Saint Lawrence

Most of what we know about Saint Lawrence concerns his final days.  As a deacon in third century Rome, Lawrence was responsible for distributing alms to the poor.  He was loved and respected by the people, and he was like a son to Pope Sixtus II.  In 257, the Roman Emperor Valerian issued edicts forbidding the practice of Christianity.  He later ordered that all bishops, priests, and deacons be killed.  Pope Sixtus was put to death, and Lawrence was soon to follow.

But before his death, Lawrence was required to bring the riches of the Church to the Emperor.  According to tradition, Lawrence asked for three days to make a full accounting.  He proceeded to distribute all of the Church’s holdings to the poor, blind, and sick.  He then gathered them into one place and presented them to the Emperor.  “These are the treasures of the Church,” he said.  Unimpressed, Valerian sentenced him to death on a gridiron on 10th August 258.

Lawrence’s martyrdom was his final act of love and the fruit of many daily deaths to sin and selfishness as he cared for the poor.  Like Our Lord, Lawrence understood that no cost was too great, no suffering too dire, considering how much Our Lord had given him.

We may think, “I could never do what Saint Lawrence did.”  Or we may want to do great things for God but not know how or where to begin.  But Our Lord gives us a clue: “Whoever serves me must follow me” (John 12:26).  Every meal Lawrence offered to the poor, every act of kindness to the sick, was another stride in the footsteps of his Master.  As he served, Lawrence became more and more like Our Lord until he took on the final likeness: death in the service of God’s people.

Our daily acts of service in the community may feel monotonous or insignificant, but the Sisters with whom we share our lives each day are, for us, the treasures of the church.  Like Saint Lawrence, our simple efforts to provide for them, to prepare meals for them, to care for them, all help us to become more like Our Lord in his life of sacrificial service.  With every little death to selfishness, we too can bear much fruit for God.

Saint Lawrence, pray for us.

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Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Edith Stein was brought up in a Jewish family, and yet she was a convinced atheist for the first twenty-two years of her life.  Her conversion process began in 1921 after reading Saint Teresa of Avila’s autobiography.  She went to the local Catholic bookshop and purchased a copy of the Catechism and a Roman Missal and studied them meticulously.  She started going to Mass, and a year later she was baptised.  This was not just a conversion of the intellect.  It was the start of a new life of intense spirituality, a path which was to take her far beyond anything that she or anyone else could have anticipated.  In 1934, after a glittering academic career, Edith entered the Carmelite convent in Cologne.  When the Nazis came to power she was moved to a convent in Holland for safety.  But in 1942 Catholic priests and religious in Holland who were converts from Judaism, or who had Jewish connections were rounded up by the S.S.  Sister Teresa Benedicta was arrested and transported to Auschwitz where she was immediately gassed to death.  It has been reported by some who survived that even in her final ordeal Sister Teresa Benedicta never lost her spiritual serenity.  She had already offered up her life to God, in reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for the conversion of her own people.  This brave convert from atheism to Catholicism has so much to teach us about the value of suffering, and the possibility of making real and lasting changes in our lives.  Her search for truth led her to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  The Lord she found did what He always does with His close friends: He permitted her to share His Cross.  She became a bride of Christ, and died a martyr.  Saint Teresa Benedicta is a sign to us of the transforming power of love, the triumph of charity over the diabolical evils of hatred and cruelty.  She was canonised in 1998, and her heroic story is one of the glories of the Church.  As a young woman, Edith Stein seized the day and changed her life.  She launched herself into her new vocation of single-minded discipleship.  She shared in the Lord’s Passion, and He has rewarded her with a crown of unfading glory.

May we have the courage and generosity to follow her example.

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us.

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Our Holy Father Dominic

Is it really a whole year since we last celebrated Saint Dominic’s Day?  How time flies when you’re having fun!  And twelve years on I still feel something of a fraud standing here talking about a saint who is much more familiar to you than he is to me.  One little gem I picked up from Fr. Vivian Boland O.P. when he was here recently, is that Saint Dominic was really quite ingenious when it came to setting out the mission of the Order and his attitude towards his first followers.

Saint Dominic didn’t feel the need to write a new rule of life for his community, nor did he invent any new mission for his brethren.  Instead he set the very mission of the Church at the heart of the mission of the Order, which is, of course, the preaching of the Gospel.  Saint Dominic adopted the Rule of Our Holy Father Augustine which suited this mission very well.  And so, from the very beginning Dominicans busied themselves not with establishing a way of life for its own sake, but rather they tried to find such a model of life that would make it always possible to preach the word of God.

Saint Dominic didn’t want the day-in, day-out living of the religious life to be a burden or an impediment to the mission.  As you know better than I do, Dominicans live together for the sake of the mission, holding the life of the Apostles as your model and inspiration.

I read somewhere that Saint Dominic was pretty optimistic when it came to human nature.  This optimism was expressed in his great trust towards the brethren: he was quick to send them out on mission, believing in them even before they had sufficient confidence in themselves.

When Pope Gregory IX prepared to canonize Dominic in 1234, he declared that he was as sure of the holiness of Dominic as he was of that of the great apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Once again, on this his feast we implore Saint Dominic’s continued intercession and protection for the Order of Preachers throughout the world, and in particular for our own community.

Our Holy Father Saint Dominic, pray for us.

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Tuesday of Week 18 in Ordinary Time

The disciples struggled to row their boat across the stormy lake, straining at the oars until Our Lord appeared to them in the fourth watch—which would have been between 03:00 and 06:00 in the morning.  Instead of calling out to Our Lord they kept on try­ing to make the crossing on their own.  Then, when Our Lord did appear, they were so scared that they didn’t recognize him.  Even Peter wavered in his faith and sank into the raging waters.

What a contrast when they landed at Gennesaret.  The people recognised Our Lord immediately and sent out word so that others could come and see and hear him.  There was excitement in the air, as many were healed by doing nothing more than touching his cloak.

Isn’t it odd that the disciples showed this lack of faith?  Among all the other lessons in this story is a warning: some situations can come upon us with all the force of an unexpected and violent storm.  These storms can be so powerful that we panic and we can even forget who Jesus is.  Even when he is right there with us, we may not recognize him, because we are so caught up in everything else that’s going on around us.

So, how can we keep this from hap­pening?  Many of the saints recommend turning to Our Lord frequently dur­ing the day, even when everything is going along just fine.  I like to have a chiming clock in the house, and when it was working, I used to say a quick prayer every time the bell rang.  As we learn how to find Our Lord in our everyday lives, we will know—almost by instinct—to look for him when the storms come.

Every day, the world tells us to be self-sufficient.  And every day, the Holy Spirit wants to teach us how to fix our eyes on God.  Obviously, it’s up to us to decide what to do.  We can learn how to be prepared for any situation by walking with God, or we can go it alone and be at the mercy of every storm that blows our way.

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The Transfiguration of the Lord

If, like me, you got an ‘O’ Level in English Language, you will know that there are two key elements to just about every story: the plot (what happened) and the interpretation (why it happened).  Well, the account of Our Lord’s Transfiguration has a very dramatic what: three Apostles witnessed Our Lord’s heavenly glory.  But what about the why?

There are many ways to answer this question, but one important answer is that this event shows that God has a perfect plan.  In Saint Luke’s version of the story he tells us that while Our Lord was transfigured, Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah about the plan that Jesus “was going to accomplish in Jerusalem”.  God had a plan for his creation: to save us through his own death on the Cross.  The Crucifixion wasn’t an accident.  It wasn’t a mistake.  It was part of God’s intention all along—all so that we could be set free from sin.

The Transfiguration also confirms God’s love for us.  The imagery of the Transfiguration shows Jesus as a kind of “bridge” between heaven and earth.  He is the Beloved Son who pleases his Father and brings salvation to the world.  Speaking with Israel’s heroes of old, Jesus is also the bridge between God’s covenant with his chosen people and his new covenant with us.

By telling us that Our Lord’s clothes became “white as light” and that his face “shone like the sun,” Saint Matthew also shows us that Jesus transcends the human limitations that we all experience.  He shows us that Jesus truly is God with us.

Through this dramatic story, we can see that God is in control of his creation.  He knows what’s going on in our lives, and he has a plan for us, even if we do have to endure a few crosses along the way.

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18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

On the day following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, Our Lord had an unusually eager audience.  The people, obviously impressed with what had happened the previous day, flock back in droves to see him.  No doubt they think he will perform another miracle and supply them with more food and fulfil their material hopes and ambitions, at least for another day.  The deeper meaning of the event, its spiritual meaning, escapes them completely.  They don’t understand what Our Lord is talking about and they fail to realise that Our Lord himself is a sign of God’s presence among them.  And so Our Lord reprimands them saying: “You are not looking for me because you have seen the signs, but because you have had all the bread you wanted to eat.”  This hunger for food was the starting point for Our Lord to begin his teaching about the deep hunger we all have for something more than physical sustenance.

We live in a world desperately wondering what has gone wrong with its dreams.  Even during the credit crunch the media more than ever before tried to convince us that the longings of the human heart can be satisfied by the artificial securities and delights of the consumer society.  Along with glossy and glamorous advertising on television, radio, newspapers and magazines – and now on the internet – there is not only the invitation to apply for credit in order to pay for all these things, but also help in consolidating bills when our spending gets out of control, when we discover we can’t afford to pay for what we have bought.

Satisfaction for the latest car or home improvement or exotic holiday is short lived.  New needs are created as soon as old ones are realised, emptiness sets in and the search for happiness begins all over again in an ever repeating cycle.

As we listen to the life giving words of Our Lord in the gospel today we come to realise that food, even Tesco’s Finest, is but basic fodder and that if we are to really live, something more is required.  There is another kind of nourishment needed by the human heart, because there are other hungers that we need to satisfy.  Deep down within each of us there is a hunger to love and to be loved; there is a hunger to be listened to and to be appreciated, and above all there is a hunger to know that there is a meaning and an eternal value to our lives.  These are the hungers of the heart and the yearnings of the spirit of which Our Lord wants us to be conscious and which he alone can satisfy.

You and I are part of this story inasmuch as it touches our personal lives.  Swayed as we are by material needs, we are in constant danger of losing our taste for the food that will strengthen our souls.  You can see the result of this in the empty pews in many of our parish churches where Our Lord’s presence on the altar and in the tabernacle is regarded with indifference.  And yet it is here that Our Lord speaks to us and touches our hearts.  Do we truly hunger and thirst for what he has to offer?  Where do our interests and our true desires really lie?

Our Lord calls us to work just as hard to receive the Bread which he gives, as we do for the bread which doesn’t last.   Otherwise, we will never know what we are striving for, and we will die without realising our spiritual greatness.

Saint Augustine said: ‘Our hearts are made for you, O God, and they cannot rest until they rest in you.’  The world is full of people who spend their lives aimlessly seeking joy and happiness in the wrong ways.  May we, by our faith and by the simplicity of our lives, be a guide and a beacon for those caught up in the ways of the world.  After all, we can’t take our wealth with us when we die.

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Saint John Vianney

Today we honour the memory of Saint John Vianney, who struggled in his efforts to become a priest.  Against all the odds he responded to God’s call and was reluctantly ordained to the priesthood.  His bishop dispatched him to the most remote parish in the diocese where his holiness of life and sound preaching saved many souls.  The Church honours him today as the patron of parish priests.

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For the last few weeks we’ve been hearing about the role of the prophet in our society.  When you were bap­tized, the priest or deacon, or bishop anointed you with oil, giving you a share in Our Lord’s own prophetic calling—a calling that Jeremiah foreshadowed as he preached to the people of Jerusalem.

Today we honour the memory of St. John Vianney, the patron of parish priests and himself a prophetic voice in the nineteenth century town of Ars in France.  We heard in the gospel how King Herod responded to the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist.  Each of these stories can teach us volumes.

John Vianney wasn’t an outstanding seminary student or an imposing figure.  But he prayed—so much so that God gave him a tremendous insight into the human soul.  When news spread of his holiness and his gifts of discernment, people began flocking to his confessional from all over Europe.  As a result of his humility and prayerful witness, thousands were converted.

Jeremiah was a much more fiery character.  His words of rebuke displeased the religious leaders, but even when he was threatened with death, Jeremiah stood his ground.  He knew God had told him what to say and he wouldn’t back down or compromise.  By contrast, Herod seemed to spend his entire career making decisions based on what people would think of him instead of trying to understand what role God had given him in the life of his people.

And so, what’s the lesson for us today?  Well, just like everyone else, we have to seek God.  That’s the only way to discover and fulfil our own prophetic calling.  God calls each one of us to proclaim his Word in ways that can turn people’s hearts back to him—just as Jeremiah and John the Baptist and John Vianney did.

Saint John Vianney, pray for us.