Thursday, November 30, 2023

God, My Highest Good

I only appreciate fully that God is my "highest good" when I learn (in the Son) that I am a "good" to him, affirmed by him; this is what guarantees my being and my freedom. And it is only when I learn that I represent a "good" and a "thou" to God that I can fully trust in the imparted gift of being and freedom and so, affirmed from and by eternity, really affirm myself too.

HANS URS VON BALTHASAR Theo-Drama II: The Dramatis Personae: Man in God, 287

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Sole Purpose of the Ascetic Life

There is no question that the spirit, when it begins to be frequently under the influence of the divine light becomes wholly translucent, to the point of itself seeing the fullness of its own light… But Saint Paul clearly teaches that everything which appears to it in bodily shape…comes from the malice of the enemy, when he says that the enemy disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11.14). The ascetic life must not therefore be undertaken with such a hope in mind… It's sole purpose is to come to love God with a sensation in the heart of total certainty, which means ‘with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind’ (Luke 10.27).

DIADOCHUS OF PHOTIKE Gnostic Chapters, 40 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Scripture, the First Sacrament

We are said to drink the blood of Christ not only when we receive it according to the right of the mysteries, but also when we receive his words, in which life dwells, as he said himself: ‘The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life’ (John 6.63).

ORIGEN Homilies on Numbers, 16,9

In truth, before Jesus, Scripture was like water, but since Jesus it has become for us the wine into which Jesus changed the water.

ORIGEN Commentary on St. John’s Gospel, 13,60

Monday, November 27, 2023

Love is Greater Than Prayer

It can happen that when we are at prayer some brothers come to see us. Then we have to choose, either to interrupt our prayer or to sadden our brother by refusing to answer him. But love is greater than prayer. Prayer is one virtue amongst others, whereas love contains them all.

JOHN CLIMACUS The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 26th Step 43(52)

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Homily for Christ The King

With God there are never halfway measures, and when with loving compassion he descends into the womb of Mary, he takes on our flesh, all of it. God loses himself in love for his own creation. This exquisite loving “lostness” of God is who Jesus is. And in today’s Gospel this compassionate “lostness” of Jesus is given new pitch and poignancy as he identifies himself completely with those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned or strangers: “ ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ” These words of the Lord were in the first place directed to all those who cared for his first disciples. Nonetheless, in the prayer and pondering of countless generations, Jesus’ words have been amplified, broadened and understood to include any and all “least ones;” who are to be esteemed as sacraments of his presence among us. How many saints and holy founders, and brave missionaries have heard these words of Jesus and put everything else aside to serve him in his least brothers and sisters.

Indeed, God has lost himself into the very fiber of our ordinariness, clothed himself with our wounded, sin-ridden humanity, all of its pain, its sorrow and neediness. He has infused all of it, all of our precarity and desperation, with his very own Self. And so he assures us that we will encounter him in the least the lowest and the last. 

I recall the story of a young woman dishing out soup, a sandwich and a generous helping of dessert for a homeless man at a soup kitchen in Providence. She is vibrant and kind and greets him so warmly. The poor old guy is puzzled; accustomed to being avoided and unseen, he is completely baffled by her attention and says, “Wow. You must know me.” He has at last been seen, recognized. 

How will I ever learn that I need not, must not avoid those who are in need, no matter how distressing, even repugnant, the poor one I am liable to miss in my world, here in this house, in my prayer, in my heart, in my mirror? Day in day out, all those photographs in the newspaper, always rubble, a little child sobbing, another old woman in a hijab or a babushka sad, displaced, mourning a dear one lost in war, pictures I get tired of looking at but that I must see and allow my heart to be wrenched, my prayer expanded. 

We remember dear Saint Francis, realizing one day that he must embrace a leper, the one he had shunned as the most repugnant outcast. Soon after this embrace, Francis will hide in a cave and cry his heart out, grieving over his past sins. In the leper he has come dangerously, wonderfully close to the trauma of bitter self-recognition, the place, the reality to be avoided at all costs has become the scene of encounter, healing and freedom. In the repugnant leper, Francis has embraced his wounded brother, his wounded self, the wounded Christ. Jesus was there, of all places, in his “distressing disguise." It is compassion that leads to this union and intimacy, recognizing God most high who has become God most lowly.

Today’s Gospel scene is often referred to as the scene of Final Judgment; perhaps more than that, it is the scene of final consummation when Christ as King is revealed as All in all, the Axis of all creation, when all divisions are finally abolished, and we understand our co-inherence in Him and in one another. The damnation, the curse Jesus speaks of at the close of today’s Gospel, is perhaps most of all the misery of blindness to his presence, the lack of recognition, which results in a failure of compassion. For all sin is simply blindness or worse, refusal to even look and notice Christ Jesus coming to us disguised in ten thousand places, “lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his” through the features of our own faces. A God who is not in competition with his creation, but so in love with it all that he has lost himself within it. 

Far beyond Ezekiel’s wildest dream in today’s First Reading, God Most High has not only come down to shepherd his sheep but has become himself the wounded Lamb. He has taken on the worst we have to offer, clothed forever in the flesh of our sin-ridden nature, and it is there that we can find and truly recognize him. The Lamb of God, pierced, forever full of holes, those marks of his love, disguised forever as one of his own wounded sheep. Beyond our imagining, well beyond Ezekiel’s vision, beyond imagination, Jesus enfleshes the self-forgetful love that God is in Trinity. Jesus only exists within the reality of this self-forgetfulness of God. And this, above all, is what God has done for us in Christ, what he is doing for us even now- incessantly giving himself away to us. 

And so once again this morning we are invited into the understated amplitude of Christ’s Kingship. We may name him King and Messiah, only if we remember that he has redefined the concept - through his nonviolence, his welcome of sinners and outsiders and above all by his free acceptance of persecution and death. Where is Christ as King is finally enthroned? On the hard wood of the cross, humiliated, mocked, bleeding out, wearing the only crown we ever gave him, one made of thorns. There he shows us how far God will go to prove his love. 

King is a title Jesus most often avoided. Still king is a title we need, especially today, when leaders routinely “lie without restraint, tread human rights under foot and rely on violence to get their way.” Celebrating Christ Jesus as our King, we expose all of that, its falsehood and offensiveness. Jesus our wounded King, the Lord of compassion goes before us; he leads by falling down, being spat upon, shoved and tortured. Not to teach us how to be doormats but showing us how to absorb hurt because God is beside us, within us, showing us the path to life and fullness of joy. 

In humble disguise, Christ Jesus comes to us, truly present in the afflicted and the needy, but ever and always worshipped and consumed only in the Blessed Sacrament we are about to share. A “sacramental realism” impels us in both directions. For if I have not noticed him in the refectory or passing in the cloister, or when I went to the dentist there in the waiting room; if I haven’t noticed him in the check-out line at the Big Y when on a brief shopping errand, I have little chance of recognizing him in a small morsel of broken Bread or a sip of Wine from the chalice. “When did we see you?” We are desperately hungry for this Holy Communion so that our blindness may be healed, and we may see him.

Only true love for Christ our King can sustain us in lives that are too often hard, obscure and laborious. Only the love of Christ Jesus our King keeps and guards us within these walls. Nothing else- no one else- is worth our whole selves, all we have to give. 

For all that I have held back for myself in selfishness and fear, please join me in begging his forgiveness, as we prepare to celebrate these most sacred Mysteries.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Divine Surgery

The body is subject to various sorts of illness. Some are easy to treat, others are not, and for the latter, recourse is had to incisions, cauterization, bitter medicine… We are told something of the same sort about the judgment in the next world, the healing of the soul’s infirmities. If we are superficial people, that amounts to a threat and a process of severe correction, so that the fear of a painful expiation may lead us to fly from wrongdoing and become wiser people. But the faith of deeper minds regards it as a process of healing and a therapy applied by God in such a way as to bring back the being he created to its original grace.

In fact those who by incisions or cauterization remove boils or warts that have formed contrary to nature on the surface of the body, do not bring about the healing without pain; but it is not to do harm to the patient that they carry out the incision. It is the same with the ‘warts’ that have formed on our souls…at the moment of judgment they are cut out and removed by the ineffable wisdom and power of him who is, as the Gospel says, the physician of the sick.

GREGORY OF NYSSA Great Catechetical Oration, 8

Friday, November 24, 2023

Knowing by Unknowing

If it happens that in seeing God one understands what is seen, that means it is not God himself who is seen but one of those knowable things that owe their being to him. For in himself he transcends all intelligence and all essence. He exists in a superessential mode and is known beyond all understanding only in so far as he is utterly unknown and does not exist at all. And it is that perfect unknowing, taken in the best sense of the word, the constitutes the true knowing of him who transcends all knowing.


The infinite is without doubt something of God, but not God himself, who is infinitely beyond even that.


The mystery that is beyond God himself,

the Ineffable,

that gives its name to everything,

is complete affirmation, complete negation,

beyond all affirmation and all negation.


Thursday, November 23, 2023


“Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Luke 17:17–19

He was saved by faith through the expression of gratitude! What a wonderful story to ponder today as we celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving!

Though Thanksgiving Day is not specifically a Church holy day, gratitude is certainly central to our Christian faith, as is illustrated by today’s Gospel in which ten lepers were healed by Jesus. And their communal reaction is something of which to take note. Nine of them were healed and went about their business, not returning to the source of their healing to thank Him. But one did. This one leper, who was suddenly no longer a leper, returned to Jesus, glorified Him, fell at His feet and thanked Him. This one leper was a foreigner, a Samaritan, but he manifested a faith that we must all strive to imitate. The faith of this Samaritan was evident by the fact that he knew he needed to not only be grateful for the grace of healing but that he also needed to express it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Knock and Seek

For your part then apply all your zeal to the reading of Scripture, with faith and the goodwill that are pleasing to God. It is not enough for you to knock and seek. What is needed above all in order to obtain the understanding of divine matters is prayer.

ORIGEN Letter to Gregory Thaumaturgus, 3

If you wish to attain to true knowledge of the Scriptures, hasten to acquire first an unshakable humility of heart. That alone will lead you, not to the knowledge that puffs up, but to that which enlightens, by the perfecting of love.

JOHN CASSIAN Conferences, XIV, 10

Never approach the words of the mysteries that are in the Scriptures without praying and asking for God's help. Say, ‘Lord, grant me to feel the power that is in them’. Reckon prayer to be the key that opens the true meaning of the Scriptures.

ISAAC OF NINEVEH Ascetic Treatises, 73

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The Presentation of Mary

And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her. And her parents went down marveling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel. ~ Protoevangelium of James

There are three “gospels” which are believed to have heavily influenced today’s memorial—the Protoevangelium of James, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary. The earliest of these writings was the Protoevangelium of James (also called the “Apocryphal Gospel of James”), which was most likely written sometime in the second century. It is not considered to be part of the inspired word of God, i.e., the canon of Scripture, because it does not appear to have actually been written by the Apostle James. Nonetheless, like many early Christian documents, this apocryphal gospel held great influence in the early Church. It is from this writing that the Church takes the traditional names of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s parents—Saints Joachim and Anne—since that is the only record of their names we have.

Monday, November 20, 2023

A Model For Prayer

As Jesus approached Jericho a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging, and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” The people walking in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent, but he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Luke 18:35–39

This story of the healing of this blind man, named Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark, sets for us a model of how we must come to Jesus in prayer. To begin, this “blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.” We must see this as an ideal image of how to begin our prayer. We come to God with nothing. Unable to see. A beggar. And one who is incapable of meeting our own spiritual needs. This is Bartimaeus, and this must be the way we come to our Lord in prayer. Sometimes we can fall into the illusion that our prayers are so elevated and pious that God must be very impressed. If that’s your struggle, then you are more like the Pharisees. This blind man, however, is the ideal to aim for. So when you begin your prayer, come to our Lord as a spiritually poor and needy beggar.

In this state of humility, just as it happened in this Gospel story, you can be certain that “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” So as you sit in your humble and needy state, wait and be attentive to Jesus passing by. Wait upon His gentle voice, His quiet inspiration, His calming and unmistakable presence. 

If you can humble yourself this way and then sense our Lord’s divine presence touching you in some way, then further imitate Bartimaeus by calling out interiorly, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” The cry from the depths of your heart in prayer must come as a result of Jesus “passing by.” It must be a response to Him coming to you on His own. As Jesus passes by, spiritually speaking, He waits for you to call to Him. He desires that you call to Him. And He desires that you do it with firm confidence and perseverance.

Notice that as this blind beggar cried out, there were obstacles put in his way. The people “rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” But even this was a gift, because it enabled Bartimaeus to cry out all the more. So also with us, when obstacles arise in our prayer, such as distractions, temptations, a lack of consolation, or any other challenge to our prayer, we must see these obstacles as hurdles that must be overcome.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Homily for the 33rd Sunday

In today’s parable one servant is entrusted with five talents, another two, and another one. In it we are confronted with the mystery of difference in the divine plan. Different ‘talents’ and different amounts of ‘talents’ are bestowed on different people. 

On one level we find natural differences. There are differences of age, physical abilities, differences in intellectual or moral aptitudes, differences in benefits according to the social setting in which one finds oneself, family, whether one lives in the city or country, differences in the distribution of wealth. 

The Catechism speaks of these differences in the article on Social Justice: “On coming into the world, it says, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others… These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from other, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures:

There follows a nice quote from the Dialogues of Catherine of Siena, which includes differences in the more specifically divine gifts. Jesus explains to her:

I distribute the virtues quite diversely; I do not give all of them to each person, but some to one, some to others…I shall give principally charity to one; justice to another; humility to this one, a living faith to that one…And so I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person,  so that you may be constrained to practice charity toward one another…I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me. St. Catherine of Siena, Dial. I,7.

In the divine plan, we all need one another, and we are all called to hand on to one another the graces and gifts we have received from the Lord. 

In this parable we have one of the ‘hard sayings’ of Jesus:

29 For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

This verse appears in chapter 13 of Matthew with the same meaning and the almost exact wording. The context is the parable of the sower. The disciples approach Jesus and ask him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus answers: "Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted” (Mat 13:11 NAB) and then, “12 To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. (Mat 13:12 NAB) 

Jesus’s choice to communicate his message in parables has again to do with difference. Speaking in parables takes into account that people are different and react differently. Since a parable doesn’t carry its meaning on the surface, the hearer goes through a gradual process of enlightenment as he engages with it. If he comes to it with the right attitude and openness, the result will a new perception of the truth and response to it. But it can also be resisted and dismissed as a mere story. For some they will break through the barriers to understanding, and to these, like the disciples, the “knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” will be given.

The meaning of “Talents” in today’s parable is open-ended. But whatever else they might refer to, I like the suggestion that they refer first of all to what Jesus refers to here: “knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”. 

It is a constant theme in both the Old and the New Testaments, that this gift of knowledge must bear fruit. It cannot be simply kept for oneself. It is either passed on or lost. It is an offence against the giver to return his loan without fruit. 

But the ‘talents’ are not going to bear fruit on their own. God has entrusted us not only with ‘talents’ but with freedom, and with that freedom responsibility to continue to grow in the “knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”, by prayer, study, reflection, growth in virtue and by passing them on to those in need; that is, to one another, because none of us possesses the whole, all of us need to share our talents and be given a share in the talents that have been entrusted to the other. 

In the parable, the talents have as their source the man who entrusts them to his servants and they remain his possessions. They are on loan. Therefore, he retains the right to settle accounts on what is given; the servants will be rewarded for using the talents fruitfully and punished when they do not. 

Note that for the master, only increase is acceptable. When he settles accounts, all three must present him with an increase of some sort, even if only investing his talent in the bank. 

Note too that there is a time frame within which the use of the talents is to take place. No specific date is given, but the master is only going away, he will be back and settle accounts. Time to act is provided for, but it is not open-ended. Time and opportunities to use the talents can be taken advantage of or lost. At some point there will be no more time, and there will only be the time to present the talents to the master and how they have been used. 

The talents have been lavishly given without merit. Using them well is to give thanks. The thankfulness that we owe God consists essentially in bearing fruit. ‘Thankfulness’ is a basic Christian disposition, but it can never remain simply an ‘attitude’, which is not actively lived out, nor a celebration of a liturgy that does not pass onto virtuous living, nor a mere pious assertion that one loves God, that is not proved in the love of one’s neighbor. “Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” cannot be separate from active love. This is clear, but as monks we know how easy it is even in this setting to fall into being carried along by the monastic routine, while love grows cold. 

God has laid claim on us and is looking for fruit. Fortunately, help in this regard is inherent in the nature of the talents themselves. We might think of the talents given to the servants as in themselves basically passive and inert. They are given and then the servants make them active so to speak by their trading. But this is not the nature of the word that comes forth from God. Rather, God’s word bears within itself a principle of fruitfulness, it contains an inherent inner dynamic that is ordered to multiplying itself, to increase. Grace is all about increase, overflow, in itself it knows nothing of diminishment. Moreover, by grace, we have been endowed with a creative force that is able to respond to the requirement to bear fruit. In this sense it is no surprise that the two servants who decide to trade with their talents can present a twofold increase to their master, which makes the decision of third servant all the more reprehensible. If we decide to love, in Christ and the Holy Spirit, love will increase, such is its nature. So let us love, let us love one another. That we may have the joy of presenting our talents before the Lord and hear his words, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.'

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Spiritual Eyes

Faith is the doorway to the mysteries. What the eyes of the body are for physical objects, faith is for the hidden eyes of the soul. Just as we have two bodily eyes, so we have two spiritual eyes, and each has its own way of seeing. With one we see the glory of God hidden in creatures: with the other we contemplate the glory of God's holy nature when he deigns to give us access to the mysteries.

ISAAC OF NINEVEH Ascetic Treatises, 72

Friday, November 17, 2023

Praying in our Inner Room

We have to take particular care to follow the Gospel precept that bids us go into our inner room and shut the door to pray to our Father.

This is how to do it.

We are praying in our inner room when we withdraw our heart completely from the clamor of our thoughts and preoccupations, and in a kind of secret dialogue, as between intimate friends, we lay bare our desires before the Lord.

We are praying with our door shut when, without opening our mouth we call on the One who takes no account of words but considers the heart.

We are praying in secret when we speak to God with the heart alone and with concentration of the soul, and make known our state of mind to him alone, in such a way that even the enemy powers themselves cannot guess their nature. Such is the reason for the deep silence that it behooves us to keep in prayer…

Thus our prayers should be frequent but short, for fear that if they are prolonged the enemy might have an opportunity to insinuate distraction into them. This is true sacrifice: ‘A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise’ (Psalm 51.17).

JOHN CASSIAN Conferences IX, 35-6

Thursday, November 16, 2023

God's Image

One day a soldier asked an elder whether God grants pardon to sinners. The elder answered, ‘Tell me, my good friend, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?’ The soldier replied, ‘No. I mend it and continue to use it.’ The elder continued, ‘ If you take good care of your cloak, will not God be merciful to his own image?’

Sayings of the Desert Fathers (In T. Merton, p. 113)

God in his love punishes, not to take revenge, far from it. He seeks the restoration of his own image and does not prolong his anger.

ISAAC OF NINEVEH Ascetic Treatises, 73 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

What is Prayer?

By prayer I mean not that which is only in the mouth, but that which springs up from the bottom of the heart. In fact, just as trees with deep roots are not shattered or uprooted by storms…in the same way prayers that come from the bottom of the heart, having their roots there, rise to heaven with complete assurance and are not knocked off course by the assault of any thought. That is why the psalm says: ‘Out of the deep have I called onto thee, O Lord’ (Psalm 130.1).

JOHN CHRYSOSTOM On the Incomprehensibility of God, Sermon 5

If you want to pray, you need God, who gives prayer to one who prays.

EVAGRIUS OF PONTUS On Prayer, 59 (Philokalia I,181)

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Love and Humility

Two men who wanted to see the sunrise would be very foolish to argue about the place where it will appear and their means of looking at it, then to let their argument degenerate into a quarrel, from that to come to blows and in the heat of the conflict to gouge out each others eyes. There would no longer be any question then of contemplating the dawn… 

Let us who wish to contemplate God purify our hearts by faith and heal them by means of peace; for the effort we make to love one another is already a gift from him to whom we raise our eyes.


An elder replied, ‘I tell you, many have ruined their bodies with no discernment and gone away without finding anything. We may have evil smelling breath because of our fasting, we may know the Scriptures by heart, we may recite all the psalms… and still lack what God is looking for—love and humility.

Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 90

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Homily for 32nd Sunday

Year A, November 12, 2023 

1st Wis. 6:13-16, Ps. 63, 2nd 1Thes. 4:13-18 Gospel Mt. 25:1-13.

       It's November, and we are coming to the end of the liturgical year with the Solemn Feast of Christ, the King of the Universe, which occurs this year two weeks from now on November 26.  The Sunday gospels in these weeks are concerned with the end of all time in the glorious coming of the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus Christ the King of Kings.  In today's gospel parable or allegory, Jesus depicts himself as the Bridegroom coming from the home of his bride to take her to his own home to celebrate for all to see his marriage to his Bride.  In the the parable, however, the Bride who would, of course, represent the Church, all believers, is not mentioned.  Rather, in this case the 10 virgins who carry their lamps in the darkness represent the early Church and all of us through the course of the Church's history who also intend, who hope at least, in our earthly lives to process with Christ on our pilgrim way to the marriage feast of the Lamb in the kingdom of heaven.  

       The allegory speaks of our Bridegroom being “long delayed” in his coming, just as Matthew's Church and the Church of today experience the delay to the point of losing enthusiam for the 2nd coming of Jesus, even though we pray at every mass that “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.”  Do we?  Are we actually waiting in hope for this?  The death of the first generations of Christians is seen in the parable in the fact that all of them—both the foolish and the wise virgins without exception fall asleep. The bible often refers to death as “sleep.”  Although the translation we heard says blandly and rather loosely that the virgins “got up” at the cry “Behold, the Bridgroom!”, the original Greek says that the virgins “were raised up” at the cry--using the same verb about the resurrection of Christ that was used in Matthew's Gospel just a few chapters back at the third prediction of the Passion and Resurrection.  Here is the ultimate crisis of human existence—the general resurrection and the grand sorting out of those who lived foolish lives from those who lived wisely.  The obvious question at this point is: what does it mean that some are foolish and some are wise?  More to the point: are we, am I among the foolish or among the wise? Even more to the point: nevermind about the final resurrection of all the dead at the end of time nor the particular judgement when each of us dies—what about right now! Right now are we, am I living the life of a fool or that of a wise person? Much earlier in Matthew's gospel there is a clear answer to this question.

        If we now move from chapter 25 to chapters 5,6, and 7, the Sermon on the Mount, where Matthew has sublimely compiled much of the teaching of Jesus on the moral and spiritual life of his disciples, Jesus concludes the sermon in this way: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock... And everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand...”  All ten virgins were called to be torch bearers for the Bridegroom Jesus—as are all of us here. Remember that Jesus tells us in the sermon, “You all are the light of the world!” The foolish ones let their lamps, their torches sputter out by neglecting to have enough oil handy.  The oil is in the deeds, the action taken in response to the words:  the acts of righteousness, of holiness and of justice. It is an oil that flows abundantly to those who paradoxically, selflessly use their oil of sanctification that they received in Baptism in response to the graced words of Jesus on how to live a life of Christian wisdom. 

       This wisdom is not in intellectual knowledge, but in the knowledge found in generous, loving, forgiving, committed hearts,  in hands that reach out to the poor, in backs that help carry another's burdens, in legs that go extra miles to serve and to reconcile, in faces of brothers and sisters lifted up together in prayer to their heavenly Father.  The fool hears the words of Jesus, but does not act on them. The fool's oil burns up, dries up and is not replenished by the oil of divine gladness that flows freely to those who respond to the words and the supply of the oil of grace that is contained in those words through the power of the Holy Spirit.  

       Behold, the Bridegroom! Come out to meet him! 

       He comes now to meet us in this Eucharist substantially as he has already encountered us verbally in the Liturgy of the Word.  He knows we need to wake up, to be raised up from the sleep of death that is sin. He comes now not only to have us accompany him to his marriage banquet, but to actually be our sacred banquet in which Christ becomes our food, the memory of his Passion is celebrated, the soul is filled with grace and the pledge of future glory is given to us.  Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Saint Martin of Tours

St. Martin of Tours was born in the year 316 in Sabaria, Pannonia (now Szombathely, Hungary) and died November 8, 397 in Candes, Gaul (France). He is the patron saint of France, father of monasticism in Gaul, and the first great leader of Western monasticism.

Of pagan parentage, Martin chose Christianity at age 10. As a youth, he was forced into the Roman army, but later—according to his disciple and biographer Sulpicius Severus—he petitioned the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate to be released from the army because “I am Christ’s soldier: I am not allowed to fight.” When charged with cowardice, he is said to have offered to stand in front of the battle line armed only with the sign of the cross. He was imprisoned but was soon discharged.

Legend holds that while he was still in the military and a catechumen of the faith, Martin cut his cloak in half to share it with a beggar. That night, he dreamed that Jesus himself was clothed with the torn cloak. When he awoke, the garment was restored. Moved by this vision and apparent miracle, Martin immediately finished his religious instruction and was baptized at age 18.

On leaving the Roman army, Martin settled at Poitiers, under the guidance of Bishop Hilary. He became a missionary in the provinces of Pannonia and Illyricum (now in the Balkan Peninsula), where he opposed Arianism, a heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. Forced out of Illyricum by the Arians, Martin went to Italy, first to Milan and then to the island of Gallinaria, off Albenga. In 360 he rejoined Hilary at Poitiers. Martin then founded a community of hermits at Ligugé, the first monastery in Gaul. In 371 he was made bishop of Tours, and outside that city he founded another monastery, Marmoutier, to which he withdrew whenever possible.

As bishop, Martin made Marmoutier a great monastic complex to which European ascetics were attracted and from which apostles spread Christianity throughout Gaul. He himself was an active missionary in Touraine and in the country districts where Christianity was as yet barely known. In 384/385 he took part in a conflict at the imperial court in Trier, France, to which the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus had summoned Bishop Priscillian of Ávila, Spain, and his followers. Although Martin opposed Priscillianism, a heretical doctrine renouncing all pleasures, he protested to Maximus against the killing of heretics and against civil interference in ecclesiastical matters. Priscillian was nevertheless executed, and Martin’s continued involvement with the case caused him to fall into disfavour with the Spanish bishops. During his lifetime, Martin acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, and he was one of the first non-martyrs to be publicly venerated as a saint.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Pope Saint Leo the Great

When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope, taking the name Benedict XVI, the first words he spoke from the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica referred to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, whom he referred to as “the great pope.” Since then, many have referred to him as “John Paul the Great.” Prior to that, only three popes came to be universally called “the Great”—Saint Gregory the Great (590–604), Saint Nicholas the Great (858–867), and the pope we honor today, Saint Leo the Great (440–461), who was the first pope to receive that title.

Leo was born in Tuscany, within the Western Roman Empire, at a time when the empire was experiencing decline due to ongoing threats of barbarian invasions, internal administrative disputes, and a difficult economic situation. Leo considered himself a Roman, since he spent his early years in the city. While still young, he was ordained a deacon in Rome under Pope Celestine and served him and his successor, Pope Sixtus III, in this capacity from 430–439. Deacons in Rome served the Church in important ways—as organizers of charitable works, liturgical services, and diplomatic missions; as administrators; and often as papal advisors. Deacon Leo quickly became highly respected in Rome as a man of unmatched theological learning and pastoral wisdom, prudence, and courage. 

In 439, a dispute broke out in the northern part of the Roman Empire between a Roman prefect named Albinus and a prominent Roman general named Aetius. Seeing the need for a resolution so as to avoid internal conflict and even war, the Western Roman emperor asked the pope to send Deacon Leo to broker peace. While on the diplomatic mission, Pope Sixtus III died and the Roman clergy quickly chose Deacon Leo as the new pontiff. Word was sent to him, and he returned to Rome, was ordained a bishop on September 29, 440, and took charge of the keys of Saint Peter.

As the newly elected pope, Pope Leo wasted no time. At the heart of his mission was unity in the true faith, under the Vicar of Christ. At that time, papal primacy was not as clear as it is today. Not all supported the idea that the pope was the universal pastor and teacher of the faith, holding universal authority.

One way Pope Leo taught about papal primacy was by exercising it. When he became aware of heresies, he exercised discipline. He discovered that some clerics in Aquileia were holding on to the heresy of Pelagianism and instructed the bishop that they could not be admitted to communion unless they fully and publicly renounced their error. In Rome, when he discovered a sect of Manichæism, he sought the members out, engaged them in public debate, burned their books with the support of the civil authorities, and did all he could to purge them from the Church. When he learned that the heresy of Priscillianism was growing in Spain, he wrote at length to the Spanish bishops, pointing out the heresy, and advising them on ways to root it out. In all of this, Pope Leo began to emerge as “the” pope, not just one spiritual father among many others. He saw himself as the Vicar of Christ and acted as the Vicar of Christ, helping to further solidify this teaching of papal primacy.