St. Clement of Rome

St. Clement of Rome is honored in an ancient church near the Colosseum,    probably built over his home. A wonderful place to visit when in Rome. He wrote an important letter around the year 95 to the church at Corinth, which was having troubles with its leadership.

After the death of the apostles there was no blueprint for church administration; the change from apostles like Paul and charismatic preachers like Apollo to bishops was not an easy one for early communities like the Corinthians. It was not an easy change for the church in Rome either. 

New structures were evolving, and Clement is an important witness in their evolution. In his letter he appeals to the Corinthians to do what Jesus told his followers to do: follow him as one flock follows its shepherd. They must walk together.

Using the the Roman legions as an analogy, Clement urges them to be like soldiers who depend on one another. They must be a community to be the church of Jesus Christ.

“Think of the soldiers who serve under our generals, and with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. Not all are prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage.

“Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head. The very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. All work harmoniously together and they are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body.

“In Christ Jesus let our whole body be preserved intact. Let every one of us be subject to his neighbor, according to the special gift bestowed upon him.

“Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect to the strong. Let the rich provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor bless God, who has given them what they need. Let the wise display their wisdom, not by mere words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to themselves, but leave witness to be borne to them by others. Let those who are pure in the flesh not grow proud of it and boast, knowing another has bestowed the gift of continence on them.

“Let us consider, then, brothers and sisters, of what matter we were made. Let us consider how we came into this world, as it were out of a grave, and from utter darkness: who and what manner of beings we were. God who made us and fashioned us, having prepared bountiful gifts for us before we were born, introduced us into this world.

“Since we receive all these things from God, we ought for everything to give God thanks; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Evidently, the problem of church leadership Clement addressed was not limited to Corinth. His letter was read in a number of other Christian communities at the time. The transition from apostles to bishops was not an easy one; the Roman church faced it as well.

Historians like Eamon Duffy see the Roman church originating in the large, thriving Jewish community in Rome which was concentrated in Trastevere and spread out to found numerous synagogues in the city– some of which evolved into early Christian house churches. Peter and Paul, who came to the city and were put to death there in the Neronian persecution ( 62-63 AD), were acknowledged and celebrated by these house churches as their leaders in faith. 

“The Roman synagogues,” Duffy writes, “unlike their counterparts in Antioch, had no central organization. Each one conducted its own worship, appointed its own leaders and cared for its own members. The same way, the ordering of the early Christian community in Rome seems to have reflected the organization of the synagogues which had originally sheltered it, and to have consisted of a constellation of independent churches, meeting in the houses of the wealthy members of the community. Each of these house churches had its own leaders, the elders or ‘presbyters’. They were mostly made up of immigrants, with a high proportion of slaves or freedman among them–the name of Pope Eleutherius means ‘freedman’.”(Saints and Sinners. A History of the Popes. Eamon Duffy, Yale University Press, 1997 p 6)

Rome was slow to recognize a chief bishop, Duffy and other historians claim. Clement was later recognized in the list of popes, but more likely he was spokesman for the Roman house churches, representing an eminent church whose leaders were apostles, Peter and Paul. He was designated to write to the Corinthians urging them to unity under their bishop.

The papacy as we know it emerged slowly. San Clemente and Saints John and Paul nearby are two Roman house churches from the early Christian period. Visit them if you’re in Rome.

San Clemente, 1800s
Saints John and Paul

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Mary temple

Mary, Presented in the Temple: Giotto

The Presentation of Mary, November 21,  is an ecumenical feast that originated early on in the church of Jerusalem.  A  Jerusalem tradition claims Mary was born there near the temple where her father Joachim provided lambs for the temple sacrifices. He and his wife Ann, old and childless, were blessed with a daughter whom they presented in the temple as a little child. The tradition is honored by Christian churches of the east and west.

The church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, situated today next to the ancient temple site, was built on the place where Mary was born, this tradition says, though other places, like Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris, also claim to be her birthplace.

st.ann basilica

Church of St. Ann, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem tradition seems to have some support in Luke’s gospel, which says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. Mary’s family, then, would be connected to the temple.

Luke links Mary a number of times to the temple. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) Luke also says they brought Jesus as a child to the temple to celebrate the feasts. Jesus calls the temple familiarly “my Father’s house.”

Another early source, the apocryphal  gospel of James. suggests Mary was presented in the temple as a little girl and suggests she lived there until her arranged marriage to Joseph. The four gospels seem to place Mary in Nazareth, far from the temple, for most of her life. That’s where the angel speaks to her, Lukes’ gospel indicates.    

Can we say that for Mary the temple, home of prophets and wisdom,  signifies God’s presence. Like Jesus she loved that holy place, but like him she believed the temple of God can be found everywhere, in Nazareth, Bethlehem, even on Calvary.(cf. John 4, 22-26) “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul would say later to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 3, 16) 

St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists, had a great devotion to this mystery and dedicated his first retreat on Monte Argentario in Italy to the Presentation of Mary. On this feast, over three hundred years ago today, he received the habit of a hermit from Bishop Gatinara in northern Italy, and a few days later entered upon a 40 day retreat where he experienced the presence of God. He named the first retreat of his congregation after the mystery of Mary’s Presentation and returned to that retreat each year, when he could, to pray there during her feast.

Please pray for the Passionists, the community he founded, that we may find God’s presence today and gain wisdom from Mary, the Mother of God.

34TH SUNDAY: READINGS AND FEASTS

NOVEMBER 21 Mon Presentation of Mary Memorial Rv 14:1-3, 4b-5/Lk 21:1-4  22 Tue St Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr Memorial. Rv 14:14-19/Lk 21:5-11  23 Wed Weekday[St Clement I, Pope  Martyr; St Columban, Abbot; USA: Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro, PriestMartyr] Rv 15:1-4/Lk 21:12-19  24 Thu St Andrew Dũng-Lạc, Priest, Companions, Martyrs Memorial [USA: Thanksgiving Day] Rv 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9a/Lk 21:20-28  25 Fri Weekday [Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr] Rv 20:1-4, 11—21:2/Lk 21:29-33  26 Sat Weekday 26 [BVM] Rv 22:1-7/Lk 21:34-36  27 SUN FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT Is 2:1-5/Rom 13:11-14/Mt 24:37-44

Thursday is ThanksgivingDay in the USA, a day at home with family and friends. The readings for most of this week, from the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of Luke, describe a world turned upside down. Hardly readings for enjoying a family feast in the security of your home. 

But faith embraces a world upset and a world secure.

Martyrs also are remembered this week. Cecilia, Clement, Andrew Dung-Lac and companions, Catherine of Alexandria.

Monday, Presentation of Mary in the Temple, is a special feast for the Passionists. Pray for them.

Next week Advent begins. Christ comes.

King of the Suffering

                                                                                                                                             By Orlando Hernandez

       Wow! Advent and Christmas are coming up so fast! The Feast of Christ the King is upon us. In Year C, the Gospel for this feast (LK 23: 35-46) presents us with the powerful story of Jesus and “the Good Thief” upon their crosses, side by side. Years ago my Pastor once preached that this Gospel displays the kingly power of Jesus, that of pardoning wrongdoers. This is no small thing. It is the very nature of our all-powerful, all-loving God.

       Upon reading this Gospel I cannot help but remember a Passionist prayer that I “fell into” two years ago. My patron saint, Paul of the Cross, recommends that we remember and meditate upon different scenes in the Passion of our Lord. In an Ignatian sort of way we are to plunge into, to get lost in a particular scene. It will not be pleasant at all, but Our Father in Heaven will reward us with the magnificent grace of experiencing the Divine Love of the Trinity.

       So I tried to pray as Paul of the Cross suggests. I tried to relax and quiet my mind and asked, “Father, what moment of His Passion means the most to me?” A flood of images came. I was ready to give up, when suddenly I imagined myself on a cross squirming in pain, suffocating, and begged my God to deliver me from this suffering. I felt a gentle force moving my head to the right. There I saw my Lord Jesus on His own Cross. Beneath Him people were mocking Him, laughing at Him, “dissing” Him (“King of the Jews, Hah!, King of Losers!”). Even my crucified accomplice  on the other side of Jesus was putting Him down. I tried to defend Him, admit our sinfulness,  His innocence, but it did no good. I asked Jesus for His mercy. His eyes turned to me and He promised me Eternal Life. I got lost in those eyes. He was beautiful; He was beauty itself. 

       I rested in that Beauty until a terrible storm and the unbearable pain in my body brought me back to the awful scene. They were breaking the legs of my screaming accomplice. I looked to Jesus for help, but He was gone, His head down. It seemed He could do nothing to console me. I was all alone. The executioner’s club struck my knees mercilessly. I screamed in pain as my body collapsed. I could not breathe!

       Suddenly I found myself attached to a respirator in an ICU unit. It wasn’t working. I was suffocating, alone, along with every other victim of COVID in the planet. I could not even scream. 

       My eyes opened, and they were full of tears. I was sitting comfortably in my “prayer armchair” wondering, “Was this just a daydream? It was so real. Why did you give me this vision? (If it was a vision), Lord? What are you telling me?” There was only silence. My mind, body and soul rested in this silence. What I perhaps felt the most was gratitude and awe before the love of this all-powerful God.

       “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.” (Phil 2: 8-11)

Blessed Grimoaldo

Blessed Grimoaldo Santamaria was born in Pontecorvo, Italy. May 4, 1883 and died in the Passionist monastery at Ceccano, Italy, on November 18, 1902. Today’s his feastday.

Like another young Passionist saint, St. Gabriel Possenti, it’s hard to discover anything spectacular about Grimoaldo. He died a Passionist student, preparing for ordination, immersed in the ordinary routine of study and prayer usual for that period of life.  He never reached that goal but died of meningitis. Dying from a sickness alone doesn’t make someone holy, does it?

The gospel reading from a few days ago may give us a clue to his holiness. It’s Luke’s account of the nobleman who goes on a journey and entrusts one of his servants with ten gold coins, another five, and finally another with one. Returning, he upbraids the servant who hides his one coin.

Why so severe with the one who chose to be safe? Is it a warning not to take small gifts for granted, not to keep out of life’s marketplace because we’re afraid we wont make a difference.

God sees small gifts as important, the ordinary tools of human love and service. If you wait for something “big” to happen, you miss out on most of living. So throw yourself bravely and generously into the life you have.

Did Grimoaldo understand that?

Dedication of the Churches of Sts. Peter and Paul

IMG_1302

On November 18th, we honor the great apostles, Peter and Paul, in the ancient churches where they were buried: the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica of St. Paul, both built in the fourth century. The two apostles are founders and protectors of the Roman church.

Rome’s Christians marked where these apostles were martyred with special care. Peter, early sources say, was crucified on the Vatican Hill in 64 near the obelisk not far from the circus of the emperors Caligula and Nero and was buried  nearby. The Emperor Constantine erected a basilica over his burial site in 326, while Sylvester was pope. Later in 1626 the present basilica replaced it. Recent excavations have uncovered Peter’s burial place under the papal altar of this church.

Paul,  tradition says, was beheaded on the Ostian Way, outside the ancient city walls, in 67. Constantine built a large church over his grave in 386. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1823 according to its original measurements. The apostle’s grave lies before the main altar of the church.

We build churches honoring apostles and saints, often enshrining their relics, because we believe they watch over us even now. “The company of the apostles praises you…From their place in heaven they guide us still.”

Defend your Church, O Lord,

by the protection of the holy Apostles,

that, as she received from them

the beginnings of her knowledge of things divine,

so through them she may receive,

even to the end of the world,

an increase in heavenly grace.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen   (Collect for the feast)

 

St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome
St.Paul outside the wall, Rome

Weeping Over Jerusalem: Luke 19: 41-44

As Jesus drew near Jerusalem,
he saw the city and wept over it, saying,
“If this day you only knew what makes for peace–
but now it is hidden from your eyes.
For the days are coming upon you
when your enemies will raise a palisade against you;
they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides.
They will smash you to the ground and your children within you,
and they will not leave one stone upon another within you
because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. The first thing he does as he arrives at the city, Luke’s Gospel today says. Looking over our world today, we weep too.

Elizabeth of Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth was a woman of status and privilege. She had celebrity status, but that did not cause her to live in a bubble of luxury. Influenced by the Franciscan movement  she reached out to those who had nothing; she used her wealth, power and influence to serve the poor. For that reason people of her day esteemed her. She’s an example for “the beautiful people” and, in fact, all of us today.

   

Trade Till I Come: Luke 19:11

Luke’s Gospel begins today with these words “While people were listening to Jesus speak, he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem
and they thought that the Kingdom of God would appear there immediately.” (Luke 19:11)

His journey to Jerusalem, nearly complete, Jesus tells a parable to those who thought the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately when he reached the city. It’s a parable about  a nobleman who went off to a distant country to obtain a kingdom and then return. 

The nobleman, of course, is Jesus himself who speaks of his own resurrection “to a distant country”. His followers will remain with gold coins in their hands and the command to “trade till I come.” 

It seems strange that the servant Jesus so strongly condemns is the one who seems so cautious. “ Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief.” But this servant is afraid of the time he’s living in and does nothing. 

In Luke’s time, this servant was like those whom Paul warns in his Letter to the Thessalonians. Disappointed because they see Jesus’ promises unfulfilled, they do nothing. Or like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, shocked by a crucified Lord and his death, they head to hide in the safety of their own homes.

In our time, who might this servant be? We are living in a world where promises, human and divine, seem unfulfilled. Shall be do nothing? What’s the gold coin in our hand?