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The end of the world

November 15, 2019

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As the liturgical year draws to an end, the Church asks us to pause and reflect for a moment on the end of the world. Generation after generation has had doomsday prophets who have cried out, “Watch out! The end of the world is upon us!” Are these predictions believable? Frankly, no!

Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mt 24:36). Anyone who claims to know when the end of the world is coming claims to know more than Jesus and the angels. Assertions of this nature are blasphemous, and anyone who makes such a prediction is a fraud and should not be trusted.

Jesus warns us: “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them!” (Lk 21:8). There will be wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines, and plagues, but no matter how awful these tragic events may be, Jesus advises us to be wary of gloom and doom fortunetellers: “It will not immediately be the end” (Lk 21:9). Speculation is useless. If we listen to the prophets of doom that surface periodically, we are going contrary to Jesus’ teaching.

Some suggest that the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan is a sure sign of the end. Not true. The world did not vanish during the Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, or the two World Wars, nor did it stop during any of the other terrible conflicts down through the ages. Judging from the past, it is highly unlikely that the conclusion is looming around the corner.

Others point to anthrax or regional famines in Africa or Asia as sure signs that the end is imminent. Still others mention hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, AIDS, Bubonic Plague, and the other terrible epidemics that have occurred in the past. None spelled, “T-H-E E-N-D.”

Be warned! In the year 999 people were frantic that the world would undergo catastrophic destruction. It did not. In 1999 there was great consternation over Y2K. Again, nothing happened.

If the world has survived for almost two thousand years since Jesus issued his warning, it is doubtful that the Second Coming will arrive any time soon. Jesus does not want us to be worried (Lk 21:9), yet he wants us to stay vigilant and pray (Lk 21:36). “The day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Pt 3:10).

Jesus and the Church are asking us to put “The End” in a healthy, balanced perspective. We are dealing with two “ends,” not one: the end of our lives at natural death and the end of the world at the Second Coming, the Parousia, or the Final Judgment. Based upon the last two thousand years, it is far more likely that our individual deaths will come before the Second Coming, and “The End” that we should be most concerned about is the end of our lives, not the end of the world.

We need to be ready at all times because our death may come “like a thief in the night.” God may call us home suddenly, unexpectantly, due to a heart attack or a stroke, an accident, or while we are asleep. As we see others die, God is serving us warning: all perish, every one of us included, no exceptions! But there is no need to fret! Jesus is preparing a room for each of us in the heavenly mansion (Jn 14:2). Instead of worrying about the end of the world, Jesus would have us be more concerned with the end of our own lives, to always be in a state of spiritual readiness, so we are ready for our true end, eternal life.

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The dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran

November 8, 2019

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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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St. Martin de Porres

November 3, 2019

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St. Martin de Porres was born on November 9, 1579, in Lima, Peru. He was born outside of wedlock, the son of John de Porres, a Spanish knight, and Anna, a freed black slave from Panama. His father was mortified when he observed how his newborn son had inherited his mother’s African features and dark complexion, and he refused to acknowledge him. Martin’s baptismal records show him listed as the “son of an unknown father,” and as a result he was considered “illegitimate,” a terrible social stigma in Peruvian society. He was raised in the faith by his Christian mother.

As a boy St. Martin studied medicine and was an apprentice to a barber-surgeon. He also became a Third Order Dominican, a person who adopts Dominican spirituality as an associate member while still a lay person. In 1595 he moved into Rosary Convent in Lima as a helper, and in 1603 he joined the Dominican Order and made his religious profession as a Brother.

Brother Martin distinguished himself in personal holiness. He had a great devotion to the Eucharist and prayed regularly in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. He was strict and highly disciplined with himself, performed rigorous acts of penance, was exceptionally humble, and gladly performed menial tasks. Within the community he served as the infirmarian, the community’s caretaker of the sick and disabled, the barber, the wardrobe keeper, and the gardener, and he swept the floors and cleaned the toilets. He operated the community’s food shelf and distributed food, clothing, and medicine to the needy.

Brother Martin also ventured out of the convent to serve the poor in the city of Lima. He put his medical training to good use with his competent and compassionate care for the sick. Because of his expanding reputation, more and more people came to him for help. For some he administered medical treatment, for others it was a handshake or a simple touch, and there were so many healings and such remarkable cures that the people considered him a miracle worker.

Brother Martin also had a special place in his heart for African slaves that had been forced to come to Peru, and he conducted a special outreach to them. He also founded an orphanage and a hospital for them.

St. Martin was immensely popular with the people of Lima because of his tremendous dedication to the poor and his exemplary personal holiness. He also was held in high regard by his fellow Dominicans who called him the “father of charity,” a title he shunned, and out of self-deprecation he referred to himself as a “mulatto dog.”

St. Martin was a close friend of St. Rose of Lima. He reportedly had the supernatural gifts of bilocation and aerial flight.

St. Martin de Porres died of a raging fever at Rosary Convent in Lima on November 3, 1639, at the age of sixty. He was beatified in 1837 and canonized by Pope John XXIII on May 6, 1962. He is the patron saint of hairdressers, public health workers, social justice, and race relations.

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Saint Jude, Apostle and Martyr

October 25, 2019

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Identity. Jude is one of the original twelve apostles. Luke calls him “Judas the son of James” (Lk 6:16a; Acts 1:13), and places him eleventh on the list. He is also mentioned by John (Jn 14:22). Judas is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Judah. He is also known as Thaddeus (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18), which means “great hearted”; Labbaeus or Lebbeus, which means “courageous”; Jude Thaddeus; Judas Lebbaeus; or simply Jude.

Mistaken Identity. Jude is not to be confused with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer; Judas Maccabeus of the Old Testament; Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37); the Judas who Paul stayed with in Damascus (Acts 9:11); Judas Barsabbas who accompanied Paul, Barnabas, and Silas to Antioch (Acts 15:22,27,32); or Judas, the brother of James (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:33), a relative of Jesus, and the author of the Letter of Jude who identified himself as “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (Jude 1:1).

Scarce Information. The New Testament provides almost no information about Jude. His name is mentioned on four lists of apostles, and he speaks only once during the Last Supper when he asked Jesus, “Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” (Jn 14:22).

Early Church History. Historical information about Jude is sketchy. Church historians differ over whether Jude made missionary journeys to Egypt, Syria, or Armenia. There is stronger agreement that he went to both Mesopotamia and Persia where he was joined by Simon the Cananean. According to tradition, both Simon and Jude suffered martyrdom in Persia, but there is no consensus over the manner of his death. He is variously reported to have been shot to death with arrows, beaten with clubs, run through with a lance, stabbed with a halberd, or crucified, possibly upside down.

Artistic Depictions. St. Jude is often shown holding a medallion with an image of Jesus. His principal symbols are a ship, sometimes with a cross on the sail or a cross-shaped mast, an oar, or a walking stick, either a plain stick or with a cross on the top, all emblematic of his missionary journeys; as well as a club, upside down cross, axe, lance, or halberd, all possible instruments of his martyrdom.

A Famous Patron Saint. St. Jude is best known as the patron saint of hopeless cases. This tradition developed because people prayed through the intercession of the apostles beginning with Peter. If a prayer request was not answered, they would continue to work their way through the list. After ten unsuccessful attempts, the plight of their request seemed hopeless, and as a last resort they would turn to Jude, the eleventh and last saint on the list. Another explanation is that people avoided praying through Jude because his name was next to Judas Iscariot, but after their prayer requests with all of the other saints had failed, their last prayer would be directed to Jude.

Additional Patronages. St. Jude is also the patron saint of Armenia and those who suffer misfortune, and during the Twentieth Century he also emerged as a patron saint of hospitals and the sick.

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St. Paul: Looking back, looking forward

October 25, 2019

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Departure Time. The year was 67 AD. St. Paul was in his mid-70s, an old man by First Century standards. He was in Rome, a bad place for Christians. The Roman Emperor Nero was waging a large scale persecution against Christians. Paul was in prison. Many other Christians had already been put to death, and Paul could see the handwriting on the wall. When he wrote, “The time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tm 4:6), “departure” means death. It was Paul’s way of saying that he knew that the time of his martyrdom was drawing ever nearer.

Paul as a Libation. Today a libation is an alcoholic beverage, but that is not its original meaning. Initially a libation was a blood sacrifice (e.g., Ex 24:5-8). Over time there was a shift away from animal sacrifice and the spilling of blood. Eventually wine was used as a substitute for blood, and the pouring of wine on the ground was an alternative for sprinkling the blood of an animal. When Paul wrote, “I am already being poured out like a libation,” it was a metaphorical way to describe how he had poured out his life completely in service of Jesus and the gospel.

The Race to the Finish. Paul compared his life to a long-distance running race (2 Tm 4:7). He was born and raised in Tarsus, a city in southeastern Turkey. He had moved to Jerusalem to become better-educated in the Jewish faith. As a young man he was zealous and persecuted Christians, but then came his dramatic conversion after Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. It had been roughly forty years since his baptism. His “race” was one long-distance event after another, three missionary journeys in all, to Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Rome, widely over the Middle East and the northern Mediterranean. He was an elite Christian endurance athlete, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the one who took the gospel of Jesus to the world.

Fighting the Good Fight. As Paul looked back over his life, he enjoyed a sense of inner peace knowing he had given Jesus his best effort. Yes, he had regrets about the terrible things that he had done in his early years, but with the grace of God he was able to turn his life around. Great love, heroic service, and long-suffering for the sake of the gospel covered a multitude of sins. For whatever Paul may have done wrong in the past, in his final years he was in superb spiritual shape. Paul had grown close to Jesus and knew that they were on the best of terms.

Looking Ahead. Paul concluded, “The crown of righteousness awaits me” (2 Tm 4:8). It was his poetic way to say, “After I die, I am confident that God will reward me with a place in heaven.” Despite the fact that he was in dreadful anticipation of his execution, spiritually he was totally at peace knowing that he had given his best. All would be well in the end.

Now it is Our Turn. Paul’s race is over, but ours continues. Paul turned his life around. No matter what sins we may have committed, we still have time to turn away from sin and rededicate our lives completely to Jesus and the gospel. The goal is to be able to look back knowing that we have done our best and to look forward to our heavenly reward.

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Sacred Scripture, wisdom for salvation

October 18, 2019

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Sacred Scripture

The Word of God. Sacred Scripture is the writings of the Holy Bible, all of the books in both the Old and New Testaments. These books are on an approved list called the Canon of Sacred Scripture because they are considered authentic, contain correct teaching, and have been in continuous use throughout the centuries.

The Human Word of Almighty God. Sacred Scripture is the Word of God and inspired by God. The words are “human,” the words that people use to express themselves, and the authors are human, real people such as Moses and Isaiah, Matthew and Mark, Peter and Paul. God did not dictate the words that were to be written, nor did God insert the words into their brains or direct their pens. Each author wrote freely.

Inspiration. The composition of Scripture is guided by the Holy Spirit. It is “revelation,” something about God or the truth that the author could not have known or learned on his own. Revelation comes in mystical ways such as dreams, messages brought by angels, voices, visions, thoughts, and insights.

Scripture’s Limitations. Scripture is one way that God communicates with us. God uses words, yet words in themselves are finite, limited, and cannot say everything. Words reveal something of God but not everything of God because God is infinite and transcends the limited nature of words. They cannot convey everything that there is to know about God, but they do reveal a great deal. Scripture is an act of love by God, God taking the initiative to communicate with us.

Scripture, the Source of Wisdom. St. Paul wrote that “sacred scriptures … are capable of giving you wisdom” (2 Tm 3:15). The word “wisdom” is carefully chosen. He avoided the word “knowledge.” Scripture is not information, a history book to learn or a theology book to study, matters of the mind to know and understand. Scripture is a matter of the heart. It is not only what we know but what we believe. It is what we love, value, and treasure. It is our passion. It is to be devoured by us and become the fabric of our being (see Ez 3:1-4).

Wisdom. Wisdom is the first gift of the Holy Spirit (Is 11:2). It is the ability to exercise good judgment. It distinguishes between right and wrong. It seeks and upholds truth and justice. It is oriented toward the common good. It is the parent of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. It is one with the truth, and the closer we get to the truth, the closer we get to God.

Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training. Scripture is useful for teaching: it contains the truth about God and serves as the basis for doctrine; for reproof, to reject errors, distortions, deceptions, heresies, and false teaching; for correction, to correct misunderstandings and misapplications, to expose wrong decisions and actions, and to help a person get back on the right track; and for training in righteousness, to help a person to grow in goodness and virtue, and to increase in their desire to obey and please God.

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St. Wenceslaus, Martyr

September 27, 2019

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St. Wenceslaus was born near Prague in 907. His father was Duke Wratislaw and his mother was Drahomira, the daughter of the chieftain of the Veletians, a Slavic tribe to the north. She was a pagan and opposed Christianity. St. Wenceslaus was educated and raised in the faith by his grandmother, St. Ludmilla.

St. WenceslausIn 920 St. Wenceslaus lost his father who died at war in a battle with the Magyars. His mother Drahomira resented his grandmother who was a powerful political figure and a Christian, and she had her murdered in 921. Drahomira seized control of the government and enacted a number of anti-Christian policies. This spawned a Christian uprising and Drahomira was deposed.

St. Wenceslaus rose to power as the Duke and king of Bohemia in 922 at the age of fifteen. He promoted Christianity and worked to ease tensions between Christian and non-Christian factions. Society was chaotic. There were nobles who abused their power and ruffians who intimidated the peasants. St. Wenceslaus was strict and firm, restored order, and suppressed the lawless.

As he began his reign his advisors urged him to charge his mother with treason to take revenge for the murder of his grandmother and her efforts against Christianity. With mercy and forgiveness he refused to send his mother into exile.

St. Wenceslaus was a man of utmost faith and a benevolent ruler. According to an old Slavic legend, he “was charitable to the poor, and he would clothe the naked, feed the hungry and offer hospitality to travelers according to the summons of the gospel. He would not allow widows to be treated unjustly; he loved all of his people, both rich and poor” (Office of Readings).

The Bavarians attempted to invade Bohemia from the south, and under his military leadership the Bohemian army was able to repel the attack, and he was widely acclaimed by his people.

St. Wenceslaus took a friendly posture toward Christian Germany, recognized King Henry the Fowler of Germany as the successor of Charlemagne, and acknowledged that the king was overlord of Bohemia. Some of the nobility vehemently disagreed with this policy. In addition, the non-Christian nobles resisted his pro-Christian position. While he strove for unity and harmony, there was much dissension and opposition.

St. Wenceslaus was married and had a son. His younger brother Boleslaus was jealous, and when he realized that his nephew would inherit the throne ahead of him, he joined the anti-Christian opposition movement. Its evil leaders deceived Boleslaus, “Your brother Wenceslaus is conspiring with his mother and his men to kill you.” Boleslaus hatched his own murder plot.

Boleslaus invited his brother to his castle to celebrate the memorial of Sts. Cosmas and Damian on September 26. St. Wenceslaus was in the habit of going to church early each morning for Matins and Mass, and two days later Boleslaus was waiting at the church, struck him on the head, and two of his companions completed the assassination as they ran him through with their swords. He died on September 28, 929, at the age of 22. He was immediately recognized as a martyr, and his remains were taken to St. Vital Cathedral in Prague where they are enshrined.

St. Wenceslaus is the patron saint of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bohemia, and Moravia, and the cathedral of Cracow, Poland.

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St. Pius of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)

September 20, 2019

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St. Pius of Pietrelcina, commonly known as Padre Pio, was born on May 25, 1887, in the small southern Italian town of Pietrelcina. His parents, Grazio and Maria Giuseppa Forgione, were devout Catholics and poor peasant farmers. He was baptized the day after his birth at St. Ana’s Chapel and given the name Francesco, named after San Francesco, St. Francis of Assisi.

Padre PioFrancesco entered the Capuchin Franciscan Friars at the age of fifteen, was invested with the Capuchin habit on January 22, 1903, and chose the name Pius or Pio in honor of St. Pius II, the patron saint of Pietrelcina. He imposed severe fasts on himself, lost weight, compromised his immune system, and eventually became seriously ill with tuberculosis or bronchial pneumonia as well as raging fevers. He left the friary and returned to his family because they were better able to care for him. Once recovered, he returned to the community, moved to San Giovanni Rotondo and studied philosophy and theology. He was ordained a priest on August 10, 1910.

Less than a month after his ordination, on September 7, 1910, while at prayer in his family’s farmhouse in Piana Romana, Padre Pio received the invisible stigmata, the five wounds of the crucified Jesus. Eight years later, on September 20, 1918, while at prayer in the Friary Chapel at San Giovanni Rotondo, he had a mystical encounter with Jesus and received the visible stigmata, wounds that he carried on his hands, feet, and side for the next fifty years, and he did so with great humility covering his hands with gloves and his feet with stockings.

Padre Pio was highly regarded for his personal holiness and spiritual wisdom, and as a result throngs approached him for advice and encouragement. He also had a tremendous reputation as a kindly confessor. Many days he spent up to twelve hours in the confessional, and some years he reportedly heard as many as twenty-five thousand confessions. Not only did he give wise counsel, he was able to see into the penitent’s heart and determine if the person was unaware of or in denial about a sin, and able to help the person to both name and turn away from the sin.

As the steady string of pilgrims and the size of the crowds grew, so did his troubles. Members of his own Capuchin community and Vatican officials were increasingly jealous and skeptical, alleged that his stigmata was a fraud, and maintained that he was promoting himself. Padre Pio was placed under investigation more than ten times, his priestly faculties were suspended, and he was forbidden to say Mass or hear confessions. It was a cross of untold suffering for him to be doubted, ridiculed, and rejected, and for long periods he retreated into isolation. Dark as those days were, he never lost faith, kept his sense of humor, and remained steadfast in prayer, especially before the Eucharist. He often said, “I only want to be a poor friar who prays.” It took until 1968 before Pope Paul VI granted the official approval of the Church.

Padre Pio’s dream was to establish a hospital that would provide compassionate care for the poor, and it was realized with the establishment of La Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, the Home for the Relief of Suffering, a one thousand bed hospital. It was dedicated in 1956 and it continues its mission today in conjunction with an international bioscience research facility.

Padre Pio died September 23, 1968 at the age of 81, was beatified in 1999 in the presence of 250,000 people, and canonized by Pope John Paul II on June 16, 2002. St. Pius of Pietrelcina is the patron saint of civil defense volunteers and Catholic adolescents.

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Our Lady of Sorrows

September 13, 2019

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Our Lady of Sorrows

Various Spiritual Titles. Our Lady of Sorrows is known by a number of different names. In Latin, she is called the Mater Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Mother. Mary endured The Seven Dolors or the Seven Sorrows.

A Two Day Celebration. A memorial that honors Mary is combined with a feast that honors Jesus. The Exaltation of the Holy Cross is on September 14 and Our Lady of Sorrows is on September 15. Similarly, earlier in the year, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is paired with the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Like Son, Like Mother. Both the hearts of Jesus and Mary were pierced. The heart of Jesus was pierced when a soldier thrust his lance into the side of Jesus (Jn 19:34a), and when Mary presented her infant son Jesus in the Temple, Simeon told her, “You yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35).

Mary’s Sorrow. Mary shows in a heartrending way how when the person you love suffers, you suffer along with them. A mother suffers when her child suffers. As Jesus hung on the Cross in agony, Mary stood at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:25) agonizing along with him. Mary suffered her own passion as she participated in her son Jesus’ Passion.

One of Seven. Mary’s sorrow at the foot of the Cross was not her first or her last. Traditionally there are seven sorrows of Mary, three during the early years of Jesus’ life and four on Good Friday. The first sorrow was Simeon’s prophecy, the troubling announcement that her heart would be pierced by a sword. The second sorrow was the flight to Egypt (Mt 2:13-15), the terrible anguish Mary endured knowing that the king wanted to kill her child, the hardship of a grueling trip across the desert, and the sadness of living in Egypt as a refugee apart from family and friends for a number of years. The third sorrow was the overwhelming fear that she experienced when her son Jesus was lost for three days in the Temple (Lk 2:41-52).

The Four Sorrows of Good Friday. The fourth sorrow was the tragic moment when Mary met Jesus along a street in Jerusalem as he carried his Cross. The fifth sorrow was the torment she endured as she stood at the foot of the Cross and watched her son writhe in pain and then die such an ignominious death. The sixth sorrow was when Jesus was taken down from the Cross and laid in her arms. And finally, the seventh sorrow was for Mary to watch, weeping, as her son was laid in the tomb.

Special Mass Texts. In addition to the Scripture readings that are recommended for the Mass, either Heb 5:7-9 or Col 1:24-25 for the first reading, and either Jn 19:25-27 or Lk 2:33-35 for the gospel, the Lectionary also offers an optional Sequence, a prose reflection on Mary’s sorrows, and the Stabat Mater, a poetic reflection with the verses that are commonly sung with the Stations of the Cross.

Our Lady of Sorrows in Art. The most famous representation of the Sorrowful Mother is the Pieta by Michelangelo which is on display at St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica in Rome. The primary symbol for Our Lady of Sorrows is a red heart pierced on top by a single sword. Mary is often portrayed with her head slumping, supported by her hand, her eyes downcast, and her face streaming with tears. She also is often shown with a single sword thrust into her chest or with her heart visible above her chest and pierced by seven swords.

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The History of the Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows

September 13, 2019

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The biblical origin of the memorial of our Lady of Sorrows is found in the Infancy Narrative of the gospel of Luke when, during the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Simeon told the Blessed Mother Mary, “You yourself a sword will pierce” (Lk 2:35). It was a deeply disturbing message on what should have been an extremely joyful day. Simeon forewarned Mary that she would endure much hardship in the future: burdens and anxiety, pain and suffering, tears and mourning. It was unknown when it would happen, how it would happen, or how hard it would be, but trouble surely was coming. The announcement itself was a sorrow for Mary.

Church historians believe that St. Anselm (1033-1109), a Benedictine monk, bishop, and Doctor of the Church, and the Benedictines, were the first to introduce the concept of Our Lady of Sorrows or the Sorrowful Mother during the Eleventh Century. The first liturgical celebration of the feast was during the Twelfth Century.

By the Fourteenth Century the single sorrow of Mary had been expanded to seven, three from the early years and four from Good Friday. The first three sorrows of Mary are Simeon’s painful prediction (Lk 2:35), the panic-stricken Flight into Egypt and the years spent as a refugee (Mt 2:13-15,19-22), and the acute anxiety of losing her son for three days (Lk 2:48). The final four sorrows of Mary are her encounter with Jesus as he carried his Cross, the torment of standing at the foot of the Cross to witness her son’s suffering and death (Jn 19:25a), the anguish of receiving his lifeless body in her arms as he was taken down from the Cross, and the grief of watching her son’s burial as he was laid in the tomb.

During the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries two religious orders, the Cistercians and the Servites of Mary, were strong advocates of the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows through their preaching and missionary work, and the devotion spread throughout Europe and more broadly to the universal Church. The Servites consider Our Lady of Sorrows as their patron saint, they celebrate her memorial as their patronal feast, and it was first celebrated by their order in 1423 in Cologne, Germany.

The memorial gained greater momentum in 1482 when it was added to the Missal under its former name, “Our Lady of Compassion.” Compassion was used because Jesus’ Passion became Mary’s passion, and as Jesus suffered, she suffered with him.

In 1668 the Servites of Mary introduced a similar devotion to commemorate the Seven Dolors of Mary. It was placed on the Roman Calendar in 1814 and celebrated on the first Sunday after September 14.

In 1727 Pope Benedict XIII universalized the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows when he placed it on the Roman Calendar, and for nearly two hundred years it was celebrated by the worldwide Church on the Friday before Palm Sunday. Then in 1913 Pope Pius X permanently transferred the memorial to September 15, the day after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14, to combine the celebration of and reflection upon of the Passion of Jesus and the passion of Mary on consecutive days (see Lodi, E., Saints of the Roman Calendar, 264).

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