Fine, powdery, dark gray and black ashes, smudged onto our foreheads in the shape of a cross, for all the world to imagine what we’ve been doing, looking like we bumped our heads while cleaning out the fireplace, and forgot to wash that part of our faces…
Just a few ashes…symbolizing more than most of us realize as we go through the motions of Ash Wednesday. What do we say to people who ask us the obvious question: What IS that on your head? Why do you have black stuff on your face?
Why WILL we participate in this strange custom this evening? What DOES it mean? The spiritual practice of applying ashes on oneself as a sign of sincere repentance goes back thousands of years. Frequently in the days of the Old and the New Testament, when someone had sinned, he clothed his body with sackcloth and covered himself with ashes. [Jer. 6:26] The sacramental that we are observing today arises from that custom, the spiritual practice of observing public penitence. Church history tells us that the liturgical practice of applying ashes on one’s forehead during the Lenten Season goes back as far as the eighth century. This was accompanied by different forms of fasting, prayer, sacrifices, charity towards others, etc… The writings of St. Leo, around 461 A.D., tell us that during the Lenten Season, he exhorted the faithful to abstain from certain food to fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of forty days. In the days of the Old Testament, many tore their clothing as a sign of repentance.
Today, we use the ashes as a reminder of who we are. The Bible tells us that we came from the dust and to the dust we shall return. The first human was formed out of the dust of the earth by God and then God breathed life into that dust. That is a powerful image. One that is meant to remind us that without the breath or Spirit of God moving in us, we are just like these ashes: lifeless – worthless. The ashes that many of us will wear tonight are meant to be for us symbols of our repentance and signs that we truly seek to follow in God’s path.
The people in the Biblical stories probably put the ashes on top of their heads – so why do we, instead of putting these ashes on our heads, put them in the sign of the cross on our foreheads?
We do so because it is a reminder of how we are sealed for Christ. In most churches when a baby is baptized the minister or priest uses oil to mark the child with the sign of the cross. The mark of the cross is a mark of ownership. These ashes tonight remind us that we are Christ’s – that he died so that we might live. These may be just a few ashes but they mean a lot. They are a symbol of our need for God. We are nothing but dust and ashes apart from God.
But what about Lent itself? What is it? Why do we have this season? Most of us were taught that the lengthy period of Lent was one of penitence and fasting, a time provided for those who were separated from the church by their sins, so they could be reconciled by acts of penitence and forgiveness.
For most of us, Lent is the time of sometimes painful self-examination, during which we scrutinize our habits, our spiritual practice, and our very lives – hoping to make ourselves better, trying to make ourselves worthy of the love of God. We “step up” our prayer, fasting, and self-denial in order to remove worldly distractions from our lives. And we take on Bible study, classes, and service projects in order to add meaning and depth to our existence. For some children, Lent means no sweets, for teenagers, less time on Facebook. For adults, it may be consuming less meat or alcohol, or attending that Lenten course offered by the Church.
However we go about it, the goal is pretty much the same: Lent makes us ready for Easter. Quite simply put, we are better able to appreciate Resurrection joys come Easter Day by enduring these Lenten disciplines now.
The Old Testament Lessons, the Psalm appointed for today, and today’s Gospel Reading all tell us the “how” and “why” of Lent. But then, there is Paul. Saint Paul tells is, right off the bat, in the very first verse of the Epistle for today, to “BE RECONCILED TO GOD.” Nowhere does he say, “Observe a Holy Lent, THEN be reconciled to God.” Not after enduring a forty-day fast. Not after lengthy Bible study. Not even after prayer, but now, here, today: Be reconciled to God. Paul not only invites us to be reconciled to God, he actually beseeches us. That is, he pleads, implores, presses, begs, and demands. “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. … Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.”
If we but recognize this, if we are but reconciled to our God NOW, and THEN work toward our Lenten goals of fasting, of prayer, and of penitence, if we seek to discipline ourselves during Lent, and make those disciplines into daily habits, we will not only most assuredly have the Holy Lent we all desire, but will come to live a more holy life in general. And isn’t that, really, what Lent is all about in the first place? Amen.
Dominican Hermitage/Oratorium Sancti Peregrin ad Sebastian; Marshal Tito 157; 1480 GEVGELIJA; North Macedonia
Homily for 23.II.2020 Sunday VII in Ordinary Time or Quinquegesima Sunday
This is very special season in the liturgical year, even though it is still called in some denominations as ordinary time, yet nothing seems so ordinary.
The Previous weekend the Sunday of Sexagesima, previous of that Seuptagesima, preparing us into Lent season, reflecting in the scripture of old testament historical events in the history of Israel, seventy years of Babylonian captivity, or the 400 years of slavery in Egypt.
This Sunday we reflect of this preparation to do our examination of soul, to repair, to heal, to sort it our relations with our subjects, neighbors, and especially to stand where we are at the moment and to ask God for his guidance and strengthening our souls and bodies to be ready for the banquet of the bridegroom’s wedding.
Let’s strive for the repentant and humble heart for reconciliation and peace and daily accept his bloody and body, to implore our life in faith, that to profess our faith and commitment to our Lord, let our daily moves, actions, in little kindness moments bring joy and love to the unhappy and lonely people that we might know.
Let’s put our broken heart with charity act and offer to those in need. Let’s preach this Gospel of showing love, affection and charity. Take a note, sign as much names of known and unknown that you want to petition to our Lord. Those little savings, buy some bread or give the money to the beggar, find time to become daily two or three hours of hermit. Read Scripture or the holy elders, pray and petition, but outside our words must be good charitable and voluntarily work for the sake of the poor. T=That is our commandment from God. This ultimate catch might be for some of our brothers including me as well, for the new preparation in our quinquagesima season, let’s examine all that separates us from God, so we can offer in our lent repair our relationship, to nourish in His merciful love of acceptance of us as prodigal sons, with or strongholds, to spent more time of reading, meditating, reflecting, silence of waiting of his word, lets learn to listen more as well., reading spiritual books such as St John the Ladder with The Ladder of the Imitations of Christ by St Thomas Kempis. To strive for that intimate moments, spending and reflecting daily more and more, to ask for guidance and restoration of our hearts, so the peace of our Lord find worth place to remain in us. Let’s seek that God’s wisdom daily and His peace because is it said from God through his wisdom speaker of Solomon, who find wisdom finds the happiness. Because Gods wisdom is love and a light of our path in this valley of tears. Now is the hour, let us grasp and take this special offering of worth preparation. Let’s cut and stop all that separate us from spending time for Gods daily spiritual food. We must trust Him as He is always faithful to our unfaithfulness, with him as the first always put himself to save us in our daily struggles. Without Him, we are lost. Now is the time, very near, the day for our hope to be reborn again, with clean heart and renewed strength.
In some events in our life, have caused us to as “God have forgotten me?” But regardless of storms intensity, you remain in the forefront of God’s thoughts, He’s thinking of you, sustaining you, comforting you, giving you strength.
Now is the season to foster a deeper and more constant trust in the reality that God is always present with us. He doesn’t mentally check out whatever challenge you’re facing isn’t the worst thing that could happen to you. The worst that could happen would be for God to forget about you. But He’s hasn’t yet, and he never will.
Let’s encourage one another or someone else to turn to Christ for a fresh start in this preparation season of quinquegesima Sunday. Our all life is about struggle, failings, pushdowns, so when we kneel before Christ, we kneel before one who can relate to our struggles, and hardships. He kneels before God alongside us to revitalize our energy, providing relief from our stress, set us free from sin and enable us to endure life’s storms. Then through his spirit he offers us a fresh start and new beginning.
As the prince of the preachers, the Venerable servant of God Charles Spurgeon I will end with his words: “Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion- it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ”
Let us catch this quinquegesima season week ordinary Sunday seventh to offer to God all that separates us of growing of His wisdom and His guidance who is Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen
18.II.2020 Gevgelija/North Macedonia
Liturgical colour: Green.
Reading 1:SIR 15:15-20
Responsorial Psalm:PS 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
Reading 2:1 COR 2:6-10
Gospel: MT 5:17-37 OR 5:20-22A, 27-28, 33-34A, 37
Let’s first look at what the Gospel is telling us today:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgement. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. “It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife – unless the marriage is unlawful – causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” (MT 5:17-37)
Though the Sermon on the Mount was in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth, He had already begun His ministry earlier on. Prior to this sermon He was tempted in the desert by Satan, baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist, healed many people, and had already preached to many crowds.
The people who were present at this sermon on the mount were His first disciples and I’m sure others who chose to follow Him.
This crowd was not shocked I’m sure that He was who He said He was (although some doubted), but they were shocked because it was a completely knew spin on His teaching.
Before He would preach His deity as well as the coming of the kingdom, but now He is saying He is the complete fulfillment of the law.
Our Lord Jesus fulfilled God’s law in every aspect of His life, let us take a look:
In His birth (Galatians 4:4)
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, In His teaching (Matthew 5:17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Galatians 3:23–25 NIV
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.
Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
Galatians 3:13 NIV
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”
He set aside the Old Covenant and brought in the New Covenant
Simply put: Jesus did not destroy the law, He fulfilled it as was God’s plan all along. He ushered in God’s grace to save us from the demands and penalties of the law.
His disciples would not fully understand this until His death and resurrection was complete, when He said “it is finished”.
So, like Jesus, how can we fulfill God’s law in our lives: Through the Holy Spirit By dying to the law to live by the Holy Spirit
By loving God and loving others
By living for God & allowing Christ to live in us
We can seek to do and teach God’s Law:
The law can serve as a mirror to guide our lives
1 Timothy 1:8–11 The Message
It’s true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say.
It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life,
They are contemptuous of this great Message we have been put in charge of by this great God.
God’s Law shows the sin that keeps us from a relationship with Him.
But God’s law requires us to share the grace that comes through forgiveness.
God’s moral law has not changed.
9 of the 10 commandments were repeated and commanded in the NT
The “keeping of the Sabbath Day” was strictly given as a command to the people of Israel as a sign.
To summarize the law- we do not obey an external law because of fear, believers today obey this law because of love.
See when we focus on the law to slam people or shame and guilt them we often become no better than the Scribes or the Pharisees.
And when we continue to make ourselves a slave to the law and not fully give our hearts to the Lord, we become no better than the Scribes and Pharisees.
Not only that, if we can’t fulfill the whole law we still aren’t righteous according to it. It’s all or nothing if we judge by the law.
The Scribes and Pharisee’s failed to satisfy the heart and mind.
They were self righteous and glorified themselves, not God.
This was Jesus’ exact point. And that was Jesus’ exact warning to His followers on this hillside.
Matthew 11:28–30 NIV
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus wants to take our burdens. He wanted to take the burdens of the Scribes and Pharisees, too.
He came so we didn’t have to live as slaves to the law but free in Him.
Only Jesus offers that freedom.
Matthew 5:20 NIV
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
We can often get hung up on this verse ourselves and think we have fallen short of where we need to be.
But the good news is… Jesus came to save short people!
That’s me and it’s you.
So the question now is, “How do we know if we have the kind of righteousness that Jesus wants us to have?”
If we are judgmental, self seeking or prideful it’s probably a good time to turn over your heart to the Lord.
But Jesus does give us a clear answer but it won’t be quick.
This is what the whole sermon on the mount is.
Now that Jesus gets His audience’s attention, after shaking their religious beliefs to the core, he expands and over the next 27 verses defines God’s law- not on how people behave BUT in terms of who they really are. (5:21-48).
Mal 3:1-4; Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40
When I close my eyes and looking with my inner eyes the temple, the place of worship and prayer where Jewish people gather from all parts of Israel, beautiful temple, and Jesus was consecrated and offered to God in the temple, a little baby child, revealing his solemn entrance as he will be later be welcomed on Palm Thursday. This is very seen sign from the multitude as witness for the ends of times, that He is born in likeness of men, taking human body, been circumcised on eighth day and now the 40thies days by the law prescribed of Moses, all of this steps and path , he is doing to fulfill the scripture as Lord and perfect men.
What makes my heart melting is when I think about my anniversary of vocational discernment , sometimes I count the day of my simple vows or should I think from the perpetual vows, but every Presentation is an anniversary to myself and to all religious brothers and sisters in this world, as oblates, missionaries, hermits, monks, nuns all that encounter and dedicate whole body and soul to the temple, the higher even the mystical body, the bride of our Redeemer.
Very touching moment, great revelation for deliverance of Israel. Here was someone, an elder, rightful and just prophet Simeon and from the other part I can say a model of an oblate or a religious, a faithful in prayer and fast, the old widow Anna. Such a blessing from God to hold the infant Jesus. Holy Ghost have told to their hearts whom they shall see before they die.
This reveal to us, if we stay faithful to God, he will secure our life even when we become very old, Gods promises are fulfilled for people devoted totally to Him, depending of His mercy and grace. I am so touched from these two models for today’s life. St Simeon and St Anna, she is a model of faithfulness and dedicated devotionals, and the fasting. St Simeon revealed that our LORD as he took mortal flesh, he humbled himself, but we are encouraged that Savior is born, to save our fallen nature and sin, and make a new covenant, became one of us in every suffering, thirst, hunger, but not in sin. He is God, he was recognized in Simenon’s eyes .
Let us pray God to open our eyes, so we can recognize Him and accept him un the beggar , in the poor.
As we are about to embark on another new year, it seem appropriate that the words of St Simeon in the Gospel should ring in our ears. That this infant Jesus our Redeemer our LORD, He will be fall and rise of many. He is fall for those who reject Him, those who will accept, listen and follow His path and His words, He will be their heavenly delight.
When we hear those words spoken to the Holy Mother Theotokos, that She will suffer a lot. But reading I notice not despair scene, we see in the temple Simeon, Anna and the Holy Family, Mary Joseph and Jesus., and they do not lament or murmur, or be in depression or agony. This is accepted as will of the God, and they had joy in there hearts and souls, even is predicted difficulty that have to occur.
Sometimes at a great cost this world, and those who should know you better, will hate you, despise you, say all sorts of lies against you. Let this evil world of those wicked take the easy path and its glory in this life and you can say like St Simeone “Now let Your servant dismiss according to Your word in peace, because my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared before the face of all people. A light to the revelation of the gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel”
True happiness is you’re your happiness to remain in Lords heart.
Dear devoted brothers and sisters who live vowed and consecrated life, lets have this memory in our hearts, as mutual feast that have to unite our parts, personalities and skills to continuation of living daily gospel through our simple and humble actions. Lets strive to take our daily remind or recommendation of the holy widow Anna, and the holy elder Simeon, how they served in Gods temple, let our priories, oratories, missions, chapels proclaim in honor of that temple and of hope for beter and eternal life within the New Jerusalem
Gevgelija 28.II.2020 on the feast of St Thomas Aquinas in the Gevgelian Oratory in Macedonia
Perhaps the most famous of all the Dominican saints, today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Thomas was born in Roccasecca circa 28 January 1225, in the castle of his father, Count Landulf of Aquino, in Roccasecca, from which the great Benedictine abbey of Montecassino is not quite visible, midway between Rome and Naples, in what is now Sicily. Through his mother, Theodora, Countess of Theate, Thomas was related to the Hohenstaufen dynasty of Holy Roman emperors. His family was related to the Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, and to the Kings of Aragon, Castile, and France. Calo relates that a holy hermit foretold his career, saying to Theodora before his birth: “He will enter the Order of Friars Preachers, and so great will be his learning and sanctity that in his day no one will be found to equal him.” Landulf’s brother, Sinibald, was abbot of the original Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino. While the rest of the family’s sons pursued a military career, Thomas was intended to follow his uncle into the abbacy; this would have been a normal career path for the younger son of southern Italian nobility.
At the age of five, Thomas began his early education from the Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino. Diligent in study, he was thus early noted as being meditative and devoted to prayer, and his preceptor was surprised at hearing the child ask frequently: “What is God?”However, after a military conflict broke out between the Emperor Frederick II and Pope Gregory IX spilled into the abbey in early 1239, Landulf and Theodora had Thomas enrolled at the University of Naples, which had been recently established by Frederick.
At Naples his preceptors were Pietro Martini and Petrus Hibernus. The chronicler says that he soon surpassed Martini at grammar, and he was then given over to Peter of Ireland, who trained him in logic and the natural sciences. The customs of the times divided the liberal arts into two courses: the Trivium, embracing grammar, logic, and rhetoric; the Quadrivium, comprising music, mathematics, geometry, and astronomy. Thomas could repeat the lessons with more depth and lucidity than his masters displayed. The youth’s heart had remained pure amidst the corruption with which he was surrounded, and he resolved to embrace the religious life.
It was here that Thomas was introduced to the words of Aristotle, Averroes and Maimonides, all of which would later influence his theological philosophy. It was also during his studies in Naples that Thomas came under the influence of John of St. Julian, a Dominican preacher in Naples, who was part of the active effort by the Dominican order, which had only recently been established, to recruit devout followers.
At the age of nineteen, Thomas resolved to join the Dominican Order. Thomas’s decision to do so did not please his family, who had expected him to become a Benedictine monk. Some time between 1240 and August, 1243, he received the habit of the Order of St. Dominic, being attracted and directed by John of St. Julian, a noted preacher of the convent of Naples. The city wondered that such a noble young man should don the garb of poor friar. His mother, with mingled feelings of joy and sorrow, hastened to Naples to see her son.
In an attempt to prevent Theodora’s interference in Thomas’s choice, the Dominicans arranged for Thomas to be removed to Rome, and then to Paris. However, on the way to Rome, his brothers who were soldiers under the Emperor Frederick, following their mother’s instructions, seized him as he was drinking from a spring near the town of Aquapendente and took him back to his parents, who were then at the castle of Monte San Giovanni Campano. He was held for in the family homes at Monte San Giovanni and Roccasecca in an attempt to prevent him from assuming the Dominican habit, and to convince him to become a Benedictine. Political concerns prevented the Pope from ordering Thomas’s release, which extended his detention, during which he spent tutoring his sisters and communicating with members of the Dominican Order. Family members became desperate to dissuade Thomas, who remained determined to join the Dominicans. At one point, two of his brothers hired a prostitute to seduce him, but he drove her away, wielding a burning stick. According to legend, that night two angels appeared to him as he slept and strengthened his resolve to remain celibate.
The time spent in captivity was not lost. His mother relented somewhat, after the first burst of anger and grief; the Dominicans were allowed to provide him with new habits, and through the kind offices of his sister he procured some books — the Holy Scriptures, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and the “Sentences” of Peter Lombard. After eighteen months or two years spent in prison, either because his mother saw that the hermit’s prophecy would eventually be fulfilled or because his brothers feared the threats of Innocent IV and Frederick II, he was set at liberty, being lowered in a basket into the arms of the Dominicans, who were delighted to find that during his captivity “he had made as much progress as if he had been in a studium generale.”
Thomas immediately pronounced his vows, and his superiors sent him to Rome. Innocent IV examined closely into his motives in joining the Friars Preachers, dismissed him with a blessing, and forbade any further interference with his vocation. In 1245, Thomas was sent to study at the University of Paris‘s Faculty of Arts where he met Dominican scholar Albertus Magnus, then Chair of Theology at the College of St. James.
The theological program Thomas entered in Paris was a grueling one, with the master’s typically attained in the early thirties. Extensive and progressively more intensive study of the scriptures, Old and New Testament, and of the summary of Christian doctrine called the Sentences which was compiled by the twelfth century Bishop of Paris, Peter Lombard. These close textual studies were complemented by public disputations and the even more unruly quodlibetal questions. With the faculty modeled more or less on the guilds, Thomas served a long apprenticeship, established his competence in stages, and eventually after a public examination was named a master and then gave his inaugural lecture.
When Albertus was sent by his superiors to teach at the new studium generale at Cologne in 1248, Thomas followed him, declining Pope Innocent IV‘s offer to appoint him as abbot of Monte Cassino as a Dominican. Albertus then appointed the reluctant Thomas magister studentium. In the schools Thomas’s humility and taciturnity were misinterpreted as signs of dullness, but when Albert had heard his brilliant defense of a difficult thesis, he exclaimed: “We call this young man a dumb ox, but his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.”
Thomas taught in Cologne as an apprentice professor, instructing students in the books of the Old Testament and writing Expositio super Isaiam ad litteram (Literal Commentary on Isaiah), Postilla super Ieremiam (Commentary on Jeremiah), and Postilla super Threnos (Commentary on Lamentations). Then in 1252, he returned to Paris to study for a master’s degree in theology. He lectured on the Bible as an apprentice professor, and upon becoming a baccalaureus Sententiarum (bachelor of the Sentences); he devoted his final three years of study to commenting on Peter Lombard‘s Sentences. In the first of his four theological syntheses, Thomas composed a massive commentary on the Sentences entitled Scriptum super libros Sententiarium (Commentary on the Sentences). Aside from his master’s writings, he wrote De ente et essentia (On Being and Essence) for his fellow Dominicans in Paris.
In the spring of 1256, Thomas was appointed regent master in theology at Paris, and one of his first works upon assuming this office was Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem (Against Those Who Assail the Worship of God and Religion), defending the mendicant orders which had come under attack by William of Saint-Amour. During his tenure from 1256 to 1259, Thomas wrote numerous works, including Questiones disputatae de veritate (Disputed Questions on Truth), which was a collection of twenty-nine disputed questions on aspects of faith and the human condition and which was prepared for the public university debates he presided over on Lent and Advent. He also wrote Quaestiones quodlibetales (Quodlibetal Questions), a collection of his responses to questions posed to him by the academic audience; and both Expositio super librum Boethii De trinitate (Commentary on Boethius’s De trinitate) and Expositio super librum Boethii De hebdomadibus (Commentary on Boethius’s De hebdomadibus), commentaries on the works of 6th century philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius. By the end of his regency, Thomas was working on one of his most famous works, Summa contra Gentiles.
Around 1259, Thomas returned to Naples where he lived until he went to in Orvieto in September 1261. In Orvieto, he was appointed conventual lector, in charge of the education of friars unable to attend a studium generale. During his stay in Orvieto, Thomas completed his Summa contra Gentiles, and wrote the Catena Aurea (The Golden Chain). He also wrote the liturgy for the newly created feast of Corpus Christi and produced works for Pope Urban IV concerning Greek Orthodox theology, e.g. Contra errores graecorum (Against the Errors of the Greeks). In 1265 he was ordered by the Dominican Chapter of Agnani to establish a studium for the Order in Rome at the priory of Santa Sabina. He remained there from 1265 until he was called back to Paris in 1268. It was while in Rome that Thomas began his most famous work, Summa Theologica, and wrote a variety of other works, such as his unfinished Compendium Theologiae and Responsio ad fr. Ioannem Vercellensem de articulis 108 sumptis ex opere Petri de Tarentasia (Reply to Brother John of Vercelli Regarding 108 Articles Drawn from the Work of Peter of Tarentaise). In his position as head of the studium, he conducted a series of important disputations on the power of God, which he compiled into his De potentia.
In 1268 the Dominican Order assigned Thomas to be regent master at the University of Paris for a second time, a position he held until the spring of 1272. Part of the reason for this sudden reassignment appears to have arisen from the rise of “Averroism” or “radical Aristotelianism” in the universities. “Averroisms” was the belief that there is no God, that the soul has two parts, one individual and one eternal; the world is eternal; the soul is not eternal. (During this period in history, Averroism was virtually synonymous with atheism.) In response to these perceived evils, Thomas wrote two works, one of them being De unitate intellectus, contra Averroistas (On the Unity of Intellect, against the Averroists) in which he blasts Averroism as incompatible with Christian doctrine. During his second regency, he finished the second part of the Summa and wrote De virtutibus and De aeternitate mundi, the latter of which dealt with controversial Averroist and Aristotelian beginninglessness of the world. Disputes with some important Franciscans such as Bonaventure and John Peckham conspired to make his second regency much more difficult and troubled than the first. A year before Thomas re-assumed the regency at the 1266–67 Paris disputations, Franciscan master William of Baglione accused Thomas of encouraging Averroists, calling him the “blind leader of the blind”. Thomas called these individuals the murmurantes (Grumblers). In reality, Thomas was deeply disturbed by the spread of Averroism and was angered when he discovered Siger of Brabant teaching Averroistic interpretations of Aristotle to Parisian students. On 10 December 1270, the bishop of Paris, Etienne Tempier, issued an edict condemning thirteen Aristotlelian and Averroistic propositions as heretical and excommunicating anyone who continued to support them. Many in the ecclesiastical community, the so-called Augustinians, were fearful that this introduction of Aristotelianism and the more extreme Averroism might somehow contaminate the purity of the Christian faith. In what appears to be an attempt to counteract the growing fear of Aristotelian thought, Thomas conducted a series of disputations between 1270 and 1272: De virtutibus in communi (On Virtues in General), De virtutibus cardinalibus (On Cardinal Virtues), De spe (On Hope).
In 1272 Thomas took leave from the University of Paris when the Dominicans from his home province called upon him to establish a studium generale wherever he liked and staff it as he pleased. He chose to establish the institution in Naples, and moved there to take his post as regent master. He took his time in Naples to work on the third part of the Summa while giving lectures on various religious topics. On 6 December 1273 Thomas was celebrating the Mass of St. Nicholas when, according to some, he heard Christ speak to him.
Christ asked him what he desired, being pleased with his meritorious life. Thomas replied “Only you Lord. Only you.” After this exchange something happened, but Thomas never spoke of it or wrote it down. Because of what he saw, he abandoned his routine and refused to dictate to his secretary, Reginald of Piperno. When Reginald begged him to get back to work, Thomas replied: “Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me,” And he seemed to be seriously ill. What exactly triggered Thomas’s change in behavior is believed to be some kind of supernatural experience of God. After taking to his bed, he did, however, recover some strength.
Looking to find a way to reunite the Eastern Orthodox churches with the Catholic Church (the Eastern Orthodox were excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church in A.D. 1054 over doctrinal disputes) Pope Gregory X convened the Second Council of Lyon to be held on 1 May 1274 and summoned Thomas to attend. At the meeting, Thomas’s work for Pope Urban IV concerning the Greeks, Contra errores graecorum, was to be presented. On his way to the Council, riding on a donkey along the Appian Way, he struck his head on the branch of a fallen tree and became seriously ill again. He was then quickly escorted to Monte Cassino to convalesce. After resting for a while, he set out again, but stopped at the Cistercian Fossanova Abbey after again falling ill. The Cistercian monks of Fossa Nuova pressed him to accept their hospitality, and he was conveyed to their monastery, on entering which he whispered to his companion: “This is my rest for ever and ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it” (Psalm 131:14). The monks nursed him for several days, and as he received his last rites, he prayed: “I receive Thee, ransom of my soul. For love of Thee have I studied and kept vigil, toiled, preached and taught…” He died on 7 March 1274.
When the devil’s advocate at his canonization process objected that there were no miracles, one of the cardinals answered, “Tot miraculis, quot articulis“—”there are as many miracles (in his life) as articles (in his Summa).” Fifty years after the death of Thomas, on 18 July 1323, Pope John XXII, seated in Avignon, pronounced Thomas a saint.
In a monastery at Naples, near the cathedral of St. Januarius, a cell in which he supposedly lived is still shown to visitors. His remains were placed in the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse in 1369. Between 1789 and 1974, they were held in Basilique de Saint-Sernin, Toulouse. In 1974, they were returned to the Church of the Jacobins, where they have remained ever since.
In the General Roman Calendar of 1962, in the Roman Catholic Church, Thomas was commemorated on 7 March, the day of death. However, in the General Roman Calendar of 1969, even though the norm in the Roman Catholic Church is to remember saints on the day of their death, Thomas’s memorial was transferred to 28 January, the date of the translation of his relics to Toulouse.
Saint Thomas Aquinas is honored with a feast day on the liturgical of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America on 28 January.
Luke describes the first day of Jesus’ ministry; how Jesus went into the synagogue and took the scroll of Isaiah and read a portion of it and then announced that the Kingdom of God had come – that it was for the here and now: for today. Today, we are looking at Matthew’s version of the start of Jesus’ ministry. Not necessarily the first day of his ministry as Luke offers us, but certainly an insight into the early days and weeks of his ministry. The message that Luke puts on Jesus’ lips, and the message that Matthew puts on Jesus’ lips, may be worded differently: but it’s the same message. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says this: “Turn away from your sins, because the Kingdom of heaven is near!” Now, these may sound very different, but actually the meaning of them is very similar.
Let’s think a bit more deeply about Matthew’s words here: “The Kingdom of heaven is near!”
This is quite a difficult verse, because what does the word ‘near’ actually mean? Does it mean that the kingdom of God is here, now (actually present among us) or that it is almost here, just over the horizon, as it were? If we take an honest look at the state of the world today, let alone 2000 years ago, it would be hard to argue that the kingdom of God is here in its totality, and yet we do want to believe that it is, in some sense, already here.
Perhaps Jesus is not announcing an actual time when the Kingdom of heaven has come, like an hour that can be read on a clock or a date that can be marked in a diary. Perhaps Jesus is instead alerting us to the possibility of encountering the kingdom of God at any given moment in historical time if we repent and believe. Whenever you repent, whenever you believe, the time has come for you, and the Kingdom of heaven has drawn near. That can be a one-off moment, a date marked on the calendar when you became a Christian – but it is also a continuous activity, that we may repeat many times each day, when we continually repent of our wrongdoings, when we continually struggle to believe. And, as we do, the Kingdom of heaven is fulfilled in us as we enter more deeply into the eternal truth of God.
So having proclaimed the essence of this eternal encounter, Jesus is now in a position to approach individuals and ask them to live out that call in their own lives. And so we see this first such encounter, in verse 18, with Simon and Andrew and then, in verse 21, with James and John.
In Matthew’s account of the call of the first disciples, we don’t really learn anything about these four men except that they are fishermen by trade. The social background of these four men is not important. All we see is four men being taken away from their personal and professional lives in response to the call of Jesus upon them.
And what are they called to? Jesus uses a really odd metaphor here. “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” The older versions of the Bible have it as “I will make you fishers of men”.
We are so used to this phrase, we don’t even think of it as a bit odd, but actually, I think it is…
There is a similar passage in Jeremiah 16:16 – “I am now sending for many fishermen, says the Lord, and they shall catch them”. But in that context, the fishermen are invading armies who will fish for the unfaithful people of Israel and destroy them!
Secondly, what happens to a fish when it is caught? It dies! Does our fishing for people result in their spiritual death? Is the church full of spiritually dead people?
Thirdly, a fish doesn’t want to be caught and is pulled on board the boat unwillingly. So are we to force people into church and force them into a relationship with God through which they will only encounter spiritual death?
When you break this metaphor down, it really is a bit odd and doesn’t really seem to speak of kindness and compassion in evangelism and mission! So let’s try and get below the skin of this call and try to read it with fresh eyes and without all the preconceptions that we bring to it about evangelism and mission. If we read it another way, I think we get a better insight into what follows throughout the Gospel stories.
These first disciples would probably have heard of Jesus: he was, after all, walking round Galilee proclaiming the kingdom of God and as Galilean fishermen, they would probably have either seen him action or at the very least have heard about him. Galilee was a small place and, undoubtedly, Jesus was making a name for himself, so it is very likely that these fishermen would have been aware of him.
They would also, perhaps, have heard of John the Baptist’s proclamation that Jesus was mightier than he was. And, as good Jews, they would probably have been aware of the Jeremiah 16:16 verse where spiritual fishing meant overcoming God’s enemies.
So what would have been going through their heads when they decided to leave all behind and follow this new, radical teacher who had come back to Galilee from out of the wilderness? Power and authority!
These fishermen were powerless men, fairly poor men, looking forward only to a life of daily grind to earn a living under the regime of the Roman Empire. These fishermen weren’t part of the social elite. They weren’t the movers and shakers in society who were able to exercise political power. They weren’t the type of people who had any authority in society whatsoever. And here was a man in their midst, a man declared by John as a mighty judge, now using a phrase that seems to indicate that those who follow him will share in his power and authority and right to judge others.
What an attractive proposition for these powerless fishermen who were grinding out a living under Roman occupation. Perhaps Peter and Andrew, James and John fundamentally misunderstood the call of Jesus. Perhaps they heard it in a completely different way than we read it in today. Perhaps they heard this, in the light of Jeremiah’s prophecy and John the Baptist’s ministry, as a call to a share in authority and believed it to be the way out of their poverty and powerlessness. Here was a call to a new life in which they would have power and authority and would be respected by everyone as a result.
They didn’t really know who Jesus was, and they didn’t understand the implications of his ministry, but they had a hunch that following him would be the way for them to achieve power, authority, glory and respect. And, of course, that was a fundamental misunderstanding that stayed with them throughout the rest of their time with Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels: fighting over who would be sitting on Jesus’ left and right in heaven; refusing to serve others but wanting to be served; not understanding that they had to die in order to live; shooing away the children from Jesus so they could have more time with him; enjoying the entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; rejoicing at the turning over of the tables in the Temple…and then being utterly distraught at the crucifixion; running away from the authorities; refusing to stand with Jesus in his hour of need; going back to their fishing boats after the crucifixion.
Peter and Andrew, James and John were called by Jesus to fish for people and the ambiguity of that phrase led them to fundamentally misunderstand their call and that resulted in the spiritual struggles that they had to work through over the coming years.
I think we need to redeem this passage for what it is rather than just see in it a simplistic call to mission and evangelism, which is what we have turned it into in the modern-day church.
The call of Jesus on our lives is completely counter-cultural; it goes completely against our expectations of what it should be, it turns our whole world on its head. Following Jesus does not take us where we expect to go…
We might think that becoming a Christian or coming to church will result in one way of living, but when we truly give our lives over to Jesus, things often take a different turn altogether.
I don’t think it would be too much to say that there is a certain shock and emotional violence attached to Christian living; something that we see in the lives of so many biblical characters. Jesus is driven out into the wilderness, where he has to encounter emptiness and solitude caught in a space between the beasts and the angels. John the Baptist is violently taken out of the story, first imprisoned and then beheaded, so that Jesus can announce a moment of crisis for each one of us as we have to choose to engage with this moment of fulfillment in our lives that will ultimately turn our world upside down. Heaven and earth unite in the person of Jesus Christ. The heavens are ripped apart in a most unexpected way, just as the curtain in the temple will apart in the most unexpected way a few years later. And the same is true of the disciples, these first four fishermen, who started to follow Jesus because it would give them a share of power and authority.
But power and authority in the Christian life are never on the agenda. Of course, we all want to experience power and authority and be respected for who we are – but we will be taken the way of the cross instead and will be called to die in order to live.
Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will help you fish for people”. The church throughout history has taken this as a call to mission and evangelism – and so it is. But underlying it is the personal challenge that all of us face when we become Christians that Jesus will take us in a direction that we least expect.
This part of Matthew’s Gospel should leave us feeling a little uncomfortable about what it means to be a Christian. We are not called to an easy life, we are not called to power and authority – but to a tough life that will constantly surprise us and challenge us. Jesus constantly calls his disciples, constantly calls each one of us, to a new way of living – and the disciples constantly misunderstand what that means for themselves and perhaps we can be a bit guilty of the same misunderstanding.
And so we are called to constantly assess why we are followers of Christ and what it is that we want to get out of this lifestyle we have chosen.
Are we seeking honor and glory and power and authority and respect? Or are we prepared to walk the way of the cross and all that this will mean for us in our everyday lives?
There is a great deal of personal reflection that comes with being a priest. Amongst other reasons, this involves a healthy mind, honest and moral cleanliness through daily prayer and discernment. There is a great deal of worthiness that comes along with being a priest, which involves moral living and daily self-reflection through prayer. We were created in His image and we administer the Holy Sacraments of Our Lord and Savior. We are the voice of his word as we share the Good News through our ministry. To be in a position to administer the sacraments is a great honor and one of worth not to be taken lightly.
I am reminded of how John felt the day Christ asked to be baptized. I am reminded of how John saw this as an honor. But John thought of whether he was truly worthy enough. I can imagine John standing in front of Jesus saying. You want me to baptize you? While with that look of awe in his eyes.
Matthew 3: 13-14 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter his, saying. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” For if Jesus thought that John wasn’t worthy or capable, he would have gone to someone else. I mean after all, this was Jesus and he wanted John to baptize him, and John alone. Matthew 3: 15 Jesus replied, “Let us do so now; it is proper for us to do this and to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
The first time I administered the Sacrament of Holy Baptism was on my granddaughter. I thought for sure I had this. After all, it’s just my granddaughter, what could go wrong? As I began to prepare for this event, I prayed asking God for guidance and asking myself if I was worthy. I kept asking in prayer, do I uphold all of the duties to which I was ordained to uphold? Have I been a good and faithful servant to God and his people? I don’t mind saying that I began to break out into a cold sweat. All along I kept wondering, what’s the big deal behind baptism, or how stressful could it be? Up until this time I had officiated at multiple weddings and a few funerals, and had already celebrated mass, but something told me this was different. I’d be baptizing my granddaughter in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I would anoint her as one of God’s own. Wow! what an undertaking! Me, blessing and anointing Alanna with the Holy Spirit. Me of all people! In the name of God, the Father? I should have been elated but I was scared, and I kept wondering if I was still worthy enough in mind and spirit to undertake something as close and dear to God as to bring one of his new followers into the word with water and oil.
I continued to pray; I continued to sweat; and I continued to shake. I continued to hear the words of John in my mind and I could almost feel his presence. John 1: 26-27 “I baptize you with water.” John replied,” but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” How did John get through this? I finally realized he got through it through his faith. His belief in Christ and he did what he was asked to do. So after all of the worry, I too, did what I was asked to do, and baptized my granddaughter in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, with faith and assurance in Christ.
John 1: 29-34 the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me. I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, The man on whom you see the spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, I have seen and I will testify that this is the Son of God.” In those words, John was assured of his worthiness and the strength of his faith.
- Jesus came to John the Baptist,
In Judea long ago,
And was baptized by immersion
In the River Jordan’s flow.
- “To fulfill the law,” said Jesus,
When the Baptist questioned why,
“And to enter with my Father
In the kingdom up on high.”
- Now we know that we must also
Witness faith in Jesus’ word,
Be baptized to show obedience,
As was Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen