Monthly Archives: October 2022

November Saints

November has an interesting mix of saints, beginning with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. A reminder that holiness is all around us, if we can see.

Every month there’s a feast of Mary. November 21th we remember her presentation in the temple, an ecumenical feast celebrated by churches of the east and the west. We ask Mary to help us be “worthy of the promises of Christ.”

Every month there’s a feast of an apostle. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, patron of the Greek Orthodox Church, is remembered at the end of this month. We remember Christians who are separated from us and ask that we be one. Let’s also draw closer to them.

November 3rd is the feast of St. Martin de Porres, a humble Dominican brother, who nursed the poor in Lima, Peru, in the 17th century.

On November 10th we remember St. Leo the Great, a pope who led the church and the Roman world in perilous times and brought hope for the future.

St. Martin of Tours, November 12, is especially remembered for his devotion to the poor. He gave half his cloak to a beggar, it’s said. As winter approaches he reminds us to care for the poor.

St. Francis Xavier Cabrini (November 13) championed the cause of immigrants. Another pressing issue we need to remember today. A beautiful statue of her was just unveiled recently in Battery Park, in New York City, where millions of immigrants came to our shores.

St. Josaphat (November 14) was a Catholic bishop who tried to bring about unity between the eastern and western churches. He was killed in a religious dispute in 1683. He saw feasts and traditions we shared as a way to draw together. Good example to follow

We remember St. Clement of Rome November 23rd, the 3rd successor of St. Peter, who dealt with the changing church of his day and new structures in church leadership–from apostles to bishops to popes. Changes in church leadership seem to be taking place today, don’t they? Can Clement help us to handle them?

The calendar through the year brings us, month by month, men and women from all times and places, saints who faced the challenges of their day. They have a wisdom to pass on to us. We should listen to their song.

Philippians: Have the Mind of Christ

Our first reading at Mass this week is taken mostly from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. St. Luke describes Paul’s mission to Philippi, ” a leading city in the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony”, in the 16th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. “We spent some time in that city” , Luke says, indicating he’s describing something he knows firsthand. It was a dramatic and fruitful stay.

Paul encounters Lydia, “a dealer in purple” at the place along the river where women prayed. She listened to his message and asked for baptism for herself and her household. She also convinced Paul and his companion to stay at her house, which became a house church. Women play a major role in the spread of the gospel.

Paul also encountered persecution in Philippi when he was accused of causing businesses to fail because of a cure he worked. ” The magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After inflicting many blows on them, they threw them into prison and instructed the jailer to guard them securely. When he received these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and secured their feet to a stake. ( Acts 16:22-24)

An earthquake broke the walls of the prison and the jailor, fearing the prisoners had escaped, was ready to kill himself. The earthquake led to his conversion along with his household – another house church in Philippi. It also led to Paul’s exoneration by the fearful magistrates of Philippi.

Commentators describe Paul’s warm relationship with the Philippians. It looks like a lot of important people there were on his side, or at least very respectful of his mission. They say he wrote this letter– to Lydia’s house and the jailor’s household– from prison, either in Rome, Ephesus or Caesaria.

Paul had his share of prisons during his ministry. That experience and others like it convinced him to see his life in the light of the suffering Christ. He told the Philippians they were granted “for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him. Yours is the same struggle as you saw in me and now hear about me.”  (Philippians 1, 29-39)

Have the mind of Christ, Paul tells them– and us– in this important passage, probably from an early Christian hymn:

Have among yourselves the same attitude 
that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and, found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2, 6-10)

This passage occurs often in the church’s  prayer tradition. On Palm Sunday, it’s read as Jesus enters Jerusalem to suffer and die on the cross. In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church’s daily prayer, it’s read each Saturday evening. The passage even appears before Christmas, a reminder that from the beginning Jesus accepted the weakness of “human likeness.” Unlike Adam who grasped for equality with God, Jesus humbled himself. 

We follow Jesus from birth to death and then to resurrection. It’s not a grim unhappy journey. Commentators on the Letter to the Philippians call it a “Letter of Joy.” Having the mind of Christ make life a journey to glory. 

31ST WEEK OF THE YEAR: Readings and Feasts

OCTOBER 31 Mon Weekday Phil 2:1-4/Lk 14:12-14

NOVEMBER 1 Tue ALL SAINTS Solemnity  Rv 7:2-4, 9-14/1 Jn 3:1-3/Mt 5:1-12a

2 Wed ALL SOULS Wis 3:1-9/Ro 6:3-9/Jn 6:37-40 

3 Thu Weekday [St Martin de Porres, Religious] Phil 3:3-8a/Lk 15:1-10 

4 Fri St Charles Borromeo, Bishop Memorial Phil 3:17—4:1/Lk 16:1-8 

5 Sat Weekday [BVM] Phil 4:10-19/Lk 16:9-15 

6 SUN 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14/2 Thes 2:16—3:5/Lk 20:27-38 or 20:27, 34-38

Two important feasts are celebrated this week: All Saints and All Souls. What lies ahead?  Where does this life end? Is there anything beyond this? Important questions these feasts address.

First reading most of this week is from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, another letter he writes from prison. Our gospel reading continues Jesus’ journey, as he draws near to Jerusalem.

St. Martin de Porres and St. Charles Borromeo, two saints from vastly different backgrounds. One a Dominica lay brother who worked caring for the poor, the other a learned theologian who was an leading figure at the Council of Trent. Bless them all.

Following the Apostles

We grow in faith through the liturgy. I thought of that as we celebrated the Feast of Simon and Jude this morning. They are apostles and the readings for the feast, especially the Letter to the Ephesians and our responsorial psalm, Psalm 19, tell us we are “being built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord…” (Ephesians 2: 19-22)

“Their message goes out through all the earth,” our responsorial psalm says. (Psalm. 19)

We belong to a church described as a building, not a complete building, but one “being built.” The foundation is the apostles and prophets. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, holding everything together and ensuring it grows to the “sacred temple of the Lord.”

That picture of the church is brought before us every month with a feast of an apostle. It’s the picture of a church that looks back and looks forward. It’s a growing church meant to embrace people from every nation, time and place. It’s a church bound for glory. We are called to be that kind of church.

The apostles bring their message through all the earth. They do not just report their memories of Jesus; they bring their message to others, to the ends of the earth. The accounts of their missionary journeys may not all be historically true, but their conviction of a universal mission is certainly true.

The apostles call us to this same mission;  we share this building of faith with them and we’re called to make it a universal building, open to all.

“We have inherited heaven along with the apostles,” our morning prayer said. “On the foundations stones of the heavenly Jerusalem, the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are written,” we read in morning prayer. Our names are there too. 

Jesus prayed all night for the apostles and his love called them, Luke’s gospel read today proclaimed. He prays and calls us too.  (Luke 6: 12-16) 

Saints Simon and Jude

Simon Rubens

St. Jude LaTourSaints Simon and Jude, whose feast we celebrate October 28, are mentioned only a few times in the New Testament list of apostles,  tenth and eleventh respectively. (Mark 3,13-19, Luke 6,12-16)

Simon is called  `the Zealot,’ either because he was zealous for the Jewish law or because he was a member of the Zealot party, which in the time of Jesus sought to overthrow Roman domination by force.

Some of Jesus’ followers,  the Gospels indicate, were hardly pacifists. Peter was ready to use his sword in the garden of Gethsemani when the temple guards came to seize Jesus;  James and John told Jesus to call down fire from heaven on the hostile Samaritans whom they met on their journey to Jerusalem.

Simon, therefore, may have thought of revolution when he answered Jesus’ call .

Jude, called “Thaddeus” to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot, may be the brother of James, the son of Alphaeus, some interpreters of the Gospel say. If that’s so, he’s also a relative of Jesus. He may be the author of the Epistle of Jude in the New Testament.

Early Christian traditions – all difficult to prove historically – locate the ministry of these apostles in places as far apart as Britain and Persia; one important legend from 3rd century Syria says they were apostles to Syria. If so, we ask their intercession for that troubled place today.

Knowing little about  Simon and Jude may be a good thing, because then we have to look to their mission to know them – they were apostles. Even if we don’t know exactly where each of them went, they were apostles. The mission of the apostles was to follow Jesus. “ As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus says in the Gospel of John. He also said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”

God made his will known to the apostles in due time. They didn’t decide what to do or where to go by themselves. They knew God’s will day by day, as we do.  So often, it was unexpected and perhaps not what they planned.

“Your will be done,” we say in the Lord’s Prayer. That’s an apostle’s prayer. We try to make it our prayer too.

An Ambassador in Chains

We’re reading today from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 6:10-20 (Thursday Wk. 30) He’s writing as an ambassador of the gospel, but an “ambassador in chains” asking for prayers that “speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel.”

“Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power,” Paul writes to the Ephesians and possible to the church at large. But he’s also asking for himself,  for the strength of a warrior, for the “armor of God”. “faith as a shield”, “the helmet of salvation”, “the sword of the Spirit.” Battle language, for sure.

No ordinary battle either. HIs enemies are not flesh and blood, but principalities and powers, world rulers of this present darkness, evil spirits in the heavens. 

I’m not a scripture scholar, but this sounds like the persecution of Nero that startled the Christians in Rome after the fire that burned much of the city down in 64 AD and sent an unknown number of them, including Peter and Paul, to a cruel death. It was an absurd persecution that went beyond what flesh and blood could conjure up. 

I’m adding a video on that persecution, told by way of an old Roman church, the traditional storyteller of Christian history. It’s the church of St. Peter in Chains. 

Church of St. Peter in Chains, Rome

Scholars and Ordinary Believers

Scholars are usually cautious about what they say or write, particularly if other scholars are checking on what they say. I think that’s so with scripture scholars.

I haven’t read every commentary on the Letter to the Ephesians–which we’re reading these days in our liturgy– but I think the commentary in the New American Bible might be typical. The writer, or writers, say that the letter is written to the Ephesians, but it’s probably written for other churches as well. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reference to any problems or difficulties in the church at Ephesus. They wonder too if Paul was the writer of the letter, or was it written by a secretary. Paul wrote it from prison, but was he in prison in Jerusalem or in Rome? 

Scholars can only go so far when they sift through the words of scripture. 

And that where believers come in:

“The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful… to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”(5) Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading,,, And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for ‘we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.’ (Dei Verbum 25 )

That strong statement from the Second Vatican Council asks ordinary Christians to read and pray the scriptures. We have good commentaries and translations from the scholars, now it’s the turn of ordinary Christians to do their part. That’s not a small matter.

The Constitution on Holy Scripture from Vatican II speaks of a growth in understanding, both of the plan of God and our place in it, that takes place through the prayerful reading of the scriptures:

“For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51)… For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.” ( Dei Verbum 8 )

The Spirit awaits this prayerful reading of the scriptures to bring God’s blessings to us.

Pierre Toussaint

Toussaint
Pierre Toussaint

“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” (Ephesians 6:1-9)

St. Paul wrote those words as a prisoner in Rome. He wasn’t justifying slavery nor was he justifying his own unjust imprisonment. Slave or free, male or female, whatever our condition, whether it’s from an unjust structure of society like slavery or imprisonment, or from some natural cause, we are children of God.

I think that’s how Pierre Toussaint lived, a Haitian slave brought to New York City late in 18th century. He died in 1853. Toussaint had a profound love of Jesus Christ. When he  died, a New York newspaper recognized him as “ a man of the warmest and most active benevolence.” His goodness was legendary.

Toussaint came to New York City with his French owners, the Berard family, shortly before the Haitian revolution in 1789. He lived in the city almost 66 years. A successful hair-dresser, confidante to some of New York’s most prestigious Protestant families, extraordinarily generous and faithful to the poor, a devout parishioner of St. Peter’s Catholic church on Barley Street, at Mass each morning at 6 AM. He was acclaimed one of New York’s finest citizens at his death.

St. Peter's Church
St. Peter’s Church

His first biographer was Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee, a Protestant who wrote about him shortly after his death. It’s a lovely biography, based on memories she and others had of him. She admired his character, his good deeds, his genuine love for people, black or white:

“He never felt degraded by being a black man, or even a slave…he was to serve God and his fellow men, and so fulfill the duties of the situation in which he was placed…. He was deeply impressed with the character of Christ; he heard a sermon from Dr. Channing, which he often quoted. “My friends,” said Channing, “Jesus can give you nothing so precious as himself, as his own mind. May this mind be in you.”

Those last words come from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.…Philippians 2, 6-9

Toussaint made the mind of Jesus his own. His body now lies in the crypt under the main altar of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and his cause for canonization has begun.

Some question why Toussaint wasn’t more aggressive in the struggle against slavery. He could have easily won his own freedom well before 1807, when Madame Berard  emancipated him before her death. Why didn’t he? Why wasn’t he active in the abolitionist movement against slavery then?

IMG_1851
African American Museum

For one thing, Toussaint feared violence would erupt in the United States, like the violence destroying Haiti then.

But he was influenced most of all by the teachings of the gospel and the example of Jesus Christ who insisted on loving God and your neighbor.  Loving and serving others is his great commandment, more important than the color of your skin, or your status in life or even fighting for a cause.

images

‘What will we do if the whites continue to discriminate and mistreat us?’ someone once asked Doctor Martin Luther King ‘We will continue to love them to the point that they can’t do anything else but love in return, ’’ he said.

Toussaint understood that. Doctor Martin Luther King did too. 

A fellow Passionist, Bishop Norbert Dorsey, CP who died in 2013, wrote his doctoral thesis at the Gregorian University in Rome on Pierre Toussaint. It’s available in digital form, thanks principally to Lynn Ballas, who so competently and generously edited and formatted the bishop’s work. It’s available at 

Praying the Rosary

 Our church recognizes the Rosary as an excellent prayer to Mary, the Mother of God. The Rosary is a contemplative prayer whose peaceful rhythm allows our minds to linger over the mysteries of the Lord’s life, death and resurrection. 

“Hail Mary, full of grace.”  Mary, full of grace, knew Jesus intimately through all his human life and after he rose from the dead. She’s with us as we pray. She guides us into the deepest mysteries of God. The Rosary is her “school”. 

Tradition suggests certain mysteries to meditate on while praying the Rosary: the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and the recently added Luminous mysteries. 

Tradition suggests certain days of the week to pray these mysteries. Remember, however, the Rosary is a flexible prayer that can be adapted to different times and circumstances. It’s not a rigid prayer. We can pray the Rosary in different ways.

One suggestion for praying the Rosary, besides the schedule of Joyful, Sorrowful and Luminous mysteries, is to follow the church calendar as the mysteries of Jesus Christ unfold in the year. In the Advent season, for example, we may wish to meditate on the waiting world that Mary knew so well, described in the scriptures read on the Sundays and weekdays of that season.

The Christmas season recalls the birth of Jesus in detail, the flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the Innocents, the return to Nazareth and the hidden years. “The Word was made flesh,” St. John writes. What God reveals in his mysterious plan for his only Son can help us see and understand God’s plan for us and our times as well.

The seasons of Lent and Easter offer further revelations of God in Jesus Christ. Mary was among the women who went up with Jesus and his other disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem. She was there when he was taken to be crucified; she stood beneath his Cross. Then, she witnessed his resurrection and the beginnings of his church. She can open up the scriptures that speak of him. 

The Rosary is a beautiful prayer. Originating in the scriptures it leads us into the mysteries and promises contained in them. It also guides us into the unfolding joys and sorrows, the contradictions and questions of our own lives.  “Hail Mary, full of grace.” Mary quietly, gracefully, as a mother and wise friend brings us into the presence of God. 

Saturdays of the year are days associated with her, because she kept vigil that day after the death of her Son.   Every month of the year a feast of Mary occurs on our calendar, reminding us of her continual presence in the unfolding plan of God.  

                                                           

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.