Thursday, April 21, 2016

Saint Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm was born of noble parents in Piedmont (Italy) around the year 1033. At the age of twenty-seven he entered the English Benedictine abbey of Bec, where he became abbot in 1078. As abbot, he gained renown for his preaching and reforming spirit. In 1093, he succeeded his former teacher, Blessed Lanfranc, as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm soon found himself at odds with King William Rufus, whose unjust policies compelled
Anselm to leave England. After traveling to Cluny and Rome, the Anselm returned to England only after he had received word of the king’s death. Conflicts with the new king caused him to flee to Rome where Pope Paschal II defended Anselm’s claim to authority over the English church. In 1106, he returned to Canterbury, where he died on April 21, 1109.

Known as a man of recollection and erudition, Anselm’s writings have had a profound impact on Catholic thought and he has been called the “Father of Scholasticism.” Especially remembered for his Prosologion, the treatise Cur deus homo, and his ontological argument for the existence of God, Anselm of Canterbury was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1720.

The fifty days of the Easter Season are a time for us to not only celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s Resurrection, but also a time to enter more deeply into what this great work of God means in our lives today. Saint Anselm was one of the great lights of the Church who dedicated his life to exploring the truths of God in a way that left an indelible mark on the Church’s beliefs and prayer, up to our own time.

Take time today to read the Gospel for today’s Mass and reflect on who you believe Jesus to be and what that means for your life. Ask Saint Anselm to help you use these holy days to enter more fully into the Easter mysteries, allowing them to bring light and life into your heart and soul.

Prayer +
O God, who led the Bishop Saint Anselm
to seek out and teach the depths of your wisdom,
grant, we pray,
that our faith in your may so aid our understanding,
that what we believe by your command
may give delight to our hearts.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

This reflection was originally written for and published on their site on April 21, 2016.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Knowing the Good Shepherd

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
—John 10:27-28
In his message for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (which is celebrated each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter) Pope Benedict XVI observed, “Hope is the expectation of something positive in the future, yet at the same time it must sustain our present existence, which is often marked by dissatisfaction and failures… To have hope, therefore, is the equivalent of trusting in God who is faithful, who keeps the promises of the covenant.”

This sense of hope is at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel which places before us one of the greatest biblical images of God’s faithful care and mercy: the Good Shepherd. The Evangelist John uses the image of the Good Shepherd (cf. chapter 10) to illustrate the intimate way Christ knows each of us—the flock entrusted to his care—and how, like a faithful shepherd, he constantly watches over us and lifts us up.

Fresco of the Good Shepherd
from the Catacomb of Priscilla
The most important point of this Sunday’s Gospel is that eternal life is the Good Shepherd’s gift. Jesus is the source of life and because he has given his life for “his flock,” we have an abundance of life. It seems so simple, but this fundamental Christian belief is one that we can often take for granted. And that is unfortunate, because this Gospel also includes an unspoken invitation for us: we have to be attentive and receptive to this gift of life and accepting that gift means that we listen to and follow the direction of our Shepherd. We see this lived out in the ministry of Barnabas and Paul who, through their preaching, came to understand that they were being called to a new mission field, seeking out new disciples who would listen to the voice of the Shepherd speaking through them (cf. the First Reading: Acts 13:45-47).

And so, on this Sunday when we pause to pray that God will gift the Church with an increase in men and women dedicated to the Kingdom as priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters, the Readings remind us that each of us (and not only our pastors) is called follow the example of the Shepherd and listen to his commands by building up the Church as we promote what Henri Nouwen has called the “three spiritual qualities of the resurrected life”: unity, intimacy, and integrity. “We are called to break through the boundaries of nationality, race, sexual orientation, age, and mental capacities and create a unity of love that allows the weakest among us to live well” (from The Road to Daybreak).

While we can (and should) take comfort in the Shepherd’s provident care and protection—and the gift of eternal life that he offers us—we can only say we truly know this Good Shepherd if we are willing to listen to his voice and follow his commands in our daily lives. In this Fourth Week of the Easter Season, we would do well to remember the words of Saint Cyril of Alexandria: “The mark of Christ’s sheep is their willingness to hear and obey… People who hear God’s voice are known by him.”

How is the Good Shepherd calling you to share in his work of caring for the “flock” of the Church?

What do you do to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life?

As we continue to celebrate this Easter Season, how are you living “the resurrected life”?

Words of Wisdom: “Our work and the only work of religion is to create unity wherever you go. If you are not creating unity, you are part of the problem and you are certainly not one of the children of God. You can come to Mass as much as you want and come to communion as often as you can. But you are not in communion. Our job is to live in radical communion and not just to ritualize it on Sunday”—Deacon Jim Knipper in Hungry and You Fed Me

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Saint Martin I: The Last Martyr-Pope

An Italian by birth, Martin became Pope in 649. Immediately after his election he convoked a council in Rome to condemn both the Monothelite Heresy (which denied that Jesus had a human will and freedom), and the involvement of Emperor Constans II in Church affairs. In response, the outraged emperor had Pope Martin kidnapped and imprisoned in Constantinople. Saved from execution only through the intervention of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Martin was exiled to Kherson, in the Crimea, where he eventually died as a result of starvation and abuse in 655. He is the last of the Bishops of Rome to be honored as a martyr.

The feast of Pope Martin I is celebrated in both the Eastern and Western Churches.

Today’s First Reading tells us of a dark time in the life of the Early Church, as the first Christians faced severe persecution and exile following the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the Church’s first martyr. The experience of this early Christians—and other saints, including Pope Martin—remind us of the suffering of so many Christians today. However, today’s Reading also teaches us that “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Rather than give in to external pressure, those Christians used their experience of suffering as an opportunity for evangelization, helping us recognize how light of the Risen Christ can shine out even in the midst of darkness and death.

Pray today for those Christians who are refugees and for those organizations and faith communities who are providing care for them. As you ask Pope Saint Martin I to intercede for them, consider how you can show your care and concern for them through concrete acts of mercy.

Prayer +
Grant, almighty God,
that we may withstand the trials of this world
with the invincible firmness of purpose,
just as you did not allow your Martyr Pope Saint Martin the First
to be daunted by threats or broken by suffering.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(from The Roman Missal)

Originally published by and posted on their site on April 13, 2016.