Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, Virgin

“I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.” St. Margaret Mary spoke these as her dying words, while being anointed at the age of 43. Margaret was a simple woman and a Visitation nun. She worked as an assistant in the convent infirmary, but God had other plans for her. After being a nun for just three years, she began to receive revelations in which Christ called her to make his love for all humanity known. His human heart was to become the symbol for this divine and human love for all of us. He called her to frequent Holy Communion, especially on First Fridays, and to spend Thursday evenings in an hour’s meditation on the agony at Gethsemane. This devotion eventually spread to the entire Church under the name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I have two Margaret Marys in my own life: my sister and my grandmother on my father’s side. My grandmother was one who was a great model of faith for me. She and I would often sit together and talk about her childhood in Ireland, and all the problems of the world. She was one of my best friends until her death shortly after I graduated from college. She too had a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus – in fact, I remember seeing the painting of the Sacred Heart on the wall of her living room, prominently displayed, with last year’s palm from Palm Sunday tucked behind it. It’s a huge understatement to say that grandma’s love for Christ and the Church helped encourage my vocation throughout my life.

We all have a place wrapped up in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and we have St. Margaret Mary to thank for bringing that devotion to the Church. Like St. Margaret Mary, we disciples are also called to make God’s love manifest in the world through his most Sacred Heart. With St. Margaret Mary, we need to say, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

Today’s readings

This is the beginning of a rather angelic few days for us Catholics.  Today we celebrate the feast of the archangels, and on Monday we will have the joy of honoring our guardian angels.  We celebrate the way the angels protect and guide us and keep us on the path to Christ.

Many people think that when people die, they become angels.  That’s not actually true.  Angels are a different order of creation from human beings.  There is a continuum of creation from things that are pure body, like a rock or lump of dirt, all the way to those who are pure spirit, which would be the angels.  We are somewhere in between, being the highest and greatest of the bodies, and the lowest of the spirits.  Everything has its place in creation, and was created the way God intended it.

So today we celebrate the highest of the highest of the Spirits: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the archangels.  Each of these angels is specifically mentioned in Scripture.  Michael is mentioned in the book of Revelation, as the protector of the heavens and the defender of the people of God.  He is the patron of police officers.  Gabriel is the announcer of good news, and we know him from the story of the Annunciation to Mary of her pregnancy.  Gabriel is the patron of communications workers.  Raphael is mentioned in the book of Tobit, in what is a beautiful story.  His purpose in that story is to protect Tobit on the journey to recover his family’s fortune and to introduce Tobit to Sarah, curing her of the despair she had over her last seven marriages, which all ended in death on the wedding night.  Raphael also cured Tobiah, Tobit’s father, of blindness due to cataracts.  Tobit and Sarah get married and live happily ever after, which is why it’s such a great story.  Raphael is the patron of travelers.

We know a little bit about all these angels because of today’s feast. But those stories are not finished just yet.  The angels are still working among us, guiding us, healing us, defending us, and bringing us good news.  The angels are probably working through people you know.  They’re even working through you whenever you help someone else.  The truth is, I don’t think we would live very safe and happy lives if it weren’t for the angels among us.  Today we should thank God for Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and for all the people who cooperate with those angels in all their work.

The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

What we are celebrating in today’s feast is the fact that prison bars cannot silence truth. John the Baptist was not asked to renounce his faith; indeed Herod was probably very interested in John’s faith and may have even asked him about it on occasion. Not that he wanted to convert, mind you, but he just seemed to have a kind of morbid fascination with the man Jesus, and anyone who followed him. But the real reason that he kept John locked up was that Herodias didn’t like John, who had a following, publicly telling them what they should and should not do. Herod’s taking his brother’s wife was not permitted in Judaism, but, in her mind, it would all blow over if John would just stop talking about it.

But that’s not how the truth works. And John’s one purpose in life was to testify to the Truth — Truth with a capital “T” — to point the way to Jesus. So he was not about to soft-pedal the wrong that Herod and Herodias were doing. And that was something Herodias just could not live with. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, she eagerly had John beheaded and rid herself of his prophecy. But that didn’t make her any less accountable to the truth.

This could be a rather sad feast. The end of one who worked hard for the reign of God, and over something seemingly so silly. But, as St. Bede the Venerable says of him: “There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless … does Christ not say: ‘I am the truth?’ Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.”

And so, for those of us who are heirs of the Truth, this is indeed a joyful feast. John the Baptist could not keep silent about the truth, whether it was truth with a capital or lower-case “T”. We must not keep silent about the truth either. We are called to offer our own lives as a testimony to the truth, even when it’s inconvenient.

Saint Pius X, Pope

Today’s readings

A good starting place for our prayer this morning might be asking ourselves, what is it that holds us back?  The rich young man seemed to have it all together: he acknowledged Jesus as the good teacher, so he must have been familiar with what Jesus said and did.  He says he kept all the commandments, so he certainly had a religious upbringing and was zealous to follow the law.  But, with all that, he still knew that something was lacking.  “What do I still lack?” he asks.  When Jesus reveals that the next step in following the Gospel involves letting go of his worldly possessions, he finds that to be somewhere he can’t go.  He had many possessions, and he wasn’t yet ready to give them up.

Today we celebrate Saint Pius X, a man dedicated to pastoral ministry, and helping people to let go of whatever would hold them back on the journey of faith.  He was born Joseph Sarto, the second of ten children in a poor Italian family.  He became pope at the age of 68, and he wanted to open the banquet for all those who would come worthily.  He encouraged frequent reception of Holy Communion, which was observed sparingly in his day, and especially encouraged children to come to the Eucharist.  During his reign, he famously ended, and subsequently refused to reinstate, state interference in canonical affairs.  He had foreseen World War I, but because he died just a few weeks after the war began, he was unable to speak much about it.  On his deathbed, however, he said, “This is the last affliction the Lord will visit on me.  I would gladly give my life to save my poor children from this ghastly scourge.”

Our God has blessed us with love beyond all imagining and invites us to the table of the heavenly kingdom.  To get there, we have to be ready to let go of whatever holds us back from accepting the life that God wants for us.  What he has is so much better than whatever it is we’re holding on to.  So once again, the question is, will we give up what is holding us back, or will we give up eternal life?  We’re going to have to live with the answer to that question for a very, very long time.

Saint Clare, Virgin

Today we celebrate Saint Clare, who, having refused to marry at 15, was moved by the dynamic preaching of Saint Francis. He became her lifelong friend and spiritual guide.  So at age 18, she escaped one night from her father’s home, in order to flee the pressure to marry, and was met on the road by friars carrying torches. They led her to a little chapel called the Portiuncula, where she received a rough woolen habit, exchanged her jeweled belt for a common rope with knots in it, and had her long hair cut by Saint Francis himself. He placed her in a Benedictine convent, which her father and uncles immediately stormed in rage. She clung to the altar of the church, threw aside her veil to show her cropped hair and remained adamant.

Sixteen days later her sister Agnes joined her. Over time, others joined them too. They lived a simple life of great poverty, austerity and complete seclusion from the world, according to a Rule that Saint Francis gave them as a Second Order, which became known as the Poor Clares. Francis obliged her under obedience at age 21 to accept the office of abbess, one she exercised until her death.

The nuns went barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat and observed almost complete silence. Later Clare, like Francis, persuaded her sisters to moderate this rigor, saying: “Our bodies are not made of brass.” The greatest emphasis, of course, was on gospel poverty. They possessed no property, even in common, subsisting on daily contributions. When even the pope tried to persuade her to mitigate this practice, she said to him: “I need to be absolved from my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.”

In the Convent of San Damiano in Assisi, Saint Clare served the sick, waited on table, and washed the feet of the begging nuns. She came from prayer, it was said, with her face so shining it dazzled those about her.

We are all called to the holiness of life that leads us to see God’s glory. For Saint Clare, that meant breaking away from her family’s expectations of marriage so that she could be wed to Christ. For us, there will also be some kind of sacrifice involved. Through the intercession of Saint Clare, please God let us be willing to make the sacrifice so that we can see the glory of God.

Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

In today’s first reading, Moses sets about putting up a meeting tent as a place for the Lord to be among his people.  The Lord never abandoned his people; he was present in a column of cloud during the day, and of fire at night.  The presence of God helps us to focus on living a life that keeps us in communion with him.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus points us to God’s presence at the end of time, when he would come in judgment of the nations, separating the good from the bad.

Today is the he feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, the patron saint of moral theology.  At the age of just sixteen, Alphonsus Liguori received degrees in both canon and civil law by acclamation.  He later gave up the practice of law to concentrate on pastoral ministry, particularly giving parish missions and hearing confessions.  He was noted for his writings on moral theology, particularly against the rigorism of the Jansenists.  The Jansenists were a movement that developed after the Protestant reformation and the Council of Trent and emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination.  Alphonsus’s moral theology was much more accessible to the average person.

In 1732, Alphonsus formed the congregation of the Redemptorists, who had as their special charism the preaching of parish missions.  They lived a common life dedicated to imitating Christ and reaching out to the poor and unlearned.  Although they went through their own struggles as a congregation, they were reunited after Alphonsus’s death and are of course active today.

Alphonsus wanted to be sure the people came to know how to live a life that would lead them to God.  Today’s readings give us that same call.  Whether we are here in our modern-day meeting tent, or out and about in our daily life, it’s important that we continually seek the Lord’s presence.  Then we know that we’ll be in the right place at the end of the age.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

Today's readings

Saint Ignatius was all set to accomplish great things in the military when his leg was badly injured by a canon ball. As he was convalescing, he asked for romantic novels to read. But nothing like that was available, so he had to settle for books on the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. Reading them, he noticed that those books made him feel differently than the romance novels he was used to. He noted that the pleasure those books provided was fleeting, but that the joy he felt in reading the spiritual books stayed with him, and so he pursued the Christian life and began a process of conversion.

During this time of conversion, he began to write things down, and these writings served for a later work, his greatest work, the Spiritual Exercises. These Exercises became the basis for the Society of Jesus, which he formed with six others to live a life of poverty and chastity and apostolic work for the pope. This was accepted by Pope Paul III and Ignatius was elected its first general. Ignatius’s motto was Ad majorem Dei gloria: All for the glory of God. His Spiritual Exercises have become a spiritual classic and have provided the basis rule for other religious orders over time.

Ignatius’s major contribution to the spiritual life is probably his principles of discernment, which help people of faith to know God’s will in their lives. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God as compared to a mustard seed, or a measure of yeast. You probably remember those readings, because we had them two Sundays ago. We are called to discern the presence of the Kingdom of God from among the ordinary stuff of our lives. May God grant us, through the intercession of Saint Ignatius, the discernment to do just that.