Monthly Archives: September 2015

Saint Jerome

jerome

St. Jerome, whose feast is today, was a scripture scholar who made the bible accessible to the western church through his translations from the original languages of Greek and Hebrew. Born in 340 in Stridon a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast, Jerome received his early education in Rome and was baptized there in 360 by Pope Liberius.

Brilliant and hungry for knowledge, Jerome traveled extensively. In Antioch in Syria he had a dream in which 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 the study of Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which prepared him for his later work of translating and commentating 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 gave him the monumental task of translating the bible from Greek into Latin, called the Vulgate. His translations, learned commentaries and sermons sparked a flowering of spirituality in the western church. Jerome won a devoted following, especially among Rome’s prominent Christian women eager to understand the teachings of the bible.

Quick to take offense and quick to respond, Jerome drew 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 and continued his study of the scriptures. Nearby was the great Christian library in Caesarea Maritima with its extensive biblical resources.  He was joined by friends from Rome, among them the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eustochia, who founded a monastic community of women in Bethlehem devoted to prayer and reflection on the bible.

St. Catharine Church, Bethlehem. Remains of Jerome's Monastery are under the church

St. Catharine Church, Bethlehem. Remains of Jerome’s Monastery are under the church

“Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” he said. But Jerome also continually engaged in the church controversies of the day, sometimes dealing harshly and  unfairly with others.

In 410 Alaric and his warriors sacked Rome and 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. His remains are buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. He is a doctor and teacher of the church, who frankly recognized his need for God’s mercy. Jerome is an example that saints are not perfect people.

“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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Our Common Home

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The pope went home to Rome yesterday evening. But I think he stretched the meaning of that word “home,” on his visit with us here in the United States. He spoke of “our common home.”

His final homily in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families was based the “word of God which surprises us with powerful and thought-provoking images. Images which challenge us, but also stir our enthusiasm.

“In the first reading, Joshua tells Moses that two members of the people are prophesying, speaking God’s word, without a mandate. In the Gospel, John tells Jesus that the disciples had stopped someone from casting out evil spirits in the name of Jesus. Here is the surprise: Moses and Jesus both rebuke those closest to them for being so narrow! Would that all could be prophets of God’s word! Would that everyone could work miracles in the Lord’s name!

“Jesus encountered hostility from people who did not accept what he said and did. For them, his openness to the honest and sincere faith of many men and women who were not part of God’s chosen people seemed intolerable. The disciples, for their part, acted in good faith. But the temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God, who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45), bypassing bureaucracy, officialdom and inner circles, threatens the authenticity of faith. Hence it must be vigorously rejected.

“Once we realize this, we can understand why Jesus’ words about causing “scandal” are so harsh. For Jesus, the truly “intolerable” scandal consists in everything that breaks down and destroys our trust in the working of the Spirit!

“Our Father will not be outdone in generosity and he continues to scatter seeds. He scatters the seeds of his presence in our world, for “love consists in this, not that we have loved God but that he loved us” first (1 Jn 4:10). That love gives us a profound certainty: we are sought by God; he waits for us. It is this confidence which makes disciples encourage, support and nurture the good things happening all around them. God wants all his children to take part in the feast of the Gospel. Jesus says, “Do not hold back anything that is good, instead help it to grow!” To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not “part of our group”, who are not “like us”, is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith! “

We live in a bigger world than the home we live in, the church we live in, the country we live in. Thank you, Pope Francis.

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St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660)

The opening Mass prayer for St. Vincent’s feast day describes succinctly what made him a great saint:

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 gave Vincent de Paul grace to relieve the poor and form the clergy. Once Vincent met a Protestant, whom he invited to convert to Catholicism. The Protestant 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 appointed bishops and they, in turn, appointed men from important French families who supported them. Political considerations largely influenced church appointments.

As a result, the priesthood in France was badly off, priests had little education, some could hardly read or write. For financial support, they looked for benefices, usually found in the larger cities among rich families, where they could say Mass and celebrate the sacraments. As a young priest, Vincent himself was chaplain for a wealthy family in Paris.

The decision to become a priest was mostly a family’s decision, which might designate one of its sons as its “offering” to God. The priesthood became a way  to get a son some education and some social standing. Vincent’s own family, who were peasants, were influenced by motives like these. For many the priesthood was a job and not a call.

What Vincent did was to appeal to priests, religious, and even bishops, to begin to look spiritually at their roles. They were called by God to a vocation, not a job or career,  They had a  sacred mission to follow Jesus Christ. Vincent, in fact, called the community he founded the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), because they were to go to those who were neglected. 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.”

Through the efforts of this saint communities of Sisters of Charity,  Societies of St. Vincent de Paul, are found throughout the world today.

The following reading for Vincent’s feast captures his powerful message:

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, Jesus 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.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.

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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Looking Ahead

Looking ahead realistically is always hard, but maybe it’s harder today, especially for a religious congregation like mine, whose membership is old and whose financial resources are stretched.

We mirror the church in this country, in fact, which is losing members and running short on finances. So, we have to plan for diminishment’

But God’s plan is not to fade away, but to grow; to live and not to die. The wonderful first reading from Zechariah for today’s Mass talks about growth, not decline. Keep a “measuring line” in your hand for what is new, it says. Don’t be afraid to think big.

Here’s the reading from Zechariah in full:

“I, Zechariah, raised my eyes and looked: 
there was a man with a measuring line in his hand.
I asked, “Where are you going?”
He answered, “To measure Jerusalem,
 to see how great is its width and how great its length.”

Then the angel who spoke with me advanced,
and another angel came out to meet him and said to him,
“Run, tell this to that young man:
People will live in Jerusalem as though in open country,
because of the multitude of men and beasts in her midst.
But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst.”

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.
Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day,
and they shall be his people and he will dwell among you.”

We need God’s “measuring line” when we look ahead.

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26th Sunday: A Pope Visits Us

Audio homily here:

I’m always surprised at the way our current Mass readings throw light on what’s happening now. Pope Francis is ending his visit to our country. He’s hard to miss, a genuine celebrity, tying up traffic in three major cities and drawing immense crowds and media coverage. If he were running in our presidential elections, he might get elected.

He’s a leader, no doubt. But look at the way leadership is described in today’s readings: a kind of leadership Francis exemplifies. Our reading from the Book of Numbers (Nm 11,25-29) says the Lord blesses Moses with power, but also takes “ some of the spirit that was on Moses and bestows it on the seventy elders.” Then, when two others, not of the seventy, seem to have that same spirit, some tell Moses to stop them. They don’t belong to our group.

But Moses wont stop them. Are you jealous? he asks. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

The gospel from Mark (Mk 9, 38-48) offers a similar situation. Some are exercising a power like Jesus and his followers try to stop them. Let them be, Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Whoever is working for the same good cause is working with us.

The lesson, of course, is that a real leader doesn’t want power for himself or herself. Power is meant to serve all. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!” Moses says. In his strong address to our Congress the other day, Francis called them to be real leaders and work for the common good. Work together, not in a spirit of partisanship, or for your own gain, but for the good of all and for the good of the world, he said. Don’t be afraid to face the big challenges before us.

Of course, we might stop there and say we need better leaders, better politicians; let’s pray for a good president and a good congress that can work together for the good of us all.

But our readings seem to suggest that power is not just in great leaders like Moses and Jesus. We all have power which we’re called to use for the common good. The same partisanship and selfishness, the same lack of vision we complain about in our leaders can also be present in us.

The pope addressed our bishops before he met with congress and he told them too to be good shepherds of the gifts of God. “It’s wrong,” he said to look the other way or to remain silent.” They need to face the many challenges before them.

That challenge is addressed to us too.

Addressing congress, the pope pointed to four Americans who worked for the common good: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Only one of those was a politician, an elected leader. The rest were people who served society using their unique gifts.

So it was not just politicians in Congress or bishops or representatives of the nations at the UN the pope challenged these last few days. He was challenging all of us to face the world today, to confront the issues before us, to work together, to follow the Golden Rule. “Do onto others what you would have them do to you.” That’s what God wants us all to do.

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Pope Francis and the US Bishops

In an extensive speech today to the bishops of the United States at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, Pope Francis asked them as good shepherds to face the challenging issues confronting us today.

“I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we face these challenges.

The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.”

We will probably hear these issues brought up in his talks to Congress, the United Nations, and the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

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