Archive | June, 2018

John and Jesus: Remarkable Similarities

June 22, 2018

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St. John the BaptistThe birth of St. John the Baptist features the one who is the precursor, the forerunner, the one who foretold the coming of Jesus, went ahead of him, prepared his way, pointed him out when he came, and proclaimed him to be the Son of God. The birth of John set the stage for the birth of Jesus, and the two of them have much in common.

John and Jesus were relatives. They both had annunciations: the angel Gabriel announced the birth of John to Zechariah; the angel Gabriel announced the birth to Jesus to Mary. They both had holy mothers: Elizabeth was righteous and filled with the Holy Spirit; Mary was full of grace and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Both of their births were miraculous: Elizabeth was old, barren, and beyond her childbearing years; Mary was young, a virgin, and before her childbearing years. Elizabeth’s conception was the Lord’s doing; Mary’s conception was by the power of the Holy Spirit. John was not named after his father Zechariah, but given the name provided by the angel; Jesus was not named after his father Joseph, but given the name provided by the angel. Both escaped the massacre of the Holy Innocents: John was hidden in the Rock of Concealment; Jesus and his parents fled to Egypt.

John and Jesus had strong religious upbringings. John had good and holy parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah; Jesus had good and holy parents, Mary and Joseph. Both observed the Sabbath, John in the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth. Very little is known about their childhoods. John presumably was an understudy of his father Zechariah as a priest in the Temple; Jesus was an understudy of his father Joseph in the carpenter’s shop.

When John and Jesus appeared as adults, neither followed the professions of their fathers. John, instead of being a priest, left Jerusalem to become a desert prophet; Jesus, instead of remaining a carpenter, left Nazareth to become a preacher, teacher, and healer. John foretold the long-awaited Messiah; Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. John was the baptizer; Jesus was the one baptized. John was a servant of God and a light to the nations; Jesus was a servant of God and a light to the nations.

Both John and Jesus were bold preachers whose tongues were as sharp as a two-edged sword. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance; Jesus told the people to repent and turn away from sin. John chastised King Herod Antipas and Herodias for their adulterous relationship; Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees for being hypocrites. The king and queen were furious with John; the religious leaders were furious with Jesus. John was arrested and put in prison; Jesus was apprehended at Gethsemane and held overnight.

John, innocent though he was, was beheaded with a sword; Jesus, innocent though he was, was crucified and his side pierced by a sword. John died a young man at the age of 31 or 32; Jesus died a young man at the age of 33. John died a prophet’s or martyr’s death; Jesus died a savior’s or redeemer’s death. John’s disciples took his body and laid it in a tomb; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body and laid it in a tomb. John was given a place in heaven with the angels and saints; Jesus ascended to heaven where he is surrounded by the angels and saints. The similarities between John and Jesus are remarkable, and if John could live a life that was similar to Jesus in many ways, we are called to pattern our lives on Jesus.

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The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

June 22, 2018

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St. John the BaptistThe birth of St. John the Baptist is one of only three births celebrated on the liturgical calendar. The birth of Jesus is celebrated on December 25; the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, is September 8; and the birth of St. John the Baptist, the prophet who announced the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, is June 24. It ranks as a solemnity.

The birth of St. John the Baptist was a momentous occasion. He was no ordinary child. Jesus said of John, “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11).

John the Baptist ranks first among the prophets. All of the prophets that went before him announced that the Messiah was coming. The Baptist was blessed with the singular privilege to announce that the Messiah had come. He was the only prophet who pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). He “ranks ahead of me because he existed before me” (Jn 1:30). “He is the Son of God” (Jn 1:34b).

The date for the feast is based on Luke’s Infancy Narrative. At the Annunciation the angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth had conceived and that she was in her sixth month (Lk 1:36), after which Mary visited Elizabeth and “remained with her about three months” (Lk 1:56a), presumably until John was born. June 24 is six months before the birth of Jesus.

St. Augustine saw a connection between June 24 and December 24, John and Jesus, the light, the summer and winter solstices, and their relative importance. Jesus said that John “was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light” (Jn 5:35). Later Jesus said of himself, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). John is the lesser light. Jesus is the greater light. St. Augustine observed that John was born after the summer solstice when light begins to decrease, Jesus was born after the winter solstice when light begins to increase, which correlates to John’s statement, “He must increase and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

His birth is commemorated at the Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karem, a village in the hill country of Judea about four miles southwest of Jerusalem. The first church was built during the Byzantine Period, rebuilt during the Crusader Period, and then restored in 1885. There is a staircase along the north wall that descends to a lower-level crypt which is the cave traditionally regarded as the place where Elizabeth gave birth to John (Lk 1:57).

The Preface for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist is a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the blessings of the Precursor’s life. “For you consecrated him for a singular honor among those born among women. His birth brought great rejoicing; even in the womb he leapt for joy at the coming of human salvation. He alone of all the prophets pointed out the Lamb of redemption. And to make holy the flowing waters, he baptized the very author of Baptism and was privileged to bear him supreme witness by the shedding of his blood” (Roman Missal, 732).

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St. Romuald, Abbot

June 15, 2018

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St. RomualdSt. Romuald was born in Ravenna, Italy, in 950, into the aristocratic Onesti family. When he was twenty, he witnessed his father Sergius kill another man in a duel, and deeply disturbed by what he had seen, fled to the nearby Benedictine monastery of San Apollinare at Classe where he became a monk to make expiation for his father’s sin.

St. Romuald quickly embraced the Benedictine Rule of Life, and he meticulously observed it in every detail with prayer, simplicity, and strict self-discipline. Some of the monks had grown lax in their spiritual lives and were offended when St. Romuald admonished them with his fraternal correction, and their antagonism toward him forced him to leave the monastery.

St. Romuald found a hermit named Marinus near Venice to serve as his spiritual director, and he spent the next ten years in a secluded location in an austere life of solitude, self-denial, prayer, and meditation, and made great headway in virtue and holiness.

St. Romuald’s father was so moved by his son’s example that he decided to enter the monastery of San Severo near Ravenna to atone for his sins. St. Romuald learned that his father was being tempted to leave the monastery and go back to his worldly ways, so he went in haste to attempt to persuade him to remain, and his father persevered as a monk until his death.

Ironically, after having left San Apollinare years earlier, in 998 Emperor Otto III appointed St. Romuald the abbot of the same monastery. He served only two years and then resigned in order to return to his life as a hermit at Pereum. Sometimes his prayer seemed dry, his spiritual energy low, and his outlook dark, and one day when reciting a Psalm he had a mystical experience of a bright light and the presence of God which propelled him for the rest of his life.

Even though St. Romuald was a monk and a hermit, it was also his desire to be a missionary and suffer a martyr’s death. The Pope approved his request to be a missionary to the Magyars in Hungary. As he made the journey northward he became seriously ill, was forced to abandon his plans, and returned to Italy to resume the monastic life.

St. Romuald subsequently moved to the monastery at Monte di Sitrio. During those days he chastised a young local nobleman for his immoral behavior, and in retaliation, the aristocrat falsely accused Romuald of a scandalous crime. Incredibly, the monks believed the false allegation, imposed a severe penance, and excommunicated him. He suffered this terrible hardship in silence for six months, and then, prompted by God in prayer, he broke silence, repudiated the unjust sentence, and resumed his ministry.

St. Romuald spent the rest of his life establishing monasteries and hermitages in northern and central Italy, particularly at Fonte Avellana and Camaldoli near Arezzo in Tuscany. He also founded a religious order, the Camaldolese monks and hermits [O.S.B. Cam.], and wrote a new rule of life based upon the Benedictine Rule. He combined the cenobitic life, a common life in religious community, with the eremitical life, the solitary life of a hermit. The monks assembled each day for Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and some meals, and spent the remainder of the day in solitude. St. Romuald died alone in his cell at Val di Castro, Italy, on June 19, 1027.

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Special Prayers and Blessing for Fathers

June 14, 2018

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Jesus and Joseph

Special Intercessions. After the Creed, the Universal Prayer, that is, the Prayer of the Faithful or Bidding Prayers, are offered. Typically, this series of intentions begins with a petition for the needs of the Church, for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world, for those burdened by any kind of difficulty, and for the local community. In any particular celebration, these intentions may be concerned more closely with the particular occasion (see No. 70, General Instruction of the Roman Missal). Father’s Day is such an occasion.

Father’s Day Intercessions. The Book of Blessings offers three intercessions for Father’s Day (No. 1732, page 648). They can be adapted or modified as desired. These prayers can be used at Mass, at home when the family is gathered together, such as at the dinner table, or by an individual praying alone. These intercessions are suggestions. Parishes, families, and individuals are encouraged to write or offer other petitions that prayerfully express their hopes, concerns, and appreciation for their fathers.

First Intercession. For our fathers, who have given us life and love, that we may show them respect and love, we pray to the Lord.

Second Intercession. For fathers who have lost a child through death, that their faith may give them hope, and their family and friends support and console them, we pray to the Lord.

Third Intercession. For fathers who have died, that God may bring them into the joy of his kingdom, we pray to the Lord.

Special Blessing. The Book of Blessings also offers a blessing prayer that can be offered at the end of Mass or at other liturgical services (No. 1733, page 648). It can also be used by a family at home, and it can be modified from plural to singular for one father.

Father’s Day Blessing Prayer. God our Father, in your wisdom and love you made all things. Bless these men, that they may be strengthened as Christian fathers. Let the example of their faith and love shine forth. Grant that we, their sons and daughters, may honor them always with a spirit of profound respect. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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The Immaculate Heart of Mary

June 7, 2018

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Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Immaculate Heart of Mary is a popular topic among spiritual artists, and this devotion has inspired countless paintings, stained glass windows, and sculptures. While art pieces vary, there are common elements found in most renditions.

The Heart. The heart symbolizes love, and the red color is a second symbol for love. The heart-love connection has a rich biblical heritage: Moses told the people, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Dt 6:5); Jeremiah explained that God writes his covenant on our hearts (Jer 31:33); and Ezekiel relayed God’s promise to take away our stony hearts and replace them with natural hearts (Ez 36:26). The heart is the center of human emotions and feelings, wisdom and insight, desire and motivation, joy and sorrow, courage and fear. Mary’s heart was pulsing with love for her son Jesus.

The Sword. Mary’s sword originates with Simeon’s ominous prediction: “And you yourself shall be pierced by a sword” (Lk 2:35). The sword is a symbol of Mary’s passion and suffering, pain and sorrow, while for Jesus and art pieces of his Sacred Heart, the crown of thorns is his symbol of suffering. Another distinguishing characteristic is the sword’s point of entry. For Mary, the sword enters the top, usually from the right, and exists the bottom, usually at the left, although this is not a hard and fast rule. For Jesus, whose heart was pierced by the soldier’s lance (Jn 19:34), the sword entered from the bottom, presumably from the left side, and exited from the top right. The sword often represents Mary’s first sorrow or dolor, Simeon’s prophecy, but more often than not, it represents all Seven Dolors, including the Flight to Egypt, the loss of the Christ-child in the Temple, Mary’s piteous encounter with Jesus on the road to Calvary, the crucifixion, the removal of Jesus’ body from the cross, and Jesus’ entombment.

The Rose(s). A rose is a sign of love. If there is only one rose, it represents the singular love that one is to reserve for God alone. If the heart is circled with white roses, they symbolize Mary’s purity, sinlessness, and holiness; but if the roses are red they signify Mary’s deep love for Jesus her Son. The Christmas rose reminds us of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus, while a single rose can stand for Mary herself since she is known as the Mystical Rose. A blooming rose is occasionally used as a sign of Messianic expectation, the people’s deep desire for the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah (Is 35:1). It may also represent beauty and paradise.

The Flame. There usually is a flame at the top of the heart with one or more tongues of fire. It symbolizes zeal and devotion, and it further underscores Mary’s fervor, loyalty, and affection for her Son. The radiating heat is a reminder of the intensity of Mary’s warm love.

The Flower. There may be a flower sprouting from the burning flames. If so, the white petals are another sign of Mary’s purity, sinlessness, and holiness; while the green stem and leaves are signs of the new life and growth that bud forth due to Jesus’ resurrection. If the flower stem is bent down, it is a sign of Mary’s deferential reverence for her Son, but if it is standing tall, it is a sign of her glorification that came when she was assumed to heaven, took her place at the right of God’s throne, and crowned Queen of Heaven above and the Church below.

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