Today in Catholic History:
† 309 – Death of Pamphilus van Caesarea, Palestinian scholar/martyr, beheaded
† 600 – Pope Gregory the Great decreea saying “God bless You” is the correct response to a sneeze
† 1559 – Pope Paul IV calls for deposition of sovereigns supporting heresy
† 1560 – Death of Jean du Bellay, French Catholic cardinal and diplomat
† 1751 – 1st publication of Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard”
† 1903 – Birth of George-Henri Lévesque, Quebec priest and sociologist (d. 2000)
† 1912 – Death of St. Nikolai of Japan, Eastern Orthodox priest (b. 1836)
† 1933 – Catholic newspaper Germania warns against Nazis/communists
† 2009 – Death of Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan, Korean Cardinal, Protopriest of the Holy Roman Church (b. 1921)
† Feasts/Memorials: Saint Abda of Edessa; Saint Elias and companions; Saint Juliana; Saint Gilbert of Sempringham; Saint Onesimus
(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
“Today in Catholic History”
Quote or Joke of the Day:
A blind person asked St. Anthony: “Can there be anything worse than losing eye sight?” He replied: “Yes, losing your vision.”
Franciscan Formation Reflection:
Proclaiming the Gospel is a service. There is no doubt that the effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today, who are buoyed up by hope but at the same time often oppressed by fear and distress, is a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity. For this reason the duty of confirming the brethren – a duty which with the office of being the Successor of Peter (Cf. Lk 22:32) we have received from the Lord, and which is for us a “daily preoccupation,” (2 Cor 11:28) a program of life and action, and a fundamental commitment of our Pontificate – seems to us all the more noble and necessary when it is a matter of encouraging our brethren in their mission as evangelizers, in order that, in this time of uncertainty and confusion, they may accomplish this task with ever increasing love, zeal and joy.
A new period of evangelization. The church has the single aim of fulfilling her duty of being the messenger of the Good News of Jesus Christ – the Good News proclaimed through two fundamental commands: “Put on the new self” (Cf. Eph 4:24, 2:15; Col 3:10; Gal 3:27; Rom 13:114; 2 Cor 5:17) and “Be reconciled to God.”(2 Cor 5:20). We wish to do so on this tenth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, the objectives of which are definitively summed up in this single one: to make the Church … ever better fitted for proclaiming the Gospel to the people …. We wish to do so one year after the Third General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which as is well known, was devoted to evangelization. In fact, at the end of that memorable Assembly, the Fathers decided to remit to the Pastor of the universal Church, with great trust and simplicity, the fruits of all their labors, stating that they awaited from him a fresh forward impulse, capable of creating within a Church still more firmly rooted in the undying power and strength of Pentecost a new period of evangelization.
Today’s reflection is about Jesus restoring sight to a blind man at Bethsaida.
22 When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?” 24 Looking up he replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” 25 Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. 26 Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.” (NAB Mark 8:22-26)
Question: What’s worse than bodily disease and infirmity? Answer: Spiritual disease or infirmity of the heart and soul! Disease of the body can only last for the duration of our human “bodily” lives; a mere 70 to 90 years for most. Imperfections to our soul can last for all eternity!
Spiritual (and physical) cures can happen instantaneously, or can take a very long time to fruition. Jesus granted cures immediately throughout Holy Scripture in all but this one case. In reality, there were probably more “delayed” cures in Jesus’ ministry, but today’s Gospel reading is the only one reported in such detail. This unusual “two-phase” healing is a great opportunity for Jesus Christ to teach on God’s graces, trust, hope, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“I see people looking like trees and walking.”
Walking trees immediately brings to mind scenes of animated trees from the movies “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Lord of the Rings”. Now, think of “walking trees” from a spiritual/religious standpoint. Could the poor blind man have been given a tiny glimpse of Jesus’ fate on a future “Good Friday”? Could this man have been given the grace of seeing Jesus carrying the Holy Tree that ushers in a “new life” on earth and in heaven?
Jesus’ cure clearly did not completely work the first time – – WOW! Why?! Well, I believe this man’s sins were obstacles to Jesus’ loving and healing power – – His divine power of curing the soul and body. The blind man was not only physically blind; he was also “blinded” in spirit and faith! His faith was probably weakened through earthly temptations and frustrations of, and in, society. We too are blinded by the same earthly temptations and frustrations of society, still prevalent today! Satan never takes any time off. It seems Satan’s temptations will only stop fifteen minutes after we are dead and in the ground.
The blind man’s sight is slowly restored, and in stages. This poor blind man’s spiritual heart, soul, and physical body slowly respond to Jesus’ loving, healing touch. In explaining the significance of this biblical event, a third century “Father of the Church”, St. Jerome, says:
“Christ laid his hands upon his eyes that he might see all things clearly, so through visible things he might understand things invisible, which the eye has not seen, that after the film of sin is removed, he might clearly behold the state of his soul with the eye of a clean heart.” (St. Jerome)
Sometimes, God presents an immediate cure from our spiritual (and sometimes – physical) shortcomings. At other times, we are afforded an opportunity to experience a gradual healing and deliverance from our imperfections. What, – – We are afforded an OPPORTUNITY?! Yep, God does not do anything haphazardly, or without a purpose! We need to strive for His graces at all times, and especially in times of distress – ALWAYS! The opportunity we are given by God is that of finding Him in all phases of our life, and the lives of others. Not just in the good times, but also in the most “horrifying” of times as well! Remember, God never leaves us; we choose to leave Him!
Spiritual insight is most often progressive in nature, and sometimes, in our earthly existence, it is may not be enjoyable at times. Faith needs to grow, and with growth comes “growing pains”. Many of the saints have called this the “dark night of the soul”. But at all times, Jesus is there for us – supporting us. Please remember, Jesus experienced the same physical and spiritual “human” pain that we all may have to endure as a disciple. If Jesus HAD to go through this “purging through pain”, why should we not also?!
Does Jesus advocate a growth in spiritual faith, hope, and trust through tiny actions of mercy and liberation? I believe He most definitely does work in very small ways at times. As you can see, He did not give up on the blind man. Jesus did not reject this man because of a weak faith. On the contrary, Jesus not only stayed with this blind man, He repeatedly healing him and eventually alleviating his infirmities. He repeatedly healed this man until fully and completely cured! With more faith and more trust in God and His graces, comes more healing. Through faith, trust, and love comes an increased removal of whatever is in the way of a complete and full restoration of our heart, soul, and body.
Look at today’s Gospel reading story as a model or representation in the spiritual (and possibly physical) healing we can receive in confession: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you are like me, it seems that I repeat some of the same (or very similar) sins over and over at each “one-on-one” healing encounter I have in the confessional – – a broken record of sorts. I admit, it can be discouraging and disparaging for me, but at least I’m past the stage of the “really juicy” stuff; I’m now ordinarily boring from a secular viewpoint. However, the more one is exposed to this beautiful Sacrament of the Catholic Church (and of God), more and more of God’s healing graces we are exposed to with the Holy Spirit dwelling with, in, and through us – – helping and healing us.
Prior to confession, take some time and ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate and deepen our “mustard-seed” size roots. Allow the Holy Spirit to take a strong hold in our souls, hearts, and lives to blossom into a bush producing much fruit for harvest for us AND others. Repeated exposure to confession can “soften” our sometimes harden hearts, and strengthen our “sinful” souls.
God cannot work miracles in and through us without a predisposition on our part. We must allow, and freely use the graces bestowed to us from our heavenly Father. The ironically truthful fact about God’s graces is that He gives us more graces as we respond to, and use, the graces He has given to us previously. Graces not used, are graces wasted. Point-in-fact: God is “eco-minded”! He does not like meaningless waste.
We must recollect on, and continuously remember, that God’s graces are essential for entrance to His everlasting and perfect paradise: heaven. His graces are necessary for desiring anything virtuous, righteous, and divine:
“Give us light, Lord. Behold, we need it more than the man who was blind from his birth, for he wished to see the light and could not, whereas nowadays, Lord, no one wishes to see it. Oh, what a hopeless ill is this! Here, my God, must be manifested thy power and thy mercy.” (St. Teresa, Exclamations of the Soul to God, 8)
In today’s Gospel reading, a blind man is brought to Jesus by his friends. Without their help, he could not have found Jesus and have his sight restored. WE must support and help each other as this man’s friends had done: bringing others directly to Jesus!
“Again he left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”) and (immediately) the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and (the) mute speak.” Some commentators regard the cure as an intended symbol of the gradual enlightenment of the disciples concerning Jesus’ messiahship.” (Mark 7:31-37)
Jesus never gives up on each of us – – in a personal way. So, don’t ever give up on yourself! Allow the Holy Spirit to peel away the “onion” layers of your life and faith to get deeper into your heart and soul. Allow the Holy Spirit to “touch” you in a deeper and more personal way than you have ever before in your life. Most importantly, allow the roots of the Holy Spirit to continually penetrate further into your heart, soul, and life – – a daily conversion to God!
I love the story of John Newton’s conversion, and his writing of the beautiful spiritual hymn, “Amazing Grace”. This is a more modern version of today’s Gospel reading. I would like to share this one, and someday I may even tell my “cradle Catholic” CONVERSION story.
John Newton was captaining of his own ship, one which was very active the slave trade. Through various life situations (and God’s grace) he experienced a slow conversion of heart and soul. So slow in fact, that John still continued in the slave trade for a period of time after his conversion. However, he saw to it that the slaves under his care were increasingly treated humanely with his increasing conversion of faith.
John Newton ultimately left the “sea” and was eventually ordained a Anglican Minister. His faith and zeal was so prominent that his church became so crowded during services, it had to be enlarged. He continued to preach until the last year of life, although he was blind by that time. He died in London December 21, 1807 at age 82.
Most scholars believe his hymn is based on two Biblical verses: 1Chronicles 17:16-17 and Ephesians 2:4-9:
“Then David came in and sat in the LORD’S presence, saying: ‘Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, that you should have brought me as far as I have come? And yet, even this you now consider too little, O God! For you have made a promise regarding your servant’s family reaching into the distant future, and you have looked on me as henceforth the most notable of men, O LORD God’” (1Chronicles 17:16-17)
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-9)
“Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO
A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day: St. Gilbert of Sempringham (c. 1083-1189)
Gilbert was born in Sempringham, England, into a wealthy family, but he followed a path quite different from that expected of him as the son of a Norman knight. Sent to France for his higher education, he decided to pursue seminary studies.
He returned to England not yet ordained a priest, and inherited several estates from his father. But Gilbert avoided the easy life he could have led under the circumstances. Instead he lived a simple life at a parish, sharing as much as possible with the poor. Following his ordination to the priesthood he served as parish priest at Sempringham.
Among the congregation were seven young women who had expressed to him their desire to live in religious life. In response, Gilbert had a house built for them adjacent to the Church. There they lived an austere life, but one which attracted ever more numbers; eventually lay sisters and lay brothers were added to work the land. The religious order formed eventually became known as the Gilbertines, though Gilbert had hoped the Cistercians or some other existing order would take on the responsibility of establishing a rule of life for the new order. The Gilbertines, the only religious order of English origin founded during the Middle Ages, continued to thrive. But the order came to an end when King Henry VIII suppressed all Catholic monasteries.
Over the years a special custom grew up in the houses of the order called “the plate of the Lord Jesus.” The best portions of the dinner were put on a special plate and shared with the poor, reflecting Gilbert’s lifelong concern for less fortunate people.
Throughout his life Gilbert lived simply, consumed little food and spent a good portion of many nights in prayer. Despite the rigors of such a life he died at well over age 100.
When he came into his father’s wealth, Gilbert could have lived a life of luxury, as many of his fellow priests did at the time. Instead, he chose to share his wealth with the poor. The charming habit of filling “the plate of the Lord Jesus” in the monasteries he established reflected his concern. Today’s Operation Rice Bowl echoes that habit: eating a simpler meal and letting the difference in the grocery bill help feed the hungry.
Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From http://www.americancatholic.org website)
Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule #’s 16 & 17 of 26:
16. Let them esteem work both as a gift and as a sharing in the creation, redemption, and service of the human community.
17. In their family they should cultivate the Franciscan spirit of peace, fidelity, and respect for life, striving to make of it a sign of a world already renewed in Christ.
By living the grace of matrimony, husbands and wives in particular should bear witness in the world to the love of Christ for His Church. They should joyfully accompany their children on their human and spiritual journey by providing a simple and open Christian education and being attentive to the vocation of each child.