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THE SIGN OF THE CROSS – THE SHORTEST PRAYER

“Can you think back and recall the last funeral you attended? The tragic occasion, the grieving relatives and sad hymns at the Mass all went to make the occasion memorable and very sad especially if it was the funeral of a loved one who would be tenderly missed, a parent, a child, a friend, a priest, someone whose relationship you cherished immensely.

At this or at many other moments like it you may have simply made the Sign of the Cross while passing the bier or when you threw a fistful of earth over the closed coffin as it was being lowered into the grave at the cemetery. Probably only you and God knew what that meant. But it seemed the shortest prayer that rose up asking God to take the dear departed soul into his loving embrace.

A VISIBLE SIGN OF FAITH

It was certainly a prayer, an invocation, a visible act of faith, something intensely in the context of a very public liturgy. It was a reminder of how precious and universal that gesture is: to bless yourself in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

You spot people blessing themselves on all sorts of situations: absent-mindedly on the way into church; solemnly at the end of Mass; in joyful delight when one of your favourite Premier League players scored a goal. Then poignantly you are hauled back to the moment at the funeral when you made that Sign of the Cross which was equally significant. In extreme sickness, when the brain can no longer form words, the only way we can turn to God may be with our feeble fingers, forming a cross on our breast or our brow. This sign can grow hurried and thoughtless through custom, but in moments of crisis and deep emotion, there are few gestures as rich in meaning as blessing ourselves.”
– This is an excerpt of the article “The Sign of the Cross” by Paul Andrews SJ published in “Don Bosco’s Madonna” issue September 2013. For subscriptions or to support seminarians please visit http://www.donboscosmadonna.org (external link) or http://www.dbmshrine.org (external link).

 

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SHAMROCK, THREE-IN-ONE: ST PATRICK’S TEACHING ABOUT THE HOLY TRINITY

“[On] 17th March we celebrate St Patrick’s Day, the patron saint of Ireland. In his ‘Confessio’ St Patrick writes about the Trinity:

There is no other God, nor ever was, nor will be, than God the Father
• Unbegotten
• Without beginning
• From whom is all beginning
• Who upholds all things, as we have been taught.

And His Son Jesus Christ
• Whom we acknowledge to have been always with the Father
• Who before the beginning of the world was spiritually present with the Father
• Begotten in an unspeakable manner before all beginning
• By Him are made all things visible and invisible.
• He was made man, and
• Having defeated death, was received into heaven by the Father
• And He has given Him a name which is above all names
• That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow of things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth
• And every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God
• In whom we believe, and whose coming we expect soon to be
• Judge of the living and the dead
• Who will render to every man according to his deeds
• And He has poured forth upon us abundantly…

The Holy Spirit
• The gift and pledge of immortality
• Who makes those who believe and obey sons of God the Father
• And joint heirs with Christ
Whom we confess and adore, one God in the Trinity of the Holy Name.”
– From: “Spiritual Thought from Father Chris”, March 2011

 

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TO A PARENT WHOSE SON OR DAUGHTER HAS DIED

“Death, the sad inheritance of every son of Adam, which no one will escape, is not the end of everything, but rather the beginning of that blessed life which is the only one worthy of being gained. All will pass in this world, from the most humble things to the most grandiose, but eternal life will remain without end, in which there will be no mourning.

MERE WORDS SEEM TO BE OUT OF PLACE IN THIS AGONY

The letter by St Basil the Great: ‘I hesitated to address you due to your dignity, from the idea that, just as to the eye when inflamed even the mildest of remedies causes pain, so to a soul distressed by heavy sorrow, words offered in the moment of agony, even though they do bring much comfort, seem to be somewhat out of place.

But I bethought me that I should be speaking to a Christian woman, who has long ago learned godly lessons, and is not inexperienced in the vicissitudes of human life, and I judged it right not to neglect the duty laid upon me. I know what a mother’s heart is and when I remember how good and gentle you are to all, I can reckon the probable extent of your misery at this present time. You have lost a son whom, while he was alive, all mothers called happy, with prayers that their own might be like him, and on his death bewailed, as though each had hidden her own in the grave.

But our lives are not without Providence, so we have learnt in the Gospel, for not a sparrow falls to the ground without the will of our Father (cfr. Mt 10:29). Whatever has come to pass has come to pass by the will of our Creator. And who can resist God’s will? Let us accept what has befallen us; for if we take it ill we do not mend the past and we work our own ruin. Do not let us arraign the righteous judgment of God. We are all too untaught to assail His ineffable sentences. The Lord is now making trial of your love for Him. Now there is an opportunity for you, through your patience, to take the martyr’s lot. The mother of the Maccabees (cfr. 2 Mac 7) saw the death of seven sons without a sigh, without even shedding one unworthy tear. She gave thanks to God for seeing them freed from the fetters of the flesh by fire and steel and cruel blows, and she won praise from God, and fame among men. The loss is great, as I can say myself; but great too are the rewards laid up by the Lord for the patient.

DO NOT MEASURE YOUR LOSS BY ITSELF, IF YOU DO IT WILL SEEM INTOLERABLE

When first you were made a mother, and saw your boy, and thanked God, you knew all the while that, a mortal yourself, you had given birth to a mortal. What is there astonishing in the death of a mortal? But we are grieved at his dying before his time. Are we sure that this was not his time?

We do not know how to pick and choose what is good for our souls, or how to fix the limits of the life of man. Look around at all the world in which you live; remember that everything you see is mortal, and all subject to corruption.

Look up to Heaven; even it shall be dissolved; look at the sun, not even the sun will last forever. All the stars together, all living things of land and sea, all that is fair on earth, aye, earth itself, all are subject to decay; yet a little while and all shall be no more. Let these considerations be some comfort to you in your trouble. Do not measure your loss by itself; if you do it will seem intolerable; but if you take all human affairs into account you will find that some comfort is to be derived from them.

MERE WORDS I KNOW CANNOT GIVE COMFORT

Mere words I know cannot give comfort. Just now what is wanted is prayer, and I do pray the Lord Himself to touch your heart by His unspeakable power, and through good thoughts to cause light to shine upon your soul, that you may have a source of consolation in yourself.'”
– This letter by St Basil the Great to the wife of Nectarius was published in “De Vita Contemplativa” (Monthly Magazine for Monasteries), issue Number 11, Year VII.

 
 

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MANKIND’S SALVATION HISTORY THROUGH THE HOLY ROSARY: THE LUMINOUS MYSTERY “BAPTISM OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST”

HIS BAPTISM – BEGINNING OF THE PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS CHRIST

BACKGROUND

“For approximately thirty years the life of Jesus was passed in the obscurity of the little town of Nazareth. Of this period in the history of Jesus we can say with certainty no more than the Gospel tells us. When Jesus was twelve He went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and He remained there for a few days after the celebration of the feast to listen to the doctors of the Jewish law [See this blog’s post: “Mankind’s Salvation History Through the Holy Rosary: The Joyful Mysteries ‘Presentation’ and ‘Finding the Lost Child Jesus at the Temple'”]. Apart from this incident we know only that at Nazareth Jesus grew in wisdom and age and favour before God and man.

THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE DIVINE PLAN FOR THE REDEMPTION OF MANKIND

Theologians tell us that Jesus was favoured with the vision of God from the very beginning of His human life. Through this vision Jesus would share in the knowledge of the divine plan for the redemption of mankind. But, beyond this wondrous share in the infinity of the divine knowledge, Jesus, according to St Luke, also acquired His due share of human knowledge, for He grew in wisdom before God and man.

It is proper to assume that during the hidden years of His life at Nazareth Jesus advanced in His knowledge of the Law of Moses and of the history of God’s relations with His Chosen People. No doubt He attended the local synagogue and listened to the interpretations of the Law given by the rabbis.

With a keen eye He must have observed His neighbours, the elders of the village, the young men and women, the children. With a penetrating mind and a warm heart He understood their problems, their desires and hopes, their disappointments and failures. During this period He must have learned that wealth of the warm knowledge which He was later to communicate so simply, yet so strongly to those who had the good will to listen to Him.

WHY DID JESUS WAIT FOR 30 YEARS BEFORE HE BEGAN HIS MINISTRY?

We cannot know exactly why Jesus waited for approximately thirty years before He began His public ministry to the world. We can, of course, surmise that the importance and gravity of His message to the world would come more acceptably to the world from the lips of a mature man, a man who by his age and presumed experience might be listened to more readily.

JOHN THE BAPTIST, THE FORERUNNER

Before Jesus Himself began His public work of preaching, God sent John the Baptist, the son of Zachary the priest, to prepare the way for Him. As St Luke tells us, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar as emperor of Rome – in the year 27 or 28 A.D. – ‘the word of God came to John, the son of Zachary, in the desert’ (Luke 3:2). In response to God’s word John came out of the desert and began to preach to the people. ‘Repent,’ he said, ‘for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 3:2).

THE CALL TO REPENTANCE

John appeared to the people in the region about the Jordan river. He came dressed like an ascetic, wearing only a garment of camel’s hair and a leathern girdle about his loins. For his food he ate only locusts and wild honey.

His ascetic appearance and practices, his urgent call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins made people wonder whether or not he was a prophet. Many pious Jews went out to hear him. Moved by his message they confessed their sins and were baptised by him in the Jordan.

A MESSAGE OF HOPE

In part the message of John was new and unexpected; in part it was old and familiar. The Jews, knowing their own history, realised that it was the sins of the nation which brought ill fortune to the race. It is even possible that they remembered the appeal of the great prophets of the Exile for personal repentance and personal purity of heart. They knew also that it was God’s intention to bless the world and rule it through them. To this extent the message of John probably struck a familiar chord of memory and hope in their hearts.

INDIVIDUAL VERSUS COLLECTIVE REPENTANCE

But at the moment when John was preaching repentance it must have seemed to the Jews that the nation as a group had no need for repentance. Under the Macchabees they had fought valiantly to defend their ancient faith in the one true God. Their struggle had been successful.

Even though they were now under the political domination of the Romans, their ancient faith remained intact. Jahweh was worshipped daily in the Temple at Jerusalem. To this extent the message of John was unexpected. It was clear he was calling to personal repentance. That he meant this and that they so understood him is shown by the fact that they confessed their sins when they were baptised by him in the Jordan.

WHAT EXACTLY DOES ‘THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND’ MEAN?

‘Repent,’ John told them, ‘for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Repentance is necessary because the kingdom of heaven is approaching; it is here. To understand John’s message we must understand the significance of the phrase ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ The word ‘kingdom’ as it is used here does not mean a geographical kingdom, a portion of earth ruled by a king. It means the reign of the rule of the king himself. And the word ‘heaven’ does not mean the sky, nor even the abode of the saints of God. It means God Himself, for the word ‘heaven(s)’ was a word used by pious Jews to designate God Himself. What John was announcing then was this: Repent, for God has come to rule His world; the reign of God over men is now being established.

‘THE CROOKED SHALL BECOME STRAIGHT, AND THE ROUGH WAYS PLAIN’

John presents himself to the Jews, then, as a messenger of God, as one preparing men for the coming of God Himself. The Evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke consider John in this light, for they say that his preaching fulfils the prophecies of Malachias and Isaias.

Malachias had said that God would send a messenger to prepare the way for the Lord Whom the Jews would seek: ‘Behold I send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before my face. And presently the Lord whom you seek, and the angel of the testament whom you desire shall come to his Temple. Behold he cometh, saith the Lord of Hosts’ (Malachias [Malachi] 3:1). Isaias had written: ‘The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed’ (Isaias [Isaiah] 40:3-5). John himself would also apply the prophecy of Isaias to himself and to his role in history.

THE BIBLICAL EQUIVALENT OF ‘ROLLING OUT THE RED CARPET’ FOR V.I.P.s

Now it was the custom in those ancient times for men to go before a ruler when he was visiting the parts of his kingdom and level the roads for his passage, building them up where necessary and cutting them down to make his passage smooth. John, then, sees himself as one who goes before the Lord to prepare a smooth passage for Him. He is the messenger sent to announce the establishment of God’s rule over men. He makes the path of the Lord smooth by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

WHAT PRECISELY DID JOHN THE BAPTIST PREACH?

It is probable that we do not know the full content of John’s preaching. But both St Matthew and St Luke give us the impression that his call to repentance was more detailed than the general exhortation to repent.

To the publicans, that is, to the tax collectors, John said: ‘Exact no more than what has been appointed you’ (Luke 3:13). To the soldiers he said, ‘Do violence to no man, neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay’ (Luke 3:14). To the tax collectors and soldiers he counselled the practice of justice and the forsaking of avarice and violence. To the Pharisees and to the people generally he preached humility and love of neighbour. The Pharisees he rebuked because they took pride in being sons of Abraham and acted as if God depended on them for the accomplishment of His plans. To the people he said, ‘Let him who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise’ (Luke 3:11).

JOHN’S BAPTISM WAS INTENDED TO SYMBOLISE INTERNAL CHANGE

Those who believed in John and repented of their sins were baptised by him in the Jordan. It seems clear that the rite of washing in the Jordan was intended by John to symbolise the internal change of heart which true repentance demands. As the washing of the body in the flowing waters of the Jordan purifies the body, so does true repentance of heart purify the soul of man. It is quite clear that this baptism of John is not to be confused with the baptism which Jesus will later institute. John himself tells the people that one mightier than he will baptise them, not just with water but with the Holy Spirit.

OUR LORD JESUS GETS BAPTISED BY JOHN IN THE RIVER JORDAN

While John was still preaching repentance and baptising his followers, Jesus Himself came to him one day to be baptised. St Matthew tells us that John was reluctant to do so. ‘It is I,’ he said, ‘who ought to be baptised by you, and dost thou come to me?’ (Matthew 3:14). Jesus insisted, ‘Let it be so now, for so it becomes us to fulfil all justice’ (Matthew 3:15). When Jesus had been baptised the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove and the voice of God the Father came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved son, in thee I am well pleased’ (Luke 3:22).

A VERY SIGNIFICANT MOMENT

This is a significant moment in the history of Jesus. It is clear from the words of John that Jesus had no personal need to receive the baptism of John. Certainly His desire to be baptised by John could be taken as a manifestation of His intention, as a pious Israelite, to dedicate Himself wholly to the service of God even beyond the ordinary requirements of the Mosaic Law. But the aftermath of the baptism shows us that something more than this was involved in the baptism of Jesus.

THE SACRAMENT: BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF FATHER, SON, HOLY SPIRIT

Later on Jesus will command that those who believe in Him be baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Now these same three mysterious personages appear here at the baptism of Jesus. The Holy Spirit appears bodily in the form of a dove. The Father speaks from heaven and He addresses Jesus as His beloved Son. It is possible that God is here instituting the Sacrament of Baptism. John has already said that Jesus will baptise men, not just with water but with the Holy Spirit. How fitting, then, that He Who is to give the Holy Spirit to men should here be seen visibly to receive the Spirit or to be filled with the Spirit.

THE BEGINNING OF JESUS’ PUBLIC MINISTRY

Moreover, this manifestation of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus seems to mark the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus Himself. Jesus is seen to receive or to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. God speaks of Him as His well-beloved Son, thereby approving His subsequent ministry.

And, after this manifestation of divine approval, Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit for forty days, there to wrestle with the devil, the enemy of God and of men. The temptation of Jesus by the devil shows that the evil spirit is already disturbed by the appearance of Jesus. He believes himself threatened by his designs to destroy men and he would try this new adversary to determine his strength. Even though the temptation of Jesus by the devil took place in secret, it seems to be a fitting symbol of the future triumph of Jesus over the devil in the struggle for the salvation of men. From that point of view it reinforces the idea that the baptism of Jesus by John and the divine manifestation following it mark the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus, the divine commission or sanction for Jesus to begin the public fulfilment of His role in the divine plan of salvation.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

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THE TEARS OF ST MONICA WERE A SACRIFICE

“Tears are the heart’s blood. This is a beautiful thought of Saint Augustine’s, which he applies to his mother. ‘My God” he cries “my mother’s tears, this blood of her heart, which flowed night and day, rose to thee in sacrifice for me’.

‘The soul’, said the ancients, ‘is in the blood’. It carries at least part of life; it rolls with our impressions, our thoughts, our desires, our sorrows, our joys, our hopes; for in reality man’s blood is not merely a scarlet liquid which circulates in his veins and constantly repairs his forces. Tears are also a form of blood, and when they rise, they contain as it were drops from the heart, which thus fall to the ground.

O Christian souls, you, like Saint Monica, have dear ones, to whom you cling with all your strength! Have you not often shed tears for them before the Lord? And did you not feel that those tears were the very blood of your inner nature, and that this blood, the shedding of which so tore your heart, was like a sacrifice, a veritable martyrdom? Oh! do not regret it; rejoice in this sacrifice; this it was, perhaps, which restored peace and piety in your family. Continue to pray, to shed tears before God. Each one of these drops is taken up by angels, and when they reach the throne of God, Heaven knows what metamorphosis they have undergone in the transit – they are all changed into pearls, whose price serves to purchase the redemption of those who are dear to you.

One day a poor woman was weeping in a church for her sins. A Bishop who was on the altar saw a dove collecting her tears in order to bear them to heaven.”
– Laverty&Sons, Leeds, 1905

 
 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (GENESIS 27:1-5, 15-29)

JACOB SUPPLANTED HIS BROTHER AND TOOK HIS BROTHER’S BLESSING.

Isaac had grown old, and his eyes were so weak he could no longer see. He summoned his elder son Esau, “My son!” he said to him and the latter answered, “I am here.” Then he said, “See, I am old and do not know when I may die. Now take your weapons, your quiver and bow; go out into the country and hunt me some game. Make me the kind of savoury I like and bring it to me, so that I may eat, and give you my blessing before I die.”

Rebekah happened to be listening while Isaac was talking to his son Esau. So when Esau went into the country to hunt game for his father, Rebekah took her elder son Esau’s best clothes, which she had in the house, and dressed her younger son Jacob in them, covering his arms and the smooth part of his neck with the skins of the kids. Then she handed the savoury and the bread she had made to her son Jacob.

He presented himself before his father and said, “Father.” “I am here” was the reply, “who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done as you told me. Please get up and take your place and eat the game I have brought and then give me your blessing.” Isaac said to his son, “How quickly you found it, my son!” “It was the Lord your God,” he answered, “who put it in my path.” Isaac said to Jacob, “Come here, then, and let me touch you, my son, to know if you are my son Esau or not.” Jacob came close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice but the arms are the arms of Esau!” He did not recognise him, for his arms were hairy like his brother Esau’s, and so he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” And he replied, “I am.” Isaac said, “Bring it here that I may eat the game my son has brought, and so may give you my blessing.” He brought it to him and he ate; he offered him wine, and he drank. His father Isaac said to him, “Come closer, and kiss me, my son.” He went closer and kissed his father, who smelled the smell of his clothes.
He blessed him saying:

“Yes, the smell of my son
is like the smell of a fertile field blessed by the Lord.
May God give you
dew from heaven,
and the richness of the earth,
abundance of grain and wine!
May nations serve you
and peoples bow down before you!
Be master of your brothers;
may the sons of your mother bow down before you!
Cursed be he who curses you;
blessed be he who blesses you!”

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 

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TODAY’S BIBLE READING (GENESIS 22:1-19)

THE SACRIFICE OF OUR FATHER ABRAHAM.

It happened that God put Abraham to the test. “Abraham, Abraham,” he called. “Here I am,” he replied. “Take your son,” God said, “your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.”

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, “Father,” he said, “Yes, my son,” he replied. “Look,” he said, “here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. “Abraham, Abraham,” he said. “I am here,” he replied. “Do not raise your hand against the boy,” the angel said. “Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your own son.” Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son. Abraham called this place “The Lord provides”, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. “I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.” Abraham went back to his servants, and together they set out for Beersheba, and he settled in Beersheba.

V. The word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

 

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