Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Advent is, par excellence, the season of hope. Every year this basic spiritual attitude is reawakened in the hearts of Christians, who, while they prepare to celebrate the great Feast of Christ the Saviour's Birth, revive the expectation of his glorious second coming at the end of time. The first part of Advent insists precisely on the parousia, the final coming of the Lord. The antiphons of these First Vespers are all oriented, with different nuances, to this perspective. The short Reading from the First Letter to the Thessalonians (5: 23-34) refers explicitly to the final coming of Christ using precisely the Greek term parousia (cf. v. 23). The Apostle urges Christians to keep themselves sound and blameless, but above all encourages them to trust in God, who "is faithful" (v. 24) and will not fail to bring about this sanctification in all who respond to his grace.
This entire Vespers liturgy is an invitation to hope, pointing on the horizon of history to the light of the Saviour who comes: "on that day a great light will appear" (Antiphon 2); "the Lord will come with great might" (Antiphon 3); "his splendour fills the whole world" (Magnificat Antiphon). This light, which shines from the future of God, was already manifest in the fullness of time; therefore, our hope does not lack a foundation but is supported by an event situated in history, which at the same time exceeds history: the event constituted by Jesus of Nazareth. The Evangelist John applies to Jesus the title of "light": it is a title that belongs to God. Indeed, in the Creed we profess that Jesus Christ is "God from God, Light from Light".
I wanted to dedicate my second Encyclical, which was published yesterday, to the theme of hope. I am pleased to offer it in spirit to the entire Church on this First Sunday of Advent, so that, during preparation for Holy Christmas, the communities and individual faithful can read and meditate upon it to rediscover the beauty and depth of Christian hope. This, in fact, is inseparably bound to knowledge of the Face of God, the Face which Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son, revealed to us with his Incarnation, his earthly life and his preaching, and especially with his death and Resurrection. True and steadfast hope is founded on faith in God Love, the Merciful Father who "so loved the world that he gave his Only Son" (Jn 3: 16), so that men and women and with them all creatures might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10: 10). Advent, therefore, is a favourable time for the rediscovery of a hope that is not vague and deceptive but certain and reliable, because it is "anchored" in Christ, God made man, the rock of our salvation.
From the outset, as becomes clear in the New Testament and especially in the Letters of the Apostles, a new hope distinguishes Christians from those who live in pagan religiosity. In writing to the Ephesians, St Paul reminds them that before embracing faith in Christ, they had "no hope and [were] without God in the world" (2: 12). This appears an especially apt description for the paganism of our day: in particular, we might compare it with the contemporary nihilism that corrodes the hope in man's heart, inducing him to think that within and around him nothingness prevails: nothing before birth and nothing after death. In fact, if God is lacking, hope is lacking. Everything loses its "substance". It is as if the dimension of depth were missing and everything were flattened out and deprived of its symbolic relief, its "projection" in comparison with mere materiality. At stake is the relationship between existence here and now and what we call the "hereafter": this is not a place in which we end up after death; on the contrary, it is the reality of God, the fullness of life towards which every human being is, as it were, leaning. God responded to this human expectation in Christ with the gift of hope.
Man is the one creature free to say "yes" or "no" to eternity, that is, to God. The human being is able to extinguish hope within him, eliminating God from his life. How can this be? How can it happen that the creature "made for God", intimately oriented to him, the creature closest to the Eternal One, can deprive himself of this richness? God knows the human heart. He knows that those who reject him have not recognized his true Face, and so he never ceases to knock at our door like a humble pilgrim in search of hospitality. This is why the Lord grants humanity new time: so that everyone may manage to know him! This is also the meaning of a new liturgical year which is beginning: it is a gift of God, who once again wishes to reveal himself to us in the mystery of Christ, through the Word and the Sacraments. He wants to speak to humanity and to save the people of today through the Church. And he does so by going out to meet them in order "to seek and to save the lost" (Lk 19: 10). In this perspective, the celebration of Advent is the answer of the Church-Bride to the ever new initiative of God the Bridegroom, "who is and who was and who is to come" (Rv 1: 8). God offers to humanity, which no longer has time for him, further time, a new space in which to withdraw into itself in order to set out anew on a journey to rediscover the meaning of hope.
Here, then, is the surprising discovery: my, our hope is preceded by the expectation which God cultivates in our regard! Yes, God loves us and for this very reason expects that we return to him, that we open our hearts to his love, that we place our hands in his and remember that we are his children. This attitude of God always precedes our hope, exactly as his love always reaches us first (cf. I Jn 4: 10). In this sense Christian hope is called "theological": God is its source, support and end. What a great consolation there is in this mystery! My Creator has instilled in my spirit a reflection of his desire of life for all. Every person is called to hope, responding to the expectations that God has of him. Moreover, experience shows us that it is exactly like this. What keeps the world going other than God's trust in humankind? It is a trust reflected in the hearts of the lowly, the humble, when they strive daily to do their best through difficulties and labours, to do that little bit of good which is nonetheless great in God's eyes: in the family, in the work place, at school, in the various social contexts. Hope is indelibly engraved in the human heart because God our Father is life, and for eternal life and beatitude we are made.
Every child born is a sign of trust in God and man and a confirmation, at least implicit, of the hope in a future open to God's eternity that is nourished by men and women. God has responded to this human hope, concealing himself in time as a tiny human being. St Augustine wrote: "We might have thought that your Word was far distant from union with man, if this Word had not become flesh and dwelt among us" (Conf. X, 43, 69, cited in Spe Salvi, n. 29). Thus, let us allow ourselves to be guided by the One who in her heart and in her womb bore the Incarnate Word. O Mary, Virgin of expectation and Mother of hope, revive the spirit of Advent in your entire Church, so that all humanity may start out anew on the journey towards Bethlehem, from which it came, and that the Sun that dawns upon us from on high will come once again to visit us (cf. Lk 1: 78), Christ our God. Amen.
CELEBRATION OF FIRST VESPERS OF THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
St Peter's Basilica
Saturday, 1st December 2007
Don’t get me wrong. A family that wants to celebrate the life of its deceased relative is doing something right in wanting to remember the one they love and to say their goodbyes. Those are good and significant things to do in the midst of pain, loss and sorrow.You bring up a phenomenal point. Most funerals are exactly what you were expecting. They are either crafted to be a “celebration of life” or as a way to “formalize” one’s goodbye. But this isn’t what a funeral is primarily about.
But they are not the only things. In fact, they are not even the most important reasons we celebrate Catholic funeral Masses. One might say that there are four principle reasons for a funeral Mass.
Father Paul Scalia, at the funeral Mass for his father, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, stood up to give the homily, and after a few words of introduction and thanks, began by stating, “We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.”
Obviously, everyone in the church had originally thought that Father Scalia was talking about his own father. But Father Scalia knew who the real focus of the funeral Mass is: God. The first reason for a funeral Mass is the worship and praise of God.
The funeral Mass is not where the priest or deacon gets to “canonize” the deceased, although the temptation is very strong to offer that kind of false consolation. All of us are tempted to say things like, “So-and-so is in heaven now ....” But we can’t possibly know that! There might be a lot of good things to say about someone, but we are most often in the dark regarding the state of their soul. So, while we may reference the deceased, it is always in relation to Jesus.
The funeral Mass, like everything we do as Catholics, is all about Jesus. I think that we might have a bit more clarity if we realized that this is the case for every celebration in the church. Baptism isn’t about the person getting baptized, it’s about how Jesus is making that person a new creation. First Holy Communion is not about the young people coming forward, it’s about how Jesus is nourishing them with his very self. Confirmation is not about the person “taking a step,” it’s about how Jesus is commissioning them and filling them with the Holy Spirit.
The second purpose of the Catholic funeral Mass is to thank God for his endless mercy. Before he died, Justice Scalia wrote these words, “Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for and giving thanks for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.” Consider that the next time you are invited to attend a funeral: You are there to thank God for the inexplicable mercy he has given to the sinner whose body is in the casket.
Third, we are called to proclaim and renew our own faith in Jesus Christ. Whenever we celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice, we “proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes again.” This is eminently true when it comes to the funeral liturgy. We profess that Jesus Christ has conquered death by his own death and resurrection, and we renew our own participation in that great mystery.
Last, and above all, the primary reason we celebrate the Eucharist for the deceased at a funeral is to pray for them. The Mass is the most powerful and life-giving prayer God has ever given to us. When someone has died, unless they have chosen hell, they are most likely in need of purification before entering heaven. This purification can be difficult and painful. The Mass aids the person for whom we are praying.
There is great grief and sorrow when it comes to death, especially when the one who has died is someone we love. Have you ever been in that situation where you just wish that they would come back so that you might be able to help them in some way or do something to demonstrate your love for them? You can.
We offer Masses for our deceased loved ones because we believe that this actually does something. It makes a difference for them. When we pray for someone who has died, we are assisting them in their process of purification en route to Heaven. In what way could you possibly love them more?
The funeral Mass is a chance to say goodbye and to celebrate the life of the person you’ve loved. But it is also far more. It is the chance to worship God and to thank him for his inexplicable mercy, to proclaim and renew our faith in Jesus Christ, and to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that will immensely bless the person who has died.
Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Thanks for asking. We really won’t see much change in how things work at all, because immediately after a bishop is given a new assignment to a new diocese (or retires), he becomes the administrator of his former diocese (in this case, Bishop Weisenburger is currently the administrator of the Diocese of Salina) until he is installed in the diocese of Tuscon.
The “episcopal see” of Salina will not be without someone over it through this process. Canon 416 reads:
An episcopal see is vacant upon the death of a diocesan bishop, resignation accepted by the Roman Pontiff, transfer, or privation made known to the bishop.
The canons that follow 416 then explain that the bishop is named administrator of the diocese he has just left until he takes possesion of his new see. If there is no new bishop named by the time he leaves, a priest (or another bishop if there are other bishops in the diocese) administrator will be named to replace him in the interim within eight days by the college of consultors within the diocese (the presbyteral council). If they fail to elect someone administrator within eight days, then the metropolitan (archbishop of the area) will name one.
The administrator has limited duties and cannot take on financial responsibilities. Their role is to keep things going until the new bishop takes over. They also are forbidden to have any “innovations” during the vacancy of the bishop.
This process is an ordinary part of the life of the Church. Pray hard during it.
One of the interesting things is that immediately upon having a bishop notified of a new assignment to a new diocese, the office of vicar general (and other administrative offices) ceases.
The ultimate decision in appointing bishops rests with the pope, and he is free to select anyone he chooses. But how does he know whom to select?
The process for selecting candidates for the episcopacy normally begins at the diocesan level and works its way through a series of consultations until it reaches Rome. It is a process bound by strict confidentiality and involves a number of important players – the most influential being the apostolic nuncio, the Congregation for Bishops, and the pope. It can be a time consuming process, often taking eight months or more to complete. While there are distinctions between the first appointment of a priest as a bishop and a bishop's later transfer to another diocese or his promotion to archbishop, the basic outlines of the process remain the same.
The pope's representative to both the government and to the hierarchy of a given nation; a key person in deciding what names are recommended to the Congregation for Bishops for possible episcopal appointment.
A bishop appointed to assist a diocesan bishop. Whether in a diocese or archdiocese, his title is bishop.
A bishop appointed to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist the diocesan bishop. Unlike an auxiliary bishop, he has the right of succession, meaning that he automatically becomes the new bishop when the diocesan bishop retires or dies. By canon law, he is also vicar general of the diocese. If the diocese is an archdiocese, he is called coadjutor archbishop instead of coadjutor bishop. In recent years, a growing number of U.S. bishops in larger dioceses or archdioceses have requested and received a coadjutor in their final year or two before their retirement, in order to familiarize their successor with the workings of the (arch)diocese before he has to take over the reins. This minimizes the learning curve of a new bishop and eliminates completely the possibility of the diocese being vacant following the old bishop’s retirement.
Congregation for Bishops
A department of the Roman Curia, headed by a Cardinal. The head of the Congregation, called the "prefect," is presently Cardinal Marc Ouellet, a Canadian. Among the congregation's responsibilities are moderating all aspects of episcopal appointments; assisting bishops in the correct exercise of their pastoral functions; handling ad limina visits (regular visits to Rome by bishops every five years); and establishing episcopal conferences and reviewing their decrees as required by canon law. Its membership consists of approximately 35 cardinals and archbishops from around the world. Current U.S. members of the Congregation are Cardinal William J. Levada, Prefect Emeritus of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington.
Pastoral and legal head and representative of a diocese.
A territory comprising one archdiocese, called the metropolitan see, and one or more dioceses, called suffragan sees. The Code of Canon Law spells out certain limited obligations and authority that the metropolitan archbishop has with respect to the dioceses within his province. The United States is divided into 33 ecclesiastical provinces.
A list of three candidates for a vacant office, including the office of bishop.
Every bishop may submit to the archbishop of his province the names of priests he thinks would make good bishops. Prior to the regular province meeting (usually annually), the archbishop distributes to all the bishops of the province the names and curricula vitae of priests which have been submitted to him. Following a discussion among the bishops at the province meeting, a vote is taken on which names to recommend. The number of names on this provincial list may vary. The vote tally, together with the minutes of the meeting, is then forwarded by the archbishop to the apostolic nuncio in Washington. The list is also submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
By overseeing the final list of names forwarded to Rome, the apostolic nuncio plays a decisive role in the selection process. He not only gathers facts and information about potential candidates, but also interprets that information for the Congregation. Great weight is given to the nuncio's recommendations, but it is important to remember that his "gatekeeper" role, however, does not mean that his recommendations are always followed.
After receiving the list of candidates forwarded by a province, the apostolic nuncio conducts his own investigation into the suitability of the candidates.
A report is requested from the current bishop or the administrator of a diocese on the conditions and needs of the diocese. If the appointment is a replacement for a diocesan bishop or archbishop about to retire, consideration will be given to the incumbent's recommendations. Broad consultation within the diocese is encouraged with regard to the needs of the diocese, but not the names of candidates.
The report is to include the names of individuals in the diocese with whom the Nuncio might consult and how to contact them.
Previous bishops of the diocese are consulted.
Bishops of the province are consulted
The president and vice president of the USCCB are consulted.
If the vacancy to be filled is an archdiocese, other archbishops in the United States may be consulted.
At this point, the nuncio narrows his list and a questionnaire is sent to 20 or 30 people who know each of the candidates for their input.
All material is collected and reviewed by the nuncio, and a report (approximately 20 pages) is prepared. Three candidates are listed alphabetically – the terna – with the nuncio's preference noted. All materials are then forwarded to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.
A diocesan bishop must justify to the apostolic nuncio his need for an auxiliary bishop. This is easier if he is requesting a replacement for a retired or deceased auxiliary.
The diocesan bishop prepares the terna, or list of three candidates, for his requested auxiliary and forwards it to the apostolic nuncio.
The nuncio then conducts his own investigation of the priests on the diocesan bishop's terna, sending the names to Rome with a report and his own recommendations.
On average, this part of the process may take two to six months.
Once all the documentation from the nuncio is complete and in order, and the prefect approves, the process moves forward. If the appointment involves a bishop who is being promoted or transferred, the matter may be handled by the prefect and the staff. If, however, the appointment is of a priest to the episcopacy, the full congregation is ordinarily involved.
A cardinal relator is chosen to summarize the documentation and make a report to the full congregation, which generally meets twice a month on Thursdays. After hearing the cardinal relator's report, the congregation discusses the appointment and then votes. The Congregation may follow the recommendation of the nuncio, chose another of the candidates on the terna, or even ask that another terna be prepared.
At a private audience with the pope, usually on a Saturday, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops presents the recommendations of the Congregation to the Holy Father. A few days later, the pope informs the Congregation of his decision. The Congregation then notifies the nuncio, who in turn contacts the candidate and asks if he will accept. If the answer is "yes," the Vatican is notified and a date is set for the announcement.
It often takes six to eight months—and sometimes longer—from the time a diocese becomes vacant until a new bishop is appointed.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has transferred Bishop Edward Joseph Weisenburger from the Diocese of Salina to the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz. The Holy See made the announcement today in Rome. Weisenburger was notified last week by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pierre Christophe, that Pope Francis was entrusting to him the pastoral care of the good people of the Diocese of Tucson.
Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, sixth Bishop of Tucson, submitted his resignation in accord with Church law upon reaching his 75th birthday. He will serve as the administrator of the Diocese until Weisenburger’s installation. Weisenburger’s appointment comes more than a year after Kicanas offered his retirement. In light of Kicanas' good health and exceptional service, it is not surprising that the Holy See extended his tenure for an extra year. Weisenburger stated “I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of a shepherd who has served graciously and generously for many years. Bishop Kicanas has served in many national capacities for the Catholic Church and is highly esteemed. Knowing that he will continue to reside in our Diocese is a great comfort for me and a blessing for our people.”
Weisenburger served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City for almost 25 years. On Feb. 6, 2012, he was appointed Bishop of Salina by Pope Benedict XVI. His ordination, which marked the beginning of his ministry, was on May 1, 2012, at Salina’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. His installation as Bishop of Tucson will take place on Nov. 29, 2017.
While the Catholic people in the Diocese of Salina find it an honor that their beloved bishop has been selected to serve as the Bishop of Tucson, they are saddened to see him leave. Under his leadership, the people of Salina has witnessed many significant improvements. Weisenburger’s five and one-half year tenure in the Salina Diocese was marked by the opening of a new Diocesan Catholic Charities headquarters with considerably upgraded ministries and services. He also has led the efforts to shine a spotlight on the cruel abuse of the poor at the hands of the predatory (“payday”) loan industry. In addition to Catholic social ministries he also focused his energy on personal visits to the 86 parishes of the Salina Diocese, vocation recruitment, higher education for clergy, cooperation with Via Christi-Ascension in their acquisition of Manhattan’s hospital — now Catholic in identity. .He also restructured the Diocese’s chancery with an emphasis on professional lay ministers collaborating with clergy in all areas of administration, which included dedication in promoting women to greater responsibilities and service within the diocesan structure.
The Diocese of Salina serves approximately 44,000 Catholics. The Diocese of Tucson, which borders with Mexico, serves approximately 450,000 Catholics, many of whom are Spanish-speaking. While not fully fluent, Weisenburger does enjoy a working knowledge of Spanish and has always treasured his ministry with the Hispanic community. Weisenburger also has an intense concern and love for the wellbeing of migrants, refugees, and immigrant peoples. He is humbled by Pope Francis’ appointment and hopes to join with the bishops of Arizona and New Mexico in being an articulate and indispensable voice of compassion for all immigrants
Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Stephen Davis, retired professor of the philosophy of religion at Claremont University. In preparation for the meeting, I read Dr. Davis’s book called Christian Philosophical Theology, which includes a chapter contrasting two basic approaches to religion throughout the world. The first—which can be found in much of the East—is a religion of karma, and the second—prominent in the Abrahamic religions of the West—is a religion of grace.
The first approach has a lot to recommend it—which explains its great endurance across the centuries. A karmic approach says that, by a cosmic spiritual law, we are punished or rewarded according to our moral activities. If we do bad things, we will suffer, either in this life or a life to come. And if we do good things, we will be rewarded, again either here or in the hereafter. Karma might not be immediate, as is the law of gravity (remember John Lennon’s playful song “Instant Karma”), but in the long run, people are rewarded or punished according to merit. And this satisfies our sense of fairness and justice.
Now a religion of grace is different. It teaches that all people are sinners and hence deserving of punishment, but that God, out of sheer generosity, gives them what they don’t deserve. Think of one of the most popular lines in Christian poetry: “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” In terms of a karmic religion, wretches deserve a wretched fate, and it would be unfair for wicked people to be given a great gift. But devotees of a religion of grace exult in this generosity. Think in this context of the parable of the workers hired at different times of the day or the story of the Prodigal Son. Those make sense only in a religion-of-grace context.
Now lest Christians become self-righteous about espousing a generous religion of grace, we must keep in mind that there is a serious objection indeed to such a construal of religion. If grace is a gift, and if there is no real warrant for the gift, then how come only some get it and others don’t? How could it possibly be fair that some people receive the gift of eternal life—through no merit of their own—and others don’t? This complaint becomes even more acute when we realize that the Bible—from beginning to end—presents a God who chooses. God selects Abel and not Cain, Abraham and not Lot, Jacob and not Esau, David and not Saul. In fact, one of the most basic truths of the Biblical revelation is that Israel itself is a chosen people, a holy nation, a people set apart. And God insists—just to make the point clearly—that Israel was not chosen because it was the greatest, most just, most accomplished of all the peoples of the world, just the contrary. So again, is any of this fair? In response to this charge, Christian thinkers have tended to say that no one deserves anything and therefore we should never complain about inequities in the distribution of free gifts. Still. Still.
In order to resolve this dilemma, it might be useful to look at a couple of Biblical texts, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. No one could ever accuse the prophet Isaiah of underplaying Israel’s importance or the fact that Israel is the specially chosen people of God. But listen to these words from the 56th chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah:
“The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants—all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”
Israel was indeed chosen, singled out, uniquely graced—but precisely for the world and not for itself. What is grace? Gift! But when you cling to a gift, hoarding it for yourself, you undermine its nature as gift. The whole point of receiving the divine life is to give it away in turn. If you hoard it and make it your private prerogative, you undermine it; it turns to ashes. But when you give it away, it is renewed within you.
We see much the same thing in controversial and puzzling story of Jesus’ conversation with the Canaanite woman recounted in the Gospel of Matthew. The foreign woman comes to Jesus seeking a favor, but he protests that he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He seems to be operating out of an exclusivist understanding of Israel’s privileges. When she presses the matter, the Lord comes back harshly enough: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” At which point, the petitioner utters one of the great comebacks recorded in the Bible: “Please, Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Delighted not only by her cleverness and pluck but by the depth of her faith, Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done to you as you wish.” Yes, the table of grace was set for the children of Israel, but the food from that table was not meant for Israelites alone, but for all those who would come to that table, by hook or by crook. Israel was chosen, yes, but for the sake of the world.
In regard to Dr. Davis’s categories, I will speak my mind clearly. Thank God we are not living in the dispensation of karma, for who of us would be able to stand in the fierce winds of pure justice? But we devotees of a religion of grace have to know that the gift is not for us alone; rather the generosity of God is meant to awaken a like generosity in us. If amazing grace has saved a wretch like me, I have got to become a vehicle of grace to every lost soul around me.
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.
By Sonja Corbitt
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to present to you the figure of a holy Doctor of the Church to whom we are deeply indebted because he was an outstanding moral theologian and a teacher of spiritual life for all, especially simple people. He is the author of the words and music of one of the most popular Christmas carols in Italy and not only Italy: Tu scendi dalle stelle [You come down from the stars].
Belonging to a rich noble family of Naples, Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori [known in English as Alphonsus Liguori] was born in 1696. Endowed with outstanding intellectual qualities, when he was only 16 years old he obtained a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer in the tribunal of Naples: for eight years he won all the cases he defended. However, in his soul thirsting for God and desirous of perfection, the Lord led Alphonsus to understand that he was calling him to a different vocation. In fact, in 1723, indignant at the corruption and injustice that was ruining the legal milieu, he abandoned his profession — and with it riches and success — and decided to become a priest despite the opposition of his father.
He had excellent teachers who introduced him to the study of Sacred Scripture, of the Church history and of mysticism. He acquired a vast theological culture which he put to good use when, after a few years, he embarked on his work as a writer.
He was ordained a priest in 1726 and, for the exercise of his ministry entered the diocesan Congregation of Apostolic Missions. Alphonsus began an activity of evangelization and catechesis among the humblest classes of Neapolitan society, to whom he liked preaching, and whom he instructed in the basic truths of the faith. Many of these people, poor and modest, to whom he addressed himself, were very often prone to vice and involved in crime. He patiently taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of life.
Alphonsus obtained excellent results: in the most wretched districts of the city there were an increasing number of groups that would meet in the evenings in private houses and workshops to pray and meditate on the word of God, under the guidance of several catechists trained by Alphonsus and by other priests, who regularly visited these groups of the faithful. When at the wish of the Archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they came to be known as “evening chapels”. They were a true and proper source of moral education, of social improvement and of reciprocal help among the poor: thefts, duels, prostitution ended by almost disappearing.
Even though the social and religious context of the time of St Alphonsus was very different from our own, the “evening chapels” appear as a model of missionary action from which we may draw inspiration today too, for a “new evangelization”, particularly of the poorest people, and for building a more just, fraternal and supportive coexistence. Priests were entrusted with a task of spiritual ministry, while well-trained lay people could be effective Christian animators, an authentic Gospel leaven in the midst of society.
After having considered leaving to evangelize the pagan peoples, when Alphonsus was 35 years old, he came into contact with the peasants and shepherds of the hinterland of the Kingdom of Naples. Struck by their ignorance of religion and the state of neglect in which they were living, he decided to leave the capital and to dedicate himself to these people, poor both spiritually and materially. In 1732 he founded the religious Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, which he put under the protection of Bishop Tommaso Falcoia, and of which he subsequently became the superior.
These religious, guided by Alphonsus, were authentic itinerant missionaries, who also reached the most remote villages, exhorting people to convert and to persevere in the Christian life, especially through prayer. Still today the Redemptorists, scattered in so many of the world’s countries, with new forms of apostolate continue this mission of evangelization. I think of them with gratitude, urging them to be ever faithful to the example of their holy Founder.
Esteemed for his goodness and for his pastoral zeal, in 1762 Alphonsus was appointed Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti, a ministry which he left, following the illness which debilitated him, in 1775, through a concession of Pope Pius VI. On learning of his death in 1787, which occurred after great suffering, the Pontiff exclaimed: “he was a saint!”. And he was not mistaken: Alphonsus was canonized in 1839 and in 1871 he was declared a Doctor of the Church. This title suited him for many reason. First of all, because he offered a rich teaching of moral theology, which expressed adequately the Catholic doctrine, to the point that Pope Pius XIIproclaimed him “Patron of all confessors and moral theologians”.
In his day, there was a very strict and widespread interpretation of moral life because of the Jansenist mentality which, instead of fostering trust and hope in God’s mercy, fomented fear and presented a grim and severe face of God, very remote from the face revealed to us by Jesus. Especially in his main work entitled Moral Theology, St Alphonsus proposed a balanced and convincing synthesis of the requirements of God’s law, engraved on our hearts, fully revealed by Christ and interpreted authoritatively by the Church, and of the dynamics of the conscience and of human freedom, which precisely in adherence to truth and goodness permit the person’s development and fulfilment.
Alphonsus recommended to pastors of souls and confessors that they be faithful to the Catholic moral doctrine, assuming at the same time a charitable, understanding and gentle attitude so that penitents might feel accompanied, supported and encouraged on their journey of faith and of Christian life.
St Alphonsus never tired of repeating that priests are a visible sign of the infinite mercy of God who forgives and enlightens the mind and heart of the sinner so that he may convert and change his life. In our epoch, in which there are clear signs of the loss of the moral conscience and — it must be recognized — of a certain lack of esteem for the sacrament of Confession, St Alphonsus’ teaching is still very timely.
Together with theological works, St Alphonsus wrote many other works, destined for the religious formation of the people. His style is simple and pleasing. Read and translated into many languages, the works of St Alphonsus have contributed to molding the popular spirituality of the last two centuries. Some of the texts can be read with profit today too, such as The Eternal Maxims, the Glories of Mary, The Practice of Loving Jesus Christ, which latter work is the synthesis of his thought and his masterpiece.
He stressed the need for prayer, which enables one to open oneself to divine Grace in order to do God’s will every day and to obtain one’s own sanctification. With regard to prayer he writes: “God does not deny anyone the grace of prayer, with which one obtains help to overcome every form of concupiscence and every temptation. And I say, and I will always repeat as long as I live, that the whole of our salvation lies in prayer”. Hence his famous axiom: “He who prays is saved” (Del gran mezzo della preghiera e opuscoli affini. Opere ascetiche II, Rome 1962, p. 171).
In this regard, an exhortation of my Predecessor, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II comes to mind. “our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools’ of prayer…. It is therefore essential that education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning” (Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, nn. 33, 34).
Among the forms of prayer fervently recommended by St Alphonsus, stands out the visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or as we would call it today, “adoration”, brief or extended, personal or as a community, before the Eucharist. “Certainly”, St Alphonsus writes, “amongst all devotions, after that of receiving the sacraments, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament takes the first place, is the most pleasing to God, and the most useful to ourselves…. Oh, what a beautiful delight to be before an altar with faith… to represent our wants to him, as a friend does to a friend in whom he places all his trust” (Visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary for Each Day of the Month. Introduction).
Alphonsian spirituality is in fact eminently Christological, centred on Christ and on his Gospel. Meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation and on the Lord’s Passion were often the subject of St Alphonsus’ preaching. In these events, in fact, Redemption is offered to all human beings “in abundance”. And precisely because it is Christological, Alphonsian piety is also exquisitely Marian. Deeply devoted to Mary he illustrates her role in the history of salvation: an associate in the Redemption and Mediatrix of grace, Mother, Advocate and Queen.
In addition, St Alphonsus states that devotion to Mary will be of great comfort to us at the moment of our death. He was convinced that meditation on our eternal destiny, on our call to participate for ever in the beatitude of God, as well as on the tragic possibility of damnation, contributes to living with serenity and dedication and to facing the reality of death, ever preserving full trust in God’s goodness.
St Alphonsus Maria Liguori is an example of a zealous Pastor who conquered souls by preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments combined with behaviour impressed with gentle and merciful goodness that was born from his intense relationship with God, who is infinite Goodness. He had a realistically optimistic vision of the resources of good that the Lord gives to every person and gave importance to the affections and sentiments of the heart, as well as to the mind, to be able to love God and neighbour.
To conclude, I would like to recall that our Saint, like St Francis de Sales — of whom I spoke a few weeks ago — insists that holiness is accessible to every Christian: “the religious as a religious; the secular as a secular; the priest as a priest; the married as married; the man of business as a man of business; the soldier as a soldier; and so of every other state of life” (Practica di amare Gesù Cristo. Opere ascetiche [The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ] Ascetic Works 1, Rome 1933, p. 79).
Let us thank the Lord who, with his Providence inspired saints and doctors in different times and places, who speak the same language to invite us to grow in faith and to live with love and with joy our being Christians in the simple everyday actions, to walk on the path of holiness, on the path towards God and towards true joy. Thank you.
- Benedict XVI
June 1 we commemorate the feast of St. Justin Martyr. He is important to our faith as we was a pagan philosopher converted to Christianity who preached the faith to many people after his conversion. He was martyred between the years of 162 and 168 A.D. during the time of the prefect name Rusticus. Justin Martyr offered a testimony to Rusticus about the faith when he was brought to trial for being a Christian.
What is amazing about the writings of St. Justin is that they capture the Mass as it was in the early days of the Church. The following snippet from his writings give a glimpse of the Mass and we can immediately recognize what we do today. Enjoy this piece from St. Justin called the First apology #65.
But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren4 bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.
And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.6 For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.
Thomas Aquinas on Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
I am the Good Shepherd. Surely it is fitting that Christ should be a shepherd, for just as a flock is guided and fed by a shepherd so the faithful are fed by Christ with spiritual food and with his own body and blood. The Apostle said: You were once like sheep without a shepherd, but now you have returned to the guardian and ruler of your souls. The prophet has said: As a shepherd he pastures his flock.
Christ said that the shepherd enters through the gate and that he is himself the gate as well as the shepherd. Then it is necessary that he enter through himself. By so doing, he reveals himself, and through himself he knows the Father. But we enter through him because through him we find happiness.
Take heed: no one else is the gate but Christ. Others reflect his light, but no one else is the true light. John the Baptist was not the light, but he bore witness to the light. It is said of Christ, however: He was the true light that enlightens every man. For this reason no one says that he is the gate; this title is Christ’s own. However, he has made others shepherds and given that office to his members; for Peter was a shepherd, and so were the other apostles and all good bishops after them. Scripture says: I shall give you shepherds according to my own heart. Although the bishops of the Church, who are her sons, are all shepherds, nevertheless Christ refers only to one person in saying: I am the Good Shepherd, because he wants to emphasize the virtue of charity. Thus, no one can be a good shepherd unless he is one with Christ in charity. Through this we become members of the true shepherd.
The duty of a good shepherd is charity; therefore Christ said: The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep. Know the difference between a good and a bad shepherd: the good shepherd cares for the welfare of his flock, but the bad shepherd cares only for his own welfare.
The Good Shepherd does not demand that shepherds lay down their lives for a real flock of sheep. But every spiritual shepherd must endure the loss of his bodily life for the salvation of the flock, since the spiritual good of the flock is more important than the bodily life of the shepherd, when danger threatens the salvation of the flock. This is why the Lord says: The good shepherd lays down his life, that is, his physical life, for his sheep; this he does because of his authority and love. Both, in fact, are required: that they should be ruled by him, and that he should love them. The first without the second is not enough.
Christ stands out for us as the example of this teaching: If Christ laid down his life for us, so we also ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
This excerpt from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Exposition on John’s Gospel (Cap 10, lect. 3) is used in the Roman Catholic Divine Office of Readings, Monday of the 21st week in Ordinary Time.
We recently celebrated Good Friday and Easter, the annual celebrations of Jesus' death and resurrection.
We all know that this happened in Jerusalem in the first century.
That separates Jesus from mythical pagan deities, who were supposed to live in places or times that none could specify.
Just how specific can we be with the death of Jesus?
Can we determine the exact day?
"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit." (Matthew 27:46-50)
The Good Friday Services celebrated in Catholic Churches typically take place at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on Good Friday. This is the traditional time that Jesus died on the cross. The Good Friday Service is comprised of three parts;
There are not any sacraments celebrated on Good Friday nor Holy Saturday. This is a day of mourning. We should try to take time off from work and school to participate in the devotions and liturgy of the day as much as possible. In addition, we should refrain from extraneous conversation. Some families leave the curtains drawn, and maintain silence during the 3 hours (noon — 3p.m.), and keep from loud conversation or activities throughout the remainder of the day. We should also restrict ourselves from any TV, music or computer—these are all types of technology that can distract us from the spirit of the day.
If some members of the family cannot attend all the services, a little home altar can be set up, by draping a black or purple cloth over a small table or dresser and placing a crucifix and candles on it. The family then can gather during the three hours, praying different devotions like the rosary, Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy devotions, and meditative reading and prayers on the passion of Christ.
Although throughout Lent we have tried to mortify ourselves, it is appropriate to try some practicing extra mortifications today. These can be very simple, such as eating less at the small meals of fasting, or eating standing up. Some people just eat bread and soup, or just bread and water while standing at the table.
For a more complete understanding of what Our Lord suffered read this article On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ (JAMA article) taken from The Journal of the American Medical Association.
True reverence for the Lord’s passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in him our own humanity.
The earth—our earthly nature—should tremble at the suffering of its Redeemer. The rocks—the hearts of unbelievers—should burst asunder. The dead, imprisoned in the tombs of their mortality, should come forth, the massive stones now ripped apart. Foreshadowings of the future resurrection should appear in the holy city, the Church of God: what is to happen to our bodies should now take place in our hearts.
No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ. His prayer brought benefit to the multitude that raged against him. How much more does it bring to those who turn to him in repentance.
Ignorance has been destroyed, obstinacy has been overcome. The sacred blood of Christ has quenched the flaming sword that barred access to the tree of life. The age-old night of sin has given place to the true light.
The Christian people are invited to share the riches of paradise. All who have been reborn have the way open before them to return to their native land, from which they had been exiled. Unless indeed they close off for themselves the path that could be opened before the faith of a thief.
The business of this life should not preoccupy us with its anxiety and pride, so that we no longer strive with all the love of our heart to be like our Redeemer, and to follow his example. Everything that he did or suffered was for our salvation: he wanted his body to share the goodness of its head.
First of all, in taking our human nature while remaining God, so that the Word became man, he left no member of the human race, the unbeliever excepted, without a share in his mercy. Who does not share a common nature with Christ if he has welcomed Christ, who took our nature, and is reborn in the Spirit through whom Christ was conceived?
Again, who cannot recognize in Christ his own infirmities? Who would not recognize that Christ’s eating and sleeping, his sadness and his shedding of tears of love are marks of the nature of a slave?
It was this nature of a slave that had to be healed of its ancient wounds and cleansed of the defilement of sin. For that reason the only-begotten Son of God became also the son of man. He was to have both the reality of a human nature and the fullness of the godhead.
The body that lay lifeless in the tomb is ours. The body that rose again on the third day is ours. The body that ascended above all the heights of heaven to the right hand of the Father’s glory is ours. If then we walk in the way of his commandments, and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation in a lowly body, we too are to rise to share his glory. The promise he made will be fulfilled in the sight of all: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I too will acknowledge him before my Father who is in heaven.
St. Leo the Great
As we approach our annual Lenten fast, please keep the following in mind:
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has determined that the following practices shall prevail in the United States: Fast and abstinence are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by all those who have celebrated their 18th birthday until the until their 60th birthday. Abstinence from meat is to be observed on the Fridays of Lent by all who have celebrated their 14th birthday.
The church recognizes that there are chronically or seriously ill individuals who cannot fast or abstain. The church still calls for these individuals to participate in acts of penance and works of charity. These can be performed throughout the week; however, it is especially appropriate that these acts be performed on Fridays in place of the Friday fast.
No one can be dispensed from the necessity of doing penance. Catholics are strongly urged to practice voluntary acts of mortification and works of charity. The bishops of the United States have urged Catholics to consider abstaining from meat on Fridays “as a tangible sign of our need and desire to do penance for the cause of peace.”
The Bible and the Sacraments is unlike any other study on the sacraments. Certainly it looks at the basic teaching of the Church as to their meaning and origin. But it goes further. It investigates the deeper mystery of the sacraments as illuminated by Sacred Scripture.
Examining the rich relationship between the Old and New Testaments, it reveals the sacraments as more than mere earthly rituals. They are incredible “‘powers that come forth’ from the Body of Christ” (CCC 1116).
The goal of The Bible and the Sacraments is to understand where the sacraments come from, what they mean, and why they are so important and foundational to our Catholic faith.
Location: St. Thomas Aquinas Rectory, Stockton
Time: Sundays 7:00 pm
Dates: March 5
Cost: $20 for the workbook
We hear in the Gospel on the Second Sunday of Ordinary time in Cycle B of St. John the Baptist speaking about the mission of Jesus. The mission of Jesus is then to send us out to complete his work. We receive the Holy Spirit in our Baptism and Confirmation so that we may go on mission in the world. It doesn't take much but there are 3 habits that help us in this work. Curtis Martin, the founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, demonstrates the simplicity of our task. We are called to:
1. Living Habitually in Divine Intimacy
2. Living Authentic Friendship
3. Living the Evangelical Imperative.
Listen to Curtis Martin show us how quickly we can change the world in these three simple steps.
Saint Joseph can help us to live a most fruitful Advent, and for many reasons. Let us quietly meditate upon five extraordinary virtues of this greatest of all saints so that we can live a most fervent Advent season and allow Jesus to be born in the depths of our hearts this Christmas! Read More about it