Daily Gospel: Wednesday of the Second Week of Great Lent, February 29, 2012

Letter to the Romans 3:19-27.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 12:38-45.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.’ But he answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!  ‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but it finds none. Then it says, "I will return to my house from which I came." When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.’

Daily Gospel: Tuesday of the Second Week of Great Lent, February 28, 2012

Saints of the day: Sts Koura and Marana, Disciples of Saint Maron, Confessors.

Letter to the Galatians 2:11-17.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’ We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 7:1-12.
‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, "Let me take the speck out of your eye", while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye. ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you. ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Daily Gospel: Monday of the Second Week of Great Lent, February 27, 2012

Saint of the day: St Thalaleus Disciple of Saint Maron, Confessor.

First Letter to the Thessalonians 3:6-13.
But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us just as we long to see you. For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 6:22-24.
‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Pope Benedict XVI's Sunday Angelus Message, February 26, 2012

“The season of Lent is a time to renew and strengthen our relationship with God through daily prayer, acts of penance, works of fraternal charity”, said Pope Benedict XVI this Sunday before reciting the midday Angelus prayer with thousands of pilgrims and visitors gathered beneath his study window in St Peter’s Square.

The Pope also asked for the prayers of the faithful in the coming week. Over the next seven days starting sundown Sunday evening, the Pope and cardinals of the Roman Curia begin their Lenten Spiritual Exercises.

Held in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel, the theme for the week is “The communion of the Christian with God," taken from the First Letter of John: "And our fellowship is with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ" (I John 1.3). This year the exercises will be led by Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo.

The exercises begin at 6 p.m. on Sunday with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Evening Prayer, followed by meditation and adoration and Benediction. In the coming days, there will be the celebration of Lauds and the Terce each morning, followed by Vespers, adoration and Benediction in the evening. Saturday, March 3, there will be a final meditation at 9:00.

The titles of each of the seven days of mediations are: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”; “Communion and Life”; “Communion and Mercy”; “Breach of communion, sin”; “God is love”; “Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and Prayer - The Holy Spirit”; and “Love and Faith.”

Pope Benedict XVI has no public or private appointments for the duration of the spiritual exercises. There will be no general audience this coming Wednesday.

Below is the Translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s Angelus reflections:

Dear brothers and sisters!

On this first Sunday of Lent, we find that Jesus, after having received baptism in the River Jordan from John the Baptist (cf. Mk 1.9), he is tempted in the desert(cf. Mk 1:12-13). The narrative of St. Mark's is concise, devoid of the details that we read in the other two Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The desert of which we speak has different meanings. It may indicate the state of abandonment and loneliness, the "place" of man's weakness where there are no supports and certainties, where temptation becomes stronger. But it may also indicate a place of refuge and shelter, as it was for the people of Israel who escaped from slavery in Egypt, where we can experience the presence of God in a special way. Jesus " remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan" (Mk 1.13). St. Leo the Great says that "the Lord willingly suffered the attack of the tempter to defend us with his help and to teach us by his example" (Tractatus XXXIX, 3 De ieiunio quadragesimae: CCL 138 / A, Turnholti 1973, 214-215) .

What can this episode teach us? As we read in the Book of the Imitation of Christ, " as long as he lives, man is never wholly free from the temptation... but with patience and true humility we become stronger than any enemy" (Liber I, c. XIII , Vatican City 1982, 37), patience and humility to follow the Lord every day, learning to build our life not outside of Him or as if He did not exist, but in Him and with Him, because He is the source of true life. The temptation has always been present in human history to remove God, to order our lives and the world on our own, relying solely on our own abilities.

Jesus proclaims that " This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1.15), He announces that something new happens in Him: God speaks to man in an unexpected way, with a unique and concrete closeness, full of love, God becomes incarnate and enters the world of man to take sin upon himself, to overcome evil and bring man back into the world of God. But this proclamation is accompanied by a corresponding request for such a great gift. In fact, Jesus adds: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1.15), it is an invitation to have faith in God and to convert our lives each day to his will, directing all our actions and thoughts towards good. The season of Lent is a time to renew and strengthen our relationship with God through daily prayer, acts of penance, works of fraternal charity.

Let us fervently beseech the Blessed Virgin Mary to accompany us on our Lenten journey with her protection and may She help impress the words of Jesus Christ upon our hearts and in our life, to convert ourselves to Him. I also commend to your prayers the week of Spiritual Exercises that I begin this evening with my collaborators of the Roman Curia.

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present for this moment of prayer. In these first days of Lent, I invite you to embrace the spirit of this holy season, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As we do so, may the Lord accompany us, so that, at the end of Lent, we may worthily celebrate his victory on the cross. God bless all of you abundantly!

Daily Gospel: Second Sunday of Great Lent: Sunday of the Man With Leprosy, February 26, 2012

Letter to the Romans 6:12-23.
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Mark 1:35-45.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.

Message of the Virgin Mary for the World on February 25, 2012 From Medjugorje

“Dear children! At this time, in a special way I call you: 'pray with the heart'. Little children, you speak much and pray little. Read and meditate on Sacred Scripture, and may the words written in it be life for you. I encourage and love you, so that in God you may find your peace and the joy of living. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

Daily Gospel: Saturday of the First Week of Great Lent, February 25, 2012

Letter to the Hebrews 3:14-19, 4:1-4.
For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. As it is said, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’ Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? But with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, ‘As in my anger I swore, "They shall not enter my rest" ’, though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Luke 18:9-14.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income." But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

A Day of Pope Benedict's Life At The Vatican

Pope Benedict XVI, at age 84, wakes up at 5:00 a.m. when Vatican City is still immersed in silence. He is a typical German, a methodic man who likes to organize his day down to the last detail, according to a very precise schedule. The Bavarian pontiff prays the Rosary every day and uses a cell phone only accessible by his closest advisers. He never goes to sleep before 11:00 p.m.

Benedict XVI begins his day by celebrating Mass in the papal chapel at 7:00 a.m., together with his two personal secretaries, Father Georg Ganswein and Father Alfred Xuereb. Other members of the papal household who also attend the Mass include the Pope’s assistants: Carmela, Loredana, Cristina and Rosella, who are all consecrated women belonging to the Memores Domini community of the movement Communion and Liberation, as well as his personal valet, 46 year-old Paolo Gabriele, who is married and has three children.

After the Mass, which is always celebrated in Italian, Benedict XVI has breakfast at 8:00 a.m. and then heads to his study, where he remains working until 11:00 a.m. His office always has a crucifix and two phones, one of which is a cell phone with a number only accessible to his closest collaborators. The Pope likes to stay informed of current events around the world and reads news reports in various languages, including German, Italian, English, French and Spanish. He also devotes some time to answering important correspondence.

Once finished with his morning work, the Pope holds meetings with visiting heads of state, ambassadors and other representatives on the second floor of the Apostolic Palace. The meetings are usually held in the Papal Library, depending on the number of visitors and the solemnity of the occasion. The visits usually last for around two hours. On Wednesday, they are interrupted by the Pope’s General Audience, which takes place at the Paul VI Hall or at St. Peter’s Square.

At 1:30 p.m. the Holy Father has lunch with his two secretaries. Rarely do they ever have a guest, and the menu is usually Mediterranean. Benedict XVI never drinks wine, always orange juice. After lunch the Holy Father enjoys a short walk for no longer than 10 minutes together with his secretaries around the balconies of the Apostolic Palace adorned with lemon and orange trees and that provide a splendid view of Rome. On these walks there is usually no talking about work.

The Pope rests for one hour and at 3:30 p.m. he returns to his study. He devotes the rest of the afternoon to writing documents, speeches and homilies. He does not use computers but writes everything by hand, and afterwards his texts are transcribed and translated. The pontiff is an extremely careful writer who enjoys retreating into his study to write in peace, with personal control over his sources by consulting his vast personal library.

At 5:30 p.m. he signs documents prepared for his signature by his secretaries and then meets with some of his closest collaborators, such as Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, and others. The Pope then goes downstairs to take another walk, this time in the Vatican Gardens. He is usually joined by one or both of his secretaries and they pray the rosary before a replica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

A light dinner is usually served at 7:30 p.m. At 8:00 p.m. the Pope returns to his study and later goes to the chapel for night prayers. He never goes to bed before 11:00 p.m. All the proof you need is to just walk through St. Peter’s Square around that time and see what time the light is shut off in the window of the top floor of the Apostolic Palace. That’s when the entire Vatican City shuts down for the night, except for the security guards and a few engineers.

Daily Gospel: Friday of the First Week of Great Lent, February 24, 2012

Second Letter to the Thessalonians 3:6-14.
Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 7:13-27.
‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.  ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.  ‘Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord", will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name? " Then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers."  ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell and great was its fall!’

Daily Gospel: Thursday of the First Week of Great Lent, February 23, 2012

Saint of the day: St Polycarp of Smyrna, Martyr.

First Letter to Timothy 6:6-12.
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 6:25-34.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, "What will we eat?" or "What will we drink?" or "What will we wear?" For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Pope Benedict XVI's Weekly General Audience on Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The forty days of Lent, reflecting Christ’s forty days in the desert, were the focus of Pope Benedict XVI’s catechesis this Ash Wednesday. Speaking to pilgrims in the Paul VI audience hall, the Holy Father reflected on the condition of the pilgrim Church in the "desert" of the world and history.

Speaking in Italian, the Pope said the period of 40 days “does not represent an exact chronological time, divided by the sum of the days. Rather it indicates a patient perseverance, a long trial, a sufficient period to see the works of God, a time within which we must make up our minds and to decide to accept our own responsibilities without additional references. It is the time for mature decisions”.

Pope Benedict also said: “In this "desert" we believers certainly have the opportunity to profoundly experience God, an experience that makes the spirit strong, confirms the faith, nourishes hope, animates charity; an experience that makes us partakers of Christ's victory over sin and death through the Sacrifice of love on the Cross. But the "desert" is also the negative aspects of the reality that surrounds us: the arid, the poverty of words of life and of values, secularism and the materialist culture, which shut people within a horizon of mundane existence, robbing them of all reference to transcendence. And this is also the environment in which the sky above us is obscured, because covered by the clouds of egoism, misunderstanding and deception. Despite this, even for the Church of today the period in the desert can be transformed into a time of grace, because we have the certainty that even from the hardest rock God can bring forth the living water that refreshes and restores”.

Below is the translation of the Holy Father’s Catechesis:

Dear brothers and sisters,

in this Catechesis I would like to dwell briefly on the season of Lent, which begins today with the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. It is a journey of forty days that will lead us to the Paschal Triduum, memorial of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, the heart of the mystery of our salvation. In the early centuries of the Church this was the time when those who had heard and accepted the message of Christ began, step by step, their journey of faith and conversion to receive the sacrament of baptism. It was a drawing close to the living God and an initiation of the faith to be gradually accomplished, through an inner change in the catechumens, that is, those who wished to become Christians and thus be incorporated into Christ and the Church.

Subsequently, penitents, and then all the faithful were invited to experience this journey of spiritual renewal, to conform themselves and their lives to that of Christ. The participation of the whole community in the different steps of the Lenten path emphasizes an important dimension of Christian spirituality: redemption is not available to only a few, but to all, through the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, those who follow a journey of faith as catechumens to receive baptism, those who had strayed from God and the community of faith and seek reconciliation and those who lived their faith in full communion with the Church, together knew that the period before Easter is a period of metanoia, that is, of inner change, of repentance, the period that identifies our human life and our entire history as a process of conversion that is set in motion now in order to meet the Lord at the end of time.

In an expression that has become typical in the Liturgy, the Church calls the period in which we are now entering "Quadragesima," in short a period of forty days and, with a clear reference to Sacred Scripture, it introduces us to a specific spiritual context. Forty is in fact the symbolic number in which salient moments of the experience of faith of the People of God are expressed. A figure that expresses the time of waiting, purification, return to the Lord, the awareness that God is faithful to his promises. This number does not represent an exact chronological time, divided by the sum of the days. Rather it indicates a patient perseverance, a long trial, a sufficient period to see the works of God, a time within which we must make up our minds and to decide to accept our own responsibilities without additional references. It is the time for mature decisions.

The number forty first appears in the story of Noah.

This just man because of the flood spends forty days and forty nights in the ark, along with his family and animals that God had told him to bring. He waits for another forty days, after the flood, before finding land, saved from destruction (Gen 7,4.12, 8.6). Then, the next stop, Moses on Mount Sinai, in the presence of the Lord, for forty days and forty nights to receive the Law. He fasts throughout this period (Exodus 24:18). Forty, the number of years the Jewish people journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land, the right amount of time for them to experience the faithfulness of God: " Remember how for these forty years the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the wilderness... The clothing did not fall from you in tatters, nor did your feet swell these forty years, "says Moses in Deuteronomy at the end of the forty years of migration (Dt 8,2.4). The years of peace enjoyed by Israel under the Judges are forty (Judg. 3,11.30), but, once this time ended, forgetfulness of the gifts of God begins and a return to sin.

The prophet Elijah takes forty days to reach Horeb, the mountain where he meets God (1 Kings 19.8). Forty are the days during which the people of Nineveh do penance for the forgiveness of God (Gen 3.4). Forty were also the years of the reign of Saul (Acts 13:21), David (2 Sam 5:4-5) and Solomon (1 Kings 11:41), the first three kings of Israel. Even the biblical Psalms reflect on the meaning of the forty years, such as Psalm 95 for example, of which we heard a passage: "If you would listen to his voice today! " Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert. There your ancestors tested me; they tried me though they had seen my works. Forty years I loathed that generation; I said: “This people’s heart goes astray; they do not know my ways"(vv. 7c-10).

In the New Testament Jesus, before beginning of his public life, retires to the desert for forty days without food or drink (Matt. 4.2): he nourishes himself on the Word of God, which he uses as a weapon to conquer the devil. The temptations of Jesus recall those the Jewish people faced in the desert, but could not conquer. Forty are the days during which the risen Jesus instructs his disciples, before ascending to heaven and sending the Holy Spirit (Acts 1.3).

A spiritual context is described by this recurring number forty, one that remains current and valid, and the Church, precisely through the days of Lent, intends to maintain its enduring value and make us aware of its efficacy. The Christian liturgy of Lent is intended to facilitate a journey of spiritual renewal in the light of this long biblical experience and especially to learn how to imitate Jesus, who in the forty days spent in the desert taught how to overcome temptation with the Word of God. The forty years of Israel’s wandering in the desert present us with ambivalent attitudes and situations. On the one hand they are the first season of love between God and his people when He spoke to his heart, continuously indicating the path to follow to them. God had pitched his tent, so to speak, in the midst of Israel, He preceded it in a cloud or a pillar of fire, ensured its daily nourishment showering manna upon them, and bringing forth water from rock. Therefore, the years spent by Israel in the desert can be seen as the time of the special election of God and adherence to Him by the people. The time of first love. On the other hand, the Bible also shows another image of Israel's wanderings in the desert: it is also the time of the greatest temptations and dangers, when Israel murmured against God and wanted to return to paganism and builds its own idols, as a need to worship a closer and more tangible God. It is also a time of rebellion against the great and invisible God.

This ambivalence, a period of special closeness to God, of first love and of temptation, the attempted return to paganism that characterized Israel in the desert, we find once again in a surprising way even in Jesus' earthly journey, of course without any compromise with sin. After his baptism of repentance in the Jordan, in which he takes upon himself the destiny of the Servant of Yahweh God who renounces himself and lives for others and places himself among sinners, to take upon himself the sins of the world, Jesus went to stay in the desert for forty days in deep union with the Father, thus repeating the history of Israel and all these rhythms of forty days a year. This dynamic is a constant in the earthly life of Jesus, who always seeks moments of solitude to pray to his Father and remain in close and intimate communion with Him alone, and exclusive communion with Him, and then return among the people. But in these times of "desert" and special encounter with the Father, Jesus is exposed to danger and is assailed by temptation and the seduction of devil, who offers him another messianic way, far from God's plan, because it passes through power, success, dominion and not through the total gift on the Cross. This is the alternative, messianism of power, of success, not messianism of gift and love of self.

This ambivalence also describes the condition of the pilgrim Church in the "desert" of the world and history. In this "desert" we believers certainly have the opportunity to profoundly experience God, an experience that makes the spirit strong, confirms the faith, nourishes hope, animates charity; an experience that makes us partakers of Christ's victory over sin and death through the Sacrifice of love on the Cross. But the "desert" is also the negative aspects of the reality that surrounds us: the arid, the poverty of words of life and of values, secularism and the materialist culture, which shut people within a horizon of mundane existence, robbing them of all reference to transcendence. And this is also the environment in which the sky above us is obscured, because covered by the clouds of egoism, misunderstanding and deception. Despite this, even for the Church of today the time of the desert can be transformed into a time of grace, because we have the certainty that even from the hardest rock God can bring forth the living water that refreshes and restores.

Dear brothers and sisters, in these forty days that will lead us to Easter may we find new courage to accept with patience and with faith situations of difficulty, of affliction and trial, knowing that from the darkness the Lord will make a new day dawn. And if we are faithful to Jesus and follow him on the way of the Cross, the bright world of God, the world of light, truth and joy will be gifted to us once more: it will be the new dawn created by God himself. May you all have a good Lenten journey!

Daily Gospel: Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent, February 22, 2012

Feast of the Church: Establishment of the chair of Saint Peter in Antioch.

Letter to the Romans 15:14-21.
I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.’

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 6:1-4.
‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Saint Peter Damian

On February 21, Catholics honor Saint Peter Damian, a Benedictine monk who strove to purify the Church during the early years of its second millennium. In his September 9, 2009 general audience on the saint, Pope Benedict XVI described him as "one of the most significant figures of the 11th century ... a lover of solitude and at the same time a fearless man of the Church, committed personally to the task of reform."

Bust of Saint Peter Damian

Born during 1007 in the Italian city of Ravenna, Peter belonged to a large family but lost both his father and mother early in life. An older brother took the boy into his household, yet treated him poorly. But another of Peter’s brothers, a priest, took steps to provide for his education; and the priest's own name, Damian, became his younger brother’s surname.

Peter excelled in school while also taking up forms of asceticism, such as fasting, wearing a hair shirt, and spending long hours in prayer with an emphasis on reciting the Psalms. He offered hospitality to the poor as a means of serving Christ, and eventually resolved to embrace voluntary poverty himself through the Order of Saint Benedict.

The monks he chose to join, in the hermitage of Fonte Avellana, lived out their devotion to the Cross of Christ through a rigorous rule of life. They lived mainly on bread and water, prayed all 150 Psalms daily, and practiced many physical mortifications. Peter embraced this way of life somewhat excessively at first, which led to a bout with insomnia.

Deeply versed in the Bible and the writings of earlier theologians, Peter developed his own theological acumen and became a skilled preacher. The leaders of other monasteries sought his help to build up their monks in holiness, and in 1043 he took up a position of leadership as the prior of Fonte Avellana. Five other hermitages were established under his direction.

Serious corruption plagued the Church during Peter's lifetime, including the sale of religious offices and immorality among many of the clergy. Through his writings and involvements in controversies of the day, the prior of Fonte Avellana called on members of the hierarchy and religious orders to live out their commitments and strive for holiness.

In 1057, Pope Stephen IX became determined to make Peter Damian a bishop, a goal he accomplished only by demanding the monk's obedience under threat of excommunication. Consecrated as the Bishop of Ostia in November of that year, he also joined the College of Cardinals and wrote a letter encouraging its members to set an example for the whole Church.

With Pope Stephen's death in 1058, and the election of his successor Nicholas II, Peter's involvement in Church controversies grew. He supported Pope Nicholas against a rival claimant to the papacy, and went to Milan as the Pope's representative when a crisis broke out over canonical and moral issues. There, he was forced to confront rioters who rejected papal authority.

Peter, meanwhile, wished to withdraw from these controversies and return to the contemplative life. But Nicholas' death in 1061 caused another papal succession crisis, which the cardinal-bishop helped to resolve in favor of Alexander II. That Pope kept the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia occupied with a series of journeys and negotiations for the next six years.

In 1067, Peter Damian was allowed to resign his episcopate and return to the monastery at Fonte Avellana. Two years later, however, Pope Alexander needed his help to prevent the German King Henry IV from divorcing his wife. Peter lived another two years in the monastery before making a pilgrimage to Monte Cassino, the birthplace of the Benedictine order.

In 1072, Peter returned to his own birthplace of Ravenna, to reconcile the local church with the Pope. The monk's last illness came upon him during his return from this final task, and he died after a week at a Benedictine monastery in Faenza during February of that year.

Never formally canonized, St. Peter Damian was celebrated as a saint after his death in many of the places associated with his life. In 1823, Pope Leo XII named him a Doctor of the Church and extended the observance of his feast day throughout the Western Church.

Daily Gospel: Tuesday of the First Week of Great Lent, February 21, 2012

Saint of the day: St Eustathius Patriarch of Antioch, Confessor.

Letter to the Romans 15:1-13.
We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbour for the good purpose of building up the neighbour. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name’; and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’; and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’; and again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 6:5-15.
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  ‘Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done,on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial,but rescue us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Daily Gospel: Ash Monday, February 20, 2012

Saint of the day: St James, the hermit of Cyrrhus, Confessor.

Second Letter to the Corinthians 5:20-21, 6:1-7.
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Matthew 6:16-21.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Pope Benedict XVI's Homily at the Mass With the new Cardinals

Below is the full text of Pope Benedict XVI's homily at Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, with the newly-created Cardinals:

Dear Cardinals,
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this solemnity of the Chair of Saint Peter, we have the joy of gathering around the altar of the Lord together with the new Cardinals whom yesterday I incorporated into the College of Cardinals. It is to them, first of all, that I offer my cordial greetings and I thank Cardinal Fernando Filoni for the gracious words he has addressed to me in the name of all. I extend my greetings to the other Cardinals and all the Bishops present, as well as to the distinguished authorities, ambassadors, priests, religious and all the faithful who have come from different parts of the world for this happy occasion, which is marked by a particular character of universality.

In the second reading that we have just heard, Saint Peter exhorts the “elders” of the Church to be zealous pastors, attentive to the flock of Christ (cf. 1 Pet 5:1-2). These words are addressed in the first instance to you, my dear venerable brothers, who have already shown great merit among the people of God through your wise and generous pastoral ministry in demanding dioceses, or through presiding over the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, or in your service to the Church through study and teaching. The new dignity that has been conferred upon you is intended to show appreciation for the faithful labour you have carried out in the Lord’s vineyard, to honour the communities and nations from which you come and which you represent so worthily in the Church, to invest you with new and more important ecclesial responsibilities and finally to ask of you an additional readiness to be of service to Christ and to the entire Christian community. This readiness to serve the Gospel is firmly founded upon the certitude of faith. We know that God is faithful to his promises and we await in hope the fulfilment of these words of Saint Peter: “And when the chief shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet 5:4).

Today’s Gospel passage presents Peter, under divine inspiration, expressing his own firm faith in Jesus as the Son of God and the promised Messiah. In response to this transparent profession of faith, which Peter makes in the name of the other Apostles as well, Christ reveals to him the mission he intends to entrust to him, namely that of being the “rock”, the visible foundation on which the entire spiritual edifice of the Church is built (cf. Mt 16:16-19). This new name of “rock” is not a reference to Peter’s personal character, but can be understood only on the basis of a deeper aspect, a mystery: through the office that Jesus confers upon him, Simon Peter will become something that, in terms of “flesh and blood”, he is not. The exegete Joachim Jeremias has shown that in the background, the symbolic language of “holy rock” is present. In this regard, it is helpful to consider a rabbinic text which states: “The Lord said, ‘How can I create the world, when these godless men will rise up in revolt against me?’ But when God saw that Abraham was to be born, he said, ‘Look, I have found a rock on which I can build and establish the world.’ Therefore he called Abraham a rock.” The prophet Isaiah makes reference to this when he calls upon the people to “look to the rock from which you were hewn ... look to Abraham your father” (51:1-2). On account of his faith, Abraham, the father of believers, is seen as the rock that supports creation. Simon, the first to profess faith in Jesus as the Christ and the first witness of the resurrection, now, on the basis of his renewed faith, becomes the rock that is to prevail against the destructive forces of evil.

Dear brothers and sisters, this Gospel episode that has been proclaimed to us finds a further and more eloquent explanation in one of the most famous artistic treasures of this Vatican Basilica: the altar of the Chair. After passing through the magnificent central nave, and continuing past the transepts, the pilgrim arrives in the apse and sees before him an enormous bronze throne that seems to hover in mid air, but in reality is supported by the four statues of great Fathers of the Church from East and West. And above the throne, surrounded by triumphant angels suspended in the air, the glory of the Holy Spirit shines through the oval window. What does this sculptural composition say to us, this product of Bernini’s genius? It represents a vision of the essence of the Church and the place within the Church of the Petrine Magisterium.

The window of the apse opens the Church towards the outside, towards the whole of creation, while the image of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove shows God as the source of light. But there is also another aspect to point out: the Church herself is like a window, the place where God draws near to us, where he comes towards our world. The Church does not exist for her own sake, she is not the point of arrival, but she has to point upwards, beyond herself, to the realms above. The Church is truly herself to the extent that she allows the Other, with a capital “O”, to shine through her – the One from whom she comes and to whom she leads. The Church is the place where God “reaches” us and where we “set off” towards him: she has the task of opening up, beyond itself, a world which tends to become enclosed within itself, the task of bringing to the world the light that comes from above, without which it would be uninhabitable.

The great bronze throne encloses a wooden chair from the ninth century, which was long thought to be Saint Peter’s own chair and was placed above this monumental altar because of its great symbolic value. It expresses the permanent presence of the Apostle in the Magisterium of his successors. Saint Peter’s chair, we could say, is the throne of truth which takes its origin from Christ’s commission after the confession at Caesarea Philippi. The magisterial chair also reminds us of the words spoken to Peter by the Lord during the Last Supper: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:32).

The chair of Peter evokes another memory: the famous expression from Saint Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Romans, where he says of the Church of Rome that she “presides in charity” (Salutation, PG 5, 801). In truth, presiding in faith is inseparably linked to presiding in love. Faith without love would no longer be an authentic Christian faith. But the words of Saint Ignatius have another much more concrete implication: the word “charity”, in fact, was also used by the early Church to indicate the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Sacramentum caritatis Christi, through which Christ continues to draw us all to himself, as he did when raised up on the Cross (cf. Jn 12:32). Therefore, to “preside in charity” is to draw men and women into a eucharistic embrace – the embrace of Christ – which surpasses every barrier and every division, creating communion from all manner of differences. The Petrine ministry is therefore a primacy of love in the eucharistic sense, that is to say solicitude for the universal communion of the Church in Christ. And the Eucharist is the shape and the measure of this communion, a guarantee that it will remain faithful to the criterion of the tradition of the faith.

The great Chair is supported by the Fathers of the Church. The two Eastern masters, Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Athanasius, together with the Latins, Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine, represent the whole of the tradition, and hence the richness of expression of the true faith of the one Church. This aspect of the altar teaches us that love rests upon faith. Love collapses if man no longer trusts in God and disobeys him. Everything in the Church rests upon faith: the sacraments, the liturgy, evangelization, charity. Likewise the law and the Church’s authority rest upon faith. The Church is not self-regulating, she does not determine her own structure but receives it from the word of God, to which she listens in faith as she seeks to understand it and to live it. Within the ecclesial community, the Fathers of the Church fulfil the function of guaranteeing fidelity to sacred Scripture. They ensure that the Church receives reliable and solid exegesis, capable of forming with the Chair of Peter a stable and consistent whole. The sacred Scriptures, authoritatively interpreted by the Magisterium in the light of the Fathers, shed light upon the Church’s journey through time, providing her with a stable foundation amid the vicissitudes of history.

After considering the various elements of the altar of the Chair, let us take a look at it in its entirety. We see that it is characterized by a twofold movement: ascending and descending. This is the reciprocity between faith and love. The Chair is placed in a prominent position in this place, because this is where Saint Peter’s tomb is located, but this too tends towards the love of God. Indeed, faith is oriented towards love. A selfish faith would be an unreal faith. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ and enters into the dynamic of love that finds its source in the Eucharist, discovers true joy and becomes capable in turn of living according to the logic of gift. True faith is illumined by love and leads towards love, leads on high, just as the altar of the Chair points upwards towards the luminous window, the glory of the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the true focus for the pilgrim’s gaze as he crosses the threshold of the Vatican Basilica. That window is given great prominence by the triumphant angels and the great golden rays, with a sense of overflowing fulness that expresses the richness of communion with God. God is not isolation, but glorious and joyful love, spreading outwards and radiant with light.

Dear brothers and sisters, the gift of this love has been entrusted to us, to every Christian. It is a gift to be passed on to others, through the witness of our lives. This is your task in particular, dear brother Cardinals: to bear witness to the joy of Christ’s love. We now entrust your ecclesial service to the Virgin Mary, who was present among the apostolic community as they gathered in prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14). May she, Mother of the Incarnate Word, protect the Church’s path, support the work of the pastors by her intercession and take under her mantle the entire College of Cardinals. Amen!

Pope Benedict XVI's Sunday Angelus Message, February 19, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI was the principal celebrant at Mass on Sunday morning in St. Peter’s Basilica, with the twenty-two Cardinals he created the day before during the course of an Ordinary Public Consistory he had called for just that purpose. In his homily, the Holy Father stressed the centrality of the Petrine ministry – the special office of care and responsibility for the whole Church everywhere in the world, which the Bishop of Rome exercises in virtue of his being the Successor to St. Peter. Focusing on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which was moved forward to Sunday from its usual calendar place on February 22nd, since this coming February 22nd is Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father explained:

Saint Peter’s chair, we could say, is the throne of truth which takes its origin from Christ’s commission after the confession at Caesarea Philippi. The magisterial chair also reminds us of the words spoken to Peter by the Lord during the Last Supper: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Describing the great chair present in the Basilica behind the High Altar, Pope Benedict noted that it is supported by the Fathers of the Church – symbolically represented in statues that bear the chair. “The two Eastern masters, Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Athanasius, together with the Latins, Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine, represent the whole of the tradition, and hence the richness of expression of the true faith of the one Church,” said Pope Benedict. “This aspect of the altar teaches us that love rests upon faith. Love collapses if man no longer trusts in God and disobeys him. Everything in the Church rests upon faith: the sacraments, the liturgy, evangelization, charity. Likewise the law and the Church’s authority rest upon faith.” Indeed, said Pope Benedict, “faith is oriented towards love.”

The Pope continued: “Dear brothers and sisters, the gift of this love has been entrusted to us, to every Christian. It is a gift to be passed on to others, through the witness of our lives". Addressing the newly appointed cardinals he said: "This, is your task in particular: to bear witness to the joy of Christ’s love.”

It was a theme to which the Holy Father returned in his Angelus address to the thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the occasion. “Dear friends,” he said before the ancient prayer of Marian devotion, “we entrust the new Cardinals to the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, asking that she always assist them in their service to the Church and sustain them in the trials,” they shall face.

The Holy Father asked that Mary, Mother of the Church, help him and his collaborators to work tirelessly for the unity of the People of God and to proclaim to all peoples the message of salvation, humbly and courageously serving the truth in love.

After the Angelus, Pope Benedict had greetings for the faithful in many languages, including English: "I welcome all the English-speaking visitors present for this Angelus prayer, especially those accompanying the new Cardinals. In today’s Gospel, Jesus grants healing and life in body and soul in response to faith. May we too believe and trust in Christ, and seek from him both forgiveness of sin and the power to live a new life of grace. Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

Daily Gospel: First Sunday of Great Lent: Cana Sunday, February 19, 2012

Saint of the day: the 500 Martyrs of Tyre, Martyrs.

Letter to the Romans 14:14-23.
I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint John 2:1-11.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Daily Gospel: Saturday After the Sunday of the Faithful Departed, February 18, 2012

Saint of the day: St Leo the Great, Pope of Rome, Doctor of the church, Confessor.

First Letter to the Corinthians 15:51-58.
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Luke 12:49-59.
‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’ He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, "It is going to rain"; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, "There will be scorching heat"; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?  ‘And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.’

Daily Gospel: Friday After the Sunday of the Faithful Departed, February 17, 2012

First Letter to the Corinthians 15:35-44a.
But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Luke 12:33-40.
Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

Daily Gospel: Thursday After the Sunday of the Faithful Departed, February 16, 2012

Second Letter to the Thessalonians 2:13-17, 3:1-5.
But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Luke 12:22-32.
He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Pope Benedict XVI's Weekly General Audience on Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jesus’ last prayer on the Cross, in the face of death, teaches us “no matter how hard the trial, difficult the problem, heavy the suffering, we never fall from the hands of God”, said Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday as he dedicated the second general audience to the last words of Christ.

In his catechesis in Italian, to a packed Paul VI audience hall, the Holy Father said “In our school of prayer last week I spoke about Christ’s prayer on the Cross, taken from Psalm 22 "My God, my God why have you forsaken me". Now I would like to continue to meditate on the prayers of Jesus on the cross in the imminence of death and today I would like to focus on the narrative that we encounter in the Gospel of St. Luke. The Evangelist has handed down three words of Jesus on the cross, two of which - the first and third - are explicitly prayers to the Father. The second one consists of the promise made to the so-called good thief crucified with him, answering, in fact, the thief’s prayer, Jesus reassures him: "Truly I tell you today will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23 , 43). The two prayers of the dying Jesus and the acceptance of the repentant sinner’s supplication to Him are suggestively entwined in Luke's account. Jesus both prays to the Father and hears the prayer of this man who is often called latro poenitens, "the repentant thief."

Let us dwell on these three prayers of Jesus. The first pronounced immediately after being nailed to the cross, while the soldiers are dividing his garments as sad reward of their service. In a way this gesture closes the process of crucifixion. St. Luke writes: "When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”] They divided his garments by casting lots "(23.33 to 34). The first prayer that Jesus addresses to the Father is one of intercession: He asks forgiveness for his executioners. With this, Jesus in person carries out what he had taught in the Sermon on the Mount when he said: " But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you " (Lk 6:27) and also promised to those who can forgive, "then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High " (v. 35). Now, from the cross, He not only forgives his executioners, but speaks directly to the Father interceding on their behalf.

This is attitude of Jesus' finds a moving 'imitation' in the story of the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr. Stephen, in fact, coming to an end, "knelt down and cried with a loud voice:" Lord, do not hold this sin against them". That said, he died "(Acts 7.60). It was his last word. The comparison of the prayer for forgiveness of Jesus and that of the martyr is significant. Stephen turns to the Risen Lord and calls for his murder - a gesture clearly defined by the expression "this sin" - is not imputed against those who stone him. Jesus addresses the Father on the cross and not only asks for forgiveness for his executioners, but also offers a reading of what is happening. In his words, in fact, the men who crucify him "know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). He gives that ignorance, "not knowing" as the reason for the request for forgiveness from the Father, for this ignorance leaves the way open to conversion, as is the case in the words that the centurion spoke at Jesus' death: " This man was innocent beyond doubt"(v. 47), he was the Son of God". It is a consolation for all times and for all men that the Lord, both for those who really did not know - the killers - and those who knew and condemned him, gives ignorance as the reason for asking for forgiveness – he sees it as a door that can open us up to repentance "(Jesus of Nazareth, II, 233).

The second prayer of Jesus on the cross as told by St. Luke is a word of hope, is His answer to the prayer of one of the two men crucified with Him. The good thief before Jesus returned to himself and repents, he feels himself to be before the Son of God, who reveals the Face of God, and prays: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (v. 42). The Lord's answer to this prayer goes far beyond the supplication, he says: " Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (v. 43). Jesus is aware of entering directly into communion with the Father and of reopening the path for the man to God’s paradise. So through this response gives the firm hope that the goodness of God can touch us even at the last moment of life and that sincere prayer, even after a life of wrong, meets the open arms of the good Father who awaits the return of his son.

But let us pause on the last words of the dying Jesus. The Evangelist says: " It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last."(vv. 44-46). Some aspects of this narrative are different than the picture offered in Mark and Matthew. The three hours of darkness are not described in Mark, while Matthew they are connected with a different set of apocalyptic events, such as the earthquake, the opening of graves, the dead raised to life (cf. Mt 27.51-53). In Luke, the hours of darkness are caused by the eclipse of the sun, but at that moment is the veil of the temple is also torn. In this way Luke's account has two signs, in some way parallel, in heaven and in the temple. The sky loses its light, the land sinks, while in the temple, the place of God's presence, tears the veil that protects the shrine. The death of Jesus is explicitly characterized as a cosmic and liturgical event, in particular, it marks the beginning of a new worship in a temple not built by men, because it is the very Body of Jesus dead and risen, that brings together the people and they are joined in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood.

The prayer of Jesus in this moment of suffering - "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit" - is a loud cry of extreme and total trust in God. This prayer express the full awareness of not being abandoned. The opening invocation - "Father" - recalls his first declaration as a twelve year old boy. Then he remained for three days in the temple of Jerusalem, the veil of which is now torn. And when his parents had expressed their concern, he replied: " Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s ho "(Luke 2.49). From beginning to end, what completely determines the Jesus’s sentiments, his words, his actions, is His unique relationship with the Father. On the cross He also fully lives, in love, his filial relationship with God, which animates his prayer.

The words spoken by Jesus, after the invocation "Father," are taken from the expression of Psalm 31: "Into your hands I commend my spirit" (Ps. 31.6). These words, however, are not a simple quote, but rather show a firm decision: Jesus "delivers” himself to the Father in an act of total abandonment. These words are a prayer of 'custody', full of confidence in the love of God. The prayer of Jesus before his death is tragic as it is for every man, but at the same time, it is pervaded by the deep calm that comes from trust in the Father and the will abandon himself totally to Him. In Gethsemane, when he entered the final fight and intense prayer and was about to be "delivered into the hands of men" (Lk 9.44), his sweat became "like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44). But his heart was fully obedient to the will of the Father, and "an angel from heaven" had come to comfort him (cf. Lk 22.42 to 43). Now, in his last moments, Jesus addresses the Father saying into which hands he really surrenders his whole life. Even before leaving for the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus had insisted with his disciples, " Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men." (Lk 9.44). Now, that life is about to leave him, he seals his final decision in prayer: Jesus allowed himself to be delivered "into the hands of men", but it is into the hands of the Father that He raises his spirit, so - as stated by the Evangelist John - it is finished, the supreme act of love is brought to an end, to the limit and beyond the limit.

Dear brothers and sisters, the words of Jesus on the cross in the last moments of his earthly life offer challenging indications to our prayers, but also open them to a quiet confidence and a firm hope. Jesus by asking the Father to forgive those who are crucifying him, invites us to the difficult act of praying for those who do us wrong, who have damaged us, knowing always how to forgive, so the light of God may illuminate their hearts, inviting us, that is, to live in our prayers, the same attitude of mercy and love that God has towards us: "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive our those who trespass against us," we say every day in the "Our Father." At the same time, Jesus in the final moment of death, by placing himself entirely in the hands of God the Father, communicates to us the certainty that, no matter how hard the trial, difficult the problem, heavy the suffering, we never fall from the hands of God, those hands that created us, support us and accompany us on the journey of life, because guided by an infinite and faithful love.

Daily Gospel: Wednesday After the Sunday of the Faithful Departed, February 15, 2012

Second Letter to the Thessalonians 2:1-12.
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Luke 12:13-21.
Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?" Then he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

Feast of Saint Claude De La Colombière

On February 15, the Catholic Church honors Saint Claude De La Colombière the sacred heart devotee and the 17th century French Jesuit who authenticated and wrote about Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque's visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

When Blessed Pope John Paul II canonized Saint Claude in 1992, he upheld him as a model Jesuit, recalling how the saint “gave himself completely to the Sacred Heart, 'ever burning with love.' Even in trials he practiced forgetfulness of self in order to attain purity of love and to raise the world to God.”

Born in the south of France during 1641, Claude la Colombière belonged to a family of seven children, four of whom entered the priesthood or religious life. He attended a Jesuit school in his youth, and entered the order himself at age 17.

As a young Jesuit recruit, Claude admitted to having a “horrible aversion” to the rigorous training required by the order in his day. But the novitiate of the Society of Jesus focused and sharpened his natural talents, and he would later take a private vow to obey the order's rules as perfectly as possible.

After completing his order's traditional periods of study and teaching, Claude became a priest in 1669. Known as a gifted preacher, he also taught at the college level and served as a tutor to the children of King Louis XIV's minister of finance.

In 1674, the priest became the superior of a Jesuit house in the town of Paray-le-Monial. It was during this time, in his role as confessor to a convent of Visitationist nuns, that Claude la Colombière became involved in events that would change his own life and the history of the Western Church.

One of the nuns, later canonized as Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, claimed to have experienced private revelations from Christ urging devotion to his heart as the symbol and seat of God's love for mankind. Within the convent, however, these reports met with dismissal and contempt. During his time in Paray-le-Monial, Father la Colombière became the nun's spiritual director, giving careful consideration to her testimony about the purported revelations. He concluded that Sister Margaret Mary had indeed encountered Jesus in an extraordinary way. Claude la Colombière's writings, and his testimony to the reality of Saint Margaret Mary's experiences, helped to establish the Sacred Heart as a feature of Western Catholic devotion. This, in turn, helped to combat the heresy of Jansenism, which claimed that God did not desire the salvation of some people.

In the fall of 1676, Father la Colombière, was called away from Paray-le-Monial to England. During a time of tension in the religiously torn country, he ministered as chaplain and preacher to Mary of Modena, a Catholic who had become the Duchess of York.

In 1678, a false rumor spread about an alleged Catholic “plot” against the English monarchy. The lie led to the execution of 35 innocent people, including eight Jesuits. La Colombière was not put to death, but was accused, arrested, and locked in a dungeon for several weeks. The French Jesuit held up heroically during the ordeal, but conditions in the prison ruined his health before his expulsion from England. He went back to France in 1679 and resumed his work as a teacher and priest, encouraging love for Christ's Sacred Heart among the faithful.

In 1681, Claude la Colombière returned to Paray-le-Monial, the site of Saint. Margaret Mary Alacoque's revelations. It was there, during 1682, that the 41-year-old priest died from internal bleeding on the year's first Sunday of Lent, February 15. Saint Claude la Colombière was beatified in 1929, nine years after the canonization of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, and canonized 63 years later in 1992.