Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Conversion of St. Paul

January 25th is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. It came in a blinding moment, so different than the call of Jesus’ other apostles.

Caravaggio’s dramatic painting of Paul on the flat of his back, arms outstretched, helplessly blind is a vivid picture of humanity before God.

Conversion is God’s work; God alone gives the gift of faith.

The first reading for his feast tell the dramatic story of his conversion. (Acts 22, 3-16)  In the gospel of Matthew,Jesus announces why he was called – to preach the gospel to all nations.(Matthew 16,15-18)

“May the Spirit fill us with that light of faith.”

For St. John Chrysostom  “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.

“When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them…

The most important thing of all to Paul was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.”

May God give us that grace .

Today ends the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

May God give us all that grace.

The Calendar on the Kitchen Door


About this time every year when I was a boy, my mother would put up on the kitchen door the calendar we got from church. She marked down the anniversaries of family deaths and birthdays and other celebrations coming along, and she added other dates as the days passed. The pictures on the calendar interested me most then. When we put up the calendar, we were ready for the days ahead.

The calendar’s still a good way of getting ready for the days ahead. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart,” one of the psalms says.

My calendar today is on my computer instead of the kitchen door, and it’s changed in a number of ways since the Second Vatican Council. The council created a general calendar listing the main feasts and seasons, Christmas and Easter, advent and lent, to be celebrated by the church throughout the world. The general calendar also lists the days for celebrating saints honored the world over, such as Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the apostles, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Theresa of Avila. It also lists scripture readings that are read at Mass for the weekdays and Sundays throughout the year. It guides us to the treasures of our faith.

The council left countries and regions to decide on some celebrations of their own. In our particular calendar here in the United States, for example, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day and American saints like St. Elizabeth Seton, St. Elizabeth Cabrini and St. John Neumann.

The calendar’s still a good way to keep our lives in order, not only doctors’ and social appointments, birthdays and anniversaries, but our spiritual lives as well. They go together. We’re meant to live from feast to feast and be formed by the mysteries of Christ, his saints and the scriptures.

Every Sunday evening I publish the week’s calendar on my blog – http://www.vhoagland.wordpress.com . It’s my kitchen door. Through the week I reflect on the feasts and seasons and saints on that blog. The calendar’s a teacher helping us to “number our days aright.”

Saint Francis de Sales, January 24

Francis de Sales had a wonderful approach to holiness. He believed in the uniqueness of every person and recognized the variety of ways people can become holy. He also believed firmly in respect and dialogue, especially with someone who doesn’t think like you or is from another religious tradition.

Some years ago, I visited a church in Geneva, Switzerland, center of Calvinism in the 16th century, where Francis was the Catholic bishop. A statue in that church (above) pictures him holding a book and a pen in his hand – not a sword.

Geneva was a city of swords then, real and verbal;  religious differences led to conflict and even bloodshed. Francis believed instead in peaceable dialogue.

Dialogue did not mean for him abandoning your own beliefs or being silent about them. It meant examining and measuring your own beliefs more deeply while listening carefully and respectfully to the beliefs of others to find the truth.

Francis de Sales prepared the Catholic Church for the approach to ecumenism it would take in the 20th century at the Second Vatican Council. He would certainly support the ecumenical movement today.  

 The spiritual writings of Saint Francis de Sales have become classics. Here’s something from  “An Introduction to a Devout Life” that reveals the way he thought and taught.

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“When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.

“I say that devotion must be practised in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

“Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbour. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganised and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfils all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.

“The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.”

The opening prayer in today’s liturgy asks God to give us too  Francis’ gentle approach to life: 

O God, who for the salvation of  souls willed that the bishop St. 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 Christ our Lord. Amen.

A good prayer and a good saint for our contentious times. 

Extra Ordinary

by Orlando Hernandez

Since January 14 we have been observing “Ordinary Time” in our Liturgy. Fr. Victor Hoagland has been pointing out how most of our Church year takes place in this Ordinary Time, and how this reflects the reality of our lives. Our hours, months, and years are mostly made up of ordinary things and activities. We eat, sleep, get up, brush our teeth, work, interact with those nearest to us, and live in those challenges and blessings that they bring to us. We drive past the same stores and barely see the same winter trees along the way. We wear and wash the same clothes. We each have our own routines.

Fr. Victor tells us that it is especially in those moments that the Presence of the Beloved can be found. In an almost “Buddhist” way, he advises us to be mindful of all the experiences we have, no matter how simple or common. There is great Beauty and Light there.

I have been trying. I see a new loveliness in those bare trees, reaching up to heaven. I am suddenly struck by the flavor of morning cereal. At home, I have been picking up different objects that I walk past every day. I feel them in my hands and actually discover things about them: the material they are made of, a craft-person’s signature, a chip or break (when did it happen?). I remind myself of why I have kept these objects around in the first place. They each hold a blessed, special memory of someone I regard, or love.

Suddenly, these objects become luminous with feeling and meaning, leading me to realize that there’s even more to life than just what is there in front of me. My faith is stirred. I feel the presence of my Creator and Savior in a surprising, and yet familiar way. I hope that you have all experienced something like this at some point during your day or week. We are so loved by this good, wonderful God.

The simple, insipid water that occupies our earthen vessels can be unexpectedly changed into the finest wine by realizing that the Holy Spirit of our Creator is here within and around us. We believe, and for a moment experience this “life to the fullest” that our Lord desires for all of us. It can be so easy. All we have to do is think and say, “Jesus!”. He is the vehicle to this life of adventure and wonder. He is why this “Ordinary Time” can be so special to me.

Our Gospel readings once again begin to relate His story to us. Each weekday we again hear about the deeds of our Lord in the action-filled Gospel of Mark. On Sundays we also continue with His story. I suppose we could say, “here we go again, the same old stories all over.” It is strange, but I really never get sick of hearing them. I know some of these Gospels nearly word for word, and still I find something new, or even better, I re-discover something I had lost. Like a child, I am hungry to hear the same tale again and again!

I have written before about my seven-year old granddaughter, how my relationship with her has given Our Heavenly Father a chance to teach me how much He loves us, His children. For a few years now she has driven me crazy by having me read to her the same children’s book again and again. I try to convince her to try out a different story, but no way! She insists on this slightly worn book. Children lose many things, but this one is still around. I tell her that she knows how to read now, so she can read it to me. Well, not this book, I have to read it. As I read, she goes through the same actions she would undertake as a toddler, pushing a dot on a page so that it will change color on the next, shaking the book, counting the dots, answering questions.

I realize this is a ritual that she loves to share with me. Suddenly, in the middle of this “ordinary” activity the extra-ordinary happens; the Light of our amazing, loving God shines all around. I get an insight into the reason for my love of the Liturgy of the Mass. I experience such happiness. Why does He love us like this?

I realize why I love to hear the Gospel stories again and again. This is because it is my Heavenly Papa who is holding me in His arms while He reads them to me.

Orlando Hernández

Pierre Toussaint

Toussaint

We observed a day in honor of Doctor Martin Luther King yesterday. Someone asked Doctor King, ‘What will we do if the whites continue to discriminate and mistreat us?’ ‘We will continue to love them to the point that they can’t do anything else but love in return, ’’ he said.

That sounds like what Jesus would say, who took the “form of a slave” when he came among us “and  became obedient, even to death, death on a cross.”

That was how Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian slave brought to New York City late in 18th century lived, until his death in 1853. Toussaint was motivated by a profound love of Jesus Christ. When he  died, a New York newspaper recognized him “ a man of the warmest and most active benevolence.” His goodness was legendary.

Toussaint came to New York City with his French owners, the Berard family, shortly before the Haitian revolution in 1789. He lived in the city almost 66 years. A successful hair-dresser, confidant to some of New York’s most prestigious Protestant families, extraordinarily generous and faithful to the poor, a devout parishioner of St. Peter’s church on Barley Street, at Mass each morning at 6 AM. At his death in 1853 he was acclaimed one of New York’s finest citizens.

St. Peter's Church

St. Peter’s Church

His first biographer was Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee, a Protestant who wrote about him shortly after his death. It’s a lovely biography, of memories she and others had of him. She admired his character, his good deeds, his genuine love for people, black or white:

“He never felt degraded by being a black man, or even a slave…he was to serve God and his fellow men, and so fulfill the duties of the situation in which he was placed…. He was deeply impressed with the character of Christ; he heard a sermon from Dr. Channing, which he often quoted. “My friends,” said Channing, “Jesus can give you nothing so precious as himself, as his own mind. May this mind be in you.”

Those last words, of course, come from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.*
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.…Philippians 2, 6-9

Toussaint made the mind of Jesus his own. His body now lies in the crypt under the main altar of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and his cause for canonization has begun.

Some question why Toussaint wasn’t more aggressive in the struggle against slavery. He could have easily won his own freedom well before 1807, when Madame Berard  emancipated him before her death. Why didn’t he? Why wasn’t he active in the abolitionist movement against slavery then?

For one thing, Toussaint feared violence would erupt in the United States, like the violence destroying Haiti then.IMG_1851

But he was influenced most of all by the teachings of the gospel and the example of Jesus Christ who insisted on loving God and your neighbor.  Loving and serving others is his great commandment, more important than the color of your skin, or your status in life or even fighting for a cause.

Toussaint understood that. Doctor Martin Luther King did too. images

 

St. Agnes, January 21

St. Agnes
January 21, 2019

St. Agnes, Rome

Agnes, one of the most popular Roman women martyrs of the 3rd century, is among the seven  women mentioned in the 1st Eucharistic Prayer:  “Felicity, Perpetua,  Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia.” She’s honored in a special liturgy in the Liturgy of the Hours. 

Her story appears in legendary 5th century sources, but some basic facts about her seem historically reliable. Agnes was a beautiful, wealthy 13 year old girl chosen to be the wife of an influential Roman man, but she refused to marry him because she believed as a Christian she had the right to remain unmarried. A deeply religious young woman, she wanted to give her life to God.

That wasn’t an option for Roman women then. Women were expected to marry young, to marry men chosen for them, and to have two or three children. Rome needed citizen soldiers then to grow and hold on to its empire. Only reluctantly did Rome come to depend on foreigners for its fighting. It preferred its own men and wanted its own women to produce them. 

When Agnes refused to marry, she went against Roman expectations. She was also a Christian and since she lived in times influenced by Diocletian, a notorious enemy of Christianity, she was a target of religious persecution. They pressured her to give up her beliefs; when she refused they declared her an enemy of the state.

Tradition says the authorities brought her first to the Stadium of Domitian, to a brothel of prostitutes there, to commit her to a life of degradation, but God kept her from harm. She would not yield, and so they took her to the arena and killed her by slitting her throat. Those who saw her die marveled at her courage and her faith. 

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Martyrdom of Agnes, Church of St. Agnes, Rome

Commentators like St. Ambrose, writing afterwards about Agnes, marveled at the young girl’s bravery. In Roman households of the best kind, young girls were protected and not expected to speak for themselves. Here was a young girl who stood up to the Roman establishment, even till death. How did she do it ?

“God chooses the weak to confound the strong” the prayer for the Mass of St. Agnes says.  She confounded the way Roman Christians thought about holiness. Men like Peter and Paul and other disciples of Jesus, soldier saints like Sebastian, who witnessed to the faith by dying for it were  the usual measure of holiness then. Devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, grew later in the 4th century, as disputes took place about the human nature of Jesus. In Agnes’ time women were hardly seen or heard. 

Agnes and women martyrs like her redefined the way early Roman Christians thought about holiness. Women, even young girls, could be heroic witnesses to the Jesus Christ. 

Agnes was buried in the catacombs along the Via Nomentana outside the walls of the city and has been honored there ever since. A majestic ancient church stands over her grave. Another 16th century church honoring her in on the Piazza Navona, where the Stadium of Domition once stood and the young girl endured great suffering.

Some say the 1st Eucharistic Prayer mentioned above goes back to the 6th century pope, St. Gregory the Great, whose family home was on the Celian Hill in Rome, Some also say his mother and aunt may have promoted the women listed in that prayer, all strong women who died for their belief.

One of the new Eucharistic prayers asks us to see “the signs of the times by the light of faith.” What’s the role of women in our times and in our church? 

Wonderful churches to visit, if you go to Rome.

st. agnes church

St. Agnes, Via Nomentana, Rome

January 21-27


JANUARY 21 Mon Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr
Memorial
Heb 5:1-10/Mk 2:18-22 (311)

22 Tue USA: Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children
Heb 6:10-20/Mk 2:23-28 (312)

23 Wed Weekday
[USA: Saint Vincent, Deacon and Martyr; USA: Saint Marianne Cope, Virgin]
Heb 7:1-3, 15-17/Mk 3:1-6 (313)

24 Thu Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Memorial
Heb 7:25—8:6/Mk 3:7-12 (314)

25 Fri The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle
Feast
Acts 22:3-16 or 9:1-22/Mk 16:15-18 (519)

26 Sat Saints Timothy and Titus, Bishops
Memorial
2 Tm 1:1-8 or Ti 1:1-5 (520)/Mk 3:20-21 (316)

27 SUN THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10/1 Cor 12:12-30 or 12:12-14, 27/Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21 (69)
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An interesting group of saints this week, starting with St. Agnes (January 21) , the brave young girl martyred at the beginning of the 4th century for going against the state. She’s a reminder of the power of women in our church and a wonderful example of the holiness young people can attain.

The Conversion of St. Paul (January 25) and his two disciples, Timothy and Titus (January 26). What would our church be without them? The Church Unity Octave begins today with prayers that God give a converting grace to the Christians churches that they become the one church Jesus prayed for.

St. Francis de Sales was a great communicator when a fractured Europe needed communication. Would he be interested in the internet today?

St Maryanne Cope was a American nun who, after founding two hospitals in upstate New York, served lepers in Hawaii. She reminds us of the heroic service women religious have given to the church in the United States and in the world.

January 22 is a day of prayer for the legal protection of unborn children. A major issue in society today.