Tag Archives: Passionists

The Maccabees

This week’s Mass readings from the 1st Book of Maccabees tell the story of the re-dedication of the temple of Jerusalem three years after its profanation  by Antiochus Epiphanes.  About the year 167 BC,  Jews under Judas Maccabeus re-conquered Jerusalem and restored the temple, the heart of their religion.

The first reading this Friday describes the rededication of the temple to its former glory. The Jews continue to celebrate it in the feast of Hannukah. (1 Maccabees 4,36-61}

The New Testament writers, certainly aware of this historic event, recall Jesus cleansing the temple.(Friday’s gospel) Entering Jerusalem after his journey from Galilee, “ Jesus went into the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Then, “every day he was teaching in the temple area” until he was arrested and put to death. (Luke 19,45-48)

Cleansing the temple was a symbolic act. By it,  Jesus signified  he himself  is the presence of God, the Word made flesh, the new temple of God.

Luke says Jesus taught in the temple “every day.” As our eternal high priest, he teaches us every day and brings us to his Father and our Father–every day.

Jesus is the temple that cannot be destroyed. At his trial before he died, witnesses gave testimony that was half right when they said he spoke of destroying the temple. When he spoke about the destruction of the temple, Jesus was speaking of the temple of his own body. Death seemed to destroy him, but he was raised up on the third day.

We share in this mystery as “members of his body.” Yet, we’re a sacramental people and need places to come together, to pray and to meet God who “dwells among us.” We need churches and holy places. We instinctively revolt when we see them go.

We recognize the heroism of the Maccabees.

The Gift of the Old

This week our first readings at Mass are from the First and Second Books of Maccabees describing the Jewish revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes, successor to Alexander the Great. The revolt took place over a hundred years before the time of Jesus. The rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus after its profanation by foreign invaders inspired the Jewish Feast of Hannukah. (Thursday)

The Maccabean revolt is one reason why the times of Jesus were so politically sensitive. On his journey to Jerusalem, some “thought that the kingdom of God would appear there immediately.” (Luke 19,11) Some of his disciple may have thought that would happen by an armed uprising against the Romans, like that  against Antiochus Epiphanes.

Our readings this week are not battle accounts from the uprising but rather stories of two elderly faithful Jews:: Eleazar, a scribe who refused to assimilate to the culture of the conquerors, and a mother who inspired her seven sons to resist the invaders. (Tuesday and Wednesday)

All Eleazar had to do was pretend to eat the meat of sacrifice, but the ninety-year old chose to die rather than give bad example to the young.
“I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.” (2 Maccabees 6. 30-31)

The Jewish mother, seized with her seven son and witness to their torture and death,  urged them to keep their faith and persevere:
“I do not know how you came into existence in my womb; it was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed.
Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life,
because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.” (2 Maccabees 7,1, 21-31)

Pope Francis often speaks of the wisdom and influence of the elderly.  We rely on them.

Elizabeth of Hungary

November 17th, is the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. At 14 she married Louis, ruler of Thuringia, and lived happily with him for 8 years until he died in 1227. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, she made the resources of her kingdom serve the poor, especially when floods, famine and plague struck that land in 1226.

Her spiritual director, Conrad of Marbugh, wrote this masterful little biography of her after she died:

“She was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castles should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband’s empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband’s four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious’ possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.

Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave food, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door.

On Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Saviour in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive.

Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.

Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman. When she was coming from private prayer, some religious men and women often saw her face shining marvellously and light coming from her eyes like the rays of the sun.

Before her death I heard her confession. When I asked what should be done about her goods and possessions, she replied that anything which seemed to be hers belonged to the poor. She asked me to distribute everything except one worn out dress in which she wished to be buried. When all this had been decided, she received the body of our Lord. Afterward, until vespers, she spoke often of the holiest things she had heard in sermons. Then, she devoutly commended to God all who were sitting near her, and as if falling into a gentle sleep, she died.”

   

 

Blessed Eugene Bossilkov,CP

We remember Blessed Eugene Bossilkov in the Passionist calendar November 13. A Bulgarian Passionist and bishop he was executed by the Communist regime November 11,1952 after being sentenced at a mock trial in Sophia, Bulgaria. His body was thrown into a lime pit outside the prison; as far as I know it has never been recovered.

His death was not confirmed to the outside world until 1975, when a Bulgarian minister visiting the Vatican was asked by Pope Paul VI what happened to Bishop Bossilkov. The minister confirmed the date and place of his execution. The Communist regime in Bulgaria was known at the time as perhaps the most brutal and secretive of all the Communist controlled countries of Eastern Europe.

Bishop Bosilkov was declared “Blessed” on March 15,1998 in Rome by Pope St. John Paul II, who said he was  “a splendid treasure of the church in his motherland. A brave witness of the cross of Christ; he is one of many victims sacrificed by atheistic Communism, in Bulgaria and elsewhere, as it attempted to annihilate the church. In those days of fierce persecution, many looked up to him and from his courageous example gained the strength to remain faithful to the Gospel to the end. I am happy on this joyful day for the nation of Bulgaria to honor so many, like Bishop Bossilhov, who paid with their lives for holding on to the faith they received at baptism.”

I attended Bishop Bossilkov’s beatification and what I recall most was not the impressive ceremonies at the Vatican but the Bulgarians who came for the occasion and stayed at our monastery of Saints John and Paul. They were relatives of the bishop and men and women from the church where he was bishop. Simple ordinary people who had come through hard times in a country emerging from Communism.

His niece, Sister Gabriella Bossilkov, was one of them. She knew him as a little girl; she was with him when he was arrested, attended his trial and visited him in prison before his execution. She described in great detail how they bullied him and lied about him; she remembered what he said when she told him in prison shortly before his death that they were trying to arrange for a pardon. “No,” he told us, “I know the Lord has given me his grace. I am willing to die.” 

She brought a blanket and baskets of food to him in prison the days before his death until one day the food basket was returned untouched. “He won’t need that any more,” she was told. When the prison guards finally said he had died and she demanded some proof, they gave her his blood stained shirt, which later at his beatification was the only relic that remained of him.

I’m sure his story will be told more fully when his canonization arrives. Politics and historical circumstances often delay the telling of a story like his. But it will be told. God reveals the glory of his saints, and Bishop Eugene Bossilkov is surely one of them, 

His niece said “I remember my uncle saying ‘The stains of our blood will guarantee a great future for the new church of Bulgaria.’”

St. Martin of Tours, November 11

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Martin of Tours is a saint worth reflecting on,

Saints are the antidotes to the poison of their times, Chesterton said,  so what poison did Martin confront?

One was the poison of militarism. Martin was born into a military family in 316,  his father a Roman officer who came up through the ranks and  commanded the legions on the Roman frontier along the Rhine and Danube rivers. When his son was born his father saw him as a soldier like himself. He named him Martin, after Mars, the god of war.

Rome was mobilizing then to stop invading barbarian tribes, and soldiers, like the emperors Constantine and Diocletian, were its heroes.  But Martin wanted nothing to do with war. As a young boy he heard a message of peace and non-violence from Christians he knew. Instead of a soldier, he became a Christian catechumen, over his father’s strong objections. Martin was a lifelong peacemaker.

He died on his way as a bishop to settle a dispute among his priests.

Another poison Martin confronted was the poison of careerism. Elected bishop of Tours by the people, Martin adopted a lifestyle unlike that of other bishops of Gaul, who were increasingly involved in imperial  administration and adopting the privileged style that came with it.

Bishops set themselves up in the cities;  Martin preferred to minister in the country, to the “pagani”, the uneducated poor.

Are the poisons of militarism and careerism around today? We remember our war veterans today.So many died in terrible wars these 100 years and many bear the scars of war. Militarism is still around. So is careerism .

The story that epitomizes Martin, of course, is his meeting with the beggar in a cold winter as he was coming through the gate in the town of Amiens, still a soldier but also a Christian catechumen. He stopped and cut his military cloak in two and gave one to the poor man. That night, the story goes, Christ appeared to him in a dream, wearing the beggar’s cloak. “Martin gave me this,” he said.

Pope Benedict XVI commented on this event.

“ Martin’s gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist… It’s the logic of sharing.

May St Martin help us to understand that only by a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if an authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.”

That’s well said.

In medieval Europe farmers were getting ready for winter at this time, putting aside food and meat for the cold days ahead. Martin’s feast day was a reminder to put aside something for the poor. The poor are always with us; are we remembering them?

Today’s  Veterans Day in the USA, honoring those who fought in our country’s wars. It was originally called Armistice Day celebrating the end of fighting between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918. The United States lost 116,516 troops in the 1st World War; other countries lost millions more. The wars that followed added to that count.

St. Charles Borromeo (1538-84)

borrom2Charles Borromeo was born into a rich powerful northern Italian family in 1538. His uncle was Pope Pius IV. Nepotism was customary at the papal court then, so having the pope as your uncle was a sure way to get ahead. A shy studious young man of 23,  with a speech impediment, Charles was called to Rome and made a deacon, then cardinal, becoming the pope’s trusted advisor and Secretary of State.

His brother died unexpectedly In the winter of 1562 and Charles, grieving,  made a retreat, following the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. His father and mother died also,  and as their remaining heir Charles was urged by his family, including the pope, to marry and have children. Instead he chose to become a priest.

The Council of Trent was concluding its work for church reform and Charles embraced the council’s call for reform; he left Rome and became bishop of Milan.

As bishop of that key city, Charles Borromeo became a key figure in the renewal of the Catholic church shaken by the Protestant Reformation. In an era of absentee bishops, he stayed in his diocese, bringing about reform. He helped draft the Catechism of the Council of Trent. He founded a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for catechizing his people. He started a printing press to make the Word of God known to his people. He created seminaries for training priests.

He wasn’t afraid to deal with inertia in his church or to confront the challenge to his authority from secular rulers or diocesan groups. In 1569 a friar from one religious community irked by his call for reform fired a shot that grazed his vestments while he was celebrating Mass. He was a man of meetings, a hard worker, constantly calling people together in diocesan synods and groups.

He endeared himself to his people by his work among the plague-stricken, when a plague gripped Milan in 157.  Borromeo stayed in the city while most authorities fled. He mobilized  people to minister to the sick and dying and set up hospitals for their care.

He was only 46 when he died, worn out trying to bring the gospel to his people;  he showed other bishops and dioceses how to renew the church. Some historians say he lacked an appreciation of the role of the laity in the ministry of the church, but most  see saints like Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri and Francis de Sales as more important for the Catholic renewal after the Reformation than the popes and general councils of the time.

We hope and pray for church leaders and saints like them today.

Father Theodore Foley, a holy superior general of my community, the Passionists, was reading the life of Charles Borromeo, when he died in 1974. He was inspired by his selfless leadership.

All Souls Day

All Saints Day and All Souls Day belong together. On the Feast of All Saints we affirm the capability of humanity for goodness and holiness. We’re all called to be numbered among the saints of God.

On All Souls Day we remember that we’re all weak and sinful. We can lose hope in the call of God, and so we ask God’s mercy for ourselves and those who have gone before us in death.

St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, affirming God’s promise of eternal life, open our prayer today:

“Just as Jesus died and has risen again, so through Jesus God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep and as in Adam all die so also in Christ all will be brought to life.”

At Communion, we hear the words of Jesus:

“I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Whoever believes in me even though he die will live and anyone who believes in me will never die.”

Still, death can sadden us; it can weaken our faith. Praying for the dead strengthens our faith and benefits those who have gone before us. Our opening prayer asks for that grace.

Listen kindly to our prayers, O Lord,
and, as our faith in your Son,
raised from the dead is deepened,
so may our hope of resurrection for your departed servants
also find new strength.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.