Blessed Gregory & Blessed Dominic

Very little is known about these two Dominican preachers. Their legend tells us that they evangelized the mountainous Somontano region of Moorish Spain near Barbastro, Aragon. One day they were caught in a storm as they traveled from one village to another. The storm loosed the rocks of the cave in which they had sought shelter and they were buried in a landslide. The bells of Perarúa rang out of their own accord, indicating that something remarkable was afoot, and villagers, who ventured out after the storm, found the cave surrounded by lights and angelic music. Digging into the rubble, they found the two Dominicans crushed to death. Miracles surrounded their burials and their tombs at Besians in the diocese of Barbastro, where pilgrims came to pray, especially against the danger from storms. Formerly on Rogation days, and in times of drought, their relics were carried in procession.

Born: 11th Century

Died: Martyred about 1300

Beatified: Pius IX approved their cult in 1854

Believe! ~ Br. Chip Noon, Novice

Last week, during the Mass of Easter Sunday, we learned that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb where Jesus was buried and found it empty. She went and told Simon Peter and John and returned with them to the tomb. After they left, she stayed behind weeping. She looked again into the tomb and saw two angels who asked her why she was weeping. “They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where they laid him. Then, seeing a person whom she thought was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”

“Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.

“Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” and what he told her.

What was their reaction?

They went into a room and locked the door!

Mary was the first person to proclaim the resurrection and she was not believed, even by those who had been told by Jesus what would happen in these times.

What’s with us? Why do we need proof? Why do we always need proof?

Now in this week’s Gospel, Jesus himself comes into the room where the disciples were cowering and says, “Peace be with you” and shows them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced. Jesus makes no mention that we know of about their fear and hiding, but instead breaths the Holy Spirit upon them and exhorts them to their mission as ministers of the Word. In John’s Gospel, this is all quite matter of fact.

So let me ask you, did they all believe at that time? We know that Thomas didn’t since he wasn’t present on that day and since he was a no-nonsense and fatalistic kind of guy anyway. (Remember when Jesus was going to Judea to raise Lazarus, Thomas says “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”) But what about the others? Don’t we all know some people, who, when presented with the facts, say, “Well, maybe it’s true, but probably not…” I’m thinking specifically about some people and current scientific knowledge.

But back to the disciples…my guess is that it took Thomas to challenge the Lord, the physical Lord, to come and show him his wounds for some of those disciples to come around. “Show it to me in black and white!” How many of us base our beliefs on evidence, like these disciples?

And here is Thomas. This is a comforting person, in my mind. You always know where you stand with him. In the Gospels, he’s always jumping right in and telling you what he thinks. No beating about the bush.

Proof? I’ll give you proof!

And then he believes. Remember that movie that had the line “show me the money!”? That’s Thomas. And unlike those of us, myself included, who hang back, once he is shown the money, he’s off and running. What a gift that must be, to have all your doubts cast aside and then immediately to go out and get on with the job.

So let me ask you about Mary Magdalene. All she has to hear is Jesus speak her name and she knows what’s up. She proclaims the faith, the risen Lord, and does so fearlessly. In the Gospels, she is mentioned more than many of the Apostles. She was a person of some means, since we are told she is one of the women to provide for Jesus and his disciples.  And unlike Thomas, she doesn’t demand anything. She simply sees, believes, and acts.

Why isn’t she one of the bigger names in the Bible? Why isn’t she one of the leaders?

Let’s go back to today’s second reading where Peter is proclaiming the new faith. He is talking about Mary Magdalene. Simple, committed, rejoicing, willing to accept trials, and rejoicing with an indescribable and glorious joy.

And the Responsorial Psalm. Mary has recognized Jesus from the beginning as the cornerstone.

And the first reading from Acts. Who provided all the meals and needs of the Apostles and disciples from the beginning, to the time when they set out to preach the good news? Mary Magdalene.

Thomas and Mary Magdalene.

Which one are we imitating? Which one do we resemble? Is it one or the other? Or is it both? Or neither?

I’ll be glad to have either’s way of thinking, because it is plain to see. Plain both before we believe, and plain after we believe. It is a direction. There’s no middle ground.

As someone once told me, being a Dominican Friar is not a matter of taking it up when you think about it. It’s not a matter of study during the week. It’s not a matter of prayer or meditation. It’s everything you do. There’s no time off.

And I believe that person was telling me that to be a Christian, to believe in the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, you must live it every moment. Not in big ways, not in momentous acts, not in fiery exhortations, not in anything that looks like some big deal. Just in the simple day to day experience of knowing that we are attaining the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.

We are true brothers and sisters of Jesus who will go with him to his Father and to our Father. And as brothers and sisters today, we say “Rabbouni!”

Lord, teach us today the simple pleasure of membership in your family. Teach us the true meaning of your death, burial, and resurrection. And make us worthy of the coming of the Paraclete so that we may also be comforters to our earthly brothers and sisters.


Blessed Bartholomew Cerveri

Carrying on the glorious tradition of death in the cause of truth. Blessed Bartholomew of Cerveri was the fourth Dominican inquisitor to win his crown in Piedmont, in the stronghold of thee Catharists, who had taken the lives of Peter of Verona, Peter of Ruffia, and Anthony of Pavonio.

Bartholomew was born at Savigliano, in 1420 , and, even in his early years, displayed precocious solemnity and piety. He entered the Order in the convent of his native town, and progressed rapidly in his studies. on May 8th , 1452, he distinguished he himself by obtaining the licentiate, the doctorate and master’s degree from the capital university of Turin; the only time in the history of the university that anyone had acquired three degrees in one day.

Bartholomew taught for a year at the university, and then he was made prior of the convent at Savigilano. In his short apostolate of 12 years, he converted many heretics and worked steadfastly to eradicate heresy. He was appointed inquisitor in Piedmont, which made it clear to him that a martyr’s death was marked out for him. Being a Dominican in Lombardy was a dangerous business, at best; too be appointed inquisitor meant the heretics were given a target for their hatred.

In many ways the murder of Bartholomew and his companions repeats the martyrdom of Peter of Verona. Bartholomew knew beforehand that he was to die, and he made a general confession before starting out on his last trip. He remarked to his confessor, “They will call me , Bartholomew of Cerverio, though I have never set foot there. Today I go there as a inquisitor and there I must die.” On the road entering Cerverio, he and his party were attacked by five heretics. His companions were wounded, but escaped. Bartholomew died, riddled with dagger wounds, before they could get help.

Some people of Savigliano saw a bright light in the sky over Cerverio and surmised what had happened. They went out and brought home the relics, marveling back, despite all the wounds, the martyr had not bled. Laying him down in the church of the Dominicans, they saw his wounds bleed, and the hastily rescued the blood for relics. He was buried n a Dominican Church of Savigliano, and , later, when the church was ruined by revolution, the relics were moved to the parish church.

A chapel was built at the sight of the martyrdom and richly decorated with narrative frescoes. Processions were made there several times a year by the people of Savigliano and Cerverio, invoking Bartholomew against thunder and hail especially. At The same place a fig tree was honored for many years for its connection with Capital Blessed Bartholomew; it was supposed to have sprung up at the time of the martyrdom, at the very place the martyr fell.

Born: 1420

Died: Martyred in 1466

Beatified: Pope Pius IX beatified Bartholomew of Cerverio in 1853

Saint Agnes of Montepulciano

Agnes was not a child martyr like her Roman patroness but she exhibited the same simplicity, and some of her best-known legends concern her childhood. Her birth into the wealthy de Segni family was announced by great lights surrounding the house where she was born. From her infancy she was especially marked for dedication to God: she would spend hours reciting Pater Nosters and Ave Marias on her knees in the corner of some room.

By the time Agnes was six, she was already urging her parents to let her enter the convent. When they assured her that she was much too young, she begged them to move to nearby Montepulciano, so she could make frequent visits to the convent. Because of the local political instability, her father was unwilling to move from his safe haven but did allow his little girl to visit with the sisters occasionally.

On one of these visits an event occurred that all the chroniclers record as being prophetic. Little Agnes was traveling in Montepulciano with her mother and the women of the household, and, as they passed a hill on which stood a bordello, a flock of crows swooped down and attacked the girl. Screaming and plunging, they managed to scratch and frighten her badly before the women drove them away. Upset by the incident, but devoutly sure of themselves, the women said that the birds must have been devils, and that they resented the purity and goodness of little Agnes, who would one day drive them from that hilltop. Agnes did, in fact, build a convent there in later years.

When she was nine, Agnes insisted that the time had come to enter the convent del Sacco. She was allowed to go to a group of Franciscans in Montepulciano, whose dress was the ultimate in primitive simplicity: they were known, from the cut of the garment, as the Sacchine or ‘sisters of the sack.’ The high-born daughter of the Segni was not at all appalled at the crude simplicity with which they followed their Father Francis; she rejoiced in it. Her religious formation was entrusted to an experienced older sister named Margaret, and Agnes soon edified the whole house by her exceptional progress. For five years she enjoyed the only complete peace she would ever have; she was appointed bursar at the age of 14, and she never again was without some responsibility to others.

During this time Agnes reached a high degree of contemplative prayer and was favored with many visions. One of the loveliest is the one for which her legend is best known: the occasion of a visit from the Blessed Virgin. Our Lady came with the Holy Infant in her arms, and allowed Agnes to hold Him and caress Him. Unwilling to let Him go, Agnes hung on when Our Lady reached to take Him back. When she awakened from the ecstasy, Our Lady and her Holy Child were gone, but Agnes was still clutching tightly the little gold cross He had worn on a chain about His neck. She kept it as a precious treasure.

Another time, Our Lady gave her three small stones and told her that she should use them to build a convent some day. Agnes was not at the moment even thinking about going elsewhere, and said so, but Our Lady told her to keep the stones–three, in honor of the Blessed Trinity–and one day she would need them.

Some time after this, a new Franciscan convent opened in Procena, near Orvieto, and the sisters there asked the ones of Montepulciano to send them a mother superior. Sister Margaret was selected, but stipulated that Agnes must be allowed to come to help her in the foundation of the new community. There Agnes served as housekeeper–a highly responsible position for a 14-year-old! Soon many other girls joined the convent at Procena simply became they knew that Agnes was there.

To the distress of young Agnes, she was elected abbess. Since she was only 15, a special dispensation was needed–and provided by Pope Nicholas IV–to allow her to take the office. On the day when she was consecrated abbess, great showers of tiny white crosses fluttered down on the chapel and the people in it. It seemed to show the favor of heaven on this somewhat extraordinary situation.

For 20 years, Agnes lived in Procena, happy in her retreat and privileged to penetrate the secrets of God in her prayer. She was a careful superior, as well as a mystic; several times she worked miracles to increase the house food supply when it was low. The nun’s self-discipline was legendary. She lived on bread and water for fifteen years. She slept on the floor with a stone for a pillow. It is said that in her visions angels gave her Holy Communion.

Once her visions of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and angels had become known, the citizens of Montepulciano called her back for a short stay. She went willingly enough, though she hated leaving the peace of her cloister for the confusion of traveling. She had just settled down, on her return, with the hope that she had made her last move and could now stay where she was, when obedience again called her back to Montepulciano–this time to build a new convent. A revelation had told her that she was to leave the Franciscans, among whom she had been very happy, and that she and her future sisters should become Dominicans.

In 1306, Agnes returned to Montepulciano to put the Lord’s request into action: she was to build a convent on the former site of the brothels. All she had for the building of the convent were the three little stones given her by the Blessed Virgin, and Agnes–who had been bursar and knew something about money–realized that she was going to have to rely heavily on the support of heaven in her building project.

After a long quarrel with the inhabitants of the hilltop she wanted for her foundation, the land was finally secured, and the Servite prior laid the first stone, leaving her to worry about from where the rest of the stones would come. Agnes saw the project to its completion. The church and convent of Santa Maria Novella were ready for dedication in record time, and a growing collection of aspirants pleaded for admittance to the new convent.

Agnes had become convinced that the community must be anchored in an established Rule in order to attain permanence. She explained that the rule was to be Dominican, not Franciscan. All the necessary arrangements were made, she was established as prioress, the Dominicans agreed to provide chaplains and direction, and the new community settled down. They had barely established the regular life when one of the walls of the new building collapsed. It was discovered that the builders had cheated, and that the whole convent was in danger of falling on top of them. Agnes met the new problem with poise. She had many friends in Montepulciano by this time, and they rallied to rebuild the house.

When the convent was once again completed, and had become, as hoped, a dynamo of prayer and penance, Agnes decided to go to Rome on pilgrimage. It is interesting to note that Second Order convents of the 14th century were so flexible in the matter of enclosure. She made the trip to Rome and visited the shrines of the martyrs. The pope was at Avignon, so she did not have the happiness of talking to him. But she returned to Montepulciano full of happiness for having seen the holy places of Rome.

At the age of 49, Agnes’s health began to fail rapidly. She was taken for treatment to the baths at Chianciano–accompanied, as it says in the rule, by ‘two or three sisters’–but the baths did her no good. She did perform a miracle while there, restoring to life a child who had fallen into the baths and drowned.

Agnes returned to Montepulciano to die in the night. When she knew she was dying after a long and painful illness, Agnes told her grieving nuns that they should rejoice, for, she said, “You will discover that I have not abandoned you. You will possess me for ever.” The children of the city wakened and cried out, “Holy Sister Agnes is dead!” She was buried in Montepulciano, where her tomb soon became a place of pilgrimage.

One of the most famous pilgrims to visit her tomb was Saint Catherine of Siena, who went to venerate the saint and also, probably, to visit her niece, Eugenia, who was a nun in the convent there. As she bent over the body of Saint Agnes to kiss the foot, she was amazed to see Agnes raise her foot so that Catherine did not have to stoop so far!

In 1435, her incorrupt body was translated to the Dominican church at Orvieto, where it remains today. Clement VIII approved her office for the use of the order of St. Dominic, and inserted her name in the  Roman Martyrology.

Many stories grew up around Agnes.

Her birth was announced by flying lights surrounding her family’s house.

As a child, while walking through a field, she was attacked by a large murder of crows; she announced that they were devils, trying to keep her away from the land; years later, it was the site of her convent.

She was known to levitate up to two feet in the air while praying.

She received Communion from an angel, and had visions of the Virgin Mary.

She held the infant Jesus in one of these visions; when she woke from her trance she found she was holding the small gold crucifix the Christ child had worn.

On the day she was chosen abbess as a teenager, small white crosses showered softly onto her and the congregation.

She could feed the convent with a handful of bread, once she’d prayed over it.

Where she knelt to pray, violets, lilies and roses would suddenly bloom.

While being treated for her terminal illness, she brought a drowned child back from the dead.

At the site of her treatment, a spring welled up that did not help her health, but healed many other people.

Born:1268 at Gracchiano-Vecchio, Tuscany, Italy

Died: at Montepulciano, Tuscany, on April 20, 1317. Legend says that at the moment of her death, all the babies in the region, no matter how young, began to speak of Agnes, her piety, and her passing; miracles reported at her tomb; body incorrupt; relics translated to the Dominican church at Orvieto in 1435

Beatified: 1534

Canonized:1726 by Pope Benedict XIII

Representation: In art, Saint Agnes is a Dominican abbess (white habit, black mantle) with a lamb, lily, and book. She might also be portrayed (1) gazing at the Cross, a lily at her feet, (2) with the Virgin and Child appearing to her; (3) with the sick healed at her tomb (Roeder); (4) with Saint Catherine of Siena; or (5) as patroness of Montepulciano, of which she holds a model in her hand. Tiepolo presents Agnes as one of the saints surrounding the Blessed Virgin in the Jesuit church at Venice, Italy. She is venerated at Montepulciano.




Blessed Clare Gambacorta

Clare, baptized Victoria, was the only daughter of the pre-eminent family of Pisa, which was in political exile at the time of her birth. When Victoria was seven, the family returned triumphantly to Pisa, and her father, Peter Gambacorta, was installed as chief magistrate of the city, a position full of both glory and uncertainty.

Victoria, a pretty and pious child, used to gather the children together to recite the Rosary. She was both devout and penitential; therefore, she did not relish the marriage her father had arranged for her. Nevertheless, as a dutiful daughter she married and became a dutiful, loving wife. When her young husband died of the plague just three years after their marriage, Victoria was grief-stricken. She did truly love him. But now that she was free, she determined that no one was going to urge her to marry again.

In the first year of her marriage, when she was 13, Victoria had met the famous and saintly Catherine of Siena, who had come to Pisa to talk to Victoria’s father about he league of cities. The saint had advised the lovely young bride to give her heart to God and her husband.

Now that he was dead, Catherine wrote to the 15-year-old widow saying: “Strip yourself of self. Love God with a free and loyal love.” Victoria knew that another marriage was being arranged for her, and before the contract could be concluded she fled to the Poor Clares and took the habit and the religious name Sister Clare.

Her brothers forcibly took her home. They locked her up in a dark little room in her own home. For five months she could neither talk to her friends nor receive the sacraments, but she retained the name Clare, and she wore the Franciscan habit.

The pretty, young prisoner was a daughter of her times, and she managed to get errands done by her friends. One by one, her jewels were sent out and sold, and the money was given to the poor. It was the only active charity she could manage from a prison cell. Finally, on Saint Dominic’s day, when her father and brothers were away, her mother got her out and took her to Mass. It was the first time in months that she had been able to receive Communion.

Shortly thereafter, a Spanish bishop came to visit the family, and Clare’s father asked him to try to talk some sense into the girl. He apparently did not know that the Spaniard had been confessor to Saint Bridget of Sweden, and that he was highly in sympathy with women who wished to dedicate themselves to God. In the end, Clare’s family relented and allowed her to make plans to enter a convent. Her contact with Saint Catherine had convinced her that she could be nothing but a Dominican, so she took refuge with the local community until she could build a convent of her own.

Due to the ravages of plague and schism, many convents, including that of the Dominicans of Pisa, were weak in observance and did not live the common life. Clare wanted a strictly religious form of life, and, within four years, with the help of her stepmother, the new convent was built for her and Blessed Mary Mancini. It was first blessed in 1385, and a strict canonical cloister was imposed upon it, forbidding any man but the bishop and the master general from entering.

Eight years later, this strict enclosure was to cost Sister Clare a terrible loss. Her father was betrayed by a man who had always been his friend, and the volatile public turn against him and killed him in the street outside her convent. One of her brothers also fell in the fight, and a second, wounded, begged to be let into the convent. Clare had to tell him, through the window, that she could not open the door to him. While she watched in horror, he was dragged away and killed.

Some time after this, Sister Clare fell seriously ill and was thought to be dying. She made a curious request: some food from the table of the man who had betrayed and killed her father and brothers. The wife of the guilty man sent a basket of bread and fruit; Sister Clare ate the bread and was cured. Shortly afterwards the man who had seized the power unjustly was killed himself, and she offered sanctuary to his widow and daughters.

Clare’s brother, Peter, who had fled from the court to become a hermit about the time she went to the Poor Clares, converted a band of highwaymen and began a community of hermits. When his father and brothers were murdered, he wished to go back to secular life and seek revenge, and Clare talked him out of it.

Clare Gamacorta died after a holy life. Many prodigies were reported at her tomb, and there is an interesting little legend to the effect that every time a sister in her house is about to die, the bones of Blessed Clare rattle in her coffin. This gives the sister warning.

Born: in Venice(?), Italy, in 1362;

Died: 1419

Beatified: by Pope Pius VIII in 1830.


Easter Sunday – A Celebration of Renewal! Br. Michael Marshall, Novice

First Reading – Acts 10:43A, 37-43

Peter proceeded to speak and said:
“You know what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.
We are witnesses of all that he did
both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.“The right hand of the LORD has struck with power;
the right hand of the LORD is exalted.
I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the LORD.”

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.

 Second Reading – 1 Corinthians 5:6B-8

Brothers and sisters:
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?
Clear out the old yeast,
so that you may become a fresh batch of dough,
inasmuch as you are unleavened.
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Sequence — Victimae Paschali Laudes

Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he goes before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia.

Gospel – Matthew28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake;
for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
His appearance was like lightning
and his clothing was white as snow.
The guards were shaken with fear of him
and became like dead men.
Then the angel said to the women in reply,
“Do not be afraid!
I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.
Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples,
‘He has been raised from the dead,
and he is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him.’
Behold, I have told you.”
Then they went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce this to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me.”

What is Easter all about?  Yes, it is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus after the gory death on the Cross… BUT what is it COMPLETELY all about?  In the secular world, it is a day of the Easter Bunny bringing a basket of goodies and egg hunts; which these things relate to other things taking place around the time of Easter.  Think about how Easter takes place in spring, and various plants are beginning to bloom after a long winter; as well as many animals come out of hibernation, and some produce more offspring.  It is a day of renewal or rebirth.  Some people may see the day of rebirth as a coincidence or scientific thing because the celebration occurs on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox; therefore presenting the case that it obviously is a time of things returning back to life.  Essentially all of these things of the secular world are on target with what Easter is REALLY all about.  I mentioned that it is a day of renewal or rebirth, BUT the Resurrection is a celebration of spiritual renewal to preach God’s love!

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus preaches about His death and resurrection as being a new beginning, because He tells his followers and the religious leaders many times that the “temple” will be rebuilt three days after it has been destroyed.  In the Gospel passage from Matthew for today, we see that Jesus speaks with Mary and Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection, and instructs them to tell the others that He will soon meet them in Galilee.  Which then this leads us to the passage from First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, in which Peter instructs the apostles and other followers of Jesus as to what they have been called to do.  Peter says, “He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”  Instead of the Resurrection being a “The End” to the ministry of Jesus, it essentially became a renewal because it was now the mission of the apostles to continue the preaching of God’s love.

We see in the Second Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians that Paul is also preaching about renewal and a fresh start through the image of yeast eventually losing the ability to make dough rise, therefore old yeast has to be replaced with new yeast.  He is instructing the Corinthian community that in order to continue to do ministry within the community, a spiritual renewal is necessary.

So, just as Paul is instructing the Corinthians that renewal is necessary, we need to remind ourselves that Easter is a celebration of renewal for us today.  We can look at the children enjoying themselves while hunting for eggs and appreciate the plants that have come back to life, but we need to remember that this is a time to renew our spirituality in order to spread the message of Jesus Christ.  Everybody needs some renewal in their life… nobody is exempt!  Easter is this celebration and reminder to help us grow!

Now unfortunately, recent tragic events have taken place around the world.  People are being killed by government leaders in the Middle East, Christians are being persecuted and killed for senseless reasons, and unfortunate military action has become the response to these tragic events.  The whole point of Easter is missing from this picture! All of this conflict and persecution are the complete opposite of God’s love.  Therefore we need to take the opportunity of renewal and be like Peter; recognizing that we have been commissioned to preach God’s love, with the hope that God’s love will prevail over conflict.  It is not an easy task, but one which needs done!

Heavenly Father, as we celebrate the Resurrection, may we be reminded that it is a celebration of spiritual renewal in order for us to spread the Gospel; which is the message of Your love.  This we ask through Christ, Our Lord.  Amen.

Hell, Vigils, and Lullabys ~ Br. Chip Noon, Novice

Holy Saturday. Sabbatum Sanctum. The day after Good Friday and the day before Easter.

As children, we were taught that on this day, Jesus went down to Hell. It is in the Creed as “He descended into Hell.” As a child myself, this day was one of sadness, fear, and anticipation.

In Sunday School (where we who did not attend a parochial school were forced to go), the nuns depicted this day to us as the time during which Jesus freed all the righteous people who had lived before his time from bondage in darkness and distance from God. We were told that everyone from Adam and Eve was unable to enter heaven because Jesus had not opened it for them.

You can imagine what went through my mind thinking about this day. The nuns in my parish did not always do a good job of explaining what was going on this day and how it affected people in hell. So we kids made up lots of interesting stories. I always thought back to the hymns that sang about our longing for Christ to save us from our sins and the “sins of the world.”

Still, what were those people doing in hell before Jesus came to free them? We were assured that they did not suffer the same fate as sinners, who were tormented by the devil and the fires of hell. Eternal hellfire. That was a pretty scary concept.

It was only later as a youth that I found out about the “harrowing of hell.” Growing up in rural Maryland, I knew what a harrow was. To me, it was always a disc harrow, a bunch of metal discs in a row used to break up clods of dirt after ploughing. And so Jesus used this instrument to open up the soil of hell to let the dead ascend, finally, into heaven. Of course, this was always done in a dark, murky atmosphere suitable to that part of hell that wasn’t on fire.

Holy Saturday…that was quite a fearsome day!

Back then, in the 1950’s, we either didn’t have Easter Vigil as we do today, or my parents never took us to it. Easter Sunday was always THE day for us and Mass was always THE most important ceremony of the year. So from Good Friday to Easter Sunday was a time of agitation.

Of course, the agitation and anticipation was all about the Easter Baskets with colored hard-boiled eggs, candy, and especially jelly beans. And the fact that the solemnity of Lent was at last gone, and maybe the nuns would let up on us…

What must have been going through the minds of the Apostles and the women disciples? I never heard this discussed growing up, but in my adult life, it became one of the things I thought about on Holy Saturday. We know it as anticipation. They experienced it as the utter destruction of their whole world.

Their Teacher was tortured and died a horrible death on a cross. Now what?

For all of the Apostles but John, there must have been intense shame. They had all deserted their Teacher and his mother and had gone into hiding. Imagine their feelings on this day.

What we know today was all taught to them, so there should have been no surprise. But we can say that from the distance of two millennia and the evidence of the empty tomb. This group of grieving souls had none of that.

“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31

Written many years after Holy Saturday.

Now what?

Although all of this was presented to them by Jesus, they really didn’t know what was happening.

They weren’t anticipating Easter eggs, baskets, jelly beans, the solemn joy of the Easter Sunday Mass.

They were deserted, bereft, scared, ashamed, and deeply sorrowful.

We get some or all of these feelings at times of crisis in our own lives. I’ve had them during and after a crisis, and believe me, the sinking feeling in my stomach is quite real and quite frightening.

But wait. We were told the Gospel stories so that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. The disciples thought they had nothing. We have the Word. They had despair. We have triumphant anticipation.

It’s probably a good thing we were never taken to the Vigil. I can’t imagine I’d have done well sitting through all those readings.  Seven readings, six psalms, an Epistle, the Gospel…it just goes on forever, doesn’t it?

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child.”

Now I know that the Vigil is actually the most calming lullaby God could ever sing to me. It tells our whole story, from the beginning of time to the Resurrection. Everyone is created, everyone goes through bad times, everyone sees glimmers of hope, everyone in some way gets through the troubles, everyone can pray these words from one of those psalms:

O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!

You are clothed with majesty and glory,

robed in light as with a cloak.

Because we know that while now we may shed tears, dawn will bring incomparable gladness.

We have Holy Saturday to teach us how to live through all our times of despair and fear. We have salvation history in all those readings, we have the stories of a small group of terrified disciples who on Sunday will experience that incomparable gladness. We have the anticipation we remember as children and the delight we see in our own children’s eyes on Sunday. And we have the words of John, the disciple who stayed with his Teacher through all the horror and who was told to care for the Blessed Mother:

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

We have come through the dark nights of our souls and we will be able, finally to say Alleluia.

Lord, help us to remember that your son suffered, died, and was buried for our sakes. Help us to remember that even as we face crisis and trouble, the next day will bring incomparable gladness if we trust in you. Help us to remember that Easter comes after Holy Saturday.