Long slow steady martyrdom…

Many the brave witnesses to faith
Who shed their holy blood
To water the seed of faith in fertile sacrifice
Before the eyes of heaven and earth.

Not all are called to such brave display
Yet still will wear the crown of victory
Such are the ones who faced the long slow steady martyrdom
Of daily dying so they might live.

Each day of life they chose the steep and narrow path
Offering their sacrifices seen by none but God alone
Who watered deep faith with hidden tears
Quiet witnesses who in loving joy served others as unto Christ.

Whether in quiet hidden witness or in bold and brave display
We each can give glory unto God
In brave endurance and embrace of the holy cross
Offered to us by God.

Linda Frasier (e’s mom)


Truth and Friendship – Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

  • JER 20:10-13 Jeremiah laments that all those who were his friends are now watching out to take advantage of any misstep.
  • PS 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35 Lord, in your great love, answer me… for your sake I have become an outcast and a stranger.
  • ROM 5:12-15 Sin entered the world…
  • MT 10:26-33 Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, be not afraid, you are worth more than sparrows, Jesus will acknowledge us before his heavenly Father.

Jeremiah’s words of truth brought separation from those he considered his friends, who didn’t want to hear the truth. The lectionary omits his frustration with God, whom Jeremiah identifies as having deceived him, and allowed him to become a laughingstock, but also his conclusion that he will trust God even now.

It is not unreasonable to struggle, like Jeremiah, with doubt and frustration, especially when God’s promises seem… delayed. The Navarre bible commentary relates St. John of the Cross’s conclusion that sometimes God’s purposes are nearly impossible to understand: “It is very difficult to attempt to understand fully the words and deeds of God, or even to decide what they may be, without falling often into error or becoming very confused. The prophets who were entrusted with the word of God knew this well; their task of prophesying to the people was a daunting one, for the people could not always see what was spoken coming to pass. Therefore, they mocked and laughed at the prophets…”

Jesus, too, endured persecution for speaking the truth. His friends, too, abandoned him. He, too, faced ridicule for putting his trust in the Father’s promises. From that context, he promises that he will be a faithful friend, acknowledging before his Father every one who acknowledges him before others. He also warns us, as Paul relates, that sin will separate us from one another, and from his friendship.

He offers us in this gospel

  • Freedom from fear of death
  • The assertion that we are not forgotten by God
  • A promise that rewards await those who stand with Christ

In meditating upon friendship, I thought of this, from another Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sira (200BC-ish):

Pleasant speech multiplies friends, and gracious lips, friendly greetings.

Let those who are friendly to you be many, but one in a thousand your confidant.

When you gain friends, gain them through testing, and do not be quick to trust them.

For there are friends when it suits them,but they will not be around in time of trouble.

Another is a friend who turns into an enemy, and tells of the quarrel to your disgrace.

Others are friends, table companions, but they cannot be found in time of affliction.

When things go well, they are your other self, and lord it over your servants.

If disaster comes upon you, they turn against you and hide themselves.

Stay away from your enemies, and be on guard with your friends.

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure.

Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth.

Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them.

Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship, for as they are, so will their neighbors be.

Sirach 6:5-17

Do I have the courage to speak the truth? To speak of him who is truth to those who will reject him, and me?

Or am I too afraid, and constrain myself to only those pleasant sayings and friendly greetings that will earn me shallow friends?

Do I allow sin and its consequences to separate me from others? From God?

I commit myself to :

  • not place too much stock in those whom I know to be fickle friends
  • better appreciate those who have proven to be faithful friends
  • most greatly value him who is the most faithful of friends, and shares a name with the author of Sirach – Jesus, the son of God
  • commit myself to becoming a more faithful friend


If God Does Not Intervene: Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)

The readings for this Fourth Sunday of Easter (A) look at the sheep and the active work of their shepherd.

  • Acts 2: Peter preaches and 3000 are converted
  • Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd…I shall dwell in the house of the Lord…
  • 1 Peter 2: By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned…
  • John 10: Jesus is the true shepherd, and the gate, and leads out to pasture

Michael Barber has an excellent study on this week’s readings, but the thing that especially spoke to me when I re-read that this year is (emphasis mine):

3,000 were added to their number. The number of converts won through Peter’s sermon is not insignificant. However, to understand the imagery one must take a step back and understand the larger backdrop of the sermon itself.

In Acts 2, the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost is understood in terms reminiscent of the giving of the Law at Sinai in Exodus. In Acts 2, the coming of the Spirit is associated with a great sound, namely, mighty wind (Acts 2:2). This evokes the miraculous sound of a “loud trumpet blast” heard by Israel at Sinai (Ex. 19:16). Acts 2 also describes the Spirit’s coming in terms of a vision of tongues of fire (Acts 2:3), imagery also reminiscent of Sinai (cf. Ex. 19:18). In addition, there is the appearance of miraculous speech in Acts 2; everyone understands the apostles in their own language (cf. Acts 2:4). This has a parallel in Exodus 19 as well; God speaks to Moses “in thunder” (Ex. 19:19).

Of course, after Israel received the law, Israel fell into the sin of idolatry. Moses commanded that the idolaters be executed. How many were executed? 3,000 (cf. Ex. 32:28). The same number of people who convert at the coming of the Spirit (cf. Acts 2:41).

We see this pattern again, notably in the 16th century.

The Church in Europe was in shambles after the laity and clergy alike rebelled against scandals both real and manufactured. Millions left the faith, and millions more left the Church, while retaining many good elements of the faith. Despite faithful efforts even in the face of (racist?) opposition from the Spanish in the Americas, evangelism largely failed. Bishop Zumárraga despairingly told some of the missionaries,

“If God does not intervene to provide an instant remedy, this land is on the verge of being lost forever…”

On Saturday, December 9, 1531, the Lord intervened by sending his own mother to Juan Diego. Eight years after Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, almost nine million of the indigenous peoples of the Americas had converted to the faith. The number of the faithful lost to the various Protestant rebellions and attempts at reformation were more than matched by those converted to the faith as a result of Our Lady’s appearance.

Interestingly, Our Lady identified herself as being “of Guadalupe.”

Although maligned in modern times, Christopher Columbus was a faithful Christian, and tertiary Franciscan, with admirable devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe (Castile, Spain), and it was to that monastery of our Lady of Guadalupe he went to give thanks upon his safe return. The monastery was richly blessed as a result. Columbus certainly had economic motives (the path to the Orient, as it was called at the time, was highly dangerous as a result of Moslem terrorists), but his greatest motive was evangelization. Columbus was, furthermore, accompanied by Bernat Boil, most likely of the monastery in Montserrat (Spain), and who reportedly led the crew in singing Salve Regina in the presence of an image of a Black Madonna. Among the Marian names Columbus gave the Caribbean islands are Santa Maria de Montserrate, and Santa Maria de Guadalupe.

Both Our Lady of Guadalupe (Spain), and Our Lady of Montserrat (Spain) are Black Madonnas associated with Marian apparitions and oppression at the hands of invading Muslim hordes. It was a dark-skinned virgin of Guadalupe that Columbus and his men asked for protection and patronage. It was a dark-skinned virgin of Guadalupe who painted a self-portrait upon Juan Diego’s tilma. Oh, and let’s not forget Columbus’s ships: la Pinta (painting), la Niña (young maiden), and Santa Maria de la Inmaculada Concepcion (Holy Mary of the Immaculate Conception)…

So… my point, other than that some historical facts beggar the imagination, leaving one forced to seriously consider there may be a God at the helm?

We also face invading Muslim hordes. We also live in a period where the church is in shambles. Our church has been rocked by scandals real and manufactured. We fail to evangelize. Our children reject life and the laws of the church, choosing to abort, to contracept, and to reject God’s plans with regards to marriage and sexuality. We have half the Catholic elementary schools we had in 1965, and they serve one quarter the number of students. We have fewer and fewer parishes, and yet struggle to have a priest for each. Our Seminaries are largely empty:

“From 1913 to the peak enrollment in 1966, seminary enrollment increased nearly seven-fold, from 6100 to over 48000—an average increase of nearly 800 students each year, or 1.6 percent per year relative to the high water mark. These numbers include both major seminaries and minor (high school) seminaries (the tallies are taken from the US Catholic Directory for each year.) The increase in the total number of ordained priests was comparable. Across the first six decades of the twentieth century in the US, there was only one significant dip in seminary enrollment and this was during the Great Depression which was followed by a leveling off during World War II. However, by 1968, a mere two years after the peak, US seminary enrollment had declined an astounding 17 percent, and in the following four years, enrollments had declined another 30 percent. A veritable wildfire had swept through the seminaries. Only eight years from the peak, enrollments had declined 60 percent from the high point. But the decline did not subside even by the mid-1970s. From 1974 to 1985, the enrollment declined to just over 11,000, making for 77 percent decline in 18 years, yielding an enrollment level not seen since 1925.”
After Asceticism (p24-25)

And… some charts, one from each end of the liberal/conservative spectrum, as a tl;dr.

Number of Seminarians
1900 – 9,000
1910 – 16,000
1920 – 16,000
1930 – 25,000
1940 – 41,000
1950 – 50,000
1960 – 48,000
1970 – 29,000
1980 – 15,000
1990 – 5,000
2000 – 4,000
Graduate-level Seminarians (USA)
1965 – 8,325
1970 – 6,602
1975 – 5,279
1980 – 4,197
1985 – 4,063
1990 – 3,658
1995 – 3,172
2000 – 3,474
2005 – 3,308
2010 – 3,483
2016 – 3,520
By some estimates, the United States is approaching 500,000 fewer priests than normal linear growth since 1900 would have suggested. (David L Sonnier, analyzing Kenneth C. Jones’s Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II)

 

Europe is no better, and although there are some small signs of hope, largely in the southern hemisphere, and globally where traditionalist groups are blooming, but, by and large it seems safe to say, at least for the United States of America:

“If God does not intervene to provide an instant remedy, this land is on the verge of being lost forever…”

 

Saint Augustine, in reflecting on this gospel, says

What is this, shall go in and out? To enter into the Church by Christ the Door, is a very good thing, but to go out of the Church is not. Going in must refer to inward cogitation; going out to outward action; as in the Psalm, Man goes forth to his work.

It is beyond time that we engage wholeheartedly in the work of evangelism. I am convinced it will be too little, and too late, but also that God may yet have mercy upon us, and provide an instant remedy. Jesus is the good shepherd, and it is he who offers healing, return, and good pastures.

Come, Lord Jesus, we are sheep who have gone astray, and who have followed other voices. Come, and call us back to you. Our Lady, mother of our Lord, pray for us.


The Value of our Prayer: Holy Thursday and Divine Mercy Sunday

I was quite disappointed this last Holy Thursday. Our parish traditionally has adoration until late into the evening, and various parish groups, families, and individuals sign up to spend an hour with the Lord. I didn’t understand the announcement that adoration would be for only one hour this year, and was heartbroken when I arrived for my usual late shift to find the doors locked.

The good thing about this, of course, was that I was heartbroken. It’s nice to be surprised by your own emotional response, and find it is the one you’d hope to have in the situation.

I love the Triduum, but Holy Thursday adoration is especially important to me because of an experience many years ago that’s stuck with me. I’ve shared this story with my family, but realized I’ve not shared it here, and even neglected to journal about it! I’ll remedy that now.

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