‘All love, whether of child, parent, partner, friend, even of place, possession, or animal, holds the potential for suffering, because of death. We cannot possess or hold fast anything or anyone: it is all gift. Life contains inevitable partings and inescapable pain. The loveless are protected against this suffering: the zombie feels nothing. We are alive in proportion to our response to love, and our pain at parting is in proportion to the extent of that love... The deeper the love, the deeper its pain’.
Sister Wendy Beckett, 1930-2018
Præsta, quæesumus, omnipotens Deus: ut, qui beati Valentini Martyris tui natalitia colimus, a cunctis malis imminentibus, eius intercessione, liberemur. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum. Amen.
‘The life of the Venetian layman, Jerome Emiliani, was as it were “refounded” on the night of 27 September 1511, when, after making a sincere vow to Our Lady of Treviso to change his behaviour, through the intercession of the Mother of God he found himself freed from the chains of prison, which he himself later presented at the altar of the Virgin.
“Dirupisti vincula mea” (Ps 116:16). The verse of the Psalm expresses the genuine interior revolution that took place after that liberation, bound up with the tormented political events of that age. In fact, it represented an integral renewal of Jerome’s character: by divine intervention he was freed from the bonds of selfishness, pride, search for personal affirmation, so much so that his life, which had previously been dedicated primarily to temporal things, became oriented entirely to God, whom he loved and served particularly in the orphaned, the sick or abandoned young people.
Guided by events in his family, which caused him to become the guardian of all his orphaned nephews, St Jerome matured in his realisation that young people, especially those in difficult straits, could not remain alone, but needed one essential requirement for healthy growth, namely love. In him love was more important than ingenuity and because his was a love that flowed from the charity of God himself, it was filled with patience and understanding: attentive, tender and ready to sacrifice, like the love of a mother.
The Church of the 16th century, divided by the Protestant schism, and searching for a serious reform within itself, enjoyed a flowering of holiness that was the first and most original response to the demands for renewal. The witness of the saints says that it is necessary to trust in God alone: indeed, both personal and institutional trials serve to help faith grow. God has his plans, even if we do not manage to understand its provisions.
…The shining example of St Jerome Emiliani, whom Blessed John Paul II defined as a “lay animator of the laity”, helps us to take to heart every form of poverty in our young people, whether moral, physical or existential, and especially the poverty of love, the root of every serious human problem’.
from a message of Pope Benedict XVI, to the Order of Clerics Regular of Somasca, 20 July 2011
on the 500th anniversary of the prodigious liberation of their founder St Jerome Emiliani
O God, the Father of mercies, who didst raise up Saint Jerome Emiliani to be a defender and father of the fatherless: vouchsafe, through his merits and intercession; that we may faithfully guard thy spirit of adoption, whereby we are called and are indeed thy children; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Today we are celebrating the memorial of St Agatha, martyred in Catania probably during the persecution of Decius in the third century. Agatha’s name corresponds to reality: St Agatha “is truly a good woman”, we read in the Liturgy of the Hours this morning, “coming forth from God in whose goodness she shares. She is good to her Spouse, Christ, and good also to us through sharing with us her goodness. ‘Good’ is the force and meaning of her name”.
God, our supreme good, is the source of all good things. I hope that you will all be “good”, that is, faithful witnesses to the love of our heavenly Father who fills us with so many gifts and calls us to share in his own joy.
Whoever has this faith, even in the midst of difficulties, preserves that deep peace born of a trusting abandonment to the ever provident and wise hands of God, who never disturbs the joy of his children except to prepare for them a deeper and greater joy’.
from a general audience, 5 February 1997, by Pope St John Paul II, 1920-2005
O God, who among the manifold works of thine almighty power hast bestowed even upon the gentleness of women strength to win the victory of martyrdom: grant, we beseech thee; that we, who on this day recall the heavenly birth of Saint Agatha, thy Virgin and Martyr, may so follow in her footsteps, that we may likewise attain unto thee; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Following a visit to Walsingham in October 2017 my wife and I decided, on the way back to Lancashire, to make our return via the small hamlet of Sempringham in Lincolnshire, famous as the home of Saint Gilbert, who was the only English saint to have founded a religious order in the Middle Ages: the Gilbertine Order of Canons Regular. Gilbert became the parish priest of St Andrew’s, Sempringham in 1131 and thereafter formed a community of lay sisters, followed by lay brothers, who first maintained the Rule of St Benedict. They later came under the care of Augustinian canons, with Gilbert serving as master general of the community. The community flourished and by the time of the Dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1541) there were 26 Gilbertine houses across England.
‘[Gilbert] gave a rule to seven holy virgins who lived in strict enclosure in a house adjoining to the wall of his parish church of St Andrew at Sempringham, and another afterwards to a community of men who desired to live under his direction. The latter was drawn from the rule of the canon regulars; that given to his nuns, from St Bennet’s: but to both he added many particular constitutions. Such was the origin of the Order of the Gilbertines, the approbation of which he procured from Pope Eugenius III. At length he entered the Order himself, but resigned the government of it some time before his death when he lost his sight. His diet was chiefly roots and pulse, and so sparing that others wondered how he could subsist. He had always at table a dish which he called “the plate of the Lord Jesus”, in which he put all that was best of what was served up; and this was for the poor. He always wore a hair shirt, took his short rest sitting, and spent great part of the night in prayer. In this, his favourite exercise, his soul found those wings on which she continually soared to God. During the exile of St Thomas of Canterbury he and the other superiors of his Order were accused of having sent him succours abroad. The charge was false; yet the saint chose rather to suffer imprisonment and the danger of the suppression of his Order than to deny it, lest he should seem to condemn what would have been good and just. He departed to our Lord on the 3rd of February 1190, being one hundred and six years old. Miracles wrought at his tomb were examined and approved by Hubert, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the commissioners of Pope Innocent III in 1201, and he was canonised by that pope the year following’.
from The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints by Fr Alban Butler, 1710-1773
Almighty God, our heavenly Father: we remember before thee all thy servants who have served thee faithfully in their generation, and have entered into rest, especially Gilbert, beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow in their steps; that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The Calendar of this portion of the year abounds with Martyrs; and, at the very onset, we meet with one of the most celebrated of these glorious champions of Christ. The scene of his pastoral virtues and his martyrdom, was Sebaste, a city of Armenia, the same that will give us forty martyred soldiers on a single day. The devotion to St Blase is, even to this day, most fervently kept up in the East, especially in Armenia. The Western Churches soon began to love and honour his memory, and so universally, that we might call him one of the most popular of our Saints. His Feast, however, with us, is only a simple, and the Church of Rome has given a mere Lesson on his Life.
Blase, whose signal virtues made him dear to the people of Sebaste in Armenia, was chosen Bishop of that City. When the Emperor Dioclesian waged his cruel persecution against the Christians, the Saint hid himself in a cave on mount Argeus, and there he remained sometime concealed, but was at length discovered by some soldiers of the governor Agricolaus, whilst they were hunting. They led him to the governor, who gave orders that he should be put into prison. During his imprisonment, many sick people, attracted by the reputation of his sanctity, came to him, and he healed them. Among these was a boy, whose life was despaired of by the physicians, on account of his having swallowed a bone, which could not be extracted from his throat. The Saint was twice brought before the governor, but neither fair promises nor threats could induce him to offer sacrifice to the gods. Whereupon, he was first beaten with rods, and then his flesh was torn with iron hooks whilst he lay stretched on the rack. At length, he was beheaded, and nobly gave testimony to the faith of Christ our Lord, on the third of the Nones of February’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
O God, who makest us glad with the yearly festival of blessed Blaise, thy Martyr and Bishop: mercifully grant that, as we now observe his heavenly birthday; so we may likewise rejoice in his protection; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
There came to me assistance,
Mary fair and Bride;
As Anna bore Mary,
As Mary bore Christ,
As Eile bore John the Baptist
Without flaw in him,
Aid thou me in mine unbearing,
Aid me, O Bride!
As Christ was conceived of Mary
Full perfect on every hand,
Assist thou me, foster-mother,
The conception to bring from the bone;
And as thou didst aid the Virgin of joy,
Without gold, without corn, without kine,
Aid thou me, great is my sickness,
Aid me, O Bride.
from the Carmina Gadelica, 1900
translated from the Gaelic by Alexander Carmichael, 1832-1912
O God, who to the blessed Abbess Brigid gavest grace to imitate Christ in his poverty, and with humble heart to follow him in the end: grant that all who enter the path of Gospel perfection may neither look back nor go astray from the way; but hastening to thee without stumbling, may attain the crown of eternal life whereunto thou dost call them; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
On this memorial of St John Bosco, his words of wisdom, as communicated to his Salesian brethren, on the challenge of being an educator.
‘Perhaps you think that what I am suggesting is too easy or not practical enough. Yet I assure you that if you abide by what I say, you will be successful. You will see that by these means you will win over those who in the be-ginning had not given the least cause for any hope.
If too often we see our efforts cast to the winds, devoid of any good results, if the fruit of our labours is nothing but a bunch of thorns and thistles, I believe we are to attribute this sad failure to the fact that we have not yet learned the way of keeping discipline in the manner I have explained above.
Only moral strength can win the human heart, which Saint Gregory tells us is like an impregnable fortress that cannot be conquered except by affection and kindness.
What I recommend is hard, I know, especially for young adults whose first inclination towards obtaining discipline is to act on the spur of the moment and inflict punishments. But I assure you; real success can only be the result of patience. Impatience merely disgusts the children and spreads discontent among the best of them.
Long experience has taught me that patience is the only remedy for even the worst cases of disobedience and irresponsiveness. Sometimes, after making many patient efforts without obtaining success, I deemed it necessary to resort to severe measures. Yet these never achieved anything, and in the end I always found that charity finally triumphed where severity had met with failure. Charity is the cure-all though it may be slow in affecting its cure.
Remember that education is a difficult art and that God alone is its true master. We will never succeed in it unless he teaches us the way. While depending humbly and entirely on him, we should try with might and main to acquire that moral strength which is a stranger to force and rigour. Let us strive to make ourselves loved, to instil into our children the high ideal of duty and the holy fear of God, and we will soon possess their hearts. Then, with natural ease, they will join us in praising Jesus Christ our Lord, who is our model, our patron, our exemplar in all things, but especially in the education of the young’.
St John Bosco, 1815-1888
O God, who didst raise up Saint John Bosco thy Confessor to be a father and teacher of the young, and through him, with the aid of the Virgin Mary, didst will that new families should flourish in thy Church: grant, we beseech thee; that being kindled by the same fire of charity, we may have the strength to seek for souls, and to serve thee alone; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘In addition to study and teaching, Thomas also dedicated himself to preaching to the people. And the people too came willingly to hear him. I would say that it is truly a great grace when theologians are able to speak to the faithful with simplicity and fervour. The ministry of preaching, moreover, helps theology scholars themselves to have a healthy pastoral realism and enriches their research with lively incentives.
The last months of Thomas’ earthly life remain surrounded by a particular, I would say, mysterious atmosphere. In December 1273, he summoned his friend and secretary Reginald to inform him of his decision to discontinue all work because he had realised, during the celebration of Mass subsequent to a supernatural revelation, that everything he had written until then “was worthless”. This is a mysterious episode that helps us to understand not only Thomas’ personal humility, but also the fact that, however lofty and pure it may be, all we manage to think and say about the faith is infinitely exceeded by God’s greatness and beauty which will be fully revealed to us in Heaven. A few months later, more and more absorbed in thoughtful meditation, Thomas died while on his way to Lyons to take part in the Ecumenical Council convoked by Pope Gregory X. He died in the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, after receiving the Viaticum with deeply devout sentiments.
The life and teaching of St Thomas Aquinas could be summed up in an episode passed down by his ancient biographers. While, as was his wont, the Saint was praying before the Crucifix in the early morning in the chapel of St Nicholas in Naples, Domenico da Caserta, the church sacristan, overheard a conversation. Thomas was anxiously asking whether what he had written on the mysteries of the Christian faith was correct. And the Crucified One answered him: “You have spoken well of me, Thomas. What is your reward to be?” And the answer Thomas gave him was what we too, friends and disciples of Jesus, always want to tell him: “Nothing but Yourself, Lord!”’.
from a general audience, 2 June 2010, by Pope Benedict XVI
Everlasting God, who didst enrich thy Church with the learning and holiness of thy servant Saint Thomas Aquinas: grant to all who seek thee a humble mind and a pure heart; that they may know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth and the life; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘[I]f we consider together the two figures of Timothy and Titus, we are aware of certain very significant facts. The most important one is that in carrying out his missions, Paul availed himself of collaborators. He certainly remains the Apostle par excellence, founder and pastor of many Churches.
Yet it clearly appears that he did not do everything on his own but relied on trustworthy people who shared in his endeavours and responsibilities.
Another observation concerns the willingness of these collaborators. The sources concerning Timothy and Titus highlight their readiness to take on various offices that also often consisted in representing Paul in circumstances far from easy. In a word, they teach us to serve the Gospel with generosity, realising that this also entails a service to the Church herself.
…[L]et us follow the recommendation that the Apostle Paul makes to Titus in the Letter addressed to him: “I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men” (Titus 3:8).
Through our commitment in practise we can and must discover the truth of these words… we too can be rich in good deeds and thus open the doors of the world to Christ, our Saviour’.
from a general audience, 13 December 2006, given by Pope Benedict XVI
Heavenly Father, who didst send thine Apostle Paul to preach the Gospel, and gavest him Timothy and Titus to be his companions in the Faith: grant that, through their prayers, our fellowship in the Holy Spirit may bear witness to the Name of Jesus; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal
Most gracious God, who didst call thy servant Anthony to sell all that he had and to serve thee in the solitude of the desert: grant that we, through his intercession and following his example, may learn to deny ourselves and to love thee before all things; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal
Happy memories today, on this memorial of Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, of the joy of Christian friendship spent in his former Cistercian abbey church, which was a memorable stop during a parish pilgrimage from Calgary to England in October 2013. Though we wandered and prayed amongst scenes of devastation and decay in what was once a great powerhouse of prayer, work, and charity, our stay with nearby Benedictine monks at Ampleforth Abbey enabled our pilgrim band to enter into these precincts with a keen sense of the busy and prayerful atmosphere that once permeated its hallowed walls. It is perhaps a testimony to Aelred and his brethren that that ambience hasn’t quite vanished here. Despite the ruined stones, Rievaulx’s exquisitely tranquil setting - which now provides its bare interior with a previously unseen take on the outside world - enables what remains to still feel very much like sacred ground.
‘You and I are here, and I hope that Christ is between us as a third. Now no one else is present to disturb the peace or to interrupt our friendly conversation. No voice, no noise invades our pleasant retreat. Yes, most beloved, open your heart now and pour whatever you please into the ears of a friend. Gratefully let us welcome the place, the time, and the leisure.
I am delighted to see that you are not prone to empty and idle talk, that you always introduce something useful and necessary for your progress. Speak then without anxiety. Share with a friend all your thoughts and cares, that you may have something either to learn or to teach, to give and to receive, to pour out and to drink in’.
St Aelred of Rievaulx, 1109-1167
Almighty God, who didst endow the blessed Abbot Aelred with the gift of Christian friendship and the wisdom to lead others into the way of holiness: grant to thy people that same spirit of mutual affection; that in loving one another we may know the love of Christ and rejoice in the eternal possession of thine unsurpassable goodness; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal
‘Raymond was a noted canonist; he rendered great service to the Church through his redaction and codification of Pope Gregory the IX’s Decretals, a collection of juridical documents. At the age of forty-five, he entered the Dominican Order. He assisted in founding the Order of Our Lady of Mercy for the ransom of captives, by drawing up a rule. He also had the gift of miracles, the most remarkable of which occurred on a return from the Balearic Isles to Barcelona. On that occasion he stretched his cloak on the sea and sailed the distance of 160 miles in six hours; arriving at his monastery, he entered through closed doors. He died in 1275, almost one hundred years old. Raymond was an excellent confessor, for which reason he is honoured as the patron saint of those who hear confessions’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
O God, who didst appoint blessed Raymond excellently to minister the Sacrament of Penance, and didst wondrously make for him a passage upon the waves of the sea: grant, we pray thee; that, at his intercession, we may bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, and be found meet to attain to the harbour of everlasting salvation; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal
‘Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton is a Saint! She is the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute! But what do we mean when we say: “She is a Saint?’ We all have some idea of the meaning of this highest title; but it is still difficult for us to make an exact analysis of it. Being a Saint means being perfect, with a perfection that attains the highest level that a human being can reach. A Saint is a human creature fully conformed to the will of God. A Saint is a person in whom all sin - the principle of death - is cancelled out and replaced by the living splendour of divine grace. The analysis of the concept of sanctity brings us to recognise in a soul the mingling of two elements that are entirely different but which come together to produce a single effect: sanctity. One of these elements is the human and moral element, raised to the degree of heroism: heroic virtues are always required by the Church for the recognition of a person’s sanctity. The second element is the mystical element, which express the measure and form of divine action in the person chosen by God to realise in herself - always in an original way - the image of Christ (Cf. Rom. 8:29).
The science of sanctity is therefore the most interesting, the most varied, the most surprising and the most fascinating of all the studies of that ever mysterious being which is man. The Church has made this study of the life, that is, the interior and exterior history, of Elizabeth Ann Seton. And the Church has exulted with admiration and joy, and has today heard her own charism of truth poured out in the exclamation that we send up to God and announce to the world: She is a Saint!’
from the homily given at the Mass of Canonisation of St Elizabeth Ann Seton, 14 September 1975
by Pope St Paul VI, 1897-1978
O God, who didst crown with the gift of true faith Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s burning zeal to find thee: grant by her intercession and example; that we may always seek thee with diligent love and find thee in daily service with sincere faith; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal
‘With zeal and courage Basil opposed the heretics who denied that Jesus Christ was God as Father. Likewise, against those who would not accept the divinity of the Holy Spirit, he maintained that the Spirit is also God and “must be equated and glorified with the Father and with the Son”. For this reason Basil was one of the great Fathers who formulated the doctrine on the Trinity: the one God, precisely because he is love, is a God in three Persons who form the most profound unity that exists: divine unity.
In his love for Christ and for his Gospel, the great Cappadocian also strove to mend divisions within the Church, doing his utmost to bring all to convert to Christ and to his word, a unifying force which all believers were bound to obey.
To conclude, Basil spent himself without reserve in faithful service to the Church and in the multiform exercise of the episcopal ministry. In accordance with the programme that he himself drafted, he became an “apostle and minister of Christ, steward of God’s mysteries, herald of the Kingdom, a model and rule of piety, an eye of the Body of the Church, a Pastor of Christ's sheep, a loving doctor, father and nurse, a co-operator of God, a farmer of God, a builder of God's temple”.
This is the programme which the holy Bishop consigns to preachers of the Word - in the past as in the present –, a programme which he himself was generously committed to putting into practice. In 379 AD Basil, who was not yet 50, returned to God “in the hope of eternal life, through Jesus Christ Our Lord”.
He was a man who truly lived with his gaze fixed on Christ. He was a man of love for his neighbour. Full of the hope and joy of faith, Basil shows us how to be true Christians’.
from a general audience, 4 July 2007, by Pope Benedict XVI
Almighty God, whose servants Basil and Gregory proclaimed the mystery of thy Word made flesh, that thy Church might be built up in wisdom and strength: grant that we, through their prayers, and rejoicing in the Lord’s presence among us, may with them be brought to to know the power of thine unending love; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Sylvester I reigned as Pope from 314 to 335, succeeding Pope Melchiades. Because of his banishment to Mount Soracte, he was considered a “confessor” and counted among the martyrs. During his pontificate the Church began to come out of the darkness of the catacombs. He was a friend of Emperor Constantine, confirmed the first General Council of Nice (325), gave the Church a new discipline for the new era of peace. He might be called the first “peace Pope” after centuries of bloody persecution. A series of illustrious basilicas were erected during his reign (Lateran, St Peter’s, St Paul’s).
Numerous legends dramatise his life and work, e.g., how he freed Constantine from leprosy by baptism; how he killed a ferocious dragon that was contaminating the air with his poisonous breath. Such legends were meant to portray the effects of baptism and Christianity’s triumph over idolatry. For a long time the feast of St Sylvester was a holyday of obligation. The Divine Office notes: He called the weekdays ferias, because for the Christian every day is a “free day” (the term is still in use; thus Monday is feria secunda)’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
Be merciful to the people of thy flock, O Lord, eternal Shepherd of our souls: and keep us in thy continual protection at the intercession of Saint Sylvester, whom thou didst raise up to be shepherd of the whole Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Today, in the Calendar of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, is the Feast of Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his martyrdom on this day in 1170 whilst on his way to Vespers. Saint Thomas is the Patron of the pastoral clergy in England and Wales. The above photographs were taken in May 2015 during a parish pilgrimage to Canterbury, where I was privileged to be able to offer Mass according to Divine Worship: The Missal in the Chapel of All Saints at Canterbury Cathedral. Saint Thomas Becket, pray for the clergy.
The Archbishop preaches in the Cathedral on Christmas morning 1170.
‘“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”. The fourteenth verse of the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Dear children of God, my sermon this morning will be a very short one. I wish only that you should ponder and meditate the deep meaning and mystery of our masses of Christmas Day. For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the Passion and Death of Our Lord; and on this Christmas Day we do this in celebration of His Birth. So that at the same moment we rejoice in His coming for the salvation of men, and offer again to God His Body and Blood in sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was in this same night that has just passed, that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’; at this same time of all the year that we celebrate at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the World sees, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the World will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overborne by mourning, or mourning will be cast out by joy; so it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. But think for a while on the meaning of this word ‘peace’. Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced Peace, when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with War and the fear of War? Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?
Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples ‘My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you’. Did He mean peace as we think of it: the kingdom of England at peace with its neighbours, the barons at peace with the King, the householder counting over his peaceful gains, the swept hearth, his best wine for a friend at the table, his wife singing to the children? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. What then did He mean? If you ask that, remember then that He said also, ‘Not as the world gives, give I unto you’. So then, He gave to His disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.
Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord’s Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of His first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.
Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world’s is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man’s will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.
I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ’s birth day, to remember what is that Peace which He brought; and because, dear children, I do not think I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen’.
from Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot OM, 1888-1965
O God, for whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas Becket fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee; that all who call upon him for succour may be profited by the obtaining of all that they desire; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The execution was sad, cruel and universal: no abatements made for the dire shriekings of the mothers, no tender-hearted soldier was employed, no hard-hearted person was softened by the weeping eyes, and pity-begging looks of those mothers, that wondered how it was possible any person should hurt their pretty sucklings; no connivances there, no protections, or friendships, or consideration, or indulgences, but Herod caused that his own child which was at nurse in the coasts of Bethlehem, should bleed to death; which made Augustus Caesar to say, that in Herod’s house it were better to be a hog than a child, because the custom of the nation did secure a hog from Herod’s knife, but no religion could secure his child.
Jesus, when himself was safe, could also have secured the poor babes of Bethlehem, but yet it did not so please God. He is Lord of his creatures, and hath absolute dominion over our lives, and he had an end of glory to serve upon these babes, and an end of justice upon Herod; and to the children he made such compensation, that they had no reason to complain that they were so soon made stars, when they shined in their little orbs and participations of eternity, for so the sense of the Church hath been that they having died the death of martyrs, though incapable of making the choice, God supplied the defects of their will, by his own entertainment of the thing; that as the misery and their death, so also their glorification might have the same author in the same manner of causality; even by a peremptory and unconditioned determination in these particulars’.
Jeremy Taylor, 1613-1667, Anglican Bishop of Down and Connor (1661-1667)
Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and nurslings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths: mortify and kill all vices in us; and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith, even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
The photos above show the Church of St John the Evangelist, Calgary, in the Canadian province of Alberta, whose Feast of Title it is today. It was my very great privilege to be able to serve this parish for almost nine years as both the Anglican priest-in-charge and, six months later, the Catholic parish priest, a feat that was only possible on account of the courage and faith of the people in accepting, all the way back in 2010, the gracious invitation of Pope Benedict XVI to enter into the fulness of Catholic communion under the provision of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus. It was a document that gave life and hope for the future to this historic Anglo-Catholic Prayer Book parish in the Anglican Diocese of Calgary (second only in age to the cathedral). Happy feast day, St John’s clergy and parishioners!
Hosanna! yet again,
Another glorious day,
Ye cherubs sing and play,
Ye seraphs swell the strain.
Hail! highly favour’d man,
Thy name and lot transcend
All praise that e’er was penn’d
Since first the verse began.
O dear to Christ supreme,
His bosom friend declar’d,
And yet for all he car’d
With tenderness extreme.
As Benjamin was blest,
When he to Egypt came,
By Joseph full of fame,
And honour’d o’er the rest.
But Christ was meek and poor,
No chariot his to ride,
No Goshen to divide,
No favours to procure.
Yet in his realms above,
Which are the highest heav’n,
First of th’ elect elev’n,
Thou claim’st thy master’s love.
Christopher Smart, 1722-1771
Merciful Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church: that she being enlightened by the doctrine of thy blessed Apostle and Evangelist Saint John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that she may at length attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
When the first Christian Martyr died,
He saw the Heav’ns unfolded wide,
And Jesus, all alone,
Surrounded by no white-rob’d band,
In solitary glory stand
Beside th’ Omnipotent’s right hand,
Ready His Saint to own.
Years went and came—and, one by one,
Departing as their work is done,
The Saints ascend the skies;--
Blest Mary, with th’ Apostles true,
Martyrs and Virgins, not a few,
And thousands that the world ne’er knew,
Whom age on age supplies.
If Heav’n to-day should drop its screen,
Far other sight would now be seen
Than sooth’d St Stephen’s end;
Jesus, not as before alone,
But circled with a blazing zone
Of myriads, who around His throne
In adoration bend.
O, bold indeed! and shall we say,
Those gathering throngs, from day to day,
No difference make on high?
That time, as still it onward steals,
And its progressive scheme reveals,
From all their prayers no influence feels,
Rain’d from the golden sky?
Forbid it, Heav’n!—It were all one,
Christ from His glory to dethrone;--
Souls of the Sainted dead!
Look down from your exalted height;
Great is our need, and great your might;
Except ye pray, in vain we fight;
Assist us, ere we perish quite;
For we are sore be-sted.
Edward Caswall, Cong. Orat., 1814-1878
Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings here upon earth, for the testimony of thy truth, we may steadfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed: and, being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors, by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen; who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those that suffer for thee, our Meditator and Advocate; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal
‘Would that men might at last understand that it is impossible to attain to the thicket of manifold riches of the wisdom of God without entering into the thicket of manifold suffering, making that its consolation and desire! And how the soul which really longs for divine wisdom first longs for suffering, that it may enter more deeply into the thicket of the cross!
For this reason Saint Paul encouraged the Ephesians not to lose heart in tribulations, but to be strengthened, and rooted in love, that they might have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth; and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that they might be filled with all the fulness of God. For the gate whereby one may enter into these riches of his wisdom is the narrow gate of the cross. Many long for the delights to which that gate leads: but few they are indeed who are prepared to pass through it’.
from the Spiritual Canticle of St John of the Cross, 1542-1591
O God, who didst inspire thy holy Confessor Saint John with an ardent love of self-denial and of the Cross: grant that by constantly following his example, we may attain to everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal
A Nocturnal Upon St Lucy’s Day
‘Liberius died on the 24th of September 366, and Damasus, who was then sixty years old, was chosen Bishop of Rome and ordained in the basilica of Lucina, otherwise called St Laurence’s, which title he bore before his pontificate. Soon after Ursinus, called by some moderns Ursicinus, who could not bear that St Damasus should be preferred before him, got together a crowd of disorderly and seditious people in the Church of Sicin, commonly called the Liberian basilica, now St Mary Major, and persuaded Paul, Bishop of Tibur, now Tivoil, a dull, ignorant man, to ordain him Bishop of Rome, contrary to the ancient canons, which require three bishops for the ordination of a bishop, and to the ancient custom of the Roman church, whose bishop was to be consecrated by the Bishop of Ostia, as Baronius and Tillemont observe. Juventius, prefect of Rome, banished Ursinus and some others of his party. Seven priests, who adhered to him, were seized to be carried into exile, but were rescued by their partisans and carried to the Liberian basilica. The people that sided with Damasus came together with swords and clubs, besieged the basilica to deliver these men up to the prefect, and a fight ensued in which one hundred and thirty-seven persons were killed, as Ammianus Marcellinus and St Austin relate. In September the following year, 367, the Emperor Valentinian allowed Ursinus to return to Rome; but, on account of new tumults, in November banished him again with seven accomplices into Gaul. The schismatics still kept possession of a church, probably that of St Agnes without the walls, and held assemblies in the cemeteries; but Valentinian sent an order for that church to be put into the hands of Damasus; and Maximin, a magistrate of the city, a man naturally inclined to cruelty, put several schismatics to the torture. Rufin clears Damasus of any way concurring to, or approving of such barbarous proceedings, and the schismatics fell into the snare they had laid for him, by which it seems they demanded an inquiry to be made by the rack, which turned to their own confusion and chastisement. It appears by certain verses of Pope Damasus that he had made a vow to God, in honour of certain martyrs, to engage their intercession for the conversion of some of the clergy who continued obstinate in the schism; and that these clergymen, being converted to the unity of the church, in gratitude adorned at their own expense the tombs of these martyrs. By the same poem we learn that the warmest abettors of the cause of Ursinus, after some time sincerely submitted to Damasus. His election was both anterior in time, and in all its circumstances regular; and was declared such by a great council held at Aquileia in 381, composed of the most holy and eminent bishops of the western church, and by a council at Rome in 378, in both which the acts of violence are imputed to the fury of Ursinus. St Ambrose, St Jerome, St Austin, Rufin, and others, bear testimony to the demeanour and to the due election of Damasus’.
from The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints by Fr Alban Butler, 1710-1773
Grant, we pray thee, O Lord: that we may constantly exalt the merits of thy Martyrs, whom Pope Saint Damasus so venerated and loved; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church’s foundation is unshakable and firm against the assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbour of salvation for all in distress. Although the Church is tossed about on the sea, it rides easily on rivers, especially those rivers that Scripture speaks of: The rivers have lifted up their voice. These are the rivers flowing from the heart of the man who is given drink by Christ and who receives from the Spirit of God. When these rivers overflow with the grace of the Spirit, they lift up their voice.
Drink, then, from Christ, so that your voice may also be heard. Store up in your mind the water that is Christ, the water that praises the Lord. Store up water from many sources, the water that rains down from the clouds of prophecy.
Whoever gathers water from the mountains and leads it to himself or draws it from springs, is himself a source of dew like the clouds. Fill your soul, then, with this water, so that your land may not be dry, but watered by your own springs’.
from a letter to pastors by St Ambrose of Milan, c.337-397
O God, who didst set thy blessed Bishop Saint Ambrose in thy Church as a Doctor and defender of the Catholic faith and an example of apostolic fortitude: grant, we beseech thee; that aided by his intercession, we may escape the dangers of error, and never be ashamed to confess thy truth; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
A Visit from St Nicholas
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
‘Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!’
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St Nicholas too --
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedlar just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight --
‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!’
Clement Clarke Moore, 1779-1863
O God, who didst adorn thy blessed Bishop Saint Nicholas with power to work many and great miracles: grant, we beseech thee; that by his prayers and merits, we may be delivered from the fires of everlasting torment; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘You see what great strength and divine zeal are given to those who venerate the images of the saints with faith and a pure conscience. Therefore, brethren, let us take our stand on the rock of the faith, and on the tradition of the Church, neither removing the boundaries laid down by our holy fathers of old, (Prov. 22.28) nor listening to those who would introduce innovation and destroy the economy of the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of God. If any man is to have his foolish way, in a short time the whole Organisation of the Church will be reduced to nothing. Brethren and beloved children of the Church do not put your mother to shame, do not rend her to pieces. Receive her teaching through me. Listen to what God says of her: “Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee”. (Cant. 4.7) Let us worship and adore our God and Creator as alone worthy of worship by nature, and let us worship the holy Mother of God, not as God, but as God’s Mother according to the flesh. Let us worship the saints also, as the chosen friends of God, and as possessing access to Him. If men worship kings subject to corruption, who are often bad and impious, and those ruling or deputed in their name, as the holy apostle says, “Be subject to princes and powers”, (Tit. 3.1) and again, “Give to all their due, to one honour, to another fear”, (Rom. 13.7) and our Lord, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s”, (Mt. 22.21) how much more should we worship the King of Kings? He alone is God by nature; and we should worship His servants and friends who reign over their passions and are constituted rulers of the whole earth. “Thou shalt make them princes over all the earth”, (Ps. 45.16) says David. They receive power against demons and against disease, (Lk. 9.1) and with Christ they reign over an incorruptible and unchangeable kingdom. Their shadow alone has put forth disease and demons. (Acts 5.16) Should we not deem a shadow a slighter and weaker thing than an image? Yet it is a true outline of the original. Brethren, the Christian is faith. He who walks by faith gains many things. The doubter, on the contrary, is as a wave of the sea torn and tossed; he profits nothing. (Jam. 1.6) All the saints pleased God by faith. Let us then receive the teaching of the Church in simplicity of heart without questioning. God made man sane and sound. It was man who was over curious. (Eccl. 7.30) Let us not seek to learn a new faith, destructive of ancient tradition, St Paul says, “If a man teach any other Gospel than what he has been taught, let him be anathema”. (Gal. 1.9) Thus, we worship images, and it is not a worship of matter, but of those whom matter represents. The honour given to the image is referred to the original, as holy Basil rightly says.
And may Christ fill you with the joy of His resurrection, most holy flock of Christ, Christian people, chosen race, body of the Church, and make you worthy to walk in the footsteps of the saints, of the shepherds and teachers of the Church, leading you to enjoy His glory in the brightness of the saints. May you gain His glory for eternity, with the Uncreated Father, to whom be praise for ever. Amen’.
from the Apologia Against Those who Decry Holy Images by St John Damascene, 676-749
Almighty and everlasting God, who, for the defence of the veneration of sacred images, didst endue blessed John Damascene with heavenly doctrine and wondrous strength of spirit: grant unto us, by his intercession and example; that we may imitate the virtues and perceive the advocacy of those images we honour; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon
A Treasure to be Shared
The Acolyte’s Toolbox