Saturday, September 30, 2023


Penitent Saint Jerome

Lucas Franchoys the Younger: Flemish, 17th century

I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: “Search the Scriptures,” and “Seek and you shall find.” For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. ~Saint Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah

Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, later known as Jerome, was born in the town of Stridon, somewhere in the Balkans. Thirty years before Jerome’s birth, Emperor Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity in the Roman Empire, but many still clung to Roman and Greek religions and philosophies. Jerome had at least one brother, and the two were raised by good Christian parents who believed in the importance of education. 

While Jerome was in his mid- to late-teens, his parents sent him to Rome to study language, grammar, rhetoric, theology, and philosophy. He learned Greek, in addition to the Latin he had known since childhood, and engrossed himself in the classics: Virgil, Cicero, and Terence. Though Jerome had been raised a Christian, his morals lapsed in Rome, and he fell into sins of the flesh. This left him filled with guilt, and he would spend many Sundays visiting the catacombs to remind himself of death and the possibility of hell. As was the custom of that time, he had not been baptized as a child, so before he departed Rome, he chose to be baptized and began a conversion.

Around the age of thirty, after his baptism, Jerome traveled to various historic Christian sites. He traveled to Aquileia, in modern-day northern Italy where he spent time with a fervent Christian community under the leadership of Bishop Valerian. He then traveled to the Desert of Chalcis, south of modern-day Aleppo and Antioch in Syria, and became a hermit for several years. In the desert, he prayed, studied Greek further, and began to learn Hebrew. He also translated various Christian books into Latin. During this time, he had a vision in which he was “caught up in the spirit and dragged before the judgment seat of the Judge.” The Judge asked him who he was. Jerome replied, “I am a Christian.” Unsatisfied with the answer, the Judge said to him, “You lie, you are a follower of Cicero and not of Christ. For ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’” This profoundly affected Jerome, for he realized that he was still more attached to pagan literature than he was to Christ and His sacred Word. With that realization, Jerome committed himself more fully to Christ and to a life of celibacy, vowing to devote himself solely to the Word of God and God’s will, and to turn away from his interest in secular literature. After several years in the desert, he returned to Antioch where he was ordained a priest.

Once ordained, Jerome traveled to Constantinople where he spent a few years studying under the future saint, Archbishop Gregory of Nazianzus. In Constantinople, his knowledge of the orthodox faith enshrined in the Nicene Creed grew immensely. He continued translating works into the common Latin language and entered more deeply into the life of prayer.

Around the year 382, Father Jerome was summoned to Rome by Pope Damasus to become the pope’s secretary and counselor. The holy father encouraged him to prepare a new translation of the Bible from the Greek and Hebrew translations. At that time, there were many versions of the Bible in Latin that had been translated poorly. The pope wanted one good version, and Father Jerome rose to the occasion. He began with the New Testament, translating it from Greek into Latin.

Father Jerome continued to live a prayerful and ascetical life and was not shy about confronting the corruption he saw within the Roman clergy and society. Some biographers claim he had a fierce temper, but others see it as the passion with which he preached against sin and called people to repentance. He also gathered around himself a group of holy women—noblewomen, widows, and virgins—with whom he shared his knowledge of the Scriptures. Because he spent so much time with these women, others accused him of inappropriate behavior with them, especially some of the Roman clergy who took personal offense at him. When Pope Damasus died, the accusations only got worse and included criticism of Jerome’s translations of the New Testament. As a result of the hostility, Jerome decided it was time to leave Rome, and some of the holy women left with him.

After Rome, Jerome traveled back to Antioch and then to the Holy Land. He arrived in Bethlehem, where he would spend the rest of his life. He became a hermit in the caves near the Church of the Nativity and continued his prayer, study, translations, and numerous other writings. He formed a monastery for men, and the women who accompanied him established a convent nearby.

In Bethlehem, Jerome continued his work of translating the Bible into Latin. He spent about eight years translating the New Testament from the original Greek and then spent about fifteen years translating the Old Testament from the original Hebrew manuscripts, something that had never been done before. The completed work received acceptance from scholars within the Western Church because of its accuracy and clarity. His translation was referred to as the “Vulgate,” meaning the common translation, because it had the goal of presenting the Bible in a way that was easily understood and clear to the common people, in their own language. Over the next millennium, it became more widely used. Finally, after the Protestant Reformation, in 1546, the Council of Trent declared Saint Jerome’s Vulgate to be the official Latin translation of the Church.

With his deep knowledge of Scripture, Father Jerome also wrote commentaries on many books of the Bible, especially offering insights gained from his work of translation. He wrote on the lives of the saints, leaving some of the earliest historical documentation about their heroic lives. He wrote extensively upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, on the value of virginity, combated heresies, and left behind many lengthy letters that reveal deep spiritual and historical insights.

After about thirty-eight years in Bethlehem, Father Jerome died, but his writings continue to live. Shortly after his death, he was recognized as a saint through popular consent, which was the method of canonization in the early Church. Though he has had a profound impact upon the Church ever since, he was not declared a Doctor of the Church until 1724.

Source of content:

Friday, September 29, 2023

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition. Who are they?  St. Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit;’ if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel:’ from what they are, ‘spirit,’ from what they do, ‘angel’” (St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 103, 1, 15: PL 37, 1348). With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word” (Mt 18:10; Ps 103:20). As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness. ~Catechism of the Catholic Church #328–330

In the fifth or sixth century, an important Church theologian, given the name Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, used the many references in the Sacred Scriptures to clearly articulate what has become the traditional understanding of the hierarchy of angels. In the thirteenth century, Saint Thomas Aquinas built upon that teaching. Both taught that there are nine choirs in the hierarchy. The nine choirs are further divided into three triads. The three highest, comprising the first triad (Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones), is devoted exclusively to the service of God, worshiping Him continuously. The second triad (Dominions, Virtues, and Powers) is tasked with the governance of the created world and the entire Universe. The third triad (Principalities, Archangels, and Angels) is closest to humanity, acting as mediators between God and man. It is the Archangels whom we honor today.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, there are numerous mentions of the heavenly spirits. In the Old Testament, they stood at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, directed Abraham, stayed his hand at the sacrifice of Isaac, destroyed Sodom and protected Lot, spoke to and wrestled with Jacob, went before Moses and the Israelites, and interacted with Israel’s kings and prophets. In the New Testament, the Archangel Gabriel announced the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus often spoke of the workings of angels in His preaching. They ministered to Him during His agony in the garden, were present at His Resurrection, and helped set Peter free from prison. Saint Paul spoke about the hierarchy of angels several times.

Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that every human being is assigned a guardian angel. The archangels are next in the hierarchy of angelic spirits and serve humanity directly, performing the most important tasks. The three Archangels we honor today are the only three mentioned in the Bible. However, earlier Jewish traditions name seven archangels, and some speculate that there might be a whole host of archangels whom God uses to assist with the most important aspects of our lives. Raphael describes himself as one of the seven who stand before God.

Michael, whose name means “Who is like God?”, is mentioned several times in the Bible. The Book of Daniel speaks of him as the prince who stands up for the people of Israel in a protective way (Daniel 10:13, 10:21, and 12:1). The Letter of Jude speaks of Michael fighting against Satan in a dispute over the body of Moses, “Yet the archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him but said, ‘May the Lord rebuke you!’” (Jude 1:9). The Book of Revelation also reveals Michael’s battle with Satan, casting him from Heaven, “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven” (Revelation 12:7–8). Based on these passages, Michael is seen as the great defender against Satan and his demons, the protector of the Church, and the Prince of the Angels. Though Saint Thomas assigns him to the second lowest level of the hierarchy of the choirs of angels, others (Saints Basil, Robert Bellarmine, and Bonaventure) have speculated that he directs the entire host of angels, taking the former place of Lucifer, the light-bearer, who was a Seraphim of the highest realm. The prayer to Saint Michael, who defends us in battle, was written by Pope Leo XIII and was prayed thereafter at the end of every Mass until the reforms after Vatican II. Today, it is still prayed in many churches and widely in private devotion.

Gabriel, whose name means “God is my strength” or “Strong man of God,” appears several times in the Bible. In the Book of Daniel, Gabriel appears to interpret Daniel’s vision (Daniel 8:15–27; 9:20–27). In the New Testament, Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the Temple to reveal the birth of his son, John the Baptist (Luke 1:5–20), and to the Blessed Virgin Mary to announce the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:26–38). It might have also been Gabriel who spoke to Saint Joseph in a dream, dispelling his fear about taking Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:18–25). For these reasons, Gabriel often appears in sacred art blowing a trumpet for his role in conveying divine messages, guiding prophets, and participating in significant events that shape human history.

Raphael, whose name means “God has healed,” is mentioned by name only in the Book of Tobit. Tobit was a wealthy and devout Israelite who had been deported from his home to Nineveh by the Assyrian king. While in exile, he suffered from blindness and sent his son, Tobias, to his homeland to gather his money. On the way, Raphael appeared to Tobias in human form, using the name Azariah. Raphael protected him on the journey and led him to a woman named Sarah who lost seven husbands on the night of their weddings, due to a demon’s attack. The archangel united them in marriage, expelled the demon, and accompanied them back to Tobit, whom he healed. He then revealed to them, “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord” (Tobit 12:15). It is speculated that Raphael is also one of the seven angels in the Book of Revelation who each receives one of the seven trumpets, “And I saw that the seven angels who stood before God were given seven trumpets” (Revelation 8:2).

Though great mystery surrounds the full nature and function of these glorious angelic spirits, what is abundantly clear is that God has used them throughout the course of salvation history. Today, we can confidently assert that God continues to pour forth His grace upon us through the mediation of the angels, especially Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. For some reason, God specifically revealed the names of these spirits to us, and that invites us to call upon their mediation. As mediators, they do more than pray for us. They are entrusted with the duty of implementing God’s will.

Source of content:

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Saint Vincent de Paul


"If God is the center of your life, no words are necessary. Your mere presence will touch hearts."

"We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people, and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God."

"Let us allow God to act; He brings things to completion when we least expect it."

"All beginnings are somewhat strange; but we must have patience, and little by little, we shall find things, which at first were obscure, becoming clearer."

"The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it."

"Fear not; calm will follow the storm, and perhaps soon."

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Saints Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs

Today, the Church honors Saints Cosmas and Damian—twin brothers, physicians, and martyrs who have been widely venerated in the East and West since the time of their deaths. Little is known for certain about these saints. What we do know is that they were martyrs, most likely under Roman Emperor Diocletian. What has come down to us by way of legend, however, offers an inspiring witness of faith and courage from the early Church.

Cosmas and Damian might have been born in Cyrrhus, modern-day Syria, and later moved to the Gulf of Iskenderun in Cilicia, modern-day Turkey, in the mid- to late-third century. They were twins, sons of a Christian mother and possibly a Christian father, who raised them in the faith. They were educated in the science of healing and became physicians.

At that time, physicians were often paid based on their reputations. Those who were highly skilled and successful often catered to the wealthy, receiving regular salaries from them. Others charged for services on a case-by-case basis. Because Cosmas and Damian were Christians, legend holds that they decided to evangelize the largely pagan community in which they lived by doing something extraordinary. They offered their healing services for free! This charitable work earned them the title “Anargyroi,” meaning “without silver.” Their counter-cultural practice caught the attention of their fellow citizens and drew many to the faith. Legends hold that they were excellent physicians who healed many, perhaps more through their prayers than by their science. One legend states that they were the first to transplant a leg to an amputee, which is often depicted in art.

In 284, Diocletian became the Roman emperor and embarked on many reforms within the empire. In 303, he began to issue a series of edicts that led to an empire-wide persecution and death of many Christians. Prior to that, persecutions were more localized and random. Around the year 287 or 303 (records are conflicting), the Roman Prefect Lysias of Cilicia arrested the twins Cosmas and Damian. Christians of prominence were often the first to be targeted.

As was the custom, the brothers were given the opportunity to publicly renounce their faith and honor the Roman gods to save their lives. They refused and were sentenced to death. Various legends surrounding their deaths state that they were first tortured in an attempt to get them to comply with the prefect’s wishes. However, they were miraculously preserved from suffering, sustaining no injuries. Multiple attempts were then made to kill them by drowning, fire, arrows, and stoning, but each attempt failed. Finally, Cosmas and Damian, along with three of their brothers, were beheaded. 

It is believed that Cosmas and Damian were buried in the city of Cyrrhus, their possible birthplace. From that time on, they have been widely venerated. Many miraculous healings have been attributed to their intercession. Within a century of their martyrdom, churches were built in their honor in Jerusalem, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.

In the sixth century, Roman Emperor Justinian I honored these saints by restoring the city of their burial. Shortly after, the emperor received a miraculous cure through their intercession. In gratitude, he brought their relics to Constantinople where he built a Church in their honor that became a popular pilgrimage site. In that church, a custom began where the faithful would remain all night at their tomb in prayer, seeking miraculous cures to their ailments. Many miracles have been reported over the centuries.

Also in the sixth century, Pope Symmachus inserted the names of Cosmas and Damian into the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) and Pope Felix IV repurposed a fourth-century pagan temple in Rome, within the Forum of Peace, renaming it the Basilica Santi Cosma e Damiano. Though it has gone through many renovations, the fifth-century mosaics depicting their story are among the most revered pieces of sacred art in Rome.

Though we will never know the exact historical details of the lives and martyrdoms of Saints Cosmas and Damian until we reach the glories of Heaven, the virtues they enshrine should be a source of inspiration and encouragement. Their work of evangelization through free and selfless service in the name of Christ is worthy of imitation. Their heroic martyrdom presents us with the virtues of courage and fidelity to Christ. Their miraculous intercession for those who have been ill should invite us to rely upon their intercession for the sick today.

Source of content:

Sunday, September 24, 2023


25th SUNDAY in OT-A

(Is 55.6-9; Phil 1.20c-24.27a; Mt 20.1-16a)

24 September 2023

We are struck from the outset in today’s gospel by the love for his vineyard of this “landowner” or, literally, this “master of the house” (oikodespotês). The protagonist of the parable is portrayed as reflecting God as Lord of his “house”, which is simultaneously each soul, the Church, and the whole cosmos. The whole universe, in fact, is God’s personal domain, and over it he exercises authority by right of ownership and covenanted love. Scaling this cosmic relationship down to human size, Isaiah says that “the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel”, and that the inhabitants of Judah are “his beloved plantation” (5:7). The preferential love of God for his people clearly forms the background of this parable, which we find only in the Gospel of Matthew. 

The landowner’s passion for his vineyard emerges gradually in the narrative. Although the owner is clearly in full control of the situation (finding workers, determining wages, and so on), he is also the character in the parable who expends the most physical and psychological effort. He does so, in fact, more than all the workers together! We see the master of the house quitting his bed long before dawn, before everyone else, and he continues on his feet until the last moment in the story.

Five times the text refers to the owner going out to find workers: he goes out at the first, third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hours of the day. Every timed, remarkably, he goes out in person instead of sending servants, as one would expect. His repeated action of “going out” insistently demonstrates not only his willingness to provide an adequate number of workers for the cultivation and harvesting of his vineyard, but more importantly his sustained efforts reveal his passion for an all-encompassing “universality”: he goes to great lengths so as not to exclude anyone from his project. He seems fixated on not excluding any potential job-seeker from the enterprise of his vineyard, and on not depriving anyone from the enjoyment of a closer relationship with himself as lord of the vineyard.

But the end of the parable suddenly throws us listeners into disarray: we are seriously perplexed as to what the actual central concern of this enterprising landowner might be. Through all his arduous, day-long endeavor, is he primarily concerned that his vineyard should produce the highest possible yield? Or is he, rather, consumed with the mysterious desire of testing and altering the hidden motivations of the hearts of everyone he meets and hires? Who is he really, we want to know—this man who exerts himself so much, working simultaneously on the physical and the metaphysical planes? In the fullness of the parable’s meaning surely he has to be Christ our Lord, who came to our world from his Kingdom of glory in order to involve as many people as possible in his great work of redemption! But what exactly is the “change” he is aiming for in people’s hearts?

The protagonist’s actions of going out, calling, hiring and sending are truly transformative events for the workers. For all of them, the point of convergence, where they all meet as struggling human beings, is the vineyard of the owner, which I suggest represents the Promised Land of God’s Heart. By mysteriously converging on that one blessed spot after answering the Master’s call, all who come together from the four corners of the world find there the true destiny of their lives. The enterprise offered them rescues them out of economic need, personal isolation, social insignificance and lack of existential identity. 

The call then introduces them into new possibilities of community, lasting meaning and self-discovery through their new relationship with this task, this master and these companions. Where one might have expected a boring, mundane conclusion, however, with wages conventionally distributed in proportion to the number of hours worked, we are confronted instead with the shock of an apparent injustice, leading to a disgruntled revolt on the part of those who have worked the longest.

Then a rather extraordinary reversal takes place. In the midst of loud grudges and complaints about enduring toil and sweat in the heat of the day, the real work, the deep work of the heart, begins as day is cooling into evening and the tools of manual labor have been put away. First had come the long and tiring physical labor of picking grapes, undertaken by the hired workers; now begins the even harder labor of converting their hearts, undertaken by the Lord of the vineyard. 

The human needs of the workers, driving them to seek work, have handed them over to the wise authority and inventive capacity of the Lord. Their dependence on him has put them at the mercy of his ever creative and re-creative love. In this moment of weariness and relaxation after work at the end of the day, while waiting for their remuneration, the workers are more vulnerable than ever and, therefore, more subliminally available to the Word of Truth. 

Angry grumbling erupts when those who started working at the beginning of the day see that everyone, even those who worked only one or two hours, is now receiving the same agreed pay of only one denarius, in our translation watered down to “the usual daily wage”. Greatly scandalized, they realize that, as the Lord says through Isaiah, My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways! Therefore, in order to make his thoughts of absolute generosity pierce into the hearts of these angry people, the master of the vineyard confronts them with two penetrating questions that probe the workers’ motives: Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious [the original says, Do you have an evil eye] because I am good?

The Lord seems to want to raise one and all to a new status, to transform everyone into a new community of grace, to gather them all up, without exclusion, into a “vineyard” or “kingdom” where no one will lack anything, where the only law in force will be that of universal generosity, following the pattern of the heart of their Master and King. The Lord insists that it is his right to establish such a kingdom, based on his divine freedom to do as he will as Lord and Master of all things. What a paradox to the worldly: that the Lord, the hardest-working character of all in the story, is also the most generous and all-embracing!

Indeed, between the lines we can read the spiritual law that says that only those who aspire to enjoy the divine freedom of their Master can become citizens of such a kingdom. Such is the basis of citizenship here, the only “passport” that gains admittance. The unfreedom of envy and distrust is the greatest obstacle in this society, the only thing that excludes anybody, for it blocks the free flow of grace and love that is the very nourishment and life of all the dwellers in this Kingdom. 

But this freedom of spirit can be purchased only at a great price, nothing less than the death of my old begrudging self, as St Paul states: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Only those who can utter these words with Paul from the heart will be able to embrace with joy the criteria and actions of the Lord of the vineyard; only those who are interiorly free—free from the morbid compulsions of jealousy, competitiveness and entitlement—will be able to cooperate wholeheartedly with Christ in the redemption of the world, will be able to be transformed at last, by the work of the Father’s re-creating love, from mere grasping mercenaries into true and beloved sons and daughters, joyful citizens of the Kingdom of God. 

In conclusion, let’s make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters. This parable, at the deepest level, is not mainly about our simple moral alteration from self-centered, envious persons into altruistic, generous ones. Because it is a parable about the Kingdom, the story can at bottom symbolize only one thing: the Father’s gift to us of his beloved Son. In other words, it is a Eucharistic parable. The Master of the House of the Church cannot give any of his workers either more or less than the one denarius, because the single, indivisible, denarius he has promised represents nothing other than Jesus himself. 

As we experience daily at this altar, the Father loves us so much that he will not give us less than Jesus; but neither can he give us more than Jesus, because even God has nothing more precious than Jesus to give! As Paul puts it so sharply to the Romans: [God]—who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all—how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (8:32) So, what madness takes hold of us now and then that we could ever hope for more than the best God has to give?

Saturday, September 23, 2023


Born into a poor Italian farm family, from a young age Francesco Forgione desired to be a friar. When he was sixteen, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Order, and took the name Brother Pius (Fra Pio). He was ordained to the priesthood in 1910; six years later, joined the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Giovanni Rotondo. He spent many hours every day hearing Confessions. The height of his apostolic commitment was the celebration of the Holy Mass. He described himself as “a poor brother who prays.” “Prayer is the greatest weapon we have,” he said. It is “a key to open the heart of God.”

In 1948, Padre Pio heard the Confession of a young Polish priest, Father Karol Wojtyła, who thirty years later would ascend the throne of Peter, taking the name John Paul II. It was during John Paul’s pontificate that Padre Pio was declared blessed. During the rite of beatification, the Pope said that in the humble friar, we see the image of Christ suffering and risen. “His body,” he said, “marked by the ‘stigmata,’ showed the intimate connection between death and resurrection… Not less sorrowful, and humanly much more scorching, were the trials he had to suffer as a consequence, one could say, of his singular charisms.” For Padre Pio, “suffering with Christ” was a gift: “In contemplating the Cross on Jesus’ shoulders,” he said, “I always feel strengthened and I exult with holy joy… All that Jesus suffered in His Passion, I too have suffered, insofar as it is possible for a human creature.”

The life of Padre Pio also shows an intense commitment to alleviate the sufferings of families. In 1956 he inaugurated the “Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza” (the House of Relief from Suffering), a new state of the art hospita. “It is the apple of my eye,” the friar said when the hospital opened. “This is the creation that Providence, with your help, has created. Gaze at it in wonder, and with me bless the Lord God. He has place upon the earth a seed that He will warm with the His rays of love.”

Padre Pio died during the night of 23 September 1968, at the age of 81. On 16 June 2002, he was proclaimed a saint by Pope John Paul II. In his homily, the Pope said, “The life and mission of Padre Pio prove that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, are transformed into a privileged way of holiness, which opens onto the horizons of a greater good, known only to the Lord."

Thursday, September 21, 2023


St. Mattew (BAV)  (© Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana)

Lake Tiberias sparkled and, as usual, Matthew was there, sitting at the custom desk at Capernaum, to collect the taxes that the Jews had to pay to the Romans. He was a publican, despised by the people because he was considered in league with the oppressors. Probably, Matthew had become accustomed to it, but that day he heard a different voice. A man told him, “Follow me,” and Matthew got up and followed the man ever after. That man was Jesus, and Matthew’s life was no longer as before.

Levi organized a great banquet for Jesus, who went with his disciples, stirring up the scorn of scribes and Pharisees because there were in attendance publicans and sinners. Jesus’ answer greatly touched Matthew. “They that are well have no need of a physician, but they that are sick,” said the Nazarene, adding, “For I came not to call the just, but sinners.” Matthew, who was a sinner, left everything and followed Jesus, becoming one of the Twelve. He is also named a few times in the Acts of the Apostles. The proclamation of Christ would be his mission.

According to some sources, he would die of natural causes. Other traditions, considered untrustworthy, have it that his earthly life ended in Ethiopia. In the description of the four beings of the Apocalypse (eagle, ox, lion, man) Saint Matthew is associated with that of man. His relics are located in the crypt of the Cathedral of Salerno, where his feast day is marked with a solemn procession.

He is the author of the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, which was almost certainly written not in Greek but Aramaic. The Gospel of Matthew is written with an audience of Christians of Jewish origin in mind: the text emphasizes that Jesus is the Messiah who fulfills the promises of the Old Testament.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023


An unlikely beginning

When, around the year 1777, a small group of Korean scholars began to study Christian writings brought into their country from China, something happened that is difficult to explain as anything other than a work of God. A spark was ignited. Pondering the words, some were “cut to the heart,” like the crowds listening to the apostles in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2:37). In 1784, one of them traveled to China, found a priest, and asked for baptism. When he returned to his country, the spark became a fire. Person to person, friend to friend, this new faith spread. A Chinese priest was finally able to visit Korea in 1794. There, he found 4,000 believers! In fifty years, this community, poor in the sacraments but rich in faith, grew to 10,000. Korean authorities were not pleased by this “foreign” religion. The authorities’ cruelty was great, but the faith of these new believers was greater, for in them was a fire, a love and a life that did not have its source in man.

The priest

Taegon Kim, baptized Andrew at age 15, had that faith in him. It carried him 1,200 miles to Macau to study for the priesthood. The French missionary bishop who ordained him was filled with joy to see the zeal of this young Christian. After ordination in Shanghai, the first native Korean priest returned home. To be a Christian in Korea was not for the fainthearted. Most of the men in Andrew’s family had been martyred. Christianity was outlawed. But Fr. Andrew, exhorting his fellow believers, articulated what many of them already knew in their hearts: “We have received baptism… and the honor of being called Christians. Yet what good will this do us if we are Christians in name only and not in fact?” To be Christian in fact in Korea meant to be ready at any moment to witness to Christ with one’s life. Andrew did so in 1846. At age 25, this young priest was tortured and beheaded. Before he died, he exhorted his executioners: “If I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death!”

The lay apostle

The nephew of one of the most noteworthy Korean philosophers of his day, Hasang Chong, baptized Paul, knew even at age seven what honor he bore in being called Christian. In that year, his older brother and father died martyrs. Paul became a government interpreter, which allowed him to travel to China. In Beijing, he became a spokesman for his fellow Christians, even writing to the Pope to ask for an apostolic vicariate be established in Korea for the care of the faithful. In 1825, Pope Gregory XVI did as Paul requested. There were too many martyrs in his family for Paul not to be aware that this fate likely lay in store for him, too. When he was finally tried in 1839, he handed a written defense of the faith to his judge. The judge was impressed: “You are right in what you have written, but the king has forbidden this religion, and it is your duty to renounce it.” Paul’s answer? “I have told you that I am a Christian. I will be one until my death.”

“The honor of being called Christians”

The martyrs numbered 10,000 in less than a hundred years. Most were laypeople. Some were catechists, others noblemen, still others housewives. One boy, Peter, whose flesh was so torn he could throw pieces of it at his torturers, was thirteen. A woman, Columba, was asked before she was tortured why she and her sisters did not marry. She answered, “In order to cherish our body and heart in all purity, to serve and worship God….” They knew the honor of bearing the name of Christian. There was a fire in the hearts of these courageous believers. It was passed on person to person, heart to heart, and it continues burning: South Korea boasts the fastest growing Catholic population in the world. In 1984, Pope John Paul II canonized Fr. Andrew Kim, Paul Chong, and 101 of their companion martyrs.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Jesus Heals the Centurion's Servant

Today’s Gospel also speaks to us of service. It shows us two servants who have much to teach us: the servant of the centurion whom Jesus cures and the centurion himself, who serves the Emperor. The words used by the centurion to dissuade Jesus from coming to his house are remarkable, and often the very opposite of our own: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (7:6); I did not presume to come to you” (7:7); “I also am a man set under authority” (7:8). Jesus marvels at these words. He is struck by the centurion’s great humility, by his meekness. (…) Given his troubles, the centurion might have been anxious and could have demanded to be heard, making his authority felt. He could have insisted and even forced Jesus to come to his house. Instead, he was modest, unassuming and meek; he did not raise his voice or make a fuss. He acted, perhaps without even being aware of it, like God himself, who is “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29). For God, who is love, out of love is ever ready to serve us. He is patient, kind and always there for us; he suffers for our mistakes and seeks the way to help us improve. These are the characteristics of Christian service; meek and humble, it imitates God by serving others: by welcoming them with patient love and unflagging sympathy, by making them feel welcome and at home in the ecclesial community, where the greatest are not those who command but those who serve (cf. Lk 22:26). (Pope Francis — Jubilee of Deacons, 29 May 2016)

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Homily for 24th Sunday

To even begin to understand this morning’s parable, we really have to do the math. The sum the debtor owes the king, blandly translated as “a huge amount,” is in the original Greek an astounding 10,000 talents. A single talent was worth about 6,000 denarii. A whole day’s work was required to earn just one denarius. So, 6,000 denarii or one talent amounts to at least 20 years of hard daily labor. To repay the 10,000 talents in the parable, the servant would have to work for about 200,000 years! It is this absolutely impossible debt that is forgiven by the compassionate king in today’s Gospel. It is absurd for the servant to say that he will “pay back everything.” As a day laborer, he had no hope of ever repaying such a debt. It’s ridiculous, and he knows it. And so does the king, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Deeply moved by the servant’s pleading, feeling this pity even in his very guts, the king forgives him the entire gigantic loan.

We can well imagine the astonishment of the crowd as Jesus told this parable, their jaws dropping. What is he talking about? This doesn’t make any sense. Well, that’s the point – it makes no sense at all, it’s way beyond good sense. It’s all about the too-muchness of grace, the mad, extravagant excess of God’s tenderness and mercy, which are far beyond our understanding. It is all about love. The preposterous amount of the forgiven debt clearly points to the incomprehensibility of God’s mercy. The tragedy is that the conniving servant who had the sense to fall on his face before the king and beg for mercy, doesn’t have the sense to remain in that interior posture of deep gratitude and indebtedness. Forgiven so extravagantly, he comes away not humbled and grateful but suddenly entitled and unwilling to forgive a debt only a fraction of the size of the one he owed. He grabs his coworker and chokes him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’” This part of the story always makes me cringe. I think it’s supposed to.

In the kingdom that Jesus is trying to bring about, it’s never about what we’re entitled to; it’s about noticing with awe and gratitude all we have received. For “nothing that we have to forgive can even faintly or even remotely compare with all we have been given and forgiven, for we have been forgiven a debt beyond all paying.” That’s why “How many times?” is simply the wrong question. God’s mercy is beyond calculation. And as God delights in forgiving us, we are invited to go and do likewise, over and over again. Mindful of the flood of mercy that is incessantly available to us, we are expected to love as God loves. It’s beautiful, the ideal, we’ve heard it a million times, but it can break you down when you know you’ve been hurt or mistreated. So hard. But Jesus expects it of us, even demands that as his followers we will have a mercy-filled hearts like his own. The harsh words at the conclusion of the Gospel make this very clear: “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you? Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” From your heart. God in Christ has a wounded, pitying heart, a heart of mercy, misericordia. We are called to have hearts like this, hearts like God’s heart. I may think this is way beyond my ability, Jesus does not. 

Sad to say, but grudge-nurturing ran in my family- there was always someone who wasn’t talking to someone else for some reason; certain families you couldn’t visit, long-standing vendettas were always in the air; the tragic-comedy of it all was that oftentimes people had even forgotten the reasons or how it even began. I used to think I was way beyond all that, but I notice that deep inside there’s a part of me that wants to throttle people who have hurt me and demand repayment. 

So writing off debts is not my first impulse. I can’t seem to do get the hang of it. Of course not. And again, that’s probably the point. It is impossible for us, but not for God. And it is our friendship with the poor Christ that will transform us. It is only this love for the person of Christ that can “undermine the (fearsome) tyranny of self,” and knowing that we are loved by him beyond all telling; only this love can erode resentment. Only Jesus can wean me away from my tendency to endlessly nurse a grudge and withhold mercy. For it is not in my own “power not to feel or to forget an offense.” 

Jesus appeals to us, even demands that we be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and the pure gift of who he longs to be for us. Only mindfulness of the gift and the giver can transform our hearts, so that injury can flip into compassion, forgiveness and even prayer for those have offended us. It takes doing and redoing- perhaps that’s part of what the seventy times seven means.

Make no mistake, writing off our debts, endlessly forgiving us, cost God very much, even his own Son’s battered body and the last drop of his most precious blood. Jesus is the 10,000 talents, one lump sum, up front, paid in full on our behalf. And he’s so blinded by his love for us, he doesn’t think twice. He thinks we’re worth it. If we dare to let this sink in and try to love and forgive like he does, the kingdom can happen, and the breadth of God’s beauty and real presence will become more real, and really present. Sharing this Eucharist together seventy times seven times, we are learning how to love as God loves.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Our Lady of Sorrows

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home (Jn 19:25-27).


Seeing His Mother, Jesus entrusts her to the beloved disciple. This almost represents His last will and testament. It makes Mary the Mother of the disciple, and makes the disciple the Mother’s son. “He took her into his home”, that is, into his most intimate place, into everything he holds most dear. Jesus did not leave His Mother alone. He entrusted her to the care of his beloved disciple, to the one who followed him to the last.


The same word is used as at Cana, almost as if there is a connection between the two passages. At Cana, Jesus’s hour had not yet come, whereas on the Cross, it had. The Cross becomes the event that Cana prophesied. By using the term, “woman”, Jesus refers to Eve: “This one shall be called ‘woman’ ” (Gn 2:23). Mary is the new Eve.


Jesus entrusts His Mother to the disciple. This disciple, tradition tells us, represents the entire Church. Mary is entrusted to the Church, and the Church is entrusted to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the first disciple of her Son.

Mother and disciple

For all of us, Mary is the Mother of her Son, our Lord, Jesus. But she is also a Disciple of the Master, the one who can help us better than anyone else to grow in her Son’s School. More than anyone else, she knew how to remain faithful in this School, to the point that she remained “standing” at the foot of the Cross. This fidelity caused her to suffer an interior martyrdom: “And you yourself a sword will pierce”, Simeon had foretold (Lk 2:35). 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). This is the decisive shift: the serpent that saves has now come among us. Jesus, lifted up on the pole of the cross, does not allow the poisonous serpents that attack us to cause our death. Confronting our misery, God gives us a new horizon: if we keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, the sting of evil can no longer prevail over us, for on the cross he took upon himself the venom of sin and death, and crushed their destructive power. That was the Father’s response to the spread of evil in the world: he gave us Jesus, who drew near to us in a way we could never have imagined. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21). Such is the infinite grandeur of divine mercy: Jesus “became sin” for our sake. Jesus, we could say, on the cross “became a serpent”, so that by gazing upon him we might resist the poisonous bites of the evil serpents that assail us. Brothers and sisters, this is the path, the path to our salvation, our rebirth and our resurrection: to behold the crucified Jesus. (Pope Francis)

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

The Silent Rhetorician

John was born in 347 in Antioch and was baptized there more than twenty years later. Under the pagan teacher Libanius, he learned rhetoric and Greek literature. He reportedly so impressed his teacher that as Libanius lay dying, he lamented that John could have been his successor as master of rhetoric, “if the Christians had not stolen him from us.” That gift with language that had so impressed Libanius would indeed be put to use, into a service far greater than any master rhetorician could hope for – but not before it had been purified with fasting and prayer. John became a hermit, coming to know his Lord in the silence of prayer. He did penance and at the same time savored Sacred Scripture, committing most of it to memory.

The golden-mouthed preacher

When poor health forced his return to Antioch, his gift with words, now purified by years of silent meditation on God’s Word, came alive again. John, ordained a priest, began to preach in Antioch’s cathedral. People came and the word began to spread: this preacher is “Chrysostom,” golden-mouthed. His words were not easy, but they were like gold: clear and full of God’s light. Day in and day out, he broke open the word for them, exhorted them, and called them out for their lack of love. He reminded them of the unity of the Eucharistic liturgy with the liturgy of their lives: “Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked…. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same who said: ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,’ and ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me’... What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger?”

The reluctant archbishop

In 397, against his will and knowledge, the golden-mouthed preacher was nominated archbishop, or Patriarch, of Constantinople, the capital of the Empire. Constantinople may have been the center of the Christian Empire, but the lifestyle of many of its wealthier inhabitants was far from holy. John saw this, and his gift with words spilled over into eloquent homilies. The Patriarch reminded the wealthy that private property was a consequence of the Fall, and they had no right to withhold their riches from a brother or sister who was starving. He deposed corrupt bishops and refused to cater to the political intrigue of his day. Those seeking favor at bishops’ tables, where they were accustomed to eat well, found only modest fare in this bishop’s house. All this did not earn him friends in the city, where he joked that a bishop needed to have eyes on all sides of his head to please all of those seated around him at official banquets!

“Glory be to God for all things”

The disgruntled wealthy began to find their Patriarch irksome, as he called them to a conversion of life that they did not desire. They gossiped, as people in a large, politically charged city will do. The Empress Euxodia felt her conscience pricked when the Patriarch preached against the court’s extravagant fashions. She conspired with the Patriarch of Alexandria to send John into exile. His first exile was short-lived, for the people protested his departure so fiercely that he was called back. But then the Empress had a silver statue of herself erected near the cathedral, and John’s words, full of God’s clarity, spilled over once more. John was exiled again. His health had never been good, and he died in 407, before reaching his final destination. He had suffered, but this man whose gift with words had served God’s Word could still praise. His last words are reported to have been, “Glory be to God for all things.” John Chrysostom is one of the great Greek Fathers of the Church.