Tag Archives: Passionists

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

St. Augustine offers Proba, a Roman woman writing to him asking  his advice about praying,  some insights into the Lord’s Prayer. The early commentators usually based their teaching on the words Jesus taught his disciples.

 “When we say: Hallowed be your name, we are reminding ourselves to desire that his name, which in fact is always holy, should also be considered holy among us. I mean that it should not be held in contempt. But this is a help for us, not for God.
 
  And as for our saying: Your kingdom come, it will surely come whether we will it or not. But we are stirring up our desires for the kingdom so that it can come to us and we can deserve to reign there.
 
  When we say: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are asking him to make us obedient so that his will may be done in us as it is done in heaven by his angels.
 
  When we say: Give us this day our daily bread, in saying this day we mean “in this world.” Here we ask for a sufficiency by specifying the most important part of it; that is, we use the word “bread” to stand for everything. Or else we are asking for the sacrament of the faithful, which is necessary in this world, not to gain temporal happiness but to gain the happiness that is everlasting.
 
  When we say: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, we are reminding ourselves of what we must ask and what we must do in order to be worthy in turn to receive.
 
  When we say: Lead us not into temptation, we are reminding ourselves to ask that his help may not depart from us; otherwise we could be seduced and consent to some temptation, or despair and yield to it.
 
  When we say: Deliver us from evil, we are reminding ourselves to reflect on the fact that we do not yet enjoy the state of blessedness in which we shall suffer no evil. This is the final petition contained in the Lord’s Prayer, and it has a wide application. In this petition the Christian can utter his cries of sorrow, in it he can shed his tears, and through it he can begin, continue and conclude his prayer, whatever the distress in which he finds himself. Yes, it was very appropriate that all these truths should be entrusted to us to remember in these very words.”

The Legacy of Paul of the Cross

In the United States October 20 is the feast of St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists. You can find more out about him here.

Saints are raised up by God to meet the needs of their time. What were the needs of St. Paul of the Cross’ time, the 18th century,? He was living in a church weakened and humbled by political opposition, revolutions and new ways of thinking. The popes then were losing their power and influence in Europe, the Jesuits were suppressed, revolutions, like the the French Revolution, brought persecution, the suppression of church schools, religious houses, the confiscation of church assets. The 18th century saw a church humbled; some said it was a dying church.

A humbled church needed to be reminded of the humble Christ, who took the form of a slave and died on a cross and was raised up by God’s power. That’s what St. Paul of the Cross did through his preaching and ministry. His message was a message his time needed to hear. It was a message of abiding hope.

An “abiding hope.” That was the hope needed then. Most of Paul’s preaching and ministry took place in the Tuscan Maremma, a region north of Rome in Italy, the size of Long Island, NY. “Maremma” means swamplands. It was then a region of small towns and a few small cities suffering from chronic poverty and neglect. Only at the end of the 18th century did the region inch forward with some reforms. Ironically, after Mussolini controlled the swamplands in the 20th century, the region became a tourist destination. The world loves Tuscany now. Many would love a villa there.

In Paul’s time, though, the place was known for disease, poverty, beggars and homeless, and bandits. Year after year things never got better. Year after year the future never got bright. Year after year Paul and his companions went from town to town, set up a cross in a church or town square and spoke of the “abiding hope” promised by Jesus Christ to the people who gathered there.

His preaching of the Passion of Jesus brought an abiding hope to them. God was with them, no matter how dark things were, or how long the darkness lasted.

Are we living in a humbled church and a humbled world today? I wonder, as we struggle with this pandemic, if we’re becoming like the Tuscan Maremma. Some say it will all be over when everyone is vaccinated, or when the political scene settles, or when science produces a new miracle that makes everything perfect. But I don’t know.

I think we are going to need an “abiding hope” to keep us going. I think the Passionists still have something to do.

May God send laborers into our vineyard with that message. St.Paul of the Cross, pray for us.

North American Martyrs

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The North American Martyrs, eight Jesuits and their associates were killed by warring Indian tribes in the 17th century. They’re the first saints of North America and we celebrate their feast October 19th.. I’ve visited Auriesville in New York State and the Midlands in Canada where they were martyred; in both places their heroic faith and bravery are remembered.

The missionaries came to the New World expecting a new Pentecost among the native peoples of this land, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, disease and political maneuvering made the native peoples suspicious of the foreigners and the seed of the gospel seemed to fall on hard ground. The martyrdom of the eight Jesuits witnesses that resistance.

Letters back to France from the early Jesuits–marvelously preserved in “The Jesuit Relations”–often express the missionaries’ disappointment  over their scarce harvest, but it didn’t stop them. They were well grounded in the mystery of the Cross.

Not far from Auriesville, near Fonda, NY, is the Indian village called Caughnawaga.  In the spring of 1675, after the Jesuits were killed in Auriesville in 1646, Father Jacques de Lamberville visited Caughnawaga . The priest entered a lodge where a young Indian girl Kateri Tekakwitha was alone because a foot injury prevented her from working in the fields. She spoke to him of her desire to receive baptism and on Easter, 1676, the young Indian girl was baptized and took the name Kateri, after St. Catherine of Siena, the mystic and a favorite patron of Christian Indian women. She was 20 years old.

Her uncle and relatives in the long house opposed her conversion to Christianity and pressured her to marry and follow their ways. The early Jesuits considered it a miracle that Kateri resisted  family and tribal pressure.  Her early biographer says “She practiced her faith without losing her original fervor and her extraordinary virtue was seen by all. The Christians saw her obeying their rules exactly, going to prayers everyday in the morning and evening and Mass on Sunday. At the same time she avoided the dreams feasts and the dances,” practices endangering her belief.  (The Life of the Good Catherine Tekakwitha, Claude Chauchetiere, SJ , 1695)

Father de Lamberville finally recommended that Kateri escape to the newly-established  Indian Christian village in Kahnawake near Montreal, where she could live her faith freely.  In 1676, aided by other Christian Indians, she made the dangerous journey northward. There she lived a fervent life of prayer and faith;  she died and was buried on April 17th, 1680.

Kateri was canonized  October 21th in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” (Tertullian)

The Gospel of Luke

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The Feast of St. Luke is October 18th.  If you’re beginning to read the New Testament  Luke’s Gospel is a good place to start;  it’s the longest of the gospels, followed by the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke. Together they present a magnificent picture of the life of Jesus, which continues in the life of the church.

Luke’s gospel provides many of the readings for the various liturgical feasts we celebrate yearly in the church, for example most of the stories of Jesus’ early life recalled during the Christmas season.

Luke takes over into his gospel about 65% of Mark’s Gospel, which he modifies for his own purposes. He shares with Matthew’s Gospel material from another source, and he also offers material not found in the other gospels–the infancy narratives, for example. (Luke 1-2).

Like other evangelists, Luke’s  gospel has its own plan. In his commentary on Luke’s gospel, for example, Luke Timothy Johnson speaks of Luke’s positive outlook on the world.

“Luke-Acts is positive toward the world, not only as God’s creation but also as the arena of history and human activity. It is perhaps the least apocalyptic of the NT writings, and the least sectarian. Not only is Luke relatively unconcerned about the end time, his historical narrative bestows value on time itself. Luke is also generally approving of those outside the Christian movement. Outsiders-not counting the Jewish opponents who are not outsiders at all– are generally regarded as reasonable and open-minded, which is a high compliment paid by apologetic literature.” (The Gospel of Luke, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Md. 1991)

Carry the cross with me each day, Jesus says,  and don’t worry or be anxious. Be vigilant and prayerful each day, the Lord will return on the clouds of heaven. No, we don’t know the day or the hour, but we’ll we ready for the last day if we prepare each day for our redemption. Jesus says we can stand strong and fearless on that day, if we live each day well in the meantime.

Isn’t that  good advice for times like ours when enormous problems confront our world and clear solutions and grand designs are nowhere to be found? We can so easily fall into pessimism (a form of spiritual sleep) and lose hope.

We can use Luke’s optimism today.

Blessed Isidore de Loor

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Since their founding in the mid 1800s, the Passionists have given the church a variety of saints and blessed. St. Paul of the Cross, a preacher and mystic, St. Vincent Strambi, a holy bishop during the Napoleanic Wars, Blessed Dominic Barberi, a fervent missionary to England, St. Gabriel Possenti a young Italian saint who died in his early 20s, Blessed Eugene Bossilkov, a martyr bishop under the Communists in Bulgaria in the 1950s.

October 6th we honor Blessed Isidore de Loor 1881-1916, from the Flemish part of Belgium, who entered the Passionists as a lay brother at 26.

The opening prayer for a feast usually indicates why a saint or blessed is honored.

Lord God,
in Blessed Isidore’s spirit of humility and work
you have given us a life hidden in the shadow of the Cross.
Grant that our daily work be a praise to you
and a loving service to our brothers and sisters.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Isidore was a humble, hard worker. He spent the first 26 years of his life working the family farm in Vrasene, Belgium, with his parents, brother and sister. Farming was tough at the time, demanding long hours and offering little to show for it. The agricultural sector in Belgium was near collapse. Yet, Isidore praised God and served his brothers and sisters through hard continuing work.

Prayer was the hidden power motivating his life. Isidore taught catechism in his parish; prayed at local shrines and made the Stations of the Cross daily. He wanted to enter religious life, but delayed till his brother Franz was free from a call-up for military service and could keep up the family farm.

Entering the Passionists as a brother, he took on whatever responsibilities they gave him to do. At first, they told him to be the community cook. “Before I dug the earth, planted seed and harvested crops, now I cut vegetables, put them in pots on the stove and cook them till they’re ready,” he told his family. Whatever his work, he saw it as God’s will and a way to serve.

In 1911, cancer developed in Isidore’s eye and it had to be removed. He was not cancer free, the doctors said, cancer eventually would take his life. God’s will be done, he said.

As his strength declined, he became porter at the monastery door. World War 1 was beginning and German troops invaded Belgium. The frightened people who came to the monastery found support in the quiet faith of “Good Brother Isidore”.

In late summer 1916 Isidore’s health worsened. He died of cancer October 6, 1916, as German troops occupied the area and some were billeted in the monastery itself. He was buried quietly; his family and religious community were not allowed to attend. Yet, he would not be forgotten.

When the war ended, people came to the “Good Brother’s” grave. Cures from cancer and other illnesses occurred. They recognized a holy man who worked and prayed each day and served his brothers and sisters. A friend of God.

St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

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October 4th is the Feast of Francis of Assisi.  A large statue of St. Francis  with arms outstretched stands facing the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. Facing the basilica from behind the statue, you might think the saint was holding up the church in his arms. And that’s what he did: Francis raised up a church that was falling down

We need to see saints in the light of their times as they met the needs of their day. Chesterton called saints “God’s antidotes for the poison of their world”.

What was poisoning Francis’ world? Twelfth century Italy’s economy was booming when Francis was born. His family was among its new rich merchant class. As a young man he had everything money could buy, but then, as now, money could be a poison.

Italy’s cities, often at war, fiercely competed with one another, fighting for power.. It was the time of the crusades and everything was settled through force of arms.

It was a time too when the church had become weak and in need of reform. Before Francis, saints like Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and popes like Gregory VII (1015-1085) and Innocent III (1160-1216) sought renewal and change. The church was looking for a saint.

And so when Francis of Assisi came with twelve disciples to see the pope in Rome about reforming the church in the summer of 1220, he came at the right time. They say that the pope had a dream the night before that St. John Lateran, the mother church of Christendom, was falling down and a young man resembling the 28 year old Francis came to hold its walls up.

The pope asked Francis what would he do and Francis replied with three verses of scripture. The first was from the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus says to the young man ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’(19,21)  The second from Luke’s gospel in which Jesus sends his disciples out saying “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.”( 9,3) The third from Matthew: Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross.” (16,24)

The pope was a good judge of people and, sensing the grace of God in Francis,  told him to live those gospel teachings, sending  him on his way. Francis and his companions started a movement that spread like fire throughout Europe.

Francis made Jesus’ teachings his own. He embraced poverty, not just renouncing the rich lifestyle that he was born into, but  renouncing any way that led to power. For example, he never became a priest or a bishop or a pope, because they were positions of power fought for and sometimes paid for in his day.

He did not want a monastery or a religious order as a base of power. Saints like St. Bernard and St Norbert before him thought monasticism was the way to bring about church reform, but Francis wanted a life style where you had nothing, “no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.” He distanced himself and his movement from the religious institutions of his day, because he feared them becoming places of power.

He took the gospel teachings literally and lived them literally. His renunciation of power became an antidote to the poisonous attraction to power that crippled his world and his church. He imitated the “Son of Man” a poor man who said to his followers the “foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Like the Son of Man, who suffered and died on a cross and rose again, Francis experienced the mystery of the cross and was blessed by it.

Remembering him, we might pray: God send us saints to deal with the poison of our time.

“Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future.”      photo

T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

Guardian Angels

We usually associate Guardian Angels with children. In the gospel reading for the Feast of Guardian Angels, October 2, Jesus says we can’t get to heaven unless we become like little children whose “angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 18,1-5,10)

Artists, like the above, usually picture Guardian Angels with children, protecting and guiding them as they go on their way in a dangerous world.

Yet, the angels we read about  in the Bible are more than protectors of children; they’re signs of God’s involvement in the whole world. They bring God’s message to Mary and Joseph and the prophets. They bring bread to Elijah in the desert and save Daniel in the lion’s den. They’re part of God’s providential hand dealing with the world. They guide nations, the human family and creation itself.  Angels are everywhere instruments of God’s power and love and justice. 

However smart or independent or grown-up we think are, God knows we’re still little children. We never outgrow God’s guidance and care: we have “loyal, prudent, powerful protectors and guides. They  keep us so our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray.” So that’s us in the picture above.

I think of the “principle of subsidiarity” on the feastday of the Guardian Angels. God spreads his  power around. I also remember that sometime ago I nearly hit a truck ahead of me but something suddenly stopped me. “Thanks.”

O God, in your infinite providence you deign to send your holy angels to be our guardians. Grant to us who pray to you

that we may be defended by them in this life

and rejoice with them in the next.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

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St.Michael, Lucca, Italy

We celebrate the feast of three archangels today, September 29th. St. Gregory the Great says of the angels: “There are many spirits in heaven, but only the spirits who deliver a message are called angels.” Archangels like Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, “are those who proclaim messages of supreme importance…

“And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.”

Their names, Gregory says, tell the service they perform. “Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.

“Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power…

“So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

“Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.”

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, dedicated his first foundation on Monte Argentario in Italy to St. Michael and he said the archangel preserved his community from harm. Paul was a Lombard. Historians say the Lombards believed the Saracens were stopped from invading Lombardy in the 6th century by Michael, which fostered devotion to the archangel afterwards.

In a world so convinced that human power is the only power, it’s comforting to have another level of power to look towards.

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle…”

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.

Once Vincent as a young priest, met a Protestant 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

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.