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Homily of St Ambrose on Matthew 21:33-46

There are several different interpretations of the term vineyard: but Isaiah said plainly that the vineyard of the Lord of Sabaoth was the house of Israel. Who else but God planted this vineyard? It is he then that let it out to husbandmen, and went himself into a strange country; not that the Lord went from place to place, since he is present everywhere; but that he is more especially present with those who are diligent in his service, and far from those who are negligent. He was abroad for a long time, lest he should seem overhasty in what he required. For where the more indulgent liberality has been shown, there obstinacy is the more inexcusable.

Thus it is well said, according to Matthew, that he “put a hedge about it,” that is, he fenced it in with the wall of divine protection, lest it should too easily be open to the inroads of spiritual wild beasts. And he “dug a wine-vat in it.” How shall we understand what is meant by this wine-vat, unless perhaps, since certain Psalms are inscribed: “For the presses”; for in these Psalms the mysteries of the Lord’s Passion seethe and brim over with the Holy Spirit like foaming new-made wine? Whence those men were thought to be drunk, who were flooded with the Holy Spirit. This man, therefore, dug the vine-vat into which the inward fruit of the reasonable grape should flow in a spiritual outpouring.

“He built a tower”: he raised aloft, so to say, the pinnacle of the law; and “then he let it [the vineyard] out,” thus furnished, tended, and adorned, to the Jews. “And, at the fruit season, he sent his servants.” It is well put: “At the fruit season,” not, “At the vintage.” For no fruit came forth from the Jews, no vintage from this vineyard, whereof the Lord says: “I looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it has brought forth thorns.” And, therefore, these vine-vats did not run over with the wine of joy, the new-made wine of the spirit, but with the blood of the Prophets who were slain.

Prayer: Grant to your people, we beseech you, O Lord, health of mind and body, that, by persevering in good works, we may be worthy to be protected by your mighty power. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

– St Ambrose, Bk. 9 on Luke, Ch. 20; from: An Approved English Translation of the Breviarium Romanum, Burns & Oates, London, 1964

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Posted by on March 4, 2016 in Words of Wisdom


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To be entirely wanting in a sense of humour is a loss that affects even our spiritual life. When we possess it, it can help us very considerably in bearing up against the inevitable trials of life, and in meeting in a spirit of cheerfulness these days of increased misery and suffering in which we with most of the world find ourselves involved.

Our Lord Jesus never went about in a state of habitual sadness

It was characteristic of Our Blessed Lord, our great exemplar in all virtues, that although He had a clear foreknowledge of the terrible Passion and Death that lay before Him, He never went about in a state of habitual sadness. As He was human and had the tenderest and most sensitive of human hearts, there were times in His life when He showed how deeply His feelings were stirred, as when looking down upon the beautiful city of Jerusalem, and for seeing the fate that only too soon was to fall upon it, He wept at the thought that all His efforts on its behalf were to prove fruitless. We recall, too, how deeply He was affected on hearing of the death of His friend Lazarus. We know, too, how before entering upon His Passion with the betrayal of Judas in His mind, the denial of Peter and the desertion of His apostles all clearly foreseen, He was sad as He walked to His prayer and to His agony in the Garden, so that He exclaimed: “My soul is sorrowful even unto death.” This only showed that He was human even as we are. But these manifestations of His feelings were isolated and exceptional and stood out in marked contrast to that habitual cheerfulness and calm that was so conspicuous in the greater part of His life, a charm that won the confidence of the beggars by the wayside and drew Him the love of little children. As He went through all the parts of Galilee and Judea, multiplying His miracles and acts of charity, He had ever words of comfort on His lips, telling men and women “to be of good heart”. The words were an echo of His own interior soul and had their source in His close union with His Father, with whom He was One as He was God and one in will as He was Man, subject in all things to the will of His Father.

Our Lord Jesus was telling people “to be of good heart”

And so we find that in those closest imitators of Our Lord, the saints, cheerfulness was a marked feature in their lives. A sad saint is a contradiction in terms, sadness being simply incompatible with sanctity. Most, if not all, of the saints had far greater sufferings than we even in these calamitous times are called upon to endure. But they had the divine wisdom never to brood upon them, much less to grumble and talk about them. On the contrary, they regarded them as so many opportunities of proving their love for their Crucified Lord; and looking upon them in the light of eternity they came to see that in themselves they were of small account, incidents in this brief passage of time, not even as a drop of water in that infinite ocean of the everlasting hereafter.

A sad saint is a contradiction in terms; sadness is incompatible with sanctity

To get anywhere near that serenity and peace of soul that was Christ’s and His saints’, we need of course, first and chiefly, the grace of God, for the gaining of which, however, we have so many means at our disposal. But in addition we must use all natural means, so that God’s grace may more effectively work in us. And among those means a cultivation of a sense of humour occupies more place and is of greater importance than some of us may be inclined to think. It is a sense of humour that induces that cheerfulness of spirit which, as we have already indicated, is an essential in our spiritual life. It is a sense of humour that will give us a truer appreciation of our own littleness and will prevent us leading lives of pretence and of exhibiting ourselves as people of more worth than we are. It is a sense of humour that helps us not to exaggerate or to make too much of the evils from we are undoubtedly suffering. As an example of this we may remember Bairnsfather’s famous picture of the two soldiers under heavy fire taking cover in a shell hole. When one of them grumbles at the inadequacy of their shelter, the other replies: “Well, if you know of a better ‘ole, go to it.” The humour is heightened when we read of the German officer who, being shown the picture, gravely explained to his men the meaning of the words, as he thought, with no sort of suspicion of the joke in them. It was humour again when a soldier stunned and bewildered by a “dud” shell that fell between him and his comrade exclaimed, “Where are we?” and then, glancing at his friend who had apparently been no saint, he added, “Any’ow, it can’t be heaven.” And during the last war we may recall with some justifiable pride how the ordinary men and women of London, as well as those of other large cities in England, never lost their cheerfulness despite the constant and destructive bombing to which they were subjected. One woman had already lost her own home in the blitz and had found room in the house of a neighbour. When later on deprived of that too by a nearby falling shell, she merely remarked: “Well, never mind, we can always doss down in one of the Underground Stations.” It was this cheerful spirit that was a mutual help to all those suffering people; and it aroused the admiration and wonder of visitors to this country that night after night of these bombing onslaughts, men and women would go about their work during the day, seemingly quite unconcerned, and exchange jokes with each other about happenings in the night that presented to them some humorous aspect. Most of these people were at least Christian and some no doubt were good Catholics. In any case their example shows us how we ought to face the trials that beset us to-day – but we must face them in a supernatural spirit.

Facing trials in a supernatural spirit

St Paul tells us (2Cor. 9:7), quoting from the book of Ecclesiastics (35:2), “God loveth a cheerful giver.” To see in all the miseries of our present life God’s will, and to submit gladly to all that it entails, is at once to make ourselves pleasing to Him and to heap up treasure in heaven, while, if at the same time we will but keep cheerful, it helps to lighten the heavy load we may be called upon to bear.

God loveth a cheerful giver (2Cor. 9:7)

Instead of grumbling and moaning over things and thereby making life more unhappy for others as well as for ourselves, we shall often be able to find even in the most trying situations some humorous element upon which we can seize to keep ourselves smiling. The poverty, for instance, to which a large number of people to-day are reduced is indeed an affliction. The man who can no longer afford to buy himself a new suit of clothes of which he is sorely in need can laugh at himself as a sort of animated scarecrow as he walks out in the threadbare rags that is all that his now depleted wardrobe can supply. He will laugh the more if he is able to reflect that in the days of his prosperity he strutted about with an air of pomposity and importance for which the only excuses were the well-cut coat on his back and the carefully creased trousers that fell on his well-polished shoes. He may laugh at the thought that he was then no better than a ridiculous walking “tailor’s dummy”.

In a picture in an old Punch [magazine] of two tramps in rags and tatters reclining under a May tree in full bloom, there was humour in the remark of one of them who said: “I wonder whether the saying ’till May be out don’t shed a clout’ means the month or the blossom?” That poor fellow’s sense of humour must have made it easier to bear with their very evident poverty.

The Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier and Cheerer of our souls

This sense of humour relieved the sufferings of a good priest lately dead, who for years was confined to his room and towards the end of his life was unable to stand on his feet, as the least movement caused him agonising pain. Yet he was habitually cheerful and ready to share a joke with any of his visitors. When he had received the Last Sacraments and death was very near, to the nurse, who to warn him the better said, “Father, your pulse is now very, very slow,” his only reply was, “Pessimist!”

There are undoubtedly situations in which it is very difficult to savour any humour, but there are few sufferings in which a person of the right disposition cannot find something to excite his mirth or at any rate keep him cheerful. The good Catholic, who is having what is called “a hell of a time” on this earth but with the grace of God is accepting it with resignation and patience, may find at least a chuckle in the thought that he is outwitting the devil and refusing his pressing invitation to join his company in that infinitely worse hell in the next world.

There are those who, as we know, are born without any sense of humour and who in consequence are often the worst advertisers of religion. What can one say to them? It may be suggested that they pray very hard to the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier and Cheerer of our souls, so that even if no miracle be worked to make them see any sense of humour in the happenings of life, they may at least acquire a cheerful disposition that will be a help in their own spiritual life and exercise a good influence upon their neighbour.

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949


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Posted by on February 29, 2016 in Words of Wisdom


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The marvellous success that attended the labours of the Apostles was due to the fact that “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost”. But what does this mean? It means that they had been so well prepared for His coming – praying, getting rid of self – that they were now filled with the love of God. The Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Love, was so dwelling in them that His was not a mere passive presence but an active one, that excited in them a reciprocal love of God.

The Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Love

It is a truism to say that love is the most powerful force that can move men to action. Poets and writers of all ages and countries have told us so. It is the theme of much of their writing. The poet Coleridge goes so far as to say:

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,

Whatever stirs this mortal frame,

All are but ministers of love,

And feed his sacred flame.

And we may say this is true if you take love in its widest sense and include all spurious forms of it. But the best love, the truest love, the only certain love, in which all other lawful human love must be found, is the love of God. We are speaking here not of God’s love of us, which is the Holy Ghost dwelling in us by sanctifying grace, but of our love for God which the Holy Ghost promotes and sets in motion.

Love is the most powerful force that can move men to action

When we love God we love Him with our intellect and will. There is not necessarily any feeling in it. The object of emotion which stirs up the feelings is something akin to our own nature and has a material or physical appeal of some sort. The love that a man has for a woman may contain a spiritual quality, but it is the physical beauty or attractiveness that stirs up the senses. This sort of love is capable of causing some of the greatest struggles and upheavals that the world has ever witnessed. We remember Marlowe’s lines about Helen of Troy: “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium?” The love into which passion enters very deeply and overturns reason is the love that has been chiefly extolled by men. But we need not accept the cynical remark of George Bernhard Shaw, that outstanding dramatist of our time, who writes: “When we want to read of the deeds that are done for love, whither do we turn? To the murder columns.”

The Supreme Good

But our love of God is infinitely higher, purer, stronger than any earthly love. To this love we are led first of all by our intellect. Once we are convinced that there is a God, we see in Him the “Summum Bonum” (The Supreme Good), the absolute good that has no measure, and as the origin and fount of all created good, He attracts us just in the degree that we attain an increasing knowledge of Him.

St Ignatius, in that culminating point of his Spiritual Exercises which he entitles “Contemplation for obtaining love”, bids us to see “how all good things and all gifts descend from above, as my limited power from the Supreme and Infinite Might on high; and in the same way justice, goodness, pity, mercy, etc., just as the rays descend from the sun and waters from the spring”. In fine, what we are to do is to make an assemblage of all lovely and attractive objects in this world, in rational, animate and inanimate nature, consider every beauty and perfection, and then reflect that all these have their origin in God, of whom they are but the faintest and dimmest reflection, and of themselves unable to give us anything approaching an adequate idea of Him or to satisfy our hearts, created by, and for, the Infinite God “in whom alone they can find their rest”.

“One only is good, God”

“One only is good, God,” said Our Lord, by which words of course He meant that God is the only absolute and all-sufficient good, and all the good there is in His creation is derived from Him and is by comparison a most attenuated form of His goodness.

Now when under the guidance of the Holy Ghost – because not merely naturally but supernaturally must the subject be treated – the intellect has grasped these truths and seen that God because of His infinite perfections is the One supremely lovable Being, when we have once entirely convinced ourselves that if we could see Him as He is we should have no freedom but to love Him, it is then that with the whole strength of our will we are determined to love Him and Him only and all creatures only in Him and for Him.

“Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Your love”

But it is here that we must turn in earnest prayer to the Holy Spirit that He will enkindle this love in us. By our own reasoning alone we should never get to that knowledge of God which arouses our love. We depend upon the Holy Spirit to see “the things that are of God”. Our blessed Lord said to His apostles,

“Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

The Holy Ghost is, in our souls, the force which originates, and maintains, and intensifies the movement towards knowledge and love of God.

A heart wholly inflamed with the fire of the Holy Ghost

Devotion to the Holy Ghost (who is the personal love that subsists between the Father and the Son and who with Them is the essence and nature of the One and indivisible God, constituting the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity) is a devotion that all who would arrive at a great love of God must assiduously cultivate and foster. There is no better prayer to Him than that of the Sequence “Veni Sancte Spiritus” which is said on Whit Sunday and throughout the octave of the feast.

In the opinion of critics it is justly regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of sacred Latin poetry. Of this hymn, Dr Gihr in his The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, p. 464, says: “The sequence for Whit Sunday can have come but from a heart wholly inflamed with the fire of the Holy Ghost. It is an incomparable hymn, breathing of the sweetness of Paradise, and regaling us with heaven’s sweetest fragrance. Only the soul buried with deepest recollection can suspect and taste the wealth of deep thought and affections this Pentecost hymn contains, and that, too, in a form remarkable for beauty as for brevity.” Those unacquainted with Latin will have no difficulty in obtaining an English Translation and it is by the use of such a prayer that we can arrive at that love of God which only His grace, begged for in constant prayer, can obtain for us.

What a consolation and comfort!

What a consolation and comfort a great love of God will afford us! It will make us indifferent to the miseries of this world in which we live. Indeed the more we love God, the more we shall be able to understand and to share the joy that the saints felt when called upon to suffer for God’s sake.

This poor world, torn and despoiled by war, is bereft now of so much that once gave us recreation and pleasure that we may be inclined to become sad and depressed. But it would be the greatest mistake to yield to such feelings. To do so only augments our weight of woe and is proof that we are far from being detached from the things of this world.

If we maintain a cheerful spirit and resign ourselves completely and gladly to the will of God, who has permitted these temporary evils to invade us, we shall not only be gaining great merit for ourselves but our example will be a help and an inspiration to others.

This splendid result we can all of us achieve, if by taking all the supernatural means that are afforded to us we grow in our love of God, who is so worthy to be served for Himself alone but who will infallibly give us a share, after this brief life is over (and how brief it is in view of eternity!) in His own all-satisfying and everlasting glory in Heaven.

Some things the love of God can accomplish in souls

What the love of God can accomplish in souls we see not only in the lives of canonised saints but in many to whom we priests in the course of our duties have been privileged to minister. Among these we may cite the example of one whose life was summarised in the following words:

“It was a great and consuming love of God that enabled one, whose name may not be given, to endure with courage and calm resignation a life-time of suffering. Blow after blow fell on her throughout her days, yet her love and her faith never faltered, nor did she ever doubt the ultimate wisdom of God.

She was in her early twenties when her betrothed died suddenly and the bright hopes of a happy future in this world vanished. Her only brother was killed in the Dardanelles in 1915, less than a month after he had sailed from England. She devoted herself more than ever to her parents. Then, when she was in her early thirties, she was stricken down by cancer. A severe operation became necessary. She made all arrangements to go into hospital and told only two people of the ordeal she was expecting. She knew what anguish it would be to her beloved parents to know of it and so she determined that they should never know. The operation was borne with fortitude and even gaiety. Her parents believed that she was in holiday while she was in hospital. Later, another operation became necessary, and that too she contrived to keep secret. Then she lost both her parents in a short period and it seemed from an earthly point of view as though life were empty of its last consolations. But her home became a centre of hope and inspiration to all who entered it. Nobody ever heard her grumble. Her gay and indomitable, but always gentle, spirit carried her unflinchingly through suffering that would have made the strongest tremble. To somebody’s amazed inquiry as to how she endured it all so happily, she said gratefully, ‘Oh, I have been so helped.’ And with a smile on her poor emaciated face, she went to her death.”

“Oh, I have been so helped”

Who can doubt but that it was an intense love of God, who loaded her with His grace, that enabled this heroic soul to live a life of such continuous sacrifice? It is in the lives of souls such as these, most of whom are utterly unknown to the world and are in the knowledge of a comparatively few men and women, that we see verified the words of Thomas a Kempis: “Love is a great thing, yea, in all ways a great good; for it alone maketh light to all that is heavy, and beareth with even mind every uneven burden while counting it no burden, and maketh sweet and of good savour every bitter thing… Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher or wider, nothing more joyous, nothing fuller nor better in heaven or earth; for love is born of God, and can rest only in God above all created things.”

Love is born of God, and can only rest in God above all created things

Inspired by the lives of the saints whose hearts and wills were wholly set upon God and by the lives too of those many holy souls who even at this hour are in our midst living only for God, let us all pray that we may be filled in our turn with a great love for Him. In that love we shall assuredly find our greatest comfort and consolation. Often during the day we may repeat that indulgenced ejaculation: “My God, grant that I may love thee, and let the only reward of my love be to love thee more and more.”[*An indulgence of 300 days (S.C. Ind., March 15, 1890; S.P. AP., March 23, 1936].

– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Conferences of Comfort, Christopher J. Wilmot S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London 1949




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“[The words], ‘If you love me, keep my commandments, and ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete’, were brought to fulfilment in the disciples themselves.

They were proven truly to have loved him, truly to have obeyed in his commandments, on that day when all at once the Holy Spirit appeared to them in [tongues of] fire as they were praying in the upper room, and taught them, [putting] in mouths a diversity of languages, and made them strong in heart with the consolation of his love.

Earlier, however, they possessed the Paraclete himself, namely, our Lord sojourning with them in the flesh. By the sweetness of his miracles and the wealth of his preaching they were wont to be raised up and strengthened, so that they could not be scandalised at persecution by unbelievers.

But since by ascending into heaven after his Resurrection he had deserted them bodily, although the presence of his divine majesty was never absent from them, he rightly added concerning this Paraclete, that is, the Holy Spirit: ‘to abide with you forever’. He abides eternally with the saints, always illuminating inwardly and invisibly in this life, and introducing them to the everlasting contemplation of the sight of his majesty in the future.

If we too, dearly beloved brothers, love Christ perfectly in such a way that we prove the genuineness of this love by our observance of his commandments, he will ask the Father on our behalf, and the Father will give us another Paraclete. He will ask the Father through his humanity, and will give [us another Paraclete] with the Father through his divinity…

If we commit ourselves with all care to hearing, reading, conferring with one another, and preserving these [deeds and teachings] in heart and body, it is sure that we will easily overcome the hardships of this age – as if the Lord were sojourning with us forever and consoling us. If we love this Paraclete and keep his commandments, he will ask the Father, and he will give us another Paraclete – that is, he will in his clemency pour forth the grace of his Spirit into our hearts, and it will gladden us in the expectation of our heavenly homeland in the midst of the adversities of our present exile.”

– St Bede the Venerable

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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in Words of Wisdom


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“Jesus prays, ‘sanctify them’, that is, ‘perfect them and make them holy. And do this in the truth’, that is, in me, your Son, who am the truth (Jn 14:6).

It is like saying: Make them share in my perfection and holiness (sanctity). And thus he adds, ‘your word’, that is, your Word, is the truth. The meaning is then: Sanctify them in me, the truth, because I, your Word, am the truth.

Or, we could say this: Sanctify them, by sending the Holy Spirit. And do this in the truth, that is, the knowledge of the truths of the faith and of your commandments: ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (John 8:32). For we are sanctified by faith and the knowledge of the truth: ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe’ (Rm 3:22).

The righteousness of God through faith for all who believe

He adds, ‘your word is truth’, because the truth of God’s words is unmixed with falsity: ‘All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them’ (Pr 8:8). Further, his word teaches the uncreated truth.

Another interpretation: In the Old Testament everything set aside for divine worship was said to be sanctified: ‘Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel to serve me as priests’ (Ex 28:1). Accordingly he says, ‘sanctify them’, that is, set them aside, in truth, that is, to preach your truth, because your word, which they are to preach, is truth.”

– St Thomas Aquinas

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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in Words of Wisdom


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And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me. (Lk 22:19)

“As in God’s counsels it was necessary for the atonement that there should be a material, local, sacrifice of the Son once and for all: so for our individual justification, there must be a spiritual, ubiquitous communication of that sacrifice continually. There was but one atonement; there are ten thousand justifications…

His rising again was the necessary condition of his applying to his elect the virtue of that atonement which his dying wrought for all men. Thus he died to purchase what he rose again to apply.”

Bl. John Henry Newman; The Son of God redeems us, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. Jfc., 205-6


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“On this Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul let us remember to pray for Pope Francis, the successor of St Peter. Pope Francis has shown great courage in reforming the Roman Curia and the Vatican Bank. He also lives a simple lifestyle and shows a great example how we should live a Gospel life in the Church. His mercy and love has been admired by people all over the world and he has travelled much to make contact with those in the church who particularly need support. A few days ago Pope Francis issued an encyclical letter addressed to all peoples of the world concerning environmental issues. This will contribute greatly to the discussion taking place about how we look after our planet, which is our common home.

So we should pray for Pope Francis that he will fulfil the mission given to him by God and that he will always be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in leading us in the Church.” (St Saviour’s)


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