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Keep the Faith! St. Stephen the Martyr ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading 1 ACTS 6:8-10; 7:54-59

Responsorial Psalm PS 31:3CD-4, 6 AND 8AB, 16BC AND 17

Gospel MT 10:17-22

Liturgical colour: Red.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ!  We have just celebrated both Christmas eve, and only yesterday, we celebrated Christmas day itself, the Wonderful feast of the birth of Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour. We have reflected upon the little newborn babe in the crib,  we have sung “silent night” and “Hark the Herald Angel’s Sing”, amongst other hymns, Carol’s, and no doubt festive non religious tunes of all varieties as well, and we have heard the tidings of peace, joy and salvation to all the world. And suddenly today, in stark contrast, we are clothed in blood-red vestments, we hear of the bloody death of Stephen, and of Jesus’ warnings of persecution, death, and hatred for his name’s sake. So, Is there a connection between Christmas and the first Holy martyr Stephen? How are we to make sense of this dramatic sudden contrast? Does it mean we shouldn’t take the beauty and the peace of Christmas too seriously? Does it mean that Christmas is merely a wonderful story, but that the reality is indeed extremely different…?

Not at all!! The long tradition of the Church in celebrating the memorial of St. Stephen the day after Christmas does not serve to demote Christmas in any way whatsoever, but to continue it, to strengthen it, and to manifest more clearly in our hearts the important meaning of the Christmas celebration. Jesus became mankind, he became born as an earthly child, so to in in his adult earthly years, to sacrifice himself for us and for our salvation.  He wanted as he wants today and always, for us to give him his rightful place within our hearts.  So after Christmas, the birth of the small Jesus, we contemplate also the birth of the Church,  because Our Lord was and is the Church, he was the church as a child.

Now when Jesus comes to dwell in our hearts, that cannot remain without effect upon us.  When Our Lord  and Saviour, who can do all things dwells within us, he transforms our hearts, and thus makes a difference in our attitudes towards one another and toward life.  St. Stephen’s life is an excellent example of this. As one of the first deacons he had a double task. He was assigned to the service of the tables, to the “service of love” to the poor, so that the Apostles would have more time for their preaching. But Stephen also had the gift of preaching, and so he would also perform the ministry of truth. Stephen, trusting in Jesus, devoted himself whole-heartedly to the tasks entrusted into him. He was stoned to death because his preaching of Jesus as the Son of God was considered blasphemy. Now, we might think that if Stephen, had been far more considerate of the understanding and passion of his Jewish brothers for the oneness of God, and had spoken more carefully about Jesus, that he would not have been stoned, that maybe he could have continued to preach about Jesus, and that by doing this,he could have done more good….

But St. Stephen make no compromises concerning the truth. He proclaims the Jesus who revealed himself and the one truth whom he had come to know. But he does not proclaim this truth by way of any violence or hatred, but in instead in the acts of love and self-giving. Until the last moment he forgives the men who kill him. As Jesus prayed for those who killed him, so St. Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not count this sin against them!” And his witness, his death was fruitful for us as members of the Church. The remembrance of this witness, for example, probably helped Saul later to accept Christ’s message as the truth, and to later become the great Apostle Paul.

St. Stephen is an excellent example to us of true and unwavering faithfulness to Jesus, an example of holding fast to the truth in love. This is an example of the way we all should and want to go within our lives. This path of truth and salvation is not always easy. It is not always easy to avoid deviating from the correct path in one way or another. Sometimes one hears that faithful Christians, in order to be tolerant of others, must abandon the claim to truth, that they must not proclaim or hold the faith as truth or even as true, for that to some, may lead to intolerance and to hatred. But the example of St. Stephen shows us clearly that the world needs the witness of the truth, and that it is possible to preach this truth with steadfast conviction and yet without  any violence or hate, but in the acts of love and self-giving.

Let us pray to Jesus, who came into this world as a child for our sakes, that we have the courage and the wisdom to profess our faith in our family life, in our workplaces, in our society, wherever we are, in a convinced and convincing loving manner, as St. Stephen did. Amen.

Peace Has Come! The Rt. Rev. Jay Van Lieshout, OPI

Blessings and peace to you my brothers and sisters on this most auspicious solemnity of the nativity of our Lord!  It is amazing how swiftly the seasons have flown; last Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, Kingdom Tide, then Advent and now we once again rejoice in the birth of our Savior.  As I sit and reflect on God’s message given us through these seasons, I am drawn to the promise of each Sunday in Advent: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.  I am especially inspired by the Sunday set right at the cusp of Christmas tide, the promise of Peace (I would like to mention in some traditions the 4th Sunday in Advent is Love; though seemingly different, Peace and Love are sides of the same coin, for how can you have Love without Peace, and without Peace how can Love exist?)

Isaiah (9:6) promises the Messiah would come as a Son of Man, God’s son, given to us and all authority in heaven and earth will rest upon His shoulders and He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.  How wonderful a gift to have a Lord who brings to the world not extravagance and glitz, but the simple gift of Peace.  As I reflect on this gift, I consider the biblical concept of Peace (in Hebrew salom) and its four equally glorious aspects.  Peace reflects wholeness in body and health, harmony in relationship with each other and with the Creator, prosperity and fulfillment in spiritual and worldly life and the absence of conflict, war and strife.  When greet one another or extend our farewells and extend our wish for Peace in their lives, what better blessing can there be?  What better way to show agape love than through extending our wish for Peace!  And from where does all Peace emanate but from our Heavenly Father and Creator, who so loves us His children as to send down the ultimate emissary and vessel of everlasting Peace, His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Peace came down from heaven in the form of this precious child, the world was seemingly devoid of Peace.  It was a  nation occupied by foreign forces, civil rulers fighting over power, spiritual leaders fighting for control, and all three suppressing the people so as to procure and maintain wealth and power. Turmoil predominated, the people (especially the poor and weak) were just expendable pawns in the political, social and religious power plays.  The tree of Jesse was seemingly extirpated by evil, and yet out of this darkness, it brought forth a shoot, a Son was given, a child who’s light would bring about change, validate all people, disburse the wicked and topple corrupt governments through acts of Love and the gift of heavenly Peace.  Rejoice, Alleluia!

Brothers and Sisters, today I look around and hang my head.  For even as the church bells chime commemorating the Savior’s birth and its ancient promise of Peace and good will, just as in the old familiar carol, I say “There is no peace on earth… for hate is strong and mocks the song of Peace on earth”.  We too live in trouble times, reminiscent of a time when a small child was born two millennia ago.  The weak are persecuted, people are marginalized, civic and religious leaders fight for money, power and control.  Lies are the new truth, animosity is norm and self-righteousness is the new Gospel.  Just the other day I saw a post where a christian religious leader bought an expensive car and lavish gifts for his wife (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars) and people defended this extravagant display of wealth born from the hard labor of his parishioners even though members of the community go hungry or homeless.   Similarly, a bishop publicly posted on social media animosity towards gay priests, even though his fellow priests who have been supportive of him through the years happened to be gay.  How disheartening it is to see such things cloud the light, the good work, the Good News of God’s church.

Life is dynamic, yet the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Today, just in times past, children of God are wandering through life like sheep lost in desert looking for their shepherd to bring them home to peace and safety.  We as the Church, must stand up and be this shepherd for Christ, gathering up these lost sheep, feeding and caring for them both body and soul.  Like St. Peter, we are called to be the rocks on which Christ’s Church is built, a church which is strong, resilient and steadfast against the temporal tempests which blow through life.  Our lives and corporal acts of worship must be steadfast beacons of Peace, Love, Hope and Joy which guide the lost sheep to the verdant pastures of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  Let us rejoice in the rituals and traditions handed down to us from our church fathers and mothers.  It is time to once again live the solemnities, feasts, celebrations and religious ceremonies which are the life blood of His church throughout the year. We must eschew the trappings of populous spirituality rich in its entertainment value and poor in substance, instead focusing worship being the promises of the advent season upon which the word of God is inscribed and from which the Light of Christ shines forth: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.

Brothers and Sisters, the world needs the promise of our Lord’s nativity  now more than ever; not just on December 25th, but each and every day throughout the year.  We must carry the Peace and Love which comes from the Christ child in our hearts and offer salom to every person we meet and to all whom we bid farewell. We must remember, WE are the Church, we are the bearers of Peace and Love in the world, shepherds to God’s lost sheep and each time we open our salom to those we meet, especially the poor, the weak, the ostracized and those different from us, we pay homage to the Christ Child Himself, born of Mary, swaddled and laid in a manger.

 

Get Ready! ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

 

Reading 1: BAR 5:1-9

R Psalm: PS 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6.

Reading 2:  PHIL 1:4-6, 8-11

Gospel: LK 3:1-6

Liturgical colour: Purple/violet

 

Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Baruch, was a Hebrew prophet who isn’t very well known as such, and whom we heard in today’s First Reading. He had a strong sense that things in the world would be different.

The people suffered because their leaders were so painfully inadequate – and sadly, this still happens in our own world today.  Both priests and kings, religious and secular leaders, totally    unwilling to trust God and God’s ways, were leading the nation into unnecessary suffering and to eventual destruction.

Baruch connected peace with integrity, honour with devotedness.

Along with Isaiah, whom Luke quoted in the Gospel reading, Baruch was saturated with God’s vision for his world. They both had a sense of what life could be like if genuine concern for the common-good of all replaced the self-interest and national interest of the powerful and the rich; and if a sense of the inviolable dignity of every person replaced violence and the culture of death.

For that to happen, people’s eyes needed to be opened – to see that many familiar and unquestioned ways of doing things were not necessarily the only ways, or the best ways. People needed to be educated, their consciences formed, and their sense of mutual responsibility sharpened and activated.

The need is universal, as important now as then.

Six centuries after Baruch and Isaiah, John the Baptist appeared on the scene. Luke summed up his striking entry onto the stage in today’s Gospel:

The Word of God came to John, son of Zachariah, in the wilderness… and he went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John believed that the power of sin could be broken, not in some distant long=term to come, but immediately, by one who would follow in his footsteps.  But people first needed to share his pain, and his distress at the way things were. Then they needed to become aware of their own often unconscious sharing in the destructive networks, relationships and customary ways of doing things that destroyed their own human dignity as they undermined the dignity of others. And thirdly, they needed to find the motivating power and the energy to do things differently: they needed to share John’s hope for change and his confident sense of God.  John sensed that God was moving… God – the source of being, the creator of the universe, the life-force of all that lives – was moving. Indeed, unknown to John, God had stepped into the flow of human history in order to engage with it from within. God had taken human flesh and blood, and become incarnate in Jesus.

It is so sad in today’s world, that the true meaning of Christmas is often forgotten, and for many has replaced the awe-inspiring mystery of incarnation of Our Lord and saviour, with commercialisation, with Santa Claus, and with songs such and ideas like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.  We need to Prepare a way for the Lord, we need to make his paths straight. This is a call to active commitment in the true reason of Christmas…

God’s Kingdom is possible. But we do not get captured by that realisation as we ought in the midst of noise, frantic movement or distractions of the world.  During the coming days of the remainder of the advent season, it is important that we try our hardest to construct some quiet time in the midst of all the noise; and to find some stillness in the midst of the frantic distractions of the world, and to focus on the coming of Christ amongst us.

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord~ The Rev. Deacon Dollie Wilkinson, OPI

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus is celebrated by Christians on August 6, 2018. and is considered a major feast. The Transfiguration of Jesus is an event reported in the New Testament in which Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant. He and three of his apostles go up on Mount Tabor, on which Jesus begins to shine with bright rays of light. The prophets Moses and Elijah appear next to Him and He speaks with them. Jesus is then called “Son” by a voice in the sky, God the Father.

Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.””

We should note that the Transfiguration was experienced by Peter, James and John—not by the other Apostles or disciples or followers of Jesus—not even by Mary His Mother. Jesus does not always share with us his reasoning about why He does things and so we are invited to wonder—as surely did the other followers of Jesus. And even though Jesus tells these three not to share the vision with anyone until He, Jesus, has been raised from the dead, surely the others were aware that something had happened. We can try to imagine what answer these three would have given when the others asked: what happened up there?

This Feast of the Transfiguration invites us to look at the mystery of Jesus Christ, living among us. This Jesus is truly God and yet truly human. At the time of His baptism and then at the time of the Transfiguration, the Divine breaks through and a voice is heard: “This is my beloved Son.” The Baptism of Jesus is the beginning of His public ministry, but it is also a baptism into death, a baptism into our human condition, a baptism into the will of the Father. The Transfiguration echoes that baptism: it is a preparation for the death of the Lord, a preparation to see Him die in our human condition, a preparation for his complete accepting of the will of His father.

In the Book of Daniel. we are given a vision of heaven that is full of imagination and images and symbols. Daniel is one of those who could see the Son of Man and know that a Savior was coming. The Prophets in general were able to see that God’s love for His people would require a Savior to come. What that would mean was not yet clear. What was clear was the sinfulness of humanity and the love of the Father. Just as in the Transfiguration, we have the divinity of Jesus breaking through into our human situation, so also the Prophets could see that God must once again break into our human condition to draw us to Himself.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

As I watched: Thrones were set up and the Ancient One took his throne. His clothing was bright as snow, and the hair on his head as white as wool; his throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. A surging stream of fire flowed out from where he sat; thousands upon thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads attended him. The court was convened and the books were opened. As the visions during the night continued, I saw: One like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”

The second reading comes from the Second Letter of Peter and teaches us that the Transfiguration is given to us so that we can know the power and the majesty of the Lord Jesus. The declaration from the Father, “This is my son,” is unique and helps all believe that truly, Jesus is God and has come to save us.

2 Peter 1:16-19

Beloved: we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

For us, the Transfiguration draws us deeper into the mystery of Jesus. We want to believe that God sent another Prophet or another Anointed one. In some ways, yes, but this Prophet, this Anointed One, is God Himself, present in our human condition, One like us in all things but sin. Which is a clear sign that God does love us!

Taking the Journey: Palm Sunday~The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

 

Liturgical colour: Red.

The Procession with Psalms=Gospel: MK 11.1=10

Reading 1: IS 50:4=7

R Psalm: PS 22: 8=9,17=18,19=20,23=24

Gospel: MK 14: 1=15:47

As most people who probably know me well are aware, I am a person who likes to travel on journeys, whether for ministry or to visit sacred or beautiful places of the Lord’s creation. But the journey undertaken on Palm Sunday, which we celebrate today, was a journey of both joy and celebration, but also of suffering.

As Jesus rode into a Jerusalem on a donkey to attend passover,many crowds gathered. The crowds rejoiced, waving palms, laying them in the Lord’s path, and many also laid down their cloaks to the King of Kings.

However, amongst the rejoicing crowds shouting ‘Hosanna!’ were also the Pharisees and Jesus knew that this journey would also lead to his death for our salivation, only five days later. This was certainly an extremely important journey and was filled by both the rejoicing and waving of palm with the shouting of ‘Hosanna!’, and the suffering of our dear Lord Jesus knowing that these very people who today rejoiced as he entered Jerusalem would also be the people who would condemn him to physical death on the cross. Jesus knew this was the will and plan of his Heavenly Father for our salvation from sin and death, he knew what had to happen and our Lord accepted this.

Today’s we rejoice with the Lord at his arrival in Jerusalem to attend the Passover, and we also share in his sorrow and suffering as his brothers and sisters, for what the Lord was to suffer for our sake. Yet, we also rejoice at the fact the Lord Jesus loves us so much that he was willing and prepared to undertake this journey on our behalf.

Of course, there are many types of journeys that we can undertake in our lives, but no journey of ours can ever compare to this journey of our dear Lord and Saviour.

Taking a journey may not always mean travelling, a kind of journey can also be something unexpected which we deal with in our lives and situations in which we may find ourselves. Faith and trust in the Lord is also a kind of journey.

Today, I myself shall be undertaking a type of journey, for today, I have surgery. What a fantastic day today is to put myself in the Lord’s loving care. I would love to think that spiritually, even if not physically, that I am walking alongside our Lord as he enters Jerusalem today, and to remain walking by his side all the way to the cross. Undertaking the journey of rejoicing and of suffering together. How wonderful that is to my heart, how this thought uplifts my spirit! And just as the people of Jerusalem rejoiced today with shouts of ‘Hosanna!’, I shall whilst on my journey today, will also be doing the same within my heart and soul today!

‘Hosanna in the highest to the King of Kings!’.

 

Let us pray:

Thank you for sending your Son and paving the way for our lives to be set free through Jesus’ death on the cross. Thank you for what this day of Palm Sunday stands for=The beginning of Holy Week, the start of the journey towards the power of the Cross, the victory of the Resurrection, and the rich truth that Our Lord Jesus truly is our King of Kings. We praise you, we bless you Lord! Thank you that you reign supreme and that we are conquerors through the gift of Christ.

In the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

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Fishers of Men! ~ The Rev. Dcn. Dollie Wilkinson, OPI

As I watched my old house being torn down a few years ago, so many memories came rushing in. The joy of bringing my first little girl home from the hospital, on a heart monitor because she had Gastro-esophageal reflux, which caused her to turn blue from losing her breath quite often. Or bringing her younger sister home a few short years later, and watching this very precocious girl, try to not only keep up with her older sister, but her older cousins, all of whom seemed to think our home was the fun place to be. Then so many years later, bringing home my granddaughter, and watching her take her first steps, being so afraid she would slip and fall on our hardwood floors. There are so many memories in this one house, that some would wonder why we (my family and I), would readily abandon it and seek somewhere else to live, to create new memories. But in Mark 1:14-20, this is exactly what Jesus is asking four young men to do, leave what they know, where they are comfortable, and have known all their lives, to follow Him and become something more.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As He went a little farther, He saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”

As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon, Andrew, James, and John. And called to them. There were no questions, no goodbyes. They just simply dropped their nets, and left to follow Jesus. Now if it were me, and I suspect most of you, I would be filled with questions. Like, “Where are we going? What will we do? How long will we be gone? What do I need to take? Where will we stay?” But this conversation doesn’t take place in today’s gospel. Jesus does not offer a map, an itinerary, or a destination, only an invitation. This is not the type of journey you can prepare for. It’s not about planning and organizing, making lists, or packing supplies. It’s just not that easy. If anything this journey is about leaving things behind……to leave behind our nets, our boats, and all that seems familiar. In Psalm 62:5-8 we are encouraged to put our trust and hope in God for this journey.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.”

So Simon and Andrew were casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. Day after day it was the same thing; the same sea, the same net, the same boat. Day after day it was wind, water, fish, sore muscles, and tired bodies. They probably grew up watching their dad and granddad fishing, watching their future life, and how they too would spend their time. Cast the net, and pull it in. If you are not casting the net, then you probably sat in the boat mending the net. That’s what James and John were doing. Casting and mending, always……casting and mending. You know about those days, right? How many of us go through our days on autopilot, feeling as if we are stuck in some time loop?

We may not fish for a living but we certainly know about casting and mending. Days that all seem the same, spent doing the same things every day to make a living, to feed our family, to pay the bills, to gain security and get to retirement, to hold our family together, make our marriage work, and to grow up our children. Casting and mending to gain the things we want; a house, a car, books, clothes, a vacation. Casting and mending to earn a reputation, gain approval, establish status. And to make our way through another day of loneliness, sadness, or illness. Casting and mending are realities of life. They are also the circumstances in which Jesus comes to us, the way in which we hear the call to new life, and the place where we are changed and the ordinary becomes the extraordinary.

Those future disciples of Jesus, Simon and Andrew, James and John, are not looking for Him. They are too busy with the nets. It is another day of casting and mending. They may not have even noticed Jesus but He not only sees them; He speaks to them. Jesus has a way of showing up in the ordinary places of life and interrupting our daily routines of casting and mending nets. That’s exactly what He did in the lives of these four gentleman. And that’s what He can do for your life and mine. “Follow me” is Jesus’ invitation to a new life. If these four fishermen accept the invitation, their lives will forever be different. They will be different. They will no longer catch just fish. They will “fish for people”. When Jesus says this, He is describing the transformation of their lives, not simply a job catching new members or followers. Whatever your life is, however you spend your time, there is in that life Jesus’ call to “Follow me.”

That’s the hard part for most of us. We’re pretty good at accumulating and clinging but not so good at letting go. More often than not our spiritual growth involves some kind of letting go. We never get anywhere new as long as we’re unwilling to leave where we are. We accept Jesus’ invitation to follow, not by packing up, but by letting go. “Follow me” is both the invitation to and the promise of new life. So what are the nets that entangle us? What are the little boats (or old houses) that contain our life? Who are the people from whom we seek identity, value, and approval? What do we need to let go of and leave behind, so that we might follow Him? Please don’t think this is simply about changing careers, disowning our family, or moving to a new town. It is about the freedom to be fully ourselves, and in so being, discover God’s plan for us. We need to let go so that our life may be changed, so that we can now travel in a new direction, so that we may be open to receive the beauty of God’s promises. When we let go, everything is transformed. That’s why Jesus could tell these four gentlemen they would still be fishermen. But now they would fish for people. They wouldn’t become something they weren’t already, but they would be changed. They would more authentically be who they already are – Fishers of men!

Saint Margaret of Hungary

Margaret, the daughter of King Bela IV, and Queen Mary Lascaris of Hungary, was offered to God before her birth, in petition that the country would be delivered from the terrible scourge of the Tartars. The prayer having been answered in 1242, the king and queen made good their promise by placing the rich and beautiful three-year-old in the Dominican convent at Vesprim. Here, in company with other children of nobility, she was trained in the arts thought fitting for royalty.

Margaret was not content with simply living in the house of God; she demanded the religious habit–and received it–at the age of four. Furthermore, she took upon herself the austerities practiced by the other sisters–fasting, hairshirts, the discipline (scourge), and night vigils. She soon learned the Divine Office by heart and chanted it happily to herself as she went about her play. She chose the least attractive duties of the nuns for herself. She would starve herself to keep her spirit humble. No one but Margaret seemed to take seriously the idea that she would one day make profession and remain as a sister, for it would be of great advantage to her father if she were to make a wise marriage.

This question arose seriously when Margaret was 12. She responded in surprise. She said that she had been dedicated to God, even before her birth, and that she intended to remain faithful to that promise. Some years later her father built for her a convent on the island in the Danube between Buda and Pest. To settle the matter of her vocation, here she pronounced her vows to the master general of the order, Blessed Humbert of the Romans, in 1255, and took the veil in 1261.

Again, when Margaret was 18, her father made an attempt to sway her from her purpose, because King Ottokar of Bohemia, hearing of her beauty, had come seeking her hand. He even obtained a dispensation from the pope and approached Margaret with the permission. Margaret replied as she had previously, “I esteem infinitely more the King of Heaven and the inconceivable happiness of possessing Jesus Christ than the crown offered me by the King of Bohemia.” Having established that she was not interested in any throne but a heavenly one, she proceeded with great joy to live an even more fervent religious life than she had before.

Margaret’s royal parentage was, of course, a matter of discussion in the convent. But the princess managed to turn such conversation away from herself to the holy lives of the saints who were related to her by blood–King Saint Stephen, Saint Hedwig, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, and several others. She did not glory in her wealth or parentage, but strove to imitate the saints in their holiness. She took her turn in the kitchen and laundry, seeking by choice much heavy work that her rank might have excused her from doing. She was especially welcome in the infirmary, which proves that she was not a sad-faced saint, and she made it her special duty to care for those who were too disagreeable for anyone else to tend.

Margaret’s austerities seem excessive to us of a weaker age. The mysteries of the Passion were very real to her and gave reason for her long fasts, severe scourgings, and other mortifications detailed in the depositions of witnesses taken seven years after her death (of which records are still in existence). Throughout Lent she scarcely ate or slept. She not only imitated the poverty- stricken in their manual labor and hunger, but also in their lack of cleanliness–a form of penance at that time. Some of her acts of self-immolation have been described as “horrifying” and verging on fanaticism, and there seems to have been an element of willfulness in her mortifications.

She had a tender devotion to Our Lady, and on the eve of her feasts, Margaret said a thousand Hail Marys. Unable to make the long pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to Rome, or to any of the other famous shrines of Christendom, the saint developed a plan by which she could go in spirit: she counted the miles that lay between herself and the desired shrine, and then said an Ave Maria for every mile there and back. On Good Friday she was so overcome at the thoughts of Our Lord’s Passion that she wept all day. She was frequently in ecstasy, and very embarrassed if anyone found her so and remarked on her holiness.

A number of miracles were performed during Margaret’s lifetime and many more after her death because Margaret had an implicit faith in the power and efficacy of prayer. The princess nun was only 28 when she died. Most of the particulars of her life are recorded in existing depositions of witnesses taken in 1277. Her friends and acquaintances petitioned for her to be acclaimed a saint almost immediately after her death. Among them was her own servant, Agnes, who rightly observed that this daughter of a monarch showed far more humility than any of the monastery’s maids. Although their testimony expressed Margaret’s overpowering desire to allow nothing to stand between her and God, the process of canonization was not complete until 1943. The island where her convent stood, called first the “Blessed Virgin’s Isle,” was called “Isle of Margaret” after the saint.   She died 18 January 1271 at Budapest, Hungary.  Her remains were given to the Poor Clares at Pozsony when the Dominican Order was dissolved, and most of her relics were destroyed in 1789, but portions are still preserved at Gran, Gyor, Pannonhalma.

 

She was beatified on 28 July 1789 by Pope Pius XII.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Adversity to Sainthood: Elizabeth Ann Seton ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

 

R 1 :1 JN 3:7=10

R Psalm: PS 98:1, 7=8, 9

Holy Gospel: JN 1:35=42

Liturgical colour: White.

Today is the Memorial of my Order Name Saint, St. Elizabeth Anne Seton. I was given this Saint because my Bishop saw quite a lot of similarities between our lives. We both share overcoming many life traumas and adversities, but yet, both of us always remained strong of faith.

Mother Seton founded the first American religious community for women, the sisters of charity, and so was a keystone of the American Catholic church. Mother Seton also opened the first American parish school, and the first American Catholic orphanage. All this, she had accomplished by the age of 46, whilst raising her own five children.

Mother Seton is a true daughter of the American Revolution, born on Aug 28th 1774, only two years prior to the declaration of Independence.

By both birth and marriage, Mother Seton was linked to the first families of New York and enjoyed the fruits of high society, but this wasn’t to last.

Mother Seton suffered the early deaths of both her mother in 1777, and of her baby sister in 1778, but far from letting it get her down, she faced each new ‘holocaust’  as she called it, with a hopeful cheerfulness.

At only aged 19, she married a handsome wealthy businessman named William Magee Seton and they had five children together. But William’s business failed, and he died of Tuberculosis when Elizabeth was aged 30, leaving her widowed, penniless and with five young children to support. Many of her family and friends rejected her when she converted to the Catholic faith in March 1805.

As a means to support her children, mother Seton opened a school in Baltimore which always followed a religious community pathway and her religious order of the sisters of charity was officially founded in 1807.

The thousands of letters of Mother Seton reveal the development of her Spiritual life from that of a person of Ordinary goodness, to one of heroic sanctity. She suffered many great trials within her life yet with her strong faith, she overcame them all. Trials of sickness, of misunderstanding, the deaths of her loved ones (mother, baby sister, husband, and even two of her own children), and the heartache of having a wayward son.

St Elizabeth Anne Seton died on January 4th 1821, she became the first American=born citizen to be beatified in 1963, then Canonized in 1975. She is buried in Emmitsburg in Maryland.

Let us pray:

O Father, the first rule of our dear Saviour’s life was to do your will. Let His Will of the present moment be the first rule of our daily life and work, with no other desire but for it’s complete accomplishment. Help us to follow it faithfully, so that doing your Will may be pleasing in your sight.

Amen.

St. Lucy ~ The Rev. Dcn. Dollie Wilkinson, OPI

We often hear the common phrase, “He/She must be a saint.” when referencing someone who does good for others, or has suffered much but still perseveres. But what is actually required for the Church to declare someone a saint. Evidently this isn’t a quick, or easy, process. The official process for declaring someone a saint is called canonization. Prior to the year 1234, the Church did not have a formal process as such. Usually martyrs and those recognized as holy were declared saints by the Church at the time of their deaths. Before the legalization of Christianity in the year 313 by Emperor Constantine, the tombs of martyrs, like St. Peter, were marked and kept as places for homage. The anniversaries of their deaths were remembered and placed on the local Church calendar. After legalization, oftentimes basilicas or shrines were built over these tombs.

As time went on, the Church saw the need to tighten the canonization process. In the year 1234, Pope Gregory IX established procedures to investigate the life of a candidate saint and any attributed miracles. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V entrusted the Congregation of Rites (later named the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints) to oversee the entire process. Beginning with Pope Urban VIII in 1634, various Popes have revised and improved the norms and procedures for canonization.

Today the process proceeds as follows: When a person dies who has “fame of sanctity” or “fame of martyrdom,” the Bishop of the Diocese usually initiates the investigation. One element is whether any special favor or miracle has been granted through this candidate saint’s intercession. The Church will also investigate the candidate’s writings to see if they possess “purity of doctrine,” essentially, nothing heretical or against the faith. All of this information is gathered, and then a transumptum, a faithful copy, duly authenticated and sealed, is submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

Once the cause is accepted by the Congregation, further investigation is conducted. If the candidate was a martyr, the Congregation determines whether he died for the faith and truly offered his life in a sacrifice of love for Christ and the Church. In other cases, the congregation examines to see if the candidate was motivated by a profound charity towards his neighbor, and practiced the virtues in an exemplary manner and with heroism. Throughout this investigation the “general promoter of the faith,” or devil’s advocate, raises objections and doubts which must be resolved. Once a candidate is declared to have lived life with heroic virtue, he, or she, may be declared Venerable.

The next step is beatification. A martyr may be beatified and declared “Blessed” by virtue of martyrdom itself. Otherwise, the candidate must be credited with a miracle. In verifying the miracle, the Church looks at whether God truly performed a miracle and whether the miracle was in response to the intercession of the candidate saint. Once beatified, the candidate saint may be venerated but with restriction to a city, diocese, region, or religious family. Accordingly, the Pope would authorize a special prayer, Mass, or proper Divine Office honoring the Blessed. After beatification, another miracle is needed for canonization and the formal declaration of sainthood. So how is it, a mere slip of a girl, become a saint? She is one of eight women who, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. Her feast day, known as Saint Lucy’s Day, is celebrated in the West on December 13th.

St. Lucy was born into a rich noble Roman family. At a very young age she lost her father who was a Christian. Lucy was left behind with a huge dowry. Lucy’s mother wanted Lucy to marry a rich pagan man. Lucy, being a virtuous young woman, did not want to marry a pagan man. Lucy asked her mother to distribute the dowry among the poor. The mother did not agree. As a young teenager, Lucy had already consecrated her virginity and life to God. She was zealously working in the service of God helping the poor.

In addition she helped her fellow Catholics hiding in the dark underground catacombs who were at risk of suffering persecution. She would wear a wreath of candles on her head to find her way in the dark, as her hands were full of food and drink for the people. Lucy was also well known for her beautiful eyes. It was said that her eyes radiated her love for Christ.

Lucy’s mother became very ill from a bleeding problem. She had tried many treatments, but failed. Lucy then asked her mother to accompany her to Saint Agatha’s shrine where they both prayed all night. Due to exhaustion, they both fell asleep near St. Agatha’s tomb. St. Agatha had appeared to Lucy in a dream and gave her the good news that her mother was healed. Saint Agatha further informed Lucy that she will be the glory of Syracuse – the city where Saint Lucy lived.

Lucy’s mother, convinced with her miracle cure, then complied with Lucy’s request to distribute their wealth among the poor. The pagan man who proposed to Lucy was furious when he heard the news. He decided to destroy Lucy’s life denouncing her as a Christian to the Governor of Syracuse, Sicily.

That was a time when many Christians were persecuted for their faith. The governor sent his guards to forcibly take Lucy to a brothel house and then insult her in public. When the soldiers came to take her, Lucy was so filled with the Holy Spirit that she could not be moved. They claimed that she was heavier than a mountain. When the Governor questioned her as to how she could stay strong, she claimed that it was the power of Jesus her Lord and God. Finally they tortured Lucy to death and she died as a martyr.

There are two legendary stories about St Lucy’s eyes. As Lucy had beautiful eyes, the pagan man who was proposed to marry Lucy, wanted Lucy’s eyes. One story tells us that Lucy gifted her eyes to the pagan man, and asked him to leave her alone. The second story tells us that during the torture, Lucy’s eyes were taken out and that God had restored her eyes back. Either way, Lucy’s eyes were taken out and God had restored her eyes. That was the reason she became the patron saint for people who are blind and with eye problems.

The most important aspect of her story was that Lucy was such a brave young woman, who was zealous in giving her life to God. She was ready to give her eyes and even her life, but stood strong in her faith at a time where Christians were persecuted for their faith. This is why St. Lucy is venerated as a virgin and martyr. Matthew 6:22 shows us how important is our eyes, when we are in service to the Lord.

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.

Lucy sets a good example to our young people today, who are persecuted for their faith at school, at universities and work places. Her message would be, “To stand strong in your faith, no matter how hard the situation may be.”.

St Lucy is also the patron saint of Syracuse. Over the centuries many people have been healed by God through the intercession of St. Lucy. Lucy, whose name can mean “light” or “lucid,” is the patron saint of the blind. She is often seen with the emblem of eyes on a cup or plate. In paintings, she is often depicted with a golden plate holding her eyes and often holds a palm branch, which is a symbol of victory over evil. Lucy, though young, truly exemplified what Paul, in Romans 12:2, strives to tell us all:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

 

St. Lucy’s Prayer:


Saint Lucy, you did not hide your light under a basket, but let it shine for the whole world, for all the centuries to see. We may not suffer torture in our lives the way you did, but we are still called to let the light of our Christianity illumine our daily lives. Please help us to have the courage to bring our Christianity into our work, our recreation, our relationships, our conversation — every corner of our day.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

The Presentation of The Blessed Virgin ~ The Rev. Dcn. Brenden Humberdross, OPI


 

 

Open our ears, O Lord, to hear your word and know your voice. Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills that we may serve you now and always. Amen.

Today in the life of the Church we celebrate a feast day of long standing tradition; in the East it’s called the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple and in our own western tradition the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In my experience though many of us have celebrated the Marian feasts over the years this is one that we understand little about. In my mind there is good reason for this as it is not an event that is recoded in the sacred scriptures, instead we rely on the sacred traditions of the Church and writings outside of the Bible for what we know of this event.

In fact the primary source that many look to for this event is what is called the Protoevangelium of James (or the Gospel of James/Nativity of Mary). This book, though not ascribed divine origins, does have an ancient origin with scholars generally believing that it was written before the year 200AD.

Now I want to make it abundantly clear that this writing is not divine and does not hold the weight of Scripture or divine Tradition. Writings like this should not be used to create a foundation for any Christian belief. However, that being said the Church has accepted this feast day based on the weight of Holy Tradition, the Church Fathers writings and this ancient work.

As many of us would know the parents of the Blessed Mother were St. Anne and St Joachim; tradition tells us that these two were God fearing individuals who were barren and childless. Through the miraculous workings of God they received a vision in which they were promised a child. In their joy over this blessed event they promised to dedicate the life of their child to the service of God. Now at this time amongst the Jews it was common to dedicate all children during pregnancy and after birth. However, St Joachim and St Anne had something very different in mind.

The Protoevangelium records:

7… And the child [Mary] was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.

  1. And her parents went down marvelling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel.

So the generally held tradition tells us that The Blessed Mother, from a very young age, was dedicated to the special service of God; for 9 years (some of her most formative) she lived every day in constant service of God and His people.

Now many of us may ask why the Church would want to celebrate and commemorate such an event, surely we already know that Mary was a true and faithful servant through her acceptance of the Divine Mission Gabrielle brought to her. To this I want to say: each and every one of us has been a child at least twice in our lives; once we born to our natural parents and had our natural childhood, a second time we were once Children in the faith and the Church. For some of this this childhood started when we first heard of Christ or were first introduced to the Christian faith; for others of us who were born into Christian families this was once we took what had been taught and started to make our faith our own. However we can to this childhood we have each experienced it and today’s memorial holds a significant message for us.

Very early in her Childhood, just when her understanding of the world was forming the Blessed Mother was given a choice. She was taken to the Temple to be given to God and could either accept that and walk forward with faith embracing God, or, she could have turned back and cried for her past life and her parents. From the part of the Protoevangelium we read it is clear that the Blessed Mother not only accepted her life in the Temple but danced with Joy!

Each and every one of us at some point in our walk with God has faced a similar situation. We have all stood at the gate of the path that leads to salvation and had to decide whether we were going to step through the gate to a new life dedicated to God and His ways or are we going to turn back to the life that we had. You are all here today listening to this sermon so it’s evident that you chose to step through the gate.

Some of us may still be lingering around the start of the path and others of us may be some miles into the journey and I want to tell you that that’s more than ok. No matter how far along the path to salvation we may be the temptation is always there to look over our shoulders, to stare back at the gate and desire the life that lay on the other side. However, when that temptation rests upon your should I want you to remember the dedication of that little three year old Mary. She didn’t cry for her parents, she didn’t try and follow them, instead she danced with joy over serving God. If a normal three year old girl can seek after God with such joy surely that would encourage each and every one of us to try and do the same?

When hard times are at your door and it’d be easier to give up your faith and commitment to God I want you to stop, take a deep breath and still your mind. In that moment I want you to envision one image; I want you to think of a little girl, a little girl so filled with Joy that she’s dancing regardless of the difficulties she is about to face, regardless of what’s going on around her and I want you to let the joy of the little girl flow over into your heart and soul and banish the doubt and darkness from your mind.

In that moment I can guarantee you that the Blessed Mother will be with you, she will bring to you the joy that comes from service to God and she will embrace you with the loving embrace of a mother who has stood in the very place where you are now.

Let us pray:

Loving God, we all stand before you daily as children on the path to spiritual maturity just as our Blessed Mother stood before you in the temple at her Presentation. May each and every one of us be constantly inspired by the joy of Blessed Mary as she was dedicated to your service. May we look to her example as a light in our own lives and always strive to step forward on the narrow path that leads to eternal life and the beatific vision that is your presence.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.