Saint Jerome

jerome

We celebrate the feast of St. Jerome today. He was born in 340 in Stridon a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast. Educated in Rome under the noted scholar Donatus, he was baptized in 360 by Pope Liberius.

After extensive travels, Jerome settled in Antioch in Syria where, in a dream, he saw himself judged by Christ who rebuked him for wasting his time on worldly knowledge. Touched deeply by the dream, Jerome withdrew into the Syrian desert where, he later recalled, he was beset by temptations and “threw himself at the feet of Jesus, watering them with prayers and acts of penance.”

Among his penances, Jerome began to study Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which prepared him for his later work of translating and commentary on the Bible.

Ordained a priest, Jerome went to Constantinople around 380 to study the scriptures under St. Gregory of Nazianzen. Two years later, he returned to Rome where Pope Damasus engaged him in the monumental task of translating the bible from Greek into Latin, called the Vulgate. His translations, learned commentaries and sermons won Jerome a devoted following, especially among the city’s prominent Christian women.

Jerome, however, had his critics who resented his biting tongue and caustic comments on Roman society. Stung by their attacks, he left Rome in 385 for the Holy Land where he established a community at Bethlehem near the cave where Christ was born to continue the study of scripture. He was joined by friends from Rome, especially Paula and her daughter Eustochia, who founded a monastic community of women devoted to prayer and reflection on the bible.

In Bethehem Jerome remained a gifted student of scripture. “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” he said. But he also engaged heatedly in the church controversies of the day, sometimes dealing harshly and unfairly with others.

When Alaric and his barbarian warriors sacked Rome in 410, a shocked Jerome arranged to shelter Roman Christians fleeing to the safety of the Holy Land. “I have put aside my studies to help them,” he wrote. “Now we must translate the words of scripture into deeds, and instead of speaking holy words we must do them.”

He died in Bethlehem in 420 and  is buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. He is a doctor and teacher of the church, who also knew God was merciful:

Lord, show me your mercy and gladden my heart.

I am like the man going to Jericho, wounded by robbers.

Good Samaritan, come help me.

I am like a sheep gone astray.

Good Shepherd, come seek me and bring me home safe.

May I dwell in your house all my days and praise you forever.

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Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

Michael

We celebrate the feast of three archangels today, September 29th. St. Gregory the Great says of the angels: “There are many spirits in heaven, but only the spirits who deliver a message are called angels.” Archangels like Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, “are those who proclaim messages of supreme importance…

“And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.”

Their names, Gregory says, tell the service they perform. “Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.

“Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power…

“So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

“Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.”

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, dedicated his first foundation on Monte Argentario in Italy to St. Michael and he said the archangel preserved his community from harm. Paul was a Lombard; historians say the Lombards believed the Saracens where stopped from invading Lombardy in the 6th century and fostered devotion to the archangel afterwards.

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle…”

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26th Sunday: Knowing Jesus

To hear the audio of today’s homily please select the audio below:

Religious education programs begin in most parishes this month. Many of the programs involve young people, of course, but we are all called to grow in faith, no matter how old we are.

Unfortunately, adults often see faith as something you learn as a child and that’s it.

The Catholic writer Frank Sheed once said the problem with adult Catholics is that they don’t keep engaged in the faith they learned as children. He used the example of our eyes. We have two eyes. Let’s say one of them is the eye of faith; the other is the eye of experience. 

As children we may see the world with two eyes; but as adults we may see the world only with the eye of experience, losing the focus that faith gives, another dimension. Faith helps us to see.

Jesus said to his disciples “you are all learners.” Not only children learn, all of us learn. We’re lifelong learners, lifelong believers, even till the end.”

I was talking to a man last week who said “You know, I go to church pretty regularly; I try to live a good life, but I would like to know Jesus.”

I told him that’s what we’re trying to do all our lives–to know Jesus.

I told him to get a good bible, like the New American Bible, and start reading it. Listen to the readings in church that tell us what Jesus said and did. This is a time he reveals himself to us, as one of the Eucharist prayers says it so well:

“You are indeed Holy and to be glorified, O God, who love the human race and always walk with us on the journey of life. Blessed indeed is your Son, present in our midst when we are gathered by his love, and when as once for the disciples, now for us, he opens the scriptures and breaks the bread.”

From what we know of Jesus, he bravely faced the issues of his time and its questions and challenges.  Knowing Jesus, then, means that we face the issues and challenges of our time as bravely as we can. 

Let me point out one of today’s challenges– our changing climate.  Last Tuesday evening at the United Nations Summit on Climate Change,  the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin brought a message from Pope Francis.

He said that after thirty years of study we have to admit there are critical days ahead. We know that “the entire international community is part of one interdependent human family…There is no room for the globalization of indifference, the economy of exclusion or the throwaway culture so often denounced by Pope Francis,”

Our faith “warns agains the risk of considering ourselves the masters of creation. Creation is not some possession that we can lord over for own pleasure; nor, even less, is it the property of only some people, the few: creation is a gift, it is the marvelous gift that God has given us, so that we will take care of it and harness it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude” (Pope Francis, General Audience, 21 May 2014).

It’s not just a matter of some technical changes like emission reductions, the cardinal continued. We need “ to change our lifestyles and the current dominant models of consumption and production.”

Knowing Jesus means living as Jesus would if he were with us today.

We’re all learners. The consoling thing is that we can start anywhere, anytime to know Jesus. The gospel readings for this week and last week tell us that. The workers going into the vineyard and two sons in today’s reading tell us the invitation is always there, so let’s take it.

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St. Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660)

Our opening Mass prayer today describes succinctly what made Vincent de Paul, whose feast we celebrate today, the great saint he is:

O God, for the relief of the poor

and the formation of the clergy

you endowed the priest St.Vincent De Paul

with apostolic virtues.

grant, that afire with the same spirit

we may love what he loved

and put into practice what he taught.

God endowed Vincent de Paul with graces to relieve the poor and form the clergy. Once Vincent met a Protestant, a Huguenot, whom he invited to convert to Catholicism. The Huguenot said:

“You told me, Monsieur, that the Church of Rome is led by the Holy Spirit, but I find that hard to believe because, on the one hand, we see Catholics in the countryside abandoned to pastors who are ignorant and given over to vice, with so little instruction in their duties that most of them hardly know what the Christian religion is. On the other, we see towns filled with priests and monks who are doing nothing; there are perhaps ten thousand of them in Paris, yet they leave the poor country people in this appalling state of ignorance in which they are lost. And you want to convince me that all this is being guided by the Holy Spirit! I’ll never believe it.”

That’s a picture of the French church in Vincent’s time. One reason for its sad condition was that the French crown had the power to appoint bishops and they appointed men from important French families who supported them. Their appointments were strongly influenced by political considerations.

The priesthood in France was badly off then. Usually priests had little education, some could hardly read or write. For financial support, they looked for benefices where they could say Mass and celebrate the sacraments, and they were usually found in the larger cities among rich families. As a young priest, Vincent himself became chaplain for a wealthy family in Paris.  For many the priesthood became a job and not a call.

The decision to become a priest was mostly a family’s decision. A family might designate one of their sons as their “offering” to God, or as a way to get him some education or to get ahead socially.

Motives like these prompted Vincent’s own family, who were peasants, to direct him to the priesthood.

What Vincent did was to appeal to priests, religious, and even bishops, to begin to look spiritually at their roles. They weren’t jobs or careers, they were vocations and calls from God. They were  sacred missions to follow Jesus Christ. Vincent, in fact, called the community he founded, the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), to go to people and areas neglected by the church. He encouraged, not only priests, but  communities of women to care for the poor, without living the usual cloistered life of that time. Vincent’s network embraced laypeople too, who worked for those Jesus called “the least.”

Communities of Sisters of Charity, the Societies of St. Vincent de Paul are found throughout the world today and come from the efforts of this saint.

The reading for Vincent’s feast captures his powerful message. In the prayer for his feast we ask God, that “ afire with the same spirit

we may love what he loved

and put into practice what he taught.”

A writing of St Vincent de Paul

Serving the poor is to be preferred above all things

Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor.

Although in his passion he almost lost the appearance of a man and was considered a fool by the Gentiles and a stumbling block by the Jews, he showed them that his mission was to preach to the poor: He sent me to preach the good news to the poor. We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ’s actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause.

Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand the poor and weak. We sympathise with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: I have become all things to all men. Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbours’ worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.

It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. Since she is a noble mistress, we must do whatever she commands. With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons.”

More on St. Vincent de Paul

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St. Vincent Strambi

I find the biographies of most of our saints–I’m thinking now of the saints of my community, the Passionists– lacking an historical dimension, which tends to remove them from their time and their interaction with it. That makes them less challenging. They can make you believe that holiness means withdrawing from the world you live in when, actually, to be holy means engaging your times, not leaving them.

The world we live in is the path we’re put on when we’re born and our companion through our lifespan. It’s the cross we carry, the calvary on which we are displayed. Our blood, mingled with the blood of Christ, must fall on it to redeem it.

I’ve been thinking of St. Vincent Strambi, a Passionist who lived in Italy as the 18th century gave way to the 19th century. His cross was a world convulsed by Napoleon’s dreams of conquest and the changes brought about by the Enlightenment.

Strambi had a great devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, which for him was inspired by the sufferings he saw in the world around him.Some say over 4 million people were killed in the Napoleonic wars, military and civilians. So much innocent blood was shed then.

Strambi was part of that world; his blood was being shed too, not literally, but in the crucifying events of war, confusion, famine, sickness and change that affected his church, his community, his diocese, his country and the people he served. His devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus came mainly from his experience of his time, I think.

Father Fabiano Giorgini, a fine historian who died recently, wrote a short biography of Strambi which we’re going to translate into English. Someday I hope it will be an ebook.

I wonder, too, if a new generation of hagiographers is needed, drawn from the laity and not from religious communities who may be too prone to promote their own heros.


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The Pope in Albania

Pope Francis made a one day trip on September 21, 2014 to Albania, a small mountainous country on the Adriatic Sea. One newspaper said “Francis’s decision to choose tiny, poverty-ridden Albania instead of one of the continent’s big Catholic powers for his first European trip as pontiff is in keeping with a papacy that wants to give priority to the poor and the neglected.”

He had other reasons too. Albania, with a Muslim majority, has Catholics and Orthodox Christians among its citizens. The pope praised the respect and trust between these groups as a powerful sign in today’s world. Other countries in Europe and the rest of the world, experiencing the effects of immigration and resettlement, need to emulate its example.

“May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all to the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom,” Pope Francis said.

“This is especially the case in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted by extremist groups and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalised.”

Here’s a great story of Albanian inter-religious cooperation from ABCnews. 

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Matthew, the tax collector

We missed celebrating the feast of Matthew, the tax-collector, because his feast fell on a Sunday, but he’s worth remembering this month.

Jews would usually turn away when they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – other tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.

Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. A tax-collector had to be good at keeping books; did Matthew keep memories? Are there some things that happened that were especially related to him?

The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out to Jesus the man in the tree, a tax collector like himself, and then bring them all to Zachaeus’ house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?

Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of so much suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.

But still, they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.

It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis told a group of bishops recently that he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew 60 years ago, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.

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