January 30, 2018

St. John Bosco on the Church’s Modern Persecutors

St. John Bosco’s ministered amid political and religious persecution. A series of Italian governments enacted anti-clerical laws to diminish the Church’s power as Italy was reunited in the mid-19th century. Yet, Don Bosco’s faith never wavered for God’s promises are infinitely greater than the Church’s diabolical enemies.
All past persecutors of the Church are now no more, but the Church still lives on. The same fate awaits modern persecutors; they, too, will pass on, but the Church of Jesus Christ will always remain, for God has pledged His Word to protect Her and be with Her forever.
—  St John Bosco

Prayer for St. John Bosco’s Intercession

O God, who raised up the Priest Saint John Bosco as a father and teacher of the young, grant we pray, that, aflame with the fire of love, and by his intercession, we may seek out souls and serve you alone. 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. St. John Bosco, help us to serve Christ diligently, we pray.

St. John Bosco’s Prayer to Our Lady Help of Christians

Throughout his life, Saint John Bosco had a great devotion to Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady Help of Christians. Together with the Order he founded (the Salesians) Don Bosco introduced others, particularly the young, the poor and the ignorant, to God.

Prayer to Our Lady Help of Christians

By St. John Bosco

Most Holy Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, how sweet it is to come to your feet imploring your perpetual help. If earthly mothers cease not to remember their children, how can you, the most loving of all mothers forget me? Grant then to me, I implore you, your perpetual help in all my necessities, in every sorrow, and especially in all my temptations. I ask for your unceasing help for all who are now suffering. Help the weak, cure the sick, convert sinners. Grant through your intercessions many vocations to the religious life.

Obtain for us, O Mary, Help of Christians, that having invoked you on earth we may love and eternally thank you in heaven. Amen.

January 29, 2018

St. Hyacintha of Mariscotti, Franciscan Saint

Saint Hyacintha of Mariscotti

Feast Day – January 30th 

Often, the stories of the saints inspire by showing us, not so much the holiness they eventually attained, but the very human obstacles they overcame to get there. Saint Hyacintha of Mariscotti is one such example; although indulging in a luxurious, spoiled existence — even in the midst of convent life — God found a way to soften her heart and reform her ways, so that it was her humility and penitential heart that eventually inspired those who lived with her.

Hyacintha was an Italian nun of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. She was born in 1585 near Viterbo, Italy, and entered the Convent of St. Benardine after her hopes for marriage did not come to pass. For ten years, however, she virtually ignored her vows, using her family’s wealth to provide herself with rich foods and luxurious clothes. It was only when a serious illness forced her confessor to bring Communion to her in her cell that he observed her manner of life; he advised her most strongly to cease what she was doing and cultivate a life of virtue instead. Inspired by his words, Hyacintha changed completely.

She was once asked her opinion of a nun renowned for her holiness. She answered, “First of all I should like to know how greatly she is detached from creatures, humble and free from self-will… The sort of people who most appeal to me are those who are despised, who are devoid of selflove and who have little sensible consolation. The cross, to suffer, to persevere bravely in spite of the lack of all sweetness and relish in prayer. This is the true sign of the spirit of God.”

By the time she died at age 55 in 1640, she had become a model of humble service to others and an inspiration to all. She was was beatified by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726 and canonized in 1807 by Pope Pius VII, who stated that through her selfless love she had, “converted more souls than many preachers of her time.” St. Hyacintha of Mariscotti's incorrupt remains are displayed for veneration in the church of the now-defunct monastery, bearing her name.

“Well Written”: Icon of the Week, Vol. 1 | Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe Enthroned

God, the author of creation, uses physical realities to make present spiritual realities beyond us. In a similar way, iconography, pictures of Divine Persons and saints, are signs, images, or likenesses that embody and make present that which they portray. St. Athanasius of Alexandria championed the practice of writing, displaying and venerating icons by the faithful. He wrote:

"We, the faithful, do not worship the icons as gods. By no means as the pagans, rather we are simply expressing our relation to, and the feeling of our love toward, the person whose image is depicted in the icon. Hence, frequently when the image has faded, we burn it in fire, then as plain wood, that which previously was an icon. Just as Jacob, when dying, bowed in worship over the head of the staff of Joseph [cf. Heb. 11:21] not honoring the staff, but him to whom it belonged, in the same manner the faithful, for no other reason, venerate [kiss] the icons, just as we often kiss our children, so that we may plainly express the affection [we feel] in our soul." [39th Question to Antiochos, PG 94.1365.]

The arrangement of fingers on Christ’s right hand raised in blessing is significant. Two different forms may be seen in iconography. These two forms date from a schism that split the Russian Orthodox Church in 1667. Patriarch Nikon instituted reforms that a group of people known as the Old Believers refused to accept. This icon displays the Old Believer form: Thumb, ring finger and little finger are bent together symbolizing the divine and human natures of Christ, while the forefinger and slightly bent middle finger are held upright. The second, or State Church form spells out Iesous Khristos, the Greek shortened form of Christ’s name, "IC XC." The index finger is straight, forming the "I," the middle and little fingers are curved into "C" shapes, and the thumb and ring finger cross to make an "X."

The Bible in his left hand is opened to the Gospel of John chapter 8:12, "Jesus spoke to them again, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'" Christ's declaration that he is, "The Light of the World" is evocative of other passages in Sacred Scripture (see John 1:4–5, 9; John 12:46; Exodus 13:22; Isaiah 42:6; and Zechariah 14:8) which explicitly denote a quality, example or instance of God's generosity, goodness, holiness and divinity. Lastly, Our Lord sits upon a throne signifying his divine Kingship and solemn role as Creator and ultimate Judge of the universe.

January 28, 2018

St. Thomas Aquinas on Salvation

Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do. 
— St. Thomas Aquinas

Tantum Ergo Sacramentum

(A Hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas)

Down in adoration falling, lo! the sacred host we hail; lo! o'er ancient forms departing, newer rites of graces prevail; Faith for all defects supplying, where the feeble senses fail. To the everlasting Father, and the Son, who reigns on high, with the Holy Ghost proceeding forth from each eternally, be salvation, honor, blessing, might and endless majesty. Amen. (See Benediction of the Eucharist)

Purpose in Life: A Reflection for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Christ Healing Peter's Mother-in-Law

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

(Job 7:1-7; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39)

“Woe to me,” writes St. Paul, “if I do not preach the Gospel.” He is not complaining, just stating the fact that this responsibility, laid on him without his being consulted, had become the all-consuming purpose of his existence.

Jesus says something similar: “For this purpose I have come,” namely his preaching.

Job takes us to the other extreme. His life has become a drudgery, and he finds no purpose in it. He expects that he will never know happiness again.

The tears of Mary at La Salette, such a beautiful and powerful image, are troubling in a way. They can make us repent our sins; that is good. But some wonder how Mary, in heaven, can experience unhappiness.

And yet she talks about the trouble her people’s infidelity have caused her personally: “How long a time I have suffered for you! … You pay no heed… You will never be able to recompense the pains I have taken for you.” More than a sign of unhappiness, her tears are a sign of her compassion, which she cannot possibly have set aside in heaven.

Peter’s mother-in-law can help us understand the situation. Once healed, what does she do? She waits on Jesus and his companions. In her illness she was, so to speak, enslaved and without purpose. The Lord restored her to her dignity as the lady of the house. Her honor lay in honoring her guests. The same could probably be said of all the persons Jesus cured that day, especially those he delivered from demons.

The purpose of the Beautiful Lady is the same: to restore us to our dignity as Christians. She came to speak to those who were Catholics in name only—including Mélanie and Maximin. Were they even aware of the promises made on their behalf at baptism?

We might paraphrase St. Paul and the message of La Salette together by saying, “Woe to me if I do not live the Gospel.” Mary lists her people’s woes, the consequence of their religious indifference.

In 1980, St. Pope John Paul II issued a challenge to the Christians of France: “France, eldest daughter of the Church, are you faithful to your baptismal promises?”

Indeed, what purpose can Christians find in not living and practicing their faith?

Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 4, 2018, Year B

Fr. Charles Irvin 
Senior Priest 
Diocese of Lansing 

My life is nothing but drudgery; I am filled with sadness, tired of dealing with the mess other people have made of this world. Life is an unbearable burden. Will it ever end? Is there a God out there who cares what happens to us, or are we helpless pawns on some cosmic chessboard, only accidentally born?

If God is so good, why does He allow us to experience pain, loss, terrible depression, and various disasters?

Answering the question “why?” gets us into a long philosophical and theological discussion. Suffice it here to say that God has chosen to put us into an incomplete world, living in our own personal incomplete lives. But by His grace we have the enormous dignity to be His co-operators, to work with Him while investing our own love and determination into the task of bringing ourselves and our world into completion and wholeness. This is a great gift – an act of faith that God has made in us. We can be who He dreams we can be, IF we work with him, IF we place our selves in His loving presence and allow His power to enter into us. That can happen only in a world — and in lives — that challenge us.

There are huge forces at work on us, both natural and supernatural. We wrestle, says St. Paul, with angels, principalities, powers and spiritual forces on high. AND we wrestle with our own selves, trying to put down the demons that beset us deep within our own hearts and souls.

There are demons against which we struggle, forces of evil that are outside of us — cosmic and worldwide, as well as forces we find within us, personal and deep within us. There are those who are uncomfortable with publicly talking about evil, such as when our own president uses the term. Using the term “demons” discomforts many, thinking perhaps it smacks of voodoo, witchcraft, and medievalism. But if we’re in denial then how can we mobilize our efforts to rid the world, ourselves, and those around us of what besets us? Rid our selves and our world of the demonic?

The time comes when we simply have to put aside questions of “why?” and take action. How to deal with all that threatens our peace and well-being becomes more important and urgent than to theorize over why. Then, too, perhaps the road to happiness is to set our selves to the task of freeing others of what besets them rather than thinking only about our own misfortunes and lack of happiness. This is what St. Paul urges us to do.

To be sure there are times when a good look into ourselves can be necessary. There are things within me that cause my own unhappiness and which thereupon bring unhappiness to those around me. Such things come to mind when I think about pride, anger, envy, gluttony, lust, avarice, sloth, and self-centeredness. Taking a moral inventory of my self is quite necessary from time to time.

How can I bring health, happiness and good news to those around me if I do live in with those things within me? I cannot give to others what I do not have myself. If I am to help in bringing better lives to those around me then I need to identify and cast out my own demons so that I might better live in the power of God and then share that exorcising power with those around me.

If we do nothing, if we give up the struggle to grow spiritually and grow in the love and power of God, then all that will be left for us is to moan and groan about life and all its unfairness.

God chose not to remain isolated in His nice, safe and cozy heaven. God chose to get himself mixed up in our miserable humanity and therein release His power and love in our humanity so that His kingdom might come here on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus, the Son of God, knew what it was like to live among the sick, the suffering and the oppressed in a land held in subjugation by the princes and powers of this world, namely occupying army and governors of Imperial Rome.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is the news that God is casting out evil and establishing His kingdom here among us. The challenging news is that God is accomplishing all of that in us when we respond to him, when we submit ourselves to His will, when we choose to work with him, co-laborate with him, co-operate with him. We must surrender our autonomous selves into the love and care of God, for without Him we can do nothing. Without Him we are poor and weak. With His Presence within us we are richly endowed and full of strength. Then we can face the world and all that life hurls at us.

To be sure there are times when each one of us simply sits back and demands that God do it all for us. To be sure there are times when we are exhausted, depressed, and seemingly beaten down. But, then, so was Jesus. The question put to us every day is: “Will I be controlled by sin, by evil, by all that is demonic around me? Will I allow life to entomb me?”

The stones of our tombs have been, by God’s power, rolled back. He unbinds us and cries out to us: “Come forth! Rise from whatever is death-dealing, victims no longer. Walk in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.”

Job suffered – the saints suffered – the righteous have suffered – Jesus Christ suffered. And so will we. The question is: What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do about it in your own heart and soul, and what are you going to do about it when it comes to removing it from the lives of others?

If we do nothing, then indeed life will be uncaring, threatening and over-powering. If we do nothing we will have nothing left to do but complain and shake our fists at God. If, on the other hands, we enter deeply into the life and Spirit of Jesus Christ then we shall have the power to face any and all evils, internal and external. Then life’s challenge will be an opportunity; then all that confronts us will become promises. Then we will have the wherewithal to cast out the worst of demons and reveal the presence of God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

St. Thomas Aquinas’ Rejection of Islam was Based on Divine Truth, Not Political Correctness

St. Thomas Aquinas

In honor of Saint Thomas Aquinas' feast day, [January 28th] here is the Angelic Doctor’s consideration of Islam and the teachings of its prophet Mohammed. It is noteworthy but hardly surprising that one of the most brilliant theologians in the Church’s history was beholden to truth, not morally devoid political correctness.

Aquinas rarely discusses Islam expressly, save for two instances.* In one, he defends Christianity against Muslim objections [See Summa Contra Gentiles] noting that; the blood of Christian martyrs leads to coverts, whereas Islam is spread by the sword. Moreover, Aquinas compares and contrasts Christ’s selfless divinity with Mohammed’s ruthless inhumanity. To wit, in Aquinas’ own words:
He [Mohammed] did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Mohammed said that he was sent in the power of his arms – which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning. Those who believed in him were brutal men...utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through [Whom]... Mohammed forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms.
What is more, Aquinas directly impugns Mohammed's message and method's: "Mohammed seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh urges us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected; he was obeyed by carnal men. As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity." (From the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 16, Article 4, Footnote 1.)

Read Twelve Things About St. Thomas Aquinas Every Catholic Should Know

In today’s increasingly secularized society, particularly in the arenas of academia, entertainment and the public square, such forthright commentary would be met with condemnation and disdain. Aquinas was concerned with empirical evidence and objective truth that are at the heart of his marriage of faith and reason. His moral insights are unencumbered by any kind of politically correct sentimentality.

O God, who made Saint Thomas Aquinas outstanding in his zeal for holiness and his study of sacred doctrine, grant us, we pray, that we may understand what he taught and imitate what he accomplished. 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. St. Thomas Aquinas, pray that our minds seek God's will.

*The other instance of Aquinas addressing Islam was his brief tract, De rationibus fidei contra Saracenos, Graecos et Armenos ad Cantorem Antiochenum, wherein he discusses and defends Christianity's dogmas in the face of Muslim criticisms.

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 28, 2018, Year B

Jesus cures the possessed man in the synagogue.

Fr. Charles Irvin 
Senior Priest 
Diocese of Lansing 

Two words in the Gospel account you just heard captured my attention… “astonished” and “amazed.” St. Mark reports that the people in Capernaum’s synagogue were astonished at Jesus’ teaching and all were amazed. So the question arises: Why? Why were they so astonished and amazed? After all they thought Jesus was a rabbi, someone who speaks God’s word, and they were, after all, in a synagogue, a place where one would expect to be hearing about what God had to say. So why were they so astonished and amazed?

First of all we need to notice that this event occurred at the very beginning of Our Blessed Lord’s public ministry. St. Mark reports this event in the first chapter, twenty-first verse of his Gospel account. Jesus has just finished gathering His twelve apostles and was now “going public,” so to speak. Jesus had not as yet performed His dazzling miracles. He had not as yet cured the blind, healed the lepers, healed the crippled, and raised people from the dead. The most astounding miracle of all — His own resurrection from the dead — had not yet occurred.

Why then was there astonishment and amazement at His first words here, at the beginning of His public ministry? It was common, we know, for rabbis to have followers and to move from synagogue to synagogue. What was so amazing about Jesus? Wasn’t He teaching the way rabbis taught? Wasn’t Jesus proclaiming the word of God to His people – something all rabbis did?

What I want to point out is the particular the style of speech used by Jesus and to note the way He taught. He did not say “The Lord’s words for you today are…” Nor did He say: “The God who sent me says this…” No. Jesus spoke in His own name, on His own authority. There is, you see, a big difference in Jesus’ speech here. He is telling everyone what He, the Christ is declaring to them. He is not speaking on behalf of God — He is speaking as God!

In another gospel account, St. Matthew, reports Jesus as saying:
You have heard the commandment imposed on your forefathers, ‘You shall not commit murder; every murderer will be liable to judgment.’ What I say to you is …everyone who grows angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment. “You have heard the commandment, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ What I say to you is: anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts. “You have heard the commandment imposed on your forefathers, ‘Do not take a false oath; rather, make good to the Lord all your pledges.’ What I tell you is: do not swear at all. Say, ‘Yes’ when you mean ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ when you mean ‘No.’ Anything beyond that is from the evil one.
The Ten Commandments were revered by the Israelites. Those commandments and the tablets upon which they were written connected them — directly connected them — with God Himself. To alter or tamper with them was, for the Jews, absolutely unthinkable. To hear Jesus expand on those commandments was, to say the very least, astonishing and amazing. What Jesus taught was marvelous. It was luminous, enlightening, and brilliant. But how He taught was mind boggling because the way Jesus spoke was as God speaking. He didn’t speak about God. He didn’t begin by saying: Thus says the Lord…” No. He simply and directly spoke as only God would speak. Nothing could be more astonishing than that. Either Jesus is who He claimed to be and demonstrated Himself to be, or else He was a charlatan, a fraud, and a liar. He is either God the Son made human flesh, or He is not. One has to choose. One cannot escape making that choice.

Have you ever heard it stated that it really doesn’t matter what religion you belong to since they’re all leading us to God? When you hear that said you should realize that sort of thinking flies in the face of what we just heard about Jesus Christ, both in today’s passage as well as in many others. Because if it is true that Our Blessed Lord is God made flesh for us, then it really does matter what religion we have. The devils themselves recognized Him. Why do those who claim to be religious people refuse to acknowledge who He really is? It wasn’t the devils that gave Jesus a bad time. They simply vacated; they simply fled from His presence and went elsewhere to do their dirty work. It was the religious know-it-alls who gave Jesus a hard time. The more they realized that Jesus of Nazareth was really Someone, the more they understood what He was claiming to be, the more they wanted to rid themselves of Him. He spoke with God’s own authority. He was a terrible threat to the claimed authority of the big know-it-alls.

Now there are many ways people try to rid themselves of Christ. They tried to kill Him, bury Him in a tomb and then post a detail of soldiers to guard that tomb. We know, however, how useless that was. Another way is to simply ignore Him. Many have done that, are doing it now, and will do it in the future. The danger about ignoring Him is equivalent to the danger of ignoring the instructions on drug prescriptions, or ignoring the directions on how to fly an airplane.
Still another way is to claim that Jesus is just another interesting religious figure in human history. You simply decide that Buddha or Mohammed or some guru from the Far East is just as good as Jesus it comes to journeying to God. But if that’s true then why bother with going to church? Why not simply start your own church? I mean, after all, if you really believe that one religion is just as good as another you can probably do a better a job with organizing a religion than the ones we’ve got. But when you do, let’s see you cure people with various diseases, make the blind see, restore crippled limbs, and raise people from the dead. Finally, and most importantly, let us see you rise from the dead three days after you’ve been buried.

So is it really true that one religion is just as good as another? Do we take the words and teachings of Jesus with ultimate seriousness or do we just relativize His life, death, resurrection and teachings?  Is His voice just one of many? Or is He the Word of God spoken for us?

Now I’m quite aware that all of you here today do not dismiss Jesus. You wouldn’t be here listening to His words and receiving His Body and Blood if your hearts and souls were elsewhere. But I’ll bet you have heard members of your families reduce religion to something equal to a cafeteria choice by declaring it doesn’t really matter what you pick and choose. Will you simply let those statements pass by unchallenged? Will you let your children, your grandchildren and members of your family, as well as your friends who say these things, go on without responding with your own convictions about Jesus Christ? We need to love them enough to call them to take Jesus of Nazareth seriously. After all, He really does speak with authority, and not like the others.

We’ve all heard a lot of talk about evangelizing. Evangelizing doesn’t mean that we have to go around town knocking on doors and preaching at others about our religion. It can be something far less difficult and far less offensive than that. Evangelizing can be as easy as simply and clearly stating the truth about Jesus and telling folks “We have never heard anyone else speak with such authority.”

January 26, 2018

Septuagesima Sunday

This Sunday January 28th is Septuagesima Sunday, designating the ninth Sunday before Easter and also, the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday commencing the solemn penitential season of Lent. The word Septuagesima comes from the Latin for "seventieth." The three Sundays which precede Ash Wednesday were called Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima respectively, or, the seventieth, sixtieth, and fiftieth days (approximately) before the highest solemnity of Easter.

Septuagesima, the seventeen day period starting on Septuagesima Sunday was intended to be observed as a preparation for Lent. In many countries, however, Septuagesima Sunday marked and still marks the traditional start of the carnival season, culminating on Shrove Tuesday, sometimes known as Mardi Gras.

Although the current Church calendar does not formally recognize this prelude to Lent; we need Septuagesima now more than ever. The traditional Roman Rite marks Septuagesima Sunday by omitting the recitation of both the Alleluia and the Gloria. The priest wears violet vestments in anticipation of Lent. Holy Mother Church reminds us during this season that we are sojourners on earth; captives to sin and death in desperate need of redemption through the sacrifice of Christ.

O LORD, we beseech you favorably to hear the prayers of your people; that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by your goodness, for the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you, and with the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Saint Angela Merici’s Advice to Postulants

Saint Angela Merici, the 16th century virgin and religious educator, founded the Order of Ursulines, the first teaching order for women recognized by the Church. Her fortitude and trust in God is evident in this advice she gave to postulants:
Do not lose heart, even if you should discover that you lack qualities necessary for the work to which you are called. He who called you will not desert you, but the moment you are in need he will stretch out his saving hand.
— St. Angela Merici

Almighty God, Who by means of your Saint Angela Merici did commence a new Order of holy virgins to flourish in Thy Church, grant, through her intercession, that we may imitate her angelic virtues, and forsaking all earthly things, may be found worthy of eternal bliss, through Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Saint Angela Merici, Virgin and Foundress

Saint Angela Merici

Optional Memorial - January 27th 

Saint Angela Merici was a 16th century Italian religious educator and foundress. She established the Company of Saint Ursula in 1535 at Brescia, in which women dedicated their lives to the service of the Church through the education of girls. From this organization came the monastic Order of Ursulines. Angela's sisters founded schools of prayer and learning throughout Europe, and later, the world.

Angela was born in Northern Italy in the diocese of Verona in the year 1474. She lived on Lake Garda together with her parents and sister in relative comfort. Early in life, she dedicated herself to Christ. At age 15, she and her older sister were left orphans. A short time later, her sister would die without receiving Last Rites. This disturbed Angela greatly, and she prayed fervently for her sister’s soul. By God's grace, Angela would have a vision confirming that her sister was in heaven.

The future saint became increasingly devout. She joined the Third Order of Saint Francis, dedicating herself to stringent fasting, self-sacrifice, constant prayer and remaining a consecrated virgin. When she was 20 years old, Angela returned to her hometown, Desenzano. There she would encounter many uneducated and impoverished girls. This convinced her of the need to teach and catechize them.

Opening her own home, Angela began instructing young women in the Catholic faith. Around this time, she experienced another vision telling her was to found a community of virgins, who would devote their lives to the religious instruction and intellectual formation of destitute girls at risk and largely ignorant of Christ.

In 1524, while traveling to the Holy Land, St. Angela became suddenly blind when she was on the Island of Crete. Despite this handicap, she continued on her journey to the Holy Places and was cured of her blindness, while praying before a crucifix, at the same place where she was struck blind a few weeks before. In 1525, she came to Rome to gain the Indulgences of the Jubilee year. While making her pilgrimage, Pope Clement VII invited her to stay. He knew of her virtue and her school. Uncomfortable with notoriety, she soon returned home.

On November 25, 1535, Angela chose twelve virgins and started the foundation of the "Company of St. Ursula" in a small house at Brescia [Italy]. On March 18, 1537, she was elected Superior of the Order. She died on January 27, 1540, and was buried in the Church of Saint Afra, in Brescia. She was beatified in 1768 by Pope Clement XIII, and canonized by Pope Pius VII in 1807. During the Second World War, St. Afra was completed ruined by allied bombing. The structure was quickly rebuilt following that conflict and is now known as the "Merician Center".

January 25, 2018

Personality Quiz: Which Saint Are You?

Ever wonder which saint you most resemble? Are you a Joan of Arc or a Thomas Aquinas? A Thérèse of Liseux or a Francis of Assisi? Are you made for modernity like Thomas Merton or a "man for all seasons" like Thomas More? Find out HERE.

Almighty ever-living God, by whose gift we venerate the merits of all the Saints who see you face to face in heaven, bestow on us, we pray, through the prayers of so many intercessors, an abundance of the reconciliation with you for which we so earnestly long. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns together with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

The Holy Father's Prayer Intentions for February 2018

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

Universal: Say "No" to Corruption

That those who have material, political or spiritual power may resist any lure of corruption.

Specific Intention - To be Announced

Pope Francis has decided to keep one monthly prayer intention. He is no longer proposing an urgent prayer intention. Each Sunday on which he gives an Angelus address, he will request prayers for people and situations that are of concern to the universal Church. The specific intention will focus prayer and action towards the indicated current event.

Sts. Timothy and Titus, the Spiritual Sons of St. Paul

The Church celebrates the memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus both 1st century bishops and missionary companions to their mentor Saint Paul, on January 26th. Pope Benedict XVI observed, "The sources concerning Timothy and Titus highlight their readiness to take on various offices that also often consisted in representing Paul in circumstances far from easy. In a word, they teach us to serve the Gospel with generosity, realizing that this also entails a service to the Church herself."

Timothy and Titus remind us that no grace is given solely for our benefit. Grace is to be shared so the Church may be built up in love. Reading Paul's two letters to Timothy and his letter to Titus show that the early Church was at times deeply divided. St. Paul's first letter to Timothy 3:15 clearly states where we are to find the truth. Paul refers to the Church as the pillar and foundation of the truth. We do not consult Scripture alone to find the truth because different people interpret the Bible differently. We must go to holy Mother Church, founded by Jesus Christ.

Timothy was with Paul in Rome during the latter's house arrest. At some point, Timothy himself was imprisoned for the Faith. Paul appointed Timothy as his representative at the Church of Ephesus. Timothy was comparatively young for the work he was doing. Scripture indicates he was somewhat timid. One of Paul's oft quoted lines was addressed to him: "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses" (1 Timothy 5:23).

When St. Paul was having trouble with the Church at Corinth, Titus was the bearer of Paul's stern letter and was successful in smoothing things out. Paul writes he was strengthened not only by the arrival of Titus but also: "by the encouragement with which he was encouraged in regard to you, as he told us of your yearning, your lament, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more."  Finally, he came with St. Paul to the island of Crete, where he was appointed bishop. Titus performed this duty in accordance with the admonition that was given him: "in all things show yourself an example of good works" (Titus 2:7).

Almighty God and Father, who adorned Saints Timothy and Titus with apostolic virtues, grant through the holy intercession of them both, that, living justly and devoutly in this present age, we may merit to reach our heavenly homeland and see you face to face. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen. Holy St. Timothy and St. Titus, St. Paul's most illustrious disciples, pray for us!

January 24, 2018

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 28, 2018, Year B

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

(Click here for today’s readings)

At the end of this Gospel passage it would appear that Jesus is now poised to embark on a great career. He is rapidly becoming a celebrity.

There are lots and lots of famous people in the world, from the international to the local scene, in every field you can imagine. A few, commonly called “personalities,” may simply be “famous for being famous.” Most have caught people’s attention by doing something never (or rarely) done before (like medical miracles, sports records, technology, etc.), or by doing something in a totally new, interesting or exciting way (as in literature, music, and the arts in general).

It also helps to be in the right place at the right time and to be noticed by the right people. But you still have to be the “right person” with the “right stuff.” Then you can make a big impression, and have people “astonished” and “amazed,” as we read in the Gospel.

Fame, of course, comes and goes. Persons and things popular in one generation are ignored or even mocked in the next. Yesterday’s stars are often today’s has-beens; how many child actors, for example, have a great career in their adult life? We are more likely to see them on a “Where are They Now?” segment on the news.

Jesus, then, is poised to become a Superstar. You may remember the controversy surrounding the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, sparked in particular by a comment attributed to lyricist Tim Rice: "It happens that we don't see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.” Therein, precisely, lies the problem of seeing Jesus as a Superstar.

What’s missing? Faith.

No one in today’s Gospel story expresses faith in Jesus. People express astonishment at the authority with which he teaches. They are amazed at his power to cast out an unclean spirit. But that’s all, so far at least. Not even the unclean spirit has faith; it already knows who Jesus is.

Fame and faith are very different things. I may be astonished and amazed at a magician’s tricks, but the only faith I place in him is in his ability to trick people. I may be astonished and amazed at a politician’s oratorical skills, but I might have faith only in his ability to persuade.

But only faith makes sense of the whole life and ministry of Jesus. Only faith makes sense of St. Paul’s recommendation that it would be better not to marry, just as only faith makes sense of the vow of celibacy in Religious Life and Priesthood. Otherwise, why would anyone make such an astonishing choice?

Only faith recognizes the prophet not only as an astonishing speaker and amazing wonder-worker, but also as an astonishing and amazing man of God.

Look at the saints. Some were astonishing and amazing nuns and monks hidden away in their cloisters, with a vow of silence. Others were astonishing and amazing advocates and servants of the poor, speaking out in the cause of justice and peace.

Many such contrasts could be drawn. They have only one thing in common, and that is faith. Everything else in a saint’s life flows from that relationship with the Lord.

Fame is not a bad start. The danger of fame, however, is that it can lead us to place our faith in ourselves, and that is a kind of hardening of the heart. Once we have people’s attention, it can be really hard to remember that it’s not about us!

In another place Jesus tells us to let our light shine. The challenge is to help people see where that light really comes from, that it isn’t really our light at all.

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

The conversion of Saint Paul

Feast Day - January 25th 

St. Paul, named Saul at his circumcision, was born in Tarsus the capitol of Cilicia, of Jewish parents descended from the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Roman citizen from birth and a devout Jew trained in the Law. As he was "a young man" at the stoning of Stephen and "an old man" when writing to Philemon, about the year 63 AD, St. Paul was most likely born around the beginning of the Christian era.

To complete his schooling, St. Paul was sent to Jerusalem, where he sat at the feet of the learned Gamaliel and was educated in the strict observance of the ancestral Law. Here he also acquired a good knowledge of exegesis and was taught in the practice of disputation. As a convinced and zealous Pharisee, he returned to Tarsus before the public ministry of Christ commenced in Palestine.

Some time after the Resurrection of Our Lord, St. Paul returned to Palestine. His profound conviction made his zeal develop into a religious fanaticism against the infant Church. He took part in the stoning of the first martyr, St. Stephen, and in the fierce persecution of Christians that would follow aiming to crush Christianty.

Entrusted with a formal mission from the high priest, he departed for Damascus to arrest the Christians there and bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was nearing Damascus, about noon, a light from heaven suddenly blazed round him. Jesus appeared to him saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" Instantly, the man, who would become the Apostle to the Gentiles, realized that Jesus was identifying Himself with the very people whom he, Saul, had been persecuting.

A miraculous transformation was wrought in the soul of St. Paul. He was suddenly converted to the Christian Faith. He was baptized, changed his name from Saul to Paul, and began preaching the Good News of Christ. He was martyred in Rome around 65 AD. O God, who taught the world through your Apostle Paul, draw us, we pray, nearer to you by the example of him whose conversion we celebrate today, and so, make us witnesses of your love to all. Through our Lord. Amen.

Source: Adapted excerpt from Father Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints.

Father Zehnle’s Lecture on J. R. R. Tolkien, "Joy Like Swords': Hobbits, Franciscans, and the Crucifix"

Father Daren J. Zehnle (whose homilies we featured here and here) presented a lecture on the work of J. R. R. Tolkien at the Wade Center on January 16, 2018. Fr. Zehnle, a priest of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, serves as Pastor of St. Augustine Parish in Ashland, Illinois, Director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate, Adjutant Judicial Vicar, and Judge on the Diocesan Tribunal.

After Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee heard a minstrel sing of the deeds of the Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote that “their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” By exploring the phrase, “their joy was like swords,” we learn to understand the reality of joy mingled with sorrow and experience God’s merciful love as we embrace the Cross.

The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, is a research library devoted to the Inklings, (a literary discussion group at the University of Oxford from 1931-1949), whose members included the great J.R.R. Tolkien. The library houses original manuscripts, translations of the authors' works into various languages, and information about the writings and lives of the Inklings. Among its treasures is the desk at which Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and most of The Lord of the Rings.

January 23, 2018

Saint Francis de Sales on the Angels

Saint Francis de Sales

Saint Francis de Sales, the 17th century French bishop and Doctor of the Church, yearned to save souls. His gentleness of spirit, pastoral aptitude and compassion made him a great teacher of the Faith. The following illustrates his deep insight:
Make friends with the angels, who though invisible are always with you. Often invoke them, constantly praise them, and make good use of their help and assistance in all your temporal and spiritual affairs.
— St. Francis de Sales

Prayer for the Intercession of St. Francis de Sales

Almighty God, who for the salvation of souls willed that the Bishop Saint Francis de Sales become all things to all, graciously grant that, following his example and holy intercession, we may always display the gentleness of your charity in the service of our neighbor. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

St. Francis de Sales, Bishop, Founder and Doctor

St. Francis de Sales

Memorial - January 24th 

St. Francis de Sales, a gentle saint, encouraged and celebrated the sanctity of both the ordained and the laity. Born in 1567 in Savoy, France, it was assumed that he would follow his father into law. Therefore, it came as a great surprise to the elder de Sales when his son announced that he had decided to pursue an ecclesiastical life instead. Francis would go on to win numerous souls to Christ.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1593, from 1594 to 1598 Francis labored at the difficult and dangerous task of preaching to the Protestants of Chablais, effecting the return of some 70,000 souls to the Catholic faith. In 1602 he became bishop of Genf. His zeal for souls is attested in 21,000 extant letters and 4,000 sermons showing how he applied St. Paul's words: "I have become all things to all men."

Most widely known is the saint's Introduction to the Devout Life, which, together with his Treatise on the Love of God, are considered seminal works of Christian literature. Francis' Introduction proves to the world that true piety makes persons virtuous and happy. A holy friendship existed between him and St. Frances de Chantal. In cooperation with her he founded the Visitation Nuns in 1610. Out of love for his own poor diocese, he refused several opportunities for advancement, including the cardinalate. In recognition of the Introduction and his various other writings, Francis was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1877.

How Francis developed a gentle and amiable disposition is a story in itself; he was not born a saint. By nature his temperament was choleric, fiery; little was needed to throw him into a state of violent anger. It took many years before he mastered his impatience and mercurial temper. Even after he became bishop, there were instances, as for example, when someone rang a bell before he had finished preaching. Through perseverance he did attain perfect self-mastery.

You may epitomize St. Francis de Sales' character in two words, kindliness and lovableness — virtues that were the secret of his success. His writings reflect his kindheartedness and sweet disposition. O God, who for the salvation of souls willed that the Bishop Saint Francis de Sales become all things to all, graciously grant that, following his example, we may always display the gentleness of your charity in the service of our neighbor. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, and with the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen.

January 22, 2018

St. Marianne Cope on Humility

Saint Marianne Cope

Saint Marianne Cope was a 19th century Sister of Saint Francis, who dedicated her life to helping to care for the poor, especially those suffering from leprosy. In Kalaupapa, Moloka‘i, she set up a home for girls with leprosy and became friends with Saint Damien de Veuster. Here is her quote on imitating Christ with humility.
What little good we can do in this world to help and comfort the suffering, we wish to do it quietly and so far as possible unnoticed and unknown.
—  St. Marianne Cope 

Prayer for St. Marianne Cope’s Intercession

O God, who called us to serve your Son in the least of our brothers and sisters, grant, we pray, that by the example and intercession of the Virgin Saint Marianne Cope, we may burn with love for you and for those who suffer. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. St. Marianne Cope, help us see Christ in the weak and those despised by society.

St. Marianne Cope, Patron of Lepers and Outcasts

Saint Marianne Cope,

Optional Memorial - January 23rd 

St. Marianne Cope was a professed member of the Sisters of St. Francis and is recognized as an extraordinary woman of the 1800's and early 1900's. Her call to labor as a servant of God and the Franciscan spirit she embraced, provided a foundation of values that gave her the courage and compassion to accept difficult challenges with diplomacy and grace. She is a model of humility amid suffering.

As a leader in her community, Mother Marianne was instrumental in opening two of the first Catholic Hospitals in Central New York: St. Elizabeth in Utica and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. Recognizing the need for basic health care in a city of immigrants, she and a small group of women defied convention by purchasing a saloon in Syracuse, New York and transforming it into a hospital to serve the needs of a diverse community. Here they welcomed everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or means. They pioneered rules of patient’s rights and cleanliness practices not seen before in the United States. Throughout upstate New York, Mother Marianne and her growing community educated and provided healthcare to children and adults with dignity and compassion for all.

In 1883, she and a group of six other Sisters of Saint Francis bravely journeyed across the United States by train and took a ship to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) to care for individuals believed to have leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease). They initially served at the Branch hospital at Kaka’ako on the island of Oahu to care for those exiled from their families. The king and queen then asked that the sisters open a home for the children of patients which Marianne did.

Mother Marianne traveled to Maui in 1884 where she was asked to manage Malulani Hospital, the island’s first general hospital, as well as St. Anthony School. In 1888, she and the sisters moved to Kalaupapa to care for those with Hansen’s disease who had been exiled to the remote peninsula on the island of Molokai. There she cared for Saint [Fr.] Damien De Veuster in his last months and attended temporarily to the boy’s home that he had established there until the Sacred Heart Fathers sent a permanent replacement.

The future saint not only provided healthcare to the girls in her care at Bishop Home in Kalaupapa, she offered healing for mind, body and spirit by creating a community that fostered spiritual evangelization, dignity and respect. The grave sites of thousands of those who died from Hansen’s disease cover the peninsula on Molokai. The sisters provided them with some measure of peace and comfort.

Saint Marianne Cope’s faith and deeply held values; compassion, self-sacrifice, devotion, courage and devout service, as a Sister of Saint Francis, supported her extraordinary piety and life in imitation of Christ that led her to canonization by Pope Benedict XVI on October, 21 2012. Together with Saint Damien De Veuster, her friend and spiritual mentor, she was known as the beloved friend of outcasts.

Adapted excerpt from SaintMarianne.org a site dedicated to her mission.

St. Vincent of Saragossa, Deacon and Martyr

St. Vincent of Saragossa

Optional Memorial - January 23rd 

St. Vincent of Saragossa was one of the Church's three most illustrious deacons, the other two being Stephen and Lawrence. He is also Spain's most renowned martyr. Born in the late 3rd century, he was ordained deacon by Bishop Valerius of Saragossa. Vincent was forced in chains to Valencia during the Diocletian persecution and martyred. Legend records the following about his martyrdom:

After brutal scourging in the presence of many witnesses, he was stretched on the rack; but neither torture nor blandishments nor threats could undermine the strength and courage of his faith. He was cast on a heated grating, lacerated with iron hooks, and seared with hot metal plates. Then he was returned to prison, where the floor was heavily strewn with pieces of broken glass. A heavenly brightness flooded the entire dungeon, filling all who saw it with greatest awe.

After this he was placed on a soft bed in the hope that lenient treatment would induce apostasy, since torture had proven ineffective. But strengthened by faith in Christ Jesus and the hope of everlasting life, Vincent maintained an invincible spirit and overcame all efforts, whether by fire, sword, rack, or torture to induce defection. He persevered to the end and gained the holy crown of martyrdom.

Almighty ever-living God, mercifully pour out your Spirit upon us, so that our hearts may possess the strong love by which the Martyr Saint Vincent triumphed over all bodily torments. 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. Holy St. Vincent of Saragossa, help us remain ever faithful to our dying breaths.

Prayer to St. Vincent of Saragossa 

Glorious St Vincent, help me to put all my trust in my Redeemer so that I may overcome all adversity. Pray for me, who am so doubtful; pray for me, that finally I may receive the consolations and the succour of Heaven in all my necessities and afflictions. May the Holy Spirit, Instructor and Consoler of the faithful, help me to faithfully apply Christ’s message in my thoughts, words and deeds. Amen.

January 21, 2018

Biblical Reflections and Prayers for the 2018 Octave of Christian Unity

The theme of this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is "Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power." (Exodus 15:6). The octave of prayer for the promotion of Christian unity takes its impetus from Exodus 15:1-21, the words of Moses.

Day One  

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt 

The Israelites’ memory of being strangers in the land of Egypt lay behind the Law’s instruction that God’s people were to welcome the stranger in their midst. The memory of their own exile was expected to prompt empathy and solidarity with contemporary exiles and strangers. Like Israel, our common Christian experience of God’s saving action goes together with remembering both alienation and estrangement - in the sense of estrangement from God and from his kingdom. This kind of Christian remembering has ethical implications. God has restored our dignity in Christ, and made us citizens of his kingdom, not because of anything we did to deserve it but by his own free gift in love. We are called to do likewise, freely and motivated by love. Christian love is to love like the Father, that is to recognize dignity and to give dignity, and thereby to help bring healing to the broken human family.

Day Two 

No longer as a slave but a beloved brother 

One of the first things we learn about God in the Hebrew and Christian Bible is that God created humankind in his own image. However, this profound and beautiful truth has often been obscured or denied throughout human history. For instance, in the Roman Empire, the dignity of those enslaved was denied. The Gospel message is entirely different to this. Jesus challenged the social norms that devalued the human dignity of Samaritans, describing the Samaritan as the ‘neighbour’ of the man who had been attacked on the road to Jericho – a neighbour to be loved, according to the Law. And Paul, made bold in Christ, describes the once-enslaved Onesimus as ‘a beloved brother’, transgressing the norms of his society and affirming Onesimus’s humanity.

Day Three 

Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit 

The book of Exodus demonstrates God’s concern for people in human bondage. God’s revelation to Moses at the burning bush was a powerful declaration of his will to free his people. God observed their misery, heard their cry and so came to deliver them. God still hears the cry of those who are subject to enslavement today, and wills to deliver them. While sexuality is a gift of God for human relationships and the expression of intimacy, the misuse of this gift through pornography enslaves and devalues both those caught up in producing it and those who consume it. God is not impervious to their plight and Christians are called to be similarly concerned.

Day Four 

Hope and Healing 

The kingdom which God promised, the kingdom which Jesus proclaimed and made manifest in his ministry, is a kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. What does this Good News mean for those trapped in the darkness of violence? In the prophet’s vision, light shone on those who lived in a land of deep darkness. But how can Christians bring the light of Jesus to those living in the darkness of domestic and gang violence? What sense of hope can Christians offer? It is a sad reality that division among Christians is a counter-sign, which hampers the communication of hope.

Day Five 

Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land!

We can imagine the noise of the crowd as Jesus enters Jericho. Many voices shout down the cry of the blind beggar. He is a distraction and an embarrassment. But through all this tumult Jesus hears the blind man’s voice, just as God always hears the cries of the poor in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Lord who upholds the falling not only hears, he responds. Thereby, the beggar’s life is radically transformed.

Day Six 

Let us look to the interests of others

The witness of the Scriptures is consistent that God always makes a preferential option for the poor: the right hand of God acts for the powerless against the powerful. Similarly, Jesus consistently warns against the dangers of greed. Despite these warnings, however, the sin of greed often infects our Christian communities and introduces a logic of competition: one community competing against the next. We need to remember that insofar as we fail to differentiate ourselves from the world, but conform to its divisive competing spirit, we fail to offer ‘a refuge for the needy in distress, a shelter from the storm’.

Day Seven 

Building family in household and church

Families are of central importance for the protection and nurture of children. The Bible accounts of the infancies of both Moses and Jesus, who were in mortal danger from the moment they were born because of the murderous orders of angry rulers, illustrate how vulnerable children can be to external forces. These stories also show how action can be taken to protect such little ones. Matthew presents us with a model of fatherhood that is in loving fidelity to the Lord’s command, especially in turbulent times.

Day Eight 

He will gather the dispersed… from the four corners of the earth

Throughout the biblical narrative of salvation history, an unmistakable motif is the unrelenting determination of the Lord to form a people whom he could call his own. The formation of such a people—united in a sacred covenant with God—is integral to the Lord’s plan of salvation and to the glorification and hallowing of God’s Name.

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children | January 22, 2018

Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal designates January 22nd each year as a particular day of prayer and penance, called the "Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children". It states: "In all the Dioceses of the United States of America, January 22 shall be observed as a particular day of prayer for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life and of penance for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion."
America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has portrayed the child as...an intrusion. 
— St. Teresa of Calcutta

Prayer of Blessing Upon the Unborn Child

God, author of all life,
bless, we pray, this unborn child;
give constant protection
and grant a healthy birth
that is the sign of our rebirth one day
into the eternal rejoicing of heaven.
We ask this in Christ's name. Amen.

While our efforts to change hearts, minds and laws through courageous public witness are essential to ending abortion, our most powerful weapon is prayer. Pope Benedict XVI explains the responsibility of lawmakers: "Children truly are the family's greatest treasure and most precious good. Consequently, everyone must be helped to become aware of the intrinsic evil of the crime of abortion. In attacking human life in its very first stages, it is also an aggression against society itself. Politicians and legislators, therefore, as servants of the common good, are duty bound to defend the fundamental right to life, the fruit of God's love." We pray that our fellow citizens, and our leaders, may one day be moved to protect the pre-born, the weak, the sick, the vulnerable and the unwanted.

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 21, 2018, Year B

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Nineveh was the oldest and most populous city of the ancient Assyrian Empire. Its ruins are located on the east bank of the Tigris River opposite the modern city of Mosul in Iraq. The Ninevites were a great empire known for their ruthlessness. They were the sworn enemies of the Jews. Each despised the other and yet Jonah, a Jew, was sent by God to them. The Ninevites were going to end the Israelite civilization in a few years but it was to them that God sent Jonah.

Jonah definitely did not want to go to them but God made sure that he did in spite of Jonah’s efforts to avoid the task to which God had called him. After the episode with the whale Jonah finally ended up on their shore. He went to them and they repented of their evil ways. They acted immediately on God’s word. Jonah was there only one day in what was to be a three day journey. That’s the key idea. On hearing God’s word proclaimed to them by Jonah they acted immediately and changed their ways.

In today’s second reading we hear St. Paul proclaiming a similar message. I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing ,those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.

Like Jonah we have a propensity to procrastinate, to put things off with the idea we will tend to them another day. We should, however, consider what that’s saying to God and what God feels about that.

The theme presents itself to us in today’s Gospel account. Peter and Andrew were grown men who were in the fishing business. They experienced God’s call and immediately dropped everything, left their business, and followed Jesus. Jesus, today’s gospel account reports, walked a little farther and met James and his brother John who with their father Zebedee were likewise fishermen. At Jesus’ call they immediately dropped their nets, left their father Zebedee, and followed Him.

I want now to give some attention to the young men and women who are here with us today. Could you, in a less dramatic way, be experiencing a similar call from God? Could you respond  as those first disciples did? A vocation is a call from God. In one way or another we all, each one of us here, have a vocation. But what about the Jonahs among us? It’s very likely that some young men or women are feeling God’s call inviting them to go out into our modern day world, a world much like Nineveh’s, with His message… a challenging call indeed. It’s sort of like being called to be one of God’s Marines.

I know there are those of you young men who may be hearing God’s call to serve Him as a priest.

Some of you young women may be experiencing similar thoughts about being a sister in a religious order or in some form of a dedicated life in the Church. There are young men and women who are hearing God’s invitation to serve Him in a special way. You may be still in school or you may already have a professional career. God’s call is not limited. Men and women already working in a profession or a business may very well be hearing God’s call to leave what they are doing and follow Jesus along a special path.

Often the media present young men and women as self-centered and pleasure seeking, awash in sensual excesses. But we all know of young men and women in the military who are serving our country in very self-sacrificing ways. We have all seen accounts of young men and women on their spring breaks travelling great distances to build homes and in many other ways help folks who have suffered from poverty and other misfortunes. There are seminaries and religious orders of women that are experiencing growth not only in numbers but in the quality of young people who are joining them.

All that being said, our Faith tells us that by our baptism we are all baptized into the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. In the Sacrament of Confirmation we have all been anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring Christ into our lives and into the world that, like Nineveh, surrounds us. Our Church teaches that we are all baptized into the Priesthood of the Faithful and that by being members of what St. Paul calls “the Mystical Body of Christ” we bring His Priesthood into the world around us. We can all be heartened by the fact that many young men and women have come to realize that grace and are responding to God’s call to them.

Those are not just pretty words. Those are challenging words, just as challenging as those directed to Jonah. Bring a priest is not easy. Bringing Christ’s message to those around us is not easy. We prefer set that task aside.

God isn’t giving us another program; He isn’t giving us a “how-to manual” or some agency to which we can refer people. No. God is calling us to bring His presence to individuals, something that we can only do individually… personally.

It is my belief that society has no problems that cannot ultimately be traced back to the individuals who make it up. I believe that because that’s the way Jesus saw it. That is the way, and the truth, and the life He challenges us to live in so that we can change the world around us.

When I start seeing the problems that exist in others then I begin to see myself. I keep running into myself when I run into the sins, faults, and failures I see in others. We live in profound connectedness and in radical complicity with each other. The theological analysis of this reality begins with the doctrine of original sin, that statement of reality that puts us radically at the root cause and source of our world’s miseries.

Jesus cries out to us and tells us that a better world is within our reach; it’s within our grasp. “The reign of God is at hand,” He tells us. A better world begins when we begin to change our own personal life. “Reform your lives,” He tells us, “and believe in the Good News.”

Taking life by the yard is hard, but life taken by the inch is a cinch. Take life as it comes to us one day at a time. Expect perfect happiness in the next life only after being reasonably happy in this life. That is the only way to deal with reality.

And so, if we want to change the world, are we willing first of all to change our own selves? How can I have the energy to change the huge systems surround us unless I at least have the energy to change myself?

The call of Jesus to twelve individuals, the call we just heard about in today Gospel account, is not a call issued only to twelve Jewish men over 2,000 years ago. It is an insistent call, and urgent call, a demanding call that comes down to us through 2,000 years in this Church of ours to you, to you here and now, to you today, who have been called by God to receive the Bread of Life from this altar and then to leave this church building on a mission. We are to leave here as those who are sent, sent with the twelve apostles to change the world by first changing our own lives.

For the simple truth is that when you do in fact change your life, you will have begun to change the whole world. What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you deep down within you? To what and to who to you want to give your life?

January 20, 2018

Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

Saint Agnes

Memorial - January 21st 

(In 2018, this feast is superseded by the Sunday liturgy.)

Saint Agnes is numbered among the most famous martyrs of the early Church. When the Diocletian persecution was at its height, and when priests as well as laymen were apostatizing from the faith, Agnes freely chose to die for Christ. When she was commanded to offer incense to false gods, she raised her hand to God and made the Sign of the Cross. The following is excerpted from a reflection by Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois on St. Agnes’ great courage and enduring example:

St. Agnes of Rome: Her Life & Faithful Witness

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

"Little is known of St. Agnes. She died as a martyr in Rome somewhere near the beginning of the fourth century, only 12 or 13 at her death. Legend has it she was a very beautiful girl whom many men wanted to marry. She, however, had promised God to remain a virgin and to seek a life of holiness and prayer. One of the men whom she refused reported her to the government as being a Christian. Arrested, she was confined to a house of prostitution. While there, one man looked at her with lust and immediately lost his sight. Agnes restored his sight through prayer. Later, Agnes was condemned, executed, and buried near Rome. Today, a basilica stands in Rome in her honor. St. Augustine and St. Ambrose wrote extensively of her…"

"The church of today rests on the blood of martyrs. Thousands of Christians, much like Agnes, have been put to death for their belief in Jesus Christ. While most martyrs are of the earliest centuries of Christianity, there are martyrs right up to our day. Rulers, despots, and tyrants have always feared Christianity. Many of them tried to wipe out Christianity from their kingdoms, only to have it grow stronger. That is correct. The more blood that has been shed, the stronger and more vibrant the church has become. In taking Church history in the seminary, I walked away with one theme that covers the Church’s 2,000 years: in periods of great persecution, the faith was strongest and most vibrant. The converse of that has also proven true: the more accepted the Church has been, the less passionate its people."

[ … ]

"While I am pretty sure most of the people reading this column will not face religious persecution that will lead to martyrdom, the modern American Christian must ask himself the question: Do I live my faith completely? Does it come before all else? Do I make decisions on daily living in accord with the teachings of Jesus, regardless of what others will say or think?"

"While I am not proposing or asking for religious persecution, I wonder if its lack has dulled the passion of living in faith. One has greater devotion and love for those causes for which the person needs to take an unpopular stand and possibly face adversity. The modern Church, at least in America, needs to recapture the spirit of the early Church and not take its faith for granted. Frankly, it’s easy for us Americans—maybe too easy. I wonder what I would do if I were Agnes in the early Church—would I have kept my promise in the face of martyrdom? Would I have that courage?" [St. Agnes, pray we remain faithful, even amid persecution.]

Almighty ever-living God, who choose what is weak in the world to confound the strong, mercifully grant, that we, who celebrate the heavenly birthday of your Martyr Saint Agnes, may, by her holy intercession before you, follow her brave constancy in the faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

January 19, 2018

Saint Teresa of Calcutta on Abortion

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

In honor of today's March for Life in Washington, DC, here are two quotations by St. Teresa of Calcutta on abortion and the sanctity of human life at every stage.

It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you live as you wish.
The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.
— St. Teresa of Calcutta

Prayer for the Intercession of St. Teresa of Calcutta

Jesus, You made Saint Teresa an example of humility, charity and selflessness. She taught us that every human life has value and dignity. May we follow her in heeding Your cry of thirst from the Cross, and in loving the poorest of the poor. Grant us, by her intercession, and according to Your will, the graces we implore knowing that she is numbered among Your saints. We ask this in Your name, through the intercession of Mary, Your Mother and the Mother of us all. Amen.

Saint Sebastian, Martyr

Saint Sebastian

Optional Memorial - January 20th 

The name of Sebastian is enveloped in a wreath of legends. The oldest historical account of the saint is found in a commentary on the psalms by St. Ambrose; the passage reads: "Allow me to propose to you the example of the holy martyr Sebastian. By birth he was a Milanese. Perhaps the persecutor of Christians had left Milan, or had not yet arrived, or had become momentarily more tolerant.

Sebastian believed that here there was no opportunity for combat, or that it had already passed. So he went to Rome, the scene of bitter opposition arising from the Christians' zeal for the faith. There he suffered, there he gained the crown."

St. Sebastian was widely venerated during the Middle Ages, particularly as a protector against the plague. Paul the Deacon relates that in 670 a great pestilence at Rome ceased when an altar was dedicated in his honor. The Breviary account of the saint is highly legendary; in part it reads:

"Diocletian tried by every means to turn Sebastian from the faith of Christ. After all efforts had proven fruitless, he ordered him tied to a post and pierced with arrows. When everyone thought him dead, a devout woman named Irene arranged for his burial during the night; finding him still alive, she cared for him in her own house. After his recovery he appeared again before Diocletian and boldly rebuked him for his wickedness. Enraged by the saint's sharp words, the emperor ordered him scourged until he expired. His body was thrown into a sewer."

Grant us, we pray, O Lord, a spirit of fortitude, so that, taught by the glorious example of your Martyr Saint Sebastian, we may learn to obey you rather than men. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen. St. Sebastian, pray for us.

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