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Thanksgiving: Yesterday and today a harvest festival and a family celebration

November 16, 2018

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Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in the United States by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Lincoln said it was to be a day of “thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” It is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving began as a harvest festival sometime between September and November in 1621. It was one year after the Mayflower had arrived. 102 pilgrims had landed on the coast of Massachusetts. After a brutal winter of cold, disease, and starvation, only 53 colonists survived to the next fall. The local Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans came to the aid of the colonists, taught them how to plant corn and fertilize their fields with fish, and with a bountiful harvest and good hunting, both had plenty of food in reserve to survive the upcoming winter. In gratitude for the harvest, 90 of the Wampanoag tribe and the 53 remaining colonists joined together for three days of celebration. They feasted on five deer, a variety of birds, corn, grapes, plums, mussels, lobsters, and herbs.

Thanksgiving is still about thanks for the harvest, and agriculture has come a long way since 1621. Tractors with cultivators and planters and huge combines make it possible to use large tracts of land. New seed hybrids are constantly being developed. The use of fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides has improved yields. Production, harvesting, transportation, processing, packaging, and distribution have become extremely efficient. The shelves in grocery stores are well stocked. Foods are affordable. Most Americans have full refrigerators and cupboards, and most do not go to bed at night on an empty stomach.

Now fewer Americans work on the farm, the food supply is reliable, and there is little worry about having enough food to get through the winter. As a result, while the focus of the holiday is still on thanksgiving for the harvest, it has been generalized as a time of thanksgiving for all of our blessings: the land, our country, our freedoms, our safety and security, the quality of education and health care, employment, income, savings, homes, possessions, cultural and recreational opportunities, and the countless other good things that we enjoy.

Filled with a tremendous sense of gratitude for all of this, we thank God and gather with our families to celebrate. Our families are such a gift. Our parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews rank as some of the greatest blessings that God has given to us. The love and care given and received, the sacrifices made, meals together, family conversations, vacations and holidays, ups and downs, fights and make-ups, suffering through illness and hardship, promises made and kept, traveling the journey of life hand in hand, and the common bond shared – family is a gift beyond all measure.

On Thanksgiving we ought to praise and thank God for the gift of our families. For those who have gone ahead of us, we can send a prayer of thanks to them in heaven. For the members of our immediate families, we can thank God for each one of them, mention them individually, and ask God to shower them with his special graces and divine protection. Thanksgiving, or a day near it, is a wonderful occasion to get together with our immediate family, and relatives, too, to eat and drink, rejoice and celebrate, and deepen and renew the bonds of love.

Finally, Thanksgiving is an ideal occasion to thank our family members, to express our thanks to them personally, to speak it out loud, to identify specific instances when they have said or done something that we appreciate or affected our life in a positive way. We should not leave important things unsaid. If we are grateful, we should say so. To thank a family member who is near and dear to our heart is a beautiful way to express our love for them.

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The dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran

November 9, 2018

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Basilica of St. John Lateran

This feast commemorates the first dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran which took place in Rome on November 9, 324. Pope Sylvester I (314-335) presided.

St. John Lateran’s original name was the Church of the Savior, and its official complete name is the Patriarchal Basilica of the Most Holy Savior and St. John the Baptist at the Lateran. The church is under the dual patronage of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.

It is the oldest of the four principal pilgrimage churches in Rome. The other three are St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls. The Emperor Constantine (280-337) legalized Christianity through his historic Edict of Milan in 313, and shortly thereafter, he gave Pope Melchiades (311-314) a beautiful ancient palace that stood on the Celian Hill that had belonged to the Laterani family, and it was converted into an enormous basilica.

This feast is not so much about the building itself, even though it is magnificent architecturally and artistically, but about what the building represents spiritually. St. John Lateran is the first major church in Rome, and because it served as the headquarters of the Church from 313 to 1309, it is known as “the Mother Church.” Pope Clement XII (1730-1740) stated this explicitly when he had this Latin verse etched into the front façade, “omnium ecclesiarum Urbis et Orbis mater et caput,” “the mother and head of all churches of the city [Rome] and the world.” It is the one from which all other churches find their origins.

For nearly one thousand years it served as the official residence of the Pope, as well as the place where new popes were elected and installed in office. Ecumenical councils were held at the Lateran Basilica in 1123, 1139, 1179, 1215, and 1512. St. John Lateran remains the cathedral church of Rome, the place where the Pope acts as chief shepherd of the local archdiocese.

The church building has suffered many setbacks as the object of two barbarian attacks (408 and 455), an earthquake (896), two fires (1308 and 1361), and a bomb blast (1993). The building has been repaired, rebuilt, and restored numerous times over the centuries. Reconstructions took place under Popes Leo the Great (440-461), Hadrian I (772-795), Sergius III (904-911), and Clement VIII (1592-1605). The most comprehensive renovation took place in the Seventeenth Century under Pope Innocent X (1644-1655). A new floor was installed in 1938.

The basilica is adorned with beautiful art. The roof above the entrance has 13 statues with the Risen Christ in the center flanked by its patrons, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. There is a massive statue to Constantine in the vestibule. The nave has marble statues of the twelve apostles, while the walls have reliefs with scenes from the Old and New Testaments and paintings of the prophets. The dome of the apse has a mosaic of Christ with his angels above a glorious Cross. The left side has full size images of Sts. Paul, Peter, and the Blessed Mother Mary, and a smaller image of St. Francis of Assisi, while the right has full size images of Saints John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, and Andrew, and a smaller image of St. Anthony of Padua.

The Lateran Basilica represents the unity of the universal Church. The basis of our unity is Jesus and our common Baptism. It was Jesus’ fervent prayer that his disciples be one (Jn 17:21). There are many churches throughout the world, but all are one body in Christ, individually parts of one another (Rom 12:5), all united under the symbolic headship of St. John Lateran.

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All Souls’ Day — The value of prayer for the dead

October 26, 2018

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November 2 is All Souls’ Day, the day in the liturgical year that we set aside to pray for the dead. November is the month when we especially remember those who have died.

PurgatoryBut why pray for the dead? There is no need to pray for those who have died and gone straight to heaven. This feast presumes that some who have died are imperfectly purified of their sinfulness, and while assured of the eventual benefits of eternal life, are barred from immediate access to heaven. Instead, they are held in an unknown place where they are cleansed of their sinfulness, and after an indeterminate time, are finally released to take their place at God’s throne.

For centuries Catholics have said that Purgatory is the intermediate place of temporary punishment and purification, and that the length of time spent there is based upon the number and seriousness of one’s sins. The Church defined this doctrine at the Second Council of Lyons (1274), the Council of Florence (1439), and the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The term “Purgatory” still exists in Church literature today (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1030-1032) despite the fact that it is not mentioned in the Bible. Two New Testament verses allude to a cleansing fire (1 Cor 3:15 and 1 Pt 1:7), and they have served as the basis for the concept of Purgatory which evolved from the Fifth to Thirteenth Centuries. Despite its long tradition, many contemporary scholars believe that neither verse is substantive enough to firmly establish Purgatory as a biblical reality, while others argue that there is nothing in Scripture to contradict it. Today the Church is more inclined to speak about “The Final Purification” (Documents of Vatican II, The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, No. 51).

A key biblical reason to pray for the dead is found in the Old Testament second book of Maccabees (2 Mac 12:38-46). This story recounts how Judas Maccabeus, a great Jewish general of the Second Century before Christ, had successfully led his army into a battle. A day after hostilities ceased, the troops who survived returned to the battlefield to gather up the bodies of their deceased comrades to give them a respectful burial. To their horror they found amulets, charm necklaces sacred to the idols of Jamnia, local pagan gods, tied around their necks and hidden under their armor. This was a grave sin against the First Commandment’s law against idols (Ex 20:2-6; Dt 5:7-9). Immediately “they turned to supplication and prayed that the sinful deed might be blotted out” (2 Mc 12:42). In fact, the stunned survivors who placed an extraordinarily high premium on faithful observance of the Mosaic Law were so aghast at this sin that they feared their fellow soldiers would be consigned to everlasting punishment. As firm believers in the resurrection, they were confident their prayers could help atone for the sins of the dead, release them from the punishment they deserved, and speed them on their journey to eternal light and peace. Consequently the survivors took up a collection and sent it to Jerusalem so an expiatory sacrifice could be offered in the Temple.

Consistent with this ancient Jewish practice, the Catholic Church has taught for centuries that our prayers aid those who have died, and the best prayer to offer for their intention is the Eucharist, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the source and summit of our Christian life. The Church also recommends almsgiving, indulgences, and other works of penance for the deceased (Catechism, No. 1032).

November is the month of the year to especially pray for the dead, either for a family member or relative, someone else that you know, the deceased members of the parish, or those who have no one to pray for them. The Mass is the best option available, but any prayer or good deed offered for the spiritual welfare of the deceased is highly beneficial.

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The Sacrament of Marriage

October 5, 2018

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Marriage

A Sacrament. Marriage or matrimony is one of the seven sacraments. It belongs to a special group or classification of sacraments known as the Sacraments of Commitment, the two major ways for adults to live out their baptismal faith commitment: marriage and Holy Orders.

Famous Marriages of the Bible. Marriage is a sacred institution established by God, something clearly evident from the very beginning of creation and its natural order (Gen 1:26-27) with the first marriage, Adam and Eve. Genesis continues with three other famous married couples, the patriarchs and their wives: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel. Other prominent marriages of the Old Testament include Moses and Zipporah; Elkanah and Hannah, the parents of Samuel; David and Bathsheba; and Tobiah and Sarah. In the New Testament, the first married couple is Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older couple that set the stage for the greatest married couple of all: Mary and Joseph.

Biblical Basis for the Sacrament. Jesus endorsed marriage at the beginning of his ministry when he attended the Cana wedding feast and performed his first miracle there (Jn 2:1-11). Jesus also taught, “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mk 10:6-9).

Christian Symbols of Marriage. The wedding ring is the foremost symbol of marriage. Other symbols include two interlocking rings; a marriage cross, a Latin Cross with two interlocking rings attached at the center; two clasped hands; two joined hands covered with a priest’s stole; a heart, the symbol of the love shared between a husband and wife; two doves, a symbol of the joy of marriage; two ropes tied in a knot; and three flowers, one taller in the middle, which represents God, the center of every marriage, and two shorter flowers of the same height on either side, one each for the husband and wife, bound by God as equal partners.

A Touching Image. One of the most beautiful metaphors for marriage is found in the Book of Ecclesiastes, part of the Wisdom Literature. The author writes, “Two are better than one. If one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man! A three-ply cord is not easily broken” (Eccl 4:9,11,12). There are three partners to every marriage, two that are apparent and visible, the husband and wife, and a third partner, invisible, but the most important, God. Instead of “tying the knot,” a common mundane way to describe a marriage, every couple is asked to weave a three-ply rope with God in the middle. The more tightly a husband and wife are bound to God, the more tightly they are bound to each other; and the more tightly they are bound to each other, the more tightly they are bound to God.

The Centrality of Love. Love is the bond shared by a husband and wife. God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16). Therefore the bond that a couple shares, the bond that unites them, is God. John asks, “How can a person love God, who is unseen, if a person does not love their neighbor who is seen?” (paraphrase, 1 Jn 4:20). As Christians we believe that one of the main pathways to God is through our neighbor, and that when we love our neighbor, we love God. Jesus is insistent about love of neighbor (see Mt 22:39; Lk 10:29-37; and Jn 13:34-35). For a married couple, the neighbor that stands above every other neighbor is one’s spouse, and the primary pathway to God for someone who is married is through one’s spouse. The more a person loves their spouse, the more the person loves God, and an important word of caution, the less a person loves their spouse, the less the person loves God.

Instruction on Love. St. Paul offers excellent teaching on how to practice the virtue of love in his famous Ode to Love, 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient, love is kind,” one of the most popular scripture texts for weddings. He provides additional advice in Col 3:12-17.

A Solemn Covenant. A Christian marriage is covenant patterned on the covenant between God and humanity and the union between Christ and the Church. God’s covenant is unbreakable, indissoluble, and enduring. Despite human failings, God offers forgiveness, renews the covenant, and is ever-faithful. Christian couples are asked to be shining examples of God’s covenantal love through the permanence, sincerity, and depth of their love.

A Spiritual Bond. A sacramental marriage is a covenant, not a contract. A contract is written on paper, a covenant is written on one’s heart; a contract has fine print with many stipulations and conditions, a covenant is unconditional; a contract is closed with a signature, a covenant is sealed with one’s spoken word; a contract is for a specific amount of time, a covenant is everlasting; a contract may have penalties if specific terms are not met, a covenant has forgiveness; a contract may have an escape clause, a covenant is binding forever; a contract is designed to protect my rights, a covenant seeks what is best for the other person; and a contract is a civil or legal document, a covenant is based upon faith and sealed by God.

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St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

September 21, 2018

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St. MatthewSt. Matthew was an apostle and an evangelist

Matthew was also known as Levi, the son of Alphaeus (Mk 2:14; Lk 5:27). He was born in Capernaum, a fishing village on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, and he worked at a nearby border crossing as a customs agent where it was his job to collect a toll or duty on all of the people, animals, and goods. These “toll collectors” or “tax collectors” were very unpopular with average Jewish citizens because they were viewed as greedy and corrupt as they regularly overcharged and pocketed the difference for themselves, and as traitors because they consorted with the Romans who were despised as pagans and an unwelcome foreign presence in their homeland.

On one occasion when Jesus was walking along the north shore of the lake, he came to the toll booth where Matthew was stationed. Jesus paused, looked at him, and said, “Follow me” (Mt 9:9). It was shocking that Jesus would call someone so scorned by so many to be one of his apostles, and equally shocking that Matthew would accept the invitation, leave his family and friends, job, income, and security, all to follow Jesus without a moment’s delay. Then Jesus shared a dinner with him in his home (Mt 9:10). Matthew is mentioned only four other times in the New Testament, always on a list of the apostles (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13).

After the Ascension, Matthew receives no further attention in the New Testament. According to tradition, after Pentecost Matthew began his missionary work in Judea, but accounts of his other destinations vary. Some say “the East,” including Syria and Persia; others Europe, maybe Macedonia, possibly as far as Ireland. His final destination most likely was Ethiopia where tradition says he was martyred, first crucified on a T-shape cross and then beheaded with an axe.

Matthew also was an evangelist or the author of a gospel. His gospel was composed around 85 AD and intended for a Jewish Christian audience. One of his major literary purposes was to present Jesus as the fulfilled of the Hebrew Scriptures. His book has twenty-eight chapters which makes it the longest of the four gospels, and for centuries it has been considered the best textbook or catechism for teaching about Jesus and the Christian faith. Prior to the liturgical renewal there was a one-year Lectionary cycle and Matthew’s texts were most used at Mass. As part of the renewal a three-year Lectionary cycle was developed, and today the gospel selections are more equally distributed between all four evangelists.

Matthew is represented by a number of symbols in Christian art. As a money collector, he is represented by a coin purse, a treasure chest, one or three money bags, or a scale which was used to weigh gold; as a gospel writer, he is represented by a quill pen, a scroll, or a book; as an author guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there may be a dove or rays of light; and as a martyr, he is sometimes represented by a spear or a sword, but more often by a battle axe, the weapon used to behead him Ethiopia. The symbol for Matthew’s gospel is a human being with wings, “the divine man,” because his gospel includes Jesus’ genealogy (Mt 1:117) and gives special attention to Jesus’ human nature. The image is also drawn from Ezekiel’s vision of the four living creatures (Ez 1:9-10).

Matthew is the patron saint of tax collectors, customs officers, security guards, accountants, bookkeepers, bankers, financial officers, money managers, stock brokers, and money changers.

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St. Cornelius, Pope, and St. Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

September 14, 2018

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Saints Cornelius (d. 253) and Cyprian (200-258) are two great Third Century saints, one a Pope, the other a bishop, one in Rome, the other in North Africa, both martyrs, both mentioned in Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

Cyprian and CorneliusThey are celebrated together because Bishop Cyprian was an ally of Pope Cornelius. Cornelius was chosen as Pope in 251 AD over the objection of Novatian, who claimed the papacy for himself and was the first antipope. Cornelius and Novatian took opposite positions in the lapsi controversy. The lapsi were those who had “lapsed” from the faith during the persecution of the Roman emperor Decius (249-251 AD). The lapsi renounced their Christianity to save themselves from martyrdom. When the persecution subsided, the lapsi sought to be readmitted. Novatian, a rigorist, declared that the sin of apostasy was so grave that those who had disowned Christ and the Church could not be forgiven, reconciled with the Church, or readmitted. Cornelius, on the other hand, took a more compassionate stance and held that the Church had the power to reconcile and readmit the lapsi after a period of penance. Cyprian traveled to Rome to be part of a synod of bishops that upheld Cornelius’ authority as Pope and excommunicated Novatian and his followers. The first reflection in the Office of Readings is a letter of support and encouragement that Cyprian sent to Cornelius shortly before his death.

Little is known about the beginning of Cornelius’ life. It seems that he was born into an aristocratic family in Rome, and he was ordained a priest. His predecessor, Pope Fabian (papacy, 236-250 AD), died as a result of brutal treatment in prison on January 20, 250. The persecution of Decius was so intense that it was impossible to conduct an election over the next fourteen months. In March, 251, Decius left Rome on a military expedition and died during the campaign, and in his absence an election was held and Cornelius was chosen. The new Roman emperor Gallus resumed the persecution against the Church; Cornelius was arrested in June, 252, and confined to prison in Civitavecchia, where he died in June, 253, as a result of his physical hardships. His remains were interred in the cemetery of St. Callistus.

CyprianSt. Cyprian was born of pagan parents in Carthage, North Africa, in 200 AD. He had a brilliant mind, and was a lawyer and gifted orator. He converted to Christianity in 245 at the age of 45. He was ordained a priest in 248, one year later was selected as the bishop of Carthage, and quickly became the leader of the bishops of North Africa. He battled multiple heresies which he believed were more dangerous to the Church than the persecutions. He declared that baptisms administered by heretics were invalid. He wrote De unitate ecclesiae, The Unity of the Church, to promote Church unity, to oppose Novatian and his position that the lapsi could not be readmitted to the Church, and to correct erroneous teachings espoused by various bishops. He coined the famous phrase, “One cannot have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.” He was arrested under the persecution of the emperor Valerian, condemned to death by the Roman governor Galerius Maximus, and beheaded on September 14, 258. He was the first African bishop to suffer martyrdom and is the patron saint of North Africa and Algeria.

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The mind: A talent to be invested

September 14, 2018

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Time to Crack the Books. September is here. The summer is behind us. It is back-to-school time. Whether it is preschool or elementary, middle school or high school, college or trade school, or adult education, fall is the time for so many to immerse themselves in their studies.

SolomanLearning, A Noble Christian Activity. A mind is an awesome gift from God and a talent to be invested (see Mt 25:14-23). God wants us to develop our talents and then to put them to the best possible use in order to produce a rich yield for the Master. It is the vocation, privilege, and obligation of students to apply themselves to their studies.

A Model Learner. The best example of a learner in the Hebrew Scriptures is Solomon. When Solomon inherited the kingship from his father David at the age of twenty, he was young, unlearned, inexperienced, and not knowing how to act. At this opportune moment, God appeared to Solomon and said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you” (1 Kgs 3:5b). Solomon replied, “Give your servant an understanding heart” (1 Kgs 3:9). God does not pour understanding or wisdom into a person’s head. It is the outcome of long and diligent study combined with the insights provided by the Holy Spirit. Solomon could have asked for a long life, wealth, or victory over his enemies, but he asked for understanding that he would know what it right (1 Kgs 3:11). It is presumed that tutors came to the palace to provide the young king with private instruction. Solomon had a brilliant mind, but his God-given talent had to be developed. He thoroughly immersed himself in his studies, and the outcome was wisdom unparalleled by any other person in Old Testament times (see 1 Kgs 3:12).

A Greater Learner. Solomon prefigures Jesus, a connection made by a detail regarding their births, the only two biblical figures wrapped in swaddling clothes (Wis 7:4; Lk 2:7,12). Solomon may have been wise, but Jesus is the personification of wisdom itself. Solomon may have been the greatest of the Old Testament, but Jesus said, referring to himself, “There is something greater than Solomon here” (Mt 12:42; Lk 11:31).

The Model Learner. Before Jesus became the greatest of all teachers, he was the greatest of all learners, as St. Luke clearly states, “Jesus advanced in wisdom” (Lk 2:52). Jesus was home-schooled by his parents, Mary and Joseph, both who were wise, well-read, and well-taught, and Jesus devoured every word of their instruction. Mary and Joseph took their son to the synagogue in Nazareth (see Lk 4:16b) where Jesus was taught by the local rabbis. Jesus gave them his full attention and absorbed their reflections, applications, and insights into Scripture. His hunger for learning was so great that it took him to Jerusalem, the pinnacle of learning for the Jewish people. At his own initiative at the age of twelve, he took it upon himself to go to the Temple, sit in the midst of the teachers, a group of scribes, biblical scholars, listen to them, and ask them questions (Lk 2:46). Jesus was in the habit of unrolling Scripture scrolls (Lk 4:17), and he often read Scripture, sometimes in the synagogue, other times by himself alone in the desert (inferred, Mt 4:4,6,10 and Lk 4:4,8,10,11). Jesus had a brilliant mind, learned from his parents, sought out the wisest teachers he could find, listened attentively, was a critical thinker, asked penetrating questions, was an active reader, and studied on his own. Jesus immersed himself in the learning process and developed the gift of his mind to the fullest possible extent. Students of all ages would be wise to look to Jesus for inspiration and for guidance in the educational process.

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Back to School: Jesus, a guide for students’ advancement in wisdom, age and favor

September 6, 2018

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Jesus The Student

Late August and early September signal the beginning of a new school year. Whether a student attends a Catholic school, private school, or public school, education is a spiritual process. Jesus was a student, and his example serves as a guide for all students. As a twelve-year old, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Lk 2:52), which is to say that he matured intellectually, physically, and spiritually, and students are to take their cues from him.

Wisdom presumes the mastery of academic subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic; or history, art, and music; or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A good student has a strong desire to learn, willingly attends school, pays attention in class, stays on task, asks and responds to questions, completes assignments and projects, and does one’s own work. Jesus is a shining example. He was so eager to learn that he remained behind in Jerusalem, went to the Temple, the center of learning, and sat in the midst of the teachers, listened to them, and asked them questions (see Lk 2:46).

Wisdom is more than the mastery of facts and figures or the ability to conduct an experiment and analyze the results. Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Is 11:2). Wisdom combines academic learning, experience, insight, and common sense. It distinguishes between right and wrong, seeks and upholds the truth, applies information constructively, and balances personal good with the common good. Wisdom is the ability to exercise sound judgment.

Jesus also advanced in age. Jesus grew in size physically. He matured from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood. He put on weight, grew taller, and got stronger. Jesus was a good steward of his body, and students are to do likewise. Young people have a spiritual duty to eat a well-balanced diet, get enough rest at night, and exercise regularly. It encompasses healthy practices like brushing your teeth, taking a bath or a shower, and wearing appropriate clothing. At school, physical development includes playground activities, physical education classes, and health classes, as well as extracurricular opportunities like volleyball, dance, soccer, or swimming. Physical safety is also a major concern: the avoidance of dangerous or risky behaviors, caution when crossing the street, and saying no to drugs.

Most importantly, Jesus advanced in favor. He became pleasing to God, and one of the best ways for a young person to please God is to obey one’s parents. When it came to Mary and Joseph, Jesus was “obedient to them” (Lk 2:51). He had a respectful attitude, a cooperative spirit, and a bright disposition; and he listened to his parents, followed their directions, and complied with their house rules. When a child goes to school, the respect accorded to one’s parents is extended to one’s teachers.

To advance in favor is to grow closer to God and to increase in personal holiness. This improvement is fostered by daily prayer, Mass every Sunday, the regular reception of the sacraments, religious education classes, church youth group, and good works. It also includes virtuous behaviors such as telling the truth, getting along with brothers and sisters, performing assigned household tasks, respecting classmates, good behavior on the bus, the use of appropriate language, and playing in a sportsmanlike manner.

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Jesus: The Keystone — Bartholomew: A Foundation Stone

August 24, 2018

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Jesus the keystone

A Grand Edifice. St. Paul describes the church as a magnificent structure or a sacred temple (Eph 2:21). It is a grand and glorious building, breathtaking, a sight to behold. Jesus is the keystone, the apostles are the foundation stones, and the members are living stones. Over the centuries it has become a towering skyscraper, one generation of believers after another, one floor of living stones built upon another.

The Keystone. Jesus is the keystone or capstone of the church (Eph 2:20). Ancient buildings were made of stone blocks. Construction began with the erection of walls built with large blocks that were laid one upon another. Mortar and cement were not used. The great weight of the stones and the force of gravity made the wall rock solid. At the top of the wall, particularly over doorways and windows, there was an arch, and a scaffold was needed to build it. The scaffold supported two rows of angled stones, one row on each side. Then, at the place where the two rows came together in the middle at the top, one triangular-shaped stone was wedged between the two sides and hammered into place. This stone, the keystone or capstone, pushed so forcefully in each direction that it held the entire arch in place. Then the scaffold was removed. With the keystone in position, the building stood firm. If the keystone ever were to be removed, the building would come crashing down. Jesus is the keystone of the structure, the Church, and “through him the whole structure is held together” (Eph 2:21).

House built on a solid foundationThe Foundation Stones. The foundation is the lowest level of the building, either the basement or the ground floor. It is laid first, everything else is built upon it, and it supports the weight of the entire structure. The larger the building, the more important it is to have a sturdy foundation. The Church is massive. It spans the globe. It has a great multitude of members “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (Rv 7:9). A building of epic size requires foundation stones that will not shift or crack, but remain firmly in place. When it comes to the Church, it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets” (Eph 2:20a).

Apostolic Foundations. The bottom floor of the Church is twelve courses of stone laid by the twelve apostles (Rv 21:14). The apostles support the building with heavenly teaching. Peter, James, John, and Paul wrote enlightening letters. The apostles were missionaries and took the gospel to all nations (see Mt 28:19), and wherever they went to preach, they laid the foundation for a new Christian community, a new addition to the magnificent building that is the Church.

A Massive Building Project. The apostles traveled far and wide and laid foundations in multiple locations: Peter throughout Israel and in Antioch, Corinth, and Rome; Andrew in Asia Minor and Greece; James the Greater in Spain and Jerusalem; John in Ephesus, Patmos, and possibly Rome; Philip in Phrygia and Hierapolis; Thomas in Syria, Persia, and India; Bartholomew in India, Lycaonia, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Armenia; Matthew in Judea and Ethiopia; James the Lesser in and around Jerusalem; Simon the Zealot in Egypt and Persia; and Jude or Thaddeus in Mesopotamia and Persia. The apostles gave heroic witness with their unyielding commitment to Jesus, the fervor of their prophetic preaching, as well as their courage and determination. All but John died a martyr’s death, and through the blood of the apostolic martyrs seeds were sown and the Church experienced tremendous growth.

St. BartholomewSt. Bartholomew, A Foundation Stone. Bartholomew is an ashlar, a huge multi-ton stone in the foundation of the Church. He was a “true Israelite” (Jn 1:47a), a person who knew God’s law and obeyed it. Jesus said, “There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47b); Bartholomew was not two-faced, he was good inside and out. Jesus also said of Bartholomew, “I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48), a Jewish saying which means, “I saw you reading Scripture and meditating on it.” Bartholomew told Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God” (Jn 1:49); he made the earliest major profession of faith by an apostle. After Pentecost, he was a missionary and fearlessly proclaimed the gospel, first in India, then in the Middle East and Turkey, and finally in Armenia where he was martyred, skinned alive. Bartholomew was on Jesus’ first construction crew, and with the other apostles, he buttressed the foundation of the Church.

Living Stones. Jesus is the keystone at the top of the building, the apostles are the foundation stones at the bottom of the building, and the disciples of Jesus are the living stones that make up the rest of the building. Peter wrote that believers are “like living stones” and he taught Christians to “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house” (1 Pt 2:5). With Jesus as the head and the apostles as the foundation, the construction program can move forward.

Stones. Peter says “stones,” not “stone.” One stone does not make a wall, and it takes many believers to build the Church. It is a community project, not a personal endeavor. Christianity is not a private affair. Jesus gathered a diverse group of apostles and prayed that they would be unified as one. Doubting Thomas showed the error of going off alone. Whenever a sheep wanders away, the Good Shepherd wants to rescue it and bring it back to the flock. There are no individual stones in the Church; they are attached to each other.

Living. While a stone or brick is inanimate, a Christian is vibrant and energetic. A living stone is a loving stone. Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). A living stone also practices self-denial and is able to endure suffering. Jesus explained, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). A living stone follows the example of Jesus, as he instructed his apostles at the Last Supper, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). A living stone is dynamic, and Matthew Kelly, in his book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, explained the four distinguishing characteristics of a living stone: one who prays each day, studies the faith, is generous, and evangelizes by sharing their belief in Jesus and the Good News of his gospel with others.

A Towering Skyscraper. Jesus and his apostles did the groundbreaking for his magnificent structure two thousand years ago, and the project continues today. The apostles were the foundation, and every subsequent generation has added a floor. If one generation is roughly twenty-five years, four floors are added every century. The building has been going up for twenty centuries and is now an eighty story skyscraper. Our parents built the eightieth floor. Our grandparents built the seventy-ninth. We are building the eighty-first. Since one floor is set upon another, every floor must be well built and the stones must not be cracked or flawed, otherwise the strength of the building will be compromised. More floors will be added after our time on earth is done. It behooves us to be strong living stones so our floor will be able to carry the weight of the floors that will be added in the centuries to come.

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The pelican and her chicks a symbol for the Eucharist

August 17, 2018

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There is an image of a mother pelican with her chicks carved into the capital at the top of a pillar that supports a stone canopy over a stairway at the Cenacle or the Coenaculum, the upper room on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the place that commemorates where Jesus shared the Last Supper with his apostles and instituted the Eucharist. It is the only artwork in the entire room, and it is singularly appropriate because it is a symbol for Jesus and the Eucharist.

A mother pelican lays its eggs in a nest, and after they hatch, the mother pelican leaves the nest to go hunting for food, and then returns and feeds the chicks. Many species of birds feed their young with worms. Pelicans usually live near the water, have webbed feet, and long beaks with pouches, and their usual prey is small fish or other aquatic animals such as frog tadpoles, crayfish, or even salamanders.

In times of drought the marshes and streams may dry up, or something may cause the fish in the lake to die, and the mother pelican is unable to find food. Her chicks are delicate, need to be fed daily, and without food are quickly in danger of starvation and death. Faced with this crisis, the mother pelican uses its beak to poke holes in its breast which causes blood to come out, and the chicks are nourished with their mother’s blood. The mother dies and the chicks survive.
Mother pelican
Christians see parallels between the mother pelican and her chicks and Jesus and his followers. The mother pelican represents Jesus, the chicks represent us. The chicks dwell in the safety of the nest, believers dwell in the safety of the Church. The mother is the head of the nest, and Jesus is the head of the Church (Eph 1:22). The mother has an intense concern for her chicks and it goes against her nature to allow any of them to perish, and Jesus has a great love for us and wants none of us to perish.

When food is in short supply, the pelican pierces its breast with its sharp, pointed beak, and the side of Jesus was pierced by a sharp, pointed lance (Jn 19:34a). Blood flowed from the pelican’s breast, and blood flowed from Jesus’ side (Jn 19:34b). The mother’s blood was drink for her chicks, and the blood of Jesus is “true drink” (Jn 6:55b). The mother gave her life that her chicks might live, and Jesus laid down his life that we might live (Jn 15:13). The mother’s blood saved the lives of the chicks, and the blood of Jesus is salvation and eternal life (Jn 6:54) to those who receive it. Because of these striking similarities, the mother pelican and her chicks have come to represent the Eucharist, as well as redemption and salvation.

A depiction of the mother pelican and her chicks is frequently on display in places associated with the Eucharist: the doors of the tabernacle, the front of the altar, a hanging in front of the lectern or ambo, a stained glass window in the sanctuary area, the decorative design on a chalice, chasuble or cope, or on the ends of pews.

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