Saturday, March 25, 2006

Gospel for Mar 25, Solemnity: The Annunciation of the Lord

From: Luke 1:26-38

The Annunciation and Incarnation of the Son of God

[26] In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, [27] to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. [28] And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" [29] But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. [30] And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. [31] And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. [32] He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, [33] and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His Kingdom there will be no end."

[34] And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no husband?" [35] And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. [36] And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. [37] For with God nothing will be impossible." [38] And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

26-38. Here we contemplate our Lady who was "enriched from the first instant of her conception with the splendor of an entirely unique holiness; [...] the virgin of Nazareth is hailed by the heralding angel, by divine command, as `full of grace' (cf. Luke 1:28), and to the heavenly messenger she replies, `Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word' (Luke 1:38). Thus the daughter of Adam, Mary, consenting to the word of God, became the Mother of Jesus. Committing herself wholeheartedly to God's saving will and impeded by no sin, she devoted herself totally, as a handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son, under and with Him, serving the mystery of Redemption, by the grace of Almighty God. Rightly, therefore, the Fathers (of the Church) see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of man's salvation through faith and obedience" (Vatican II, "Lumen Gentium", 56).

The annunciation to Mary and incarnation of the Word constitute the deepest mystery of the relationship between God and men and the most important event in the history of mankind: God becomes man, and will remain so forever, such is the extent of His goodness and mercy and love for all of us. And yet on the day when the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity assumed frail human nature in the pure womb of the Blessed Virgin, it all happened quietly, without fanfare of any kind.

St. Luke tells the story in a very simple way. We should treasure these words of the Gospel and use them often, for example, practising the Christian custom of saying the Angelus every day and reflecting on the five Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

27. God chose to be born of a virgin; centuries earlier He disclosed this through the prophet Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-23). God, "before all ages made choice of, and set in her proper place, a mother for His only-begotten Son from whom He, after being made flesh, should be born in the blessed fullness of time: and He continued His persevering regard for her in preference to all other creatures, to such a degree that for her alone He had singular regard" (Pius IX, "Ineffabilis Deus," 2). This privilege granted to our Lady of being a virgin and a mother at the same time is a unique gift of God. This was the work of the Holy Spirit "who at the conception and the birth of the Son so favored the Virgin Mother as to impart fruitfulness to her while preserving inviolate her perpetual virginity" ("St. Pius V Catechism," I, 4, 8). Paul VI reminds us of this truth of faith: "We believe that the Blessed Mary, who ever enjoys the dignity of virginity, was the Mother of the incarnate Word, of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" ("Creed of the People of God", 14).

Although many suggestions have been made as to what the name Mary means, most of the best scholars seem to agree that Mary means "lady". However, no single meaning fully conveys the richness of the name.

28. "Hail, full of grace": literally the Greek text reads "Rejoice!", obviously referring to the unique joy over the news which the angel is about to communicate.

"Full of grace": by this unusual form of greeting the archangel reveals Mary's special dignity and honor. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church "taught that this singular, solemn and unheard-of-greeting showed that all the divine graces reposed in the Mother of God and that she was adorned with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit", which meant that she "was never subject to the curse", that is, was preserved from all sin. These words of the archangel in this text constitute one of the sources which reveal the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception (cf. Pius IX, "Ineffabilis Deus"; Paul VI, "Creed of the People of God").

"The Lord is with you!": these words are not simply a greeting ("the Lord be with you") but an affirmation ("the Lord is with you"), and they are closely connected with the Incarnation. St. Augustine comments by putting these words on the archangel's lips: "He is more with you than He is with me: He is in your heart, He takes shape within you, He fills your soul, He is in your womb" ("Sermo De Nativitate Domini", 4).

Some important Greek manuscripts and early translations add at the end of the verse: "Blessed are you among women!", meaning that God will exalt Mary over all women. She is more excellent than Sarah, Hannah, Deborah, Rachel, Judith, etc., for only she has the supreme honor of being chosen to be the Mother of God.

29-30. Our Lady is troubled by the presence of the archangel and by the confusion truly humble people experience when they receive praise.

30. The Annunciation is the moment when our Lady is given to know the vocation which God planned for her from eternity. When the archangel sets her mind at ease by saying, "Do not be afraid, Mary," he is helping her to overcome that initial fear which a person normally experiences when God gives him or her a special calling. The fact that Mary felt this fear does not imply the least trace of imperfection in her: hers is a perfectly natural reaction in the face of the supernatural. Imperfection would arise if one did not overcome this fear or rejected the advice of those in a position to help - as St. Gabriel helped Mary.

31-33. The archangel Gabriel tells the Blessed Virgin Mary that she is to be the Mother of God by reminding her of the words of Isaiah which announced that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, a prophecy which will find its fulfillment in Mary (cf. Matthew 1:22-23; Isaiah 7:14).

He reveals that the Child will be "great": His greatness comes from His being God, a greatness He does not lose when He takes on the lowliness of human nature. He also reveals that Jesus will be the king of the Davidic dynasty sent by God in keeping with His promise of salvation; that His Kingdom will last forever, for His humanity will remain forever joined to His divinity; that "He will be called Son of the Most High", that is that He really will be the Son of the Most High and will be publicly recognized as such, that is, the Child will be the Son of God.

The archangel's announcement evokes the ancient prophecies which foretold these prerogatives. Mary, who was well-versed in Sacred Scripture, clearly realized that she was to be the Mother of God.

34-38. Commenting on this passage John Paul II said: "`Virgo fidelis', the faithful Virgin. What does this faithfulness of Mary mean? What are the dimensions of this faithfulness? The first dimension is called search. Mary was faithful first of all when she began, lovingly, to seek the deep sense of God's plan in her and for the world. `Quomodo fiet?' How shall this be?, she asked the Angel of the Annunciation [...]."

"The second dimension of faithfulness is called reception, acceptance. The `quomodo fiet?' is changed, on Mary's lips, to a `fiat': Let it be done, I am ready, I accept. This is the crucial moment of faithfulness, the moment in which man perceives that he will never completely understand the `how': that there are in God's plan more areas of mystery than of clarity; that is, however he may try, he will never succeed in understanding it completely[...]."

"The third dimension of faithfulness is consistency to live in accordance with what one believes; to adapt one's own life to the object of one's adherence. To accept misunderstanding, persecutions, rather than a break between what one practises and what one believes: this is consistency[...]."

"But all faithfulness must pass the most exacting test, that of duration. Therefore, the fourth dimension of faithfulness is constancy. It is easy to be consistent for a day or two. It is difficult and important to be consistent for one's whole life. It is easy to be consistent in the hour of enthusiasm, it is difficult to be so in the hour of tribulation. And only a consistency that lasts throughout the whole life can be called faithfulness. Mary's `fiat' in the Annunciation finds its fullness in the silent `fiat' that she repeats at the foot of the Cross" ("Homily in Mexico City Cathedral", 26 January 1979).

34. Mary believed in the archangel's words absolutely; she did not doubt as Zechariah had done (cf. 1:18). Her question, "How can this be?", expresses her readiness to obey the will of God even though at first sight it implied a contradiction: on the one hand, she was convinced that God wished her to remain a virgin; on the other, here was God also announcing that she would become a mother. The archangel announces God's mysterious design, and what had seemed impossible, according to the laws of nature, is explained by a unique interventionon the part of God.

Mary's resolution to remain a virgin was certainly something very unusual, not in line with the practice of righteous people under the Old Covenant, for, as St. Augustine explains, "particularly attentive to the propagation and growth of the people of God, through whom the Prince and Savior of the world might be prophesied and be born, the saints were obliged to make use of the good of matrimony" ("De Bono Matrimonii", 9, 9). However, in the Old Testament, there were some who, in keeping with God's plan, did remain celibate--for example, Jeremiah, Elijah, Eliseus and John the Baptist. The Blessed Virgin, who received a very special inspiration of the Holy Spirit to practise virginity, is a first-fruit of the New Testament, which will establish the excellence of virginity over marriage while not taking from the holiness of the married state, which it raises to the level of a sacrament (cf. "Gaudium Et Spes", 48).

35. The "shadow" is a symbol of the presence of God. When Israel was journeying through the wilderness, the glory of God filled the Tabernacle and a cloud covered the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 40:34-36). And when God gave Moses the tablets of the Law, a cloud covered Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:15-16); and also, at the Transfiguration of Jesus the voice of God the Father was heard coming out of a cloud (Luke 9:35).

At the moment of the Incarnation the power of God envelops our Lady--an expression of God's omnipotence. The Spirit of God--which, according to the account in Genesis (1:2), moved over the face of the waters, bringing things to life--now comes down on Mary. And the fruit of her womb will be the work of the Holy Spirit. The Virgin Mary, who herself was conceived without any stain of sin (cf. Pius IX, "Ineffabilis Deus") becomes, after the Incarnation, a new tabernacle of God. This is the mystery we recall every day when saying the Angelus.

38. Once she learns of God's plan, our Lady yields to God's will with prompt obedience, unreservedly. She realizes the disproportion between what she is going to become--the Mother of God--and what she is - a woman. However, this is what God wants to happen and for Him nothing is impossible; therefore no one should stand in His way. So Mary, combining humility and obedience, responds perfectly to God's call: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done according to your word."

"At the enchantment of this virginal phrase, the Word became flesh" ([St] J. Escriva, "Holy Rosary", first joyful mystery). From the pure body of Mary, God shaped a new body, He created a soul out of nothing, and the Son of God united Himself with this body and soul: prior to this He was only God; now He is still God but also man. Mary is now the Mother of God. This truth is a dogma of faith, first defined by the Council of Ephesus (431). At this point she also begins to be the spiritual Mother of all mankind. What Christ says when He is dying - `Behold, your son..., behold, your mother" (John 19:26-27) - simply promulgates what came about silently at Nazareth. "With her generous `fiat' (Mary) became, through the working of the Spirit, the Mother of God, but also the Mother of the living, and, by receiving into her womb the one Mediator, she became the true Ark of the Covenant and true Temple of God" (Paul VI, "Marialis Cultus", 6).

The Annunciation shows us the Blessed Virgin as perfect model of "purity" (the RSV "I have no husband" is a euphemism); of "humility" ("Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord"); of "candor" and "simplicity" ("How can this be?"); of "obedience" and "lively faith" ("Let it be done to me according to your word"). "Following her example of obedience to God, we can learn to serve delicately without being slavish. In Mary, we don't find the slightest trace of the attitude of the foolish virgins, who obey, but thoughtlessly. Our Lady listens attentively to what God wants, ponders what she doesn't fully understand and asks about what she doesn't know. Then she gives herself completely to doing the divine will: `Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word'. Isn't that marvellous? The Blessed Virgin, our teacher in all we do, shows us here that obedience to God is not servile, does not bypass our conscience. We should be inwardly moved to discover the `freedom of the children of God' (cf. Romans 8:21)" ([St] J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 173).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Dr Edward Peters: A new retirement age for bishops?

Reports from the pre-consistory meeting of cardinals and the pope indicate that, among other topics, raising the retirement age for bishops was discussed. I don't see that there's much to discuss here.

Gospel for Friday, 3rd Week of Lent

From: Mark 12:28-34

The Greatest Commandment of All

[28] One of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He (Jesus) answered them well, asked Him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" [29] Jesus answered, "The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; [30] and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' [31] The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." [32] And the scribe said to Him, "You are right, Teacher; You have truly said that He is one, and there is no other than He; [33] and to love with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." [34] And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." And after that no one dared to ask Him any question.


28-34. The doctor of the law who asks Jesus this question is obviously an upright man who is sincerely seeking the truth. He was impressed by Jesus' earlier reply (verses 18-27) and he wants to learn more from Him. His question is to the point and Jesus devotes time to instructing him, though he will soon castigate the scribes, of whom this man is one (cf. Mark 12:38ff).

Jesus sees in this man not just a scribe but a person who is looking for the truth. And His teaching finds its way into the man's heart. The scribe repeats what Jesus says, savoring it, and our Lord offers him an affectionate word which encourages his definitive conversion: "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." This encounter reminds us of His meeting with Nicodemus (cf. John 3:1ff). On the doctrinal content of these two commandments cf. note on Matthew 22:34-40.

[Note on Matthew 22:34-40 states:
In reply to the question, our Lord points out that the whole law can be condensed into two commandments: the first and more important consists in unconditional love of God; the second is a consequence and result of the first, because when man is loved, St. Thomas says, God is loved, for man is the image of God (cf. "Commentary on St. Matthew", 22:4).

A person who genuinely loves God also loves his fellows because he realizes that they are his brothers and sisters, children of the same Father, redeemed by the same blood of our Lord Jesus Christ: "This commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also" (1 John 4:21). However, if we love man for man's sake without reference to God, this love will become an obstacle in the way of keeping the first commandment, and then it is no longer genuine love of our neighbor. But love of our neighbor for God's sake is clear proof that we love God: "If anyone says, `I love God', and hates his brother, he is a liar" (1 John 4:20).

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself": here our Lord establishes as the guideline for our love of neighbor the love each of us has for himself; both love of others and love of self are based on love of God. Hence, in some cases it can happen that God requires us to put our neighbor's need before our own; in others, not: it depends on what value, in light of God's love, needs to be put on the spiritual and material factors involved.

Obviously spiritual goods take absolute precedence over material ones, even over life itself. Therefore, spiritual goods, be they our own or our neighbor's, must be the first to be safeguarded. If the spiritual good in question is the supreme one for the salvation of the soul, no one is justified in putting his own soul into certain danger of being condemned in order to save another, because given human freedom we can never be absolutely sure what personal choice another person may make: this is the situation in the parable (cf. Matthew 25:1-13), where the wise virgins refuse to give oil to the foolish ones; similarly St. Paul says that he would wish himself to be rejected if that could save his brothers (cf. Romans 9:3)--an unreal theoretical situation. However, what is quite clear is that we have to do all we can to save our brothers, conscious that, if someone helps to bring a sinner back to the way, he will save himself from eternal death and cover a multitude of his own sins (James 5:20). From all this we can deduce that self-love of the right kind, based on God's love for man, necessarily involves forgetting oneself in order to love God and our neighbor for God.]

30. This commandment of the Old Law, ratified by Jesus, shows, above all, God's great desire to engage in intimate conversation with man: "would it not have sufficed to publish a permission giving us leave to love Him? [...]. He makes a stronger declaration of His passionate love for us, and commands us to love Him with all our power, lest the consideration of His majesty and our misery, which make so great a distance and inequality between us, or some other pretext, divert us from His love. In this He well shows that He did not leave in us for nothing the natural inclination to love Him, for to the end that it may not be idle, He urges us by His general commandment to employ it, and that this commandment may be effected, there is no living man He has not furnished him abundantly with all means requisite thereto" (St. Francis de Sales, "Treatise on the Love of God", Book 2, Chapter 8).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Diocese of Lincoln is the only one in the US without "altar girls"

I say, "Congrats to Bishop Bruskewitz!"
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., is the only one in America that prohibits altar girls in church after a Northern Virginia diocese dropped its ban this week.

In Arlington, Va., Bishop Paul Loverde of the 67-parish diocese ended the restriction Tuesday, almost 12 years after Pope John Paul II granted bishops permission for altar girls.
Very misleading is the above statement. In fact, many parishes allowed "altar girls" years before the permission was granted. An open act of defiance by many priests and bishops was subsequently approved by the Pope. At least, it still remains up to the individual priest whether he will allow them.
[Bishop] Bruskewitz, whose diocese includes 136 churches and 89,412 members around Nebraska's state capital, believes having only boys at the altar helps recruit them to become priests, said the Rev. Mark Huber, chancellor of the diocese.
The facts are irrefutable :
He said Bruskewitz's practice has helped boost Lincoln's "exceptional number of vocations to the priesthood."
Compare the number of vocations in the Diocese of Lincoln with others. And, of course, there are the same old malcontents in Lincoln that we see elsewhere, such as:
John Krejci, a church activist and former priest in Lincoln, doesn't expect the bishop to change his mind. "He's very much anti-female," said Krejci, who attended seminary with Bruskewitz. Krejci co-founded the Nebraska branch of Call to Action, a Catholic group at odds with Bruskewitz and the church on priestly celibacy and women priests.
Get it? Not allowing "altar girls" is anti-female...What a clown...People should thank God he's no longer a priest, since he seems to have already rejected the faith.

The article states that Bishop Loverde believes that his recent decision to allow altar girls "may help young women hear "the Lord's call to religious life" as nuns." One would have to ask, after years upon years of "altar girls" all over the US, just how many felt the call to religious life from their special service?

Article here.

3rd Week of Lent - Ave, Maria!

"Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the breasts that nursed thee." St.Luke, 11:27.

Charles Gounod was a famous French musician who lived from 1818 to 1893. He composed many pieces of music, one more beautiful than the other. The world acclaimed him a master. But Gounod himself was not satisfied. To a friend he explained what was in his heart: "When I started to compose music, it was the kind of music that is played in churches - lasting music - I like to call it."

"But, Charles," his friend reminded him, "I'm sure that your Faust will live for centuries."

"Maybe so," responded the master, "but music aligned with religion and the churches will outlast all others."

Several years later he was financially able to give himself to writing religious music. It did not pay well, but it did satisfy his desire to give something rich and lasting to the world. He turned out many hymns, but none seemed to satisfy his longing.

"One song," he used to say to himself, "one song that will be sung in churches around the world. One song that will live on long after I am forgotten."

One day an idea came. He rushed home to his piano. He played on and on, as if in a dream. But the idea slipped away as suddenly as it came.

He hurried to the church, knelt and prayed, long and earnestly, espe­cially before the statue of our Blessed Mother. Again he went home to his piano. This time the notes came slow and hauntingly. When he put those notes on paper, they seemed to satisfy. Proudly and reverently he put the title to his composition, the two words: AVE MARIA. Gounod had written his world famous AVE MARIA, or HAIL MARY.

Just as God gave the best to Mary, so the best of music is none too good for this prayer to her, the Hail Mary, which is often called the Ave Maria, from its first two Latin words. It is called the Angelical Salutation, or the Angel's Greeting.

It is a precious prayer because it was brought from heaven by an angel, Gabriel, the messenger sent by God to tell Mary that she was to be the Mother of God. His greeting to Mary, his words to her, form the first part of the Hail Mary.

This prayer, clear and simple, short, easy to learn, and deeply devotional, gives honor to the immaculate holiness of the Virgin Mother, gives honor to her divine motherhood, gives honor to her power with the Almighty. It has been a constant practice of the Church to recite the Hail Mary after the Lord's prayer. After we have talked to the King, we go to the one next in power, His Mother. There are really three parts or divisions in this thrilling prayer:
1. The first part contains the words of Gabriel: "Hail, full of grace; the Lord is with thee."

2. The second part is made up of the words of St. Elizabeth: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."

3. The last part was added by Christ's Church: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death."
This week we should reflect on the first two parts. "Hail" or "Ave" means "peace be to thee." It was a frequent greeting in the East where Mary lived, to show a friendly disposition and a wish for happiness. It wished peace of soul, and peace and union with God. How fittingly we greet Mary in that way.

The word "Mary," though not used by the Angel Gabriel, was put in to show the person to whom we are talking. "Mary" is from a Hebrew name, Miriam, which means bitterness. Mary tasted the bitter cup of suf­fering and sorrow. In that name of Mary is a whole library of lessons. To her God revealed that the Son of God was to become Man. To her God gave the gifts of humility and obedience and spotless purity.

"Full of grace" was the first title of praise given to Mary. She had been conceived without sin, had been "full of grace" from her very con­ception. She is the Mother of the Author of all grace, Jesus. Through her He gives us spiritual life. Grace means favor with God. And who was more pleasing to God than the woman God chose as the Mother of His Son?

When you say, "full of grace," be sure that you are in the grace and favor of God. If not, ask her to secure that blessing for you.

"The Lord is with thee" is a frequent expression in the Bible, meaning blessings and favors. When God is with us, all is well. By His power and His love, God was with Mary. By the sacraments and virtue, God is with us.

"Blessed art thou among women." These words were uttered first by Gabriel and then by St. Elizabeth. Mary is the most honored among women, because of her Immaculate Conception, her perfection of soul and body, her overflowing grace, her perfect doing of the will of God, her role as temple of God, her dignity as Mother of the Redeemer, her position as the Mother of mankind, her Assumption into heaven, and her power as Queen of heaven and earth.

"And blessed is the fruit of thy womb." Blessed and precious, indeed, was the Child of Mary, the Son of God.

The Church added the Holy Name of Jesus, the name above all other names. Speak it with love; speak it with reverence; speak it with con­fidence.

The woman cried out as recorded in the Gospel of St Luke:
"Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the breasts that nourished thee."

So we cry out to our Blessed Mother, remembering that Mary's Child is truly blessed.

The great Gounod was not satisfied until he had put into fitting music not only the words, but the very meaning of the Hail Mary. In the same way, we will never be satisfied until we have put into our lives, until we have expressed with every action and thought and word, the devotion and affection of our hearts for the glorious Mother of God. Amen.
Adapted from Prayers, Precepts and Virtues
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, 1949

Gospel for Thursday, 3rd Week of Lent

From: Luke 11:14-23

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan

[14] Now Jesus was casting out a demon that was dumb; when the demon had gone out, the man spoke, and the people marvelled. [15] But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons"; [16] while others, to test Him, sought from Him a sign from Heaven. [17] But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and house falls upon house. [18] And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. [19] And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. [20] But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. [21] When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; [22] but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil. [23] He who is not with Me is against Me, and He who does not gather with Me scatters."


14-23. Jesus' enemies remain obstinate despite the evidence of the miracle. Since they cannot deny that He has done something quite extraordinary, they attribute it to the power of the devil, rather than admit that Jesus is the Messiah. Our Lord answers them with a clinching argument: the fact that He expels demons is proof that He has brought the Kingdom of God. The Second Vatican Council reminds us of this truth: "The Lord Jesus inaugurated His Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Kingdom of God, promised over the ages in the Scriptures [...]. The miracles of Jesus also demonstrate that the Kingdom has already come on earth: `If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you' (Luke 11:20; cf. Matthew 12:28). But principally the Kingdom of God is revealed in the person of Christ Himself, Son of God and Son of Man, who came `to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many' (Mark 10:45)" (Vatican II, "Lumen Gentium", 5).

The strong man well armed is the devil, who has enslaved man; but Jesus Christ, one stronger than he, has come and conquered him and is despoiling him. St. Paul will say that Christ "disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them" (Colossians 2:15).

After the victory of Christ, the "stronger one", the words of verse 23 are addressed to mankind at large; even if people do not want to recognize it, Jesus Christ has conquered and from now on no one can adopt an attitude of neutrality towards Him: he who is not with Him is against Him.

18. Christ's argument is very clear. One of the worst evils that can overtake the Church is disunity among Christians, disunity among believers. We must make Jesus' prayer our own: "That they may be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe that Thou has sent Me" (John 17:21).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Missouri House OKs Birth Control Funding Ban

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House voted Wednesday to ban state funding of contraceptives for low-income women and to prohibit state-funded programs from referring those women to other programs.

Critics jumped on the proposal, saying it would lead to more abortions and more unwanted children on welfare.

But the proposal’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Susan Phillips of Kansas City, said contraceptive services were an inappropriate use of tax dollars. “If doctors want to give contraception privately or personally, they can,” Phillips said. “But we don’t need to pay for contraception with taxpayer funds.”
. . .
Phillips’ amendment eliminated infertility treatments and contraception, and substituted alternatives to abortion and prenatal care for the purpose of giving birth. It also prohibited spending on any treatment and referrals for any treatment not spelled out in the budget.

The group, Missouri Right to Life and the Missouri Catholic Conference are said to have supported the amendment. Now if more people, including professed Catholics, and those priests who fail to support the irreversible teaching on the intrinsic evil of artificial contraception, would support the elimination of this evil from our midst, we might start making some progress in promoting authentic and true love and furthering the Culture of Life...

Dr Edward Peters: "One huge patriarchate or several smaller ones? "

I leave to abler minds a discussion of the advantages or disadvantages, if any, that the recent relinquishment of the title "Patriarch of the West" by Pope Benedict XVI will have in regard to ecumenical affairs. My thought concerns something different. . .

3rd Week of Lent - Spiritual Duties Toward Children

"Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation." St. Luke, 11:17.

A Protestant minister told me this story. There came to his office one day a well-dressed woman and her husband. Both were strangers. When he asked what he could do for them the woman spoke up: "We came to see you about our son. He is seventeen and until now has given us no trouble. But he is running with the wrong crowd. I would like to have him join your Sunday school. Perhaps you know some lads who could get next to him and get him to join."

"Fine," answered the minister, "I will see what I can do." As he took down the name and address he asked the couple: "Do you and your husband come to this church?"

"No, we don't," the mother replied. "My husband works hard all week and Sunday is the only day we have together."

The preacher stroked his chin and continued: "I have a plan for getting your boy to church. We have a men's Bible class. and a group for mothers. If you and your husband take part, your boy will follow."

"But, sir," objected the woman, "we don't have time. We are not con­cerned about ourselves. It's the boy. We will do anything to get him into Sunday school."

"My dear woman," the minister said slowly and solemnly, "permit me to be frank. You said you would do anything. Yet you will not do the one thing that will bring your boy to church: you yourself will not come. If you will not give up a Sunday outing and trip, then don't expect anybody else to bring him here."

As the parents drove away the preacher sighed: "I would like to see someone get that boy into Sunday school with an example like that."

Those parents were neglecting one of their spiritual duties - good example. Happiness here and hereafter depend largely upon the perform­ance of those spiritual duties. Let me name them - parents are bound to instruct their children by word and example; they must give them a Catho­lic education; they must truly love their children; they must pray for them and correct them.

1. Teaching religion should begin not when the child starts to school or catechism class, but as soon as a child begins to talk and understand, even before. Teach your child to make the sign of the cross, to say the Our Father and the Hail Mary and a prayer to his Guardian Angel. You tell him stories about Mother Goose? Why not tell him stories about Mother Mary? You teach him songs, don't you? Why not teach him sacred songs?

Teach your child by example. Pray at meals and bedtime and your child will pray. Go to Mass and the sacraments regularly and your child will do the same. Tell the truth always, respect the names of God, and your child will do the same.

2. Give your child a Catholic education at all costs. Get rid of the false and groundless idea that Catholic schools are inferior in any way to other schools. Read the record. Pupils and graduates of Catholic schools walk off with the lion's share of honors in any and every contest yon can men­tion. In addition, they learn about God. What could be more important and intelligent than that?

3. Parents are bound to love their children, not merely in a natural way, but for spiritual reasons. Your child is a sacred charge, an immortal soul committed to your care. You must wish and seek what makes for your child's highest welfare and good - the good of his or her soul. Yet, your love must be well ordered, guided by prudence, impartiality and common sense. Love of a child must never make you blind to his or her faults.

4. Another responsibility parents have toward their children is to pray for them. I know that you do pray for the little ones God has given you, but do you pray enough and do you pray in the right way? If half the time devoted to scolding and lecturing would be given to prayer for a child, ten times more good would be accomplished.

I would particularly recommend prayer to the Holy Spirit in the guid­ance of your little one. How often parents throw up their hands and exclaim: "I don't know what to do with him - or with her."

The Holy Spirit is the God of wisdom and counsel. If you ask Him humbly and often in prayer, He will guide you in guiding your boys and girls.

5. Lastly you are bound to correct your children. This is a positive duty too often neglected, especially in moral matters. Tell them plainly and posi­tively what is right and wrong. Show no fear or favor in pointing out what is not according to God's wishes. Adjust your remarks to their age and temperament, but do point out how to improve morally.

Correct prudently. Tell them why it is wrong. Show them the beauty and strength of virtue. Advise and explain; then punish. But punish with­out temper, passion and cursing. Cruelty is out.

Teen-agers offer special problems. Try to understand their problems, problems which are quite different from what they were in your youth. God's law is still the same. Insist upon its observance. Despite tears and wails and pouting, insist on what you are sure is right.

Jesus tells us that a kingdom divided against itself shall be des­troyed. If that most important kingdom, the home, is not together in spir­itual matters, the family will fall. If father and mother do not give the best example, if they do not teach their charges how to lead good lives; -- if they do not show true love of their boys and girls, if they do not pray for them and correct them, then we can expect that family to fail and fall.

Think of that mother and father of our story. They failed in their most important spiritual duty to their son, the duty of good example. May God help every parent in your parish and your town, to perform his and her spiritual duties to every child.
Adapted from Talks on the Commandments, (1948)
by Fr. Arthur Tonne

Ruini Rebuts Martino: This Is How the Qur’an Should Be Taught in School

Under the same conditions that are valid in regard to all instruction in the public schools. But Islam is very far from these conditions. This is how it is in Italy, and in many European countries. The view of the jurist Carlo Cardia
by Sandro Magister

Gospel for Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent

From: Matthew 5:17-19

Jesus and His Teaching, the Fulfillment of the Law

(Jesus said to His disciples,) [17] "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. [18] For truly I say to you, till Heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. [19] Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven."


17-19. In this passage Jesus stresses the perennial value of the Old
Testament. It is the word of God; because it has a divine authority it
deserves total respect. The Old Law enjoined precepts of a moral,
legal and liturgical type. Its moral precepts still hold good in the
New Testament because they are for the most part specific
divine-positive promulgations of the natural law. However, our Lord
gives them greater weight and meaning. But the legal and liturgical
precepts of the Old Law were laid down by God for a specific stage in
salvation history, that is, up to the coming of Christ; Christians are
not obliged to observe them (cf. "Summa Theologiae", I-II, q. 108, a. 3
ad 3).

The law promulgated through Moses and explained by the prophets was
God's gift to His people, a kind of anticipation of the definitive Law
which the Christ or Messiah would lay down. Thus, as the Council of
Trent defined, Jesus not only "was given to men as a redeemer in whom
they are to trust, but also as a lawgiver whom they are to obey" ("De
Iustificatione", can. 21).

Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Gospel for Tuesday, 3rd Week of Lent

From: Matthew 18:21-35

Forgiveness of Injuries. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

[21] Then Peter came up and said to Him (Jesus), "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" [22] Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

[23] "Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [24] When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; [25] and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. [26] So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' [27] And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. [28] But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.' [29] So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' [30] He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay his debt. [31] When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. [32] Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; [33] and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' [34] And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. [35] So also My Heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."


21-35. Peter's question and particularly Jesus' reply prescribe the spirit of understanding and mercy which should govern Christians' behavior.

In Hebrew the figure of seventy times seven means the same as "always" (cf. Genesis 4:24): "Therefore, our Lord did not limit forgiveness to a fixed number, but declared that it must be continuous and forever" (Chrysostom, "Hom. on St. Matthew", 6). Here also we can see the contrast between man's ungenerous, calculating approach to forgiveness, and God's infinite mercy. The parable also clearly shows that we are totally in God's debt. A talent was the equivalent of six thousand denarii, and a denarius a working man's daily wage. Ten thousand talents, an enormous sum, gives us an idea of the immense value attaching to the pardon we receive from God. Overall, the parable teaches that we must always forgive our brothers, and must do so wholeheartedly.

"Force yourself, if necessary, always to forgive those who offend you, from the very first moment. For the greatest injury or offense that you can suffer from them is nothing compared to what God has pardoned you" ([St] J. Escriva, "The Way", 452).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Monday, March 20, 2006

3rd Week of Lent - The Scourging and Crowning

"He who is not with me is against me." St. Luke, 11:23

"He suffered under Pontius Pilate." Creed.

Many years ago in Baltimore, Maryland, a man was arrested for beating his wife. According to the law he was sentenced to receive a whipping of twenty lashes, and to serve a sentence of six months. The papers carried an unusual picture, snapped in the city jail, of the wife-beater tied to a post and receiving on his bare back the twenty lashes required by law. The papers also reported that the wife was refused admittance to the whipping.

Twenty centuries ago there was a much more important scourging, in which everyone of us had a part. At that time an innocent Man had to suffer the scourging that should have been given to us. Our innocent Lord took upon Himself the punishment for all our sins. Realize what that scourging meant, and you will not so glibly and unthinkingly rattle off those words of the Creed: "He suffered under Pontius Pilate."

Picture Jesus stripped of His clothes and tied to a low pillar in such a way that He was stooping over. The leaded whips began to thud upon His innocent flesh. Welts and bruises rose on every part of His body, as it twitched with agony and pain. Several times His position is changed so that no part of His body will be without its wound. How many stripes our Savior suffered we do not know. Some saints say that He received over five thousand blows with the cruel scourge. He was one mass of torn and bleeding flesh.

Why did Pilate permit this punishment, cruel beyond all usual practice? Pilate had tried to shift the responsibility. That failed. He tried to set Christ free by placing Him beside Barabbas. That failed. To satisfy toe cruel crowds the governor ordered the scourging.

Here we have a striking example of what Our Lord tells us today: "He who is not with me is against me." Pilate was not really with Jesus. Oh, in his weak and spineless way he tried to set Christ free, not through love of Christ, but through fear of criticism for condemning an innocent Man. A just judge would have insisted on justice. Instead, Pilate tried to satisfy the Jews by inflicting these torments on their Victim.

Now are fulfilled the prophetic words: "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all." He is wounded for our sins. By His bruises we are healed. The dirge of Isaias, chapter 53, is carried out: "There is no beauty in Him, nor comeliness, and His look was as it were hidden and despised. We have thought Him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted."

What lessons we learn from the scourging! What patience and silent suffering on the part of Christ! What men will not do to protect their position. What cruelty of the rich and powerful to get rid of an opponent. What torture human beings will not try, to save their own comfort, their pocketbooks, and their skins. What cowardice, what craftiness, what cruelty. What powerful proof that he who is not with Christ is against Him.

The other principal pain of Christ was the crowning with thorns. This took place shortly after the scourging. They took off our Lord's own gar­ments and put on Him a purple robe, made a crown of thorns and pounded it down upon His head. Anyone who has ever suffered a headache or a head wound, can understand to some degree what pain those sharp thorns caused our Lord.

There was nothing gentle, nothing considerate about this crowning. It was a mockery of Christ's claim to be king. It was a cruel jest, a devil's way of denying Christ all right to royalty. To make it more real and more ludicrous they put a reed in His hand, bent their knees before Him, and shouted: "Hail, King of the Jews." They struck Him and spat in His face. They heaped on Him every torture and insult.

Patiently and silently Jesus bore it all. As the scourging of His body made good for the sins of the flesh, so the crowning with thorns made good for the sins of the mind. How numerous, how terrible both types of sin appear, when we see the terrible torture endured for them.

Immodest dress, filthy reading matter, sexy stories, impurities of all kinds, alone and with others, in as well as outside of married life - their price was paid in the pain of every wound inflicted by the lash of the soldiers.

Pride of intellect, indifference to spiritual truth, neglect of religious reading, unkindness of thought and speech - the thorns boring into His brow made up for these. Every disloyalty to Christ, every energy, every thought that turns from Him, contributed to the agony of His aching head.

Fear of flogging, they said, was one of the best preventives of crime. In our case, the sight of the flogging that we should have received will be the best preventive of the crime of sin. Now we see what it cost Christ.

Likewise, the crown of thorns will continually keep us from sins of thought. The wife-beater in Baltimore no doubt thought twice afterwards before he lost his temper or became so enraged as to beat up on anyone. The price he had to pay for his crime was too high. You and I have not actually experienced the tortures of Christ during that night of agonies, but we have at least looked at Him long and lovingly enough to realize that it was sin that caused it all.

Make a point during this Lent to reflect so that from now on, you will be with Christ - not against Him.
Adapted from Talks on the Creed
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, 1946

Alter Christus - In Spiritu Humilitatis

Lent is upon us. The fervent priest zealously makes plans to stir up his flock to repentance for sin and renewed fervor of life. But he may not forget his own Lent and the quickening of his own spiritual life. A most effective means for this will be to aim at growing in humility and compunc­tion of heart, the condition of all growth in holiness and of God's graces for himself and for his ministry.


Many things may help him to it: meditations on sin and on the Passion, his daily examen of conscience and weekly confession, practices of penance, the liturgical prayers for Lent in the missal and breviary. But in this recollection we would propose for his consideration the great help he could find every day in the prayers of the Ordinary of the Mass. For, many of these prayers are humble confessions of our sins and sinfulness, repeated acknowledgments of our profound unworthiness and misery, insistent supplications for forgiveness with loving trust in the mercy of God.

What a school of humility would holy Mass not be for the priest, if he recited those prayers with devout attention. It would not only help him to have, at the altar, the proper dispositions of humility, so necessary to offer the august sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, propitiation and impetration; it would also imprint upon him, daily more and more, habitual feelings of repentant sorrow and abiding compunction which stabilize the soul in the sanctifying attitude of humility before God throughout the day's work. He would then perform everyone of his actions in the dispositions with which he offered the morning sacrifice: "In spiritu humilitatis et in animo contrito suscipiamur a te, Domine." And every­one of his actions would thus be "most pleasing in the sight of the Lord God".

* Has holy Mass any such effect upon me?

Perhaps my faith is not lively enough to expect it or long for it, and I hardly think of seeking in my daily Mass a daily growth in humility (as in many other virtues)?

Am I earnest enough in my preparation for Mass, keeping mind and heart, as much as possible, intent upon the stupendous act of divine worship I am, about to perform?

At the altar itself, what is my modesty and gravity?

Am I recollected enough to let myself be penetrated by the awe-inspiring sense of God's infinite Majesty, to whom all my prayers are addressed and whom the angels adore around me?

"Introibo ad altare Dei."

In order to take in at a glance how frequently the priest finds occasion, in the prayers of the Ordinary of the Mass, to deepen his sense of humility, let us briefly refer to some of the many expressions that help him to it. During the meditation try to realize their full meaning, penetrate yourself with the feelings they express, recite them with deep conviction.

Already before Mass, when vesting: "ad abstergendam omnem maculam", "ut in sanguine Agni dealbatus", "exstingue in lumbis meis humorem libidinis", "quamvis indignus accedo ad tuum sacrum mysterium".

At the foot of the altar: Humbly imploring God's help in the opening psalm and confessing his own unworthiness, "quia peccavi nimis cogitatione. verbo et opere, mea culpa, etc". Again, when approaching the altar: "aufer... ini quitates nostras", "ut indulgere digneris omnia peccata mea". And, soon, the oft-repeated supplication for mercy in the "Kyrie, eleison".

Before the Gospel: "Munda cor mea ac labia mea. . .Tua grata miseratione dignare mundare."

At the Offertory: "quam ego indignus famulus tuus offero tibi . . . pro innumerabilibus peccatis et offensionibus et negligentiis meis", "tuam deprecantes clementiam", "in spiritu humilitatis et in animo contrito suscipiamur a te". And humbly asking the help of the Saints' prayers: "et illi pro nobis intercedere dignentur in coelis".

At the Preface: "nostras voces ut admitti jubeas depre­camur, supplici confessione dicentes. . . ".

During the Canon: The initial lowly prostration with its devout supplication marks his whole attitude henceforth before the divine Mystery: "Te igitur c1ementissime Pater. . . supplices rogamus", "oblationem servitutis nostrae...ut placatus accipias". And after the silent adoration with the most profound reverence of the sacred Body and Blood of Christ, again: "nobis quoque peccatoribus", "de multi­tudine miserationum tuarum sperantibus", "intra quorum consortium. . . veniae, quaesumus, largitor admitte", "di­mitte nobis debita nostra", " Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis".

The Communion prayers: "ne respicias peccata mea", "libera me...ab omnibus iniquitatibus meis", "pro tua pietate prosit mihi. . .ad medelam percipiendam ", "Domine, non sum dignus", "praesta ut in me non remaneat scelerum macula".

And at the last oblation: "placeat tibi...obsequium servitutis meae... quod oculis tuae Majestatis indignus obtuli...mihique...sit te miserante propitiabile".
* Alas! how little perhaps I feel the sanctifying influence of those prayers, because of my lack of attention to their meaning, too rapid a celebration of the holy Sacrifice, mechanical routine in performing the sacred ceremonies?

­Let me watch over this, as a special practice for Lent, and endeavour to grow in sincere humility by impressing upon my soul the deep sense of those prayers.

I may be helped in this by taking them sometimes for meditation, according to St Ignatius' second method of prayer, dwelling on the words as long as they afford spiritual food or consolation. ­

Above all, I will long and hope and pray for the light of God which will reveal to me the hidden treasures of the divine Mysteries: "Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam. Ipsa me deduxerunt et adduxerunt ad montem sanctum tuum et in tabernacula tua. "
In the course of the day, especially during Lent, pay special attention to the many expressions of the same spirit occurring in the breviary: Confiteor, Miserere. . .

"Deus, propitious esto mihi peccatori" (Luke 18:13).
Adapted from Alter Christus, Meditations for Priests by F.X. L'Hoir, S.J. (1958)
Meditation 63.

Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood.

Gospel for the Solemnity: St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From: Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a

The Ancestry of Jesus Christ (Continuation)

[16] And Jacob, (was) the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, ofwhom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

The Virginal Conception of Jesus, and His Birth

[18] Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; [19] and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly. [20] But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; [21] she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." [24a] When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.


16. Jewish genealogies followed the male line. Joseph, being Mary's husband, was the legal father of Jesus. The legal father is on a par with the real father as regards rights and duties. This fact provides a sound basis for recognizing St. Joseph as Patron of the whole Church, since he was chosen to play a very special role in God's plan for our salvation; with Joseph as his legal father, Jesus the Messiah has David as his successor.

Since it was quite usual for people to marry within their clan, it can be concluded that Mary belonged to the house of David. Several early Fathers of the Church testify to this--for example, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin and Tertullian, who base their testimony on an unbroken oral tradition.

It should also be pointed out that when St. Matthew comes to speak of the birth of Jesus, he uses an ___expression which is completely different from that used for the other people in the genealogy. With these words the text positively teaches that Mary conceived Jesus while still a virgin, without the intervention of man.

18. St. Matthew relates here how Christ was conceived (cf. Luke 1:25-38): "We truly honor and venerate (Mary) as Mother of God, because she gave birth to a person who is at the same time both God and man" ("St. Pius V Catechism", I, 4, 7).

According to the provisions of the Law of Moses, engagement took place about one year before marriage and enjoyed almost the same legal validity. The marriage proper consisted, among other ceremonies, in the bride being brought solemnly and joyously to her husband's house (cf. Deuteronomy 20:7).

From the moment of engagement onwards, a certificate of divorce was needed in the event of a break in the relationship between the couple.

The entire account of Jesus' birth teaches, through the different fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 (which is expressly quoted in verses 22-23) that: 1) Jesus has David as His ancestor since Joseph is His legal father; 2) Mary is the Virgin who gives birth according to the prophecy; 3) the Child's conception without the intervention of man was miraculous.

19. "St. Joseph was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things. He did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, in each and every event that went to make up his life. That is why Scripture praises Joseph as `a just man'. In Hebrew a just man means a good and faithful servant of God, someone who fulfills the divine will (cf. Genesis 7:1; 18:23-32; Ezekiel 18:5ff.; Proverbs 12:10), or who is honorable and charitable toward his neighbor (cf. Tobias 7:6; 9:6). So a just man is someone who loves God and proves his love by keeping God's commandments and directing his whole life towards the service of his brothers, his fellow men" ([St] J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 40).

Joseph considered his spouse to be holy despite the signs that she was going to have a child. He was therefore faced with a situation he could not explain. Precisely because he was trying to do God's will, he felt obliged to put her away; but to shield her from public shame he decided to send her away quietly.

Mary's silence is admirable. Her perfect surrender to God even leads her to the extreme of not defending her honor or innocence. She prefers to suffer suspicion and shame rather than reveal the work of grace in her. Faced with a fact which was inexplicable in human terms she abandons herself confidently to the love and providence of God. God certainly submitted the holy souls of Joseph and Mary to a severe trial. We ought not to be surprised if we also undergo difficult trials in the course of our lives. We ought to trust in God during them, and remain faithful to Him, following the example they gave us.

20. God gives His light to those who act in an upright way and who trust in His power and wisdom when faced with situations which exceed human understanding. By calling him the son of David, the angel reminds Joseph that he is the providential link which joins Jesus with the family of David, according to Nathan's messianic prophecy (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12). As St. John Chrysostom says: "At the very start he straightaway reminds him of David, of whom the Christ was to spring, and he does not wish him to be worried from the moment he reminds him, through naming his most illustrious ancestor, of the promise made to all his lineage" ("Hom. on St. Matthew", 4).

"The same Jesus Christ, our only Lord, the Son of God, when He assumed human flesh for us in the womb of the Virgin, was not conceived like other men, from the seed of man, but in a manner transcending the order of nature, that is, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that the same person, remaining God as He was from eternity, became man, which He was not before" ("St. Pius V Catechism", I, 4, 1).

21. According to the Hebrew root, the name Jesus means "savior". After our Lady, St. Joseph is the first person to be told by God that salvation has begun.

"Jesus is the proper name of the God-man and signifies `Savior'--a name given Him not accidentally, or by the judgment or will of man, but by the counsel and command of God" [...]. All other names which prophecy gave to the Son of God--Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (cf. Isaiah 9:6)--are comprised in this one name Jesus; for while they partially signified the salvation which He was to bestow on us, this name included the force and meaning of all human salvation" ("St. Pius V Catechism", I, 3, 5 and 6).

Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

3rd Week of Lent - The Promise Kept

"Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it." St. Luke, 11:28.

A Protestant minister shared a seat on a train with a Franciscan mis­sionary. In the course of their conversation the minister remarked: "Father, as an intelligent man, do you really believe that God comes down and dwells in your Catholic tabernacle? Do you really believe that God is present in that little host?"

"Yes, I believe," the priest replied, "and the older I grow the stronger grows my faith. You give me credit for being intelligent. I appreciate that. But I do resent the suspicion that I might be insincere, that I might be saying I believe when I really do not. Let's look at it. Is our belief so unreasonable? You believe that Jesus Christ was God, don't you?"

The minister answered that he did.

"And you believe," the priest went on, "that Christ was born in a stable, a dingy barn, reeking with filth and the smell of manure, cold and barren?"

"Yes, Father, I believe that. The Bible says so."

"And do you believe," the padre continued, "that Christ died an insulting death on the cross, that He suffered and died like a criminal?"

Again the minister answered: "Yes, I believe that, because the Bible says so."

"Well, then," the priest pointed out, "can it be so hard to believe that Jesus becomes present again on the altar, on clean, white linens?"

Smiling, the minister admitted: "I never looked at it from that angle."

Believe the Bible and you believe in the Eucharist. Last week we heard Christ promise to give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. The night before His death He kept that promise. In an upper room we see the twelve Apostles around a table. At the place of honor sits the Master. He is serious. They are all serious. The Master is going to leave them.

But what is He doing, what is He saying? He takes bread, breaks it, looks up and gives thanks. Then slowly and solemnly He declares: "This is my body." Next He takes a cup of wine, and again His voice is certain, strong and solemn: "This is my blood." He tells them to take, to eat and drink. With continued solemnity He'commands: "Do this for a commemoration of me."

He has given the Apostles His flesh and blood and He wants them to con­tinue giving His flesh and blood to His followers of that day and of our day. The Catholic Church takes those words of Christ as they stand, takes them literally, takes them seriously, takes them in their only possible meaning. That is how the Apostles and the early Church understood our Lord's words. Surely they should and did know what our Lord meant.

Eighteen years after the Last Supper St. Paul wrote: "The cup of bless­
ing that we bless, is it not the sharing of the blood of Christ? And the bread that we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?"
I Cor. 10:16. "For I myself have received from the Lord (what I also delivered to you) that the Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks broke, and said, 'This is my body which shall be given up for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In like manner also the cup, after he had supped, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.'" I Cor. 11:23-26.

Over sixty Fathers and writers between the first and sixth century preach the Real Presence. Listen to St. Ignatius, a student of St. Peter himself, as he speaks of certain heretics: "They keep from the Eucharist and prayer, because they confess not that the Eucharist and prayer is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ."

The Discipline of the Secret proves our point. So sacred was the Blessed Sacrament that it was spoken of only in vague terms to those outside the faith.

One of many paintings in the catacombs shows a party of Christians at the Breaking of Bread. The pagans provide another proof. They accused the Christians of killing children, drinking their blood, and eating their flesh wrapped in bread. This was their twisted idea of the Eucharistic ban­quet, but it shows that the Christians taught they were actually receiving the body and blood of Christ.

Reason backs up our belief: Believe Christ was God, believe the Bible, and you must believe in the body and blood of Christ.

Truly blessed are they who hear and keep these words of Christ. Blessed are those of us who keep those words and believe those words and accept those words.

As those heavenly words, 'This is my body; this is my blood' are repeated at the consecration of every Mass, thank the good God that you have received the blessing, the thrilling, lifegiving blessing of taking Christ's words - just as He said them and meant them.

(For quotations from The Fathers see "Faith of Our Fathers" by Gibbons, p. 297)
Adapted from Talks on the Sacraments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, 1947

Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

From: John 2:13-25

The Cleansing of the Temple

[13] The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [14] In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. [15] And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. [16] And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." [17] His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." [18] The Jews then said to him, "What signs have you to show us for doing this?" [19] Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." [20] The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" [21] But he spoke of the temple of his body. [22] When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. [23] Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did; [24] but Jesus did not trust himself to them, [25] because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of mail; for he himself knew what was in man.


13. "The Passover of the Jews": this is the most important religious feast for the people of the Old Testament, the prefiguring of the Christian Easter (cf. note on Mt 26:2). The Jewish Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan and was followed by the festival week of the Azymes (unleavened bread). According to the Law of Moses, on those days every male Israelite had to "appear before the Lord God" (Ex 34:23; Deut 16:16)--hence the pious custom of making a pilgrimage to the temple of Jerusalem for these days, hence the crowd and all the vendors to supply the needs of the pilgrims; this trading gave rise to abuses.

"Jesus went up to Jerusalem": by doing this Jesus publicly shows that he observes the Law of God. But, as we shall soon see, he goes to the temple as the only-begotten Son who must ensure that all due decorum is observed in the House of the Father: "And from thenceforth Jesus, the Anointed of God, always begins by reforming abuses and purifying from sin; both when he visits his Church, and when he visits the Christian soul" (Origen, "Hom. on St John", 1).

14-15. Every Israelite had to offer as a passover sacrifice an ox or a sheep, if he was wealthy; or two turtle-doves or two pigeons if he was not (Lev 5:7). In addition he had to pay a half shekel every year, if he was twenty or over. The half shekel, which was the equivalent of a day's pay of a worker, was a special coin also called temple money (cf. Ex 30:13); other coins in circulation (denarii, drachmas, etc.) were considered impure because they bore the image of pagan rulers. During the Passover, because of the extra crowd, the outer courtyard of the temple, the court of the Gentiles, was full of traders, money-changers etc., and inevitably this meant noise, shouting, bellowing, manure etc. Prophets had already fulminated against these abuses, which grew up with the tacit permission of the temple authorities, who made money by permitting trading. Cf. notes on Mt 21:12-13 and Mk 11:15-18.

16-17. "Zeal for thy house will consume me"--a quotation from Psalm 69:10. Jesus has just made a most significant assertion: "You shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." By calling God his Father and acting so energetically, he is proclaiming he is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus' zeal for his Father's glory did not escape the attention of his disciples who realized that what he did fulfilled the words of Psalm 69.

18-22. The temple of Jerusalem, which had replaced the previous sanctuary which the Israelites carried around in the wilderness, was the place selected by God during the Old Covenant to express his presence to the people in a special way. But this was only an imperfect anticipation or prefiguring of the full _expression of his presence among men--the Word of God became man. Jesus, in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9), is the full presence of God here on earth and, therefore, the true temple of God. Jesus identifies the temple of Jerusalem with his own body, and by so doing refers to one of the most profound truths about himself--the Incarnation. After the ascension of the Lord into heaven this real and very special presence of God among men is continued in the sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist.

Christ's words and actions as he expels the traders from the temple clearly show that he is the Messiah foretold by the prophets. That is why some Jews approach him and ask him to give a sign of his power (cf. Mt 16:1; Mk 8:11; Lk 11:29). Jesus' reply (v. 20), whose meaning remains obscure until his resurrection, the Jewish authorities try to turn into an attack on the temple--which merits the death penalty (Mt 26:61; Mk 14:58; cf. Jer 26:4ff); later they will taunt him with it when he is suffering on the cross (Mt 27:40; A 15:29) and later still in their case against St Stephen before the Sanhedrin they will claim to have heard him repeat it (Acts 6:14).

There was nothing derogatory in what Jesus said, contrary to what false witnesses made out. The miracle he offers them, which he calls "the Sign of Jonah" (cf. Mt 16:4), will be his own resurrection on the third day. Jesus is using a metaphor, as if to say: Do you see this temple? Well, imagine if it were destroyed, would it not be a great miracle to rebuild it in three days? That is what I will do for you as a sign. For you will destroy my body, which is the true temple, and I will rise again on the third day.

No one understood what he was saying. Jews and disciples alike thought he was speaking about rebuilding the temple which Herod the Great had begun to construct in 19-20 B.C. Later on the disciples grasped what he really meant.

23-25. Jesus' miracles moved many to recognize that he had extraordinary, divine powers. But that falls short of perfect theological faith. Jesus knew their faith was limited, and that they were not very deeply attached to him: they were interested in him as a miracle-worker. This explains why he did not trust them (cf. Jn 6:15, 26) "Many people today are like that. They carry the name of faithful, but they are fickle and inconstant", comments Chrysostom ("Hom. on St John", 23, 1).

Jesus' knowledge of men's hearts is another sign of his divinity; for example, Nathanael and the Samaritan woman recognized him as the Messiah because they were convinced by the evidence of supernatural power he showed by reading their hearts (cf. Jn 1:49; 4:29).

Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.