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Mary and Martha: Ora et labora

July 19, 2019

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Jesus and St. Benedict were on the same page. Their advice was the same, and it was wise advice. Martha did not particularly like the advice. Neither did many of St. Benedict’s monks. Nor do hard working people who are constantly on the go.

Mary and Martha with JesusWhen Martha was laboring in the kitchen, Jesus observed, “Mary has chosen the better part” (Lk 10:42). When St. Benedict’s monks were ready to go to work in the monastery kitchen or dining room, the barn or the fields, the laundry or the workshop, the library or the classroom, he cautioned them with his famous motto, Ora et labora, pray and work, and in this order. It is crucial to follow the proper sequence. Prayer goes first. Work comes second.

The Christian life is about service. Jesus came not to be served but to serve (see Mt 20:28 and Mk 10:45), and he taught that “whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mk 10:43). The Collect for the memorial of St. Benedict on July 11 says that he was “an outstanding master in the school of divine service.” If Martha was thoroughly engaged in service, why would Jesus say that Mary had chosen the better part? If St. Benedict’s monks were chomping at the bit to get to work, why would he slam on the brakes with his instruction, Ora et labora?

Why? Martha was hot and bothered while she was laboring. She was upset with her workload. She was angry and frustrated with her sister who was no help. She was whining to herself. She complained to Jesus. She had a nasty disposition. It was no way to work.

St. Benedict’s monks often labored aimlessly. They were good men who completed their tasks, but the monks performed their tasks mindlessly, not concentrating, daydreaming, unfocused, without a sense of purpose, trudging along, and not all that happy. It was no way to work.

St. Benedict told his monks to pray before going to work. Jesus was pleased with Mary because she sat at his feet to listen to his instructions before she joined her sister Martha with the kitchen duties. Work without guidance often goes awry. It can easily be misdirected. The labor can seem meaningless or feel like drudgery.

When a person sits at the feet of the Master, like Mary did, or when the monks pray early in the morning, like St. Benedict’s monks did, the labor is properly guided. The work is motivated by love of God. It is done cheerfully and gladly. The load feels lighter. The time goes faster. The day seems brighter. The energy is stronger. Interactions with coworkers are more positive. The people who are served are treated better. The tasks are done with greater integrity. The work has greater purpose. It is more rewarding. There is more satisfaction. And most importantly, it is more pleasing to God.

We have long lists of tasks to do. We don’t want to wait. We want to jump right in and get going. This is dangerous. It is important to pause first, take a moment, sit at the feet of the Master, pray, and get our bearings for the day. Then, once grounded and pointed in the right direction by Jesus, we will be ready to begin the labors of the day.

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St. Henry, Emperor

July 12, 2019

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St. Henry was the Duke of Bavaria, the Holy Roman Emperor, a powerful ruler, and extremely involved in Church affairs.

St. Henry was born in Hildesheim, Bavaria, on May 6, 972. His parents were Duke Henry II of Bavaria and Gisela of Burgundy. He was the eldest of four children, all of whom rose to positions of influence. His brother Bruno became the bishop of Augsburg, his sister Gisella married Stephen of Hungary, and his sister Brigid became the abbess of the monastery of St. Paul in Regensburg.

St. HenrySt. Henry received his education from St. Wolfgang, the bishop of Regensburg, from whom he gained a strong love for the Church, and in monastic schools where he developed a great appreciation for the value of monastic life. He was a man of faith, prayer, and conviction.

In 995 at the age of 22, St. Henry succeeded his father as the Duke of Bavaria. Three years later he married Kunegunda of Luxemburg (also Cunegunda or Cunegund). They had no children, were married 26 years, and together performed many good works, particularly care for the poor. She became a Benedictine nun after his death in 1024, and she was canonized a saint in 1200.

In 1002 at the age of 29, St. Henry was elected to succeed his cousin, Otto III, as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He was first crowned in 1007 at Magonza, and then again in 1014 by Pope Benedict VIII in Rome. As emperor, he realized that he was subject to the King of all, and that the most important crown is not power and riches but the crown of immortality.

The Empire was vast and beset by strife. St. Henry led multiple military campaigns throughout his reign. In 1004 his forces crossed the Alps to defeat Arduin of Ivrea who had installed himself as king of Italy. In the same year his troops drove Boleslaus I of Poland from Bohemia. In 1021 his military returned to Italy to confront Greeks who had a stronghold at Apulia.

St. Henry did much to strengthen the Church in Germany, particularly in the reform and reorganization of the dioceses of Hildesheim, Magdeburg, Strassburg, and Meersburg. Also, in a strategic move, he founded the Diocese of Bamberg in 1006 in the hope that the capital of the empire would move from Rome to Germany, and he insisted on the construction of both a great cathedral and a monastery as focal points. Pope John XIX approved the new diocese, and Pope Benedict VIII consecrated the cathedral in 1020. The new diocese served as the center of a missionary outreach to the Slavs, but it was opposed by the bishops of Wurzburg and Eichstatt, both of whom lost territory from their dioceses.

St. Henry supported the Pope’s authority over the Papal States. He was a strong proponent of the Cluny monastic reform movement which put him squarely at odds with archbishop Aribo of Mainz, his friend and personal appointee, who opposed the reform.

St. Henry died in his Grona palace near Gottingen, Germany, on July 13, 1024, at the age of 51, and was buried in the Bamberg cathedral. Pope Eugene III canonized him a saint in 1146, and Pope Pius X named him the patron saint of the Benedictine lay oblates.

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St. Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen and Mother

July 2, 2019

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The memorial of St. Elizabeth of Portugal is celebrated by the Universal Church on July 4, but because of Independence Day, in the United States her memorial is celebrated on July 5.

St. Elizabeth was born in 1271 in Zaragoza, Spain, the daughter of King Peter III of Aragon. She was named after her great aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, but in Spain she is known as Isabella. She was devout and virtuous as a child and had a beautiful disposition.

St. Elizabeth of PortugalShe was married at the age of twelve to King Denis of Portugal and became queen. She divided her time between spiritual and temporal affairs. She rose every morning to pray the Liturgy of the Hours before Mass, and she spent a portion of most days in her outreach to the poor. But she also treated her husband with exceptional kindness and faithfully attended to her duties in the palace. She had a daughter when she was twenty, Constance, who would become the queen of Castile, and a year later she had a son, Alfonso, who would succeed his father as king.

Her marriage was filled with troubles. Her husband was unfaithful and fathered multiple illegitimate children, and she cared for them as if they were her own. The king falsely accused her of favoring her son Alfonso over him, and for inciting Alfonso to rebel against him. Consequently she was barred from the royal court and her possessions were confiscated. While in exile, she had many supporters, some who were soldiers, and they proposed a military response. She urged them to be patient, remain loyal to the king, and refrain from armed resistance. Later she was cleared of all wrongdoing. Amid these hardships she remained steadfast in prayer, received strength from God, and was able to persevere in marriage.

She never wavered from her charitable works. She cared for the poor, sick, travelers, orphans, and prostitutes; and she built a hospital, orphanages, a home for wayward girls in Torres Novas, and the Poor Clare convent at Coimbra.

Her husband became seriously ill in 1324, and she vigilantly cared for him, and after offering countless prayers for his conversion he demonstrated a repentant spirit. After 41 years of marriage, he died at Santarem on January 6, 1325. This gave her the freedom to pursue her desire to become a religious sister. She sought membership with the Poor Clares at Coimbra but was refused. As an alternative, she became a Third Order Franciscan and took the Franciscan habit. She lived in a home near the monastery, distributed her inheritance to the poor, lived a simple life, followed the monastic prayer schedule, and continued her charitable deeds.

St. Elizabeth was renowned as a peacemaker. In the early years she resolved a dispute between her grandfather James and her father Peter that was causing a rift in the kingdom. Later her son Alfonso, who was distraught over the way his father seemed to prefer his illegitimate sons over him, rebelled and twice took up arms against his father. In each case Elizabeth intervened and rode out between their rival forces, and in each instance was able to quell the conflict. Finally shortly before her death, she expended enormous energy to prevent a war between Portugal led by James II of Aragon and Castile led by Ferdinand IV. The war was averted; worn out by the struggle, she died of exhaustion on July 4, 1336, in Estremoz, Portugal. She was widely regarded as a woman of extraordinary holiness, many offered prayers through her intercession, and numerous miracles were attributed to her. She was canonized a saint in 1626.

St. Elizabeth’s symbol is an apron full of roses. She is the patroness of brides, victims of adultery, charity workers, the Third Order of St. Francis, Coimbra, and the country of Portugal.

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The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 21, 2019

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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is celebrated every year on the Second Sunday after Pentecost. The traditional name for the feast is Corpus Christi. It is one of the three doctrinal feasts celebrated during Ordinary Time, in addition to the Most Holy Trinity celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost and Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, celebrated on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. It emerged not only to give honor to Jesus present in the Eucharist but also to correct false teaching.

Corpus ChristiOver the centuries many nonbelievers have been skeptical of the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, while others have belittled the belief or rejected it altogether. A surprising number of Catholics even question the Real Presence. These divergent understandings have led to much debate over the centuries. While the Real Presence of Christ has always been a core Catholic doctrine, it was defined as an essential element of the Catholic faith by the Council of Trent in 1551.

Various devotions and practices emerged to strengthen the faith of the people regarding the importance of the Eucharist. In the Eleventh Century people began to spend time in adoration kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.

The featured event of the old Corpus Christi celebrations was an elaborate ceremonial procession, a practice that began in Cologne, Germany between 1274 and 1279 and spread rapidly to other countries. It was a religious parade. The people went to great expense to decorate the streets with draperies and banners in advance. Then on the festival day a large host, the consecrated bread, the Body of Christ or the Blessed Sacrament, was placed in a monstrance, a highly decorative receptacle, and it was carried under a canopy. The processions usually were quite long and arranged carefully according to a strict order of etiquette. The clergy and religious were positioned in front of the canopy, while civic officials, the lay faithful, other groups, residents, and visitors followed behind the canopy. The procession proceeded up and down the streets of the city or village with deep reverence. The participants sang hymns both while they were walking, and also at various places where the procession would stop. People lined up along the streets to witness the spectacle and adore the Blessed Sacrament, and the usual practice was to kneel as the Eucharist passed by. Also, at various points where the procession stopped, the minister used the monstrance and the Eucharist to bless the people.

Over time the crowds along the route grew increasingly diverse, and many nonbelievers were mixed in with devout Christians. Some were indifferent, but a few were downright hostile, heckling believers, hurling insults, and acting irreverently. In order to safeguard the Eucharist, the processions were restricted to the area in the immediate vicinity of the church or moved inside entirely.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a special opportunity to worship the Lord Jesus, the true and eternal priest, really present in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, and the grace and divine life that Jesus gives leads to ever greater holiness and joy in this life and eternal salvation in the next.

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Different portrayals of the Holy Spirit as a dove

June 7, 2019

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A Dove and Holy Spirit. In religious art the Holy Spirit is most often depicted as a dove. The biblical basis for the dove symbolism is found in all four gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Each evangelist describes the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove coming down from heaven (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22; Jn 1:32). The Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism and upon the apostles on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:4) is the same Holy Spirit that descends upon every believer at the time of their Baptism and Confirmation, as well as every time a person receives one of the other sacraments.

Holy Spirit DoveA Variety of Depictions. When the Holy Spirit is shown as a dove, it is depicted in a variety of ways. A common form is one dove alone. Sometimes the dove is shown with rays of light or flames emanating from its head or within its halo, and the number of rays or flames varies, typically three, seven, eleven, twelve, or thirteen, and the number is symbolic.

A Dove with Three Rays or Flames. Three signifies the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is one of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, and it is the Spirit who unifies the three Persons of the triune Godhead, and also serves as the presence of the Father and his Son Jesus. Three also signifies the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (1 Cor 13:13), virtues that increase and flourish when a person submits to the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A Dove with Seven Rays or Flames. According to the Prophet Isaiah, there are six gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (Is 11:2), and to round the number up to the biblically complete number of seven, piety was added to the list. There is another version of the seven gifts of the Spirit in the Book of Revelation: “power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing” (Rv 5:12).

A Dove with Nine Rays or Flames. The prevalent explanation for the symbolic value of the number nine is the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23); while an alternative explanation is the less-often mentioned list: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor 12:8-10).

A Dove with Eleven Rays or Flames. Eleven represents the twelve apostles without Judas Iscariot (Mt 27:3-10; Acts 1:13). Each of them received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:3).

A Dove with Twelve Rays or Flames. Twelve can be interpreted in two ways, either the eleven apostles with their new replacement, Matthias (Acts 1:26); or the eleven apostles with the Blessed Virgin Mary (Acts 1:14).

A Dove with Thirteen Rays or Flames. Thirteen represents the reconstituted Twelve, the Eleven plus Matthias (see Acts 1:26), as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary (see Acts 1:14). All thirteen miraculously received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost.

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The Ascension

May 31, 2019

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The Seventh Sunday of Easter is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, how the Father lifted the Son from the earth after the Resurrection, bought him back to heaven, and enthroned him in glory and power at his right hand (Mk 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55,56; Eph 1:20). The Ascension is a major mystery of our Christian faith, so important that it is the second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary.

AscensionAscension is relatively rare in Scripture. In fact, only two ascensions are reported directly, Elijah in the Old Testament (2 Kgs 2:11) and Jesus in the New Testament (Mk 16:19; Lk 24:51; Acts 1:9). Elijah’s Ascension was very dramatic. While he was conversing with his successor, Elisha the prophet, “a fiery chariot and fiery horses came between the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). While there is no biblical account, our Tradition also holds that Mary was assumed into heaven.

The Ascension completed the glorification that the Father began when he raised Jesus from the dead. God did what human beings failed to do. After Jesus suffered his Passion, no one said thank you. After Jesus laid down his life on the Cross for our salvation, no one offered praise. So God “greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9), placed him “far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion” (Eph 1:21), and “put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things” (Eph 1:22). Thus, Jesus was enthroned as king of heaven and earth.

Many great things were accomplished through the Ascension. It confirmed Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and further underscored his divinity. The heavenly throne gives Jesus global and universal authority, and serves as the proper place for him to receive our praise and adoration which he so rightfully deserves. The disciples were present to witness the Ascension so their faith, which was still faltering, might be strengthened. It paved the way to heaven: where Jesus has gone we may follow. With the Ascension Jesus is no longer physically confined to a particular time or place so he might be spiritually present to all people at all times in all places. His departure set the stage for him to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost. It also officially ended his earthly ministry of preaching and healing, a mission that he transferred to his disciples.

Jesus is eternally present at the right hand of God where he intercedes for us (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; 1 Jn 2:1). Jesus has his Father’s ear and his favor. Jesus knows what we need and speaks on our behalf. He is our Advocate. He pleads our cause. He makes intercession for us, so that God will bless us with everything that we need in this life and grant us a share in his eternal glory in the life to come.

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The Novena: Nine days of prayer

May 31, 2019

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Descent of the Holy Spirit

A Novena, a Devotional Form of Prayer. A novena is a period of nine consecutive days of intensified prayer. A novena may be offered in preparation for a major feast such as Pentecost, to deepen devotion to Jesus, to honor a particular saint, or to make a request for a special grace or favor. A novena may be offered by the entire Church, a particular community, or by an individual. The term is derived from the Latin word novem which means “nine.”

The Biblical Basis for a Novena. The practice of offering a novena is based upon the nine days that the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles spent in Jerusalem from the Ascension until Pentecost in prayerful preparation for the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The Easter Season is fifty days. Jesus ascended to heaven forty days after the Resurrection (see Acts 1:3), which leaves ten days. Shortly before his Ascension Jesus “enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait … [because] in a few days you will be baptized by the holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4,5). Accordingly, “they went to the upper room …. [and] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer” (Acts 1:13,14). They prayed for nine days and on the tenth they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Pentecost Novena. This novena begins on the Friday after Ascension Thursday and continues until the Saturday before Pentecost, the first and last days included. This novena is offered by the entire Church. It is a prayer for readiness to celebrate Pentecost, for greater openness to receive and cooperate with the gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Is 11:2), and for renewal within the worldwide Church, a diocese, a special group of people, or within one’s self.

Novenas at Special Times. It is also customary to make a novena in preparation for Christmas and before the memorial of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major on August 5. In some places a Novena of Grace is offered in March. Many religious orders and parishes conduct a novena before their patronal feast.

Novenas Associated with Devotions. Novenas can be offered to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Name of Jesus, or the Blessed Sacrament. There are also novenas to venerate the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, St. Joseph, St. Anthony of Padua, and many other saints.

Novenas for Special Intentions. It is common to offer a novena for a serious need or for a special intention. Historically, novenas have been offered in times of desperation or disaster: to avert a war, to end a war, to end a plague, or to end a drought. It has also been customary to offer a novena to ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction before the selection of a new leader: a Pope, a bishop, a religious superior, a pastor, a university president, or a school principal; or for a civic leader, such as before the election of the president or the governor, or the selection of a judge. It is also common to offer a novena for an urgently desired special request such as the right spouse, a child, or guidance in a career decision. Novenas are also made to request the extra graces needed to make spiritual headway in virtue and holiness: to grow in prayerfulness, faith, hope, charity, joyfulness, peacefulness, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, forgiveness, purity, humility, truthfulness, and compassion (see 1 Cor 13:13; Gal 5:22-23; Col 3:12-15).

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Summer Sunday Mass: Obligation or Option?

May 23, 2019

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Sunny day over Sava river

Sunny day over Sava river. Creative Commons license by Marko Cvejic

Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning, so Sunday is reserved as the “Lord’s Day,” the day to remember the Resurrection and to offer our praise and worship. God gave us the Third Commandment as a solemn obligation, not a suggestion or an option:  “Keep holy the Sabbath day” (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15) (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Numbers 2174 – 2178).

Regular Sunday worship dates back to the first generation of the Church.  Early Christians instinctively gathered to study the teachings of the apostles and to break the bread (Acts 2:42).  The Letter to the Hebrews gets straight to the point:  “We should not stay away from our assembly [i.e., the liturgical assembly, the Eucharist], as is the custom of some” (Heb 10:25).

It is shocking the number of people who say that they believe they are excused from Sunday Mass when they are on vacation or traveling.  This is not the case!  Church teaching is clear:  “On Sundays the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (Canon 1247).

There are a few legitimate reasons to miss Sunday Mass: illness or disability, serving as the sole caregiver for someone in need of constant attention, a natural disaster like a flood or a blizzard, or the absence of a priest.  There is no exception for vacation or traveling (Catechism, Nos. 2180-2188).

All we have is a gift from God, so God is entitled to our weekly thanks. Time is a precious commodity, and how we spend it is a clear indication of our priorities.  There are one hundred and sixty-eight (168) hours in a week, and one hour spent in worship barely puts a dent in the praise that we owe our God.

We need to put first things first, and for Christians, God comes first!  If there ever was a time that God deserves extra thanks, it would be vacation time.  It is a huge blessing to be able to take time off, to have the resources to travel, to have the wherewithal to enjoy a cabin or a RV or a lake home, to be blessed with the beauty of the lakes and the forests, to be able to go fishing or boating, and to have the leisure time to spend with family and friends.

The common error is to make recreational activities the starting point in building one’s weekend vacation schedule, and to relegate God and Mass to an afterthought, something to fit in if there is time left over or to be skipped entirely.  The proper way is to decide on a Mass time and place first, and then figure out the rest of the weekend’s activities.  God never goes on vacation when it comes to providing for us; we should never go on vacation from offering God our thanks and praise.

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What is new about the new commandment?

May 16, 2019

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At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another” (Jn 13:34a). Jesus said that his commandment was “new.” What is new about it?

A New Commandment Giver. Previously in the Old Testament, the person who gave the commandments was Moses who spoke on behalf of God. This commandment was new because it was given by Jesus, the Son of God, who did not speak on his own, but said all that the Father commanded him to say and speak (Jn 12:49).

New CommandmentA New Single Commandment. Previously there were Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17; Dt 5:6-21), as well as the Mosaic Law with its 613 precepts, the Law of Ezra, and the Oral Law. The new commandment simplified and consolidated hundreds of commandments into a single commandment. As St. Paul stated, “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8), and, “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10).

A New Exemplar. Jesus taught, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (Jn 13:34b). Jesus demonstrated an entirely new kind of love, a self-giving, self-sacrificing kind of love, love without strings attached, a love with no expectation of repayment (see Lk 14:12). Jesus explained, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). Jesus emptied himself for the sake of all (Phil 2:7). Jesus laid down his life freely for others (see Jn 10:18).

A New Pathway to God. Previously it was thought that a person loved God by going directly to God, and that the relationship was strictly vertical, from an individual person below to God above. Jesus broached a new paradigm: a person loves God by loving one’s neighbor, a horizontal relationship: a person goes to God through one’s neighbor. Jesus equated love of God with love of neighbor. It is the second half of the Great Commandment (see Mt 22:39;.Mk 12:31; Lk10:27). As John observed, “How can you love God, whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you do see?” (paraphrase, 1 Jn 4:20,21).

A New Idealism. Previously the commandments gave a list of dos and don’ts, what a person should do and not do, a well-defined legal code, the minimum standards for the spiritual life. The commandment to love others is new because it states an ideal, not compliance with a set of rules and regulations, but the best a person can do.

A New Broader Focus. Previously a person was expected to love one’s family; fellow Jews; one’s next-door neighbors, one’s townsfolk; those of the same ethnic heritage; and the people who lived in one’s country, one’s fellow citizens, those of the same nationality. The new commandment dramatically expands the focus of those who should be loved. Jesus taught, “Love your enemy” (Mt 5:44). Disciples are to love foreigners, aliens, strangers, those of different faiths, different racial groups, different countries, as well as sinners. Disciples of Jesus are to love everyone.

A New Compassion. Previously a person who was offended by a sinner was required to forgive three times, and if the offender persisted in offensive and sinful behavior, forgiveness was no longer demanded. Jesus proposed a new standard, if your brother sins, forgive him, “seventy-seven times” (Mt 18:22), as many times as necessary. Jesus displayed this new compassionate love from the cross when he said to the worst of sinners, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

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St. Matthias, Apostle and martyr

May 9, 2019

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St. Matthias is mentioned in chapter one of the Acts of the Apostles and nowhere else in Scripture. He was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, and with his selection the number of apostles was restored to twelve. According to Eusebius, St. Clement of Alexandria, and St. Jerome, St. Matthias was one of the seventy-two disciples appointed by Jesus to go out in pairs to every town and place that he intended to visit (see Lk 10:1), but there is nothing to verify this. At one time his feast was celebrated on February 24, but it was moved to May 14 to be near the time of the Ascension and Pentecost.

St. MatthiasAfter the Ascension and before Pentecost, Peter stood up and addressed the community on the importance of choosing someone to succeed Judas Iscariot, and he quoted a Psalm in reference to the betrayer, “May another take his office” (Ps 109:8b; Acts 1:20). Peter then explained the selection criteria. The person must be “one of the men who accompanied us the whole time that the Lord Jesus came and went among us” (Acts 1:21), “beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to the resurrection” (Acts 1:22). Two men were nominated as worthy from among those who had traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry, Joseph Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias.

Then, instead of taking a vote, it was decided that lots would be cast to make the choice. The usual method was to write each candidate’s name on a separate stone, place the stones in a container, shake the container, and the first stone to fall out would be the one chosen. By praying first and then leaving it to “chance,” the selection was made by God, the one who knows the hearts of all, and not by men, thereby eliminating the possibility of favoritism or error.

St. Matthias was given the rank of apostle and held in high regard by the Church. His name is included on the second list of apostles and martyrs in the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer I.

After his selection, St. Matthias was with the apostles on Pentecost, and after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, he was filled with zeal. According to St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Matthias emphasized the importance of “mortifying the flesh to subdue sensual appetites – a lesson he learned from Christ and which he faithfully practiced himself” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints).

St. Matthias began his preaching ministry in Jerusalem and throughout Judea. Then he made a major missionary journey to Cappadocia which is located in far northeastern Asia Minor, as far as Georgia at the southern edge of Russia along the Caspian Sea. He proclaimed the gospel with fervor and sincerity, and as a result he suffered bitter persecution from nonbelievers. He was martyred sometime near 64 AD in Colchis which is located in the Caucasus Mountains north of Cappadocia. Accounts of his death differ; either he was crucified on a wooden cross or beheaded with a halberd, a military weapon that is the combination of a spear and a battle axe. His remains were eventually taken to Jerusalem to be venerated, and then transferred to Rome by Queen St. Helena.

St. Matthias is the patron saint of carpenters because of the wooden cross, and tailors, and he is invoked against alcoholism and smallpox. His symbols are a halberd or an axe.

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