Tag Archives: Passionists

St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660)

The opening Mass prayer for St. Vincent’s feast day describes succinctly what made him a great saint:

O God, for the relief of the poor

and the formation of the clergy

you endowed the priest St.Vincent De Paul

with apostolic virtues.

grant, that afire with the same spirit

we may love what he loved

and put into practice what he taught.

God gave Vincent de Paul grace to reach out to the poor and form the clergy. Both the poor and the clergy in France needed the grace of God.

Vincent as a young priest, met a Protestant once whom he invited to convert to Catholicism. The Protestant said:

“You told me, Monsieur, that the Church of Rome is led by the Holy Spirit, but I find that hard to believe because, on the one hand, we see Catholics in the countryside abandoned to pastors who are ignorant and given over to vice, with so little instruction in their duties that most of them hardly know what the Christian religion is. On the other, we see towns filled with priests and monks who are doing nothing; there are perhaps ten thousand of them in Paris, yet they leave the poor country people in this appalling state of ignorance in which they are lost. And you want to convince me that all this is being guided by the Holy Spirit! I’ll never believe it.”

That’s a picture of the French church in Vincent’s time. One reason for its sad condition was that the French crown appointed bishops and they, in turn, appointed men from important French families who supported them. Political considerations largely influenced church appointments.

As a result, the priesthood in France was badly off, priests had little education, some could hardly read or write. For financial support, they looked for benefices, usually found in the larger cities among rich families, where they could say Mass and celebrate the sacraments. As a young priest, Vincent himself was chaplain for a wealthy family in Paris.

The decision to become a priest was mostly a family’s decision, which might designate one of its sons as its “offering” to God. The priesthood became a way  to get a son some education and some social standing. Vincent’s own family, who were peasants, were influenced by motives like these. For many the priesthood was a job and not a call.

What Vincent did was to appeal to priests, religious, and even bishops, to begin to look at their roles spiritually. They were called by God to a vocation, not a job or career,  They had a  sacred mission to follow Jesus Christ. Vincent, in fact, called the community he founded the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), because they were to go to those neglected. He encouraged, not only priests, but communities of women to care for the poor, without living the usual cloistered life of that time. Vincent’s network embraced laypeople too, who worked for those Jesus called “the least.”

Through the efforts of this saint communities of Daughters of Charity,  Societies of St. Vincent de Paul, are found throughout the world today.

The following reading for Vincent’s feast captures his powerful message:

Although in his passion he almost lost the appearance of a man and was considered a fool by the Gentiles and a stumbling block by the Jews, Jesus showed them that his mission was to preach to the poor: He sent me to preach the good news to the poor. We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ’s actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause.Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor.

Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand the poor and weak. We sympathise with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: I have become all things to all men. Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbours’ worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.

It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. Since she is a noble mistress, we must do whatever she commands. With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons.”

More on St. Vincent de Paul

Don’t Look Back: Luke 9:51-18:14

We’re reading at Mass from the long portion of Luke’s gospel describing Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem–chapters 9,51-18,14. One sentence dominates this part of Luke’s gospel. “Follow me,” Another sentence we hear repeatedly: “Don’t look back.”

Notice how Jesus’ miracles on this journey help people stuck in one place move on. So, he cures the ten lepers confined outside a village in Samaria and sets them free. “Stand up and go,” Jesus says to them. (Luke 17,11-19) The blind man begging beside the road outside Jericho seems doomed to sit there forever. Jesus immediately gives him his sight and getting up he “followed him, giving glory to God.” {Luke 18, 35-43)

“Follow me,” Jesus says on his way to glory, but not all hear. Leprosy and blindness aren’t the only things stopping them. In Luke’s journey narrative; lots of things get in the way..

In Lot’s day, Jesus says, “they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting , building on the day Lot left Sodom.” It was time to see beyond these things and get going, but Lot’s wife looked back instead of looking ahead. Fixed on life she knew, she’s frozen there, and she’s.not the only one.

Jesus gives other examples in Luke’s journey narrative. The rich fool building bigger barns, (Luke 12,16-21) the rich man absorbed in himself and his riches, (Luke 16, 19-31) the man absorbed in a lawsuit with his brother, (Luke 12,13-15) the disciples absorbed in maneuvering politically for first place.(Luke 18,15-17) How can they make the journey?

Jesus returns often to another theme that’s a remedy for our lack of faith. Pray constantly, he says. Never stop praying, for prayer opens your eyes and your mind and your heart. Prayer gives us the grace to take up our cross each day and follow him.

Catechisms and Saintly Catechisms: Padre Pio

Where do catechisms come from? They’re recent instruments for forming people in their faith. Martin Luther was the first to compose a catechism in question and answers for ordinary people in the 15th century.

In response to Luther, the Dutch Jesuit Peter Canisius composed the first Catholic catechism in 1555 followed by three others afterwards. The Council of Trent directed a catechism be written as a resource for the clergy and that appeared in 1556. Robert Bellarmine later composed an important catechism requested by Pope Clement VIII and after that bishops from all over the world composed catechisms for their people. I can still recite questions and answers from the Baltimore Catechism of my youth.

Catechesis was done in earlier centuries without catechisms, through preaching, sacraments, the feasts and seasons of the year. The Second Vatican Council changed the language of the liturgy from latin to the language of the people and revised the liturgical prayers and rites so that they better serve as catechesis. Some today want to maintain the primacy of the catechism in catechesis but, while they’re still useful, we need to catechize more through the liturgy, sacraments, feasts and seasons. It’s a task of the Second Vatican Council remaining to be done. 

Today’s the feast of Padre Pio, the Italian Capuchin friar who’s one of the most popular saints of modern times. I would say he’s a saint who’s a catechism. He was a stigmatic, who carried the wounds of Christ in his body. Church officials were wary of him;  investigation after investigation questioned his credibility, but ordinary people recognized his holiness. To them he was a striking sign of God’s presence in an ordinary human being. Padre Pio taught that, not through a book, but through himself.

In 2006 the bishops of the USA published the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, which interspersed stories of saints and others as examples of the faith expounded in the book. They were acknowledging what we all know: people are better catechisms than books. 

Padre Pio reminds us of that today.

Matthew, the tax collector


Jews  usually turned away as they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But look at our gospel for today:

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. Tax collectors were good at keeping books. Was Matthew’s task to keep memories? Did he remember some things that were especially related to his world?

The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out the man in the tree to Jesus, a tax collector like himself, who brought them all to his house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?

Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.

But they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.

Pope Francis said he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.

Matthew’s Gospel?

The gospels themselves recall little about Matthew, an apostle of Jesus. We have his name, his occupation and a brief story of a banquet that took place with Jesus and some of his friends after his call.  ( Mt 9: 9-13; Mk 2:3-12; Lk5:18-26) As it is, the gospels concentrate on the ministry and teaching of Jesus. 

In the early centuries, those who knew Jesus told his story and brought his message to the world. As they died, writings about him gradually appeared, but there are only scarce references to who wrote them. St. Justin Martyr in the early 2nd century speaks of the “memoirs of the apostles”, without indicating any author by name. Later in that century, St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, writing against the Gnostics who claim a superior knowledge of Jesus Christ attributes the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They are eyewitnesses who really know Jesus firsthand; they have given us their “memoirs.” 

Scholars today are less likely to credit Matthew’s Gospel to the tax-collector from Capernaum whom Jesus called. Some of his memoirs perhaps may be there– after all he came from a profession good at accounting for things. But too many indications point to other sources. Why would Matthew, if he is an eyewitness, depend on Mark’s Gospel as he does? Language, the structure of the gospel, the circumstances it addresses, point to a Jewish-Christian area beyond Palestine as its source, probably Antioch in Syria, probably written around the year 8o, after the Gospel of Mark.

Traditions says that Matthew preached in Ethiopia and Persia, but they have no historical basis.

He is remembered as a martyr who died for the faith, but again there is no historical basis. 

Better to see Matthew as the gospel sees him: one of the first outsiders whom Jesus called. And he would not be the last..

The United Nations: Channeled Waters in God’s Hand

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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)

Saints Cornelius and Cyprian

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Today the church celebrates two early saints and martyrs, Cornelius, a pope who died in 253, and Cyprian, a bishop who was martyred in Roman Africa shortly after in 258.

At the time barbarian tribes in the west and the Persians in the east were invading Roman territory; the Roman emperors Decius and Valerian called for absolute loyalty from their people. The empire was imperiled.

To prove their loyalty, Roman citizens lined to offer sacrifice in honor of the emperor. Christians refused, and so at first church leaders were executed or imprisoned, wealthy, influential Christians lost their property, their positions and possibly their lives. Finally, all Christians could expect punishment for not performing the rites of sacrifice.

Not every Christian remained loyal to the faith at the time. Many offered sacrifice, betraying their faith, then afterwards sought to return to the church. Hard liners called for them to be banned for life for their lack of loyalty. Let God judge them when they die, they said. Others, like Cornelius and Cyprian, called to reconcile them after a time of penance, since God is all merciful.

Mercy and justice are always hard to reconcile. The gospels come down on the side of mercy. So should we.

In the persecution, Cornelius, bishop of Rome, was executed first, Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in Africa, was executed a few years later. The two men were from different social backgrounds and not always on good terms, historians say, but they found support in their common faith, as this letter of Cyprian to Cornelius, written shortly before Cornelius’ death, reveals:

“Cyprian to my brother Cornelius,

Dearest brother, bright and shining is the faith which the blessed Apostle praised in your community. He foresaw in spirit the praise your courage deserves and the strength that can not be broken; he was heralding the future when he testified to your achievements; his praise of the fathers was a challenge to the sons.

Your unity, your strength have become shining examples of these virtues to the rest of us. Divine providence has now prepared us. God’s merciful design has warned us that the day of our own struggle, our own contest, is at hand. By that shared love which binds us close together, we are doing all we can to exhort our congregation, to give ourselves unceasingly to fastings, vigils and prayers in common. These are the heavenly weapons which give us the strength to stand firm and endure; they are the spiritual defences, the God-given armaments that protect us.  

Let us then remember one another, united in mind and heart. Let us pray without ceasing, you for us, we for you; by the love we share we shall thus relieve the strain of these great trials.”

Love shared relieves the strain of trials.

Our Lady of Sorrows: September 15

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The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated the day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). It’s also eight days after Mary’s birth (September 7). So this feast, we should remember, recalls Mary’s sorrows, her lifelong sorrows. 

When Jesus was born, the old man Simeon  told Mary a sword would pierce her heart. Today’s readings and prayers recall her final experience of that sword, when she stood beneath the Cross of her Son. But Mary experienced sorrow all her life. She is Our Lady of Sorrows. An earlier feast, the Seven Sorrows of Mary, made her lifelong sorrows more explicit.   

What were Mary’s lifelong sorrows? She was a human being and a believer. She experienced what all human beings experience- we’re contingent beings. An infant cries as it enters this world. “Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years, or eighty for those who are strong. And most of these are emptiness and pain.” (Psalm 90) You hear that complaint often in the psalms. It’s a human complaint.

Faith doesn’t inoculate us against sorrow. We don’t see clearly the promises of God. Mary, like every believer, experienced the sorrow that comes from not knowing. Her life, like ours, was not immune to sorrow.

The sword of sorrow struck Mary most deeply at the death of her Son. Mark’s gospel describes some onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion: There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome.” They were looking on from a distance, not emotionally distanced. They were deeply engaged in the sorrow before them.  (Mark 15, 40-41) 

John’s gospel brings some of the women closer.  Mary, the Mother of Jesus stands at the cross itself. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

Mary stands by the Cross of Jesus, close by, not at a distance. She’s not absorbed in her own suffering, not afraid to see. Her standing by the Cross is significant. She enters the mystery of her Son’s suffering through compassion. 

She stood by him. Compassion doesn’t experience another’s suffering exactly, and it may not lead to taking another’s suffering away. Compassion enters suffering to break the isolation suffering causes. It helps someone bear their burden.  The sword, the spear, the sorrow, pierces both hearts, in different ways.

Our prayer for today’s feast says that when her Son “was lifted high on the Cross” his mother stood by and shared his suffering. “Grant that your Church, participating with the Virgin Mary in the Passion of Christ, may merit a share in his Resurrection.

Where is the Passion of Lord? It’s in the human lives of each one of us. It’s in the poor. It’s in the earth we’re destroying. Sometimes we can do something to relieve that suffering. Like Mary, we’re always called to stand close by as she did, and see. 

For a commentary on John’s Gospel see here.

For a study on Mary on Calvary see here.

For readings for the feast and the Stabat Mater see here.

The Triumph of the Cross: September 14

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Pilgims enteing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

This ancient ecumenical feast,  celebrated by Christian churches throughout the world, commemorates the dedication of a great church in Jerusalem at the place where Jesus died and rose again. Called the Anastasis ( Resurrection) or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it was built by the Emperor Constantine and was dedicated on September 13, 325 AD, It’s one of Christianity’s holiest places.

Liturgies celebrated in this church, especially its Holy Week liturgy, influenced churches throughout the world. Devotional practices like the Stations of the Cross grew up around this church. Christian pilgrims brought relics and memories from here to every part of the world. Christian mystics were drawn to this church and this feast.

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Tomb of Jesus

Calvary

Calvary

Pilgrims still visit the church and the tomb of Jesus, recently renovated , after sixteen centuries of wars, earthquakes, fires and natural disasters. They venerate the rock of Calvary where Jesus died on a cross. The building today is smaller and shabbier than the resplendent church Constantine built, because the original structure was largely destroyed in the 1009 by the mad Moslem caliph al-Hakim. Half of the church was hastily rebuilt by the Crusaders; the present building still bears the scars of time.

Scars of a divided Christendom can also be seen here. Various Christian groups, representing churches of the east and the west, claim age-old rights and warily guard their separate responsibilities. One understands here why Jesus prayed that ” All may be one.”

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Egyptian Coptic Christians

Seventeenth century Enlightenment scholars  expressed doubts about the authenticity of Jesus’ tomb and the place where he died, Calvary. Is this really it? Alternative spots were proposed, but scientific opinion today favors this site as the place where Jesus suffered, died and was buried.

For more on its history, see here.

And a video here.

Readings for the Triumph of the Cross

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“Do not forget the works of the Lord!” (Psalm 78, Responsorial Psalm) We remember his great works here. How can we forget them.

Saint John Chrysostom (340-407)

John Chrysostom

Saint John Chrysostom was born around 340 into a military family in Antioch, now in modern Turkey. He studied under Libanius, the great rhetorician of the day and afterwards lived with monks in Syria for a few years, but poor health made him return to Antioch, where he served the church for five years as a deacon, taking care of the poor.

Ordained a priest in 386, John became a bishop of Constantinople, which was then the seat of Roman power. Rome was ruled from there. John was an outstanding preacher: his “golden mouth” (Chrysostom) delighted his ordinary hearers with sermons on the gospels and the letters of Paul. His sermons had the opposite effect on the rulers and churchmen of that city whom he attacked for their wealth and high living. The Empress Eudoxia exiled him briefly from the city in 402 AD.

John returned to resume his fearless preaching against the city’s powerful political and church elite.  Eudoxia finally sent him into exile on the Black Sea after John gave a sermon that began “Again Herodias is raging, again she is perturbed,  again she wants to receive the head of John on a dish.” Hardly a way to win friends in high places.

“ Glory be to God for everything. Amen” John said as he made his way to exile and death. “If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear. Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are against me, they’re as weak as a spider’s web.”

He died on September 14, 407 AD, the eve of the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, which we celebrate tomorrow.

We always need people like John Chrysostom with “golden mouths” to speak to power. In our prayer for his feast, we thank God for this bishop made “illustrious by his wonderful eloquence and his example of suffering,” a nice reminder that preaching isn’t just beautiful words. It can be a costly gift, a dangerous act that brings suffering. John died, appropriately, on a feast of the Holy Cross.

Notice too that John spent some years as a deacon, taking care of the poor. Preaching is nourished by experience.

Here’s an example of his fearless preaching:

The waters are up; storms are on us, but we’re not afraid of drowning; we’re standing on a rock. The raging sea won’t break the rock. The rising waves won’t sink the boat of Jesus. What are we afraid of? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. Goods taken away? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good.

I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.  Do you not hear the Lord saying: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst? Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together? I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbour. Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!  If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear?

Feast of the Birth of Mary (September 8)

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Church of St. Anne, Jerusalem

From the 4th century the Emperor Constantine and his successors built churches over important biblical sites in the Holy Land. One of the churches was built near the ancient pool of Bethesda, just north of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

John’s gospel pointed out the place:  “Now there was in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate, a pool in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. In these lay a large number of the blind, lame and crippled,”  (John 5,2) Jesus healed a paralyzed man at this healing place, where pagan gods  like Asclepius and Serapis were honored.

The church over the ancient healing pool became associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus, early on. Traditions from the 3rd century placed her home in this area of Jerusalem, and so Mary’s birth and early life came to be remembered here. By the 5th century, Mary’s birth was celebrated here and Christian pilgrims, returning home, celebrated the feast of her birth in their own churches September 8.

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Ruins of Bethesda and ancient church
Paralytic

In the last century archeologists uncovered the ancient healing pool with its porticoes, parts of an ancient church and ruins of a temple of Asclepius (2nd-4th century) ..

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Ruins of the Temple of Serapis
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Early Christian traditions from the 3rd century placed Mary’s home in this area of Jerusalem, and so Mary’s birth and early life came to be remembered here.

Mary’s mother was Anne and her father Joachim, who provided sheep for the temple sacrifices, the early traditions said. But they were looked down upon, because they were old and childless. Then, angels told them they were to conceive a daughter. Their faith, like that of Abraham and Sarah, was miraculously rewarded.

The stories of the birth of Mary and her childhood strongly influenced the spirituality and devotional life of all the early Christian churches of the east and west, which celebrate this feast together today September 8 . Her parents are honored  September 9 by the Greek Church. The Roman Church celebrates their feast July 26th.

When the Crusaders conquered the Holy Land in the 11th century, they rebuilt the small church over the healing pool, fallen into ruins, and built a new, larger church honoring St. Anne, the mother of Mary, southeast of the pool.

The present Church of St. Ann, today one of the most beautiful of Jerusalem’s churches, stands overlooking the remains of the old church and the healing pool,  a favorite destination for pilgrims.

Readings for the feast of Mary’s Birth see her birth awaited by all her ancestors. The gospel, St.Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, begins with Abraham. Mary fulfilled his hopes and the hopes of generations before him by bringing Jesus Christ into the world.. “We commemorate the birth of the blessed Virgin Mary, a descendant of Abraham, born of the tribe of Judah and of David’s seed,” (Antiphon, 1st Vespers, Roman rite)

“This feast of the birth of the Mother of God is the prelude, while the final act is the foreordained union of the Word with flesh. Today, the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages…
Today the created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.”
(St. Andrew of Crete, bishop, Office of Readings, Roman rite)

This feast of Mary is the first great feast in the calendar of the Orthodox Church, which begins in September. Their calendar begins with Mary’s birth and ends with the feast of her Dormition, on August 15th.

The Orthodox liturgy sees Mary as the mysterious ladder that Jacob saw in a dream reaching from earth to heaven. (Genesis 28,10-17) She is the way the Word comes down to earth’s lowest point, death itself, and returns to heaven having redeemed humanity. The Orthodox liturgy also associates  Mary with the miracle of the paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. She has a role in healing our paralyzed humanity.