From the treatise Against Heresies by Saint Irenaeus, bishop

The sending of the Holy Spirit

When the Lord told his disciples to go and teach all nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God. He had promised through the prophets that in these last days he would pour out his Spirit on his servants and handmaids, and that they would prophesy. So when the Son of God became the Son of Man, the Spirit also descended upon him, becoming accustomed in this way to dwelling with the human race, to living in men and to inhabiting God’s creation. The Spirit accomplished the Father’s will in men who had grown old in sin, and gave them new life in Christ. 

Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first fruits of all the nations. 

This was why the Lord had promised to send the Advocate: he was to prepare us as an offering to God. Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes down from heaven. And like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay we have become one in body; through the Spirit we have become one in soul. 

The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God came down upon the Lord, and the Lord in turn gave this Spirit to his Church, sending the Advocate from heaven into all the world into which, according to his own words, the devil too had been cast down like lightning. If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God. Since we have our accuser, we need an Advocate as well. And so the Lord in his pity for man, who had fallen into the hands of brigands, having himself bound up his wounds and left for his care two coins bearing the royal image, entrusted him to the Holy Spirit. Now, through the Spirit, the image and inscription of the Father and the Son have been given to us, and it is our duty to use the coin committed to our charge and make it yield a rich profit for the Lord.

Dear Friends,

Today we celebrate our Lord’s departure from earth.  Forty days after the Resurrection, with his disciples and Apostles gathered around him, Jesus ascended back into Heaven.  Back to his Father’s side. Back to where he had come from at the moment of the incarnation.  And today we celebrate that return to heaven.  But instead of making us sad we are filled with hope.  In one of our prayers from Mass we hear, “Christ has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope.  Because where he has gone we hope to follow.   If Jesus had not ascended into heaven, body and soul, humanity and divinity, we would not be able to hope for heaven ourselves, to be immersed in that Heavenly bliss. 

Not long ago Pope Francis, when describing the Ascension, compared Jesus to a roped guy leading an expedition up a mountain.  This roped guy has a strong rope tied around his waist, dragging yards of rope behind, with everyone following grabbing onto it.  And when that roped guy gets to the top he turns around to pull everyone else up to the top.  Jesus is like that lead roped guy climbing a mountain.  When he gets to the top he turns around to pull us up.  This heavenly rope of grace pulls us toward paradise.

At every Mass we get a hint of that heavenly rope pulling us up.  There is one Mass in particular that stands out to me.  It was the Mass where Fr. Jose was ordained with three other men to the Transitional Diaconate.   It really made an impression.    It was a beautiful Mass, there were flowers, the music was awesome, there was the choir the organ and the trumpets, the Cathedral was packed with people all dressed up, and the sanctuary was crammed with priests.  I was in the back row smooshed between two other larger very healthy priests. Now for each reading someone from the assembly came up to the ambo to read the scripture passage.  For the first reading the woman was very slow in making her way to the ambo, heads were beginning to turn.  I’m sure they were thinking, “What’s going on?”  I think the first lector was slow in realizing that it was her time to read.  But when she got there she did a marvelous job.  Next we sang the psalm, the choir did a wonderful job and everyone in the assembly sang along.

Now for the second reading the lector was very prompt in getting to the ambo, she learned from the first reader.  But before she began to read, she blurted something out, now this isn’t something you’re not supposed to do, but she blurted something out, before doing the reading, she said, “This is Heaven!”   Then she turned around to smile at the Bishop.  Of course he smiled back at her.  Then she began to read. 

Those three words stuck with me throughout the Mass.  The words, “This is Heaven” rattled around in my mind for the next hour and a half.  Now it’s true, every time Mass is celebrated Heaven and earth are joined.  One of our Deacons once said, “When we come to Mass it’s like dipping our big toe into Heaven.”    Now right after Holy Communion I went back to my seat to make a thanksgiving and that’s when those words, “This is Heaven” really hit me.  I felt the love of the Lord, I felt that rope tugging at me from above. 

Every time we pray, every time we receive the sacraments, and every time we come to Mass we are making acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity.  Sometimes our Lord makes these acts so very sweet that we can “feel” them within the depth of our soul.  We feel his Divine presence.  Now we don’t pray with the intention of receiving these consolations, we pray because that is our duty to God.  But every once in a while to bolster our faith, hope, and charity we receive these little tugs from that heavenly rope.  These tugs strengthen our theological virtues.  It’s so very sweet. 

If Christ had not ascended into heaven, we would not be able to pray to him at any time and in any place, we would not be able to have him close by in the Eucharist, because if he had not ascended he would still be limited by time and space.   May 17th was the Feast day of St. Paschal Baylon and he took advantage of fact, of praying to our Lord at any time and any place he found himself. 

St Paschal Baylon was a Spanish peasant, and he was a shepherd for the first 24 years of his life.  He could barely read, but he loved Christ, and he had a special understanding of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.  He had to stay with his sheep all day, from morning to night, everyday which made it impossible for him to go to Mass every day.  So he did the next best thing.  At the hour Mass was being celebrated, he would kneel on the hillsides, gazing at the church in the valley, and pray, uniting himself to Christ who was renewing his sacrifice and presence through the priest’s ministry.  Eventually, St Paschal found his vocation to become a religious brother.  He joined the local Franciscan community and encouraged everyone by his virtue, joy, and good humor.  During free moments between duties, he could almost always be found in the chapel, speaking with Christ in the Eucharist.  To casual onlookers he was kneeling on a hard stone floor here on earth, but in truth he was enjoying the presence of our King who sits forever on his throne in heaven.  He died when he was only fifty-two, at the very moment that the bell rang to signify the consecration at Mass.

On this Ascension Day we especially remember the virtue of hope.  And as Christians we can hope more than anyone else, because Christ has ascended into heaven in his human nature.  Jesus is now ruling the universe in his human nature.  His Ascension is a bridge, a rope, between heaven and earth.  We are not abandoned.  We are guaranteed a room in the Father’s house because Jesus has gone to get one ready for each of us.  Those who die in Christ’s friendship will not melt back into some impersonal void.  We will not be annihilated we will not lose our humanity; we will experience it to the full and then some.

As Pope Francis said, “Jesus is like a roped guy climbing a mountain. When he gets to the top he turns around to pull us up.”  Sometimes we feel that rope tugging us up, sometimes we don’t but in the virtues of faith, hope and charity let yourself be pulled to Heaven, repeatedly put yourself in a place to be tugged up to Heaven.  Repeatedly put yourself in a place of prayer, and sacrament, and Mass, put yourself in a place to be tugged up to Heaven.  It’s so sweet!

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

As a seminarian I regularly visited a couple of nursing homes, I visited Saint Patrick’s Manor and I visited the Lutheran Netherland home.  It was at this second place, the Lutheran Netherland Home that I visited a woman by the name of Firminia, and she was neither Dutch nor Lutheran.  She was a Portuguese Catholic and she was 105 years old.  Firminia was born in Portugal where there wasn’t much opportunity, so after marrying she and her husband immigrated to the USA.  They landed in Boston and began to live the American dream.  This was back in the 1920s. 

Firminia and her husband quickly added four children to their family.  Their son Johnnie came of age at the time of World War II.  And Johnnie, like many of the young men of his generation, felt it was his patriotic duty to enlist into the army.  And he did.  His mom did not want him to go, however.  She had already left Europe.  And she had left for good.  She didn’t want her son going there.  Once overseas Johnnie experienced the terrors of war and in battle, he was lost very quickly.  He was killed by enemy fire within a very short time of setting foot on the continent of Europe. 

As you can imagine Firminia was heartsick for her dead son.  He was gone, taken from her at such a young age. Firminia would never see him marry and never see him have children of his own.  There wouldn’t be any grandchildren from her son Johnnie.  And then about a month or so after his death a letter from an insurance company arrived in Firminia’s mailbox.  It contained a check; and the letter accompanying the check stated that she was the recipient of her son’s insurance policy. Before going overseas to Europe, on an impulse Johnnie had taken out an insurance policy in case

he should die.  On this insurance policy he named his mother, Firminia, as the beneficiary.  She was surprised.  She hadn’t expected this and it brought about another wave of sorrow and she

started crying.  She didn’t know that more checks were to follow.  Every month year after year Firminia receive a check from this insurance company.  She received these checks every month for 64 years.  Until she died she received a monthly check and whenever a check would come, if someone was present she would say, “My son Johnnie still takes care of me.  Even though he’s been gone all these years he still takes care of me, I still feel his presence.”  Her sorrow had been replaced by joy. 

Jesus promised not to leave us alone. In the Gospel He says,  “I will ask the Father, and he will give your another Advocate to be with you always.”  He promised to send us the advocate, to send us the Spirit of Truth.  “He will remain with you, and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans.”  He promised to continue to take care of us and to be present with and within us.  Leading us to truth, strengthening us and giving us the courage to say yes to God’s will.  From the catechism we have this; Jesus came to us to give us the Spirit, and by the Spirit we come to share God’s life.  This is the Catholic understanding of grace:  it is a sharing in divine life.  “As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.”

At the seminary before every class one of my teachers, Fr. Moriarty, would begin each class with the short prayer, “Come Holy Spirit!”  Whether he said it for himself or for us, I’m not sure.  But it’s a good prayer to always have on our lips and in our minds. It’s a good prayer to begin each day.   Praying it in those difficult moments when we are in need of heavenly aid, when we are in need of the right words and the right actions in our home, our place of work, or school.

Saint Hilary a fourth century bishop and Doctor of the Church once wrote this about the Holy Spirit (It’s so good);

“We receive the Spirit of truth, he wrote, so that we can know the things of God.  He then used the example of our eyes, ours ears, and our nose in order to explain the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s relationship to our soul.  The eye does not work without light, the ear does not work without sound, and the nose does not work without a scent to smell.  Our organs of sense need light, and sound, and odor to work properly.    And it’s the same with the human soul.  Unless the soul absorbs the gift of the Spirit through faith, the mind won’t have the ability to know God it would lack the grace necessary for that knowledge. 

This unique gift which is in Christ is offered in its fullness to everyone.  It is everywhere available, but it’s given to each person in proportion to his or her readiness to receive it. The more we desire the more we receive.  

Firminia received a monthly gift from her son.  This gift supported her and gave her comfort and security.  How much more and in a more real way does the gift of the Holy Spirit support us giving us wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.  Never neglect the gift of the Holy Spirit, let these words always be on our lips, “Come Holy Spirit Come!”

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

In the Gospel today we hear that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He draws us out of darkness and into a wonderful light as St. Peter said in the second reading.  Libraries have been written about this statement.  And two millennia of saints have meditated upon this statement and lived it.  And I have an example of one of those saints, St. Francis Borgia.  St Francis Borgia discovered the infinite and eternal true way of Christ while at the very same time discovering how finite and fragile the way of human greatness really is.  Sometimes in paintings or statues St. Francis Borgia is shown holding a skull with a crown on top of it.  Meaning Human greatness, human royalty always comes to an end. 

St Francis Borgia lived in the 1500s and eventually he would become the second Superior General of the Jesuit Order.  He took over right after the founder St. Ignatius of Loyola had died.  His spectacular leadership laid the groundwork for that Order’s truly remarkable achievements.  But until he was 40-years-old, he wasn’t overly concerned about Christ and the Church, and living in the ways of Jesus. Instead, he lived the brilliant and dashing life of a Spanish nobleman.  Francis Borgia was the grandson of a Pope on one side of his family and the grandson of a King on the other side of his family.  He was a cousin to the ruling Emperor.  Francis was well connected, well-educated and he grew up enjoying the privileges of royalty living in Spain’s golden age.  He was extremely gifted with intelligence, courage, and all the natural virtues, and was one of the most trusted Imperial advisers.  He was also a close friend and advisor to the Empress Isabel, one of Europe’s greatest women.  Isabel was intelligent, very wise, beautiful, and loved by all.   

By his nature, his education, and his circumstances, Francis Borgia had a great future ahead of him, a great future within the worldly life of the royal court. But all of that changed abruptly when the Empress died.  After her death Francis was asked to escort the body of Isabel to the city of Grenada where she was to be buried.  It was a long and hot and dusty journey to Grenada.  At the city gates this cortege was met by the magistrates and they wanted to confirm the identity of the cadaver.    And so they opened the coffin.   But it had been such a long and hot journey that when they looked at the queen’s face they didn’t recognize it.  Her face had become so bloated and disfigured that no one could recognize it.  And the stench of the decaying body was so foul that everyone fled from the chamber.  Francis was in shock: he asked himself what had become of those intelligent eyes, what had become of her elegance and charm, her wit, the sweetness of her laughter?  It was all gone.

For the first time, Francis really understood how fragile and passing this life is.   One day she was Queen of Spain and Holy Roman Empress, revered and envied throughout the world, with unlimited wealth and power at her beck and call; and the next day, she was a repulsive, putrefying corpse.  That’s when St Francis Borgia began to think seriously about what Christ had really meant when he claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life, the conqueror of death and the source of eternal life. 

From ancient times, philosophers have summed up the human condition as a quest to answer three fundamental questions:

1. What should I do?

2. What can I know?

3.  What can I hope for? 

And today in response to doubting Thomas, Jesus gives us the definitive answer to each one of these questions when he tells us that he is the way,

the truth, and the life. Actually, Jesus doesn’t just give the answers as so much as he is the answers.  “I am the way” can translate into: “What should you do?  And our Lord answers Follow me! Do what I have done.” 

“I am the truth” means:  “What can you know? And our Lord answers, you can know everything, if only you know me.  “Knowing me, more and more every day, you know the secret behind the workings of the whole universe and the deepest yearnings of the human heart, because I made them both.  I am the eternal Word, the very Wisdom of God.”

“I am the life” means: “What can you hope for? And our Lord answers, in me, through me, you can hope for the fullness of life that you long for in the very depths of your soul.  “You can hope for your very own room in my Father’s house, in heaven – I have gone to prepare it for you. This room made especially and uniquely for you is within the heart of the Father.  A place of great tenderness and intimacy, a bliss unimaginable here on earth. “And in the Father’s house all sorrows turn to joy, all weakness turns to strength, and life grows more alive as eternity unfolds. 

Christ is truly the living water that quenches every thirst. He is truly the light that scatters every type of darkness.  The quest of every man and woman to satisfy the heart’s deepest needs is the quest to seek his face. As St Augustine famously wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”  And he added, “So cling to Christ if you wish to be secure, if you cling to Christ you will not get off the road, you will not get off the way, because he is the way.  And those who hold onto him are not walking off the road but on the right road.”

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday; it’s also World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  We pray for shepherds who imitate our Heavenly Good Shepherd.   And today I want to tell you about two different priests.  The first is Fr. Francis Grogan.  Fr. Grogan was born in 1925.  As a young man he served aboard a Navy destroyer during World War II.  And after the war he entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross and during those initial years he earned two degrees, one from Notre Dame, of course, and the second from Fordham University.  Fr. Grogan was ordained in 1955 and he spent the next 46 years working in education at the university and high school levels and on the weekends he went to work in various parishes.  Much of Fr. Grogan’s life was spent teaching and ministering at Stonehill College (a Holy Cross institution) in Easton Massachusetts.   He was described as being, well-educated but incredibly humble, he had no ego and he was a priest who really cared about people. 

On his 76th birthday Fr. Grogan received the gift of an airline ticket.  This ticket would allow him to travel to California so that he could visit his sister Anne, whom he hadn’t seen in decades.  He really looked forward to seeing her.  So on the morning of the flight he got a ride to the airport and at the ticket counter he received the surprise that someone has upgraded him to first class and as he boards the plane he finds that he is sitting in front of one of his former students, a man by the name of Jim Hayden.  When Jim was a student at Stonehill Fr. Grogan had introduced him to a woman by the name of Peggy. Peggy would eventually become Jim’s wife.  Fr. Grogan was their matchmaker and he was very special to them and it was a nice surprise for Jim that Fr. Francis Grogan was sitting in front of him.  So he called his wife Peg to give her the news.  It was a nice little reunion.  Fr. Grogan got to talk to Peg for a few minutes. 

Now Fr. Grogan boarded his plane in Boston at Logan Airport and the date was September 11, 2001.  His plane would soon crash into the World Trade Center.  Peggy Hayden was later interviewed and she spoke of Fr. Grogan and she spoke of what he had done for her family.  She was

greatly consoled by the fact that her husband’s final moments were spent in the company of this holy priest.  “The power of the presence of a priest can be a mystical and mighty comfort,” she said.   “I know that Fr. Grogan exercised all the powers of his priesthood in those last moments.”

The next day Pope St. John Paul II would say that “Evil, terror, suffering, and death will not have the last word.”  And it didn’t, on that plane, Fr. Grogan’s words of absolution and peace had the last word. 

The second priest I want to talk about is an un-named priest.  On September 21st, 1953 this particular priest happened to be praying in the Church of St. Joseph in Buenos Aires. In the Southern Hemisphere September 21st is the first day of spring and in Argentina it’s a National Holiday called Students’ Day.  It’s a day when students don’t go to school a day they can goof off.  A 16 year old boy named Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis) was planning to go out to celebrate with friends on that day.  Before going out, however, Jorge decided to go to his parish church of St. Joseph to pray a bit before beginning the day of fun.  When Jorge arrived at the church, he saw a priest he didn’t recognize but this priest seemed to radiate holiness.  And so he decided to approach him and ask him to hear his confession.  Pope Francis later recounts that he doesn’t remember what he said to the priest or what the priest said in response.  But he does know that that confession totally changed not only his plans for the day, but also the plans for the whole course of his life.  Pope Francis would later say, “For me, this was an experience of encounter:  I found that someone was waiting for me.  Yet I don’t know what happened.  I can’t remember. I don’t know why that particular priest was there, whom I didn’t know, or why I felt this desire to confess.  But the truth is that someone was waiting for me.  He had been waiting for me for some time.  After making my confession, I felt something had changed.  I was not the same. I had heard something like a voice or a call.”  “I realized that God was waiting for me.” 

Both Fr. Francis Grogan and the unknown Argentinian priest were good

shepherds, good shepherds after our own Divine Shepherd, they each laid down their life for the sheep in their care.  And they each did it in a different way, in different parts of the world and in the way God called them to lay down their life.    Pope St. John Paul II said, “Evil, terror, suffering, and death will not have the last word.”  Instead our Lord’s triumph over death, his peace and his mercy will have the last word.  And the graces of our Lord’s triumph, his peace and his mercy, all of these graces, are given to us through His priests.  We can encounter God through our priests.  God used Fr. Grogan and that unknown Argentinian priest in countless ways to reach his sheep and to shepherd them home to heaven.  Fr. Grogan helping that plane full of people at the end of their lives, the Argentinian priest inspiring a young man to consider the priesthood which would ultimately lead to the papacy.  Just two events in two lifetimes of priestly activity.

God is still calling young men to the priesthood.  However, I think that call sometimes gets lost in all the noise of our modern culture.  That call sometimes gets lost in the lack of support young men receive from parents, family, and friends.  So we not only pray for vocations but I think we need to pray that those young men have the time and place and silence to hear our Lord’s call.  In the Old Testament the prophet Elijah heard the voice of the Lord but he only heard the voice in a tiny whispering sound.   He didn’t and couldn’t hear our Lord’s voice in the noise of the world.  He only heard it in the silence. 

On this Good Shepherd Sunday and World day of Prayer for Vocations we pray for God to continue calling shepherds after his own heart, and we pray for those young men to have the support and space,  and time and silence to hear his call.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

Today we hear of the very first Mass celebrated after the Resurrection.  It’s celebrated on the evening of Easter Sunday.  There is a Liturgy of the Word as Jesus walks with the two disciples  he explains the Old Testament prophesies that refer to Him and there is the Liturgy of the Eucharist celebrated at the home where the two disciples were going to stay for the night.  Jesus is the celebrant of that first post resurrection Mass just as He is the celebrant of every Mass since that first Easter Sunday. 

Now in our Gospel today we heard that the two disciples were prevented from recognizing Jesus.  They were prevented from recognizing Jesus.  Now it’s not as if they forgot what he looked like, it’s only been three days; rather it was their faith that prevented them from seeing Jesus.  Jesus’ presence was veiled.  They lacked faith.  They lacked faith in three ways.  First, they referred to Jesus as a prophet, not as Messiah or God.  The scandal of the Cross was too much; they had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel.  Second, the news of the empty tomb made no sense to them, just a bunch of hysteria they reasoned.  And third, they did not believe all that the prophets had spoken in the Old Testament, and our Lord rebukes them for that lack of faith, and so he explains. 

For the Liturgy of the Eucharist they go inside and just as he did at the Last Supper, Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives the bread, he gives the Eucharist.  The exact same verbs are used for the Mass at the Last Supper, for the Mass on the Road to Emmaus, and for every Mass since then.  For two millennia Jesus has taken, blessed, broken and given, given the Eucharist.  And it’s at that moment that the disciples’ eyes were opened to the presence of Jesus, they recognized him in the breaking of the bread, and they recognized him in the Eucharist. 

And then he vanishes from their sight.  He vanishes.  Jesus hides himself until the moment He breaks the bread.  Why?  He wants them to see how He will be present to them from now on.  This is how he will be present to them, in the bread, in the Eucharist.  His risen body, blood, soul, and divinity is now present in the Eucharist.  He will be with us in the Eucharist until the end of time.

I have a story about a man who knew Jesus to be present in the Eucharist, his eyes were open, even though veiled by the appearances of bread and wine this man knew in great faith that Jesus was present in the Eucharist.  His name is Mark Ji Tianxiang, he was known to everyone as Ji.  For many years he was a respectable Christian, raised in a Christian family in 19th-century China. He was a leader in the Christian community, a well-off doctor who served the poor for free. Later in life after many years of practicing medicine he became very sick with a violent stomach ailment and so he treated himself with opium. Back then in the 19th century it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but Ji soon became addicted to the drug, an addiction that was considered shameful and gravely scandalous.

As his circumstances deteriorated, Ji continued to fight his addiction. He went frequently to confession, refusing to embrace this affliction that had taken control of him. Unfortunately, the priest to whom he confessed (along with nearly everybody in the 19th century) didn’t understand addiction as a disease. Since Ji kept confessing the same sin, the priest thought, that he wasn’t even trying and that Ji had no desire to do better.

After a few years of this, Ji’s priest told him to stop coming back for confession, to stop receiving the Eucharist, to stop until he was serious about quitting the opium.  They just had no understanding about addictions in the 19th century.  Ji just could not quit.   For some, this might have been an invitation to leave the Church in anger or shame, but for all his fallenness, Ji knew himself to be loved by the Father and by the Church. He knew that the Lord wanted his heart. So instead of receiving the Eucharist using the sense of taste, he received instead using the sense of sight.  And how he would stare at the Blessed Sacrament held aloft over the priest’s head at the time of the elevation, taking our Lord in through his eyes, receiving Him through the sense of sight. He’d also sit in the church in the presence of the Eucharist.  He couldn’t stay sober, but he could keep showing up.

And show up he did, for 30 years. For 30 years, he was unable to receive the sacraments.  God’s grace is not limited to the sacraments, the Mass made all the difference in his life. 

In 1900, when the Boxer Rebels began to turn against foreigners and Christians, Ji was rounded up with dozens of other Christians, including his son, six grandchildren, and two daughters-in-law.

Many of those imprisoned with him were likely disgusted by his presence there among them, this man who couldn’t go a day without a hit. Surely he would be the first to deny the Lord.

But while Ji was never able to beat his addiction, he was, in the end, flooded with the grace of final perseverance. No threat could shake him, no torture make him waver. He was determined to follow the Lord who had never abandoned him.

As Ji and his family were dragged to prison to await their execution, his grandson looked fearfully at him. “Grandpa, where are we going?” he asked. “We’re going home,” came the answer.  

Ji begged his captors to kill him last so that none of his family would have to die alone. He stood beside all nine of them as they were beheaded. In the end, he went to his death singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And though he had been away from the sacraments for decades, he is today a canonized saint.  St. Mark Ji Tianxiang

In our Gospel this morning, beginning with Moses, Jesus interpreted for the disciples all that referred to Him in the Old Testament.   In Genesis, Exodus, the Prophets, and the even in the Psalms Jesus is prefigured.  The Old prefigures the New, or we could say that the New is hidden in the Old and the Old is brought to completion in the New.  The connections between the Old and New is Divine providence, it’s not by chance or coincidence.  It’s part of God’s plan.   The Old and the New are always connected. 

In the Old Testament Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And after eating that fruit, their eyes were opened to their sin.  Today we hear of the disciples who eat the Fruit of the new tree of Life, the Cross, and the fruit is Jesus and after they eat of that fruit their eyes are opened to their redemption.  The eyes of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang were totally open to the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  The Mass kept him connected to Jesus.  It made all the difference. 

My prayer for us today is that we always see Jesus in the Eucharist, although veiled under the appearance of Bread and Wine we see Jesus.  We see Jesus. 

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

St. Vincent de Paul lived in 17th century Paris France.  And sometimes in the afternoon he liked to take a walk to clear his head.  On one particular afternoon a crying woman ran up to him.  She was inconsolable.  In between the outbursts of tears and sobbing he was able to piece together what had happened.  Her husband, that morning, had jumped from a bridge into the river.  He had taken his own life.  The woman was broken with grief.  She feared the worst for her husband’s soul.  But in a moment of Heavenly grace, St. Vincent de Paul was given a bit of knowledge of what had happened that morning on the bridge.  He said, “Madam, do not be afraid, in that time and distance from the railing of the bridge to the water’s surface your husband repented, he is saved.”  Go and pray for him!

On this Divine Mercy Sunday we are reminded that our Lord is always reaching out to us.   Even in that millionth of a second between life and death, he still reaches out to us. In that short span of time, in that millionth of a second this is what the conversation may have sounded like: 

Jesus speaking with a despairing soul:

Jesus:  O soul steeped in darkness, do not despair.  All is not yet lost.  Come and confide in your God, who is love and mercy. 

-But the soul, deaf even to this appeal, wraps itself in darkness. 

Jesus calls out again:  My child, listen to the voice of your merciful Father. 

-In the soul arises this reply:  “For me there is no mercy,” and it falls into greater darkness, a despair which is a foretaste of hell and makes it unable to draw near to God.

Jesus calls to the soul a third time, but the soul remains deaf and blind, hardened and despairing.  Then the mercy of God begins to exert itself, and without any co-operation from the soul, God grants it final grace.  If this too is spurned, God will leave the soul in this self-chosen disposition for eternity.  This grace emerges from the Merciful Heart of Jesus and gives the soul a special light by means of which the soul begins to understand God’s effort; but conversion depends on its own will.  The soul knows that this, for him, is final grace and, should it show even a flicker of good will, the Mercy of God will accomplish the rest. 

My omnipotent mercy is active here.  Happy the soul that takes advantage of this grace.

Jesus:  What joy fills My Heart when you return to me.  Because you are weak, I take you in My arms and carry you to the home of My Father. 

Soul:  (as if awaking, asks fearfully): Is it possible that there yet is mercy for me?

Jesus:  There is, my child.  You have a special claim on My mercy.  Let it act in your poor soul; let the rays of grace enter your soul; they bring with them light, warmth, and life. 

Soul:  But fear fills me at the thought of my sins, and this terrible fear moves me to doubt Your goodness. 

Jesus:  My child, all your sins have not wounded My Heart as painfully as your present lack of trust does – that after so many efforts of My love and mercy, you should still doubt My goodness. 

Soul:  O Lord, save me Yourself, for I perish.  Be my Savior, O Lord, I am unable to say anything more; my pitiful heart is torn asunder; but You, O Lord…

Jesus does not let the soul finish but, raising it from the ground from the depths of its misery; he leads it into the recesses of His Heart where all its sins disappear instantly, consumed by the flames of love. 

Jesus:  Here, soul, are all the treasures of My Heart.  Take everything you need from it.

Soul:  O Lord, I am inundated with Your grace.  I sense that a new life has entered into me and, above all, I feel Your love in my heart.  That is enough for me.  O Lord, I will glorify the omnipotence of Your mercy for all eternity.  Encouraged by Your goodness, I will confide to You all the sorrows of my heart. 

Jesus:  Tell me all, My child, hide nothing from Me, because My loving Heart, the Heart of your Best Friend, is listening to you. 

Soul:  O Lord, now I see all my ingratitude and Your goodness.  You were pursuing me with Your grace, while I was frustrating Your benevolence, I see that I deserve the depths of hell for spurning Your graces, Jesus (interrupting):  Do not be absorbed in your misery – you are still too weak to speak of it – but, rather, gaze on My Heart filled with goodness, and be imbued with My sentiments.  Strive for meekness and humility; be merciful to others, as I am to you; and, when you feel your strength failing, if you come to the fountain of mercy to fortify your soul, you will not grow weary on your journey. 

Soul:  Now I understand Your mercy, which protects me, and like a brilliant star, leads me into the home of my Father, protecting me from the horrors of hell that I have deserved, not once, but a thousand times.  O Lord, eternity will hardly suffice for me to give due praise to Your unfathomable mercy and Your compassion for me.  (From the diary of St. Faustina)

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His Mercy endures forever. 

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

Dear Friends,

In the time of Jesus, the cross was a brutal and very effective sign of Roman power.  The message of Rome was this, “If you confront and challenge us, we will nail you to a dreadful instrument of torture and leave you to die in agonizing pain.  Then we’ll make sure that your body hangs there until it is eaten away by scavenging animals.”  The cross was state-sponsored terrorism, and it terrified people. 

After putting down the great slave uprising of Spartacus, the Roman government lined the Appian Way with hundreds of crosses so as to discourage any other would-be revolutionaries.  Pontius Pilate had much the same intention when he nailed dozens of Jewish rebels to the walls of Jerusalem.  That same Pilate arranged for Jesus to be crucified on Calvary Hill, a high point of land just outside one of the gates of Jerusalem.  This guaranteed that his horrific death would not be missed by the large Passover crowds moving in and out of the city. 

As we know all of the apostles, except John ran from Jesus.  They wanted with all their hearts to avoid the cross, to avoid the same fate.  And after Good Friday the friends of Jesus huddled in the Upper Room, terrified that they too would be nailed to a cross on Calvary.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus were, heading out of Jerusalem, away from danger, utterly convinced that Jesus’ movement had failed.  The cross meant victory of the world, and the annihilation of Jesus and everything he stood for.  But we as Christians understand something very different.

A few years later St. Paul would write something very strange, “I preach one thing, Christ and him crucified!”  The cross is the centerpiece of his message.  How bizarre this would have sounded to his first century crowd.  And there is some 1st century graffiti that shows this.  In Rome, archaeologists found a drawing of a crucified man with the head of a donkey.  And in the drawing there is another man standing near and looking to the crucified man.  Beneath it someone had written, “Alexandros worships his God!”  Someone was mocking this man Alexandros for worshipping Jesus.    St. Paul preached the resurrection of the crucified Jesus.  His exaltation of the cross is a taunt to Rome and all of its brutal descendants down through the ages:  “You think that scares us?  God has conquered that!”  And so even today, we are still bold in displaying and holding up an image of the humiliated and tortured Jesus, displaying him to the world.  We are not afraid.  The world killed Jesus but God raised him from the dead.  The wood of the Cross has brought joy to the world.  Jesus said to death, you shall die in me, He said to Hell you shall be destroyed by me.  Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday.  All our Good Fridays are followed by Easter Sundays.  Easter is the celebration of the single event that has transformed the world.  And so an Easter celebration should make a lasting impression. 

On Easter morning in the city of Florence Italy a strange, and fascinating, and wonderful Easter tradition will be celebrated.  On Easter morning 150 soldiers, drummers, flag throwers, local leaders, musicians, and a team of white oxen decorated with flowers will gather at a place called the Porto al Prato.  Porto al Prato is one of the ancient gates that lead into the beautiful and historic city of Florence.  Once all are gathered, a 500 year old, 30 foot cart loaded with fireworks is hitched to the oxen and the Easter procession begins. 

The procession makes its way through the ancient and winding streets of Florence it ends in the Piazza del Duomo in front of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower.  When the procession stops Easter Mass begins.  Now here is where things get interesting.  A wire is stretched from the cart loaded with fireworks to the high alter inside the cathedral.  Now while the Gloria is being sung at the high altar, a little mechanical dove is attached to the wire, it’s lit on fire. It then “flies” down the wire and out the front doors to the waiting cart.  That dove on fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit.  The on fire dove then sets off the fireworks.  And for twenty minutes there is a display of bell ringing, fireworks, and the singing of the Gloria. 

That’s how you celebrate Easter!  That’s how you celebrate the single event that has transformed the world.  I’ll get Roger working on this for next year at St. Joseph’s☺. We’ll have our own show of fireworks and flaming dove. 

Christ is risen! He is truly risen! And if we believe this, if we believe that our Savior Jesus Christ defeated death, defeated the cross 20 centuries ago, and that we continue to reap the fruits of that saving act of grace, then we should light fireworks and ring bells and rejoice like on no other day!  Our Lord’s resurrection opened Heaven to us.  His triumph is shared in all our sacraments.  His triumphant grace is given to us in Baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing.  His resurrection is lived out by Christians every day. 

And So Easter is a day meant to be celebrated and celebrated big, full choir, flowers, new fire, and new water.  It is exciting, riveting, miraculous, and literally life-changing it’s something we are meant to share with others to run and tell others.  In all the gospels we get a sense of certain urgency in sharing the message of the resurrection.  There is an awful lot of running.  We run when we are excited to share good news.  Think of when you were a kid and had exciting news to share with your mom or dad, you ran to them. 

And so it is with the disciples.  Mary Magdalene runs to Peter to tell him of the empty tomb.  And then Peter and John they run to the tomb.  It all suggests a sense of urgency because nothing like this has ever happened before.  This is a joyful day!  Jesus conquered sin and death on the Cross and he rose from the dead.  And He shares the grace of His triumph with us!  Sin and death do not have the last word, our Lord does!  Light fireworks, ring bells, sing alleluia, and run and tell others!

Happy Easter!

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

Today is Palm Sunday and these palms we hold are the ancient world’s symbol of triumph.  Christians see them as a symbol of our Lord’s triumph and definitive victory over sin, and death, and hopelessness.  That’s why we place them on our crucifixes.  Today is also known as Passion Sunday where Catholics throughout the world once again turn their hearts and minds to the suffering and death of Jesus.  Now all around us we see the different images of the passion.   In these fourteen Stations of the Cross we see the passion played out.  And right now I want to focus on station number six; Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

Now in the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson the actress who imitated the actions of St. Veronica had a conversion experience, right there in the midst of filming the scene.  Sabrina Impacciatore is an Italian actress and although she had grown up Catholic, she had long ago stopped practicing her faith.  At the time when they began filming, she was at a spiritual low point in her life.  She later explained that she really wanted to believe in Jesus, but she just couldn’t do it. 

Her scene in the movie is quite memorable.  Jesus is carrying his cross to Calvary and he falls again for the third or fourth time.  The crowds surge in around him, abusing him as he lies on the ground.  Without much success the soldiers try to control the crowds.    And gliding through the middle of all this confusion is Veronica.  She looks at Jesus with love and devotion.  She kneels down beside him and says, “Lord, permit me.”  She takes a white cloth and wipes his face which is covered with blood, dirt, and sweat.  She then offers him a drink.  It’s a brief moment of intimacy in the middle of violent suffering.  Sabrina said it was a very hard scene to film.  The churning crowd kept bumping into her and disrupting the moment of intimacy.  And so they had to film it over and over again.  Twenty times they had to film it before getting it right. 

And that was providential.  Because after twenty times of kneeling before the suffering Christ, looking into his eyes, and calling him Lord, the actress felt something start to melt inside her.  She wasn’t seeing the actor pretending to be our Lord; she was seeing our Lord himself.  Later, she explained that while she looked into his eyes, she found that she was able to believe.  “For a moment,” she said, “I believed!”  That experience lit the flame of hope in her darkened heart. 

Sabrina finally understood the words Jesus spoke from the Cross when he said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” The brutality of the scene made a big impression on her.  She found herself thinking, “Jesus is someone I can trust, he went through this for me.”  Even when we reject him, scourge him, crown him with thorns, betray him, and finally crucify him, our Lord still continues to love us.  The Passion is God saying to us, I will keep loving you. 

The name Veronica comes from the two words vera and icon and these two words mean true image.   This true image refers to the image of Jesus’ face that was left on the cloth that was used to wipe his face.  This relic is kept at the Vatican and scientists can’t explain it.  Vera icon, the true image, eventually became Veronica, the name given to the anonymous woman who loved Jesus.  As Christians all of us are supposed to be a Veronica, a true icon, a true image of Jesus.  Because it’s only in Him, only when we live in His image, living as a true icon of our Lord, that we can truly be happy. 

When we pray the Stations of the Cross, right before station number six we sing of Veronica.  We sing, “Brave but trembling came the woman, none but she would flaunt the Roman, moved by love beyond her fear.”  So as we enter into Holy Week, like Sabrina that actress, like St. Veronica herself, let us look into the eyes of our Lord, giving ourselves to him in all things.  Praying for the grace to not be afraid to love.  To pray for the grace to not be afraid to bring Him all of our sins, to bring to him our hurts, our doubts, our troubles, our hardness of hearts, our everything.  Trusting Him in everything.  In doing this our Lord will transform us, making us into a true image of Himself. 

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

From the beginning of John’s Gospel until now the magnificence of Jesus’ signs has been increasing: first we have the superabundance of good wine at the wedding feast in Cana, then we have the healing of a man paralyzed for thirty-eight years, the feeding of a crowd of over five thousand, the healing of a man born blind, and now Jesus performs the greatest sign of his public ministry; he brings Lazarus, who has been dead for four days, back to life. This sign reveals Jesus’ divine power over life and death, and many more come to believe in him as a result.

So picture the scene at the beginning of this passage. The messengers they arrive tired and breathless. Anxiously, they deliver their one-sentence message, a message composed by Martha and Mary, they say: “Master, the man you love is ill.” They then look earnestly and eagerly at Jesus, still breathing hard. The Apostles look back and forth from Jesus to the messengers. What’s our Lord going to do? They wonder. Then Jesus, looking warmly at the messengers, smiles and gives his answer. “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

This exchange gives us a privileged glimpse into Christ’s Sacred Heart, into our Lord’s charity. The message composed by Martha and Mary was the perfect prayer. “Master the man you love is ill.” They could have said, “Lord, the one who loves you is ill,” as if because Lazarus loved Jesus, he deserved to be healed. But who loves more, Lazarus or Jesus? Jesus loved Lazarus infinitely more than Lazarus could ever love Jesus! And so the appeal to Christ’s love was the wiser way to go.

Alternatively they could have said, “Lord, come and heal Lazarus, he’s very ill.” But that would have dictated what Jesus should do. And they wanted to leave it up to Jesus to decide himself, knowing that his love would do much, much more than they could ever think of – and they were right. And so, it was the perfect prayer. It plunged all their needs, hopes, and sorrows into the bottomless ocean of Christ’s love.

“Master, the one you love is ill.” Could Jesus’ heart ever resist a prayer like that? It expresses a total, uninhibited confidence in him, and it’s the exact confidence that his love wants to find in all of our hearts. The kind of confidence that unleashes his power and obtains the greatest miracle of his ministry.

This Gospel passage contains the shortest verse in the New Testament, two words: “Jesus wept.” If the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead isn’t enough to give us unlimited confidence in Christ, this verse should be more than enough. Jesus is God, all-knowing and all-powerful. And yet, in the face of his friend’s death, and in the face of the grief of those around him, his friends, his Martha and Mary, he is moved to tears. Jesus Christ is not a distant God. Jesus wept, and he weeps. He weeps with us when we weep. He stays with us even when everyone else abandons us. He’s always there in the Eucharist. Jesus wept with Martha and Mary before he raised Lazarus from the dead, because he wanted to assure us that he will always be with us in our sufferings too. When we are tempted to be angry at God or to feel abandoned by him, think of the shortest verse in the New Testament: Jesus wept.

All the saints learned this lesson. Fr. Dolindo Ruotolo who is on the road to canonization was a man with total uninhibited confidence in our Lord, the Lord who weeps with us. He understood the relationship between our neediness and God’s goodness. Fr. Dolindo was an Italian priest who lived from 1881-1970. Ordained at the age of 23, Fr. Dolindo spent his life in prayer, sacrifice and service. He heard confessions, gave spiritual guidance and cared for those in need. Fr. Dolindo was a contemporary of Padre Pio. When some pilgrims from Naples, where Fr. Dolindo lived, went to Padre Pio in Pietrelcina, Padre Pio would say to them: “Why do you come here, if you have Fr. Dolindo in Naples? Go to him, he’s a saint!”

As scholars begin to study his many written works this simple priest is becoming most known for his spirituality of surrender. He was well aware of the depth of human weakness and neediness, and Fr. Dolindo saw this as a way of fostering continual union with God. While inviting us to continually bring our worries and concerns to the Lord, Fr. Dolindo would teach that the focus doesn’t stay on our needs. Instead he would always encourage his people to bring their needs to God and to then be at peace, leaving God free to care for them in his own way and his own wisdom. Fr. Dolindo told his people that the Lord has promised to fully take on all the needs we entrust to him. In his own words: a thousand prayers do not equal one act of abandonment; give yourself to Jesus, and don’t forget it. Every malady we suffer is an opportunity for trusting in the love of Jesus. And there is no better prayer than this he would say: Jesus, I abandon myself to you. Jesus, you take over.

Fr. Dolindo knew suffering, his body was crippled with arthritis, his legs were always covered in ulcers that were always becoming infected, and for the last ten years of his life he was completely paralyzed. In each of these sufferings and every day of his life he would pray: Jesus you take over. This always filled him with joy.

Martha, Mary and Fr. Dolindo are three saints who trust. Their prayers express a total uninhibited confidence in Jesus. Martha and Mary prayed, “Jesus the one you love is ill.” They are saying the exact same thing as Fr. Dolindo, “Jesus you take over.” “You know what’s best, we abandon ourselves to you.” “You know what’s best, we abandon ourselves to you.”

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley