Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Cross and Sorrows of Jesus the Son and Mary the Mother

These two special days, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) and the Memorial of Our Lady of the Sorrows (September 15), are so appropriately scheduled in the church calendar of our Catholic faith. They both evoke love for Jesus, our Divine Redeemer, and Mary, the first disciple and example of excellence. These special days invite us to a unique closeness to Jesus her Son and Mary His Mother. Jesus and Mary extend an invitation of joining her Holy Family on a pilgrimage that involves love, sacrifice, the cross, and sorrow.

The Exultation of the Cross symbolizes Jesus' triumph over death and the joy of His words, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself," (John 12:32). We are drawn close to Jesus, Mary, and the Apostles on Good Friday. We echo the words, "Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world." We kneel or bow to venerate the cross--a cause of life, a means of forgiveness and reconciliation, a symbol of love, peace and mercy. When we meditate on the cross, Christ's love urges us to follow His way and His holy will in our lives. Draw near to us, Lord, every woman and man you are inviting to be your disciples with loving trust to accept your intimate invitation as Mary committed to pilgrimage with her son, Jesus.

Our Lady of Sorrows solidifies the deep faith Mary had in her son. She journeyed with Jesus living out the words of the divine plan of Simeon's prophecy, "and you yourself a sword shall pierce," (Luke 2:35). In the Alleluia verse, we hear the profound words, "Blessed are you, O Blessed Virgin Mary; without dying, you won the martyr's crown beside the cross of the Lord." Mary's fiat resonated in our hearts the depth of her faith and trust in God. Can we daily say "Yes" to God like our Mother, Mary?

Our Lady of Sorrows invited us in our devotion to Mary, the only Mother of our Little Company, to meditate intentionally on the seven sorrowful mysteries in her life. Each day, we can use one of the mysteries as. part of our prayer and meditation. What faith and trust Mary had in God for the sorrows she accepted and endured as a result of her Fiat.

We are pilgrim people, people of love, people of sacrifice, people of sorrow, and people of the cross. We live our pilgrimage, love, sacrifice, sorrow, and the cross remembering our past, living our present, and hoping for our future generations to love, serve, and receive the daily invitations to respond to God's will in our lives. What is our fiat? What is your fiat?

Let us pray to be more like Jesus and Mary as we remember, meditate on, and contemplate the fullness of the Scripture readings for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross and the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. Jesus said "YES" to the Cross just as Mary said YES to the Sorrows and Exalted Discipleship.

Written by Sister Louise Busby, D.C.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

St. Jean-Gabriel Perboyre

Today, September 11, is the Feast of St. Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, C.M. He was a missioner to China and a holy martyr. FamVin describes the life of this courageous man who, "walked through the bitter valley and made it a place of springs," (Psalm 84:6).
This image of St. Jean-Gabriel Perboyre holding a crucifix paints a thousand words. He gazes lovingly on the crucifix, his right hand gently rests on his heart, filled with a compassionate love.

Do you wear a cross or crucifix around your neck? Maybe you carry a cross or crucifix with you. Or you have one displayed in your home or office. Today might be a good day to imagine a crucifix or cross. Maybe you carry a cross of anxiety, suffering, sickness, bereavement, or trouble of any kind.

The gospels record accounts of Jesus carrying His cross to His crucifixion, events also recalled in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. On Good Friday, Jesus' Mother, Mary, and John, the beloved disciple, stood at the foot of the cross, dejected, sad, lonely, and lost in grief. However, on Easter Sunday, Jesus was raised to new life. Christians believe that the Spirit of Jesus accompanies them daily as they carry their cross.

Father Perboyre was familiar with the cross of discipleship and committed himself to follow Jesus--to the point of death, carrying his cross. He recognized the "door into the dark" described by poet, Seamus Heaney (The Forge) and he embraced Jesus' mission of "bringing good news to the poor," (Lk 4:18-19).

Gifted with a supportive family, he loved Jesus and "his piety was noticed." He loved to visit the Blessed Sacrament and pray. When he was praying, "you could walk over him and he wouldn't notice." Parental influence and childhood prayer showed him as one who "loved the poor and often saved his bread for wandering beggars." Jean-Gabriel's whole life witnessed to sacrificial love, imitating Jesus who "gave up his divine privileges...took the humble position of a obedience to God and died a criminal's death on the cross," (Phil 2:7-8).

Father Perboyre's heart's desire to become a Vincentian missionary in China came true in March of 1835. He went to Macao, gateway to China, and studied Chinese. In December of that year, he sailed, disguised with captain and crew, to interior China. Christian missionaries were not allowed at that time. He was appointed to the Honan mission and traveled with his companions for 17 months to Nan-Yang. There, he was appointed to St. Fancis Regis Clet's house from where Father Regis, a Vincentian missionary, was taken prisoner and executed on February 18, 1820.

Father Perboyre lived with two Vincentians who taught him Chinese, introduced him to the Catholic villages, and warned him of the dangers that he might encounter on the mission. From 1937-1938, after an illness, he reanimated the faith in the villages through preaching, catechizing, and administering the sacraments.

Life in China was not easy. Jean-Gabriel taught the people about suffering and persecution, aware of the immanence of trouble at any stage. He saw the mission plundered and burned down. He fled for his life into the bamboo forest and made sure that everyone escaped before he left. He was betrayed, captured, and spent one year in prison where he was brutally tortured. Still, when asked to stand on the crucifix, he refused.

One wonders, was Father Perboyre inspired by St. Thomas Aquinas's teaching on the cross as an example of love? Father Perboyre's life reflects the virtues that St. Thomas describes--"patience, humility, obedience, and despising earthly things."

Father Perboyre's familiar prayer to Jesus challenges each one to transformation. With Seamus Heaney, I personally say, "Forgive the way I have lived indifferent; forgive my timid circumspect involvement," (Station Island V11).

Written by Sister Anne Neylon, Province of Ireland

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Apostle in the Top Hat

The words in the image above are the spirit of the Frenchman, Frederick Ozanam. Born in 1813, he was a bright student and a devout Catholic who traveled to Paris to study at the famous Sorbonne. It was there that he came a literary scholar, lawyer, journalist, and equal rights advocate.

Born in Milan, Italy, Frederick lived most of his life in France, specifically in the Moufftard neighborhood of Paris. If you've ever seen the play Les Miserables, you may recognize this neighborhood as a very poor and unstable area where the Insurrection took place in the 19th century.

Frederick and several of his student friends lived in the neighborhood and saw the plight of the people, especially the poor. It was in this neighborhood that he, along with Emmanuel Bailly, Augista Le Taillander, Jules Deveaux, Francois Lallier, Paul Lamache, and Felix Clave began the Conference of Charity, known internationally as The Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

These men, all academics, spent a good deal of time sitting around pondering what could be done to help the poor. Finally, with the help of Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity, they were encouraged to stop talking and start acting on behalf on those most in need. So, on April 23, 1833 - Frederick's 20th birthday - he said to his friends, "Lets go to the poor." This was the beginning of a movement that is now in 150 countries throughout the world with over 800,000 members.

Frederick built the Society of St. Vincent de Paul with the same three pillars that continue today - spirituality, friendship, and service. These elements represented what was important in Frederick's life as he developed his own formation as a Vincentian. They are also gifts to Vincentians of the 21st century. As Frederick once said: "The saints were out of their minds when it came to love. Their love was limitless, embracing God, humanity, nature... And so, my dear friends, are we not going to do anything to become like those saints whom we love?"

This is the challenge that Frederick Ozanam willed to all of us people of faith and people of justice. Embracing the Vincentian way, we are called to be "out of our minds" in love for those who are abused and forgotten, ignored and denied basic human rights that are given to each of us as children of God. Frederick knew all too well how to embrace the common good and advocate for a just and humane society. As we celebrate his feast day, are we not obliged to do the same?

Written by Sister Catherine Kelly, D.C.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Celebrate the Birthday of Mary of Nazareth

Mary has many titles and many feast days in her honor, but today, September 8, we celebrate the birth of Mary and the blessing she was to her parents, Joachim and Anne.

God had a plan for Mary from the moment she was conceived. Mary found favor with God and was chosen to be the Mother of Jesus. From the moment she was born, Mary was free from sin to prepare her for her vocation. The God who is love was with Mary and she came to know His favor, His grace, and His blessings.

Mary was ordinary. She is familiar. She is our generous next-door neighbor. Mary is anyone who seeks to be a disciple and to follow the plan that God has for her. Mary is YOU.

Mary's vocation was to have Jesus grow within her and to give Him to the world. Our vocation is to have the love of Jesus grow in our hearts and to give that love to others.

When Mary says, "The Mighty One has done great things for me," she means that those "great things" aren't over, but are still happening in the present. God came to enlarge the horizons of our life in every direction. He helps us to give due value to the past to better built a future of happiness. Yes, this is only possible if we have authentic experiences of love to help us concretely discern the Lord's call and respond to it.

May the maiden of Nazareth intercede for all of us and help us to sing of the great works that God is accomplishing in us and through us.

Written by Sister Mary Catherine Conway, D.C.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

International Day of Charity

Charity, like the notions of volunteerism and philanthropy, provides real social bonding and contributes to the creation of inclusive and more resilient societies. Charity can alleviate the worst effects of humanitarian crises, supplement public services in healthcare, education, housing, and child protection. It assists the advancement of culture, science, sports, and the protection of cultural and natural heritage. It also promotes the rights of the marginalized and the underprivileged and spreads the message humanity in conflict situations.

The International Day of Charity was established with the objective of sensitizing and mobilizing people, NGOs, and stakeholders all around the world to help others through volunteer and philanthropic services.

The date of September 5 was chosen in order to commemorate the anniversary of the passing away of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace."

Mother Teresa, the renowned nun and missionary, was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910. In 1928, she went to India where she devoted herself to helping the destitute. In 1948, she became an Indian citizen and founded the order of Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in 1950, which became noted for its work among the poor and the dying in that city.

For over 45 years, Mother Teresa ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying while guiding the Missionaries of Charity's expansion, first in India and then in other countries. Mother Teresa's work has been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world and she has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997.

In recognition of the role of charity in alleviating humanitarian crises and human suffering within and among nations as well as the efforts of charitable organizations and individuals, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated September 5 as the International Day of Charity.

Adapted by Sister Regina Hlavac, D.C., from a statement by the United Nations.