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Saint Lucy – Virgin and Martyr

December 7, 2017

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St. Lucy

Saint Lucy Virgin and Martyr

Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse, a city on the island of Sicily, off the coast of Italy, during the Third Century. Her family was upper class Roman nobility. Her parents were Christian. Her father died when she was an infant, so her mother both raised her and trained her in the faith.

Lucy was an extremely devout young woman who made a secret vow, not even revealed to her mother, that she would reserve herself totally to God as a virgin. Unaware, her mother arranged a marriage between her daughter and a young man who was a pagan.

Shortly thereafter, Lucy’s mother became sick with a hemorrhage. Lucy convinced her mother to go to Catania, a town in Italy where the tomb of St. Agatha, a virgin martyr, was located, to ask for a miracle. Both mother and daughter prayed at the tomb through the intercession of St. Agatha, and miraculously, their prayers were answered and her mother’s hemorrhage was cured.

After the healing, Lucy told her mother about her desire to dedicate herself to God, to break off the engagement, and give the money of the dowry to the poor. Her mother agreed, but her fiancé was furious. Out of revenge, he had Lucy arrested, brought to court, and had her charged with being a Christian. Paschasius, the governor of Sicily, demanded that she recant her Christian beliefs, but she flatly refused. As punishment, the governor condemned her to a brothel where she would be violated.

According to the legend, once she arrived at the brothel, she became so heavy that she could not be moved, not even by a group of guards or a team of oxen. Then she was condemned to be burned at the stake, but the flames did not harm her. Finally she was stabbed in the throat, bled profusely, and continued to pray until the moment of her death. She died in Syracuse, Sicily, c. 304 AD, during the persecution of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Her body was initially taken to Constantinople, and later her relics were transferred to Venice, Italy, for final burial.

There are multiple legends about St. Lucy’s eyes. According to one, they were torn out by a mean judge as part of her torture; according to another, a young suitor was enthralled with the beauty of her eyes, and to thwart his admiration and desires, she tore out her eyes, placed them on a tray, and presented them to him; and according to a third, when a rapist attempted to accost her in the brothel, she tore out her eyes to stop the attack. No matter how she lost her eyes, they were miraculously restored, more beautiful than before. In religious art, her symbol is two eyes on a plate.

St. Lucy is the patroness of those afflicted with any sort of eye problem, those with poor vision, eye disease, and the blind, because she had beautiful eyes and her eyes were torn out; of those with throat ailments, because she was stabbed in the throat; of those with hemorrhages and bleeding disorders, because her mother was cured of a hemorrhage and she bled to death; of lamplighters and glassblowers, because her name means light; of the city of Syracuse and the Island of Sicily, because they are where she lived and died; and of gondoliers, because her final burial place is Venice. The gondolier’s song Santa Lucia celebrates her. The Caribbean Island of Santa Lucia was named after her. Sweden holds its festival of light on December 13, her feast day. She is one of only seven female saints named in the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer I.

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The Season of Advent

December 1, 2017

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Prophet Isaiah

The Prophet Isaiah St. Mary of the Presentation
Breckenridge, MN

The Word “Advent.” The term “Advent” comes from the Latin preposition ad, “to” or “toward,” and the verb, venire, “to come”; as well as the Latin word adventus which means “arrival” or “coming.” Advent is the season that celebrates the coming of Jesus, begins the new liturgical year, and prepares for the Solemnity of Christmas.

Advent’s Duration. The Season of Advent is made up of the four Sundays before Christmas, three full weeks, and a fourth week of variable length.

Advent’s Main Points of Emphasis. The major focus of Advent is the two comings of Christ, past and future. The Church looks backward with great joy, deep reverence, and profound gratitude, to commemorate and honor the first coming of Christ, the Nativity, the birth of Jesus, Messiah and Lord, the word made flesh, in Bethlehem. At the same time, the Church looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ, the Parousia, at the end of the age, the day when he comes again, with an admonition to be fully prepared, in the state of grace, free of all sin, full of hope, without anxiety, ready to welcome Christ when he comes in glory and majesty, and to be in a spiritual condition to be judged worthy of heaven.

Another Advent Point of Emphasis. While the Church looks to the past and the future, it also pays attention to the present. Christ will come on Christmas, and Christ comes each and every day, in the Gospel and the Eucharist, in the sacraments, in private prayer, in the Church gathered in liturgical worship, in song, in love, in truth, in our neighbors, and in many other ways; and it behooves us to be ready to receive Christ now and whenever he comes.

The Shifting Themes of Advent. In Years A, B, and C, the First Sunday of Advent highlights the Second Coming of Christ and the need for vigilance; the Second and Third Sundays of Advent concentrate on the ministry of Saint John the Baptist and the importance of conversion and repentance; and the Fourth Sunday of Advent is immediate preparation for Christmas with the annunciation to Joseph, the annunciation to Mary, and the Visitation, all passages from either Matthew’s or Luke’s Infancy Narratives.

Advent’s Color. The liturgical color for Advent is violet or purple, the color of repentance and sorrow for sin. If we wish to be ready for Jesus when he comes, we must “prepare the way of the Lord” (Lk 3:4), fill in the valleys of our shortcomings and bad habits, tear down the mountains of our offenses, make straight our crooked ways, and make smooth our roughness, meanness, and lack of charity (see Is 40:3-4 and Lk 3:5). While there are no days of fast and abstinence during this penitential season, it is highly recommended to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent.

Important Elements of Advent. The symbol of the Advent season is the Advent Wreath comprised of four candles, three which are violet or purple, one which is rose, and represents the increasing light of Christ, the light of the world, born at midnight, during the time of the approaching winter solstice and the shortest and darkest day of the year. The saint of Advent is St. John the Baptist, the intertestamental prophet who bridged the Old and New Testaments, the one who sang of his coming, proclaimed his presence when he came, and challenged the people of his time and people of our day to open their hearts to receive Christ. The prophet of Advent is Isaiah, the author of the Immanuel Prophecies (Is 7:10-14; 9:1-6, especially vv, 5-6; and 11:1-10), quoted with seven Scripture passages used for the Sundays of Advent, seventeen for the weekdays of Advent, and every day for the Office of Readings.

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The dedication of the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul

November 17, 2017

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November 18 is the memorial of the dedication of two of the oldest and most important basilicas of the Church, the first St. Peter’s Basilica and the first St. Paul’s Basilica. Both churches were in Rome, one inside the ancient city walls on the Vatican Hill where local Christians believed that the grave of St. Peter was located, the other outside the ancient city walls on the Via Ostia where the relics of St. Paul were buried.

The Emperor Constantine (d. 337) ordered that churches be built at both sites. Construction on St. Peter’s began while he was alive and was completed by his sons. A smaller church was built on the Via Ostia at the direction of Constantine, and in 386 the construction of a huge basilica began under Emperor Valentinian II and continued under Emperors Theodosius and Honorius. St. Peter’s was dedicated in 350 AD and St. Paul’s was dedicated in 390 AD by Pope St. Siricius.

Both basilicas, as impressive as they were, were later replaced by the magnificent basilicas of today. Construction on St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica began in 1506, continued through the Sixteenth Century under the direction of Michelangelo (d. 1564), the main architect, as well as a number of other architects, and was consecrated on November 18, 1626, by Pope Urban VII. The first Basilica of St. Paul was destroyed by fire in 1823, was completely rebuilt, and the new Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls was consecrated on December 10, 1854, by Pope Pius IX. They are two of the four main pilgrimage churches in Rome, along with the basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major.

While both basilicas have great spiritual significance, the saints that they honor are the main focus. Sts. Peter and Paul are remembered together twice during the liturgical year, on their Solemnity on June 29, and on the memorial of their first basilicas on November 18. They are the two princes of Christ’s apostles, St. Peter, our leader in faith, the apostle to the Jews; and St. Paul, the fearless preached of the faith, the apostle to the Gentiles. St. Peter raised up the Church from the faithful flock of Israel; St. Paul brought Jesus’ call to the nations and became the teacher of the world (Preface 63, former Sacramentary).

Both saints have much in common. Peter and Paul were both Jews; both laborers, one a fisherman, the other a leather worker; both were called individually by Jesus, Peter while he was fishing, Paul while he was on the road to Damascus; both were aware that they were sinners, Peter, who said, “I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8), Paul who wrote, “Christ Jesus came to save sinners … of these I am the foremost” (1 Tm 1:15); both traveled extensively as missionaries to preach the gospel, Peter throughout Israel and then to Rome, Paul to Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome; both wrote extensively, Peter wrote two letters and most likely provided Mark with the information for his gospel, while thirteen letters are attributed to Paul; both were imprisoned, Peter in the Mamertinum prison in Rome, Paul in Philippi, Caesarea, and Rome; and both were martyred, Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded with a sword.

The Church received the beginning of her knowledge of things divine through Sts. Peter and Paul, and these two apostles are most responsible for the spread of Christianity. The truth was handed down to us by them, and we are governed under their patronage (Roman Missal).

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Go ahead: love yourself

October 27, 2017

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Love yourself. Yes, Jesus wants you to love yourself. He said so. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39). But this sounds so selfish. When a person hears, “Love yourself,” all sorts of things come to mind. “Put yourself first,” which is egotistical, prideful, self-centered, and individualistic. “Give yourself what you want,” which is selfish, greedy, and materialistic. “The world revolves around you and what makes you happy,” which is narcissistic. “Enjoy the pleasures of life; if it feels good, do it,” which is hedonistic, self-indulgent, and decadent. Certainly this is not what Jesus means when he says, “Love yourself.”

I had a spiritual director who has a saying, “Good ministry begins with self-care.” This wise advisor would go on to say, “You are no good to anyone else if you are a wreck yourself. You are unable to be of service if you are mentally or spiritually imbalanced, sick or dead. You have to be well if you hope to love your neighbor.”

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he means, “Take care of yourself. Be a good steward of the gift of your life. Be healthy, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, so you are able to love and serve your neighbor appropriately.”

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he is asking us to take care of our body and physical health. You “love yourself” when you get to bed on time and get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, practice good hygiene, avoid dangerous activities, follow safety precautions, drive carefully, go to the doctor when sick, and comply with the doctor’s orders.

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he is asking us to take care of our emotional well-being. You “love yourself” when you nurture good relationships with family members; be a friend to others and allow others to be a friend to you; have a network of mutually beneficial friendships; have someone with whom you can share your hopes and fears, ups and downs; have one or more hobbies; enjoy the arts, go to movies, plays, concerts, or a museum; take time to read a good book, magazine, or newspaper; engage in enjoyable activities like a picnic, swimming, amusement park, the zoo, or a sporting event; have a reasonable workload; manage stress; reserve time for rest and relaxation; be positive and optimistic; pay special attention to hurts, deal with resentments, and forgive; restrain anger; and, if things are unmanageable on our own, to seek the help of others, either from a trustworthy family member or friend, or professional care from a minister or personal coach, counselor or therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.

When Jesus says, “Love yourself,” he is asking us to have a strong and vibrant spiritual life. Good spiritual health begins with prayer. You “love yourself” when you pray every day, go to Mass every weekend, receive the sacrament regularly, do spiritual reading, practice a devotion like Eucharistic Adoration or the rosary, and do penance: prayer, fasting and self-denial, almsgiving, and works of charity. Other key elements of good spiritual health include being a registered and active member of a parish community, generosity with time and money, on-going spiritual development and faith formation, sharing one’s faith with others, and volunteer service to the parish and wider community. There is nothing selfish about loving yourself when you take care of yourself to honor the gift of life that God has given to you, and to have a strong and healthy foundation to serve your neighbor.

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St. Paul of the Cross

October 19, 2017

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St. Paul of the Cross

St. Paul of the Cross

St. Paul of the Cross was born on January 3, 1694, at Ovada, near Genoa, Italy. His birth name was Paolo (Paul) Francesco (Francis) Danei. He was one of sixteen children, and his parents were devout Catholics. His father was a merchant, but he fared badly in business and was unable to send Paul to school.

As a small child whenever he suffered discomfort or cried, his mother would show him a crucifix and reflect with him about the suffering of Jesus on the Cross, and from the beginning of his life he had a great devotion to the Cross. His father would read to him about the lives of the saints. When he was fifteen he heard a sermon that helped him to realize and admit his sins, after which he went to Confession and began a life of strict austerity and prayer, and he afflicted himself with self-mortification like sleeping on the bare floor, sleep deprivation, and self-flagellation.

Paul joined the Venetian army at the age of twenty to fight for the faith and against the Turks in the hope that he would die as a martyr. After one year he came to the realization that military service was not his calling and asked to be discharged, and once his petition was granted, he resumed a life of solitude, prayer, and penance.

In the summer of 1720 he had three visions in which he saw himself clothed in a black religious habit, and in the third vision the Blessed Mother Mary appeared and asked him to found a religious congregation dedicated to the Passion. Paul consulted with his bishop, who was well aware of his holiness, and advised him to move forward. Paul went into seclusion for forty days during which he prayed, ate only bread and water, slept on straw, and wrote the rule of life for his new congregation. Members would take four vows, the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also a special fourth vow to have a deep devotion to the Passion of Jesus, to pray and meditate regularly on his suffering and death on the Cross, and to preach about the Passion.

Passionist Cross

Passionist Cross

Subsequently, Paul and his brother, John, moved to Monte Argentaro, and with two other companions, founded a community, the Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, now commonly known as the Passionists. Paul and his brother were ordained to the priesthood by Pope Benedict XIII at St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica in 1727.

The Passionists embarked on their mission to preach about Jesus’ suffering. They also served the sick and dying with great compassion, brought lapsed Catholics back to the Church, and reconciled sinners through the sacrament of Penance.

Paul’s Rule of Life was given preliminary approval by Pope Benedict XIV in 1741. He was elected the first Superior General in 1747, a positon he held the rest of his life. He traveled widely throughout the Papal States, was a charismatic preacher, generated large crowds, and had a special gift for reconciling sinners. Formal final approval was granted to the Passionist Community by Pope Clement XIV in 1769. Paul subsequently moved to Rome. Under his leadership twelve new communities of men were founded, and in 1771 he founded a cloistered community of Passionist nuns at Corneto.

St. Paul of the Cross became ill in 1772 and died on October 18, 1775, at the age of 80 in Rome, and he was canonized a saint in 1867. He is the patron saint of the Passionist Community. His memorial is not celebrated on his death anniversary like most saints because of the Feast of St. Luke. The universal Church remembers him on October 19, but in the United States, because of the memorial of St. Isaac Jogues and his companions, he is remembered on October 20.

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The symbolism of The Sacred Heart of Jesus

October 13, 2017

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The Sacred Heart of Jesus is brought to the forefront twice each liturgical year, first on the Feast of the Sacred Heart which is celebrated on the third Friday after Pentecost, and again on October 16, the memorial of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, one of the foremost saints to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart.

The Heart itself. The heart is the symbolic center of feeling and emotion, and it represents Jesus’ deep love and affection for us. It is sometimes shown by itself, but often with an image of Jesus, and then above his chest. Most frequently it is depicted as red, the color of blood, which Jesus poured out for us (Jn 19:34). Red signifies fervent love, and Jesus loves us so much that he laid down his life for us (Jn 15:13). Occasionally the heart is purple, yellow, or white.

The Crown of Thorns. The heart typically is encircled horizontally with a crown of thorns. The thorns represent the stings caused by our sins. During Jesus’ passion, the execution squad wove a crown of thorns and placed it on his head (Mt 27:29; Mk 15:17; Jn 19:2,5), and it represents all that Jesus suffered on our account.

The Wound. Often there is a gash shown on the lower left or lower center of the heart which recalls when the soldier thrust his lance into Jesus’ side (Jn 19:34). The lance not only cut through Jesus’ rib cage, it also cut through his heart. This incident not only proved that Jesus was dead (Jn 19:33) and had given his life for us (Phil 2:8), it also fulfilled an ancient Messianic prophecy: “They shall look on him whom they have thrust through” (Zech 12:10; Jn 19:37).

Droplets of Blood. Some artists show a few droplets flowing from the wound, and in a few instances they are caught by a chalice below. This recalls the Last Supper when Jesus offered a cup of wine and said, “This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). Jesus taught, “My blood is true drink” (Jn 6:55); and “Whoever drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56) and “has eternal life” (Jn 6:54). The droplets also represent the new Covenant of Blood (Ex 24:8).

The Flames. A number of flames are usually shown above the upper, center of the heart, and they represent the intensity of the warmth of Jesus’ love.

The Cross. It is customary to display a Latin cross in the midst of the flames, because it is on the cross where Jesus most decisively demonstrated the love of his Sacred Heart.

The Rays of Light. It is also common to have an array of glistening gold, white, or red beams of light radiating from Jesus’ heart. Jesus is light (8:12; 12:46), and the love of his heart enlightens the world (Jn 1:9).

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St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

October 13, 2017

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St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Principle Contributions. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque is best-known and most-remembered for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion she helped to strengthen and spread throughout the universal Church. She also promoted the pious practice of observing nine consecutive First Fridays.

Difficult Beginnings. Margaret was born in 1647 into a middle class family in a small town in the Burgundy region of France. Her father died when she was eight. She subsequently was sent away to a school staffed by the Poor Clare sisters where she was quickly attracted to the religious life. When she turned ten she was struck with a painful rheumatic condition that kept her bedridden until she was fifteen. After her recovery she returned home, only to be harshly treated along with her widowed mother by an uncle and other relatives who had moved into the family home.

The Convent. Margaret Mary entered the convent in 1671at the age of twenty-four. She joined a monastery of Visitation Sisters in Paray-le-Monial in central France. She made her profession of vows the following year, and made steady progress in the consecrated life as she humbly served in the infirmary caring for the sick.

Mystical Revelations. Sister Margaret Mary reported that Jesus appeared to her a number of times over an eighteen-month period from 1673 to 1675. The first appearance was on December 27, 1673, the feast of St. John the Evangelist. During this and subsequent apparitions, Jesus asked her to receive Holy Communion on the First Friday of each month for the reparation of sins committed against him, to observe a holy hour on Thursday evenings in memory of his Agony in the Garden, to spread the devotion to his Sacred Heart through which his manifold graces would be spread widely, and to convince the leaders of the Church to establish an annual feast day in honor of his Sacred Heart.

The Sacred Heart. Sister Margaret Mary reported that when Jesus appeared, she could see his beating heart, and she wrote a detailed description of it. “This divine heart was shown to me on a throne of flames. It was more resplendent than the sun and transparent as crystal. The heart had its own adorable wound, and was surrounded by a crown of thorns signifying the stings caused by our sins. And there was a cross above it.”

More Difficulties. When the other sisters and local theologians learned about Jesus’ purported appearances and the content of the messages, she was doubted, criticized, ridiculed, and opposed. It was a time of bitter loneliness and isolation for her. Shortly thereafter a Jesuit priest, Fr. Claude de la Colombiere, became her spiritual director. He wrote a book entitled Spiritual Retreat that described the revelations and the importance of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and it led to the acceptance of the messages.

Champion of the Sacred Heart. Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque died on October 17, 1690, and she was canonized a saint in 1920.

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St. Theresa of Lisieux

September 29, 2017

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St. Theresa of Lisieux

October 1 is the memorial of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. She is also known as “St. Theresa of Lisieux” and the “Little Flower.” Her life story is also the subject of the feature film “Therese” released by Xenon Pictures in 2006.

St. Theresa was born on January 2, 1873 at Alencon in Normandy, France. She was the youngest of nine children. Five siblings died during infancy, and only Theresa and three older sisters survived.

After Theresa’s mother died when she was four, her older sister Pauline helped to raise her and taught her about Jesus and the gospel. Pauline entered the convent when Theresa was nine, and at that point Theresa decided that she wanted to be like her older sister. Theresa suffered a life-threatening illness when she was ten but she miraculously recovered, a cure attributed through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Two years later another sister, Mary, also joined the convent. Then on Christmas Eve, 1886, when Theresa was thirteen, she had a profound mystical experience in which the child Jesus brought light to the darkness of her soul.

The following year Theresa announced her intention to join her sisters Pauline and Mary in the convent. Her father approved but the mother superior and the bishop refused, citing her age. Subsequently, she accompanied her father on a pilgrimage to Rome and attended a papal audience. While kneeling before Pope Leo XIII she asked for his permission to enter the convent, but the delay continued only a short while longer.

The local bishop relented and gave Theresa permission to enter the Carmel at Lisieux in 1888 when she was fifteen. She was guided by Jesus’ words, “Unless you change your lives and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 18:2).

At first Sister Theresa wanted to be a martyr, but she discovered “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31), love. Her plan was to perform ordinary kindnesses throughout the day, small good deeds done frequently, humbly, generously, quietly, and without fanfare, a spirituality that she called the “Little Way.” She practiced this herself, and her example served as an inspiration for others to do likewise.

She was appointed director of novices when she was twenty, but three years later contracted tuberculosis. During her final 18 months she wrote her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, in which she explained the way of doing little things with great love. She died on September 30, 1897, at the age of 24, and was canonized by Pope Pius XI twenty-eight years later in 1925.

St. Theresa is the patron saint of florists, airline pilots, Vietnam, and religious freedom for Russia; as well as the co-patron saint of missionaries with St. Francis Xavier and the co-patron saint of France with St. Joan of Arc. She was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1997.

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St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: a unique four-week span

September 22, 2017

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St. Paul's letter to the Philippians

A Four-Part Sampler. Four scripture passages from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians are featured for the second reading from the Twenty-Fifth to Twenty-Eighth Sundays of Ordinary Time in Year A. It is the only time in the three-year Lectionary cycle that there is a sequential progression of readings taken from this letter following the principle of Lectio continua, a continuous series of passages from the same book over a number of Sundays in a row.

The City of Philippi. Philippi is a city in the district of Macedonia in northern Greece several miles inland from the Aegean Sea. It is the first place in Europe that St. Paul visited on his Second Missionary Journey. St. Paul stayed in Philippi a number of months in late 48 and early 49 AD. He made the trip to Philippi by ship. He set sail from Troas in northwest Turkey, went by way of Samothrace, an island in the Aegean Sea, and arrived at Neapolis, the port city on the northern coastline (Acts 16:11). During his brief stay St. Paul preached the gospel; made his first convert, Lydia, who was baptized at the river; drove an evil spirit out of a slave girl who was possessed by a demon; was attacked by a crowd and beaten with rods, then imprisoned and miraculously released; converted the jailer; and founded a Christian community (Acts 16:12-40).

The Letter to the Philippians. This letter is one of the authentic Pauline letters, one written by Paul himself, not one of his followers using his name. After Paul had been away from one of his new communities, he would write to them to encourage, instruct, or correct them, depending upon their unique situation and the reports that he was receiving. Paul states within this letter that he was writing from prison (Phil 1:7,13,14,17), but the location and date is not known with certainty. At one time it was thought that he wrote this letter from Rome late in his life (Acts 28:16; 61 to 63 AD). Other possibilities include his imprisonments, either in Caesarea (Acts 24:27, 58-60 AD) or Corinth, but most scholars today believe Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus during a confinement in 55 AD.

Week 25A, Life is Christ (Phil 1:20-24,27). St. Paul wonders aloud whether it is better to be alive on earth enjoying the benefits of physical existence or to be dead in heaven enjoying eternity with Christ. As long as a person is alive, a person should live in a manner consistent with the gospel.

Weeks 26A, The Christ Hymn (Phil 2:1-11). St. Paul begins with an urgent plea for unity within the community (2:1-5). Then Paul includes within his letter a hymn that was sung and recited by the first generation of Christians. It was in use as early as the 40s AD and it may be the oldest piece of New Testament literature. It served as a creed and provides a list of what the first Christians believed about Jesus.

Week 27A, Calm and Peace (Phil 4:6-9). St. Paul offers solid spiritual advice. First, there is no need to be anxious about anything. Prayer and a strong relationship with God is the sure pathway to calm and peace. Paul adds an encouragement to strive for Christian ideals of truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, generosity, and excellence. These also lead to peace.

Week 28A, Christ is our strength (Phil 4:12-14,19-20). St. Paul describes how in every circumstance, good or bad, high or low, well-fed or hungry, easy or difficult, comfortable or suffering, God supplies the grace and strength that is needed to carry on.

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St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

September 22, 2017

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St. 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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