Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Saint Jerome is something of an enigma.  He wasn’t the epitome of the quiet, scholarly saint that one might think him to be.  Perhaps unfortunately, he was known for his quick temper and sometimes mean-spirited pen.  If they had email in those days, he’d probably be the one to fire off a quick nastygram without even taking time to think about it.

But we need to be extremely thankful for Saint Jerome as we open up the Scriptures today.  Without his tireless efforts, our understanding of Sacred Scripture would be quite limited, I think.  It was Saint Jerome who spent so much time translating the Scriptures from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, creating what was know as the Vulgate translation.  This was the standard text of the Scriptures for a long time in the Church, and is still an important basis for today’s English-language and other translations.  His commentaries on the Scriptures are important to us to this very day.

Jerome was a pre-eminent scholar.  He studied the Scriptures all the time and was an expert in Biblical languages including Hebrew, Greek, Chaldaic and of course Latin.  He also spent a good deal of time in the Holy Land, walking the path of Christ, staying in the places where he stayed, even living for a time in the cave believed to have been Jesus’ birthplace.  He wasn’t just a scholar studying the Scriptures from a theoretical viewpoint; he was instead devoted to the Scriptures, pouring through them with love.  He once said that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  To know the Lord, we have to immerse ourselves in Scripture.

For those of you who are part of our Biblical Institute or our Bible Studies, today is a Patronal feast day for you.  Saint Jerome’s love of Scripture has made it possible for all of us to come to know Christ in a more intimate way through our own study and devotion to the Word of God.  Saint Jerome, pray for us, and lead us back to the Scriptures with the same love and devotion you had.

Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest

(Mass for the school children.)

Back in the days when Saint Vincent became a priest, they had a rather easy life and were quite wealthy.  This was the expectation he had when he was ordained.  That was his goal in some ways until he heard the deathbed confession of a dying servant.  That encounter led him to realize the extremely great needs of poor people in France at that time.

That same servant’s Master had been persuaded by his wife to support the creation of a group of missionary priests to serve the poor.  The countess asked Father Vincent to lead the group, and although he declined at first, he later returned to do it.  That group is now known as the Congregation of the Mission or the Vincentians.  They took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability and devoted themselves to serving the poor in smaller towns and villages.

Later, along with Saint Louise de Marillac, he organized the rich women of Paris to collect funds for his missionary projects, founded several hospitals, collected relief funds for the victims of war and ransomed over 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa.  Over time, this became a parish-based society for the spiritual and physical relief of the poor and sick.  This became the inspiration for the organization now known as the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.  You know the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, because we collect clothing for them every year.

Saint Vincent was also very interested in helping with the formation of priests.  He wanted the priests to realize the needs of the poor and to know that the idea of becoming rich wasn’t part of priestly life.  In our gospel today, Jesus urges his disciples to pray for true servants in the priesthood: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”  Saint Vincent de Paul converted his attitudes from the cynical and even slothful ambitions of the clergy in those days, and turned instead to follow his true passion, bringing Christ to the needy and the downtrodden.

We too are called to be true servants of our Lord, by looking out for the needs of those who maybe don’t have as many advantages as we do, by caring for the poor and being true friends of those in need.

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

At the age of 15, Francesco Forgione joined the Capuchins and took the name of Pio. He was ordained in 1910 and was drafted during World War I. After he was discovered to have tuberculosis, he was discharged. In 1917 he was assigned to the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo.

On September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. When the vision ended, he had the stigmata in his hands, feet and side.  Padre Pio rarely left the friary after he received the stigmata, but busloads of people soon began coming to see him.  He would hear confessions for as much as ten hours a day; penitents had to take a number so that the situation could be heard. Many of them have said that Padre Pio knew details of their lives that they had never mentioned.

Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968, and was canonized in 2002.

There’s a great little line in the gospel reading today that says, “Take care, then, how you hear.”  It almost seems like a throw-away line, but really, I believe, it’s an essential instruction from Jesus.  We disciples are to take care how we hear.  Not what we hear, although that’s probably part of it, but how we hear.

Do we really hear the Word of the Lord?  Does the gospel get into our head and our heart and stir things up?  Do the words of Jesus get our blood flowing and our imaginations racing?  Does hearing the gospel make us long for a better place, a more peaceful kingdom, a just society?  That’s how it worked for Padre Pio, and that’s how it’s supposed to work for all of us disciples.

Psalm 19 says, “your words, Lord, are spirit and life.”  We believe that the Word proclaimed is the actual presence of Christ.  We are not just hearing words about Jesus, we are hearing Jesus, we are experiencing the presence of God right here, right now, among us.  If we open the door of our ears and our hearts, we might just find God doing something amazing in us and through us.

Take care, then, how you hear.

Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

How wonderful for us to celebrate the feast of St. Matthew.  I say that because Matthew was qualified to be a disciple of Jesus in much the same way that we are qualified to be disciples of Jesus – which is to say, not at all.  Matthew was a tax collector, working for the Roman occupation government.  His task was to collect the tax from each citizen.  As long as he did that, whatever he collected over and above the tax was his to keep.  Now the Romans wouldn’t condone outright extortion, but let’s just say that they weren’t overly scrupulous about what their tax collectors were collecting, as long as they got paid the proper tax.

So Matthew’s reception among the Jews was quite like they might receive the plague.  The Pharisees were quick to lump men like Matthew with sinners, and despised them as completely unworthy of God’s salvation.  But Jesus disagreed.

“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.”

Which brings us back to us.  How wonderful for us to celebrate the call of a man who was anything but worthy.  Because he was called, we know that our own calls are authentic, unworthy as we may be.  Because he was offered healing, we know that we can have that, too.  But all that grace isn’t ours any more than it was just Matthew’s: just as he spread the Good News by writing and preaching of the Gospel, so we are called to spread the Good News to everyone we know.  We are called to write the Gospel in our own day, in the pages of our own lives.  Matthew’s call is a day of celebration for all of us sinners, who are nonetheless called to do great things for the Kingdom of God.

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Simon the Pharisee had committed a grave error in hospitality, and a serious error in judgment.  In those days, when a guest came to your home, you made sure to provide water for him or her to wash their feet, because the journey on foot was often long and hot and dirty, and it was pretty much always made on foot.  But Simon had done no such thing for Jesus.

Simon’s intentions were not hospitable; rather he intended to confront Jesus on some minutiae of the Law so as to validate his opinion that Jesus was a charlatan.  He judged the woman to be a sinner, and reckoned Jesus guilty of sin by association.  But Jesus is about forgiveness.  He didn’t care about the woman’s past; he just knew that, presently, she had need of mercy.  Her act of love and hospitality, her posture of humility, her sorrow for her sin, all of these made it possible for Jesus to heal her.

But the one who doesn’t think he is in need of healing can never be healed.

Saints Cornelius and Cyprian, bishops and martyrs

St. Cornelius was ordained as the Bishop of Rome in 251.  His major contribution was to defend the faith against the Novatian schismatics, a group who denied the readmission of those who had lapsed in the faith by being made to perform a ritual sacrifice to pagan gods, under the threat of death by the Roman Emperor.  St. Cyprian was a brother bishop who helped him in this struggle.  Both men were subsequently martyred for the faith.  Cornelius died in exile in 253, and Cyprian was beheaded in 258.

The focus of both men was to preserve church unity during a time when there was much oppression against the church.  Cyprian wrote to Cornelius, “Dearest brother, bright and shining is the faith which the blessed Apostle (that is, St. Paul) praised in your community.  He foresaw in the spirit the praise your courage deserves and the strength that could 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 the brethren.”

The unity of the Church is one of the four marks of the Church, along with holy, catholic and apostolic.  So preserving our unity is one of our primary duties, even now.  That’s a challenge to us in these days of so many people not really living their faith; being “spiritual but not religious,” whatever that means, and so many little splinter churches starting up.  This was not how Christ intended it to be and it’s up to all of us to be open to the return of our brothers and sisters.

So what will our own efforts at unity look like today?

Thursday of the Twenty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Christian disciples are called to go the extra mile.  Sure, it’s easy enough to love those who love you, and to do good to those who do good to you, and to give expecting reward.  How many of us have people over for dinner because we know those same people will return the favor to us?  How many of us have Christmas card lists that are basically reciprocation for those who send greetings to us?  We have no problem loving and giving our best to those who do the same for us, but more is expected of disciples.

Disciples are expected to do the impossible: love our enemies, lend without expecting to be repaid, stop judging, stop condemning others, and to give with wild abandon.  Paul’s letter to the Colossians underscores the measure that will be used to measure us:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.

And so our reflection today calls for us to reach out and go beyond ourselves.  We have to step outside our comfort zone, reach higher, and give in the same way that God has given to us.  That is how we will find true joy, as St. Paul also says.  That is how we will reach our potential as true disciples.

Saint Peter Claver, Priest

Today’s gospel reading urges us to think outside the box, religiously speaking.  We are urged to reach out in love to those in need, to bind up their wounds and cooperate in God’s healing mission, no matter what day it is, because love is what’s most important.  This was a call that Saint Peter Claver took very seriously.  He was ordained in 1615 in what is now Colombia.  During that time, the slave trade was vigorous, and the port of Cartagena was a central entry point for African slaves.  Ten thousand slaves would pour into Colombia through Cartagena every year under extremely foul conditions.  Around a third of them would die in transit.

Whenever a ship would enter the port, Peter Claver would swing into action. After the slaves were herded out of the ship, Claver plunged in among them with medicine, food, and other supplies. With the help of interpreters he gave basic instructions and assured his brothers and sisters of their human dignity and God’s saving love. During the 40 years of his ministry, Claver instructed and baptized an estimated 300,000 slaves.

He ministered in the Colombian missions until his death, vowing to be “the slave of the blacks forever.”  He died in 1654 and was given a public and pompous funeral by the city magistrates, even though they had previously expressed their displeasure for his ministry to the black outcasts.  He was canonized in 1888 and Pope Leo XIII declared him to be the worldwide patron of missionaries to the black peoples.

Just like Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, Saint Peter Claver didn’t make a lot of friends among the establishment for doing what he did.  But he did make God’s love present in miraculous ways, and brought healing to those who had been bought and sold.  May we all be healers today.

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today our parish celebrated our Patronal Feast Day: the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  This superseded the celebration of the Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time for us.

Reading the genealogies isn’t my favorite thing to do, and often because there is a choice, I choose not to proclaim them at Mass.  I chose to proclaim it at Mass today for a reason.  Matthew’s genealogy is unusual for many reasons, but most notable among those reasons, and the reason it was chosen for Mass today is because it contained the name of five women.  This might not seem all that amazing to us today, but back in Matthew’s day, genealogies never contained the names of women.  So Matthew is clearly telling us something important by including their names.

The women mentioned include Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Four of them were women of the Old Testament and the last, of course, cooperated in bringing about the New Testament.  Tamar was a childless widow whose brother-in-law, to whom she had been given in marriage after her husband’s death, refused to provide her with offspring.  So she had to pretend to be a harlot and seduce Judah in order to have a child.  Rahab actually was a harlot in Jericho.  She hid and protected the spies of Joshua, so the Israelites protected her when they ambushed Jericho.  Ruth was a daughter-in-law who cared so much for her mother-in-law that she accompanied her on a dangerous journey to Israel after her family died.  Ruth is known for her devotion.  Bathsheba was seduced by King David, who covered up the affair by arranging to have her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in battle.  She became the mother of Solomon.

All of these women represent the struggle and the blessing the Israelites had with God and his salvation.  Tamar represented the struggle to follow the law and to protect the widows, orphans and aliens as God intended.  Rahab represented the giving of the land to the people Israel.  Ruth represented the devotion and faithful love of the Lord.  Bathsheba represented the struggle with faithfulness, and the blessing of repentance.

And from all of these, we finally come to our Patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the woman whose faith and willingness to cooperate with God’s plan made possible the salvation of all the world.  Today we celebrate her Nativity, the traditional date of her birth, exactly nine months having passed since her Immaculate Conception on December 8th.

Every single birth is a sign of hope in our world, and therefore a cause for great celebration.  Our world may be in a bad place, plagued by war and on the verge of another in Syria, and dark from sin – both societal sin and our own personal sin.  But birth brings joy because it is a sign of God’s wanting the world to continue to bring salvation to all people.  Mary’s birth in particular stands out prominently among us because of the grace she received from God who chose her to be mother of His Son.

This feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is our parish’s patronal feast day.  Out Church of Notre Dame, our Lady, reveres Mary in a special way: Mary who is the Mother of God, the Mother of our Salvation, the Mother of the Church, the Mother of Priests, the Mother of all the faithful.  We celebrate today her faithfulness to God’s Word, and pray that she would intercede that we too might be faithful to God’s call.  We celebrate today the intercession that has built our Church and this parish, and pray that her intercession would continue to guide us all in the future, that one day we might join her as she reigns in glory with her Most Holy Son.

The Byzantine Church Daily Worship proclaims well the joy that we have on this feast of Mary’s birth: “Today the barren Anna claps her hands for joy, the earth radiates with light, kings sing their happiness, priests enjoy every blessing, the entire universe rejoices, for she who is Queen and the Father’s Immaculate Bride buds forth from the stem of Jesse.”

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

Saturday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

So what was at stake here?  Was it the Sabbath?  Not really.

For Jesus, there wasn’t such a thing as a Sabbath rest from his mission of healing, nd teaching, and bringing people to salvation.  So as he walked along with his disciples, it didn’t bother him that they were “working” by picking heads of grain to eat.  They were hungry.  And Jesus was all about feeding people’s hunger, no matter what kind of hunger it was, and no matter what day it was – Sabbath or not.

He would be widely criticized for teaching on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for news of salvation.  He would be called blasphemous for calling God his Father on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for relationship with their God.  He would receive death threats for healing on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for wholeness.

Jesus’ point here is that the Sabbath is never important just for itself.  The Sabbath was an opportunity for people to rest in God, and it was God, not the Law, that could decide how that happened.  The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.