Touching the hem

Today's Gospel presents a moving scene: a woman who had been suffering with an internal hemorrhage for 12 years, makes her way through the crowd, approaches the Lord from behind, and manages somehow, in spite of the crowd pressing in on every side, to touch the hem of His garment. She was thinking: "If I but touch the hem of His garment, I shall be saved". What faith in this woman! The Gospel tells us that as soon as she did touch it, she was healed and she felt in herself that she was made whole again. 

Her faith inspires us deeply, as does the power of the Lord. But what does it mean for us? What is the hem of the Lord's garment that we could touch? To answer that question, we need only reflect upon what clothes are and what they do. Their first function — even before protecting the body from the cold and heat — is to cover the body, hiding it from the eyes of others. The body is there, under the clothing, but it is not seen. What is it today that hides the Body of Jesus from our eyes if not the sacraments? The Lord has put all of His power and His very presence into them, especially the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in which He is substantially present with His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. If we want to touch the hem of His garment today, all we have to do is approach the sacraments which contain Him, all the while hiding Him from our eyes and thus giving merit to our faith.

At the end of the passage, Our Lord says to this brave woman: "Thy faith has saved thee, daughter". So it is that, if we approach the sacraments with faith, certain that Jesus is truly there and that He can heal us, then we will indeed be cured. 

What kind of ailments do we have to be cured of? Each of us must look deep into his own heart. We will find there many things amiss, many hidden corners into which we tend not to look, for we know there is something spiritually diseased, something we can't deal with. No matter, you can't, but Jesus can, give it to Him. Touch His garment, approach the sacraments with faith and contrition for your sins, and you will be healed. Go to confession, acknowledge your sins and there through the absolution of the priest Jesus will touch you and you will be made whole. Then go to Holy Communion, and the life-giving Body of the Saviour will be within you the seed of eternal life.

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The Day of Jesus Christ

Twice in today's epistle mention is made of the "day of Christ Jesus". What is this "day"? In the light of the Church's teaching on the social Kingship of Christ, that is, that He is King of the entire created order and of each person taken individually and of societies as a whole (teaching which, by the way, was reaffirmed by Vatican II), we can say that every day of human history belongs to Jesus as Lord.

And yet, St Paul clearly has in mind here a specific day which still lies in the future. It is what some medieval texts refer to as the Day of Doom or the Day of Wrath (Dies irae), the Day on which He will come to judge the living and the dead. It is the Day on which His sovereign rule over all creation will be solemnly acknowledged by every creature, in Heaven, on earth and even in Hell: All will bend their knee before Him, some in loving adoration, some in hateful spite, but kneel they will, constrained by the reality they cannot avoid.

So the Day will come, and on it we will be judged. How do we go about preparing ourselves for that Day? The Gospel gives us the answer: we must give to God today all that is His. And what is His? Everything. If we must give to Caesar, that is, to the legitimate authority of the state, what is his, that is to say, our cooperation with a just public order of things, it is of much greater importance that we give to God what is His, our body and soul, all that we are and have. 

If we are baptised and confirmed, we have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Trinity in a more indelible fashion than the penny stamped with the image of Caesar. We belong to Jesus Christ, and if we want to have the assurance that the Day of Judgment will find us on the right side, we must, here and now, live out all that this entails.

"We are Thine, and Thine we wish to be", we said last week in the prayer of Consecration to the Sacred Heart. Let us renew each day of our lives this dedication, and say to Our Blessed Lord frequently that we are His and that we want to be His, and that our joy lies in fulfilling His most holy will in all things. 

Then the "Day of Christ Jesus" will indeed find us rejoicing, for He will have brought to fulfilment what He began in us the day we were baptised. Let's not disappoint the Eternal King, our most sweet Saviour and Lord, Christ Jesus.

Reflections on a pilgrimage

I was blessed to take part last weekend in the Christus Rex pilgrimage for the first time. It was a time of grace, and I am thankful to the organisers. More than once, I found myself thinking of those who began this 27 years ago. It even came to me that perhaps our monastic foundation owes something to the prayers and sacrifices of those who have walked from Ballarat to Bendigo over the past nearly three decades. Indeed, their desire was to make a public statement that Jesus Christ is King, not only in Heaven and not only at the end of time, but here and now, He is King of the world, He is King of Australia, and He is King of each one of our lives.

Is it not that very same truth which our monastic foundation seeks to establish? If we monks leave everything behind, family, friends, career, commodities of all kinds, it is for one reason only: we believe and we want to testify to this truth that God Alone, the Incarnate God Jesus Christ, is Lord of our lives, He has absolute right and dominion over us, and there is no other reason that we would want to live, for in Him alone we found the peace and fulfilment our restless hearts desire. Such a public statement is made by the very existence of a monastery, and it is made visible every time a monk appears in public.

So I would like to say a big thank you to those who are making the pilgrimage happen at this critical point in history. It must continue, it must be part of the Australian landscape, for there is nothing more sorely needed today when we see the decay of civilisation. The words of the great pontiffs of the early part of the 20th century ring more true today than they did then: if society as a whole does not return to Jesus Christ the King — not just to God in general, but to the Incarnate God who is the only God — it is doomed to collapse. The recipes for destruction have multiplied over the past few decades: the profanation of marriage, the slaughter of the innocent unborn, and now the threat of the murder of the elderly and disabled. The horizon is dark indeed. But in the midst of that darkness, Jesus Christ reigns; His victory is already won, and we are only living out the struggle.

May we be found worthy to follow Him and the immense cortege of saints in building up the Kingdom of God by means of our fidelity to prayer, work and sacrifice. Such is the cement which gives solidity to the edifice of a truly Christian society. 

And may there be found many more faithful prepared to give those three days each year to walk the path, banner in hand, God's praises rising from their hearts and tongues, so that the world may know and believe the Truth which alone can set it free.

Redeeming the time

In today's epistle we find this somewhat strange expression from the hand of St Paul: "See how you walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph 5:15). That the days are evil is no secret; just about every day bad news reaches our ears, even tucked away in a cloister, some of it very bad, much of it of colossal proportions. And I am not talking about sunamis and earthquakes — not to deny the terrible tragedy those are for the people who must live through them —, I refer rather to the spiritual earthquakes, the tremors of which we felt long ago, but the disastrous consequences of which are becoming more and more apparent almost with each passing day. You would think St Paul was writing for us. "Redeem the time, for the days are evil". How do we go about "redeeming the time"? And how is time lost?

Time is lost through sin; it is also lost through idleness. By idleness, I don't just mean sitting around and doing nothing; I also mean spending lots of time doing things which are not God's will for us — the lazy person is not only the one who lies around on a sofa watching TV all day long, but also the person who busies himself with a thousand things that are none of his concern. The psalmist refers to such people as having become useless: "simul inutiles facti sunt" (Ps 13). Time is precious, a gift of God to us, all the more so in that it is in limited quantity: the time of our life on earth is placed within very strict boundaries which will not be moved; each moment of it is give us so that we might use it for the purpose God gave us when He created us: to praise Him, to love Him, to serve Him in all things and to help our brothers and sisters do the same, and thus attain eternal happiness in Heaven. Anything and everything with is not in some way ordered to that end of eternal salvation is idle, it is useless, and it needs to be redeemed. So "redeeming the time" means making up for all the time we have lost in sin or in busying ourselves with futilities that have no relation whatsoever with our eternal salvation. 

Some of the saints had a very acute consciousness of how precious time is in the sight of God, and even went so far as to make a vow to never lose time. A formidable task indeed! For most of us, such a vow would be unwise, but when we come to perceive all things in the light of the eternity in which we shall soon find ourselves and where we will be rewarded or punished for all, absolutely all of our thoughts, words and deeds, then we understand its value.

Th practical ways of redeeming the time are, first of all, stop losing it now! Get oneself organised each day in such a way that all our activities which we have discerned to be in conformity with God's will, have their slot in our daily schedule. Prayer and spiritual reading are obviously the unavoidable tools for redeeming the time, for every minute we spend thinking of God or acting in His Name will be counted as reparation for the time we have lost in the past.

St Paul gives us this recipe for redeeming the time: "Be filled with the Holy spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord: giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father; being subject one to another in the fear of Christ" (Eph 5). 

Let that be our program, and we shall indeed redeem the time. Don't forget: the days are evil.

 

 

It's all about a Wedding

Why does God like weddings? Why does Holy Scripture begin with the wedding of Adam and Eve? Why does it end with the wedding feast of the Lamb in the Apocalypse? Why does Our Lord's first miracle take place at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee?

All these questions are relevant if we want to fully understand the implications of today's Gospel reading. "The kingdom of Heaven is like a King who made a wedding feast for His Son." Who this King is and who His Son is should not be too hard to figure out: it is God the Father who made the wedding for His Eternal Son. When? At the precise moment when the latter took flesh in the womb of the Immaculate Virgin, for it is at that moment that God wedded to Himself our human nature. God had been desiring from all eternity to unite humanity with Himself in the Person of the Eternal Word, and He longs today to unite with Himself every human being through the gift of Divine sanctifying grace which reaches us through the Church and the Sacraments. 

This alone allows us to understand the behaviour of the King towards those who refuse to come to the wedding: He sends His troops to destroy them and burn their city. God offers us a share in His eternal life, by sending us His Son and incorporating us into His holy Church through the sacraments which give us, really and truly, the Seed of Immortality, opening up to us the gates of Heaven, which are nothing less than the entrance into an eternal marriage bond with God — God wants us to be one with Him in His eternal life. To refuse such a gift is unforgivable. 

Imagine someone who would despise the invitation of such a magnanimous king, who would prefer his petty self-interests to the proposal of the Eternal King. What could possibly be more insulting for the King, and more contrary to the real interests of the person who rejects it? That is why, for those who are not interested in God and in what He has to offer, there is nothing to hope for but death and destruction. Hell exists, and those who have no time for God go there.

This is confirmed by the rest of the parable. Once the feast had been filled with guests, the King went in to see the guests. And what did He find there? He found a man who had no wedding garment. He had been invited, he had come, but he had not had the courtesy of wearing the proper attire. In other words, he was not fit, through his own fault, to take part in the celebration to which he was invited. If the wedding feast is the union of God with the soul through the sacraments, this lack of a wedding garment can only mean that this fellow had approached the holy place and the holy sacraments without being in God's grace. The punishment is not delayed: cast him out into the exterior darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. God is not mocked, and one does not abuse holy gifts with impunity. Yes, God offers forgiveness, even for such monstrous deeds, but on the condition that one repent. The man in today's Gospel, when asked why he had no wedding garment, was silent: in other words, he refused to acknowledge his sin, he refused confession, he refused conversion, and he was damned.

Many are called, but few are chosen. Those solemn words resound throughout history, and they fly in the face of all the false prophets who, in every age, seek to divert souls from the real necessity of conversion and penance. These divine words tell us, with the greatest clarity possible, that even though many, that is to say all are called, not all are saved. So many are lost because so many refuse to take God up on His offer of being united with Him in the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb. 

Our Lady of Fatima said there were many who are lost in Hell because there is no one to pray and offer penance for them. Let us be generous, and let us also make sure that no one is lost due to our failure to speak the truth, the eternal truth, which alone can save.

May Our Lady of Cana obtain for us the grace of being among those who accept God's plan for us and open up wide our minds, hearts, and wills to the demands of His Holy Covenant!

 

Those who are for us are stronger than those who are against us

This month of October brings back memories of decisive victories of the Christian people over those who would wipe her out from the face of the earth. It also gives us the most powerful weapon we can use, namely, the Holy Rosary of Our Lady. Again and again, Mary has given victory over evil using this potent arm, and in Fatima, 100 years ago, she presented it as being the last hope of humanity. If things are not going well in our world, well, we don't have to go very far to find the reasons: there simply are not enough people praying, and praying the Rosary in particular. So may this month be the opportunity to rediscover in-depth this powerful prayer, which is both vocal and mental, and leads to the very heart of the Gospel.

But this month also brings us the memory of St Michael, and all the other Holy Angels, who battle with us against the forces of evil. From the dawn of creation, when the Enemy seduced our first parents, to now, the angels have been on our side to defeat the devil. Here too, if we do not experience their mighty intercession, it is our fault. So let us supplicate more than ever these sublime creatures of God who prostrate themselves in adoration before the Divinity, offering Him the homage of their being, ever ready to fulfil their mission over us. In the providential designs of God, human actions are what unleash the divine energy: the more we pray to the angels, the more they become involved in our lives.

It is not an accident, I think, that the traditional liturgy has us read, during the month of October, the story of the Maccabees. They too had a fight to wage for the defense of their faith and their country. They too were outnumbered. But they won the victory, for what are numbers when God and His angels are involved?

"How shall we, being few, be able to fight against so great a multitude and so strong, and we are ready to faint with fasting today? And Judas said: It is an easy matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few: and there is no difference in the sight of the God of heaven to deliver with a great multitude or with a small company. For the success of war is not in the multitude of the army: but strength cometh from heaven. They come against us with an insolent multitude, and with pride, to destroy us and our wives and our children and to take our spoils. But we will fight for our lives and our laws: and the Lord himself will overthrow them before our face. But as for you, fear them not”. (1 Mac 3:17…)

So fear not: take up the Holy Rosary, pray to the Holy Angels: the ones who are with us are more powerful than the ones who are against us!

The forgotten days

This week, the third of September, the traditional Roman calendar has us celebrate what are known as the "Ember Days". These are essentially days of prayer and fasting, recurring four times a year (whence their Latin name of "Quattuor Temporum"), and destined to sanctify the four seasons of the year. These celebrations are among the most ancient and venerable in the liturgical calendar of the Roman church, their institution going back, most probably, beyond the early church and the apostles, to pre-Christian Jewish celebrations. 

Such ancient ceremonies must hold a very deep secret. As usual, we have a privileged way of tapping into that mystery, and that is the sacred texts the Church gives us on these days. If you have an old missal, you might want to open it to roughly the 16th or 17th Sunday after Pentecost. You will find tucked in there Masses for Ember Wednesday, Ember Friday and Ember Saturday. All the Masses are incredibly rich, and contain profound lessons to nourish our prayer, devotion, and acts of penance.

I will reflect only on one point here, namely the marvellous juxtaposition of texts which invite us to bend over in repentant adoration and fasting, and at the same time, almost in the same breath, other texts that invite to rejoice, to celebrate, to feast. What can be the mystery hidden here, if not one of the more profound paradoxes of our Christian faith, namely that we are a people of joyful penance, that is to say, we acknowledge our sinfulness and need for atonement, but at the same time, we know and we have the unfailing conviction that our humble efforts, which impose a bit of self-denial upon us, are pleasing to the Lord and obtain for us renewed graces of friendship with God and brotherhood with those who share our faith. 

Did not Our Lord try to get this across when He said in substance: "When you fast, do not be as the hypocrites who disfigure their faces to show people they are fasting. Rather, wash your face, perfume your head, so that you will appear not to be fasting, but rather feasting". In that way, we can see that fasting is, in a way, feasting. It is when we learn to give up certain satisfactions out of love for God that we find true joy. Then we understand why it is that the Church begins today's Mass with "Let the heart of those rejoice who seek the Lord", and why last Wednesday we were told that the "joy of the Lord is our strength". Then we will also understand why it is a pity that these holy days have been forgotten, and we will make efforts to bring them out of oblivion. They may once again be days of salvation for many.

God is not mocked

If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 

Living in the Spirit signifies living of the life of grace which Christ Our Lord has merited for us and which we receive through the Church and the Sacraments. Walking in the Spirit signifies living up to and putting into practice the far-reaching demands of that new life. It is a recurring theme in the apostolic letters of all the apostles. They had received the mandate to preach the Gospel to all nations, to baptise them, and lead them to the newness of life in Christ. But they were very quickly confronted with a sad reality: being baptised, having received the Holy Spirit, does not dispense from the spiritual combat. Rather, it imposes a higher form of life, an existence in which the flesh is restored to its primitive state, in entire submission to the Spirit. If this new life is made possible through grace, it does not dispense from personal effort, and many fall back to their former pagan way of life.

Today’s Gospel on the resurrection of the son of the widow of Naim illustrates symbolically the sad state of a soul, which had been reborn in the Spirit through Baptism, but had fallen back into sin, and was being carried away to eternal death by impetuous passions, while Holy Mother Church stood by and wept, powerless to aid a soul that had insisted upon returning to its vomit, to employ an expression of St Peter. But the Lord Jesus steps in, and restores the life of the Spirit through the sacrament of penance. The dead man rises, the sinner is absolved, he can now go forward in rediscovered newness of life: he has taken advantage of what the Fathers of the Church call the “second plank of salvation”, the sacrament of confession. 

The great lesson for us today, the great mystery which should make us marvel unceasingly, is the condescension of God who comes to lift up the sinner and give him a new chance. But also the great dignity of the faithful soul, graced with the very life of God, the life of the Holy Spirit, which makes us a new creature in Christ, and empowers us to live in a way that stuns the world. 

At the end of today’s epistle, St Paul adds: “in doing good, let us not fail; for in due time we shall reap, not failing. Therefore, whilst we have time, let us work good to all men”. Whilst we have the time. Today we have the time, God has given us another day to do good, to live up to the demands of our holy baptism, and live our faith in a pagan world in need of conversion. Let us not miss this opportunity, perhaps our last, for we do not know if we will have a tomorrow. God is not mocked. Let us be instruments in the hands of the Spirit, who gives us a share in the Divine Life, and through us, wishes to raise other souls from the dead. Through us, he wishes to bring to the ears of many those inspired words: Awake, thou that sleepest (in sin), and arise from the dead, and Christ will give thee light.

The joy of suffering

It's a paradox, one that has to be experienced to understand: suffering leads to joy. Our Lord Himself gives us the example in embracing His passion and death. It all started in the Garden of Eden when our first parents sinned. They chose to be fooled by the Enemy into putting themselves before God, lifting themselves up in pride to refuse God's commandment and do as they pleased. The tragic result was original sin and its consequences: the flesh revolts against the spirit, and must therefore be kept in check with penance and suffering. St Paul will later speak of the "superbia carnis", the pride of the flesh erecting itself against God, thinking to find satisfaction in giving in to its impulses, but at the same time experiencing its weakness. How often have you not met people who say they are free to do what they want, but prove by their actions that they are enslaved to their passions? We read about them everyday....

That is why the Word Incarnate, our sweet Saviour Jesus Christ, chose the path of suffering. Suffering serves the purpose of curbing our lust for power and pleasure; it brings us down to the dust, which is where we should be, because that's what we are made of. Only humility saves, and suffering is a privileged path to humility.

This goes for physical suffering, but it also goes for emotional or psychological suffering. The greatest evil that can befall a human being is to have a too lofty opinion of themselves, for that is the sin of Satan, and it leads to revolt against the Creator, against the order of things which are as they are and must be accepted as such. We are in a universe we did not create, and our true grandeur lies in acknowledging that, in humbling ourselves enough to play our role in that whole, without usurping the rights of God, the greatest evil, one which our present-day world excels in. 

That is why the cross is so important, why the Church celebrates this day with joy, for She knows that in spite of the difficulty we all experience in dealing with it, suffering is the divinely appointed way to being happy, in a very mysterious way, even in this life, provided we unite our sufferings with those of the God-Man and revolt not against Him. The Cross leads to Light, it leads to Glory. Let us beg for the grace to understand and embrace this all-important truth which moulds valiant souls, such that are pleasing to God and to men.

One day better than a thousand

One day in Thy vestibules is better than a thousand elsewhere. (Ps 83)

Such are the words Holy Mother Church puts on our lips at the beginning of today’s Mass. Better one single day in the Lord’s house, even at its threshold, than a thousand in the tents of the worldly rich. A gaze of faith is here required, for living in the house of the Lord can sometimes mean not having all the comfort one could obtain in many other places. It takes faith, but it takes also a bit of courage, and even more, lots of love. Is it not love that was our prod when we left behind family and friends, the perspective of a career and perhaps a fulfilling marriage and family? 

Those acts of faith and love are not forgotten. In today’s Gospel, the Lord Himself, in what might be considered the climax of the Sermon on the Mount, tells us that the soul which gives itself to God need not concern itself with anything, not even the most basic fundamental needs of a human being, such as food, drink and clothing. For the soul who truly seeks only the Kingdom of God, all these things, of which Our Father knows we have need, will be given even without our being concerned with them. The Kingdom of God and His justice: that kingdom which the preface of Christ the King will tell us is a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.

It is the kingdom of which St Paul speaks in today’s epistle. Therein he paints two portraits, one tragically disheartening, the other magnificently encouraging. The first is that of those who walk according to the flesh, seeking the things of this world. Their works, which soil the mind and the body, cause them to abandon themselves to lustful desires, and it all ends up in idol worship and bloodshed. Indeed, the goods of this world being limited, not everyone can have them. So if the race is open to whomever can get there first, there will of necessity be conflicts, fights, and murder. In the second portrait, St Paul tells us of the fruit produced by those who live according to the Spirit, that is, who let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, and who seek the eternal good of their own spirit, their soul. The fruit they produce is sovereignly desirable:  charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering endurance, meekness, mutual trust, modesty, continence, chastity. 

In this way, the great apostle was painting a picture of what every Christian community should be. If the realisation of such a program is not limited to monasteries, it is certain that monasteries should be model exemplars of it. If each of the monks strives to allow himself to be governed by the Spirit of God, if he pursues at all times the goods of fraternal communion, he will come to “taste and see how good the Lord is”, as we sing in the offertory verse from psalm 33. And we will discover the bliss of living to perfection those words of Our Blessed Saviour: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added”.

Saint Regina, a virgin conquers Caesar...

Today, 7 September, is the feast of St Regina, a young virgin martyr from Alise-Sainte Reine, France, just a few miles from Flavigny-sur-Ozerain where I spent 32 years of my life. St Regina is dearly loved by the monks of Flavigny, the main reason being that her relics were kept and guarded by the monks for over a thousand years in the ancient abbey of Flavigny. Her relics, saved at the time of the revolution thanks to some God-fearing faithful, are now in the village church of Flavigny, but the monks of Abbaye Saint Joseph have a significant relic in their possession. And there is also a first class relic of St Regina at Notre Dame Priory in Tasmania, a well guarded and venerated treasure...

According to tradition, Regina, having embraced the faith, consecrated her virginity to Christ. It so happened that a local lord fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. But this was impossible, for Regina had already given her heart to the King of Kings. Her refusal would cost her her freedom and finally her life: after being imprisoned, she was tortured and martyred. For centuries, she watched over the monks of Flavigny, and now we ask her to watch over and bless too our fledgling community in Tasmania.

The place of her martyrdom also happens to be the very same place where Julius Caesar obtained his definitive victory over the Gauls in the century before Christ. Tradition tells us that there was once a stone inscription at the place of her martyrdom which read: "Here Caesar conquered Gaul; here a Christian virgin conquered Caesar."

There is much more to this epitaph than poetical expression: there is a very profound lesson and deep theology. Caesar conquered Gaul by strategy and the force of arms. It was an astounding feat, one that would have long-lasting consequences — very good ones actually —for Gaul, for the Roman domination is what would allow the Gospel to reach what would later be known as France within the first generation of Christians. But Regina conquered Caesar — here of course, Caesar refers symbolically to the Roman authority at the time — with other weapons, the weapons of her faith and her virtue. She conquered as all martyrs conquer: by allowing her body to be put to death so that her soul might live forever with Christ.

Does this not contain a very profound lesson for us today, tossed around as we are with novel ideas and practices which seek to take our soul from us? All the grave moral issues which rock the Church and the world today (abortion, adultery, same-sex "marriage", gender ideology, child abuse, etc.) all have the same root problem and the same root remedy. The problem is impurity, and the answer is chastity.

Saints like Regina are there to remind us that there are no situations which are outside of God's providence. There are no situations in which we have to sin or are allowed to sin. Faith and chastity are always and everywhere possible. But they demand both humble prayer and courage.

Those who know how to practice them are victorious, even over the modern Caesars. Those who give in become prey to the whirlwind of passing ideology, and lose their soul on the altar of impurity. The battlefield is the heart of every human being. Whose side shall we be on? I choose Regina.

Saint Regina, Pray for Us!

The Good Samaritan and the longing for eternal life

Today the traditional Roman liturgy has us read the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. It also happens to be the Sunday on which, here in Tasmania, our Archbishop has asked his priests to preach on the Catholic doctrine of marriage, in view of the upcoming plebiscite vote on what is wrongly called "same-sex marriage".

One cannot help but see in the poor man who has been beaten up, robbed, and left half-dead, the image of our world, so broken, so out of its senses, that it no longer sees the obvious. There is little profit in repeating here the tragic reality which is known to all, but it would perhaps be useful to say quite simply that our attitude to whomever does not see the obvious should be that of the Good Samaritan. No one should ever be abandoned as hopeless in this life, and sometimes we are called to extend a helping hand or a helping word to someone in doubt, or someone who is not in doubt, but who needs to be told the saving truth, evening if this truth is disturbing.

That truth is first and foremost the truth of why we are in this world. My personal reflexions over the years have led me to the strong conviction that almost all the woes of our society flow directly from the ignorance of eternal realities. If there is no afterlife, or if heaven is the final destination of all, regardless of how they lived, then life in this world, of necessity, reduces itself to finding ways of getting along with each other. And that of course is the open door to the widespread apostasy of our day, which has not spared the Catholic Church.

I cannot possibly express it any better than did St Gregory the Great in his book of morals on Job, a magnificent text we read this morning at Matins:

"There are some that take no heed to their life, and whilst they are seeking transitory objects, and either do not understand those that are eternal, or understanding, despise them, they neither feel grief nor know how to take counsel, and when they are taking no account of the things above which they have lost, they think, unhappy wretches, that they are in the midst of good things. For these never raise the eyes of their mind to the light of truth which they were created for, they never bend the keenness of desire to the contemplation of their eternal country, but, forsaking themselves amidst those things in which they are cast away, instead of their country they love the exile which is their lot, and rejoice in the darkness which they undergo as though in the brightness of the light.

"But, on the contrary, when the minds of the elect perceive that all things transitory are nought, they seek out which be the things for which they were created, and whereas nothing suffices to satisfy them out of God, thought itself, being wearied in them by the efforts of the search, finds rest in the hope and contemplation of its Creator, longs to have a place among the citizens above; and each one of them, while yet in the body an inhabitant of the world, in mind already soars beyond the world, bewails the weariness of exile which he endures, and with the ceaseless incitements of love urges himself on to the country on high".

In other words, being the Good Samaritan means reminding people that this life is short, that it will end soon, and that if we want to take part in eternal life, we must live in accordance with God's commandments. There is no other way to true happiness, in this life and in the next.

What our conscience fears

Today's oration, 11th Sunday after Pentecost, petitions God to "dismiss what our conscience fears and to add what our prayer dares not ask". What does our conscience fear if not sin? When we take a look back, we can sometimes feel fear at the thought of the evil we have done, the people we have harmed or scandalised. When we look at the future, we may be afraid of falling back into past sinfulness or of doing still greater harm. By asking the Lord to do away with what our conscience fears, we are asking His omnipotent mercy not only to forgive our past offences, but also to guard us against future failings. In this way, the petition resembles the embolism of the traditional Roman Rite Mass: "Deliver us, O Lord, from every evil: past, present and to come....".

When we beseech God to "add what our prayer dares not ask", we are acknowledging our very limited capacity to even imagine the admirable goods that lie in store for those who fear and love God. "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, it has not entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who love Him", says the Prophet Isaiah in a passage that St Paul made his own centuries later. For sure, what God wants to give us is beyond our wildest dreams, and so we cannot possibly ask for it. Today's oration does the asking, and as always, we see how Holy Mother Church always finds the right way to express our needs. How could it be otherwise when we know that her liturgy, which developed organically from the very sources of our faith, sanctioned by so many saints and handed down by Tradition, is guided by the Spirit of God Himself?

When we come to contemplate and understand, even a little, these truths, then can happen to us what happened to the deaf and dumb man of today's Gospel. He was deaf, meaning he could not hear and understand the word of God; he was dumb, meaning he could not sing the praises of God. But when Jesus enters his life and pronounces the word of healing, he begins to hear, he listens, and then begins to sing the praises of God. His conscience has been unloaded of all fear, and his prayer begins to ask for the sublime, whose fulfilment will come in time, a very short time for those who love God, for this life is very, very brief... 

Yes, He hath done all things well: He hath made the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.

The triumph of our Mother

The Assumption is, historically and liturgically, the greatest feast of Our Lady, for in this mystery we celebrate and honour her definitive glorification, body and soul, in Heaven. It is a feast dear to all Catholic hearts, for the honour of the Mother redounds upon her children. It gives us great joy to know that she, who gave birth to each of us in the bitter hour of Her Son's passion on Calvary, is henceforth beyond all suffering and death, and reigns with Christ forever. Anyone who loves Mary as a son or a daughter cannot help but feel joy on this day. 

The feast has many implications for our spiritual life. I would like to point out just two of them today. First of all, the glorification of Mary gives us a tremendous hope in our own glorification. Indeed, she is the only human person who we know has already been glorified in this way. Her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, is glorified in his human nature, for sure, but He is a Divine, not a human Person. Mary is 100% creature, just like us. Her being assumed into Heaven strengthens our confidence that we too some day, through Her intercession, will be raised up in glory and will no longer be subject to the frailty of our flesh.

Secondly, this feast shows us the great dignity of the human body, destined as it is, to be suffused with the glory of God, completely possessed, as it were, by the divinity. Perhaps this is the reason for which the definition of the dogma of the Assumption waited till the middle of the 20th century, at at time when, like never before, the human body is degraded, especially in the person of women, counted as nothing more than an object to be used and discarded. The rampant and decadent culture which surrounds us on every side is shown, by the Assumption of Mary, to be what it really is: a false, filthy, corrupt, perverse attempt at altering God's plan for humanity. God created us for Himself, and He wants us to achieve fulfilment in Himself. He wants our bodies to be pure, dignified, adorned with every virtue, and glorified in Heaven. And that is precisely why, in these latter days, the Enemy exerts all his power to debase it to the level of the animal, for then God's masterpiece is trampled in the dirt.

On this feast, let us lift up our eyes on high to the glorious Mother of God. Let us beg her for the grace to always respect the dignity of our own bodies and those of others. Let us ask Her in particular to convert all those who make sordid money through the profanation of the body, especially those of women and children. May the abomination cease thanks to the grace of penance, and may the real dignity of our human nature be thus acknowledged and protected by all.

When he defined the dogma on 1 November 1950, Pope Pius XII composed this beautiful prayer which we can make ours on this day:

O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of God and Mother of men.

We believe with all the fervor of our faith in thy triumphal Assumption, both in body and soul, into heaven, where thou art acclaimed as Queen by all the choirs of angels and all the legions of saints; and we unite with them to praise and bless the Lord who has exalted thee above all other pure creatures, and to offer thee the tribute of our devotion and our love.

We know that thy gaze, which on earth watched over the humble and suffering humanity of Jesus, is filled in heaven with the vision of that Humanity glorified, and with the vision of Uncreated Wisdom; and that the joy of thy soul in the direct contemplation of the adorable Trinity causes thy heart to throb with overwhelming tenderness.

And we, poor sinners, whose body weighs down the flight of the soul, beg thee to purify our hearts, so that, while we remain here below, we may learn to see God, and God alone, in the beauties of His creatures.

We trust that thy merciful eyes may deign to glance down upon our miseries and our sorrows, upon our struggles and our weaknesses; that thy countenance may smile upon our joys and our victories; that thou mayest hear the voice of Jesus saying to thee of each one of us, as He once said to thee of His beloved disciple: behold thy son.

And we who call upon thee as our Mother, like John, take thee as the guide, strength, and consolation of our mortal life.

We are inspired by the certainty that thine eyes which wept over the earth, watered by the Blood of Jesus, are yet turned toward this world, held in the clutch of wars, persecutions, and oppression of the just and the weak.

And from the shadows of this vale of tears, we seek in thy heavenly assistance and tender mercy comfort for our aching hearts and help in the trials of the Church and of our fatherland.

We believe, finally, that in the glory where thou dost reign, clothed with the sun and crowned with the stars, thou art, after Jesus, the joy and gladness of all the angels and of all the saints.

And from this earth, over which we tread as pilgrims, comforted by our faith in the future resurrection, we look to thee, our life, our sweetness, and our hope; draw us onward with the sweetness of thy voice, that one day, after our exile, thou mayest show us Jesus, the blessed Fruit of thy womb, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

St Maximilian and the Immaculata

It was no accident that St Maximilian Kolbe achieved his long martyrdom on the vigil of the Assumption. He was one Our Lady's greatest devotees, had served to promote her honour like few saints have done, and deserved finally to be admitted to enter Heaven for the greatest of her feasts. To help us enter into the spirit of this feast, here is the text of his consecration to Mary Immaculate: 

Consecration prayer of St. Maximilian Kolbe to Mary Immaculate

O Immaculata, Queen of Heaven and earth, refuge of sinners and our most loving Mother, God has willed to entrust the entire order of mercy to thee. I, N., a repentant sinner, cast myself at thy feet humbly imploring thee to take me with all that I am and have, wholly to thyself as thy possession and property. Please make of me, of all my powers of soul and body, of my whole life, death, and eternity, whatever most pleases thee. If it pleases thee, use all that I am and have without reserve, wholly to accomplish what was said of thee: “She will crush your head,” and, “Thou alone hast destroyed all heresies in the whole world.”

Let me be a fit instrument in thine immaculate and merciful hands for introducing and increasing thy glory to the maximum in all the many strayed and indifferent souls, and thus help extend as far as possible the blessed kingdom of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. For wherever thou dost enter, thou obtainest the grace of conversion and growth in holiness, since it is through thy hands that all graces come to us from the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

V. Allow me to praise thee, O Sacred Virgin.

R. Give me strength against thine enemies.

Refuge of sinners

Today in some places Our Lady is honoured as the "refuge of sinners". And it so happens that today's gospel (10th Sunday after Pentecost) presents us with the perfect attitude of those who wish to find refuge in her Immaculate Heart.

The pharisee of our gospel is the epitome of the person who thinks he is "OK". He does all the right things at the right times, he fulfils all his duties as he should. Apparently he's a "good guy". But there is one problem, or rather there are two problems. First, he doesn't need anybody's help, not even God's; he doesn't ask for anything, for he has it all right. Second, he scorns others, and not just any others, but all others: "I am not like the rest of men". Since he needs no help, and doesn't ask for it, he won't get it, he will not find a refuge and he will be lost. 

The publican on the other hand does not dare approach to the altar; he does not lift up his eyes; he has no speech to make to God; he knows God does not need him. All he can do is strike his breast and ask God's mercy for his sins. He is the perfect example of the soul who knows it's not "OK", and who needs help: he will find a refuge.

Today's collect tells us that the omnipotence of God is manifested most perfectly when He shows mercy. Why is that? Because His forgiveness can manifest itself only upon those souls who humbly acknowledge their need for it, and who in the end profess that God is all. Since God is almighty and is in need of no one, there is no attitude He finds more repugnant than that of the soul who is "OK", whereas there is no attitude He finds more attractive than that of the soul who confesses its absolute need for God's grace. It is as if He cannot resist showing mercy to the humble soul.

Mary, our sweet Mother, is given to us to be our refuge, but we must first acknowledge our sins, we must come to her as a child in trouble who knows it needs its mother. If we do, we will find in her Immaculate Heart the assured refuge from our sins, from our past, from ourselves. We will find peace, the peace that only God can give, and that is the fruit of the exercise of His omnipotence through the forgiveness of our sins. "Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted". And who is more humble than the childlike soul who runs to the Immaculate Mother, begging her to open her arms and lead her to God?

 

Virgin most powerful

In these days which lead up to the glorious feast of Our Lady's Assumption, it is good for us to reflect upon some of the invocations found in the tradition of the Church and particularly in the Litany of Loreto. The past couple days I have been meditating on the invocation "Virgo Potens", often translated as "Virgin most powerful".

One of the first things that struck me is the juxtaposition of two words that so many of our contemporaries would probably find incongruous. Virginity is often identified with weakness and lack of gusto. The strong woman, so people say, is one who fearlessly offers what she has, affirming her independence, and scorning the consequences. The virgin is portrayed as a girl who has not yet found the courage to be done with her childhood or has not yet succeeded in attracting a man. 

The title "Virgo Potens" defies such a corrupt mentality which could not be further from the truth. In reality, it is virginity that is the mark of the strong woman. Not just any virginity. Certainly not that of the woman who simply has "no luck", nor even that of those who are just afraid to lose it. The strong virgin is one who holds in high esteem the treasure of her physical integrity, and who, according to God's plan, holds it in reserve either for her future husband, to whom she will offer it as her most beautiful wedding gift, or to the eternal Bridegroom, should He call her to consecrate her virginity forever to Christ in religious life.

"Virgo Potens" gives us to understand that, in the midst of the battle for purity, lies a soul that draws from the Almighty Himself the strength to be victorious over both the enticements of the flesh and the seduction of worldly and corrupt men whose ambition — worthy of a boar — is no higher than that of using women for their own satisfaction, and then abandoning them to their fate.

"Virgo Potens" clearly inspires us with the wholesome thought that only the person, man or woman, who is capable of resisting the sometimes impetuous desires of the flesh that is truly strong, that is truly in command of their life. The others let themselves be blown around with every dark wind, and as they do, they feel not only their minds and hearts, but their bodies themselves weaken and lose stamina. The chaste generation alone finds its strength renewed from day to day, and goes from combat to combat, winning victory after victory, and can thus rest at peace in the secure citadel of a pure heart.

"Virgo Potens", the Mother of Fair Love, Virgin most prudent, come to our aid, and give to us an insatiable love for Christ Thy Son. Give to all those who have consecrated their virginity to Christ to be ever strong in their resolve, and to find in His love the source of authentic love for all. Give to those who have fallen the hope of rising again, of reconquering their lost purity, and deserving through penance a share in the crown of the chaste.

  

The treasure hidden in the field

Today in Australia we honour our first native saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop who is also secondary patroness of our community, which gives us even greater incentive to honour her in a fitting manner. Her love and zeal for souls inspired her to undertake extraordinary feats which demanded superhuman energy and exposed her, as is so often the case with religious founders, to persecution, which in her case led to the extreme: she was excommunicated!

Her manner of accepting all these trials is nothing short of admirable. Always seeing the Hand of God in events and in superiors, her view on reality was a supernatural one. The Holy Gospel tells us that the Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which when a man finds, he goes and buries it again and sells all he has to buy that field. Why is this passage relevant to St Mary and, in general, why is it used on the feasts of virgins?

St Gregory helps to us understand this when he teaches that the treasure is nothing other than the desire for heavenly realities. The field in which the treasure is hidden is the self-discipline required to attain to heavenly things. When one sells everything one has to buy that field, one is essentially renouncing the pleasures of the flesh and keeping in check all earthly desires in such a way that the soul is neither swayed by the caresses of the flesh nor deterred from the mortification required to keep it in check.

May St Mary of the Cross obtain for us a share in her intense love for Christ. May she obtain for many young women to dedicate their lives to Him and to discover the joy she expressed in this letter to her mother: "What a happiness it will be to you to think that some of your children are endeavouring to serve God in holy Religion — their one great wish being to lead souls to Him... How many are lost through indifference and coldness of those who might and should think more of their eternal welfare and far less of this miserable world?... Think, dear Mamma, of the work that is to be done, and how few there are to do it, and thank God for permitting a child of yours to be one — the least worthy — of the workers".

Mary MacKillop found the "treasure hidden in the field". We ask her to help many young men and women in our day to find it too, and to leave all things and sell everything they have to buy that field.

 

The "secret of that Face"

Today the Church turns her gaze towards the transfigured face of Our Beloved Lord. His face shone like the sun, says the Gospel. It's hard to look at the sun, or rather it is not possible without damage to the eye. Our Lord's face shines like the sun because the human soul cannot penetrate into the divinity: God remains ever inaccessible to our gaze. And that is precisely why God became man, so that, thanks to the human face of God, we could get a glimpse of the inner life of the Blessed Trinity that we will see in eternity if we prove ourselves worthy by a holy life.

As we turn our eyes to Jesus on this glorious feast, let us ask Him for the grace to be ever enthralled by His beauty, for He is, as psalm 44 tells us, the "most beautiful of the sons of men", He is "beautiful and attractive" as we read in the meditation on the two standards; He is someone you want to be with and to get to know better. Let's allow ourselves to be drawn ever more into the "secret of that face", "in abscondito faciei" as we read on psalm 30. 

Through perseverance in prayer, through the lasting effort at lifting up our eyes to our Lord Jesus Christ, we will find ourselves more and more led into the secrets of that Face, the secrets that lie beyond that Face, those ineffable secrets that will be revealed in the glory of the eternal homeland, and that we are blessed to catch a glimpse of in this life, if, and only if, we make the effort each day to detach ourselves from the attraction of the creature that fades, and turn towards the eternal light that abides. Then, and only then, can we ourselves become the "light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day star arise" (2 Pt 1:19).

I have come to cast fire on the earth...

Ignem veni mittere in terram — I have come to cast fire on the earth. These words of Our Blessed Lord come spontaneously to the mind when we think of today's great saint, Ignatius of Loyola. Much more than the root form of the name — Ignis, Ignatius, "aflame" — the comparison comes from the fire that burned in the heart of St Ignatius and that he wanted to light in the hearts of all. Few saints have had a more lasting influence and effect on the mission life of the Church than St Ignatius, and that influence finds its source in his closeness to the burning furnace of love which is the Heart of Jesus.

Is it chauvinism to point out that, like St Thomas Aquinas, St Ignatius owes a lot to the Benedictine order? it was in a Benedictine monastery in Spain that he composed his Spiritual Exercises and at the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1522, that he dedicated his life to wielding the spiritual arms of the Holy Name of Jesus, the Sacred Heart, and the sword of the Word of God. It was in a chapel of the Benedictine Abbey of Montmartre that on the Feast of the Assumption 1534 and later on at the altar of the Virgin of the Basilica of St Paul-without-the-Walls, served by Benedictines, that was born the Society of Jesus. Finally, it was the Benedictine Pope Pius VII who in 1814 reestablished the Jesuits in all their rights after their shameful suppression under Clement XIV. 

Given all this, is it too much to say that God himself has united at the feet of Our Lady these two orders which so powerfully help the Church? The Benedictine motto UIOGD — ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus, that in all things God may be glorified — and the Ignatian motto AMDG — Ad maiorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God, — bear more than a striking resemblance. They indicate two souls enamoured with the same love of God and passion to extend His reign in the world, albeit in different ways.

The monks of Notre Dame Priory nourish special devotion to St Ignatius because of their apostolate of retreats which take inspiration from the Spiritual Exercises, the "most perfect code of the laws of salvation and perfection, which every good soldier of Christ should use," to quote Pope Pius XI, who made Ignatius the heavenly patron of all spiritual exercises.

May this great saint inspire us all with greater love for Jesus, and lead us deeper into the spirit of prayer, thanks to which we shall be more focused on the eternal goal of our lives: the praise, reverence and service of the Divine Majesty for the salvation of souls. May that flame be lit in our hearts as well, and may it set the world ablaze with love for God and zeal for His greater glory!