Thursday, November 26, 2009

A homily by St John Chrysostom
If we are sheep, we overcome; if wolves, we are overcome
As long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, we are overcome, for we love the shepherd’s help. He, after all, feeds the sheep not wolves, and will abandon you if you do not let him show his power in you.
What he says is this: “Do not be upset that, as I send you out among the wolves, I bid you be as sheep and doves. I could have managed things quite differently and sent you, not to suffer evil nor to yield like sheep to the wolves, but to be fiercer than lions. But the way I have chosen is right. It will bring you greater praise and at the same time manifest my power.” That is what he told Paul: My grace is enough for you, for in weakness my power is made perfect. “I intend,” he says, “to deal in the same way with you.” For, when he says, I am sending you out like sheep, he implies: “But do not therefore lose heart, for I know and am certain that no one will be able to overcome you.”
The Lord, however, does want them to contribute something, lest everything seem to be the work of grace, and they seem to win their reward without deserving it. Therefore he adds: You must be clever as snakes and innocent as doves. But, they may object, what good is our cleverness amid so many dangers? How can we be clever when tossed about by so many waves? However great the cleverness of the sheep as he stands among the wolves – so many wolves! – what can it accomplish?However great the innocence of the dove, what good does it do him,with so many hawks swooping upon him? To all this I say: Cleverness and innocence admittedly do these irrational creatures no good, but they can help you greatly.
What cleverness is the Lord requiring here? The cleverness of a snake. A snake will surrender everything and will put up no great resistance even if its body is being cut in pieces, provided it can save its head. So you, the Lord is saying, must surrender everything but your faith: money, body, even life itself. For faith is the head and the root; keep that, and though you lose all else, you will get it back in abundance. The Lord therefore counselled the disciples to be not simply clever or innocent; rather he joined the two qualities so that they become a genuine virtue. He insisted on the cleverness of the snake so that deadly wounds might be avoided, and he insisted on the innocence of the dove so that revenge might not be taken on those who injure or lay traps for you. Cleverness is useless without innocence.
Do not believe that this precept is beyond your power. More than anyone else, the Lord knows the true natures of created things; he knows that moderation, not a fierce defence, beats back a fierce attack.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Saints Andrew Dung-Lac and his Companions

The evangelization of Vietnam began in the 16th century and was formally established with the setting up of two Vicariates Apostolic in 1659. There are now about 6 million Catholics in Vietnam, some 10% of the population.
This growth comes partly from the fact that since the earliest times the seed of the Faith has been watered by the blood of the martyrs of Vietnam – the missionary clergy, the local clergy and the ordinary Christian people. They have all shared the labour of apostolic work and have together faced death to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel. In the course of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries no less than 53 decrees, signed by the lords and emperors of the country from 1625 to 1886, launched one persecution of Christians after another, each one more savage than the last. Over the whole territory of Vietnam about 130,000 Christians were killed in these persecutions. Over the centuries the names of most of them have been lost, but their memory is still alive in the Catholic community.
Since the beginning of the 20th century 117 of these heroes (those whose sufferings were cruellest and best documented) were beatified, in four groups. They were all canonized together by Pope John Paul II on 19 June 1988.
Each one of them was a soul individually created and loved by God, with a life and gifts uniquely his or her own; but with such a huge crowd one can only classify. By nationality, there were 96 Vietnamese, 11 Spanish and 10 French. By status, there were 8 bishops, 50 priests, and 59 laymen and women. By mode of death, 75 were beheaded, 22 strangled, 6 burned alive, 5 torn to pieces while still alive, and 9 died of torture in prison.

A treatise of St Augustine on St John's gospel
You will come to the spring and see light itself
We Christians are the light, at least by comparison with unbelievers. Thus the Apostle says: Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk then as sons of the light. And elsewhere he says: The night is far spent, the day is drawing near. Let us therefore lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us walk uprightly as in the day.
Nevertheless, since the days in which we are now living are still dark compared to the light which we shall see, hear what the apostle Peter says. He speaks of a voice that came from the Supreme Glory and said to the Lord Jesus Christ: You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. This voice, he says, we heard coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain. Because we ourselves were not present there and did not hear that voice from heaven, Peter says to us:And we possess a more certain prophetic word to which you do well to attend, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
When, therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ comes and, as the apostle Paul says, brings to light things hidden in darkness and makes plain the secrets of the heart, so that everyone may receive his commendation from God, then lamps will no longer be needed. When that day is at hand, the prophet will not be read to us, the book of the Apostle will not be opened, we shall not require the testimony of John, we shall have no need of the Gospel itself. Therefore all Scriptures will be taken away from us, those Scriptures which in the night of this world burned like lamps so that we might not remain in darkness.
When all these things are removed as no longer necessary for our illumination, and when the men of God by whom they were ministered to us shall themselves together with us behold the true and dear light without such aids, what shall we see? With what shall our minds be nourished? What will give joy to our gaze? Where will that gladness come from, which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, which has not even been conceived by the heart of man? What shall we see?
I implore you to love with me and, by believing, to run with me; let us long for our heavenly country, let us sigh for our heavenly home, let us truly feel that here we are strangers. What shall we then see? Let the gospel tell us: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. You will come to the fountain, with whose dew you have already been sprinkled. Instead of the ray of light which was sent through slanting and winding ways into the heart of your darkness, you will see the light itself in all its purity and brightness. It is to see and experience this light that you are now being cleansed. Dearly beloved, John himself says, we are the sons of God, and it has not yet been disclosed what we shall be; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
I feel that your spirits are being raised up with mine to the heavens above; but the body which is corruptible weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind. I am about to lay aside this book, and you are soon going away, each to his own business. It has been good for us to share the common light, good to have enjoyed ourselves, good to have been glad together. When we part from one another, let us not depart from him.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A sermon by St Augustine

The heart of the just man will rejoice in the Lord
The just man will rejoice in the Lord and put his hope in him; the hearts of all good men will be filled with joy. We must surely have sung these words with our hearts as well as with our voices. Indeed, the tongue of the Christian expresses his deepest feelings when it addresses such words to God. The just man will rejoice, not in the world, but in the Lord. Light has dawned for the just, Scripture says in another place, and joy for the upright of heart. Were you wondering what reason he has for joy? Here you are told: The just man will rejoice in the Lord. Another text runs: Delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.
What are we instructed to do then, and what are we enabled to do? To rejoice in the Lord. But who can rejoice in something he does not see? Am I suggesting that we see the Lord then? No, but we have been promised that we shall see him. Now, as long as we are in the body, we walk by faith, for we are absent from the Lord. We walk by faith, and not by sight. When will it be by sight? Beloved, says John, we are now the sons of God; what we shall be has not yet been revealed, but we know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. When this prophecy is fulfilled, then it will be by sight.
That will be the great joy, the supreme joy, joy in all its fullness. Then we shall no longer drink the milk of hope, but we shall feed on the reality itself. Nevertheless, even now, before that vision comes to us, or before we come to that vision, let us rejoice in the Lord; for it is no small reason for rejoicing to have a hope that will some day be fulfilled.
Therefore, since the hope we now have inspires love, the just man rejoices, Scripture says, in the Lord; but because he does not yet see, it immediately goes on to say, and hopes in him.
Yet already we have the first fruits of the Spirit, and have we not also other reasons for rejoicing? For we are drawing near to the one we love, and not only are we drawing near – we even have some slight feeling and taste of the banquet we shall one day eagerly eat and drink.
But how can we rejoice in the Lord if he is far from us? Pray God he may not be far. If he is, that is your doing. Love, and he will draw near; love, and he will dwell within you. The Lord is at hand; have no anxiety. Are you puzzled to know how it is that he will be with you if you love? God is love.
“What do you mean by love?” you will ask me. It is that which enables us to be loving. What do we love? A good that words cannot describe, a good that is for ever giving, a good that is the Creator of all good. Delight in him from whom you have received everything that delights you. But in that I do not include sin, for sin is the one thing that you do not receive from him. With that one exception, everything you have comes from him

Monday, November 16, 2009

St. Gertrude and St. Margaret of Scotland

St. Margaret of Scotland (1046 - 1093)
She was born in Hungary of Anglo-Saxon and Hungarian parents. When William of Normandy conquered England she found refuge with King Malcolm III of Scotland, and they were married in 1070 and had eight children. She reformed the royal court, founded monasteries, and supported major reforms of Church life. She died in Edinburgh on 16 November 1093. She is remembered for the happiness of her marriage, for her devotion to prayer and learning, and especially for her generosity to the poor.

St Gertrude (1256 - 1301/2)
She was born at Eisleben in Thuringia. As a girl she was educated by the Benedictine nuns at Helfta and was particularly talented at literature and philosophy. She turned to God and became a nun herself. She was devoted to the mystery of the Incarnation, in particular to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Eucharist. She the recipient of many mystical experiences, and her spiritual writings had great influence in later centuries and indirectly contributed to the establishment of the feast of the Sacred Hear

The treatise of St Fulgentius of Ruspe on the forgiveness
Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye as the final trumpet sounds, for the trumpet shall indeed sound, the dead shall rise incorruptible and we shall be changed. In saying “we,” Paul is indicating that the gift of that future change will also be given to those who during their time on earth are united to him and his companions by upright lives within the communion of the Church. He hints at the nature of the change when he says: This corruptible body must put on incorruptibility, this mortal body immortality. In order, then, that men may obtain the transformation which is the reward of the just, they must first undergo here on earth a change which is God’s free gift. Those who in this life have been changed from evil to good are promised that future change as a reward.
Through justification and the spiritual resurrection, grace now effects in them an initial change that is God’s gift. Later on, through the bodily resurrection, the transformation of the just will be brought to completion, and they will experience a perfect, abiding, unchangeable glorification. The purpose of this change wrought in them by the gifts of both justification and glorification is that they may abide in an eternal, changeless state of joy.
Here on earth they are changed by the first resurrection, in which they are enlightened and converted, thus passing from death to life, sinfulness to holiness, unbelief to faith, and evil actions to holy life. For this reason the second death has no power over them. It is of such men that the Book of Revelation says: Happy the man who shares in the first resurrection; over such as he the second death has no power. Elsewhere the same book says: He who overcomes shall not be harmed by the second death. As the first resurrection consists of the conversion of the heart, the second death consists of unending torment.
Let everyone, therefore, who does not wish to be condemned to the endless punishment of the second death now hasten to share in the first resurrection. For if any during this life are changed out of fear of God and pass from an evil life to a good one, they pass from death to life and later they shall be transformed from a shameful state to a glorious one.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Readings from the Book of Wisdom

First reading from Friday's mass
Wisdom 13:1-9 ©
Naturally stupid are all men who have not known God
and who, from the good things that are seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is,
or, by studying the works, have failed to recognise the Artificer.
Fire however, or wind, or the swift air,
the sphere of the stars, impetuous water, heaven’s lamps,
are what they have held to be the gods who govern the world.
If, charmed by their beauty, they have taken things for gods,
let them know how much the Lord of these excels them,
since the very Author of beauty has created them.
And if they have been impressed by their power and energy,
let them deduce from these how much mightier is he that has formed them,
since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures
we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.
Small blame, however, attaches to these men,
for perhaps they only go astray
in their search for God and their eagerness to find him;
living among his works, they strive to comprehend them
and fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty.
Even so, they are not to be excused:
if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge
to be able to investigate the world,
how have they been so slow to find its Master

First Reading from Saturday's mass

First readingWisdom 18:14-16,19:6-9 ©
When peaceful silence lay over all,
and night had run the half of her swift course,
down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all-powerful Word;
into the heart of a doomed land the stern warrior leapt.
Carrying your unambiguous command like a sharp sword,
he stood, and filled the universe with death;
he touched the sky, yet trod the earth.
For, to keep your children from all harm,
The whole creation, obedient to your commands,
was once more, and newly, fashioned in its nature.
Overshadowing the camp there was the cloud,
where water had been, dry land was seen to rise,
the Red Sea became an unimpeded way,
the tempestuous flood a green plain;
sheltered by your hand, the whole nation passed across,
gazing at these amazing miracles.
They were like horses at pasture,
they skipped like lambs,
singing your praises, Lord, their deliverer

Thursday, November 12, 2009

St. Joshaphat

Pope Pius XI's encyclical "Ecclesiam Dei"
He gave his life for the unity of the Church
In designing his Church God worked with such skill that in the fullness of time it would resemble a single great family embracing all men. It can be identified, as we know, by certain distinctive characteristics, notably its universality and unity.
Christ the Lord passed on to his apostles the task he had received from the Father: I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. He wanted the apostles as a body to be intimately bound together, first by the inner tie of the same faith and love which flows into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and, second, by the external tie of authority exercised by one apostle over the others. For this he assigned the primacy to Peter, the source and visible basis of their unity for all time. So that the unity and agreement among them would endure, God wisely stamped them, one might say, with the mark of holiness and martyrdom.
Both these distinctions fell to Josaphat, archbishop of Polock of the Slavonic rite of the Eastern Church. He is rightly looked upon as the great glory and strength of the Eastern Rite Slavs. Few have brought them greater honour or contributed more to their spiritual welfare than Josaphat, their pastor and apostle, especially when he gave his life as a martyr for the unity of the Church. He felt, in fact, that God had inspired him to restore world-wide unity to the Church and he realised that his greatest chance of success lay in preserving the Slavonic rite and Saint Basil’s rule of monastic life within the one universal Church.
Concerned mainly with seeing his own people reunited to the See of Peter, he sought out every available argument which would foster and maintain Church unity. His best arguments were drawn from liturgical books, sanctioned by the Fathers of the Church, which were in common use among Eastern Christians, including the dissidents. Thus thoroughly prepared, he set out to restore the unity of the Church. A forceful man of fine sensibilities, he met with such success that his opponents dubbed him “the thief of souls.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Biography of St. Martin de Porres and the second reading from the Office of readings


Dominican Coadjutor Brother

Saint Martin de Porres was born in Lima, Peru in 1579, during the days when Spanish noblemen and many adventurers were still in the land, fascinated by the lure of the gold and silver which abounded there. He was the natural son of one of these and a young Indian woman. It was not long before his dark complexion caused his father to be ashamed of him and his mother, and to abandon them. Later the father would regret his too rapid decision, and take Martin under his protection.

The young boy often heard himself referred to as a half-breed, and all his life long, his profound humility saw in himself only the magnanimity of God amid the inadequacy of his origins. When his mother could not support him and his sister, Martin was confided to a primary school for two years, then placed with a surgeon to learn the medical arts. This caused him great joy, though he was only ten years old, for he could exercise charity to his neighbor while earning his living. Already he was spending hours of the night in prayer, a practice which increased rather than diminished as he grew older. Until his death he would flagellate himself three times every night, for his own failings and for the conversion of pagans and sinners.

He asked for admission to the Dominican Convent of the Rosary in Lima and was received first as a tertiary. When he was 24, he was given the habit of a Coadjutor Brother and assigned to the infirmary of that convent, where he would remain in service until his death at the age of sixty. His superiors saw in him the virtues necessary to exercise unfailing patience in this difficult role, and he never disappointed them. On the contrary, it was not long before miracles began to happen, and Saint Martin was working also with the sick outside his convent, often bringing them healing with only a simple glass of water. He begged for alms to procure for them necessities the Convent could not provide, and Providence always supplied what he sought.

One day an aged beggar, covered with ulcers and almost naked, stretched out his hand, and Saint Martin, seeing the Divine Mendicant in him, took him to his own bed, paying no heed to the fact that he was not perfectly neat and clean. One of his brethren, considering he had gone too far in his charity, reproved him. Saint Martin replied: “Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create.”

When an epidemic struck Lima, there were in this single convent of the Rosary sixty religious who were sick, many of them novices in a distant and locked section of the convent, separated from the professed. Saint Martin is known to have passed through the locked doors to care for them, a phenomenon which was observed in the residence more than once. The professed, too, saw him suddenly beside them without the doors having been opened; and these facts were duly verified by the surprised Superiors. Martin continued to transport the sick to the convent until the provincial Superior, alarmed by the contagion threatening the religious, forbid him to continue to do so. His sister, who lived in the country, offered her house to lodge those whom the residence of the religious could not hold. One day he found on the street a poor Indian, bleeding to death from a dagger wound, and took him to his own room until he could transport him to his sister’s hospice. The Superior, when he heard of this, reprimanded his subject for disobedience. He was extremely edified by his reply: “Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” In effect, there are situations where charity must prevail; and instruction is very necessary. The Superior gave him liberty thereafter to follow his inspirations in the exercise of mercy.

In normal times Saint Martin succeeded with his alms to feed 160 poor persons every day, and distributed a remarkable sum of money every week to the indigent — the latter phenomenon hard to explain by ordinary calculations. To Saint Martin the city of Lima owed a famous residence founded for orphans and abandoned children, where they were formed in piety for a creative Christian life. This lay Brother had always wanted to be a missionary, but never left his native city; yet even during his lifetime he was seen elsewhere, in regions as far distant as Africa, China, Algeria, Japan. An African slave who had been in irons said he had known Martin when he came to relieve and console many like himself, telling them of heaven. When later the same slave saw him in Peru, he was very happy to meet him again and asked him if he had had a good voyage; only later did he learn that Saint Martin had never left Lima. A merchant from Lima was in Mexico and fell ill; he said aloud: “Oh, Brother Martin, if only you were here to care for me..!” and immediately saw him enter his room. And again, this man did not know until later that he had never been in Mexico.

When he died in 1639, Saint Martin was known to the entire city of Lima; word of his miracles had made him known as a Saint to every resident of the region. After his death, the miracles and graces received when he was invoked multiplied in such profusion that his body was exhumed after 25 years and found intact, and exhaling a fine fragrance. Letters to Rome pleaded for his beatification; the decree affirming the heroism of his virtues was issued in 1763 by Clement XIII; Gregory XVI beatified him in 1836, and in 1962 Pope John XXIII canonized him. The poor and the sick will never fail to find in him a friend having great power over the Heart of God.

From the Second Vatican Council's pastoral constitution "Gaudium et spes" on the Church in the modern world
The duty of Christians to build peace
Christians should co-operate, willingly and wholeheartedly, in building an international order based on genuine respect for legitimate freedom and on a brotherhood of universal friendship. This is all the more urgent because the greater part of the world still experiences such poverty that in the voices of the poor Christ himself can be heard, crying out for charity from his followers. There are nations, many of them with a Christian majority, which enjoy an abundance of goods, while others are deprived of the necessities of life, and suffer from hunger, disease and all kinds of afflictions. This scandal must be removed from among men, for the glory of Christ’s Church and its testimony to the world are the spirit of poverty and the spirit of love.
Christians, especially young Christians, deserve praise and support when they offer themselves voluntarily in the service of other people and other nations. Indeed, it is the duty of all God’s people, with bishops giving a lead by word and example, to do all in their power to relieve the sufferings of our times, following the age-old custom of the Church in giving not only what they can spare but also what they need for themselves.
Without being uniform or inflexible, a method of collecting and distributing contributions should be established in each diocese and nation and on a world-wide level. Wherever it seems appropriate, there should be joint action between Catholics and other Christians. The spirit of charity, far from forbidding prudence and orderliness in social and charitable action, in fact demands them. Those intending to serve the developing countries must therefore undergo appropriate and systematic training.
In order to foster and encourage cooperation among men, the Church must be present and active in the community of nations. It must work through its own public organisations with the full and sincere cooperation of all Christians in their one desire to serve all mankind.
This end will be more effectively achieved if the faithful are themselves conscious of their human and Christian responsibilities and seek to awaken among those in their own walk of life a readiness to co-operate with the international community. Special care should be taken to give this kind of formation to young people in their religious and secular education.
Finally, it is to be hoped that, in carrying out their responsibilities in the international community, Catholics will seek to co-operate actively and constructively with other Christians, who profess the same Gospel of love, and with all men who hunger and thirst for true peace.