Monthly Archives: September 2019

Saint Jerome

jerome

St. Jerome, whose feast is September 30, was a scripture scholar who brought the bible to western Christians through his translations from the Greek and Hebrew.  He was born in 340 in Stridon, a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast, and received an early education in Rome. He was baptized there in 360 by Pope Liberius.

Brilliant and eager to know,  Jerome traveled extensively. In Antioch in Syria he had a dream in which he saw himself rebuked by Christ for wasting his time on worldly knowledge. Moved by the dream, Jerome withdrew into the Syrian desert. There he said he was beset by temptations and “threw himself at the feet of Jesus, watering them with prayers and acts of penance.” The picture above portrays him praying to be delivered from temptation.

For penance, Jerome began studying Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which later helped him translate and comment on the Bible.

Ordained a priest, Je arrived in Constantinople about 380 where he studied the scriptures under St. Gregory of Nazianzen. Two years later, he returned to Rome and was   given  the monumental task of translating the bible from Greek into Latin by Pope Damasus. His translation, called the Vulgate, his 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 bible.

Jerome’s comments on Roman society drew critics who resented his biting tongue and caustic remarks. 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 studying the scriptures, utilizing the nearby Christian library at Caesarea Maritima.  Friends from Rome joined him, among them the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eustochia, who founded a monastic community of women in Bethlehem.

St. Catharine Church, Bethlehem

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

“Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” Jerome said. Besides his scripture studies he 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 provided 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. A doctor and teacher of the church, he frankly recognized his need for God’s mercy. Jerome reminds us that saints are not perfect.

“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.”

READINGS FOR THE 26th WEEK

SEPTEMBER 30 Mon Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Memorial

Zec 8:1-8/Lk 9:46-50 

OCTOBER 1 Tue Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Zec 8:20-23/Lk 9:51-56 

2 Wed The Holy Guardian Angels Memorial

Neh 2:1-8 (457)/Mt 18:1-5,

3 Thu Weekday

Neh 8:1-4a, 5-6, 7b-12/Lk 10:1-12 

4 Fri Saint Francis of Assisi Memorial

Bar 1:15-22/Lk 10:13-16 

5 Sat Weekday

[USA: Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, Priest;]

Bar 4:5-12, 27-29/Lk 10:17-24 

TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 Hb 1:2-3; 2:2-4/2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14/Lk 17:5-10 (141)

St. Therese, the Little Flower, follows St.Jerome, the great scripture scholar, in the church calendar. Both are doctors of the church. One entered the scriptures mostly through the mind, the other through the heart. 

The Book of Nehemiah read this week is an important source for understanding the Restoration that took place after the Babylonian exile, when the Jews returned to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Nehemiah was the leader who rebuilt the walls and structures of the city; Esra was the scribe who read out the Torah, the Jewish scriptures, to the people. He also encouraged them the celebrate the Jewish feasts.

Good reading for a church rebuilding, like ours.

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 reach out to 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

Ecological Conversion

The other day I was looking through our Passionist liturgical calendar for the feasts ahead and came to a section at the end that I never paid much attention to before. “Notices.”  It’s a list from the Vatican and the United Nations of important issues facing our world today,  issues to keep before us in our liturgy. Liturgy is not just feasts and readings of the day; we need to bring current issues into our prayer and reflection lest liturgy becomes an “archeological dig.”

Each month the pope asks that we reflect and pray about some important issue.  For example, all of September and until the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, we’re asked to pray and reflect on the care of creation. It’s a “Season of Creation”; the Orthodox Church began it, I believe, and Roman Catholics and other religious groups have joined in.  

A timely issue. 

All this week there were demonstrations and conferences throughout the world on climate change. About 4 million young people demonstrated in cities globally to pressure world leaders meeting at the UN to decrease the world’s dependence on fossil fuel. The UN meeting was disappointing. My own country, the United States, along with China and Russia, did nothing. 

A reporter asked leaders of the youth demonstrations why did young people  demonstrate. They said that young people are terrified of the future. Terrified. And if the young Swedish girl who has been speaking at the UN and throughout the US is any indication, the younger generation is angry at an older generation, particularly politicians,  that doesn’t want to do anything. 

My own church here in the US hasn’t responded well to the issue of climate change, which leads me to wonder if that may be a factor for so many young people finding church irrelevant. 

Pope Francis is aware of the crisis the world is facing. Besides urging action by the United Nations, (see previous blog), he’s invited leaders from the religious and educational worlds to meet at the Vatican to see how we can change our educational systems worldwide, so that we can look at the world differently. In Laudato si he speaks of an “ecological conversion”. It’s not a matter of changing technology; it’s changing our mentality.  

I’ve been reading recently an article by the Jesuit historian, John W. O Malley, “How We Were: Life in a Jesuit Novitiate, 1946-48” That’s around the time I made my own novitiate with the Passionists. O’Malley describes the day by day novitiate experience thoroughly, but he also indicates new influences affecting Jesuit formation then– a new historical sense about the past and the scriptures. a greater attention to human sciences like psychology. They were making their way slowly into religious formation structures. They were making their way into the formation structure of my community as well.

It seems to me a new cosmology is making its way into our society now. Yes, the historical sciences are important and we have to know as much as we can know about ourselves. But we have to go beyond humanity now.

We have to reflect on creation and keep it in our prayers. It’s there every day as we bring bread and wine and water to the altar in the Eucharist. It’s our home. It’s endangered. We need to care for it.

Pope Francis to UN Climate Change Conference

It was a disappointing meeting. Major countries like the USA, China, Russia presented no new initiatives.

The Pope sent a message. Take a look at it. You can get it at the Vatican site;

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-09/pope-francis-videomessage-climate-action-summit-united-nations.html#play

St. Vincent Strambi

St. Vincent Strambi, CP

We know the saints best when we see them as part of their time. Saints don’t withdraw from the time they live in. They engage it. The world we live in is the path we take when we’re born and our companion through our lifespan. It’s the cross we carry, the calvary on which we find ourselves. Our blood, mingled with the blood of Christ, must fall on it to redeem it.

I’m 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 world conquest and a society increasingly influenced by the Enlightenment.

Strambi had a great devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, which 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, wrote a short biography of Strambi which we’re going to translate into English. Someday I hope it will be an ebook.

Room of St. Vincent Strambi, Saints John and Paul, Rome