushes on fire with love for the Holy Father and for sinners, and burning with love for Our Lady and the “hidden” Jesus, grant that we, too, may be like Francisco and Jacinta, so that we, too, may burn with the same love and, with them, all meet together again in Heaven around Our Lady in adoration of the Blessed Trinity. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

Adapted from Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feasts, Leonard Foley, O.F.M.

Popes of the Twentieth Century on the Real Presence

Pope Pius XI, Pope Paul VI, Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. Pius X
Clockwise from L to R: Pope Pius XI, Pope Paul VI,
Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. Pius X.

The Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. If not for the Incarnation, there could be no Eucharist. In the words of Servant of God Father John Hardon: "We are to believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ - simply, without qualification. It is God become man in the fullness of His divine nature, in the fullness of His human nature, in the fullness of His body and soul, in the fullness of everything that makes Jesus Jesus. He is in the Eucharist with His human mind and will united with the Divinity… That is what our Catholic Faith demands of us… If we believe this, we are Catholic. If we do not, we are not, no matter what people may think we are." Below are quotes on the Most Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our Faith, from 20th century pontiffs.

The faith of the Church is this: That one and identical is the Word of God and the Son of Mary Who suffered on the Cross, Who is present in the Eucharist, and Who rules in Heaven.
— Pope Pius XII
From the Eucharist comes strength to live the Christian life and zeal to share that life with others.
— Pope St. John Paul II
Once for all beloved children, the surest, easiest, shortest way is by the Eucharist. It is so easy to approach the holy table, and there we taste the joys of Paradise.
— Pope St. Pius X
The surest, easiest, shortest way [to heaven] is the Eucharist.
— Pope St. Pius X
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.
— Pope St. John Paul II
Just as the divine Redeemer, dying on the Cross, offered Himself as Head of the whole human race to the eternal Father, so also in this "clean oblation" (Mal 1:2), He, as Head of the Church, offers not only Himself but, in Himself, all His mystical members.
In this manner [Eucharistic adoration] the faithful testify to and solemnly make evident the Faith of the Church according to which the Word of God and the Son of the Virgin Mary who suffered on the Cross, who lies present hidden in the Eucharist, and who reigns in heaven are believed to be identical.
— Pope Pius XII
Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the Living Heart of each of our parishes.
— Pope Paul VI
To keep me from sin and straying from Him, God has used devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. My life vows destined to be spent in the light irradiating from the tabernacle, and it is to the Heart of Jesus that I dare go for the solution of all my problems.
— Pope St. John XXIII
The Eucharist is source and pledge of blessedness and glory, not for the soul alone, but for the body also.... In the frail and perishable body that divine Host, which is the immortal body of Christ, implants a principle of resurrection, a seed of immortality, which one day must germinate,"
— Pope Leo XIII
When Christ manifested Himself to Margaret Mary, and declared to her the infinitude of His love, at the same time, in the manner of a mourner, He complained that so many and such great injuries were done to Him by ungrateful men — and we would that these words in which He made this complaint were fixed in the minds of the faithful, and were never blotted out by oblivion: "Behold this Heart" — He said — "which has loved men so much and has loaded them with all benefits, and for this boundless love has had no return but neglect, and contumely, and this often from those who were bound by a debt and duty of more special love." 
— Pope Pius XI

Reflection on Matthew 6:24-34, "You cannot serve God and mammon…"

Jesus preaching

The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017

By Father Bernard Bourgeois

Leviticus 19:1, 2, 17, 18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 6:24-34

Originally published in 2011

As I sit to write this column, it is New Year’s Day. What will this year bring? Like everyone who is reading this column, I am a natural worrier. I spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things over which I have little if any control. As a Catholic high school principal, I worry about budgets, enrollment, staffing, strategic planning, and a host of other issues that at times overwhelm me. You who are reading this column can make your own list of issues that worry you. I am sure that primary among your concerns would be employment, the economy, your children and their needs and decisions, and whatever else. Before reading further, it might be helpful to take a moment and write a list of the things that worry you the most.

In the Gospel for this Sunday (Mt 6:24-34), Jesus teaches the following: “You cannot serve God and mammon… . Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you wear… . Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” Wow! What an extraordinary statement! Jesus does not want his followers to worry about tomorrow’s needs, or what they will eat or wear in the future. Jesus makes this a condition of discipleship. Why? The first statement of the quote from Matthew says it all: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” “Mammon” is an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property, and signifies a choice that is not of God, but one driven by greed and avarice.

Jesus knows human nature so well. He knows that the human person can only concentrate on one thing at once. I do not think Jesus would have agreed with the modern notion that multitasking is a virtue! Jesus wants his people to concentrate on what matters most. Look beyond the day-to-day concerns of food and clothing and see the bigger picture, says Jesus in the Gospels. He advises his followers to focus their attention on God, the creator and sustainer of all that is. Food and clothing pale in comparison to the love of God shown through Jesus Christ.

Fully concentrating on day-to-day living issues can lead one away from God. If food, clothing, and shelter become the priority, the person will never have enough or be satisfied with what he or she has right now. In the consumer society in which we live today, there is always the temptation for bigger, more expensive, the latest fashion or technology, and the most popular. Any of these whims could change tomorrow, and the cycle begins anew. This is why Jesus says the person cannot serve both God and mammon! Serving mammon will take one’s full undivided attention and all of one’s resources.

Instead, Jesus wants his followers to focus on God and his call to a life based in him and his teachings. These are the things that are permanent! Food, clothing, and shelter are all perishable in the end. What is not perishable is one’s relationship with God. It takes a certain maturity in faith to look beyond the perishable and concentrate solely on God. For the person who does, life takes on new meaning. The latest whims of the market take on less priority. Learning to live with what one has becomes easier and one has the ability to live well with less.

It is only in prayer that this attitude toward worldly things can be achieved. Food, clothing, and shelter take on less importance in the face of prayer and of being in the presence of God. One realizes rather quickly that those things don’t matter as much, and more importantly, if one makes a conscious decision to spend more time with God, the rest takes care of itself. At the realization that all things come from God, the person becomes very satisfied with what is, and does not look to the latest fashion or whim. The list of worries begins to shrink because the disciple believes the list is in God’s hands, and that in his time all concerns and issues will be remedied. It is the goal of every follower of Jesus Christ to set his or her sights on him alone, and allow him to direct, guide, and supply his followers with all they need in this life and, most importantly, with life eternal.

Homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017, Year A

Christ Reproving the Pharisees
Christ Reproving the Pharisees, James Tissot, c. 1890.

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

When we give someone a gift at Christmas, or at a birthday party or anniversary event, we call it a present. Why? Because you are close to that person, that friend, that loved one. Your presence is contained within your gift, your present.

When you twitter someone with a tweet, or e-mail that person, you are present to them. When you send someone a hand-written letter you are more personally present than you are when you tweet them. I suppose that’s because sending a letter in your own handwriting requires more effort than reaching you friend or loved one with a few electronic bytes. Isn’t a handwritten letter more personal than an electronic note?

Also, there are types of closeness. Think, for instance, of the differences between shaking hands, holding hands, and kissing someone. The qualities of closeness and of presence differ. The more personal the presence the better is our relationship with another. Enjoying the presence of another, enjoying the presence of someone we want to be our friend, or someone we want to love us is one of the greatest treasures of our lives.

But presence involves listening. Do you listen with just your ears or do you listen and hear with your heart? When you are listening to someone with your heart you are paying them deep attention. The quality of your presence is higher when you are more empathetic than simply sympathetic.

Hearts speak to hearts and that is particularly so when it comes to you and God.

All of which leads me to turn our attention now to asking the question: How is God present to you? How do you expect God to be present to you? Do you expect God to be present to you by actually believing that He cares for you, that He loves you and wants to be with you? Do we pray our prayers with our words, or do we pray our prayers personally with our hearts? It’s one thing to recite prayers, it’s quite another to pray with our hearts, to pray in the presence of God while conscious of the fact that He cares.

The big problem you and I face in the world we live in today is that our lives are filled with busyness, things, and clutter amidst a lot of noise. Since that is so, where do you look for God… where do you expect to be aware of His presence with you and His love for you? The world around us does not care very much about God, if at all. In fact there are many voices that tell to keep God out of our lives. Paying attention to God is not in favor these days and yet God is present to the souls He has created even though they don’t realize it.

Today’s scripture passages are all about the proposition that God loves you with a love beyond anything that you can comprehend. He loves you with an everlasting love that knows no limits. He loves you with a love so deep that you will never understand it.

You might ask, “How so we know that?” Take some time to gaze at a crucifix and you will have your answer. Moreover, God is present to you in a Holy Communion that you will never fully comprehend.

Today’s scripture readings provoke another question: What kind of God is God? Who among us has not searched for the answer to that question? What do we expect God to do for us? As revealing as the answer may be, a related question arises: What does God expect of us? More often than not we don’t want to even begin to answer that one. Nevertheless in moments when we do take time to reflect on life’s bigger questions we ought to face it. Where do we place our trust — in God or in material comforts and success? To what or to whom do I give my heart? Jesus who well knows the human heart and He clearly warns us that where our treasure is, there we will know what is in our hearts.

If, however, we wish to have a relationship with God then we must address the fundamental questions in all human relationships: What do we look for in each other and what do we expect of each other?

The danger to our hearts and to our eternal life with God in heaven lies in our ensnarement in the values of this world –power, wealth, fame, pleasures, and the glitter of this world’s treasures, treasures that are by no means safe and secure in our hands. Setting our hearts on them means that we are not setting our hearts on what is truly lasting and of great value. Setting our hearts on them means that we give scant attention to God’s love for us, a love which God expresses in today’s first reading, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will never forget you.”

These words were taken from the Old Testament’s book of the prophet Isaiah. He spoke them to his Hebrew people as God delivered them from their captivity in Babylon and they were about to return to their homeland of Israel. They were words of consolation, words speaking of God’s love for His people. He was always close to them; He always loved them. Now He was delivering them from their pain and suffering:
Shout for joy, you heavens; earth, exult! Mountains, break into joyful cries! For Yahweh has consoled his people, is taking pity on his afflicted ones. Zion was saying, ‘Yahweh has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ [But] can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the child she has borne? Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you. (Isaiah 49:13-15)
Similarly the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel account speak of God’s love for us and of His desire to free us from all that holds us captive and keeps us apart from Him. God is always present to us waiting for us to be with Him. How have we in turn been present to Him? There are some clear answers we can have.

We can spend some quality time alone with God reflecting on what has happened in our lives and where we have experienced His love. Times of just being with Him are times of deep, intimate prayer.

Many parishes have Chapels of Adoration, places where we can go and spend quiet time alone with God in the Blessed Sacrament.

Reading sacred scripture is another way of enjoying God’s presence and giving Him your presence in return. I’m not speaking of simply reading bible passages. I’m speaking of absorbing what they inspire within you, absorbing what God’s Word has to say to you.

When we give someone a gift at Christmas, or at a birthday party or anniversary, we call it a present. Why? Because you are close to that person, that friend, or that loved one. Your presence is contained within your present to him or her. Why not give God a present some day soon… quality time alone with Him? After all, hearts speak to hearts.

Saint John Paul II on the Sanctity of Life

St. John Paul II
The legalization of the termination of pregnancy is none other than the authorization given to an adult, with the approval of an established law, to take the lives of children yet unborn and thus incapable of defending themselves. It is difficult to imagine a more unjust situation, and it is very difficult to speak of obsession in a matter such as this, where we are dealing with a fundamental imperative of every good conscience — the defense of the right to life of an innocent and defenseless human being.
— St. John Paul II

Prayer to God the Father of all Life

Eternal God, You have revealed Yourself as the Father of all Life. We praise You for the Fatherly care which You extend to all creation, and especially to us, made in Your image and likeness. Father, extend Your hand of protection to all those threatened by abortion, and save them from its destructive power. Strengthen all fathers so that they never give in to the fears that may tempt them to facilitate abortions. Bless our families and bless our country, that we may always welcome and nurture the life of which You are the source and the Eternal Father. Amen.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 19, 2017, Year A

Sermon on the Mount

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

The Gospel has always been counter-cultural, from the time of Jesus to our own day. In no place is this more obvious than today’s Gospel text. Turn the other cheek? Never, no way, no how.

The same applies to giving up more than your adversary demands, or doubling troublesome obligations.

And yet, Jesus tell us that this is the way to be perfect! The first reading uses the term “holy,” but somehow the meaning seems to be the same.

So, if that’s what it takes, do we really want to be perfect, do we really want to be holy?

And even if we could bring ourselves to do these things, how could we avoid resentment at the humiliation and loss of face? How would we be able to deal with it?

There is plenty of resentment out there, around us and within us. There is plenty of frustration and anger behind it. These affect almost every sphere of life: political, personal, family, authority issues, justice, etc.

Think of the greatest source of anger and frustration in your life. Think of the persons or groups that you see as the cause. Now, stop and say a prayer for them.

Really? Yes, really! You might well feel resistance to doing so. Resentment is such a powerful force. It is part of our natural defensive instinct. It has a preventive side as well, when we are on our guard not to be hurt or taken advantage of.

St. Paul offers a great clue to overcoming this resistance. We are a temple, the Holy Spirit’s dwelling.

What if we had a special bulletin board in our church where people could say every nasty thing about the people they hate? Would that be in any way appropriate? Neither is it appropriate in our heart and soul, God’s temple. There would be a kind of defilement in both cases.

And remember: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”