Friday, February 26, 2010

World Day of Consecrated Life 2010

I’m finally getting around to posting this! Here is the full text of the Pope’s homily for the World Day of Consecrated Life, celebrated on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation (but moved to the following Sunday, February 7, in the United States).

Emphases, in bold, and comments, in red, are mine.

Pope’s Homily on Day of Consecrated Life: “A School of Trust in the Mercy of God”
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 2, 2010 ( Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered today during vespers on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, which is also the 14th Day of Consecrated Life.

Present at the liturgical celebration were members of the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is a celebration of a mystery of the life of Christ, linked to the precept of the Mosaic law that prescribed for parents, forty days after the birth of their first-born, to go to the Temple of Jerusalem to offer their son to the Lord and for the ritual purification of the mother (cf. Exodus 13:1-2.11-16; Leviticus 12:1-8).

Mary and Joseph also fulfilled this rite, offering -- according to the law -- a couple of turtle doves or pigeons. Reading things in greater depth, we understand that at that moment it was God himself who presented his Only-begotten Son to men, through the words of the elderly Simeon and the prophetess Anna. Simeon, in fact, proclaimed Jesus as “salvation” of humanity, as “light” of all nations and “sign of contradiction,” because he would reveal the thoughts of hearts (cf. Luke 2:29-35).

In the East this feast was called Hypapante, feast of meeting: In fact, Simeon and Anna, who met Jesus in the Temple and recognized in him the Messiah so awaited, represent humanity that meets its Lord in the Church. Subsequently, this feast spread also to the West, developing above all the symbol of light, and the procession with candles, which gave origin to the term “Candlemas.” With this visible sign one wishes to signify that the Church meets in faith him who is “the light of men” and receives him with all the impulse of her faith to take this “light” to the world.

In concomitance with this liturgical feast, Venerable John Paul II, beginning in 1997, wished that the whole Church should celebrate a special Day of Consecrated Life. In fact, the oblation of the Son of God -- symbolized by his presentation in the Temple -- is the model for every man and woman that consecrates all his or her life to the Lord.

The purpose of this day is threefold: first of all to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life; in the second place, to promote the knowledge and appreciation by all the People of God; finally, to invite all those who have fully dedicated their life to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the marvels that the Lord has operated in them.

In thanking you for having gathered in such numbers, on this day dedicated particularly to you, I wish to greet each one of you with great affection: men and women religious and consecrated persons, expressing to you my cordial closeness and heartfelt appreciation for the good you do in the service of the People of God.

The brief reading, which was just proclaimed, treats of the Letter to the Hebrews, which brings together well the motives that were at the origin of this significant and beautiful event and offers us some ideas for reflection. This text -- which has two verses, but very charged with significance -- opens the second part of the Letter to the Hebrews, introducing the central theme of Christ the high priest.

One should really consider as well the immediately preceding verse, which says: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14). This verse shows Jesus who ascends to the Father; while the subsequent one presents him descending toward men. Christ is presented as the Mediator: He is true God and true man -- that is why he really belongs to the divine and to the human world.

In reality, it is properly and only from this faith, from this profession of faith in Jesus Christ, the only and definitive Mediator, that consecrated life has meaning in the Church, a life consecrated to God through Christ. It has meaning only if he is truly Mediator between God and us, otherwise it would only be a form of sublimation or evasion. (I do not think this can be emphasized enough!)

If Christ was not truly God, and was not, at the same time, fully man, the foundation of Christian life as such would come to naught, and in an altogether particular way, the foundation of every Christian consecration of man and woman would come to naught. Consecrated life, in fact, witnesses and expresses in a “powerful” way the reciprocal seeking of God and man, the love that attracts them to one another. The consecrated person, by the very fact of his or her being, represents something like a “bridge” to God for all those he or she meets -- a call, a return. (For me, statements like this are often a call to an examination of conscience; ie, I have to ask myself, am I truly being this kind of “bridge?”) And all this by virtue of the mediation of Jesus Christ, the Father's Consecrated One. He is the foundation! He who shared our frailty so that we could participate in his divine nature.

Our text insists on more than on faith, but rather on “trust” with which we can approach the “throne of grace,” from the moment that our high priest was himself “put to the test in everything like us.” We can approach to “receive mercy,” “find grace,” and “to be helped in the opportune moment.” It seems to me that these words contain a great truth and also a great comfort for us who have received the gift and commitment of a special consecration in the Church.

I am thinking in particular of you, dear sisters and brothers. You approached with full trust the “throne of grace” that is Christ, his Cross, his Heart, to his divine presence in the Eucharist. Each one of you has approached him as the source of pure and faithful love, a love so great and beautiful as to merit all, in fact, more than our all, because a whole life is not enough to return what Christ is and what he has done for us. But you approached him, and every day you approach him, also to be helped in the opportune moment and in the hour of trial.

Consecrated persons are called in a particular way to be witnesses of this mercy of the Lord, in which man finds his salvation. They have the vivid experience of God’s forgiveness, because they have the awareness of being saved persons, of being great when they recognize themselves to be small, of feeling renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin. (A beautiful thought to keep in mind this Lent!) Because of this, also for the man of today, consecrated life remains a privileged school of “compunction of heart,” of the humble recognition of one’s misery but, likewise, it remains a school of trust in the mercy of God, in his love that never abandons. In reality, the closer we come to God, and the closer one is to him, the more useful one is to others. Consecrated persons experience the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers, being called to carry in their heart and prayer the anxieties and expectations of men, especially of those who are far from God.

In particular, communities that live in cloister, with their specific commitment of fidelity in “being with the Lord,” in “being under the cross,” often carry out this vicarious role, united to Christ of the Passion, taking on themselves the sufferings and trials of others and offering everything with joy for the salvation of the world.

Finally, dear friends, we wish to raise to the Lord a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for consecrated life itself. If it did not exist, how much poorer the world would be! Beyond the superficial valuations of functionality, consecrated life is important precisely for its being a sign of gratuitousness and of love, and this all the more so in a society that risks being suffocated in the vortex of the ephemeral and the useful (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, 105). Consecrated life, instead, witnesses to the superabundance of the Lord’s love, who first “lost” his life for us. At this moment I am thinking of the consecrated persons who feel the weight of the daily effort lacking in human gratification, I am thinking of elderly men and women religious, the sick, of all those who feel difficulties in their apostolate. Not one of these is futile, because the Lord associates them to the “throne of grace.” Instead, they are a precious gift for the Church and the world, thirsty for God and his Word.

Full of trust and gratitude, let us then also renew the gesture of the total offering of ourselves, presenting ourselves in the Temple. May the Year for Priests be a further occasion, for priests religious to intensify the journey of sanctification, and for all consecrated men and women, a stimulus to support and sustain their ministry with fervent prayer. (Although the Rite of Consecration does not explicitly say this, I do believe that consecrated virgins living “in the world” have a special call to pray for the priests, bishops, and seminarians of their home diocese.)

This year of grace will have a culminating moment in Rome, next June, in the international meeting of priests, to which I invite all those who exercise the Sacred Ministry. We approach the thrice Holy to offer our life and our mission, personal and community, of men and women consecrated to the Kingdom of God. Let us carry out this interior gesture in profound spiritual communion with the Virgin Mary: while contemplating her in the act of presenting the Child Jesus in the Temple, we venerate her as the first and perfect consecrated one, carried by that God she carries in her arms; Virgin, poor and obedient, totally dedicated to us because [she is] totally of God. In her school, and with her maternal help, we renew our “here I am” and our “fiat.” Amen.

[Translation by ZENIT]

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Here is the first section of one of my favorite poems, “Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot. T.S. Eliot was born and educated in the United States, but later moved to England and became a British subject (and so both countries claim him as their own). He lived and wrote during the twentieth century, and his earlier poems aimed at capturing the sense of moral aimlessness that pervaded the culture of that era.

After a religious conversion, Eliot’s later poetry reflected his new-found spiritual insights; and, while still recognizing the reality of existential despair, his later poetry expressed to the reader the possibility of true and real redemption. (By the way, his later poems make excellent—if challenging—spiritual reading. Right now, I often bring his “Four Quartets” with me to the chapel when I make my Holy Hour.)

In “Ash Wednesday,” Eliot describes the banality and weariness of sin, but also alludes to the possibility of salvation, and poignantly expresses the need to “cast all our worries on God, because He cares for us.” (cf. 1 Peter 5:7)


Ash Wednesday (part I)

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

— T.S. Eliot (1927)

Just for fun...this is me with my ashes this year. The priest who gave me the ashes really got me good this time!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Sidewalk Chalk Drawing…

…from Ave Maria, Florida!

I came across this drawing on my way back from Mass earlier today, and I thought it was too cute to pass by without taking a picture.

It illustrates the story of Jesus’ walking on water, recounted in Matthew 14:23-33.

The stick figure on the left is presumably Jesus, since he’s standing on top of the waves and is saying “Do not be afraid!” in his word bubble. The stick figures in the boat are the apostles, since as describes in the Gospel passage, they are exhibiting their fear by crying “Ghost!”

I’m not sure about the artist—was it a precocious grade-schooler, or a stressed-out graduate theology student trying to revisit the halcyon days of childhood, before midterms and thesis writing?

On argument against a graduate-student artist is that the drawing does not represent the Gospel account with total accuracy—specifically, the happy-face sun would not seem to correspond with the evangelist’s description of this episode as occurring in “the fourth watch of the night,” and during a violent storm.

But, it made me smile all the same.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Feast of St. Agatha

Today is the feast of St. Agatha, one of the Church’s earliest consecrated virgin-saints. She is believed to have suffered martyrdom around the year 250 A.D., in Catania, Italy, during the Decian persecution.

According to tradition, St. Agatha appeared in a vision to St. Lucy in order to encourage the latter consecrated virgin to hold fast to the faith during her own martyrdom. This “visitation” is commemorated in a proper antiphon for the feast of St. Lucy:

Orante, Sancta Lucia, apparuit ei beata Agatha, et consolabatur ancillam Christi.

(While St. Lucy was praying, Blessed Agatha appeared to her, and she consoled the handmaid of Christ.)*

The second reading of today’s Office of Readings is a beautiful homily from the ninth century by St. Methodius of Sicily:

(Emphases, in bold, and comments, in red, are mine.)
From a homily on Saint Agatha by Saint Methodius of Sicily, bishop

The gift of God, the source of all goodness

My fellow Christians, our annual celebration of a martyr’s feast has brought us together. She achieved renown in the early Church for her noble victory; she is well known now as well, for she continues to triumph through her divine miracles, which occur daily and continue to bring glory to her name. (Among other things, the intercession of St. Agatha is held to have prevented a volcanic eruption.)

She is indeed a virgin, for she was born of the divine Word, God’s only Son, who also experienced death for our sake. John, a master of God’s word, speaks of this: He gave the power to become children of God to everyone who received him.

The woman who invites us to this banquet is both a wife and virgin. To use the analogy of Paul, she is the bride who has been betrothed to one husband, Christ. A true virgin, she wore the glow of pure conscience and the crimson of the Lamb’s blood for her cosmetics. (This particular image seems jarring to us now, but here I think St. Methodius was trying to convey the idea that St. Agatha found her beauty in her love of Christ.) Again and again she meditated on the death of her eager lover. For her, Christ’s death was recent, his blood was still moist. Her robe is the mark of her faithful witness to Christ. It bears the indelible marks of his crimson blood and the shining threads of her eloquence. She offers to all who come after her these treasures of her eloquent confession.

Agatha, the name of our saint, means “good.” She was truly good, for she lived as a child of God. She was also given as the gift of God, the source of all goodness to her bridegroom, Christ, and to us. (Here, we have an early example of the idea of a consecrated virgin’s self-gift to Christ being a gift to the wider Church as well.) For she grants us a share in her goodness.

What can give greater good than the Sovereign Good? Whom could anyone find more worthy of celebration with hymns of praise than Agatha?

Agatha, her goodness coincides with her name and way of life. She won a good name by her noble deeds, and by her name she points to the nobility of those deeds. Agatha, her mere name wins all men over to her company. She teaches them by her example to hasten with her to the true Good, God alone.


let your forgiveness be won for us
by the pleading of St. Agatha,
who found favor with you by her chastity
and by her courage in suffering death for the gospel.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


* Translation from the companion booklet to CD “Women in Chant: Gregorian Chants for the Festal Celebrations of the Virgin Martyrs and Our Lady of Sorrows,” by the Abbey of Regina Laudis.