A man ahead of his time

What could the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, the radio call sign SP3RN, and the prisoner number 16670 have in common?

Among the twenty stone statues of Christian Martyrs that stand above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London, is one of a Roman Catholic Franciscan Priest from Poland.  He holds in his hands an open book on whose pages are carved two crowns, representing purity and martyrdom. His statue, with the others, stands as a silent witness to love and faithfulness.

Maximilian Maria Kolbe was a man ahead of his time. He believed that all the various forms of the media of his day could be used to spread the Gospel in a marvelous way, and he proved it’s effectiveness.  Using the most modern techniques, printing presses in his monasteries put out all manner of devotional tracts, catechetical books and magazines, even a newspaper.

Besides all of that, Saint Maximilian built and operated a radio station – the beginnings of Catholic radio!  He is the only canonized saint to have ever held an amateur radio license! His call sign was SP3RN, and he put it to good use. He was the first to use radio to spread the light of faith amidst the ever growing darkness that was beginning to envelop Europe through the rise of Nazism. As Hitler’s ideology gained momentum, he was not afraid to speak out against the terrible evil that it was.

As is the case with all regimes, truth is feared. Maximilian Kolbe, who was a voice in the darkness, could not be tolerated, he had to be silenced.  He was arrested by the Gestapo and eventually transported to Auschwitz. As he entered the gates of that terrible place of darkness and hopelessness, he was assigned a new number, prisoner 16670.

In that hellish death camp, he brought the light of love and truth his enemies had so desperately tried to extinguish, he gave his life for another, dying as a martyr of charity.

If Saint Maximilian were alive today there is no question he would be using television and radio to evangelize.  He would be broadcasting, podcasting, tweeting and texting with the zeal of a Saint Paul!

Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, through the intercession of the Immaculate, pray for those who work in Catholic Media.  Pray for us all!

Of dinner and distractions

As we scour the scriptures and peruse the lives of the saints, there are some holy souls who we are not quite as eager to identify with as others, if we are honest.  For instance Saint Jerome the grumpy, Saint Thomas the doubter, and another one who fits into that group, Martha the anxious and troubled.

Often times we don’t want to admit that, in all probability, we are nearer to them in thought and action than to a Saint Therese or a Saint John who, granted, weren’t without faults, but none the less, whose faults weren’t quite so glaring, and certainly not the foremost thing for which they are most remembered.

And yet, it is true to say, these wonderful souls may be the very ones who give us the most courage and assurance.  It is because of them, we can find in the Scriptures encouragement and hope. We are not alone in our weakness and failures as we read the consoling words Jesus speaks to them, to us, words that let us know the loving patience He has for all who struggle with all manner of things from time to time.

In the case of Martha, who we read about in the Gospel today, it wasn’t the actual service that she was rendering to the Lord that caused Jesus to say what He did, but rather, the state of mind she was in.  She was anxious and troubled.  She was, in a word, distracted, not present to the Lord.

In the midst of her concerns and worries, and because of them, she could not hear His voice.  As present as He was in that little house, she allowed the noise of her busyness to drown Him out.

We all know how easy it is to become overly occupied, too busy, deafened by the din of our own distraction, unable to hear the voice of God, but He always gives us the grace we need.  We can look at a Saint Teresa of Calcutta, or a Mother Cabrini who, although busy about many things, never allowed their work or apostolate to deafen their ears to the One they loved and served. They, like Mary, made themselves always present to the Lord, and understood what was most important. They kept the eye of their hearts always focused on Jesus, even in the midst of the busyness of their lives, and because of that, accomplished great things.

As Jesus was so present in that little house in Bethany, incredibly, so He is present in the rooms of our own poor hearts. He waits for us to come, to listen, and to converse with Him, even in the midst of many things.

The Visitation

Joy is perhaps the one word that best describes the Visitation of Our Blessed Lady to her cousin Elizabeth.

No sooner has the angel Gabriel left Our Lady, than she leaves, not in a leisurely way, but with haste, to be with her cousin. Her immediate response to all Gabriel has told her  is indicative of why God chooses her to be the Mother of the Messiah in the first place, it is her deep and genuine humility. She leaves in haste because her humble heart is the heart of a servant, and from that truly humble heart, comes joy.

As Elizabeth speaks these words to Our Lady Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me, Our Lady responds with the beautiful words of the Magnificat:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid; for behold henceforth all generations will call me blessed because He Who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name; and His Mercy is from generation to generation to those who fear Him. He has shown might with His Arm, He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has given help to Israel, His servant, mindful of His mercy – even as He Spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

It is a reply of authentic humility and joy.  Our Lady recognizes who she is before God, and the result of her recognition of God’s pre-eminence, is joy, a joy of immense proportions, a joy so deep it cannot be contained.

In the second reading from today’s Office of Readings, Saint Bede the Venerable says this:

“When a man devotes all his thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, he proclaims God’s greatness. His observance of God’s commands, moreover, shows that he has God’s power and greatness always at heart. His spirit rejoices in God his savior and delights in the mere recollection of his Creator who gives him hope for eternal salvation…”

Overriding joy encompasses the hearts of those assembled that day in the house of Zechariah – from the heart of John who rests in the womb of his mother, to Elizabeth who feels the leap of recognition from her son, articulating the wonder of God’s grace, and to Our Lady, who marvels at the greatness of her God, Who chose her to be the Mother of His Son.

Let us follow Our Lady in her humility and joy, for by her example we can know that God is not limited by anything except our ‘yes’ to him, and only then because He chooses it to be so.

May we rejoice in this beautiful feast and thank Our Lady for her joyful ‘yes’!

When one day is simply not enough

adamevechristHow can our poor minds even begin to understand the enormity of Easter, called by early Christians ‘The Feast of Feasts’.

The wonder and joy of Easter cannot be contained in one day, it must spill out into many
days of celebration!  The Church shows us just how important and central to our faith this feast is, by mandating a full Octave (from the Latin word octava, eight) of celebration.  Christmas is the only other feast that does so.  Eight days of celebrating!

Those of us who pray the Divine office pray the same psalms of Easter Sunday for eight days to underscore this wonderful truth.

As our brothers and sisters in the Jewish faith celebrate the Feast of Passover for seven days, as commanded by God to Moses in Exodus, we as Christians, can do no less on this solemn sacred Feast of Easter, and in fact,we take it one step further, one day further.

The Church Fathers speak of the number seven as the ‘total of temporal existence’.  The great Saint Augustine speaks of the eighth day of the octave as ‘taking us out of time and into eternity’.  Jesus leads us into that eternity, into that eternal light.  Each day gives us the opportunity to live with our Lord in that eternal reality, being in the world, but not of it.  As Adam was pulled from his prison of darkness into the light by the very Author of Light, the New Adam, we too are freed to walk in that Light of truth and grace, we can live in that eternal reality in a very authentic way, each and every day.

As the Octave takes us into rest of the fifty days of this Easter season, let us really rejoice in the true knowledge of a very real hope, the hope and joy only Jesus can bring!

The Deposition

A very beautiful meditation, and one of my favorites, on the deposition of Jesus from the cross by St. Josemaria Escriva.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who are hidden disciples of Christ, intercede for Him making use of the high positions they hold. In the hour of loneliness, of total abandonment and of scorn…, it is then that they stand up for him audacter, boldly (Mark 15:43)…: heroic courage!

With them I too will go up to the foot of the Cross; I will press my arms tightly round the cold Body, the corpse of Christ, with the fire of my love…; I will unnail it, with my reparation and mortifications… I will wrap it in the new winding-sheet of my clean life, and I will bury it in the living rock of my breast, where no one can tear it away from me, and there, Lord, take your rest!

Were the whole world to abandon you and to scorn you… serviam!, I will serve you, Lord.

Detail from Deposition in the Sepulchre by Grunewald

Love’s work is done

Grunewaldcrucifixion

CRUX fidelis,
inter omnes
arbor una nobilis;
nulla talem silva profert,
flore, fronde, germine.
Dulce lignum, dulci clavo,
dulce pondus sustinens!
FAITHFUL Cross!
above all other,
one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peers may be;
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!

And it was night. Jn13:30  There is a chill that grips the heart as one reads those three words.

Judas moves into the shadows to betray his Master, His Lord.

As he closes the door of the upper room, he shuts fast the door of his heart to God’s mercy and grace. As he moves from light to darkness he seals his descison with that terrible kiss of betrayal.

The evil one has done his work, in those early hours of the morning, in the night, under the cover of darkness. Conniving, orchestrating, his lying lips pressed against the ears of those in his power, whispering fear, whispering hate.

The evil one has done his work.  Jesus: falsely charged and cruelly driven before his captors to that dreadful place of execution.

Jesus: fastened to that tree of torture by Love, it is Love that holds Him fast on that tree of death.

Hate has done it’s work, now Love will show His power.

Love in vulnerability has shattered those bonds that hate holds hostage.

It is finished. Jn 19:30  The Sacrifice complete, mankind is freed from that curse of old.  Love’s work is done.

Saint Joseph, our model

Today is the wonderful Solemnity of St. Joseph.  Joseph, that man chosen by God, to protect those things dearest to His heart:  Our Lady, Jesus, and His Church. No small task!

As our Holy Father spoke today of St. Joseph he especially points out some of the most important attributes of this great saint, and how we can emulate him.  As Joseph was faithful to God’s will, we look to his example to see how we can be faithful, and fulfill, by God’s grace, His will for us.

Pope Francis says this:

How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own…“protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!

As Christians we are all, like Joseph, called to be protectors. We must protect the vulnerabilities of those not only weaker than ourselves, but all, even those whom we find difficult to love.

In today’s dog-eat-dog culture, which views people in a utilitarian light, where love is defined by “what I’m getting” rather than by what one is giving, strength and power are seen as tools to raise oneself up at the expense of others.  Pope Francis wants us to turn our eyes to St. Joseph, an authentic model of strength, the strength that is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9), the strength that makes us willing to expose ourselves, become vulnerable, in order to protect others.  This is the strength that makes us like Joseph, and ultimately, makes us like the Son he was chosen to shelter and protect.