Dear Friends,

Happy New Year, the first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year.  This year we’ll be reading from the Gospel of Mark.  Advent is a season that directs the mind and heart to await our Lord’s coming at Christmas but also our Lord’s Second coming at the end of time.  It’s supposed to be a period to heighten our devout and joyful expectation.   Now during this season of Advent we sing one of the most beautiful hymns, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”  The word Emmanuel means God with us.  The next two lines of this hymn are, “And ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.”

Centuries ago, travel was very dangerous, especially if you were wealthy.  Criminals preyed upon the rich.  If they could the criminals would capture them and hold them for ransom, usually holding them and hiding them away in a foreign country.  And there they were, in this foreign country, captive, and exiled, and waiting and watching, and hoping, hoping that someone might pay for their release.

“O Come O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here.”

We too, like Israel, are in exile; we live in a foreign country, we are on a pilgrimage through a foreign land, because Heaven is our true homeland.  Heaven is the place where we belong.  We were made for it.  And we too are held captive, captive to sin and captive to powers alien to God.  And so, in our captive exile we hope and we wait, and we watch.

“Until the Son of God Appear.”

I have a story.  In Scotland in the 1600s Catholics were persecuted, both priests and laity had to flee the country or go into hiding to avoid imprisonment or even death.  One day a Bishop wanted to explore his diocese to see who was left of his flock, and to see how they were faring.  And so there he was walking from village to village in the mountains, dressed like a poor farmer to escape capture.  It was winter, and as the sun went down, he became lost among the snow-covered hills.  Almost exhausted with wandering, he finally saw a dim light in the distance, and made his way towards it.  It was a poor cottage on the edge of the woods; he knocked on the door.  The family welcomed him, warmed him at their fire, and prepared him some food.  He didn’t see any crucifix or image of Mary in the house, so he concluded they weren’t Catholic.  They were extremely kind and hospitable, and as he ate their delicious food, they conversed politely and pleasantly.  He didn’t bring up the topic of religion.

As the Bishop sat there he noticed that the family seemed sad underneath their good-natured hospitality.  And so he asked about this, and the mother explained that in the back room, on a bed of straw her father lay dying, but he refused to admit it, and so he was not preparing himself well for death.  The visitor offered to speak with him, and he was led to the back room.  Sure enough, the old man lay there, feeble and clearly dying.  The bishop offered words of sympathy, but the old man seemed to regain strength and said, “No sir, I am not yet going to die.  That is impossible.”  The disguised bishop asked why he was so sure, and after hemming and hawing, the old man asked quietly if the visitor was Catholic.

Assured that he was, the dying man gave this explanation.  “I also am a Catholic.  From the day of my first Communion until now I have never failed even for a single day to pray to Our Blessed Lady for the grace of not dying without first having a priest at my bedside to hear my confession and give me the Last Sacraments.”  “Now sir, do you think that my heavenly Mother will not hear me?  Impossible! So I am not going to die till some priest comes to visit me.”  Tears rolled down the bishop’s face as he realized that he was God’s faithful answer to this man’s humble and confident prayer.  The old man, in a faithful Advent spirit, hoped and waited, and watched.  And our God was faithful to him and ransomed him from his captivity.  Sending him his longed-for priest to give him the sacraments.

Our God is a faithful God.  He fulfills his promises.  God didn’t abandon the human race after the Original Sin.  He promised to send a Savior, and he fulfilled his promise on the very first Christmas.  And God has also promised that this Savior, Jesus Christ, will come again to bring our earthly exile to its completion, just as he brought his Chosen people out of their exile.  God is faithful, he will keep his promises.  And with his grace we too can be faithful.  Just like that old man in Scotland.

St. Paul from our second reading writes, “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

And now for the last line of our hymn’s first verse, “Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

Flannery O’Connor was a devout Southern Catholic writer living in the heart of the Bible belt.  Even though she died in 1964 at the age of 39 she is still an important voice to American literature.   Her writing in some way or another always reflected her Roman Catholic faith, especially the theme of grace.  She would say, “Grace changes us and change is painful.” 

In 1950 when she was just beginning to blossom into one of the greatest Catholic writers of the twentieth century, she was invited to a fancy dinner party with the prominent author Mary McCarthy.  There were a few other intellectual and literary figures at this dinner table and there was no question that Flannery O’Connor was the junior member of this elite circle of conversation.   In a letter describing the scene O’Connor once wrote, “Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.”   As the evening drew on, the talk turned to the Eucharist, and Mary McCarthy, who had been raised Catholic but had fallen away from the church, remarked that she thought of the Eucharist as a symbol and implied that it was a “pretty good one.”  She most likely intended this condescending observation as a friendly overture to the Catholic O’Connor.  But O’Connor responded in a shaky voice, “Well, if it’s only a symbol, to hell with it.”  One can only imagine that the elegant dinner party broke up rather soon after that conversational bomb shell was dropped.  In its bluntness, clarity, and directness, Flannery O’Connor’s remark is one of the best statements of the Catholic difference regarding the Eucharist.  For us the Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus, our King, and any attempt to say otherwise, no matter how cleverly formulated or smartly expressed is insufficient.  The Eucharist is our King.

On this Solemnity of Christ, the King we recognize that our King is not like other rulers, or presidents.  We genuflect to a king who voluntarily resides in a tabernacle as a divine prisoner. Our tabernacle even has a little crown on top of it.  Our king is a humble king who reveals himself to us in the infant child of Bethlehem, in the poor carpenter of Nazareth, in the humble preacher of Galilee, in the crucified one of Calvary, in the tiny host of the tabernacle, and in the least of our brothers and sisters, the poorest of the poor.  Our humble king is also a king who serves and gives himself freely.  And he asks the same of us.    This is how we will be judged.

A kingdom usually takes on the characteristics of its king and we have many examples throughout history, but I want to focus on a few kingdoms the first being 13th century France under the leadership of King Louis IX.  Louis excelled in prayer and penance and his love for the poor.  While ruling his kingdom he not only sought peace among his people, he also sought their spiritual welfare.  He made sure that they were not only housed and fed but that they were also cared for spiritually, building churches, making sure all people had access to mass and the sacraments.  Before dying he wrote a letter to his son giving advice.  He wrote, “\Thank God always, pray to the Lord devoutly, be kindhearted to the poor and afflicted, be just to your subjects, side with the poor until the truth is known, and be obedient and devout to our mother the Church.”  During King Louis’ time there was peace and a flowering of the church.  He made the Kingdom of God known throughout his land.

The second kingdom is 16th century England under the leadership of King Henry VIII.  History books say that Henry’s public persona was seen as harsh and egotistical.  It is said that Henry remained Catholic in his beliefs but in the ultimate quest for a son to succeed him, he had to separate his kingdom from the Church, he married six times, dissolved monasteries, destroyed churches, confiscated their land, and executed those who disagreed him (St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher).  During King Henry’s time there was distrust, and the church went into hiding.   He obscured the Kingdom of God throughout his land.

The third kingdom is the kingdom that supersedes all kingdoms and that is the Kingdom of God.   The Church gave us this Solemnity of Christ the King back in 1925.  This was the time of the aftermath of World War I and Europe witnessed a swelling tide of secularism and skepticism about God’s existence.  This trend was accompanied by a rising interest in fascism and communism.  In attempts to stem this dark tide, the Church held up the image of Christ, the true King. A king who is just but also merciful reigning from the throne of a cross.  

The Church feared that a people without the hope of God’s Kingdom would instead place their hope in fascism and communism kingdoms far less just and far less merciful.  Government does not save.

As a people who hope in God’s kingdom it’s our responsibility to make that kingdom evident wherever we go.  We take on the characteristics of our King and show the world that Christ is our king and that we bring his kingdom wherever we go.  So we not only give food and drink to the hungry but we also give them the knowledge of being known, of being someone to someone.  We not only clothe the naked with coats but we also clothe them with dignity and respect seeing that they too are made in the image and likeness of God.    We not only house the homeless but we house them with care.  Do we go out to meet the needy?  Do we know them?  Do we try to find them?  This is how we will be judged. 

I began this letter by writing of the Eucharist and how the Eucharist is no mere symbol.  With this belief let us be careful as we approach the Eucharist.  If the elements of bread and wine were only symbols of our desire and our spiritual creativity, they would pose no threat.  But since they are the power and presence of God, they will change the one who consumes them.  When we say “Amen” and receive the Sacred Host we better be prepared to live an eternal life in God’s kingdom and with His grace make that kingdom known to everyone.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

St. John of the Cross was born in 1542 in central Spain.  With the death of his father when he was only three years old, his mother and two brothers struggled to survive.  Learning of this an uncle who was a priest took them in and looked after them. John was a very good student and at age 15 was admitted to the university where he pursued theology.  He felt called to the priesthood and planned to become a Carmelite friar but was uneasy with what he perceived as laxity in the order, a year before his ordination, while he was thinking of perhaps leaving the Carmelites and joining the Carthusians, he met St. Teresa of Avila. Teresa and John had a “meeting of the minds,” and Teresa convinced John to work with her for the reform of their order.   While Teresa led the reform of the women Carmelites, John worked in establishing reformed monasteries for men.

As you can imagine Teresa and John met many obstacles in their attempt to reform their order.  “Who are these two goodie goodies to tell us how to live?” The order didn’t appreciate their efforts and resisted them rather vigorously.  At one point John’s own order abducted him from the church where he was serving, they blindfolded him, and took him to one of their monasteries where he was placed in solitary confinement, with little light, no change of clothing, and very poor food.  At regular intervals he was beaten and pressured into denying his efforts to reform the order.  You can see why they needed reform. 

John’s cell measured 6’ x 10’, there was no heat, and there was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling.  Yet in that darkness, cold, and desolation, his love and faith became his fire and light.  In that tiny cell he had nothing left but God and God brought John his greatest joys.  After nine months John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and sneaking past the guard.  Taking only the poetry he had written on scraps of paper.  He climbed out a window using a rope made from strips of blankets.  With no idea of where he was, he followed a dog who led him to a nearby town.  He hid in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. 

Eventually John and Teresa were allowed to work freely at reforming the Carmelites John was asked if he harbored any hatred or ill will for those who had kidnapped him and beaten him.  Emphatically he answered saying, “no” also adding, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.”  Adding further he said, “When God the Father didn’t find love in the human race, He put love in the human race, in the Incarnation of His son.  Then, He found love; he found love in His son Jesus and in all who had become part of His body.” 

This line, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love,” speaks of our Gospel today.  Jesus, I think is partial to images taken from the business world.  He uses investment, risk, and return as a model for the spiritual life.  The men who received 5 and 2 talents invested them, they were willing to risk, they put their money (talents) out into the world and in return they saw their money grow.  The man who kept his (money) talent buried saw no such return and is called wicked and lazy.  God is a giver.  He exists in gift form; He is the one who gives.  If we want God’s life in us to grow, we must be conformed to his way of being and that means giving. 

Where there is no love, put love, risk it.

Where there is no hope, put hope, risk it.

Where there is no faith, put faith, risk it.

Where there is no joy, put joy, risk it.

Where there is no life, put life, risk it. 

The men with the five and two talents invested in the world, they risked, and they saw their money double.  The man with one talent clung to it, he was not willing to put it out into the world and as a result it was taken away.  Spiritually speaking he withered.  Divine life (love, hope, faith, joy, peace, etc.) cannot be clung to, it must be given away, it must be risked on the world.  Instead of filling ourselves up with all these good things we empty ourselves as soon as we receive.  And in the measure, we give it away it will grow within us.  If we give a lot, we will receive a lot.  In the very act of sharing our faith, hope, love, joy, peace, etc. we find our own faith, hope, love, joy, and peace increasing and growing stronger. 

Divine life is planted within us at Baptism; it’s supported by Holy Orders and Marriage, its nourished by the Eucharist and strengthened by Reconciliation.  Within us we have this bank of Divine life, a bank to be drawn on, to plant, to invest, to put in places where there is none. St. John of the Cross put his faith, hope, and love into a community where he found very little, but this act of giving/risking gave a return of riches.  The divine life is no private matter, it’s meant to be shared.  Let us be like the first two servants putting love where there is no love, putting divine life where there is no divine life and drawing back a fortune with the Lord saying to us at the end, “Well done my good and faithful servant come share your master’s joy.”

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

From the diary of St. Faustina.

One day, I saw two roads.  One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures.  People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves.  They reached the end without realizing it.  And at the end of the road there was a horrible precipice; that is, the abyss of hell.  The souls fell blindly into it; as they had walked, so they fell.  And their number was so great that it was impossible to count them.  And I saw the other road, or rather, a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them.  Some fell down upon the rocks but stood up immediately and went on.  At the end of the road there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness, and all these souls entered there.  At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings. 

At this time of year, as we near the end of the church calendar we hear often of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.  We hear of the two ways over and over.  One way leads to eternal happiness and the other doesn’t.  And the choice is ours; we can either follow the easy broad path, or we can follow the hard and narrow path.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of these two ways over 60 times.  Over 60 times he speaks of the eternal consequences of refusing to respond to him with faith, repentance, and faithful friendship.  And today we heard of one of those texts.  According to the Church Fathers those flasks of oil that the wise virgins brought with them represent good works, mercy, joy of a good conscience, and their keeping of holy teaching.  In their faith they performed good works, in their faith they were merciful, in their faith they had the joy of a good conscience, and in their faith, they followed the way of our Lord, that narrow path.  The foolish on the other hand had none of these, no good works, no mercy, no good conscience, and no keeping of holy teaching.   And consequently, were left outside pounding on a locked door. 

In a recent Magnificat there was a biography about Julia Greeley.  I found it very interesting.  She is one woman who had a large store of oil when our Lord, the Bridegroom, came for her at the end of her life.  Julia Greeley is on the path to canonization.  Right now, she is recognized as a Servant of God.  Julia was born into slavery probably between the years of 1833 and 1848 in Hannibal Missouri.  She lost her right eye at the age of 5 from the whip of a slave master who was beating her mother.  In 1865, just a few months before the end of the Civil War Julia was freed. 

After the war Greeley moved west and became a cook and nanny for Julia Dickerson of St. Louis who would later marry William Gilpin. When President Abraham Lincoln appointed Gilpin as the first territorial Governor of Colorado, the couple moved to Denver and Greeley joined them.

Julia learned the Catholic faith from the Gilpin family.  She was baptized in 1880 at Sacred Heart Church in Denver.   With her newfound faith she became especially devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Holy Eucharist.  She went to Mass and received Holy Communion every day.  Julia was a great proponent of the Sacred Heart; she tirelessly walked the city streets distributing felt Heart badges and literature from the Sacred Heart League.  She gave them to Catholics and non-Catholics. If she saw you on the street, she’d talk with you about the Catholic faith.  She also made sure to visit every month all 20 firehouses in Denver.  She talked with the fireman about the four last things (death, judgment, heaven, hell), these men were in a dangerous profession, and she wanted to make sure they were prepared for death.  She never missed an opportunity to witness her Catholic faith. 

Julia became known for her charitable works, she pulled a red wagon through the streets of Denver carrying coal, clothing, and groceries. She made her deliveries after dark so as not to embarrass families ashamed to accept charity.

In 1901, Greeley joined the Secular Franciscans and remained an active member for the rest of her life. In recognition of her dedication to the poor, Greeley has been dubbed “Denver’s Angel of Charity.” On June 7th, 1918, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart Julia Greely died.  Her funeral was attended by thousands of people.  In January 2014, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver officially opened an investigation for her sainthood.  Julia filled her flask with the oil of good works, mercy, joy of a good conscience, and adhering to holy teaching.  She was very wise. 

What about us? Are we always wise?   Is Christ, his Kingdom, his narrow pathway always our first priority?  Is our lamp full of the oil of faith, which we can’t borrow from anyone else but must develop in the intimacy of prayer and sacrament?  Are we keeping that lamp filled by persevering and growing in our prayer life, the mercy we show to others, our good works, and do we study Christ and the teachings of his Church?  

Now is the time to renew this first priority, to put our lives back on track. That’s what the Church is inviting us to do through today’s liturgy, as the end of the Church year approaches.   And it is the most practical thing we can do, because it has the most important consequences. If we need to refill our lamp, we should start doing so right now, during this Mass, when Christ comes once again to be our food, and to be our light.  

Many of us at this time feel an anxiety about what is happening in our country and maybe even in our Church.  There might be a certain unease about what the future will bring.  Now is the time to make an act of trust in God.  Maybe even many acts of trust.  And pray, add a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, pray the rosary, after the Mass the rosary is the greatest spiritual weapon.  Go to daily Mass.  Be that Catholic witness, witness to life, witness to religious freedom.  Be another Julia Greely, an unafraid Catholic witness. 

Our Lord has already conquered sin and death, these are but skirmishes.  We need only fill our lamps with the oils of good works, mercy, a good conscience, and keeping to the Way of our Lord.  Because as our Lord tells us, “We know neither the day nor the hour.” 

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Type Dear Friends,

Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote, “As we enter Heaven, we will see them, so many of them, coming toward us and thanking us, we will ask who they are and they will say, “A poor soul you prayed for in Purgatory.”   This is the time of year to think of the deceased.  We do this all year of course, but during the month of November especially.  November is dedicated to the Holy souls in Purgatory.  Are we praying for those who have gone before us?

Purgatory is a transitional state for souls who have, at least implicitly, chosen our Lord, but whose love still needs purifying.  Purgatory is closely associated with Heaven.   Someone once said Purgatory is like Heaven’s bathroom.  Souls in this state might be compared to kids who come inside when called to dinner but haven’t yet washed their hands.  A child in the bathroom might not be at the banquet table but he’s certainly in the house. 

Pope St. John Paul II once explained it in this way, “Those who live in this state of purification after death are not separated from God but are immersed in the love of Christ, His love purifies.  Neither are they separated from the saints in Heaven, who already enjoy the fullness of eternal life, nor from us on earth, who continue our pilgrim journey to the Father’s house.  We all remain united in the Mystical body of Christ.”   We all belong together in one enormous symphony of being. 

As the catechism states, a soul must be free of even the tiniest imperfections before entering Heaven.  Our Lord wants us to enter completely into His joy, to share in His own life forever, and we can’t do so until completely purified.  God’s life, the life of the Trinity, is perfect love.  How could a creature still bearing a trace of sin join in that life?  In the words of St. Augustine, “To think highly of our deceased is charity, but to pray for them is a charity greater, wiser, surer.” 

Praying for them is a charity greater, wiser, and surer.  Building on this, Pope Benedict XVI once wrote that, “No man is an island. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So, my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification.” Again, we all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.

St. Leopold Mandic was an Italian Capuchin who died in 1942.  As a young man he had a great desire to travel east to proclaim our Lord and the Gospel.  He wanted to make Jesus known in the East.  But it wasn’t to be.  St. Leopold had very poor health.  He couldn’t see very well, he stuttered when he talked, he had constant abdominal pain, and arthritis that deformed his hands and bent his spine, so that he was no more than 4 ½ feet tall.  He was not a robust man and so his superiors didn’t think he had the stamina needed to go into the missions, and so he spent his life in Padua, Italy hearing confessions for 12 to 15 hours a day.  He was gentle and wise in the life of virtue and people flocked to him.  If you wanted him to hear your confession, you had to wait a long time.  Sometimes other priests would complain that he was too lenient with the people who came to him for confession.  To this he would say, “If the Lord wants to accuse me of showing too much leniency toward sinners, I’ll tell him that it was he who gave me the example, and I haven’t even died for the salvation of souls as he did.” 

For many years, in the back of his mind, St. Leopold persisted in the hope that he might be able to go east into the missions.  But as he got older, he realized it wasn’t going to happen.  He was going to stay put in Padua in his tiny confessional.  So, he changed his attitude.  Since he couldn’t go to the missions in the east every soul, helped in the confessional would be his east.  Every soul before him would be his mission to the east.  “Every soul will be the East for me,” he said.

The direction East has a very special meaning to Catholics.  There is the ancient tradition of facing east when we worship.  At one time all Catholic altars faced east. They were built this way because at the end

of time our Lord will come from the East, we don’t turn our back to him.  And the sun a symbol of Jesus also rises in the East.  In a symbolic way to face east is to face the Lord. 

And so, adding to St. Leopold’s quote we could say, every soul made in the image and likeness of our Lord will be the East for me.  In looking towards a soul, I will look towards the Lord. I will pray for the souls made in His image and likeness.  That will be my mission to the east. 

Every time we face the Lord, every time we face the symbolic east may we remember in prayer the souls of our beloved dead, but most especially may we also remember the souls of those who have no one to pray for them.    We all belong together in one enormous symphony of being.  May our prayer for the dead play a small part in their purification. 

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

And let perpetual light shine upon them.

May they rest in peace.

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. 

As we enter Heaven, we will see them, so many of them coming toward us and thanking us, we will ask who they are and they will say, “Poor soul you prayed for in Purgatory.” 

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

There was a man named Camillus and he lived in 16th century Italy.  He was a big man; they say probably 6 foot 6.  He was obstinate, aggressive, and had a violent temper.  His mom couldn’t control him; in fact, she feared him.  And so, she allowed him to do whatever he wanted.  So, at the age of 16 he left home and hired himself out as a soldier, he did this for a living; always working for the man who could pay him the most.  As a soldier his bad habits got even worse, he even added gambling to his list of vices. 

But even among the soldiers Camillus was too great a disturbance.  His gambling aggravated his violent temper, which led to quarrels, which led to insubordination, which led to him being kicked out.  Kicked out of the army, he began wandering from town to town, using gambling as a means of support.  He was soon destitute, living in rags.  It was at this time he began to reflect on his life, he began to remember what his mom had taught him about the Faith.  He repented, went to confession, the first time in years.

Camillus with a newfound freedom went to find his uncle, a Franciscan brother; and he asked to join the Franciscans.  The uncle received him warmly but wasn’t convinced of his conversion and he was turned away.  Camillus was not ready for religious life.  He went back to gambling and brawling.  Camillus was soon again reduced to rags and no money, and he developed a wound on his leg that just wouldn’t heal.  He was in Rome at the time and went to St. Giacomo Hospital looking for help.  He had no money so they wouldn’t treat him, but they did offer him a job.  Which he gladly took, again Camillus repented and for a time he was the best hospital orderly.  His leg was getting treated, he had a place to sleep, and he had food to eat.  The director of the hospital grew to depend on him.  Things were looking up, until he became bored one day and wound up on the roof gambling and fighting.  Camillus fell from grace and again he was kicked out.  Soon he was reduced to begging for food, sitting outside of churches waiting for handouts.  An old Capuchin brother saw him one day and wondered why such a big young man was sitting there begging.  This old Capuchin offered Camillus a job at the Monastery where they were in the middle of a building project.  This old Capuchin saw that his chronic wound was cared for and that Camillus had plenty to eat.  Camillus again repented and this time he really began to reform his life.  There were more slip ups to follow but he always repented, and he slowly grew in holiness. 

He went on to be ordained and eventually founded the Order of Clerks Regular, Camillians for short.  They worked as health care providers in hospitals and on the battle fields.  Camillus made use of his war experience.  All Camillians wear a large red cross on their cassock; even today they still wear this Red Cross.  It represents charity and service.  It represents Camillus’ great love for God and neighbor. 

To grow in our spiritual life is to grow in trust of our Lord.  Can we always and readily say “Jesus, I trust you!”  It took St. Camillus many years to get to that level of trust.  One spiritual writer put it this way; our spiritual life is like playing poker with the devil.  And we always have the winning hand.  The devil can never beat the hand we’ve been dealt.  And we can trust this.  In our hand we have been given first:  Jesus, who took all our sins upon Himself, taking them up to the cross, crucifying them along with his body, and rising from the dead He conquered sin and death, opening heaven for each of us.  In our hand we have been given second:  the Communion of Saints, all our friends around us and those in Heaven/Purgatory who help us with their constant prayers.  In our hand we have been given third:  the Church founded by Jesus with her Magisterium, her Scripture, and her Tradition all of which guide us on that narrow road to Heaven.  In our hand we have been given fourth:  the seven sacraments, the Eucharist especially, the sacraments are the very life of God Himself, given to us to wash, nourish, heal, and strengthen our souls.  And in our hand, we have been given fifth:  the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the perfect prayer to the Father, a time machine of sorts that allows us to join ourselves to Jesus as He offers Himself to the Father at Calvary.  We can give ourselves totally to the Father along with Jesus. 

With these cards we always have the winning hand.  We can trust this.  The devil’s hand is always a loser.  The problem is the devil is a liar, he’s the master of lies, he’s very good at it. He knows us well and he bluffs, and we sometimes believe him.  We believe his lies and we fold.  We put down our winning hand without even showing it (or trying it). 

He might tempt us to believe that we are worthless and it’s no use trying.  It’s a lie!

He might tempt us to believe it’s useless to continue going to confession, when we confess the same sins over and over.  It’s a lie!

He might tempt us to believe God has forgotten us and that we are on our own.  It’s a lie!

He might tempt us to believe that if we’re nice it doesn’t matter what we do, everyone goes to heaven anyway.   It’s a lie!

He might tempt us to believe that because we don’t “feel” anything happening at Mass that we should stop coming, or go elsewhere, God understands.  It’s a lie!

St. Camillus was canonized in the 18th c. he went from being an aggressive fighter and gambler to singing the praises of God in Heaven forever, loving God with all his heart, soul, and mind.  He stopped believing the lies, realizing what a treasure he held within his hands (Jesus, Church, Communion of Saints, Mass, The Eucharist).  He was loved with an extraordinary and exuberant love, and with time he learned to trust that Divine love.  And with time and patience he grew to love our Lord with all his heart, his soul, and his mind. 

We too are loved with an extraordinary and exuberant love and the same awaits each of us and that should fill us with great hope. 

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

Not long ago I had the privilege of attending Mass at a Franciscan Monastery, the Saint Clare Monastery.  This monastery had a beautiful and relatively new chapel, and across from my pew was a stained glass window with the words, “He who is like God.”  It was a window with the image of St. Michael the Archangel and Michael means one who is like God.  But before seeing the Archangel all I saw were the words and I took it as a question, “Who is like God?”  Answer:  you and I are like God, and we find this answer in the Bible.  In Genesis (1:27) it’s written, “So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  You and I are made in the image of God.

In today’s Gospel we hear about images, the first one being the image of Caesar on the Roman coin.  The Pharisees and the Herodians are trying to be clever.  They want to trap Jesus by trying to corner him into a catch-22.  These two groups the Pharisees and the Herodians are neither friends nor allies of each other.  They despise each other.  The Pharisees are religious patriots, bitterly opposed to Roman rule, whereas the Herodians are content to work together with the Gentile powers that be.  This present uneasy alliance is made solely for the purpose of bringing down the Messiah. They want to entrap him and get him out of the way.  They think their question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”   has only a “yes” or “no” answer.  If Jesus answers, “yes, pay the tax” the zealous Jews would run from him, and they had come to regard him as the Messiah.  Jesus would no longer have a following.  If Jesus answers, “no, don’t pay the tax” the Jewish priests of the temple could have the Roman soldiers arrest him for trying to overthrow the government.  With either response the Pharisees and Herodians think they can discredit Jesus and be rid of him.  Jesus would cease to have any influence. 

However, Jesus is wise to them and doesn’t answer their question with a simple “yes” or “no.”  He confounds and frustrates them when he holds up the coin and asks, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They must answer that Caesar’s image is on the coin.  Jesus then says something that has been quoted a million times throughout the centuries, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  Paying taxes, giving back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, brings us roads, a school system, police and fire departments, a society of law and order and everything a good government should provide.  As Christians we have a duty to be good citizens and to fight for and promote a good government based on our faith. 

The second part of the quote is a little more difficult, Jesus was looking at the crowd, made up of men and women, when he said, “Repay to God what belongs to God.”  The coin has the image of Caesar so giving it back to Caesar is easy, but where do we find the image of God?  And this brings us back to the stained-glass window I saw in the St. Clare Monastery with its question, “Who is like God?”  We are like God.  We’re made in His image and like the coin that goes back to Caesar; we’re to go back to God because we’re made for God.   We give ourselves to Him, by spending our life getting to know Him, by loving Him, and by serving Him.  And at the end of our life, we hope to finally join Him in Heaven. 

Here on earth, there are two dimensions of going to God.  First, there is the worship of God where we strive to give ourselves to Him totally with our whole heart, soul, and mind.   At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist at the offertory the priest says, “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”  We’ll say it this way to remind us that the priest stands in the person of Christ.  When the priest says “my sacrifice” he is saying it as Christ.  Everyone in the assembly also participates in that sacrifice because of our baptism we are all a member of the mystical body of Christ. We join our sacrifice to His sacrifice.  So, we bring our gifts, both our material and spiritual.  We bring what we have and what we are, and we acknowledge that it all comes from God, and it all belongs to God.  So, we give it back, we bring Him our lives, our sorrows, our joys, our sufferings, everything we are and offer them in union with the sacrifice of Christ.  We give ourselves to Him totally.

The second dimension of going to God is the giving of ourselves to God through the service to others.  Because others are also made in the image of God, and we serve God by serving them.  All of us are expected to give ourselves to our neighbor, even the one who seems unlovable.  Maybe, all we can do is pray for them but whatever we do for our neighbor, good or bad, we are giving to God. 

As images of God, we have the opportunity to build God’s kingdom, because we can bring God’s kingdom into all the places we enter; the Church, the home, the workplace, the school, and even the town square with its voting booth.  Building God’s kingdom, giving ourselves to God, can’t be kept within the privacy our home, it must be everywhere. Don’t make faith a private matter. 

The 16th of October is the feast day of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and I want to end with a quote of hers:

God gave me to understand that one cannot better show one’s love for him than by loving ones’ neighbor for love of him; and that I must work for the salvation of others, forgetting my own interest in order to espouse those of my neighbor, both in my prayers and in all the good I might be able to do by the mercy of God.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

William Holman Hunt was an English painter who died in 1910.  He was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite school of painters.  His paintings are noted for their vivid color, great attention to detail, and elaborate symbolism.  Hunt for a time considered himself to be an atheist.  But at the age of 25 he had a reversion to the faith.  And to mark the occasion he painted a work of art based on two scripture passages, 1st Revelation 3:20, where our Lord says to us, “Behold I stand at the door and Knock.”  And 2nd from John’s Gospel 8:12, where the Lord tells us, “I am the light of the world.”   Hunt combined these two passages into the painting entitled, “Light of the World.”  You are probably familiar with one or another knock-off of this original work of art.  In 1900 the painting toured the world; it was a very popular attraction.  At the end of the tour, it was hung in St Paul’s Cathedral in London.  

This painting shows the large wooden door of a country cottage, which is located on the edge of a forest, far away from any other houses or town.  Around the door weeds have grown up, ivy clings and drapes across the top of the door.  The hinges are rusted.  This door has not been opened in years.  And the landscape is abandoned, uncultivated, and hostile.  It is nighttime. 

In the darkness, the full moon forms a halo around the head of Christ, who is standing in front of the door.  He holds a lantern in his left hand, and with his right hand he is knocking on the door.  William Hunt was part of the “Pre-Raphaelite” school of painters.  This school of painting was interested in complex symbolism.  Their paintings were filled with lots of symbolism. 

In this painting, the cottage symbolizes the soul, the door is human freedom, and Christ is the light that brings hope and meaning to the darkness within.  It’s a haunting painting.

First, it’s counterintuitive to have a stranger wandering the woods at night carrying a light.  Usually in these types of paintings from that time the light would come from inside the place of residence and the wanderer would be seeking relief from the darkness outside.  Another detail is even more eloquent; no doorknob or handle can be seen on the outside of the door.  This implies that the door can only be opened from within, again human freedom.  Christ is knocking on the outside, waiting patiently to bring his light and grace into the house, into the soul, but only those on the inside can let him in.  Only we can let him in.

And that’s how it is in all our lives.  God surrounds us with his good gifts, his grace.  But he will never force his way into our hearts, he simply knocks, invites, and waits patiently for us to open the door. 

And we prayed for this grace at the beginning of Mass in the collect, our opening prayer.  As you recall we prayed to God, “May your grace at all times go before us and follow after us.”  In other words, may we be surrounded by God’s grace at all times.  But first we have to say yes and open that door.  St. Therese of Lisieux was very good at recognizing grace.  She knew of course that grace was to be found in all the sacraments, but she was able to recognize God’s grace in all the everyday occurrences of life.  She once said, “Everything is a grace, everything is the direct effect of our Father’s love difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul’s miseries, her burdens, her needs, everything, because through them she learns humility, realized her weakness.  Everything is a grace because everything is God’s gift.”  Everything that happens in our life is an opportunity o grow closer to God, even a fall into sin gives us the chance to grow in repentance, humility and reliance on grace. 

In the Gospel today we hear of our destiny, the great wedding banquet, Heaven.  We have all received the invitation, and at our baptism we received our white wedding garment.  And it’s God’s grace and our cooperation to that grace that keeps our wedding garment white.    Our RSVP is a simple yes to God everyday of our life.  Yes, to the graces around us and yes to the graces found in the sacraments.

St. Patrick of the 5th century composed a prayer asking for God’s grace and protection.  It’s called the Breastplate, which is a protective armor against harm.  He composed the prayer right before approaching the Irish king Leoghaire.  This king was a fierce warrior and St. Patrick wanted to convert him and his people to Christianity.  He was a little afraid, but courage is just fear that has said its prayers.    So, he prayed, and I paraphrase, “Ok Jesus I opened the door of my soul to you, I need you all around me, I need your grace.  A portion of St. Patrick’s prayer goes like this,

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise.

Reminding us of our opening prayer that God’s grace always goes before us and follows after. 

We receive such grace in all the everyday occurrences of life, its showered upon us, it’s the grace we need for every moment of our lives.  We also receive that grace in the sacraments: in Reconciliation where Christ forgives us; in the Eucharist where Christ comes to dwell within us. At Communion time we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” And you can say in your heart at that moment, “Lord, you have chosen me and called me. Give me the grace to answer that call, to say yes, to say yes every day of my life.”  To keep opening that door to you.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

October 7th is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  Pope St. Pius V established this feast in 1573.  The purpose was to thank God for victory of Christians over the Muslim Turks at Lepanto.  A victory attributed to the praying of the rosary.

In early October 1571 the Turkish Armada was making its way through the Mediterranean Sea.  It was an armada of 300 ships and 100,000 men.  Their eventual goal was Rome.  They were out to conquer the Pope and Christianity.   On October 7th, the Christian fleet of 285 ships and 70,000 men went in search of the Muslim navy.  They met in the Bay of Lepanto (Present day Naupaktos Greece).  The Christian flotilla was in a bad way.  The wind was against them, and a heavy fog obscured everything.  The Muslims were sure to win.  But then things began to change.  The wind reversed course and the fog lifted enough for the Christians to see their enemy.

The battle lasted 5 hours.  In the end the Christians were victorious.  The Turkish navy had lost most of its vessels while the Christians lost only a few.  Pope St. Pius V attributed this victory to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary.  Why?  Before battle all the Christian soldiers went to confession, participated in the Sacrifice of the Mass and they all prayed the Rosary.  70,000 men prayed the rosary, which was their spiritual weapon.   In Rome Pope St. Pius V had all the citizens in the city and surrounding countryside pray the rosary.  They stormed Heaven with their Heavenly weapon of the rosary.

It is well known that, on the evening of the day that the Christians defeated the Muslims, Pope St. Pius V was in Rome in a meeting and received a vision of the victory.  While in the middle of discussions in the Vatican, he suddenly broke away from his companions and stared out the window in complete ecstasy as

if he were seeing something tremendous, then he turned back toward his companions with a radiant face to jubilantly yell, “Victory! Victory!”  He explained that a great victory had been won that day by the Christian forces.  This vision occurred more than two weeks before the official courier from Venice arrived in Rome with the news.  The Pope attributed the victory to the Rosary.  Pope Francis recently said the rosary is the best weapon against the great accuser, meaning Satan.  It is the weapon that wins all battles.

Pope St. John Paul II once said that to pray the rosary is to meditate upon the face of Jesus with Mary.   The soul that lives by the rosary makes her way quickly towards a life of union with Christ.  And what are, in fact, the mysteries of the Rosary?  They are the very mysteries of Jesus, the mysteries of His life, the mysteries of His grace, and the mysteries of His love.  The rosary is the

soul truly plunged into Jesus Himself.  And to meditate on the face of Jesus, to look into the face of Jesus, is to know you are loved, to know you are forgiven.

In the 2nd Eucharistic Prayer, we pray to live forever in the light of our Lord’s Holy Face. This devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus is a very old devotion instituted for First Friday devotions.

O adorable face of Jesus hidden in the Eucharist – Have Mercy on us.

O adorable face of Jesus which will appear at the end of time in the clouds with great power and great majesty – Have Mercy on us.

O adorable face which will fill the just with joy for all eternity – Have Mercy on us.

With the aid of the Holy Rosary may we always contemplate the Holy Face of our Lord.

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

A commentary on Isaiah by St Jerome

Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ

I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: Search the Scriptures, and Seek and you shall find. Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God. For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.

  Therefore, I will imitate the head of a household who brings out of his storehouse things both new and old, and says to his spouse in the Song of Songs: I have kept for you things new and old, my beloved. In this way permit me to explain Isaiah, showing that he was not only a prophet, but an evangelist and an apostle as well. For he says about himself and the other evangelists: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news, of those who announce peace. And God speaks to him as if he were an apostle: Whom shall I send, who will go to my people? And he answers: Here I am; send me.

  No one should think that I mean to explain the entire subject matter of this great book of Scripture in one brief sermon, since it contains all the mysteries of the Lord. It prophesies that Emmanuel is to be born of a virgin and accomplish marvelous works and signs. It predicts his death, burial and resurrection from the dead as the Savior of all men. I need say nothing about the natural sciences, ethics and logic. Whatever is proper to holy Scripture, whatever can be expressed in human language and understood by the human mind, is contained in the book of Isaiah. Of these mysteries the author himself testifies when he writes: You will be given a vision of all things, like words in a sealed scroll. When they give the writings to a wise man, they will say: Read this. And he will reply: I cannot, for it is sealed. And when the scroll is given to an uneducated man and he is told: Read this, he will reply: I do not know how to read.

  Should this argument appear weak to anyone, let him listen to the Apostle: Let two or three prophets speak, and let others interpret; if, however, a revelation should come to one of those who are seated there, let the first one be quiet. How can they be silent, since it depends on the Spirit who speaks through his prophets whether they remain silent or speak? If they understood what they were saying, all things would be full of wisdom and knowledge. But it was not the air vibrating with the human voice that reached their ears, but rather it was God speaking within the soul of the prophets, just as another prophet says: It is an angel who spoke in me; and again, crying out in our hearts, Abba, Father’, and I shall listen to what the Lord God says within me.