Category Archives: Liturgy

Tenebrae

-“Tenebrae Factae Sunt”, There was darkness, is the eighth responsorio for Holy Week and the fifth responsorio of Matins for Good Friday.

-from https://www.sistersofcarmel.com/tenebrae.php?mc_cid=3ff5951ea0&mc_eid=c72ad7923a

“All that You have done to us, O Lord, You have done in true judgment, because we have sinned against You, and have not obeyed Your commandments. But give glory to Your name, and deal with us according to the multitude of Your mercy.”
– Daniel, 3:31, from the Mass of Thursday in Passion Week

“Tenebrae”, means shadows, and is the name given to the service of Matins and Lauds belonging to the last three days of Holy Week. It differs, in many things, from the Office of the rest of the year. All is sad and mournful, as though it were a funeral service; nothing could more emphatically express the grief that now weighs down the heart of our holy Mother the Church. Throughout all the Office of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, she forbids herself the use of those formulas of joy and hope wherewith, on all other days, she begins her praise of God. Nothing is left but what is essential to the form of the Divine Office: psalms, lessons and chants expressive of grief. The tone of the whole Office is most noticeably mournful: the lessons taken from the Lamentations of Jeremias, the omission of the Gloria Patri, of the Te Deum, and of blessings etc., so the darkness of these services seems to have been designedly chosen to mark the Church’s desolation. The lessons from Jeremias in the first Nocturn, those from the Commentaries of St. Augustine upon the Psalms in the second, and those from the Epistles of St. Paul in the third remain now as when we first hear of them in the eighth century.

The name “Tenebrae” has been given because this Office is celebrated in the hours of darkness, formerly in the evening or just after midnight, now the early morning hours. There is an impressive ceremony, peculiar to this Office, which tends to perpetuate its name. There is placed in the sanctuary, near the altar, a large triangular candlestick holding fifteen candles. At the end of each psalm or canticle, one of these fifteen candles is extinguished, but the one which is placed at the top of the triangle is left lighted. During the singing of the Benedictus (the Canticle of Zachary at the end of Lauds), six other candles on the altar are also put out. Then the master of ceremonies takes the lighted candle from the triangle and holds it upon the altar while the choir repeats the antiphon after the canticle, after which she hides it behind the altar during the recitation of the Christus antiphon and final prayer. As soon as this prayer is finished, a noise is made with the seats of the stalls in the choir, which continues until the candle is brought from behind the altar, and shows, by its light, that the Office of Tenebrae is over.

Let us now learn the meaning of these ceremonies. The glory of the Son of God was obscured and, so to say, eclipsed, by the ignominies He endured during His Passion. He, the Light of the world, powerful in word and work, Who but a few days ago was proclaimed King by the citizens of Jerusalem, is now robbed of all his honors. He is, says Isaias, the Man of sorrows, a leper (Isaias 53:3,4). He is, says the royal prophet, a worm of the earth, and no man (Psalm 21:7). He is, as He says of himself, an object of shame even to his own disciples, for they are all scandalized in Him (Mark 14:27) and abandon Him; yea, even Peter protests that he never knew Him. This desertion on the part of His apostles and disciples is expressed by the candles being extinguished, one after the other, not only on the triangle, but on the altar itself. But Jesus, our Light, though despised and hidden, is not extinguished. This is signified by the candle which is momentarily placed on the altar; it symbolizes our Redeemer suffering and dying on Calvary. In order to express His burial, the candle is hidden behind the altar; its light disappears. A confused noise is heard in the house of God, where all is now darkness. This noise and gloom express the convulsions of nature when Jesus expired on the cross: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the dead came forth from their tombs. But the candle suddenly reappears; its light is as fair as ever. The noise is hushed, and homage is paid to the Conqueror of death.”

– Excerpted from the revered Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger, the Catholic Encyclopedia and other sources

Love & Resurrection,
Matthew

Lent: meatless burgers, avoiding hyper-scrupulosity & loophole-seeking

Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.
Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me.
Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco: et peccatum meum contra me est semper.
Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci: ut justificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum judicaris.
Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea.
Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.
Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam: et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.
Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis: et omnes iniquitates meas dele.
Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis.
Ne proiicias me a facie tua: et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me.
Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui: et spiritu principali confirma me.
Docebo iniquos vias tuas: et impii ad te convertentur.
Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus, Deus salutis meae: et exsultabit lingua mea justitiam tuam.
Domine, labia mea aperies: et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam.
Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique: holocaustis non delectaberis.
Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus: cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.
Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion: ut aedificentur muri Ierusalem.
Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae, oblationes, et holocausta: tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

Have mercy on me, God, have mercy,  in accord with Your merciful love;
in Your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.
Thoroughly wash away my guilt;
and from my sin cleanse me.
For I know my transgressions;
my sin is always before me.
Against You, You alone have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in Your eyes
So that You are just in Your word,
and without reproach in Your judgment.
Behold, I was born in guilt,
in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire true sincerity;
and secretly You teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
You will let me hear gladness and joy;
the bones you have crushed will rejoice.
Turn away Your face from my sins;
blot out all my iniquities.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before Your face,
nor take from me Your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of Your salvation;
uphold me with a willing spirit.
I will teach the wicked your ways,
that sinners may return to You.
Rescue me from violent bloodshed, God, my saving God,
and my tongue will sing joyfully of Your justice.
Lord, You will open my lips;
and my mouth will proclaim Your praise.
For You do not desire sacrifice or I would give it;
a burnt offering You would not accept.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.
Treat Zion kindly according to Your good will;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then You will desire the sacrifices of the just,
burnt offering and whole offerings;
then they will offer up young bulls on Your altar.
-Ps 51:1-20


-by Michelle Arnold, Catholic Answers

“Lent began this year with a debate. If a fast-food sandwich patty is made with a plant-based product that’s indistinguishable from real meat, can Catholics both abstain from meat during Lent and have their “burgers” too? The Washington Post recently featured a debate amongst Catholics on the controversy.

“I will be honest: when someone asked me that, my first thought was, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?! It’s genius!!’” the Rev. Marlon Mendieta, of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Fayetteville, N.C., wrote in an email. “But then my conscience kicked in, and I just felt that I wouldn’t be okay with that.”

Fr. Mendieta polled his priest friends for their thoughts. One priest just shrugged. “If it’s not meat, it’s not meat.”

Since another priest noted to Fr. Mendieta that it “seems like it goes against the spirit of the penitential season if we just eat things that taste like the stuff we’re supposed to be abstaining from,” I looked around online for reviews of the Impossible Burger, a popular meatless product made by Impossible Foods.

“The outside of the burger is coated in coconut oil, so it has a crunchy savoury outside like you get on a beef burger when you fry it,” a British food critic wrote. “And there it was inside: that pinky soft middle. It was simply delicious. The flavour was really good—the best veggie burger I’ve ever had. However, I was hoping it would be indistinguishable from a meat burger so I was slightly disappointed that I could still tell the difference.”

So, what’s a Catholic to do this Lent? Can you licitly satisfy your craving for meat on the days of abstinence with an Impossible Burger? Let’s look first at the Church’s requirements for abstinence from meat during Lent. The Code of Canon Law states:

Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the episcopal conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. … The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. … The episcopal conference[s] can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed (canons 1251–1253).

Since these canons permit national episcopal conferences to adjust the universal disciplines for their countries, the USCCB ruled for Catholics in the United States that Catholics are required to abstain from meat on the Lenten Fridays. On all other Fridays, the US bishops “terminate[d] the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin” and urged Catholics to “ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice.”

For Catholics, the purpose of abstinence from meat on these days is to perform penance. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines penance as “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart” (1431) and teaches that this interior act of the heart can be outwardly expressed—both individually and in community with fellow Christians—“in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (1434).

Penance, then, while it is an interior transformation of the heart, is expressed to the world in acts that demonstrate our commitment to that conversion. Abstinence from meat is a traditional act Catholics perform to express our work toward that “radical reorientation” of our lives that penance entails.

Chowing down on an Impossible Burger on a Lenten Friday meets the letter of the law. As Fr. Mendieta’s priest friend said, “If it’s not meat, it’s not meat.” And if you can tell that your Impossible Burger is just a really good vegetarian burger, but not a beef burger, then eating your veggie burger may be a more sacrificial choice for you than an alternative seafood option, such as a lobster roll or crab cakes.

Catholics also need to take care not to become hyper-scrupulous about their food choices on days of penance. A few years ago, I was contacted during Lent by a mother of two teenage boys, both of whom had autism and a sensory processing dysfunction. She was anxious about whether she should give her boys the sweets they customarily ate at mealtimes because they needed the routine and familiar taste as incentives to eat the rest of their meals. I pointed out to this mom that her children had a medical need for sweets in their diet and I urged her not to worry further about fulfilling the Lenten penance requirement.

Nonetheless, Catholics should remember that penance in the Catholic tradition is not merely an individual act but a communal act. The Church assigns specific days of penance, in part, to invite all able-bodied Catholics to act together to reorient ourselves to God as a community. Our individual acts of penance serve as a reminder and encouragement to our fellow Catholics to join us in acting as the mystical body of Christ on earth.

So, what happens when fellow Catholics see you eating your Impossible Burger on a day of penance? If, to all outward appearances, you seem to be eating a “forbidden food” on a Lenten Friday, others may believe that you’re flouting the Church’s disciplinary laws. If that happens, then your act could become a source of scandal. The Catechism states:

“Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense. Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized.” (2284–2285).

St. Paul asked Christians not to seek their own good but to seek the good of their neighbor (1 Cor. 10:23–24). If you can easily choose between multiple licit options on days of abstinence, why choose the one option that could cause confusion or distress for your Catholic family and friends? Just because you can licitly eat an Impossible Burger on a Lenten Friday doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, unless you have some mitigating circumstance to do so (e.g., medical necessity, lack of alternatives).

The Post writer observed that “For as long as religious dietary guidelines have existed, somewhere there has likely been at least one moderately devoted practitioner desperately searching for loopholes.” If your intent in eating an Impossible Burger this Lent is a desire to slide through a loophole in the Church’s disciplinary rules, you may want to consider whether that’s a properly penitential attitude.”

Love & have mercy on me God, for I am a sinful man,
Matthew

Catholic Fridays & Dunkin’ Free Donut Friday in Lent

https://news.dunkindonuts.com/news/thank-goodness-its-free-donut-fridays-at-dunkin

Thank Goodness It’s Free Donut Fridays at Dunkin’

“Every Friday in March, members of Dunkin’s DD Perks® Rewards Program can get a free donut with the purchase of any beverage

Cheer for Free Donut Fridays for the chance to win one of four prizes of free donuts for a year in Dunkin’s TGIFDF Sweepstakes, March 4 through March 26

CANTON, MA (March 2, 2020) – March can seem like the toughest part of the year: long and cold with few days, if any, off from work and even a lost hour of sleep. Leave it to Dunkin’ to introduce the perfect perk to bring a boost of optimism and sweetness to the month. Dunkin’ today announced Free Donut Fridays, offering members of Dunkin’s DD Perks® Rewards Program a free donut with the purchase of any beverage every Friday in March.*

Beginning this Friday, March 6, and on each Friday through the end of the month, DD Perks members can celebrate the workweek’s end with a free donut when they buy any beverage at participating Dunkin’ restaurants nationwide. Members can enjoy favorites such as Boston Kreme, Glazed, Glazed Chocolate, Strawberry Frosted with Sprinkles and more, including Dunkin’s new sweet treat for March, the Lucky Shamrock Donut.

Donut-lovers who are not currently DD Perks members can turn TGIF into TGIFDF (Thank Goodness It’s Free Donut Friday) by enrolling for free on the Dunkin’ App or DDPerks.com. DD Perks members earn five points for every dollar they spend on qualifying purchases at Dunkin’. Once a member accrues 200 points, they receive a free beverage reward for any size, redeemable at participating Dunkin’ restaurants.

Throughout March, with the help of cheerleader and television star Gabi Butler, Dunkin’ is also giving fans the opportunity to show their Free Donut Fridays spirit for the chance to win a year’s worth of free donuts. On Wednesday, March 4, Gabi will take to Instagram to kick off a special Dunkin’ cheer challenge in which fans can post their own Instagram video or story of their best original T-G-I-F-D-F cheer using #FDFSweepstakes and tagging @Dunkin. Winners will be randomly selected each Free Donut Friday**. NoPurchNec. Legal US/DC res 18+. Ends 3/26/20. For official rules, please visit: http://ddsweeps.com

“We’re so excited to offer Free Donut Fridays to give all of our DD Perks members – new and existing – an extra special sweet treat as they head into spring,” said Stephanie Meltzer-Paul, VP of Digital and Loyalty Marketing, Dunkin’ U.S. “We’re always looking for new ways to show our appreciation to Dunkin’ fans and our DD Perks Rewards Program allows us celebrate them with fun and exclusive offers throughout the year.”


-“Denial of Saint Peter”, 1615–17, by Valentin de Boulogne, oil on canvas, 67 1/2 × 94 7/8 in. (171.5 × 241 cm), Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell’Arte Roberto Longhi, Florence, while trying, inconspicuously, to warm his hands, the apostle Peter is recognized as a disciple of Christ. The assorted company of soldiers take notice—in varying degrees. Peter’s fate has changed as though with the throw of dice, depicted mid-air! The sculpted relief is based on Roman terracotta plaques, casts of which were collected and used as artists’ props. This picture originally belonged to Giovanni Battista Mellini (1591–1627), a lawyer and dean of the university of Rome and a collector of antiquities.


-by Br Bernard Knapke, OP

“The Catholic Friday should be different than the world’s Friday. In fact, the Catholic weekend should be different. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are to be red, blue, and white days—not because of patriotism, but because of the Passion, the Fiat, and the Empty Tomb. The mysteries of the Rosary upon which we mediate each of these days also reflects this triple character: Friday prompts us to ponder the sorrowful mysteries; Saturday, the joyful; and Sunday, the glorious. Rightly, the weekend ought to remind the Christian that discipleship entails the heaviness of the cross, the help of grace, and the hope of eternal life. Every weekend should be a little Triduum.

In special seasons, the three-note weekend chord can shift in key. In Advent, as we turn with expectation to Our Lady, every day seems to sound like a Saturday suspended chord. Throughout Easter, a series of major chords result from a progression of Sunday celebrations: Resurrection, Divine Mercy, Jubilate, Good Shepherd, Pentecost. In Lent, a clear focus on Fridays sets up a 40-day score set to a minor key that eventually gives way to the sheer silence of the Friday that is Good.

The Catholic Friday is always penitential because of Good Friday. But that looks different depending on which Friday it is. The year looks something like this in the United States:

  • During the whole year, Catholics are urged to observe practices of penance on Fridays (abstinence from meat is given “first place” among recommended penances).
  • During Lent, Catholics 14 years and older are to abstain from eating meat on Fridays.
  • On Good Friday, Catholics 14 years and older are to abstain from eating meat and Catholics 18 years and older, until they turn 59, are to fast.

Whether we are in Lent or not, Friday is always to be a “special day of penitential observance” for the Catholic. The United States bishops teach that “Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year” (“Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence,” 23). What changes, however, is the degree to which we as Catholics unite in doing penance as we near the Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion. Together, we gradually enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings.

The Catholic says, “Thank God it’s Friday,” because salvation was wrought on a Friday. Out of love, Jesus Christ—the Word Incarnate, true God and true man—embraced death and suffering, transforming them into the means by which the wounds of sin are healed and man is led to eternal life with God. When we do penance on Fridays, we recall this unfathomable gift. We express sorrow for our own personal sins as well as those of all the world. We unite our own sufferings to those of Christ, asking that they too might become salvific. We take up our cross and follow him.

The Catholic Friday should be different than the world’s Friday. The Roman guards drank and gambled on Good Friday (Mark 15:23-24; Ps 22:18). Peter kept comfortable by the fire (Mark 14:54). The penitential witness came from Mary and John at Calvary’s height (John 19:25-27). A Catholic Friday entails joining in this Marian and Johannine witness. And lest we forget, the Catholic Friday leads to the glory of the Catholic Sunday.

Love,
Matthew

Sackcloth & ashes

https://www.gotquestions.org/sackcloth-and-ashes.html

“Sackcloth and ashes were used in Old Testament times as a symbol of debasement, mourning, and/or repentance. Someone wanting to show his repentant heart would often wear sackcloth, sit in ashes, and put ashes on top of his head. Sackcloth was a coarse material usually made of black goat’s hair, making it quite uncomfortable to wear. The ashes signified desolation and ruin.

When someone died, the act of putting on sackcloth showed heartfelt sorrow for the loss of that person. We see an example of this when David mourned the death of Abner, the commander of Saul’s army (2 Samuel 3:31). Jacob also demonstrated his grief by wearing sackcloth when he thought his son Joseph had been killed (Genesis 37:34). These instances of mourning for the dead mention sackcloth but not ashes.

Ashes accompanied sackcloth in times of national disaster or repenting from sin. Esther 4:1, for instance, describes Mordecai tearing his clothes, putting on sackcloth and ashes, and walking out into the city “wailing loudly and bitterly.” This was Mordecai’s reaction to King Xerxes’ declaration giving the wicked Haman authority to destroy the Jews (see Esther 3:8–15). Mordecai was not the only one who grieved. “In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes” (Esther 4:3). The Jews responded to the devastating news concerning their race with sackcloth and ashes, showing their intense grief and distress.

Sackcloth and ashes were also used as a public sign of repentance and humility before God. When Jonah declared to the people of Nineveh that God was going to destroy them for their wickedness, everyone from the king on down responded with repentance, fasting, and sackcloth and ashes (Jonah 3:5–7). They even put sackcloth on their animals (verse 8). Their reasoning was, “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (verse 9). This is interesting because the Bible never says that Jonah’s message included any mention of God’s mercy; but mercy is what they received. It’s clear that the Ninevites’ donning of sackcloth and ashes was not a meaningless show. God saw genuine change—a humble change of heart represented by the sackcloth and ashes—and it caused Him to “relent” and not bring about His plan to destroy them (Jonah 3:10).

Other people the Bible mentions wearing sackcloth include King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:1), Eliakim (2 Kings 19:2), King Ahab (1 Kings 21:27), the elders of Jerusalem (Lamentations 2:10), Daniel (Daniel 9:3), and the two witness in Revelation 11:3.

Very simply, sackcloth and ashes were used as an outward sign of one’s inward condition. Such a symbol made one’s change of heart visible and demonstrated the sincerity of one’s grief and/or repentance. It was not the act of putting on sackcloth and ashes itself that moved God to intervene, but the humility that such an action demonstrated (see 1 Samuel 16:7). God’s forgiveness in response to genuine repentance is celebrated by David’s words: “You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11).”

Love & His mercy,
Matthew

Lent: weepers, hearers, kneelers, standers

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/sackcloth-and-ashes

“To some non-Catholics Christians, the traditional pentitential practices of the Church (especially those of Lent) are unbiblical—traditions of men that are at best unnecessary and at worst seek to replace or add to Christ’s sacrifice with human works.

Yet penance has been part of the true religion since before the time of Christ, as shown by the Old Testament’s injunctions concerning fasting, wearing sackcloth, and sitting in dust and ashes. And they have been part of the Christian Church since its earliest days.

Penances can be formal or informal, but they amount to the same thing: expressions before God of sorrow over one’s sins, which is not only required by God but also by human nature; human beings have an innate need to mourn tragedies, and our sins are tragedies.

In ancient formal penitential discipline, there were four classes of penitents who had committed major sins (e.g., idolatry, murder, abortion, adultery), and they moved through the classes on their way to full reconciliation.

(Ed. there was a wonderful ancient tradition I was made aware of where, during the Easter vigil, the bishop would lead the penitents, thenceforth, banned from full communion due to their sin, being led by the hand by the bishop back into the Church. Lovely.)

Weepers were not allowed in the church but stayed outside and asked those going in to pray for them. Hearers stood inside church doors and heard the liturgy of the word but were dismissed, like the catechumens, before the liturgy of the Eucharist. Kneelers knelt or lay down in church and participated with the Church in specific prayers for them before being blessed by the bishop and dismissed prior to the Eucharist. Standers sat in the congregation and stayed for the liturgy of the Eucharist but did not receive Communion.

As these following selections show, the Church Fathers had a lively understanding of the role of penance in the Christian life (cf. Matt. 6:16-18, Mark 2:18-20, Acts 13:2-3, Jas. 4:8-10), an understanding we would do well to recover as we progress through this Lenten season: weeping for our sins, hearing the voice of God calling us back to communion with Him, kneeling in His presence with true contrition, and standing attentively as we ponder the lessons of His word.

THE DIDACHE

Before the baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days…[After becoming a Christian] do not let your fasts be with the hypocrites. They fast on Monday and Thursday, but you shall fast on Wednesday and Friday (Didache 7:1, 8:1 [A.D.70]).

POPE CLEMENT I

You [Corinthians], therefore, who laid the foundation of the rebellion [in your church], submit to the presbyters and be chastened to repentance, bending your knees in a spirit of humility (Letter to the Corinthians 57 [A.D. 80]).

HERMAS

[The old woman told me:] “Every prayer should be accompanied with humility: fast, therefore, and you will obtain from the Lord what you beg.” I fasted therefore for one day (The Shepherd 1:3:10 [A.D. 80]).

IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH

For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of penance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ (Letter to the Philadelphians 3 [A.D. 110]).

POLYCARP

Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning; staying awake in prayer, and persevering in fasting; beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God “not to lead us into temptation,” as the Lord has said: “The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak” [Matt. 26:41] (Letter to the Philippians 7 [A.D. 135]).

JUSTIN MARTYR

I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ; lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we are praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us to where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (First Apology 61 [A.D. 151]).

IRENAEUS

Some consider themselves bound to fast one day [during Lent], others two days, others still more, while others [do so during] forty; the diurnal and the nocturnal hours they measure out together as their [fasting] day. And this variety among the observers [of the fasts] had not its origin in our time, but long before in that of our predecessors (Letter to Pope Victor [A.D. 190]).

TERTULLIAN

Confession is a discipline for man’s prostration and humiliation…It commands one to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to cover the body with mourning, to cast the spirit down in sorrow, to exchange the sins which have been committed for a demeanor of sorrow; to take no food or drink except what is plain, not, of course, for the sake of the stomach, but for the sake of the soul; and most of all, to feed prayers on fasting; to groan, to weep and wail day and night to the Lord your God; to bow before the presbyters, to kneel before God’s refuge places [altars], and to beseech all the brethren for the embassy of their own supplication (Repentance 9:3-5 [A.D. 203]).

ORIGEN

There is also a seventh, albeit hard and laborious [method of forgiveness] – the remission of sins through penance, when the sinner washes his pillow in tears, when his tears are day and night his nourishment, and when he does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord (Homilies on Leviticus 2:4 [A.D. 248]).

CYPRIAN

Sinners may do penance for a set time, and according to the rules of discipline come to public confession, and by imposition of the hand of the bishop and clergy receive the right of communion (Letters 9:2).

GREGORY THAUMATURGUS

Weeping is done outside the gate of the oratory, and the sinner standing there ought to implore the faithful, as they enter, to pray for him. Hearing is in the narthex inside the gate, where the sinner ought to stand while the catechumens are there, and afterward he should depart. For let him hear the Scriptures and the teachings…and then be cast out and not be reckoned as worthy of [the penitential] prayer. Submission allows one to stand within the gate of the temple, but he must go out with the catechumens. Assembly allows one to be associated with the faithful, without the necessity of going out with the catechumens. Last of all is participation in the consecrated elements (Canonical Letter, canon 11 [A.D. 256]).

EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA

[The Emperor Philip,] being a Christian desired, on the day of the last paschal vigil, to share with the multitude in the prayers of the Church, but that he was not permitted to enter, by him who then presided, until he had made confession and had numbered himself among those who were reckoned as transgressors and who occupied the place of penance. For if he had not done this, he would never have been received by him, on account of the many crimes which he had committed. It is said that he obeyed readily, manifesting in his conduct a genuine and pious fear of God (Church History 6:34 [A.D. 312]).

COUNCIL OF NICAEA I

It is decided by the council, even though they [those who apostatized without coercion during the persecution of Licinius] are unworthy of mercy, to treat them, nevertheless, with kindness. Those, then, who are truly repentant shall, as already baptized [people], spend three years among the hearers, and seven years among the kneelers, and for two years they shall participate with the people in prayers, but without taking part in the offering (canon 11 [A.D. 325]).

JEROME

If the serpent, the devil, bites someone secretly, he infects that person with the venom of sin. And if the one who has been bitten keeps silence and does not do penance, and does not want to confess his wound…then his brother and his master, who have the word [of absolution] that will cure him, cannot very well assist him (Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:11 [A.D. 388]).

BASIL THE GREAT

Let him who has [committed incest]…[a]fter coming to an awareness of that dread sin, let him be a weeper for three years, standing at the door of the houses of prayer and begging the people entering there for the purpose of praying to offer in sympathy for him, each one, earnest petitions to the Lord. After this, let him be admitted for another three years among the hearers only; and when he has heard the Scriptures and the teachings, let him be put out and not be deemed worthy of the prayer. Then, if he has sought it with tears and has cast himself down before the Lord with a contrite heart and with great humility, let him be given admission for another three years. And thus, when he has exhibited fruits worthy of repentance, let him be admitted in the tenth year to the prayer of the faithful without communion. And when he has assembled for two years in prayer with the faithful, then let him finally be deemed worthy of the communion of the good (Letters 217:75 [A.D. 367]).”

Love, & His mercy,
Matthew

Lent: “Whoever wishes to come after Me must take up his cross and deny himself.” Mt 16:24


-by Fr Carlos Martins, CC, a former atheist, Fr Carlos now currently conducts ministry with sacred relics of the saints, with Treasures of the Church ministry.

“I once gave a talk on Lenten fasting and mortification at a gathering of Catholic professionals. One of the attendees came up to me afterward, slightly annoyed, and said that fasting and mortification were not part of her spirituality. “I can follow Jesus perfectly well without them,” she said. “I focus instead on doing good.” (Ironically, that day was a Friday during Lent, and she had purchased fancy cupcakes for everyone.)

I responded with a question. “Then what did Jesus mean when he said, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself’?” (Matt. 16:24).

In recent years, many Catholics have taken on Lenten “self-giving” penances rather than engaging in those that are more explicitly acts of self-denial. Thus, rather than give up things such as sweets, coffee, eating animal flesh (even on Fridays), or some other good thing, there is an exhortation to do such things as pray an extra chaplet, visit a shut-in, devote more time to spiritual reading, or some other such activity. Or even to “fast” from vices such as unkindness.

Prayer and works of mercy are both wonderful and necessary Lenten practices. However, if we do not practice self-denial of things that are good, then we miss the point of Lent.

Two principles are relevant here. First, Jesus remains our model and exemplar. You can bet that Our Lord engaged in much prayer and intercession during his forty days in the desert. But he did so while engaging in rigorous and meaningful self-denial. Scripture states that Jesus fasted while in the desert (Luke 4:2). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (540). The Church has been fasting for 2,000 years. The legitimacy and moral authority of fasting speaks for itself.

Second, in neglecting to fast we could be inadvertently feeding the beast. One of the effects of the fall is an inordinate love of self. We often think too highly of ourselves. We allow our appetites to run amok. One of the purposes of the season of Lent is to attack this inordinate love of self.

Indeed, fantasizing about being more than what they were is how Adam and Eve were tricked by the devil into rejecting God. “‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from the tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God’” (Gen. 3:4-5). It is worth noting that when the devil plied this temptation, Adam and Eve had not yet fallen. In other words, human nature was still as God had made it: intact and unbroken. It was by luring them to inordinate self-love that the devil got them to fall for his sordid trap. We’ve been paying the price ever since.

Our brokenness is a force to be reckoned with. It can easily bring us down into all sorts of dysfunction and sin. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives a strong exhortation to attack that broken self, what he calls our old self: “You should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph. 4:22-24). Paul identifies our old self as the source of our sinfulness, our disordered passions, our refusal to follow the Lord and, ultimately, our unhappiness. To allow it to exist is foolishness. We must declare war on it instead.

We put our old self to death by mortification. Mortification comes from two Latin words, mortem and facere; together they mean “to bring about death.” It consists of the practice of measured denial of our lower appetites and desire for sensual pleasure. To mortify ourselves brings liberation. Indeed, the Catechism calls self-denial one of “the preconditions of all true freedom” (2223).

One of the most basic and traditional forms of observing Lent is fasting: mandatory for all Catholics (except for those exempted by age or illness) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and encouraged throughout the season. It has the weight not just of ancient Christian practice behind it but that of all major religions. Even the ancient philosophers practiced fasting. Plato, for example, fasted in order to achieve greater physical and mental efficiency.

Some people can fast quite rigorously. Others have more difficulty. For them, some creativity may be necessary.

I had a friend with very low body weight. For him to miss a meal, or not to consume his regular amount of food, meant virtual non-functionality. He couldn’t do his job, he couldn’t concentrate, he couldn’t engage in conversation. This is certainly not what the Church desires when it prescribes fasting. Thus, rather than cutting down on the amount of food he ate (which was already only the amount he needed to function), he deprived himself of the things that made food enjoyable. He refused himself all condiments. Salt, pepper, hot sauce, ketchup, butter, and the like were emptied from his house prior to Lent.

Do you find it burdensome to fast? Try eating your hamburger without ketchup, mustard, cheese, and the other condiments you enjoy putting on it. Do not salt your fries. Do you need a cup of coffee to be alert and to function? Forego the cream and sweetener. In all these practices you’ll feel the deprivation, and you will live an authentic Lent. In fact, depriving ourselves of condiments is a great way to fast, since although they add pleasure to our eating experience, they possess virtually no nutritional value. For forty days, why not put them to death?

To be clear, practicing penance is not an end in itself. The Church does not prescribe penance because it is sadistic; it prescribes it for two essential realities it brings about. The first is that it reminds us of our own mortality. The displeasure that comes with fasting makes us feel our lack of self-sufficiency and our dependence on God. It makes our prayer that much more real and genuine because it is prayer made with both the body and the mind. That prayer, in turn, may fuel acts of charity.

The second is that a meaningful, sincere, and authentic Lenten observance makes Easter that much more of a celebration. When Lent is over it is time for glory, and we consume the good things we have gone without. And it is good to do so. They are a reminder of the glory that Christ has purchased for us and that awaits us in the next life.

Indeed, Scripture describes heaven as a banquet (Matt. 22:2), a wedding feast (Matt. 25: 10), a place devoid of hunger (Rev. 7:16). Although it is true that the Church takes seriously the observance of fasting, it is equally true that no one appreciates a feast like the Church. For 2,000 years she has been preparing for one. “Blessed is the one who will dine in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).

May God bless us all in our Lenten observances.”

Love,
Matthew

Feb 6 – Twenty-six crosses on a hill & “Silence”, the movie: love is stronger than death, 日本二十六聖人, Nihon Nijūroku Seijin


-1628 engraving, please click on the image for greater detail


-monument to the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki, 1962, please click on the image for greater detail

With the Oscars last night, will Hollywood ever tell this story, instead of apostasy? I doubt it. One of the reasons I started this blog, to, in my own small way, tell the brilliance of saints. When Christian missionaries returned to Japan 250 years later, they found a community of “hidden Catholics” that had survived underground.

Jn 11:25


-by Matthew E. Bunson

“A group of twenty-six Christians gave their lives for Christ on a hill near Nagasaki, Japan, on February 5, 1597. They are noteworthy not only for the zeal they showed as they died as martyrs, but for the model they provided to Japanese Christians for centuries to come. Their story reminds us that heroic examples of the Catholic faith transcend country and race.

Jesuit Beginnings

The Catholic faith was introduced into Japan on August 15, 1549 by the great Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, SJ, who landed on the Japanese island of Kyushu with two fellow Jesuits, Cosme de Torres, SJ, and John Fernandez, SJ. Francis soon learned of the prevailing political situation. Despite the emperor’s traditionally accepted divine origins, he had little authority; instead the local lords (daimyo) exercised extensive powers. Francis concentrated on winning the confidence of the daimyo in the area, and on September 29, he visited Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Kagoshima, and asked for permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. The daimyo readily agreed to his request, believing that such a church might help to establish a trade relationship with Europe.

Francis mastered Japanese, then took his preaching into the neighboring island of Honshu, the main island in the Japanese archipelago. Within six years, six hundred Japanese converted to the faith in one province alone. But the rapid growth of the new faith soon provoked a sharp reaction. In 1561, the daimyo of several provinces launched a persecution that compelled Christians to abjure their faith.

Surprisingly, the Shogunate of Japan initially gave its support to the enterprise of evangelization. Primarily the shoguns believed the new religion might curb the influence of the sometimes-troublesome Buddhist monks in the islands, but they also thought it would facilitate trade with the outside world. Nevertheless, the Japanese officials were suspicious of the long-term intentions of the representatives of Spain and Portugal, most so because they were aware of the expanding Spanish Empire in Asia and the Pacific.

The labors of Francis Xavier were carried on and furthered by the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, who arrived in 1579. This remarkable missionary opened a school to teach new mission workers, established seminaries, and promoted vocations for the Jesuits among the inhabitants. By around 1580, eighty missionaries were caring for more than one hundred fifty-thousand Christians, including the daimyo Arima Harunobu.

In Rome, Pope Gregory XIII declared his immense satisfaction with the work of the Jesuits and issued the decreed Ex Pastorale Officio in 1585. He declared that the Japanese missions were the exclusive territory of the Society of Jesus. Two years later, the first diocese was created at Funai (modern Oita).


-St Francisco Blanco OFM, Lima, Peru, please click on the image for greater detail”

Change in Politics

Several events soon transpired that changed the tolerant atmosphere. First, assorted Catholic missionaries who lacked the subtlety of the Jesuits arrived in Japan and failed to respect Pope Gregory’s decree. Their aggressive manner offended many Japanese, especially those who feared that Christianity was merely a prelude to invasion by the European powers. Thus, by 1587, when there were over 200,000 Christians in Japan, an initial edict of persecution was instituted by the country’s regent, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Nearly 150 churches were destroyed and missionaries were condemned to exile from the islands. The missionaries declined to leave and found safe haven in various parts of Japan. As a result of the persecution, within a decade the number of Christians had increased by 100,000.

The second major turning point occurred on August 26, 1596, when the San Felipe, a Spanish trade ship traveling from Manila to North America, ran aground off the coast of Shikoku, the southeastern island of Japan. Angered by the violation of Japanese territory, Hideyoshi ordered that the cargo be confiscated, and among the items seized were several cannons. The discovery alarmed Japanese officials, and the ship’s pilot made matters worse. Furious over the loss of his cargo, he threatened the Japanese with military action by Spain, an invasion, he claimed, that would be assisted by the Christian missionaries in the country.

The threats were complete fabrications, of course, but Hideyoshi used the occasion to seize the ship and then to launch the first major anti-Christian persecution in the history of Japan. In 1597, the same year as the arrival of the first bishop, Pierre Martinez, S.J., the government launched its pogrom. The Christian religion was banned, and those who refused to abjure the faith were to be condemned to death.

The initial public execution took place at Nagasaki, a city that had become the center of the Christian faith in Japan. The first martyrs were Paul Miki and his companions.


-drawing remembering 26 Catholic martyrs of Nagasaki, please click on the image for greater detail

Marked for Death

Born around 1564, Paul Miki was the son of a Japanese soldier, Miki Handayu. He was educated by the Jesuits and joined the Society of Jesus in 1580, the first Japanese to enter any religious order. Paul swiftly earned a reputation for the eloquence of his preaching. He was on the verge of ordination when he was arrested and thrown together with twenty-four other Catholics condemned to die in the name of the emperor. With Paul were six European Franciscan missionaries, two other Japanese Jesuits and sixteen Japanese laymen. The laymen included Cosmas Takeya, a sword maker; Paul Ibaraki, a member of a distinguished samurai family; and his brother Leo Karasumaru, who had been a Buddhist monk. Also arrested were Louis Ibaraki, twelve, a nephew of Paul Ibaraki and Leo Karasumaru; and thirteen-year-old Anthony of Nagasaki.

The martyrs were assembled at Kyoto, condemned to die, and then ordered to be taken to Nagasaki for their execution. As was customary, the prisoners had their left ears cut off prior to setting out so that they would be marked as condemned. The march to Nagasaki lasted a month. Along the way the men suffered the tortures of their captors and the jibes of crowds, but they also won the respect of many onlookers as they marched, bleeding and exhausted but still praying and singing. One Japanese Christian layman named Francis—a carpenter from Kyoto—decided to follow the martyrs as they progressed until he was arrested himself and expressed his joy at being included among them.

After the grueling trek from Kyoto, the condemned arrived at last at the place of their martyrdom, the city of Nagasaki. At ten in the morning on February 5, they were led along the highway from Tokitsu to Omura, and then commanded to stop at a small cluster of hills at the base of Mount Kompira. At the lowest of these hills, called Nishizaka, common criminals were put to death, and the lingering smell of rotting corpses could be detected. All was in readiness: Twenty-six crosses awaited the Christians.

Seeing the horrendous surroundings, several Portuguese merchants went to the brother of the governor, Terazawa Hazaburo, and asked him to intervene and at least have the place of execution moved. The governor, Ierazawa Hazaburo, was willing to listen to their plea, especially as his brother was a friend of Paul Miki. As it happened, across the road from the hill of Nishizaka was a lovely field of wheat, and the governor decreed that the executions could be carried out there.


-crucifixion of the martyrs of Nagasaki. A painting in the Franciscan convent of the Lady of the Snows in Prague, please click on the image for greater detail.

Calm amid Horror

At the wheat field, the martyrs were divided by the soldiers into three groups, each one headed by a Franciscan reciting the rosary. Each of the martyrs had his own cross, the wood cut to his height. Gonzalo Garcia, the forty-year-old Franciscan lay brother from India, was the first to be led to his cross. He was shown the instrument of his imminent death, and he knelt to kiss it. Today, he is venerated as the patron saint of Mumbai. Following his example, the martyrs one by one embraced the wooden crosses before them.

Unlike the Romans, the Japanese officials did not use nails. Instead, they fixed the martyrs to their crosses by iron rings around the neck, hands, and feet and ropes tightly binding the waist. The one exception was the Spanish Franciscan priest, Peter Bautista, Superior of the Franciscan Mission in Japan. This former ambassador from Spain (who had devoted his ministry for some years to lepers) stretched out his hands and instructed the executioners to use nails. Paul Miki, meanwhile, proved shorter than his cross had been measured. As his feet did not reach the lower rings, the executioners tied him down at the chest with rope and linens.

With their victims affixed, the soldiers and executioners simultaneously lifted the crosses. As history has demonstrated many times before and after, the crowd that had gathered for amusement at the expense of the dying fell silent as the large crosses thudded into the holes in the earth and the martyrs exhaled in agony from the jarring drop. On the hill with them were four thousand Catholics from Nagasaki. Young Anthony looked down and beheld his family at the front of the crowd, and he spoke words of hope to them.

Then, just as each had embraced his cross, the martyrs one by one began to sing hymns of praise, the Te Deum and the Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. The victims struggled to sing and to raise their voices to God one last time. From his cross, Paul Miki also preached for the last time. Seeing the edict of death hanging from one soldier’s long, curved spear for all to see, he responded to the charge, his voice carrying across the hills:

I did not come from the Philippines. I am a Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime, and the only reason why I am put to death is that I have been teaching the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I am very happy to die for such a cause, and see my death as a great blessing from the Lord. At this critical time, when you can rest assured that I will not try to deceive you, I want to stress and make it unmistakably clear that man can find no way to salvation other than the Christian way. (Luis Frois, Martyrs’ Records)

And then the martyrs began their final minutes. The first to die was the Mexican Franciscan Brother Philip de Jesus, who had also been measured incorrectly, so his entire weight was placed on the ring around his neck. He slowly choked to death, until the order was given for two soldiers to pierce his chest on either side with their spears. The soldiers, in pairs, thrust their spears into each side of the remaining victims until the blades literally crossed each other. Death was virtually instantaneous. The martyrs accepted their end with the same prayerful calm that marked their ascent upon the crosses. The gathered crowd, however, cried out in anguish, and the din could be heard in the city of Nagasaki below. Many Japanese who watched the horror unfold became Christians themselves in the coming weeks and months. For the soldiers, the scene proved too much, and many began to weep at the courage of the dead Christians, especially young Louis Ibaraki who cried out, “Jesus . . . Mary” with his last breath.

With the execution over, the Christians in the crowd surged forward to soak up the blood of the martyrs in cloths and to remove small pieces of clothing to preserve as relics. Driven away forcibly by the guards, the crowds slowly dispersed, turning back to see the last rays of the sun framing the twenty-six crosses in stark relief.


-Catholic martyrs of Nagasaki, please click on the image for greater detail

Love is Stronger than Death

After dark, more people gathered. Christians from Nagasaki arrived to pray for the martyrs. In the days following, thousands more made a pilgrimage to the site. Peasants, local daimyo, soldiers, and foreigners stopped at the hill and remained there transfixed in prayer or amazement until the guards forced them away. Word spread across Japan, and the example of the twenty-six martyrs became the rallying cry for Christians.

The people of Nagasaki christened Nishizaka the “Martyrs’ Hill.” The next year, an ambassador from the Philippines was given permission by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to gather up the remains and the crosses. Pilgrims continued to visit the site, and the best efforts of officials could not stop new visits, both public and clandestine.

Paul Miki and his Companions proved the first of many thousands of martyrs in the church of Japan. Sporadic persecutions were conducted over subsequent years, erupting in 1613 under the sharp campaign of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), who considered Christianity to be detrimental to the good of Japan and the social order he was instituting. The next year, all missionaries were expelled and Japanese converts were commanded to abjure the faith. Long-simmering resentment against the persecutions culminated in a Christian uprising in 1637. This was mercilessly put down, and the once-flourishing Church in Japan seemed dead. Foreigners were forbidden to enter the country on pain of death.

The Church outside of Japan did not forget Paul Miki and his companions. The Twenty-Six Martyrs were beatified on September 15, 1627 under Pope Urban VIII, and they were canonized in 1862 by Pope Blessed Pius IX, making them the first canonized martyrs of the Far East. But then came a truly astonishing turn of events. In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States arrived in Japan, and for the first time in two centuries, the country established official contact with the outside world. To the utter shock of Westerners, the Japanese Christians had not abandoned the faith despite brutal persecution. For two centuries, they had practiced the faith in secret. In 1865, priests from the Foreign Missions discovered twenty thousand Christians on the island of Kyushu alone. Religious liberty was at last granted in 1873 by the imperial government. What had sustained these Christians in the long dark years was their trust in Christ and the examples of those who had died for the faith. Foremost in their memory were the Twenty-Six Martyrs upon Nishizaka Hill.

Today, the site of the Twenty-Six Martyrs remains a beloved place of pilgrimage, and they are honored by the Monument of the 26 Martyrs erected in 1962, as well as a shrine and a museum. Thousands of visitors arrive every year. One of them, in 1981, was Pope John Paul II. He declared during his visit:

“On Nishizaka, on February 5, 1597, twenty-six martyrs testified to the power of the Cross; they were the first of a rich harvest of martyrs, for many more would subsequently hallow this ground with their suffering and death. . . . Today, I come to the Martyrs’ Hill to bear witness to the primacy of love in the world. In this holy place, people of all walks of life gave proof that love is stronger than death.

Foreign Franciscan missionaries – Alcantarines

Saint Martin of the Ascension
Saint Pedro Bautista
Saint Philip of Jesus
Saint Francisco Blanco
Saint Francisco of Saint Michael
Saint Gundisalvus (Gonsalvo) Garcia

Japanese Franciscan tertiaries

Saint Antony Dainan
Saint Bonaventure of Miyako
Saint Cosmas Takeya
Saint Francisco of Nagasaki
Saint Francis Kichi
Saint Gabriel de Duisco
Saint Joachim Sakakibara
Saint John Kisaka
Saint Leo Karasumaru
Saint Louis Ibaraki
Saint Matthias of Miyako
Saint Michael Kozaki
Saint Paul Ibaraki
Saint Paul Suzuki
Saint Pedro Sukejiroo
Saint Thomas Kozaki
Saint Thomas Xico

Japanese Jesuits

Saint James Kisai
Saint John Soan de Goto
Saint Paul Miki

O God our Father, source of strength to all your saints, Who brought the holy martyrs of Japan through the suffering of the cross to the joys of life eternal: Grant that we, being encouraged by their example, may hold fast the faith we profess, even to death itself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Love of Him,
Matthew

Feb 2 – Candlemas


-by Br Nicodemus Thomas, OP

“Whether it is a candlelit meal at a fancy restaurant, a birthday celebration with a candle-topped cake, or the procession of the paschal candle at the Easter Vigil, candles are a clear sign of solemnity. We usually sense something different, even quasi-religious, on the occasions that candles are used—think, for another instance, of candles lit at the vigils of societal tragedies and untimely deaths. Suffice to say, candles are objects with rich, religious symbolism.

To understand the religious symbolism of candles, we must first recognize the natural qualities present in candles. There are three qualities of candles we immediately observe: their light, their flame, and their total consumption. By briefly examining these three qualities, we will grasp more deeply the way candles symbolize Christ.

The most obvious characteristic of a candle is its light. In fact, its original purpose was just that—to provide light. We have a foundational desire to know and this desire drives us to seek the light of truth, especially since sight is the most obvious way to knowledge. In the Christian realm, this is no less true. In fact, Christ says as much. He claims to be, “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Through his presence in our souls by faith, he illumines the darkness of our minds so that we may begin to see him as he is (c.f., 1 John 3:2).

A candle, by its flame, is also able to represent love. We draw in this symbolism explicitly when we pray “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of thy love…” A candle’s flame can remind believers of the flame of charity present in their hearts. This is one reason the Church gives candles to the newly baptized and why we all carry candles during the Easter Vigil; the flame represents the work of God in our souls. While we may not see God clearly in this life, the flame of charity allows us to cherish God’s presence in our souls.

Finally, in order to produce the light and flame the candle must be consumed. Our Lord, in shining the light of faith in our intellects and kindling the fire of charity into our hearts, was himself consumed in his humanity—he died that we might have life. It would be easy to think that this occurred only at the Cross. However, we see from the very beginning of his earthly life that he was destined to be a sacrificial lamb. In a similar way, the light that Christ shines in our minds and the fire of charity that sets our souls aflame should consume us, such that we can say with Saint Paul: “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Yesterday, the Church celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It is no coincidence that this same feast day is called “Candlemas.” The first appearance of the Lord in the Temple is commemorated by the blessing of pillars of wax—wax that will later be used to remind us of Christ’s presence in other temples: the tabernacle of the Church and in the depths of our heart.”

Love & He is the Light!!!!
Matthew

God coming into the world


-by Mark A. McNeil, a former Oneness Pentecostal, was received into the Catholic Church in 1999.

”There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matt. 16:28)(1). It is not uncommon to hear atheists use this verse to charge that Jesus was obviously a failed prophet. One atheist, for instance, wrote, “Clearly, this did not happen, so either Jesus lied or he never made that promise.”

[Ed. I am always never surprised how skeptics take literally the parts of Scripture which suit their skeptical agenda, but never others.]

Perhaps more reflection on the meaning of Christ’s “coming” will be of both apologetic and spiritual value. What does it mean for God’s kingdom to come? Have Jesus’ predictions of His coming failed?

As a general rule of thumb, when someone sets up an either/or scenario, observers should be wary. The limitation of options offered in the atheist’s quote above, especially when considering apocalyptic expressions in the Old and New Testaments, is entirely arbitrary. Immediately following Matthew 16:28 is the story of the Transfiguration (17:1-8), an incredible vision in which Peter, James, and John did in fact see Christ in His divine form, and thus partake in a vision of God’s kingdom in this world.

Still, it is worthwhile to meditate on the question: How does God’s kingdom come? Technically, God doesn’t come or go anywhere (Ps. 139:7-10). God is the creator and sustainer of all time and space—nothing escapes His presence since, if it did, it would not exist. As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Indeed, by the very fact that He gives being to the things that fill every place, He Himself fills every place.” (Summa Theologicae I.8.2).

So, if God doesn’t come or go anywhere, why does the Bible speak so frequently of His kingdom “coming”?

The Bible tells us about God and His actions in ways that we can understand. References to God’s eyes and ears, for instance, affirm that nothing is outside His awareness (e.g., Prov. 15:3, Ps. 116:2). But God doesn’t know things because light or sound waves enter physical organs. God “hears” and “sees” in a way that is appropriate to His infinite, spiritual mode of being. Since we can’t fully understand that, God speaks to us about Himself in terms that we can understand.

God’s coming means, first of all, that His presence becomes noticeably manifest. God may come to His people, for instance, through a prophet, a special event, miracle, or other means. The language of His coming, along with the dramatic and even shocking imagery that we often associate with John’s Apocalypse (Revelation, the final book of Scripture) is typical in the Hebrew prophets.

Jesus, continuing and deepening the Old Testament descriptions, spoke of the coming of God’s kingdom in various ways. Matthew sees Jesus’ birth in Micah’s prophetic words about a ruler Who will come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). John the Baptist anticipated Jesus’ ministry: “He Who is coming after me is mightier than I,” using striking apocalyptic language to speak of His purifying ministry: “the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 2:6, 3:11-12).

Shortly before His betrayal and passion, Jesus consoled his disciples with the words: “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you” (John 14:18). Although for “a little while, the world will not see” Jesus, his disciples will see him. These words point to Christ’s resurrection as a coming that will reveal his abiding presence with them. This coming also points to another major topic of Jesus’ final discourse with his disciples: the coming of the Holy Spirit (e.g., John 14:26). In more than one place, the Apostle Paul is drawn to speak of our transformation into God’s children through Christ as a response to God sending “the Spirit of His Son into our hearts” (Gal. 4:5-6, Rom. 8:1-11).

Before his Ascension, Jesus was asked if the time had arrived for the kingdom to be restored to Israel, a widespread Jewish hope in the first century. Jesus consistently directed attention away from speculation about the time when particular aspects of God’s plan would unfold. “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father has fixed with his own authority” (Acts 1:7). Instead, He directed attention to the imminent coming of the Holy Spirit that would lead to the Gospel’s advance throughout the world (Acts 1:8).

Perhaps all of this is not dramatic enough for our critics. What would a dramatic “coming” of God’s kingdom look like, anyway? It may seem foolish to those who are looking for flashing lights and great heavenly fireworks, but God seems to prefer to show the greatest demonstrations of His power within the realm of the human spirit. A fragile baby in a manger, riding a donkey into Jerusalem, suffering on a cross, and choosing uneducated fishermen are, from a certain point of view, anti-climactic. Yet, in another very important sense, they touch a deep nerve in our hearts. They reveal the striking truth that the God of the universe cares about us to the point that little things become displays of divine power and glory. A baby in a manger causes the heavenly host to burst into praise. Don’t these humble manifestations of divine power resemble Jesus’ choice of images when He speaks of God’s kingdom (e.g., mustard seed, measures of meal in dough, a lost sheep)?

So, what are we to make of the charge that Jesus’ promise “failed”—that His kingdom did not arrive on schedule, before that first generation of witnesses had passed? It is unpersuasive since it fails to see Jesus’ words both in their immediate context as well as the larger context of the biblical teachings regarding the manifold ways in which God’s kingdom comes to us now and in the future. We certainly anticipate the future Second Advent of Christ in all His glory but, like many in the first century, skeptics continue to miss the message of the Transfiguration: the kingdom of God is first and foremost embodied in Jesus. “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed…behold the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21).”

Love, and trembling in holy fear,
Matthew

(1) NABRE (New American Bible Revised Edition) footnote: Mt 16:28, “coming in His kingdom”: since the kingdom of the Son of Man has been described as “the world” and Jesus’ sovereignty precedes His final coming in glory (Mt 13:38, 41), the coming in this verse is not the parousia as in the preceding but the manifestation of Jesus’ rule after His resurrection(/the establishment of Church/Pentecost, in this sense of coming); see notes on Mt 13:38, 41.

Dec 25 – Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming!!

Lo! How a Rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As those of old have sung.

It came a flower bright
Amid the cold of winter
When half-spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind;
And so then we behold it,
The Virgin Mother kind.

To show God’s love aright
She bore to us a Savior
When half-spent was the night.


-by Br Damian Day, OP

“All was quiet and still with that quiet stillness that slows one’s step almost without him noticing. Beneath the dark boughs of the forest, the crisp flakes of the newly fallen snow caught and crystalized the silver moonlight. Brother Laurentius, wandering through this melancholic solemnity, observed amid the encircling white and diamond a deep ruby warmth. Stooping, the Cathusian(1)[Brother Laurentius (apocryphal); Carthusian monk Conradus, 1580s, Trier, manuscript anthology] lifted the blooming rose to a silver shaft of light. How strange to find such a flower nestled amid the Christmas snowfall. Still contemplating the blossom, the monk trudged back to the convent. Finding a crystal vase, he placed the rose beneath the gentle candlelight of Mary’s altar.

Brother Laurentius’s(1) midnight discovery, according to tradition, inspired the meditative Advent and Christmastide hymn, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (“Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”).

From the beginning, “Lo, How a Rose” was a sort of gentle call to a Marian contemplation. The Church had long seen the Blessed Virgin prefigured in the words of the Song of Songs: “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys” (Song 2:1). The first version, which appeared in a German hymnal in 1599, sang of Mary as the rose that “has brought forth a floweret,” Christ. The verse captures the mystique of Mary’s role in the Incarnation of the Son of God. The perfect flower of her holiness provided the fitting stem upon which to form the humanity of the perfect man. Like Br. Laurentius gazing on the color of the rose amid the darkness of night, the listener contemplates the sinless beauty of the Virgin Mother of God amid the pallor of fallen world.

The current version of the hymn, with the powerful harmonies composed by Michael Praetorius in 1609, focuses more on that floweret, Christ:

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.

We now see Christ as the rose fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isa 11:1). The grace and truth of the Christ child, like the sweet fragrance of a rose, permeates the rotten decay of our fallen world and makes all things fresh. The gentle light of the newborn king’s face, like the red rose in the field of white, shines out a glorious splendor that will blaze forth on the Mountain of the Transfiguration, obliterate the darkness of the grave in the light of the Resurrection, and flow to every corner of the earth through the faces of his friends who have seen this light.

In this focus on Christ the rose, the hymn retains its Marian aspect. Now, we join the Virgin Mother in her undiluted contemplation of her Son. The goal of the hymn, the purpose, is to join our eyes to those of Mary gazing upon this “flow’ret bright”: “With Mary we behold it.”

Mary is the contemplative par excellence. In her maternal care, we hear several times how she pondered in her heart the mystery of her divine Son (cf. Lk 1:29; 2:18, 51). When we pray the Rosary, we join in Mary’s contemplation, gazing with her into the inexhaustible mystery of her Son.

“Lo, How a Rose” invites us to a similar contemplation. We wonder at “How Christ, the Lord of Glory, / Was born on earth this night.” With Mary we ponder the baby in the crib, knowing that he is “True man, yet very God” and that “From sin and death He saves us.”

Praetorius’s musical arrangement aids this contemplation. The lyrics move slowly and gently through the harmonies, beckoning to us to slow down, to listen, to behold. The chords rise and fall, grow and subside with all the intensity and subtlety of contemplation, one moment powerful, the next moment gentle, yet always moving with a heavenly steadiness.

In this Christmas contemplation, we see ever more clearly what Mary saw and what her motherhood shows:

To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

Christ the flower came breathing forth the fragrance of divine love. He sprung from Mary’s “tender stem” to reveal the love of God, to manifest in visible form the heights and depths of God’s love. “To show God’s love aright,” God’s only Son became the Son of Man, born our brother through Mary, that we might be born his brothers through grace, becoming sons of God.

With Mary, then, we behold afresh the flowering of grace and new life in the Christ Child.

Love & the budding joy only He can give,
Matthew

(1) O’Sullivan, J. (2008). There Is a Rose Come Forth. The Furrow, 59(4), 242-245. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/27665728