Tag Archives: Liturgy

The Conversion of St. Paul

January 25th is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. It came in a blinding moment

So different from the call of the other apostles in Galilee when Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John, then the others. Follow me, he said, come and see. They heard his teaching and saw the wonders he worked, not always understanding.Their blinding moment came when Jesus rose from the dead and sent his Spirit upon them. Conversion was a gradual process for them.
.
Paul’s sudden conversion is a reminder that conversion is primarily God’s work and God’s gift. Caravaggio’s dramatic painting of Paul on the flat of his back, arms outstretched, helplessly blind is a vivid picture of humanity before God. God alone gives the gift of faith.

Paul never forgot God’s conquering grace.

St. John Chrysostom says of him:  “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 him, however, 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.

 

 

Ordinary Time and Daily Prayer


We’re back to Ordinary Time in our liturgy after the Feast of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus. Christmas Time is over. Does that mean there’s nothing to do till Lent and the Easter season?

It certainly doesn’t mean we stop praying and living as Christians. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy insists that daily prayer is at the heart of Ordinary Time and it never stops. (SC 2)

More than just affirming daily prayer, the Second Vatican Council strongly recommended that the scriptures become our daily prayer, and it followed its recommendation by creating a lectionary, daily readings of scripture, so that “ the treasures of the bible be opened more lavishly for the faithful at the table of God’s word.” (SC 51)

We’re beginning today to read from the First Book of Samuel and the Gospel of Mark from our lectionary.

The council’s recommendation to read the scriptures as daily prayer is important. If we were living back in 16th century Spain, for example, at the time of St. Theresa of Avila, we would be shocked by it.

At that time, in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Inquisition forbade books of the scripture in the Spanish language to be read by laypeople and even by nuns, and so Teresa and her nuns only knew the bible from what they heard in church and in the sermons preached to them.

Archbishop Rowan Williams has studied the scriptures Teresa, now a doctor of the church, was allowed to hear. She wrote her “Way of Perfection”, her fundamental instruction of prayer, as the Inquisition was cracking down on scripture commentaries. She’s not a teacher, she writes, just a woman, and she’s aware of how careful you have to be in bad times like these, but even though we don’t have books, Teresa writes, we can still learn how to pray from the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the gospel readings that everyone hears.

The Archbishop remarks that despite her diplomatic language you can see Teresa “seething” against the proscription of the Inquisition.

She probably never read the Book of Samuel (Today’s reading about Hannah’s brush with Eli, the priest, would surely have caught her eye). She knew little about the Gospel of Mark, which was hardly read at all in medieval church lectionaries, and she had no access, of course, to the insights into scripture produced by modern biblical studies.

All of this says that Catholics are living at very privileged time after the Vatican Council. But theologians and commentators are also cautioning that we have to be careful of taking what we have for granted and seeing our liturgy as an accomplishment, rather than a work in progress.

We may have before us more readings from the bible than Teresa had, but that doesn’t say that we have assimilated what they mean and that we’ve created the biblical spirituality the council hoped for.

The liturgy is always a “work”, a daily work, an important work, a daily prayer. It’s the “summit” of the Christian life. We’re at the beginning, not at the end.

“Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.” (SC 24)

“The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.” (SC 51)

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus

 

On the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem  a high tower was built in the last century by the Russian government to allow Christian pilgrims an observation point to see the key places associated with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Looking westward is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where he was crucified and rose from the dead. Just down below is the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed and was arrested. In the distance to the southeast is Bethlehem where he was born. On the eastern side of the Mount of Olives is the village of Bethany where Jesus stayed when he came to Jerusalem and where he raised Lazarus from the dead. Further east, about 20 miles down the Jordan Valley is where he was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

The tower was built, I understand, for pilgrims who couldn’t always get to all of these places because of age, or the pressure of time or perhaps because it was unsafe to travel to one of these destinations. That was especially true for the 20 mile trip to the Jordan River.

The tower attests the importance of  the journey to the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. The Baptism of Jesus is a mystery that includes all the mysteries of Jesus we celebrate as Christians. That’s why we celebrate it today as we conclude the mysteries of the Christmas season. In our baptism we are brought to share in his baptism and in his life.

In the Jordan River,  God the Father, “a voice from heaven,” proclaimed him “my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1,11) We believe that when we are baptized we become children of God with him, with us he is pleased.

We celebrate that gift today. As we go from church to church, we touch the Holy Water with our hands and bless ourselves, remembering the great gift we have in Jesus Christ. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

 

A Prayer for Thanksgiving Day

The times are bad, safe to say. But however bad they are, we know we should give thanks.

How did Thanksgiving begin? Hard to say. One popular account traces it to New England in 1621 when the pilgrims recently migrated from England sat down with the native peoples for a meal at this time of year. Was it a meal after a good harvest or a bad harvest? Accounts differ.

The account of a bad harvest says that the Indians saw the poor Puritans starving and got them a meal of wild turkey and corn and other foodstuffs the immigrants knew nothing about.

There are other theories for the feast. One theory traces Thanksgiving to Protestant objections to Catholic celebrations of saints’ feasts and  celebrations like Christmas and Easter. Too many, they said. The Puritans cut out those celebrations and kept only two kinds of religious observance, Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving.

It’s safe to say Thanksgiving is a very popular day for celebrating with family and friends. It’s also true that if you went to the churches around our country today, you would find better attendance than usual.

On Thanksgiving I think of what Meister Eckhardt said:

“If the only prayer that you said in your entire life is Thank You, that would suffice.”

Prayer

Your gifts are countless, O God,

and we thank you for them all.

May our hearts like yours reach out,

to those who have less than we do.

and give them your blessing.

Bless the gifts of food and drink we share at this table.

Bless those who prepared them for us,

Bless those around this table,

Bless creations itself, your great table of gifts.

We give you thanks for all. Amen

 

Our Lady of Sorrows: September 15

DSCN0299

 

There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him. There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.”  That’s how Mark’s gospel describes some onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion. (Mark 15,40-41)

John’s gospel brings some of the women closer. He places Mary, the Mother of Jesus, standing at the cross itself. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

She stands, close by,  not at a distance, not afraid to see, not absorbed in her own suffering, not disengaged from him or his sufferings. She enters into the mystery of the cross through compassion, which doesn’t experience his suffering exactly, but enters it to break the isolation suffering causes and helps someone bear their burden.  The sword, the spear, pierces both hearts, but in a different way.

Compassion is a necessary part of the mystery of the cross.

The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, which we celebrate in the Roman calendar  on September 15th, was placed after the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross (September 14) only recently, in the 20th century by Pope Pius X.  He took the feast,  formerly the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, and placed it on this date which is the octave of Mary’s birth (September 7).

The prayer for today’s feast says that when her Son “was lifted high on the Cross” his mother stood by and shared his suffering, but as yesterday’s feast of the Triumph of the Cross makes clear, Jesus  lifted high draws all to himself to share in his resurrection.

Compassion leads to a share in Jesus’ resurrection.

For a commentary on John’s Gospel see here.

For a study on Mary on Calvary see here.

For readings for the feast and the Stabat Mater see here.

The Passion of John the Baptist

IMG_1460

The death of John the Baptist, ordered by Herod and sought by his wife Herodias, is a dramatic tale of revenge and loyalty vividly told in Mark’s gospel. Because it’s like the Passion of Jesus the church calls John’s death “The Passion of John the Baptist”  and remembers it  August 29th.

Venerable Bede has a thoughtful homily on John’s death, a martyr’s death.  It’s like the death of Jesus Christ because they both embraced the same values, they were both unjustly killed for embracing those values.  If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, perhaps he would gain a few peaceful years of life, Bede says, but he was more concerned with what God thought than powerful people on earth.

“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.

“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives– but how we live them, speaking the truth.”

Good thought. It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”

For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? The opening prayer for this feast asks that ” we might fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” Maybe not getting our heads chopped off, but getting some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth.

Psalms say it all

I like the way psalms say it all. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!” a psalm response said recently. No need to double your efforts or think hard about something. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!”

The earth rejoices in God, our king. Why not join it? The “many isles are glad.” Be glad with them.

The psalms have a way of stilling our souls and calling them into the quiet grace of God’s presence. Does everything depend on us? No, it doesn’t. God “melts the mountains like wax” and “guards the lives of his faithful ones.” We think we have to know everything, but only God can do that.

We take part in the liturgy, not to know more and more, but to be drawn closer to God. The scriptures, prayers and actions feed our minds and hearts, but only little by little. One of the special graces of the psalms is invite us to rest in God as a child in a mother’s arms.

Most of the psalms in our liturgy are songs of praise. “Rejoice in the Lord!” Some cry for help. They call us to simple, deep prayer. Keep your eye on them in the liturgy. They’re wonderful basic prayers.

“Although the whole of Scripture breathes God’s grace upon us, this is especially true of that delightful book, the book of the psalms.” (St. Ambrose)