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.”

St. Bartholomew, Apostle

Today's readings | St. Bartholomew

Will the real St. Bartholomew please stand up?  Bartholomew is one of the saints that we know almost nothing about.  He is mentioned in the lists of the apostles, but nowhere else in Scripture.  So, as is true of many of the saints, what we know about him belongs mostly to the realm of the Church’s tradition.  Not that we should look down on tradition, because it comes from the lived experience of the early Church, and is also inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

What tradition tells us about St. Bartholomew is that he is often identified with Nathanael in the Gospel.  That explains why Nathanael is prominent in the Gospel reading for today.  Nathanael – or Bartholomew, take your pick – is picked out of the crowd by Jesus.  Nathanael is surprised at what Jesus says about him: “Here is a true child of Israel.  There is no duplicity in him.”  We should recall that Jesus considered it his primary mission to seek out the lost children of Israel, so seeing Nathanael as a “true child of Israel” with “no duplicity in him” means that Jesus considered Nathanael a role model for his people.  He was one whose faith reached beyond mere observance of the Law or the Torah, and extended into the realm of living the Gospel.  And because he was able to do that, then we should consider him a role model for all of us as well. 

It’s very interesting, I think, that we do know so little about the Chosen Twelve.  I mean, aside for characters like Peter, John, Matthew, and, well, Judas, we don’t have a lot of details.  Still, these Twelve were chosen as Apostles to bring the Gospel to all the corners of the world.  And maybe that’s all we need to know about them.  It is because of their efforts that we know about Jesus today and are able to seek after the life of grace.  Their preaching continues today in every land as Jesus intended, and we continue to have as our example these men in whom there is no duplicity; indeed the sole purpose of their life became the preaching of the Gospel.

That’s where we are all led, I think.  When it comes down to it, there is nothing more important than living the Gospel, and every one of us is called to do it.  If our spiritual life is not our primary concern, then we have nothing to look forward to.  But the good news is that, by the intercession and example and preaching of the Apostles like Bartholomew, we have every hope of eternal life.

St. Alphonsus Liguori: Patron of Moral Theologians

Today's Gospel: Matthew 5:13-19 | Saint of the Day

"Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

Teaching the commandments was something that was always near and dear to the heart of St. Alphonsus Liguori. St. Alphonsus has been called the patron saint of moral theologians since 1950. During his lifetime, St. Alphonsus devoted himself to reform of the church and the proper teaching of moral issues. Then, preaching moral issues from the pulpit was often done, but unfortunately with a rigorism that made moral teachings hard for the average person to follow. Today, perhaps, we have the opposite. Preachers often shy away from moral issues in the pulpit, not wanting to rock the boat. Neither of these is acceptable, of course, and Alphonsus would want us to follow more of a happy medium.

Alphonsus received a doctorate in civil and canon law at the age of 16 and practiced it for a while, but soon gave it up to pursue apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated on preaching parish missions, hearing confessions, and forming Christian groups. He was a prolific writer, writing often on moral theology. He also wrote some popular devotional books, including the Glories of Mary, which was extremely popular during his lifetime, and Visits to the Blessed Sacrament. He is also known for starting the congregation of the Redemptorists, which continues to this day.

His great reforms were enacted mostly in the pulpit and the confessional, where his simple approach to morality, Christian life, and Scripture were well-received over the sometimes pompous oratory of his day. His preaching resulted in much increased devotion, and, at age 66, he was made a bishop, over his own objections to the title.

St. Alphonsus was one who obeyed and taught the commandments with great simplicity and grace, and was one who was truly salt and light for the world. What we should see in his life and in these scripture readings, brothers and sisters in Christ, is that preaching and teaching is something we all must do. Alphonsus would remind us that our preaching and teaching need not be elaborate, but also must not be onerous or pompous. Indeed, our best teaching of the commandments may well be in our living of them. May St. Alphonsus Liguori lead us all to be great in the kingdom of heaven.

St. Martha

Today's readings | Saint of the Day

Along with her sister Mary, and brother Lazarus, St. Martha was a personal friend of Jesus.  He seems to have come to their house by invitation, not to affect a conversion or anything like that, but just to share some time and a meal.  And you know the rest of that story, right?  Mary sits at Jesus’ feet while Martha makes all the preparations in the kitchen.  Martha quite rightly (in my opinion!) demands that all should lend a hand in the preparation of one’s house for guests.  Jesus’ response there is that “Mary has chosen the better part:” this reminds us that everything isn’t always up to us.  We are called to do our part and rest in God’s loving care for us.

But today’s Gospel reading is really the great story of Martha’s saintliness.  She says three very faith-filled things in and around this passage.  The first is that she runs out to greet Jesus and proclaims a small part of her faith: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  Here her faith is not quite perfect.  She is confused that Jesus was detained and her brother died.  But there is that aspect of trusting faith that knows that Jesus has power to do whatever he wills.  The second great thing she says here comes right at the end of the story we hear today.  In this, she proclaims a more perfect faith: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”  In this great profession of faith, Martha is just as bold and courageous as St. Peter who proclaims the same kind of faith when Jesus asks him “who do you say that I am?” 

The final great thing that Martha does comes right after the story we read today.  Having professed her faith in Jesus, Martha now returns to her sister and calls her to come to Jesus: “The teacher is here and is asking for you.”  Those who profess their faith in Jesus cannot possibly keep it to themselves.  And Martha does not.  She goes to retrieve her sister, who once sat at the Lord’s feet, but now for some reason chose to remain at home.  Perhaps Mary was hurt that Jesus had not come right away.  Whatever the case, Martha’s faith does not leave her sister in the dark.  Like Martha, we who believe in Jesus must tell everyone who needs to hear it that the Teacher is asking for them.