Dear Friends,

Not long ago I visited the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration down in Mishawaka.  Their adoration chapel is open to the public and if you haven’t visited them I highly recommend that you do.  While I was there I spent some time talking with one of the older sisters, Sr. Dorothy, and she was telling me about their foundress Blessed Maria Theresia Bonzel.  Mother Maria was born in Germany back in 1830 and by the time she died in 1905 her order was 1500 strong.  There were 1500 sisters spread across Europe, the United States, and South America.

Mother Maria had a strong devotion to St. Joseph and she credited St. Joseph for many miracles in her life.  And if you visit the sisters’ chapel in Mishawaka you’ll notice that all the windows depict some aspect of St. Joseph’s life.  At one time Mother Maria was paying a visit to all of her sisters spread out across the United States.  At the first convent she visited, however, things weren’t going so well, there was very little food to eat.  So she asked the sisters, “Where is your shrine to St. Joseph?”  “Oh he’s in the closet” they answered.  Mother Maria didn’t like that answer.  So she said, “Let’s fix that.”  So they quickly made a shrine to St. Joseph and dragged him out of the closet and began to pray to God through his intercession.  They soon heard a knock on the door and when they opened the door there was a man loaded down with groceries.  He gave them the food and after bringing the bags into the house they went to the door to thank him but he was gone.  There was no sign of him.  There wasn’t even anyone walking down the street.  They never went hungry again.

Our Lord satisfies our hunger.  He will sometimes satisfy a physical hunger, sometimes in a miraculous way.  But how much more; does our Lord always want to feed us spiritually, to satisfy, and fill us with contentment.

When was the last time you walked out of Mass feeling really well fed, satisfied and content?  Is it an every week occurrence (or every day for those of us who go everyday)?  If not something is wrong.

This is not about the homily or the music.  Homilies and worship and music are crucial parts of the Mass.  We should do the best we can with the homily and the music, they should help us to enter into the courts of Heaven, so that we can join in the worship of the angels and saints around God’s throne.  But we don’t go to Mass, or at least we shouldn’t go to Mass, for the homily or the music.

The Gospel this Sunday tells us that the crowds were pressing in around Jesus.  They were men and women just like you and me here at Mass.  They had cares and fears and anxieties.  They

had jobs that they were concerned about and family members who were sick; they were dealing with the loss of loved ones they missed greatly and some had a sense of meaninglessness in their lives; they were men and women, like you and me, who could get stuck in a rut and they wanted more out of life.

And so they pressed in around Jesus, eager to hear Him, to see Him, and to meet Him.  They came to Him expectant and hungry, not just for food but for meaning in their lives, for a sense of purpose.  And Jesus breaks open the bread, feeds them, and they are stuffed, they are well fed.  And there’s lots left over.

That scene in the Gospel is supposed to be happening at Mass.  The miracles that we hear about all through the Gospels continue to happen in our midst today through the sacraments.  The sacraments aren’t empty rituals; they’re powerful encounters with our Lord, the One who created us and wants us to find happiness.

But if we come to Mass primarily for what God wants to give us, and what He wants to and does give to us is Himself, so then if we are not leaving full, the burden must be on me and you to change that.  Our Lord does His part, we have to do ours.

For the next few weeks at Mass we’re going to be hearing from the Gospel of John.  In these weeks ahead we’re only going to hear from John chapter 6.  John chapter 6 is a key part of the Gospel.  It’s the chapter often referred to as the “Bread of Life discourse.”  It’s where Jesus speaks to the crowds and to us now, about the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the center of our life.  Objectively speaking, there is nothing that we can ever do in this life that can compare with what happens when we receive Communion.  That’s because, by the power of the Holy Spirit, ordinary bread and wine are changed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, so when we receive the Eucharist, we feed on God, we feed on His divine life, we feed on His power, and we feed on His love.  That’s why we don’t chew gum when we come to communion, that’s why we wear nice cloths when we come to Mass, because nothing can compare with this.  And yet often times for many of us we don’t leave full and feeling well fed, amazed and transformed.  How can we change that?

Since we are going to be reading from John chapter 6 for five weeks, hearing over and over again about the Eucharist let me suggest we try an experiment.  Let me suggest we all make an effort to do three things and see if Mass changes for us.  First, let’s try to get here a few minutes early.  And when we get here, let’s take time to pray, to ask God to help us understand the Mass; let’s ask Him to help us to encounter Him; let’s ask Him to reveal Himself to us with all of our cares and our concerns.  Second, don’t leave Mass before I do.  What could possibly be more important than saying “Thank You” to the One who made you, loves you, and has just given Himself to you to eat?  Take a minute or two to say thanks, and to reflect on what has happened and Who has just entered into you.  And third, make an effort to read the Gospel before you come to Mass.  Come prepared, come both hungry and expecting to be fed. Our Lord heard the prayer for food of those Franciscan sisters.  How much more does He want to satisfy our spiritual hunger?  Ask for it.  Our Lord is saying to you right now, “Draw from my Body and Blood given to you all the graces of which you stand in need.  So many receive little from their daily communion at My altars because they expect so little.  Ask and you shall receive.  Consult the saints.  Learn from them what it is to ask great things of Me, to ask boldly, confidently, and joyfully.  And thank Me for the effect of my and Body and Blood in your body and blood, in your soul, in your mind, in your heart of hearts.  The Eucharist is transforming for all who receive Me with faith and with confident devotion.”

God has so much more for us than what many of us are settling for.  He always does His part.  Let’s try in the weeks ahead to work more on our part.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Our Lord’s voice has power, his voice has healing and so the people were drawn to his voice and they listened.  As we read in the Gospel, “They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at that place.”  And when our Lord saw them his heart was moved with pity for them for they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them, and they listened.

Cardinal Dolan of New York once related a story from a time when he was part of a study group on tour in the Holy Land.  One day while hiking, the group encountered two shepherds enjoying conversation and a smoke.  And while these two shepherds had been talking their two grazing flocks had become completely mixed together.  Through their guide, the group asked how the hundreds of sheep would sort themselves out and follow the correct shepherd.  Eager to impress these tourists and probably hoping for a big tip, the two shepherds stood at a distance from one another, yelled something incomprehensible, and began walking in opposite directions.  Immediately, the sheep fell in line behind the proper shepherd.  And then the two shepherds began to show off, they exchanged clothing and once again stood apart and shouted.  So familiar were the shepherds’ voices to the sheep that these cute (but not so bright) animals ignoring the disguised outward appearance again followed their own shepherd.  They knew the voice even in disguise, and they listened and they followed.

Do we know our Shepherd’s voice?  He’s still speaking to us.  How do we hear Him?  Can we hear Him in the noise of the world?  Or are there conversations, books, shows, movies, songs, images, blogs, or videos that drown out the voice of our Divine Shepherd.  Our Shepherd can speak to us anytime or anywhere but to hear him best we need silence.  The prophet Elijah never heard our Lord in all the noises of the world.  He didn’t hear Him in the wind, or the earthquake, or in the fire, it was only in the silence that Elijah was able to hear our Lord’s still small voice.  So we need silence; and in that silence we need contemplation.  I believe that all Catholics are called to be contemplatives, this is not something just for the nun in the convent or the monk in the monastery, contemplation is for everyone.

So, what is contemplative prayer?  The Catechism tells us that, “Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2715).  Contemplation is the prayer of the heart.  Contemplative prayer may focus on a word or a saying or one may simply be in the presence of God.   It is the prayer of the listening heart.  The goal of contemplative prayer is to enter into the presence of God where there are no words, concepts or images.  It is the prayer of being in love.

How then do we actually do contemplative prayer? , here are some suggestions that may help you.

In Church before the Blessed Sacrament – sit or kneel.  Gaze into the Tabernacle or look into the Monstrance.  Be still.   Ask Mary to help you to pray.  Pray to the Holy Spirit.  Then peacefully repeat a word or a phrase:  saying Jesus; or Jesus I love you; or Jesus I trust in you; or Father; or Father, into your hands I commend my spirit, etc.  Don’t continue to repeat the word or the words over and over again.  Only use the word or the phrase when your mind begins to wander.  Focus your gaze on the Eucharist.  Be open to whatever Jesus is asking of you.  Listen.

At home – sit or kneel.  Close your eyes.  Again, be still. Ask Mary to help you to pray.  Pray to the Holy Spirit.  As before, repeat a word or a phrase, rooted in the scripture, the creed, a prayer or an aspect of our Christian faith.  Do not repeat the word or words over and over again.  Remember to use the word only when your mind begins to wander.  Focus your gaze on the loving presence of God.   If you begin to feel embraced by God, be still and be silent.  Just allow the Holy Spirit to pray within you.  Listen.  Do this for 10, 15, or 20 minutes a day.

A Contemplative Catholic is not made in a day; it takes practice; to be a truly deep contemplative Catholic is the work of a lifetime.  It requires solitude, silence, sacrifice, and study.  It requires the obedience of faith.  But it’s something we can all do. St. Teresa of Avila once said that contemplation is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.

I end with a story.  It’s about St. Peter Julian Eymard.  His feast day is August 2nd, and his life is one that revolved around the Blessed Sacrament.  He would often say, “Without the Blessed Sacrament I should have been lost.”  St. Peter Julian was born in France in 1811.  When he was 5 years old he wandered away from home.  His family searched for hours.  They looked everywhere.  Finally, after many hours, they found him in the church.  Somehow he had dragged a stepladder to the front of the tabernacle.  And there he sat on the top with his ear pressed to the door of the tabernacle.  When they saw this, they asked, “What are you doing?”  And he simply answered, “I’m listening to our Lord.”

May we be as intent on listening to our Lord. His voice has power His voice has healing, may we be that good sheep who knows the voice of his shepherd.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great, pope

 

A royal virgin of the house of David is chosen.  She is to bear a holy child, one who is both God and man.  She is to conceive him in her soul before she conceives him in her body.  In the face of so unheard of an event she is to know no fear through ignorance of the divine plan; the angel tells her what is to be accomplished in her by the Holy Spirit.  She believes that there will be no loss of virginity, she who is soon to be the mother of God.  Why should she lose heart at this new form of conceiving when she has been promised that it will be affected through the power of the Most High?  She believes, and her faith is confirmed by the witness of a previous wonder: against all expectation Elizabeth is made fruitful.  God has enabled a barren woman to be with child; he must be believed when he makes the same promise to a virgin.

The son of God who was in the beginning with God, through whom all things were made, without whom nothing was made, became man to free him from eternal death.  He stooped down to take up our lowliness without loss to his own glory.  He remained what he was; he took up what he was not.  He wanted to join the very nature of a servant to that nature in which he is equal to God the Father.  He wanted to unite both natures in an alliance so wonderful that the glory of the greater would not annihilate the lesser, nor the taking up of the lower diminish the greatness of the higher.

What belongs to each nature is preserved intact and meets the other in one person: lowliness is taken up by greatness, weakness by power, mortality by eternity.  To pay the debt of our human condition, a nature incapable of suffering is united to a nature capable of suffering, and true God and true man are forged into the unity that is the Lord.  This was done to make possible the kind of remedy that fitted our human need: one and the same mediator between God and men able to die because of one nature, able to rise again because of the other. It was fitting, therefore, that the birth which brings salvation brought no corruption to virginal integrity; the bringing forth of Truth was at the same time the safeguarding of virginity.

Dearly beloved, this kind of birth was fitting for Christ, the power and the wisdom of God: a birth in which he was one with us in our human nature but far above us in his divinity.  If he were not true God, he would not be able to bring us healing; if he were not true man, he would not be able to give us an example.

And so at the birth of our Lord, the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to his people on earth as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world.  If the angels on high are so exultant at this marvelous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Dear Friends,

I want to begin by saying that, “Someone is watching you, and someone is listening to you.”  Someone out there is watching you and listening to you.  I will come back to this.  July 14th is the feast day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.  She was canonized nine years ago and she is the first Native American Saint.  She lived in the mid-17th century in what is now upstate New York and Canada.  Her mother was an Algonquin Christian who had been captured by the Mohawks.   Kateri’s father was a Mohawk chief.  Right from the beginning her mother taught Kateri and her brother the Catholic faith, teaching them about Jesus and teaching them some of the prayers she had learned when living among the Algonquin people.

When Kateri was very young a small pox epidemic swept through her village.  A lot of people died including all of Kateri’s family.  Even Kateri herself almost died, but she recovered after a very long illness.  But even after she recovered small pox had left its mark.  Her face was terribly scarred by pock marks and her eyesight was also affected to the point that she was almost blind.   With her family gone Kateri went to live with her aunt and uncle.  They had very little patience for Christianity.

When she was a teenager a group of Jesuit priests made their way to her remote village.   They were surprised to find a young woman who already knew about Jesus, even more surprised when she recited some of the prayers she had learned as a little girl.  With the Jesuits there Kateri fell more and more in love with Jesus.  She devoured the faith and began to more and more live out her Catholic faith.  And this is something the village noticed.  You could say she was a prophet among her people.

First, as a prophet Kateri rested on Sunday.  She didn’t go out to work in the fields with the other women.  And because she didn’t work her family wouldn’t let her eat on Sundays.  People noticed her Sunday rest, they wondered, “What’s so special about this day?”  Second, as a prophet Kateri prayed throughout the day, sometimes going out into the woods to pray before a cross she had made out of twigs.  People noticed her prayer, and they wondered, “What’s so special about this cross?”  And Third, as a prophet Kateri was joyfully chaste.  She didn’t take part in the pre-marital and extra-marital unchaste behavior that was common in her community.  People noticed and they wondered, “What’s so special about the body?”

Eventually it became very hard for Kateri to live out her Christian faith.  She was ridiculed, she was hit with sticks, and sometimes young children would throw stones at her, but she didn’t let the culture around her change her habits of faith.   When she was 19 Kateri made her way to a Native American Christian village in Canada.   In this community Kateri took care of the sick and the children.  And it was here that her faith flourished even more.  She was the first one in the chapel when the doors opened at 4:00 a.m.  And she was there every afternoon for Eucharistic Adoration.  And again this was something people noticed.  When she prayed before the Blessed Sacrament her whole face changed.  Her face just seemed to glow, she was so enraptured.  Her smile as she prayed changed everything.  Her face became a divine work of beauty, no one noticed her terribly pock marked face.  News of this beautiful girl praying spread to the outlying countryside.  And when Kateri went to pray other people joined her, but they weren’t there necessarily to worship our Lord present in the Eucharist, in the beginning at least,  they were there to look at the beautiful change that came over her face as she prayed.  People noticed her and they wondered, “Who is this God that Kateri worships in that piece of bread?”  By her witness many were moved to seek the faith.

Kateri was a Catholic who did simple regular things, but she did them with love and people noticed.  In our first reading we heard of Ezekiel, a prophet from the 6th century BC.  God called him and chose him to speak to the Jewish people, to call them to reform, to speak a challenging word to them, to call them back to God.  He was not always popular and that was ok.

We are like Ezekiel and Kateri, prophets, people called to witness to Divine truth.  Because of your baptism you have been called to be a prophet, a proclaimer of God’s truth.  And as we know this witness to truth is not always well received, but we still do it, because someone, you may not know who, but someone is watching you.  And he or she may be moved towards Christ by your witness and example.  So imitate St. Kateri, make Sunday a special day, and maybe even invite someone to Mass who hasn’t been here in a while.  Follow St. Kateri and pray out in the open, ask to pray with and for others, asking others for prayer intentions.  Don’t hide the Sign of the Cross.  Follow St. Kateri and speak out against the unchastity in our culture and its effects on our minds, hearts, and bodies.  Swim against the tide, don’t accept it; reasoning that it’s just the way things are.

We are meant to be salt and light to the world around us, not to be swallowed up by the world.  A saint once put it this way:  we are each born as a one of a kind original but many of us die as a photocopy, a copy of the world around us.  Each of us has been born as one of a kind original but many of us die as a photocopy, a copy of the world around us.   Let us be that salt and light original; because someone is watching you, someone is listening to you.  May you who have been chosen, and that’s all of you, go and bear fruit for the Kingdom.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

In our Gospel today we heard two examples, two stories of great faith.  Each story though separate parallels the other.  Both the woman and the girl are dead, one physically and the other spiritually.  First the woman, at that time according to Mosaic Law a hemorrhaging woman was considered ritually impure.  And if you go to the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament you’ll find all the prescriptions, and laws, and directives that guided the life of the faithful Jew.  Leviticus lists what they could touch or not touch, what they could eat and not eat.  Now for this woman considered unclean anything she touched or sat upon also became unclean.  Any person she touched would become unclean.  She would’ve been shunned by her husband and all the people of her community.  She wasn’t even allowed to enter the Temple to worship.  So for twelve years she had been kept at a distance, kept at a distance from her family and her friends and from God.  She was a pariah who couldn’t participate in all the ordinary things of life.  I’m sure that on top of the physical suffering there was a tremendous amount of psychological and spiritual suffering.

Now this woman has been to many doctors and it’s only gotten worse.  But she’s heard of this healer named Jesus, the messiah maybe, and in her deep faith she reasons, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be healed.”   And so she touches Jesus, and in doing so, according to Mosaic Law she’s made him unclean.   And the crowd was very uncomfortable with this woman touching Jesus and when found out she approaches Jesus in fear and trembling.  She has done something very terrible; she’s broken the Law of Moses.  But a miracle has happened, Jesus isn’t made unclean the exact opposite has happened the woman is cured and made clean.  She is restored to life in her family and in the community.  She can worship again in the temple.

Now in the other story we hear of Jairus the synagogue official.  And he too exhibits a deep faith in Jesus’ ability to heal.  He would have been a prominent layman whose duties would have included oversight of synagogue activities and finances.  This man’s humble posture before Jesus, he fell at his feet, is remarkable in view of the fact that Jesus’ last visit to the synagogue ended with a plot to kill him.  Now Jesus, when he gets to the house of Jairus, does something forbidden by Mosaic Law he touches the dead girl’s hand.  This would have made him impure.  Only the immediate family could touch the dead body.  But his healing touch raises her to life.

Through these two miracles Jesus puts an end to the ritual code found in Leviticus.  He was not made unclean.  Contact with Jesus made the unclean clean.  The New Israel, the Church, is brought about through contact with him.  His touch brings life.  As we heard in the first reading, “God did not make death.”  It’s the exact opposite he created us to have life. And to have life to the fullest with him.  When we kneel before the priest in the confessional and open our hearts to God’s mercy, we are like Jairus kneeling before Christ in Galilee.  When we touch the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, we are like the woman with hemorrhages.  In both instances Christ’s divine life flows into our wounded lives.  The same Jesus of the Gospels is still at work through the sacraments, still present and active today, still healing, giving life, and strengthening those with faith.  And so we approach the sacraments with humble faith.

Let me end with a couple of questions. When we approach our Lord in the sacraments, do we approach him like one in the crowd we heard about in the Gospel who half-consciously jostles up against him preoccupied by many other thoughts?  Or, do we approach Him in the way of the afflicted woman or Jairus?   Because they are models for us in the way to approach Jesus.  While crowds of people were bumping into him as he walked along, the woman with hemorrhages and Jairus purposefully set out to meet him and to touch him.  They trusted his power.  They trusted his touch.  Their deep faith brought them into contact with Jesus and as a result they experienced dramatic healing.

God did not make death so with every sacrament we receive we get a dose of his divine life.  Let us ask always for healing let us ask always for life.  As you approach the sacraments ask yourself; where do I need healing?  Where do I need life?  How do I need healing?  How do I need life?  And then in faith ask for it.  May we be like the kneeling Jairus and the afflicted woman approaching Jesus with faith trusting in his power and in his touch.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

 

From a work by Saint Bonaventure, bishop

With you is the source of life

Take thought now, redeemed man, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you. His death brings the dead to life, but at his passing heaven and earth are plunged into mourning and hard rocks are split asunder.

It was a divine decree that permitted one of the soldiers to open his sacred side with a lance. This was done so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross, and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘They shall look on him whom they pierced’. The blood and water which poured out at that moment were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life everlasting.

Arise, then, beloved of Christ! Imitate the dove ‘that nests in a hole in the cliff’, keeping watch at the entrance ‘like the sparrow that finds a home’. There like the turtledove hide your little ones, the fruit of your chaste love. Press your lips to the fountain, ‘draw water from the wells of your Savior; for this is the spring flowing out of the middle of paradise, dividing into four rivers’, inundating devout hearts, watering the whole earth and making it fertile.

Run with eager desire to this source of life and light, all you who are vowed to God’s service. Come, whoever you may be, and cry out to him with all the strength of your heart. “O indescribable beauty of the most high God and purest radiance of eternal light! Life that gives all life, light that is the source of every other light, preserving in everlasting splendor the myriad flames that have shone before the throne of your divinity from the dawn of time! Eternal and inaccessible fountain, clear and sweet stream flowing from a hidden spring, unseen by mortal eye! None can fathom your depths nor survey your boundaries, none can measure your breadth, nothing can sully your purity. From you flows ‘the river which gladdens the city of God’ and makes us cry out with joy and thanksgiving in hymns of praise to you, for we know by our own experience that ‘with you is the source of life, and in your light we see light’.

 

Dear Friends,

With this parable of the mustard seed Jesus is helping his audience grasp the mystery and grandeur of God’s Kingdom.  And because the kingdom is a divine reality it can’t be fully defined or contained in human explanations.  It can, however, be understood by using analogies, word pictures for our minds that help us to think and ponder and meditate at a deeper level.

For Jesus the thing of earth that is most suitable as an analogy to the kingdom is a tiny seed and Jesus emphasizes its smallness.  For the Jewish audience hearing this for the very first time, this would have come as a surprise.  For them a more predictable comparison would be a mighty army.  They expected their messiah to be a great earthly ruler commanding a large battalion of soldiers.

But no, the kingdom is like a mustard seed, “The smallest of all seeds on earth” the most insignificant of seeds.  But Jesus adds once sown, “It springs up and becomes the largest of plants.”  And in mentioning the large branches that shelter many birds Jesus is reminding us of the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel who writes of a lofty tree that symbolized an empire that gives protection to all people of different races and languages.

Early Christians saw in this parable of the mustard seed Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus was the mustard seed.  Christ crucified, a young man on a cross dying alone and mocked was the mustard seed.  But from this despicable low beginning, through the power of the resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit a great Church was born that now reaches every continent with over a billion souls.  This growth is not due to human methods but to God’s hidden power.  Jesus speaks with utter assurance of the future success of the Kingdom urging his disciples, urging every one of us, to persevere with hope and patience.

Now this parable of the mustard seed is repeated over and over and over again in the history of the Church.  We see it in the saints and their works and we see it in ourselves. We see the mustard seed in St. Francis, one lone man considered crazy and deranged at first who, as we know, went on to found and form a world-wide order of both men and women.  We see the mustard seed again in Mother Theresa one lone sister going into the slums of Calcutta but emerging to form another world-wide order helping the poor in every major city of the world.  And in a last example we see the mustard seed in St. Charles Lwanga a Ugandan whose feast we celebrated on June 3rd.

On June 3rd of this month just ten days ago 500,000 African Catholics came to the site of his martyrdom in Namugongo to celebrate his feast day.  St. Charles was a page to King Mwanga back in the 1880s.  King Mwanga was a violent ruler who demanded certain favors from the court pages and attendants.  As the oldest page Charles tried to protect the younger ones from the king’s advances.  This enraged the king he wanted nothing to do with Christianity.  He expelled the missionaries and at one point locked his royal household staff within the gates of the palace saying, “Those who do not pray stand by me, those who do pray stand over there.”  Those who prayed were martyred; Charles Lwanga was among this group.  The Christians were taken on a 37 mile trek to the place of execution at Namugongo.  Wrapped in reed mats the Christians were burned to death.  Charles endured the flames without complaint and the very last words to come out of his mouth were a long drawn out sigh of “Oh God.”  A century ago there were hardly any Catholics in Africa; today it is the fastest growing religion with over 400 million.  The mustard seed grows.

Now we can see this mustard seed in us as well, both physically and spiritually.  Back in 1991 John Cardinal O’Connor of New York founded the Sisters of Life.  They are a religious community of nuns founded with the apostolate of protecting and enhancing the sacredness of all human life.  Part of their religious habit is a medal of our Lady and on the back of the medal is the inscription, “Nothing again would be casual or small.”  It is meant to be a reminder that all human life, no matter however seemingly small or insignificant in the eyes of others, is important.  The great beauty of the human person, created in the image of God, begins with the joining of just two microscopic cells, smaller even than the mustard seed.  And yet those two cells grow to be the people we see all around us.  Through the love of God the seed grows.

We see this in our spiritual life as well.  Holiness is a process.  Sanctity doesn’t usually happen all at once.  There is growth, usually imperceptible to us.  But we persist in the sacrament of reconciliation, the Eucharist every Sunday, and prayer and good works every day.  God is always at work within us bringing his plan to completion.  Never give up on God he is nurturing that seed within our soul.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

When my nephews were a lot younger they liked to help me when I washed my truck my nephew Owen especially liked to help.  Now that they’re all teenagers they’re not as helpful.  I remember this one instance with Owen, we sprayed, we soaped, we wiped, we armoralled, we windexed, and at last we waxed every square inch of my truck.  It was so shiny.    Owen was impressed with the shine and he kept looking at his reflection.  If you’ve ever looked at your reflection in a newly polished car door you’ll remember that everything is distorted.  It’s like looking at your reflection in a funhouse mirror.  Owen looked at himself in the shine of the door and saw a shorter and much much wider version of himself.  Owen then shouted out to me pointing at the truck, “Uncle Chris, look at me, look at my reflection, I look just like Grandma.”  His reflection did sort of look like my Mom.  Children have a way of speaking the truth; sometimes it can be funny but sometimes it can be quite profound.

Years ago when I was still a seminarian I had to find some altar boys for a morning Mass.  I found two young boys, they were brothers.  One had served before the other hadn’t.  I told the one who hadn’t to just follow the lead of his older brother.  They did a great job.  The younger brother followed his brother’s lead perfectly.  At Communion time they both received the Sacred Host.  After Mass the younger brother excitedly ran back to his Mom saying, “I ate God, I ate God.”  Unknowingly the priest had given this younger brother his First Holy Communion.  He was only in first grade.  But in his excitedly spoken three words, “I ate God” this first grader spoke a profound and ancient truth.

This Solemnity today, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ was given to us back in the 13th century by Pope Urban IV.  And he gave the Church this solemnity in part because of a theologian by the name of Berengarius.   Berengarius was a wayward theologian and had taught against the true presence of our Lord in the Eucharist.  And many people were coming to take for granted the Eucharist.  They were beginning to doubt and disbelieve, even some priests.  As you can imagine the Pope did not want this.  He wanted more reverence and more piety in regards to the Eucharist he wanted everyone to believe in the real presence and to help us he gave us this feast we celebrate today.

Now at this same time period there was a priest by the name of Fr. Peter of Prague, he was making a pilgrimage to Rome.  And like many people of the time he harbored great doubt about the True Presence, of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.  But he was still faithful to his priestly duties and to celebrating Mass every day.  So as he was making his way to Rome he stopped at a small church to celebrate Mass, this was just outside of the city of Orvieto, Italy.  He dutifully and carefully celebrated Mass but with all the doubts he harbored it was a very distracted Mass for him.  He kept thinking over and over, “Am I doing this for nothing?”  “Is this real?”  “Am I really offering to the Father the sacrifice of the real body and blood of Jesus?  Is this really Calvary made present to me?”  But then after the consecration, a miracle happened, the host began to bleed, the blood dripped down his hands and arms and unto the corporal linen that lay on the altar.  As with all Masses Calvary was made present.  Fr. Peter was amazed, all doubt evaporated.  He ran to the city of Orvieto where coincidentally Pope Urban IV was staying.  He found the Pope and confessed his doubt and the miracle that wiped all the doubt away.  The Pope sent a delegation to investigate.  This was Heavenly confirmation, and so the feast we celebrate today was instituted the following year of 1263.   The Corporal linen stained with the blood is still on display in the Cathedral of Orvieto.

The ultimate purpose of all of God’s saving deeds is to elevate us to the status of his adopted sons and daughters.  The early Christians would say of Christ:  “He became man so that we might become gods!” God wants to share his divine life with us.  Our Lord says to us, “You will not change me into yourself, but, you will be changed into me.”  And this is made concrete and tangible and possible for us in the Sacrament that we celebrate today and every day.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  The one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”  If we let him, if we are prepared, the Eucharist draws us directly and intimately into the divine life of the Holy Trinity.   Venial sins are purged, virtues are increased, and our souls are filled with spiritual gifts.  The humble servant feeds upon his Lord!

When Pope Urban IV created this Solemnity he envisioned processions where the Blessed Sacrament would be carried solemnly through the streets of cities and towns.  Bringing our Lord into the ordinariness of our daily life, because He walks where we walk, and He lives where we live and as we walk on the streets of this earth, we know that He is at our side always. He walks among us to guide us to Heaven.   In Orvieto, Italy this morning there was a two hour long procession and during those two hours only two stops were made.  The first was the convent of cloistered Carmelite nuns, who aren’t allowed to go out,  and the second stop was at the local prison.  At both of these stops the Cardinal carrying the Monstrance offers special prayers and blessings.  In these two stops we are reminded that our Eucharistic Lord comes to every one of us.  He comes to both saints and sinners alike.  The love of Christ is intended for all.

At the end of Mass along with that first grader we can say, “I ate God” but it doesn’t end there because we bring him into the World, which is in desperate need of knowing Him.  And even if we don’t take part in an organized solemn procession, every time we leave Mass we in a real and profound way are processing out bringing our Lord into the World.

“When you have received the Eucharist, stir up your heart to do him homage; speak to Him about your spiritual life, gazing upon Him in your soul where He is present for your happiness; welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His presence.”

St. Francis de Sales

 

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Once during my seminary studies one of my priests gave me a copy of what a consulting firm might have said about the original 12 apostles.  This is the report they gave to Jesus

It is our opinion that the 12 men you have picked to manage your new organization lack the background, educational and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.  They do not have the team concept.  Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.  Andrew has no qualities of leadership.  The two brothers, James and John, place personal interest above company loyalty.  Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would lend itself to undermining morale.  We feel it is our duty to tell you that the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau has censured Matthew for unfair business practices.  James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot both have radical leanings and both registered high on the manic-depressive scale.  One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, has a keen business mind and possesses contacts in high places.  He is highly motivated and ambitious.  We recommend Judas Iscariot as your vice president and right hand man.  We wish you every success in your new venture.

And it is to this unimpressive group, with so many failings, that our Lord says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  This last line makes all the difference; I am with you always, until the end of the age. “I am with you always until the end of the age.”  The apostles didn’t have to do it on their own; they couldn’t do it on their own.  Without our Lord they couldn’t have done anything on their own.

Now this is something that Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity understood very well, although it took her a while.  She grew up in France in the late eighteen hundreds; she was the daughter of a successful military officer who died of a heart attack while she was still only a girl.  Elizabeth was an extremely strong-willed and temperamental child.  Her frequent fits of rage were almost uncontrollable; it was so bad that her mom often called her the “little devil.”  This began to change, however, after her first Communion, when she was eleven. That afternoon she met for the first time the prioress of the nearby Carmelite convent.  The nun explained that the girl’s name, Elizabeth, meant “house of God,” and wrote her a note that said:  “Your blessed name hides a mystery, accomplished on this great day. Child, your heart is the House of God on earth, of the God of love.”

From then on, recognizing that God had taken up residence in her soul, she waged a holy war against her violent temper.  She didn’t win overnight, but she did win, eventually, and she also discovered her vocation to become a Carmelite sister.  Her mother didn’t like the idea, however, and made her wait until she was twenty-one.  She won friends of all ages during these years of waiting, singing in the parish choirs, arranging parish day-care service for families that worked in the local tobacco factory, and also winning several prizes for her skill at the piano.  She died only five years after entering the convent, at the age of 26, after having suffered horribly for months from an extremely painful disease of the kidneys.  But her realization that the Blessed Trinity dwelt within her enabled her to suffer with patience and even with joy.  As she wrote to her mother:  “The bride belongs to the bridegroom, and mine has taken me.  Jesus wants me to be another humanity for him in which he can still suffer for the glory of his Father, to help the needs of his Church: this thought has done me so much good.”

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity had discovered the intimateloving presence of God that he so eagerly wants to reveal to all of us.  The reason God has revealed himself to us so thoroughly is because he yearns for our friendship. That’s what he created us for.  But friendship is always a two-way street. God has done his part by opening himself up to us. That was what the Incarnation was all about.  That is what the ongoing life of the Church is all about:  the sacraments, Church teaching, the sacred Scriptures, and even the beauties of nature, God’s first book of revelation.  They are all ways God has invented to speak to us, to invite us into an ever deeper personal relationship with him.  But that relationship doesn’t happen automatically – friendship never does.

Cardinal Mercier of Belgium (d1920) once made the bold claim, that he knew the secret of holiness, happiness, and friendship with our Lord.  He said, “I’m going to reveal to you the secret, every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to the things of sight, and close your ears to all the noises of the world. Do this in order to enter into yourself.  Then, in the sanctity of your Baptized soul, which is the temple of the Blessed Trinity, speak to our Lord, saying to Him, ‘O Blessed Trinity, Soul of my soul, I adore You! Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, and console me.  Tell me what I should do; give me your orders.  I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me, and to accept all that you permit to happen to me.  Just make me know your will.”  Cardinal Mercier goes on to say, “if you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely, and full of consolation, even in the midst of trial, the grace you need will  be given to you to keep you strong.”

Again the last line of the Gospel, “I am with you always until the end of the age.”  The apostles, unlikely leaders as they were, Blessed Elizabeth, once described as a devil child, all came to realize they held a priceless gift within.  They were houses of God.  The Apostles, Blessed Elizabeth and you are Houses of God, baptism makes it so.  Your house is part of an awesome and great Heavenly community.  Let us find that time every day to listen, and to obey the soul of our soul the Blessed Trinity.  And we will be sanctified.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

Last week we remembered the Ascension, the day our Lord returned to Heaven but not before promising to send the Holy Spirit.  And today on Pentecost we remember when the Apostles and Mary received the Holy Spirit as in tongues of fire. Now Wednesday of this week is the Feast day of St. Philip Neri, he’s one of my favorites.  For the collect of that Mass we will pray about the Holy Spirit as a holy fire.  We will pray, “O God … graciously grant that the Holy Spirit may kindle in us that fire which he wonderfully filled the heart of St. Philip Neri.”

Now some have called St. Philip Neri, Mr. Happy go Lucky.  He had a great sense of humor, sometimes shaving off half of his beard.  Or making some design in the stubble of his beard.   He was eccentric but at the very same time he was also very holy and humble.  He was a priest who lived in Rome during the 16th century.  And the beginning of that century marked a very low point in our Church’s history.  There was corruption, priests were not celebrating Mass or the sacraments, and people didn’t pray, or even know their faith.  But Philip Neri helped to change that, through his joyous and holy example, he brought many back to the faith.  And for that he’s been called the Second Apostle of Rome,  St. Paul being the first.

A certain bishop once visited Philip Neri for dinner.  This Bishop was not the best example of Christian charity.  And to help serve the meal Philip used the assistance of a monkey; however, the monkey was dressed to look like the Bishop.  The monkey wore a tiny miter on his head and carried a tiny crosier.  I’m not sure the Bishop got the message.  Philip’s penances given in the confessional were sometimes creative.  Once a prideful young man came to him to confess his sins, for penance the young man was made to carry a tiny dog wearing a big pink bow.  The young man had to carry this dog all around Rome for a month.  This is not something a young man would do at that time.  It would have been a very humbling experience.  Because of his joyful holiness many were attracted to St. Philip Neri.  His room would always be filled with visitors seeking his advice, his prayers, and the sacraments, the sacrament of reconciliation especially.  He brought people closer and closer to our Lord.

Philip Neri arranged spiritual talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents.   He would also organize day long pilgrimages where he and his band of followers would visit the seven Basilicas of Rome where they would pray in each one of them.  And in between the visits to the churches there would be parades, music, picnics and lots of laughter.  Now because of his exuberant joy he became suspect, so he was investigated.  The higher ups wondered, “Why is this man so happy?”  It’s a sad day when holy joy becomes suspect, but nothing sinful was ever found, he exhibited true Christian joy, a fruit the Holy Spirit.  Some of Philip’s followers became priests and they came to live together in community.  This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded.   Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day.  He’s one of the most influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself.

As I said before the collect, the opening prayer, for the Feast day of Philip Neri, speaks of the Holy Spirit.  That prayer asks God the Father in his love to kindle in us the fire of the Holy Spirit who so filled the heart of Philip Neri.  This prayer refers to Philip’s personal Pentecost.  As a young man Philip would walk to the catacombs every night and pray to the Holy Spirit.  One night he felt a violent inrush of the Spirit and with this inrush he felt a tremendous heat and his heart began to beat wildly.  From that time forward, for more than fifty years, any time Philip became lost in deep prayer his heart would beat wildly and loudly.  So loud, that those close to him could hear it.  At his death they found that his heart was twice the size of a normal heart pushing two of his ribs outward.  His enlarged heart, however, never affected his health.

Many times when we try to explain the Holy Spirit the words heat and fire are used as an explanation of the Spirit’s power.  In Luke’s gospel Jesus says, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49).  Few words in the English language get our attention like “fire.”  People follow fire engines, and if not stopped, fire will devour everything in its path.  It’s relentless, and the more it consumes, the more unstoppable it becomes.  Fire breeds fire.  It cannot be satisfied.  As long as there is fuel and the conditions are right it will continue to burn.   And this is the image that Jesus chooses to convey the nature of his love for us.  “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled.” 

Now in the Old Testament Moses too spoke of this fire.  Some of Moses’ final words to the Israelites were these:  “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous  God!” (Deut 4:24).  Jealous because God will not be content until we find our rest and satisfaction only in Him.  Consuming because he removes all that is sinful and unworthy in us.  At Pentecost this divine fire touched the disciples.  At baptism and confirmation this same fire touches us.  And this fire of the Holy Spirit, like all fires needs to be sustained if it is to burn.  It needs to be sustained.  And it is the Eucharist that feeds this flame within our heart and soul.  The Eucharist is the most perfect way to sustain the fire of the Holy Spirit.  There are other ways but the Eucharist is the most perfect way.

For St. Philip Neri the Eucharist was his joy.  Sometime the Masses he celebrated would take up to four hours to complete.  After the consecration he’d just stand there lost in thought at the great mystery before him on the altar.  His altar boys learned to take a break at this point, they’d leave for a two hour coffee break, leaving a “do not disturb” note on the chapel door.   They’d come back after two hours to help finish the Mass.  And at night he’d spend hours in prayer before the Tabernacle.  The Blessed Sacrament fed the flame of the Holy Spirit within his heart.  And the proof is his life where we see all the fruits of the Holy Spirit, love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and joy, most especially joy.

Everything available to the saints and those first disciples at Pentecost is available to us.  The Eucharist adored outside of Mass and received worthily at Mass will keep the flame of the Holy Spirit burning hot and bright within our Heart and Soul.    Catholics should be the most joyful and spirit filled Christians around.

“O God … graciously grant that the Holy Spirit may kindle in us that fire which he wonderfully filled the heart of St. Philip Neri.”

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley