Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Today’s feast | Today’s readings: Philippians 3:17-4:1 / Psalm 34 / John 12:24-26

St. Ignatius was a convert to Christianity who eventually became the bishop of Antioch. During his time in Antioch, the Emperor Trajan began persecuting the Church there and forced people to choose between death and denying the faith. Ignatius would have none of that, so he was placed in chains and brought to Rome for execution. During the long journey, he wrote to many of the churches. These letters famously encouraged the Christians there to remain faithful and to obey their superiors.

Obedience was a strong theme for Ignatius, who was very concerned about Church unity. He felt that unity could best be achieved by all being obedient to the bishop and acting in harmony with one another, living the Gospel that had been proclaimed to them. Perhaps the most famous of his letters, though, was the final one in which he exhorted the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his execution. He said to them, “The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”

How well Ignatius knew the writings of St. Paul as we heard from the letter to the Philippians today. Paul rightly reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. Whatever we have to suffer in these days, we must remember that we are not home yet. We still have the Kingdom of God to look forward to, and we must never be deterred from our journey to get there. Ignatius knew that the way for him to be with Christ was through the martyrdom he would have to suffer, and he did not want to be deterred from going through it.

Ignatius was that grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died, only to become a stalk that bore much fruit. We too must be willing to die to ourselves, letting go of hurts and the pains this life can bring us, so that we might merit the everlasting crown of heaven. Our martyrdom may not be bloody, but it is no less real, and we must be willing to suffer it in order to be with Christ. In today’s Eucharist, may we too be ready to offer the libation of pouring out our lives and being ground into the great wheat of the Body of Christ.

The Guardian Angels

Today’s feast | Readings: Exodus 23:20-23, Matthew 18:1-5, 10

I love the feast of the Guardian Angels, because my Guardian Angel was probably the first devotion that I learned. I remember my mother teaching me the prayer. Say it with me if you know it:

Angel of God,
my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love
commits me here,
Ever this day,
be at my side,
To light and guard,
To rule and guide.
Amen.

The impetus for today’s feast is summed up in the first line of the first reading. Hear it again:

See, I am sending an angel before you,
to guard you on the way
and bring you to the place I have prepared.

From the earliest days of the Church, there has always been the notion of an angel whose purpose was to guide people, to intercede for them before God, and to present them to God at death. This notion began to be really enunciated by the monastic tradition, with the help of St. Benedict, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and others. It is during this monastic period that devotion to the angels took its present form.

guardianangelMany of us have probably moved over on our seats to make room for our Guardian Angel. As amusing as that may be, the concept of an angel to guard and guide us is essential to our faith. The gift of the Guardian Angels is a manifestation of the love and mercy of God. Devotion to the Guardian Angels, then, is not just for children. We adults should feel free to call on our angels for intercession and guidance. I know that when I had my tonsils removed when I was thirty, I called on my Guardian Angel a lot! We should continue to rely on that angel right up to death, when our angel will present us to God. We hear that very prayer in the Rite of Christian Burial:

“May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem.”

May the Guardian Angels always intercede for us. And, as we hear in today’s Gospel, may our angels always look upon the face of our heavenly Father.

Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints.

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, archangels

[Mass for the school children.]

archangels

Today’s feast | Readings: Tobit 5, Tobit 11 & Tobit 12; Revelation 12:7-12; Matthew 1:18-25

The world can be a confusing and scary place some times. Sometimes when we go on a journey, we lose our way and get lost. Sometimes when we get lost, it’s because men like me don’t stop and ask for directions! Sometimes people get sick, or maybe they get hurt, or maybe they are blind or deaf The world can be a lonely place for those who are sick. The too, there is danger in lots of places, and sometimes we don’t feel very safe. And sometimes we don’t know the truth, or hear any good news. The truth is, lots of times, we need someone to help us. Sometimes we need to hear from an angel.

Today is the Feast of Ss. Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. Since our church is named after St. Raphael, this is a very special day for us. But it’s a special day for everyone because the angels that we’ve heard about today are great helps to us every day.

Some angels are guides. Today we heard about our patron, St. Raphael, who was a guide for Tobiah in our first reading. St. Raphael appeared as a young man and accompanied Tobiah as he journeyed a long distance to get his father’s property and bring it back. Tobit, his father, was very worried about Tobiah making the journey, so he was looking for someone to help him. Raphael, posing as the young man, went with Tobiah and brought him home safely, along with his father’s property. St. Raphael is the patron saint of travelers.

Some angels bring healing. The name Raphael actually means, “God heals.” Tobit, Tobiah’s father, was blind for a long time. So, along with bringing back Tobit’s property, Raphael and Tobiah brought back an ointment made of fish gall. Tobiah blew into his father’s eyes and smeared the medicine on them, and Tobit was able to see his son again! Raphael also healed a woman named Sarah. She was married seven times, but each of her husbands died on their wedding night, and Sarah thought she would be alone for the rest of her life. Raphael arranged for Tobiah and Sarah to be married, and they both lived very happily. St. Raphael is also the patron saint of healing, especially of the blind.

Some angels are defenders. In the second reading, Satan was trying to take over heaven and accused all of God’s followers, good people, of all kinds of crimes. St. Michael fought against Satan and had him thrown out of heaven. He brought victory to God by being strong in the battle against Satan and all evil powers, and he still defends people against evil to this day by his prayers. Because he defends people, St. Michael is the patron saint of police officers.

Some angels are messengers. St. Gabriel was the angel who came to tell Mary that she was going to be the Mother of Jesus. In our Gospel reading, St. Gabriel also comes to St. Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, and reassured him. Joseph knew that he wasn’t the father of Jesus, so he was going to quietly call off the wedding. But Gabriel came and assured him that the baby Mary was going to have was from God, and because of what Gabriel told him, St. Joseph stayed with Mary and became to earthly father of Jesus. Gabriel is known for the news that he brings, and is the patron saint of messengers, postal workers, communications workers and broadcasters.

All three of these angels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, came to make God’s presence known on earth in some way. Our patron, St. Raphael, came to be Tobiah’s guide and to bring God’s healing to Tobit and Sarah. St. Michael came to defend God’s people against evil and danger. St. Gabriel came to bring good news about Jesus and how God was going to save the world through Jesus.

I wonder, sometimes, if there are still angels among us. Maybe St. Raphael is still here, keeping us safe when we go on long journeys and, more importantly, helping us to stay on the path to God. He might be here, too, working through the hands of doctors and nurses and physical therapists, and all kinds of healers, to bring sick people back to health. Maybe St. Michael is still here, working through police officers and fire fighters and all kinds of public safety people, in order to keep our communities safe, and maybe St. Michael also works through those who defend the Church against all kinds of evil. Maybe St. Gabriel is still here among us, telling us how to follow Jesus; maybe he’s working through our parents and teachers and priests and ministers when they bring us news about God.

We know a little bit about all these angels because of the stories we read about them in the Bible. But I don’t think those stories are finished just yet. I think 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. Maybe 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 wasn’t for the angels among us. Today we should thank God for Saints Raphael, Michael and Gabriel, and for all the people who cooperate with those angels in all their work.

Thursday of the 25th Week of Ordinary Time: He kept trying to see him

Today’s readings

“And he kept trying to see him.”

Certainly Herod’s motives for trying to see Jesus were highly suspect. He obviously wanted to be sure Jesus didn’t pose some kind of threat to him. And if it was the person of John the Baptist resurrected, Herod would have wanted him out of the way immediately. So we can’t be too proud of Herod for wanting to see Jesus, but maybe we can take that and let it be our own mission, for better motives, of course.

How often do we try to see Jesus? Do we take time to sit before the Blessed Sacrament either in the tabernacle or on days of adoration? We spend the time to look at Jesus and let him look at us, so that when we meet in heaven, we’ll recognize one another! Even just a few minutes a day would be great. And if we can’t make it in for adoration, we can always set time aside to at least be with him in prayer. We have to keep trying to see him.

Another way that we have to keep trying to see Jesus is by serving the poor. I was helping at Hesed House last month, and one of the parishioners I was working along side of said to me, “Can’t you just see the face of Christ in all of them?” He was right. Jesus has made it clear that whatever we do to a brother or sister in need; that we do to him. So we must be intentional about reaching out to the poor and hungry and homeless. We have to keep trying to see him.

And we have to see Jesus in the people around us, all of the people in our lives. Whether it’s friends, family, coworkers, or fellow students, we believe that Christ is in that person. In his famous Rule, St. Benedict says, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” Whoever God puts in our life for any amount of time, must be seen as Christ, and we must make it our daily prayer that we could see people as Christ does. It is one of my deepest convictions that I know that God loves me largely because of the love of all the people he has given me in my life. We have to keep trying to see him.

So, we know that Herod had it all wrong, motive-wise. But he was right in his eagerness to see Christ. We, too, have to keep trying to see him.

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Today’s readings

st-matthew

I often wish that I could see in people the same things that Jesus sees. Obviously, Matthew was not qualified for the role of apostle, but he was called anyway. Matthew was, as we know, a tax collector. Tax collectors in those days tended to be rather unscrupulous. They would have assigned to them people from whom to collect a tax, and they would be charged a certain amount by the government to be paid by the people assigned to them. Anything they could collect above and beyond that was theirs to keep. So tax collectors were seen as greedy and usurious, collecting taxes far beyond what people should have been required to pay.

So it’s hard to blame the Pharisees for being taken aback at Jesus dining with tax collectors and other sinners. But Jesus could see beyond all that. First, he saw that these people were willing to be healed of their sins and infirmities. The Pharisees had their own spiritual ailments, of course, but they were unwilling to address them. Matthew and the others were. But second, Jesus also saw something in Matthew that said he would be a good leader and preacher. He obviously was, because we have the Gospel that bears his name as the fruit of his labor.

Wouldn’t it be great, then, to see people as Jesus does? To get beyond the things that are others’ rough edges, even beyond all the things about others that can really annoy us. What a gift it would be to see straight into the hearts of all of them, and to love them for the gifts they were created to be! My prayer is always that I can see others and love others as Jesus does. If we all did that, think how many Matthews there would be, all proclaiming the Gospel!

Ss. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang & Companions, Martyrs

Today’s Feast | Today’s readings

Korea was introduced to Christianity in the late 1500s when some Koreans were baptized, probably by Christian Japanese soldiers who invaded Korea at that time. It was not until the late 1700s that a priest managed to sneak into Korea, and when he did, he found about 4000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were over ten thousand Catholics.

In the 1800s, Andrew Kim became the first native Korean to become a priest when he traveled 1300 miles to seminary in China. He managed to find his way back into the country six years later. When he returned home, he arranged for more men to travel to China for studies. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded.

St. Paul Chong was a lay apostle who was also martyred. During the persecutions of 1839, 1846, 1866 and 1867, 103 members of the Christian community gave their lives for the faith. These included some bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay people, including men and women, married and unmarried, children, young people and the elderly. They were all canonized by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Korea in 1984.

All of these men and women were convinced of the “still more excellent way” that St. Paul talks about in today’s first reading. Love for God and one another must consume every disciple, so that every day is an opportunity to lay done one’s life, literally or figuratively, to preach the Gospel.

Saints Cornelius and Cyprian

Today's readings

I remember building sand castles as a kid. There was always a price to pay for laying the foundation of it too near the water. It might go well for a while, but one good wave, and all my hard work would be washed away. The same is true for our spiritual lives, as we are told in the Gospel. Perhaps for a while we are offering our prayers on the run, not really taking time to be with the Lord. That might work okay for a while, but all it takes is the wave of one good trial or crisis, and everything we think we've built up is gone. We find ourselves lost, scattered by the disarray of our spiritual lives. Building that firm foundation is extremely important, and it's something we can never fake.

St. Cornelius knew that well. He was elected pope after a 14 month vacancy in the office, because of all the infighting in the Church at the time. He had to mediate many crises, most especially the heresy of Novationism, which denied that anyone who sinned could be reconciled. Because of his stand, his detractors elected the first anti-pope, and had Cornelius exiled to Civitavecchia, where he died as a result of his exile. His friend, St. Cyprian, a bishop, was also involved in the Novation controversy. He too was exiled in the persecution of Valerian, and martyred on September 14, 258.

We honor Saints Cornelius and Cyprian today, two men who built their faith on solid foundation. With that foundation, they were able to withstand heresies, persecution, exile and martyrdom, and come at last to the heavenly kingdom. May we, like them, build our spiritual lives on firm foundation so that we may withstand whatever persecutions life may bring our way.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Today’s Feast | Today’s Readings

ourladyofsorrowsIn the very early morning hours of September 15th last year, I got a page on my fire department pager. I looked at the page, which told me that they were responding to a vehicle accident, but they were asking for fire-medics and not a chaplain. So I deleted the page and went back to bed. At 7:00am, I went to the chapel for Mass, at which time I found out the details of that page I got earlier in the morning. Four seminarians had been returning from off campus, and were involved in an accident on our property, across the lake from the school. The rector announced that one of the students, Matty Molnar, had been killed in the accident, and that another, Jared Cheek, was critically injured. Jared died the following day.

You can imagine the shock to our relatively small community. The details of the incident unfolded in the days and weeks following the accident, but information alone did not make us feel any better. The significance of the accident happening on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows was not lost on us, and the celebrant’s homily, a homily he prepared the day before the accident, could not have been more fitting if it had been planned that way. There were few, if any, dry eyes in the chapel that day, which is really striking when you consider it was a room full of mostly men who don’t often show that kind of emotion.

Today, we offer a mass of memorial for Matty and Jared. We might also remember the many loved ones from each of our families who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith. Mary reaches out to us in our sorrow today, she who knew well the sorrows that life could bring. Just as Jesus reached out to her from the Cross, entrusting her to the care of his beloved disciple, so he reaches out to us in our own sorrows, entrusting us to the care of those among us who are his beloved disciples. Mary is our intercessor in the sorrows of this life, and our leader into the joys of the life to come.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

St. John Chrysostom

Today's Readings

John Chrysostom was a desert monk, living a harshly ascetical life, but a life that was fulfilling for him.  After twelve years of service as a priest in Syria, he was brought to Constantinople in an imperial ruse to make him bishop.  Even though the beginnings of his episcopal service were thus clouded in intrigue, his service as a bishop in one of the most important sees of the Eastern Church was incredible.  He quickly made efforts to clean up the Church, deposing bishops who had bribed their way into office, and refusing to become beholden to any political authorities.  His preaching was the hallmark of his service.  He was called "golden-mouthed" and his sermons were steeped in great knowledge of the Scriptures and spiritual insight.  Some of his sermons were over two hours!  (But, don't worry, I'll try to keep this one under an hour or so…)  He tended to be aloof, but energetic and outspoken, especially in the pulpit.  Soon he began to draw ire from the politically powerful, and was falsely accused of heresy.  The Empress Eudoxia finally had him exiled, and he died in exile in the year 407.

John Chrysostom was a great preacher of today's Gospel reading.  Against the politically powerful and those who bought their place in society, he preached "woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are filled now, woe to you who laugh."  Against religious leaders who were beholden to the politically powerful, he preached "woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way."  Far more significant, though, is that he lived the beatitudes, and lived as one who was truly blessed when "people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil."  He knew that the most important judge of his ministry did not sit on an earthly throne, but rather had Kingship in heaven.  And he knew that even death in exile was not too great a price to receive the heavenly reward.

Our task is to live those beatitudes well.  We are blessed when we are poor, because the riches of God are incomparable.  We are truly blessed when we hunger, because only God can really fill us.  We are blessed when we grieve, because God can comfort us and give us true peace.  We are blessed when people hate us, because God's love is beyond all price.  There is a price to pay for all this blessedness, of course.  We may, like John Chrysostom, suffer the ill thoughts of others.  We may not have everything we hunger for in this life.  But we must be confident that living the Beatitudes will lead us to the rejoicing and leaping for joy of which Jesus speaks today.

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings [Mass for the school children:]

In a town called Nazareth in Galilee, a long time ago, Mary lived with her parents, Joachim and Ann. Mary was only a young girl, maybe 14 years old. She came from a quiet little area of the world, and just looking at them, you’d have to say nothing about her family was very special. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, because that was when people got married in those days, but she wasn’t married yet.

She was busy doing her chores one day, when she was surprised by the appearance of an angel named Gabriel. She was frightened, but Gabriel reassured her and told her that the Lord was with her. He told her not to be afraid, because God wanted her to be the mother of his Son Jesus. Jesus would become great and would rule over the kingdom of Israel forever. Mary was confused how she could have a baby, because she was not married, but the angel reassured her that all things are possible with God. She was amazed, but she had faith, and said to the angel, “Let it happen as you have said.”

Mary sang a hymn proclaiming how great God was, and went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also going to have a baby, even though she was old. When she got there, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy, and Elizabeth said, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Mary helped Elizabeth for three months and returned home.

Joseph, the man Mary was engaged to, heard from the angel too. He came to be with her and took her into the city of David for the census, so that they could be counted. On the way, Mary gave birth to her baby, and had Jesus in a manger where the animals stayed. Many people came to visit Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and gave the baby gifts and said wonderful things about him, things Mary would never forget. She kept all of this very close to her in her heart.

Mary and Joseph raised Jesus and watched him become a strong, healthy, and smart young man. One time, when the family went to Jerusalem for a visit to the holy temple, Jesus got lost. They were on the way home when they discovered Jesus wasn’t with them or any of their friends or family. Returning to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple, talking about their faith, with all of the rabbis and teachers. He was only twelve years old!

Eventually Joseph died, and Mary stayed near Jesus. She watched him start his ministry, the whole reason God had sent him to earth in the first place. He called his disciples and taught all the people. He cured the sick and fed many hungry people. He worked many miracles and always talked about how good God was, and how much God loved people, and how they should all turn back to God and turn away from the bad things they had been doing. Mary watched as he did all these wonderful things, and she saw how faithful he was to God’s work.

But Mary also began to see that Jesus wasn’t making everybody happy. She saw that when he cured people on the day of rest, the leaders of the temple became angry. She saw that when Jesus told them to take care of the poor and the hungry and the homeless instead of worrying about what day it was, the religious leaders wanted to kill him. Mary watched as eventually they did take hold of Jesus, carried him off for a trial before Pilate the governor, and nailed him to the cross.

At the foot of the cross, Mary stood sorrowful, knowing what a wonderful gift she and the whole world had been given in Jesus. But Jesus took care of Mary even then, and entrusted her to the care of his friend John. After Jesus died on the cross, Mary along with some of the other women in the group were the first ones to see that Jesus rose from the dead! Mary stayed with the other disciples and prayed with them that the whole world would come to know the message of Jesus. Her sorrow turned to joy as she watched the community grow and live the things Jesus had taught them.

Those disciples were the ones who passed the faith on to us. Because of the courage of the disciples and especially of Mary, we today can believe in Jesus and receive the gift of everlasting life from him. Because of the faith of Mary, we can live forever with God and never have to be afraid of death or be mastered by sin. All of this happened because Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.”

It is good for us to hear this story about Mary at the beginning of our new school year. As we listen to this story, we can see that faith changes everything. When we have faith that God will save us, we can grow as disciples in faith, hope and love.

We can grow in faith by coming to Mass ready to hear the Word of the Lord and ready to pray and, for those of you who are old enough, ready to receive the body of Jesus. We can grow in faith by praying every day and remembering the needs of everyone who has asked us to pray for them. We can grow in faith by remembering that even though there may be some scary things ahead of us in the new school year, God will take care of them and make this year a time of wonder.

We can grow in hope by refusing to be caught up in the things that can drag us down. We will grow in hope by doing our schoolwork well, by studying hard, by being good citizens, and by helping other students who need it. We will grow in hope when we refuse to join others who are picking on a person and stand up for them. All of this makes our school and our world a more hopeful place.

We can grow in love when we reach out to the poor and needy. Maybe as a class we will do some service project to show God’s love to the world. We can grow in love by taking the time to tell our families the wonderful things we have learned at the end of the day, and to thank them and God for the opportunity to attend such a wonderful school.

It’s very important that we all hear that just as God sent an angel to Mary, he sends angels to us all the time. Those angels tell us, too, that we should not be afraid because God loves us and cares for us and wants to do great things with us, just like he did with Mary. All he needs for us to do is to say, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.”