Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

The United Nations: Channeled Waters in God’s Hand

UN. General Assembly

The United Nation’s General Assembly begins this week in New York City. World leaders are arriving at the UN and already there’s talk that nothing good will come out it. It’s easy to blame leaders, and we do it all the time. Some are easy targets. Anyone governing a country or running for office today can expect withering scrutiny and criticism. Church leaders aren’t immune either.

“Like a stream is the king’s heart in the hand of the LORD;
wherever it pleases him, he directs it.” (Proverbs 21,1)

Interesting that our reading for Mass on Tuesday, the beginning of the UN meeting, should begin with this verse from the Book of Proverbs.” The stream is called “channeled water” in other versions and commentaries, a water for fertilizing arid land.  ” It takes great skill to direct water, whether water to fertilize fields or cosmic floods harnessed at creation, for water is powerful and seems to have a mind of its own. It also requires great skill to direct the heart of a king, for it is inscrutable and beyond ordinary human control.” (Commentary NAB)

So God is there directing the “channeled water” of the nations and their rulers, seemingly with a mind of their own, but in God’s firm hand.

St. Augustine in our liturgy recently had a sermon on the Good Shepherd in which he warns church leaders not to lead the sheep astray but to be like Jesus.  When they are like him they are “like the one Shepherd, and in that sense they are not many but one. When they feed the sheep it is Christ who is doing the feeding.”

Pray for good leaders for our church, Augustine continues:  “May it never happen that we truly lack good shepherds! May it never happen to us! May God’s loving kindness never fail to provide them!”

But the saint goes on . We must do something more than pray, we ourselves must be “good sheep,”  because “if there are good sheep then it follows there will be good shepherds, since a good sheep will naturally make a good shepherd.”

Is that something that applies to us as citizens of the world and of the United States? Are the leaders we blame mirrors of ourselves? Are we getting the leaders we deserve?  Add to a prayer for good leaders, then, a prayer for good citizens. God make us good citizens, and good leaders will come.

“A king’s heart is channeled water in the hand of the LORD;

God directs it where he pleases. (Proverbs 21,1)

The Passion of John the Baptist

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August 29th recalls the the death of John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel tells the gruesome story. King Herod ordered his death, prompted by Herodias. (Mark 6, 17-19) Because his death is like the Passion of Jesus the church calls it “The Passion of John the Baptist”.

 Human sinfulness is on display in this banquet at court, which the artist (above) describes very well. The women smugly presenting John’s head. The man pointing his finger at Herod and Herod denying it all. John’ eyes are still open, his mouth still speaks.

Venerable Bede says that John’s death is like Jesus’ death because they both embraced the same values.  If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, he may have gained a few peaceful years of life, but he was more concerned with what God thought than what powerful people on earth thought.

“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.

“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives, but how we live them, speaking the truth.” (Bede, Homily)

Wonderful line: It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”

For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? It may not mean getting our heads chopped off, but we should expect some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth. ” May we fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” (Opening prayer)

Saint Augustine

Augustine baptism
Augustine’s Baptism, Gozzoli

August 28, Feast of St. Augustine

His feast comes the day after we honor his mother Monica. Augustine was changed by encountering the mystery of God. It was not his brilliant mind or human gifts that created the encounter; it was God’s grace, which we all look for.

Yet, look at the scene of his baptism, above. There’s Monica standing behind St. Ambrose. A mother’s prayers had something to do with it too.

Here’s Augustine himself on his conversion: “Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so.” 

And God became his Light.

“O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: ‘I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me’”.

The Light was Christ.

“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!,

Lo, you were within,

but I outside, seeking there for you,

and upon the shapely things you have made

I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.

You were with me, but I was not with you.

They held me back far from you,

those things which would have no being,

were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;

you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;

you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;

you touched me, and I burned for your peace.” (Confessions)

Here’s a biography of Augustine by Pope Benedict XVI

Here’s a wealth of material on Augustine from Villanova University

Remembering Lawrence: August 10

We remember Lawrence the deacon on August 10. He’s a favorite of mine whom I followed through the many churches and works of art in Rome that witness his influence on the Roman church. Some years ago I worked with others to produce a video on Lawrence. (See above.)

Lawrence reminds us that the Poor are the Treasures of the Church. I’m wondering if a good bit of Pope Francis’ present popularity comes from his strong commitment to the poor. He’s reminding the church-and the world too–how important the poor are   to Jesus and those who follow him.

Augustine in a sermon on Lawrence says that you don’t have to be in charge of a major relief effort to be like Lawrence, however. Each of us, treasuring the poor in our own way, follow Jesus.

“The garden of the Lord, brethren, includes – yes, it truly includes –  not only the roses of martyrs but also the lilies of virgins, and the ivy of married people, and the violets of widows. There is absolutely no kind of human beings, my dearly beloved, who need to look down on their calling.”

We’ all grow in the garden of the Lord. That’s a nice way of saying we’re all have something to give. Who are the poor we  treasure?

Traditions about St. Ann

As one might expect, a saint like Saint Ann has a rich history in the Christian church. She’s honored from earliest times in the eastern churches as the mother of Mary.

Around the year 550, a church in her honor was built in Jerusalem on the site where her home was said to be, near the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus cured the paralyzed man. Since then, many churches honoring her have been built throughout the world and she appears frequently in Christian art.

Feasts of St.Ann

Feasts in honor of Mary’s birth (September 8) and her presentation in the temple (November 21) – inspired by the Protoevangelium- were introduced into the liturgies of the Eastern churches in the 6th century. Feasts in honor of St.Joachim and Ann (September 9), the conception of St.Ann (December 9), and St.Ann alone (July 26) have been celebrated from the 7th century in the Greek and Russian churches. In the western church, the feast of St.Ann has been celebrated on July 26 since the 16th century.

Why was the story of Ann and Joachim so popular in the Eastern Christian churches, first of all?  For one thing, Christians on pilgrimage to the holy land wanted to know as much as possible about the earthly life of Jesus and Mary and so stories about Ann and Joachim satisfied their curiosity.

Her story also supplied information about the family background of Mary and Jesus, which supported the traditional belief that Jesus is Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary.  Early on, these beliefs were  questioned by heretical elements within Christianity as well as by outsiders hostile to the faith.

Finally, and just as important, Ann and Joachim offered inspiration to mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, grandmothers and grandfathers –to live their lives in their circumstances of family life.

Devotion to St. Ann in Europe

In the western churches, devotion to St.Ann was fed by a popular belief that relics of her were brought to France by Mary Magdalen, Lazarus, Martha, and other friends of Jesus who crossed the stormy sea from Palestine to bring the Christian faith to the region around Marseilles.

Her relics were buried in a cave under the church of St.Mary in the city of Apt by its bishop, St.Auspice, according to this story. But when barbarians invaded the area, the cave was filled with debris and almost forgotten, only to be unearthed 600 years later during the reign of Charlemagne.

You can see from this story why sailors and miners would be devoted to St. Ann. When crusaders from Europe – many from France – went to the Holy Land in the 11th century, they rebuilt the early church of St. Ann in Jerusalem. By the 14th century, devotion to St. Ann was on the rise throughout Europe.

There are reasons for this growing devotion. In the mid- 14th century, Europe was struck by the Black Death,  a plague that raged everywhere for over 150 years, wiping out almost 30 percent of its population and bringing fear, famine and death. Families bore the brunt of the catastrophe as they tended their sick and cared for the healthy.

They needed models like Mary and Joseph, protectors of their Child in difficult circumstances. Extended families needed models like Ann and Joachim, grandparents who supported their child and grandchild.

When the plague ended, Europe’s population expanded dramatically in the late 15th and 16th centuries; new towns and cities sprang up everywhere and families were uprooted from places and people familiar to them. Relatives and friends were separated, work was often hard to find. Families needed help to stay together and survive.

At a time when children were under pressure, sometimes neglected, faith suggested the biblical models of Mary and Joseph, Ann and Joachim.  Images of the nursing Madonna and the caring grandparents became important sources of inspiration.

Groups of Christians arose known as Confraternities of St. Ann, dedicated themselves to caring for widows, orphans and families under stress. Images of Mary and Ann, nursing their children, playing with the Christ Child and/or John the Baptist were more than pious pictures; they had a social purpose as well.

One picture from this era, still popular today, portrays St. Ann teaching her little daughter how to read.  Sometimes the words on the book are words of scripture; sometimes they’re basic numbers or letters of the alphabet: 1,2,3,4-A,B,C.

Playing with children, teaching them the ABC’s, passing on the mysteries of God to them are vital actions. Simple as they may seem, they are holy actions and they can make those who do them saints.

The Story of Ann and Joachim

Joachim 1
Joachim among the Shepherds

We celebrate the Feast of Ann and Joachim today, parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  The New Testament says nothing about them, but an early 2nd century document called the Gospel of James tells their story,

Ann and Joachim lived in Jerusalem, the ancient source says, where Joachim, a descendant of David and a wealthy man, provided sheep and other offerings for the temple sacrifices. The two had ties to Bethlehem nearby and Nazareth in Galilee.

They were well off but for twenty years disappointment clouded their marriage: they had no child. Even after vowing to dedicate their child to God, no child came. And so, at a time when children were treasured, they were thought poor. Descendants of David, they were blamed also for failing to continue the line the Messiah would come from.

Stung by criticism, Joachim spent more time in the mountains, brooding among the shepherds and their flocks. As her husband distanced himself from her, Ann too grew sad. God seemed far away.

In the garden one day, noticing some sparrows building a nest in a laurel tree, Ann burst into tears: “Why was I born, Lord?” she said, “birds build nests for their young and I have no child of my own. The creatures of the earth, the fish of the sea are fruitful, and I have nothing. The land has a harvest, but I have no child  in my arms.”

At that moment, an angel of the Lord came and said, “Ann, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive a child the whole world will praise. Hurry to the Golden Gate and meet your husband there.”

At the same time, In the mountains an angel in dazzling light  spoke to Joachim, “Don’t be afraid, the Lord hears your prayers. God knows your goodness and your sorrow and will give your wife a child as he did Sara, Abraham’s wife, and Hannah, mother of Samuel. You  will have a daughter and name her Mary. Give her to God, for she will be filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb.  Go back to Jerusalem. You’ll meet your wife at the Golden Gate and your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Joachim and Ann met at the Golden Gate to the temple, the place of God’s presence. They embraced as they spoke of the angel’s promise. Returning home, Ann conceived and bore a daughter, and they called her “Mary.”

Joachim 4

When she was three years old, Ann brought Mary to the temple to learn the scriptures, to pray and take part in the Jewish feasts. She watched her father bring lambs to be offered in sacrifice. She grew in wisdom and grace in God’s presence.

Mary in temple Giotto

When Mary approached marriage age– then 15 or so–her parents arranged for her marriage as it was customary. They sought the high priest’s advice, tradition says, and Joseph of Nazareth was chosen as her husband. Nazareth was then their home.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the Child.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth where Jesus grew up. He was raised in a large extended family that included his grandparents, Ann and Joachim, who cared for him as a child.

No one knows just when or where Ann and Joachim died, but Jesus must have treasured them in life and on their passage to God.

The 2nd century Protoevangelium of James repeats a fundamental theme of  the Book of Genesis: God promises Adam and Eve many children who will enjoy the blessings of the earth. God repeats the promise to an aged, childless couple, Abraham and Sarah, and again to Hannah, who bemoans her childlessness to the priest Eli in the temple. In the same way, God gives a child to Ann and Joachim. Mary, their daughter, brings blessings to the nations through her son Jesus Christ, born of the Holy Spirit.

Giotto’s 14th century illustrations (above) from the Arena Chapel in Padua. helped popularize the story of the parents of Mary in Italy, Europe and the rest of the western world.

It’s an important story for grandmothers and grandfathers. Like Ann and Joachim they have a big role raising the next generation. More than they think.

A Mother’s Plans for James and John

On today’s feast of St. James, the apostle,  Matthew’s gospel describes Salome, the mother of James and John, asking Jesus to give her sons privileged places in his kingdom. “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

I’m not sure Salome would have fallen at Jesus’ feet as she’s pictured in the illustration above. They were related, after all, and she was a senior relative of his. She probably reminded Jesus that James and John were his cousins, and remember, I know your mother. Family ties always help people get ahead.

Jesus doesn’t dismiss her altogether, but he reminds her that his followers are to serve and not be served. It’s a service that will cost them, even their lives. Following him doesn’t mean that they and their family would gain. Like the Son of Man James and John will  have to give their lives “for many.”

They’re called by God to reach out, and reaching out can be hard, sometimes painful. It means going beyond those we call our own, our families and friends. It means reaching out to those we don’t know, even to those we don’t like. It means going beyond what we’re used to.

Later stories say that James and John went to places far beyond the Sea of Galilee where they fished with their father Zebedee and were cared for by a mother who had their interests at heart. Our church is a missionary church. It reaches out to the whole world. That’s what  Jesus last words in Matthew’s gospel says to do:  “Go out to the whole world, baptizing and teaching.”

That’s still his word today. Go out to the whole world, even if the world is changing and the future is uncertain. “I am with you all days,” Jesus says.

James, brother of John, is also known as  James the Greater, to distinguish him from James the Less, the other disciple mentioned in the New Testament. James was the first of the apostles to die for Christ; he was beheaded in Jerusalem by King Herod Agrippa in 42 AD.

Later Traditions About James

Some 4th century Christian writers say that one of the apostles went to Spain and a 6th century source identifies the apostle as James, who preached briefly in Spain and converted only a few before returning to Jerusalem and his death.

Modern scholars are divided about the truth of the tradition. Relics said to be of St. James were discovered in Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain in the 9th century, a major event in Spanish history. His shrine at Compostella became a major pilgrimage center for the people of Spain and Europe, rivaling even Rome and Jerusalem in its popularity.

From the 9th century onward, James was patron of the Spanish peoples and a rallying cry in their fight to free their land from the Moors. At four battles – Clavijo (9th c.), Simancas (10th c.), Coimbra (11th c.) and Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) – legends say he appeared as a warrior astride a great white horse with a sword in his hand. Throughout the Middle Ages, soldiers and knights  came as pilgrims to Compostela to seek the saint’s protection.

In 1492, when Spain was finally free of Moorish domination, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella came to Compostela to give thanks to St.James in the name of the Spanish people.

How old are the relics of St.James? Pilgrims from Galicia were frequent visitors to the Holy Land as early as the 4th century and may have brought the relics back to their native land. Colorful legends from medieval times, however, brought the story back further to the time of the apostle himself, saying that disciples of James fled with his body after he was beheaded and, escaping by boat, drifted to the coast of Spain where, after many adventures they buried him. These legends about James appear frequently in medieval art and in numerous churches built in his honor in France, England, and later in the Spanish colonies of the New World. Cities such as Santiago, Chile, Santiago, Cuba,San Diego, California, are named after him. The feast of St.James is July 25.

The Martyrs of Daimiel

Damiel

Civil wars are hard to understand. The American Civil War, the war in Rwanda in the 1990s, the war in Bosnia. That’s true also of the Spanish Civil War, which took place from 1936-1939 between forces of the left and the right. Great numbers of innocent people lost their lives. Outsiders from Germany, Russia and Italy made the war a testing ground for their own war machines. The scars are still there.

Many Catholic clergy were killed, especially in the early months of the war, including 13 bishops, 4,172 diocesan priests and seminarians, 2,364 men religious and 283 nuns in a period referred to as Spain’s “Red Terror.” Today the Passionists remember their Martyrs of Daimiel, Spain.

Between July 22nd and October 24th, 1936, twenty-six religious from the Passionist house of studies, Christ, the Light, outside the city of Daimiel, about eighty miles south of Madrid, died at the hands of anti-religious militiamen at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War

They were: Niceforo Diez Tejerina, 43, provincial superior, who previously served as a missionary in Mexico and Cuba after being ordained in Chicago, Illinois.; Ildefonso García Nozal, 38; Pedro Largo Redondo, 29; Justiniano Cuestra Redondo, 26; Eufrasio de Celis Santos, 21; Maurilio Macho Rodríguez, 21; Jose EstalayoGarcia, 21; Julio Mediavilla Concejero, 21; Fulgencio Calv Sánchez, 19; Honorino Carraced Ramos, 19; Laurino Proáno Cuestra, 20; Epifanio Sierra Conde, 20; Abilio Ramos Ramos, 19; Anacario Benito Nozal, 30; Felipe Ruiz Fraile, 21; Jose Osés Sainz, 21; Felix Ugalde Irurzun, 21; Jose Maria Ruiz Martinez, 20; Zacarias Fernández Crespo, 19; Pablo Maria Lopez Portillo, 54; Benito Solano Ruiz, 38; Tomas Cuartero Gascón, 21; Jose Maria Cuartero Gascón, 18; German Perez Jiménez, 38; Juan Pedro Bengoa Aranguren, 46; Felipe Valcobado Granado, 62.

Most of those killed were young religious studying for ordination and destined for missionary work in Mexico and Cuba. Others were priests who taught them and brothers who served in the community. Father Niceforo, the provincial, was visiting the community at the time.

Militiamen entered the Passionist house on the night of July 21st and ordered the thirty-one religious to leave in one hour. Father Niceforo gathered them in the chapel, gave them absolution, opened the tabernacle and said:

“We face our Gethsemane. . . all of us are weak and frightened, , ,but Jesus is with us; he is the strength of the weak. In Gethsemane an angel comforted Jesus; now he himself comforts and strengthens us. . .Very soon we will be with him. . .To die for him is really to live. . . Have courage and help me by your example.”

He then distributed the sacramental hosts to them.

The militiamen ordered the group to the cemetery and told them to flee. At the same time, they alerted companions in the surrounding areas to shoot the religious on sight.

The Passionists split into five groups. The first group of nine was captured and shot outside the train station of Carabanchel in Madrid on July 22, 1936 at 11pm.

The second group of twelve, Father Niceforo among them, was taken at the station at Manzanares and shot by a firing squad. Father Niceforo and four others died immediately. Seven were taken to a hospital where one later died. Six of them recovered, only to be shot to death later on October 23, 1936

Three other religious, traveling together, were executed at the train station of Urda (Toledo) on July 25th. Two gave their lives at Carrion de Calatrave on September 25th. Only five of the thirty-one religious were spared.

Numerous eye-witnesses testified afterwards to the brave faith and courage shown by the Daimiel Community in their final moments, especially the signs of forgiveness they gave their executioners.

They were beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 1989, who said of them: “None of the religious of the community of Daimiel was involved in political matters. Nonetheless, within the climate of the historical period in which they lived, they were arrested because of the tempest of religious persecution, generously shedding their blood, faithful to their religious way of life, and emulating, in the twentieth century, the heroism of the Church’s first martyrs.” (Homily: October 1, 1989)

Today their bodies are interred in the Passionist house at Daimiel.

Their feastday is July  24th.

Mary Magdalene

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St. Gregory the Great  got it wrong identifying Mary Magdalene with Mary, the sister of Lazarus and the sinful woman (Luke 7,38ff)  who washed Jesus’ feet. She’s one of the women followers of Jesus who came up to Jerusalem with him, mentioned in Luke’s gospel. She was a star witness at his resurrection.

 Yet,  Gregory’s description of her spirituality is right on.

Here’s an excerpt from his beautiful sermon in today’s Liturgy of the Hours:

“We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

“At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

“Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.”

Some recently, using flimsy evidence from 3rd and 4th century gnostic writings, want to “de-mythologize” Jesus and romanticize his relationship with Mary. Some even claim he was married to her. Their claims have been sensationalized in the  media and unfortunately get a wide hearing.

Better to listen to the four gospels and the evidence of the New Testament. They see Mary as a disciple who was one of many women followers of Jesus and loved him. Their witness is older and more reliable. There’s also new archeological evidence about Magdala, Mary’s hometown, that helps us understand Mary Magdalene. Take a look.

Novena to St. Ann

Throughout the Catholic world novenas honoring St. Ann begin July 17.

You won’t find the names of Ann and Joachim in the bible, but they’re mentioned in one of the apocryphal books, the Protoevangelium of James, written shortly after our New Testament writings.

Interest in Jesus’ family came about because of claims that he was “Son of David,” the Messiah  expected to come from David’s line. Against those who said Jesus was only a carpenter from Nazareth, the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke assert that  Jesus is the Messiah, descended from David.

The Protoevangelium of James also sees Joachim and Ann  in David’s line, and therefore Mary was too. It says they lived in Jerusalem. Did they accompany Mary to Nazareth after her marriage to Joseph? If so,  Jesus had grandparents taking care of him for a time.

If that’s true, it means Ann and Joachim gave Jesus something more besides proof of his bloodline.  Along with Mary and Joseph, they brought him up. As a young child he learned from them, the simplest and the most sublime things. Knowledge came to him, as it comes to us–through the senses, through mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.

St. Ann is often pictured with her daughter Mary holding a small book in her hands. Written on the book in the statue here in this church are the words, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart,” a verse from the psalms.

Other statues of her have different words in the book. “I,2,3,4; A,B,C,D.” The basics of life. Or notice Giotto’s picture of the presentation of Mary in the temple. (above) Ann pushes her little daughter into the temple. Just like pushing kids to church today?

Parents and grandparents play a powerful role in the lives of their children and grandchildren. They teach kids their abc’s and the  sublime mysteries of faith. Maybe that’s why so many of them make this novena.  They know that’s true.