I discovered St. John Bosco while still in grade school and developed an ongoing relationship with him. This was partly because I went to a camp named Don Bosco, but I like the idea that he wanted to help boys who were poor and was willing to go wherever he found them to teach them. John Bosco was born in Piedmont, Italy and was ordained a priest in Turin in 1841. He formed the Salesian Society (named after St. Francis de Sales) to teach poor and working class boys in the evenings. With the help of St. Mary Mazzarello, he also established the Salesian Sister to do similar work among girls. The entrance antiphon today is: "Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, says the Lord; to such belongs the kingdom of God.:
The Gospel is one of my favorites; Jesus says to his disciples, "Let us cross to the other side>" So they leave the crowd and took Jesus with him in the boat. Jesus falls asleep in the stern and a storm hits them and the waves are breaking over the boat so that they feared that they would perish. Jesus is still asleep! They woke Jesus saying, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Jesus wakes up and tells the sea to be still; the wind ceased and "there was a great calm." Then Jesus asks them why they were so terrified and says, "Do you not yet have faith?" And they were filled with great awe.
Sometimes we cry out to Jesus, too, as we feel we are struggling in a storm and may go under. He asks us, "Do you not yet have faith?" And then there is a great calm and all is right with us because Jesus can calm any storm within us or without.
In today's Gospel, Jesus spoke to the crowds saying: "This is how is it with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit..." I remember a holy superior telling the parents of the Primary school at Clifton when I was in charge of the Primaries that we do not see the growth from day to day; we sow the seed and trust God that the seed will sprout and grow. I feel that my vocation has been to sow seeds wherever I am and trust God that he will bring them to harvest. Jesus also asks in this same Gospel for today: "To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade." I love this parable. I once saw a Church in Chile that had a wide ledge over the front entrance. Dirt accumulated on that ledge and a mustard seed must have been blown onto it and took root. A tree actually began to grown over the entrance, a living symbol of what Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like and what the Church should be: a shelter for all those who come to seek shade, solace, and eternal life.
We are Preparing for Sunday now on Thursday and this will be the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Psalm refrain seems to set the tone: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." The psalmist asks us to sing joyfully to the Lord...to come into his presence with thanksgiving; to bow down before the Lord who made us. "For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides. O that today you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
The Gospel has Jesus teaching in the synagogue. All were "astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority..." It is the man with the unclean spirit that cries out, "I know who you are-the Holy One of God." It is interesting that it seems the demons recognize Jesus before the people with whom he is ministering to and teaching. Here, Jesus commands that the evil spirit be quiet and come out of him. The crowd were amazed and spread his fame everywhere. Jesus helped people because he had a compassionate heart, but he did not come to be known as a miracle-worker. He was interested in each human soul and he loved each as he himself was loved by the Father. He wants us to let ourselves be loved by him and then go and give this love to others.
Thomas was born near Aquino, Italy. He studied with the Benedictines at Monte Cassino but at 19 he joined the newly-founded Dominicans and continued his studies in Italy and France. Thomas was a brilliant scholar who wrote on theology and scripture. He is the author of the famous Summa Theologiae which became the official source for all the seminarians for centuries. He also gave us the beautiful Latin hymns still in use today: Pange Lingua, Tantum Ergo, and Adoro Te Devote. This last was said to have been written at the request of Pope Urban IV for the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1264. I will copy some of the verses from the translation done by the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, if room at the end.
The Gospel is the parable of the Sower who went out to sow his seed. The seed falls on different kinds of ground. Jesus explains the parable later to his Apostles by saying that it is the word that is sown. Some hear the word but only those who are rich soil hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold. I remember a holy priest in Chile saying that those who find themselves rich soil are those who also recognized themselves in the other kinds of soil - on the path, on rocky ground, no roots, among thorns - I found that rather consoling and have never forgotten it.
From Adoro Te Devote Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore, Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more, See Lord, at Thy service low lies here a heart Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived: How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed; What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do; Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.L
Angela was orphaned at the age of ten. She lived with relatives but seeing the need for education among the poor she began to teach girls. Several of her friends joined her in this task. St. Ursula was patron of medieval universities and so they put themselves under her protection. They did not think of becoming a religious order; they did not take solemn vows, had no habit, no enclosure, no convent. They did not even live in community but only met for instruction and prayer. This "Company of St. Ursula" (known to us as the Ursulines) was officially recognized by Pope Paul III in 1544. Angela may not have been canonized, but she contributed much to the Church.
The gospel today has the mother of Jesus arriving with relatives to see Jesus but they are standing outside and cannot get to him. The crowd seated around Jesus told him, "Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you." But Jesus said to them, "Who are my mother and my brothers? And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." Jesus lets us know that only those who do God's will have a claim to intimacy with him.
The Psalm response today is: "Here I am, Lord; I come to do thy will." It is a good refrain for us to use during the day.
Jesus came above all to do the will of the Father. If you have questions about the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus, know that tradition has it that these are not blood brothers and sisters. I once heard Raymond Brown, a great Scripture scholar, say that it would not bother his faith if someone proved that Mary had other children. The word for kinship is very ambiguous and sometimes even means those from the same village.
Timothy and Titus were disciples of Paul who became Bishops in the early Church; Paul wrote them letters that are still being read today as they are part of the New Testament. These letters are worth reading and are not too long. Timothy was Bishop of Ephesus; he was stoned to death around the year 97. Titus was Bishop of Crete and died of old age.
In today's Gospel, Jesus speaks to the Scribes in parables. One thing he says struck me today as being consoling and then terrifying. "Amen I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people will utter will be forgiven them." (This is the consoling part.) "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness but is guilty of an everlasting sin.". We are temples of the Holy Spirit and we learn to pay attention and heed the gentle inspirations of the Spirit within us. Let us be more attentive this week to these nudges of the Holy Spirit.
A quote from St. Madeleine Sophie: "Nothing that can please the Heart of Jesus is small."
I surprised myself with the picture today; I had filed it as "joy with peace" and wanted to see what it was and decided to leave it as every Sunday is a new call to live in peace, joy, and integrity and all of these in the Spirit, the Giver of all good gifts. Since I am now Preparing for Sunday on the Thursday before, I shall just use the alternate opening prayer for this Sunday and then have a brief reflection on Psalm 25. Alternate Opening Prayer: "Almighty Father (not God but Father!) the love you offer always exceeds the furthest expression of our human longing, for you are greater than the human heart. Direct each thought, each effort of our life, so that the limit of our faults and weaknesses may not obscure the vision of your glory or keep us from the peace you have promised. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I like that prayer. The love God offers us is far beyond our desires for "God is greater than the human heart." We ask God to direct every thought and effort of our lives so that we will see his glory and have peace. Obama's speech at the Inauguration comes to mind, and this leads me to the verses from Psalm 25 for today's liturgy (4-9); we are asking God to teach us his ways. The response is Teach me your ways, O Lord." Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.Teach me your ways, O Lord."
Remember that your compassion, Lord, and your love are from of old. In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O Lord.Teach me your ways, O Lord."
Good and upright is the Lord, thus he shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice and teaches the humble his way. Teach me your ways, O Lord."
May we learn to be humble. One of my favorite quotes from St. Madeleine Sophie is: "Be humble, be simple, and bring joy to others."
Francis was named Bishop of Geneva in 1602. He was a gentle, wise, holy, and dynamic bishop who reformed his diocese. He lived a life of simplicity and is famous for his spiritual direction, his pastoral work, his preaching and his writing. He emphasized the loving kindness of God and our human capacity for love. He introduced the laity to the spiritual life in his still famous classic, "Introduction to a Devout Life". With Jane de Chantel he founded the Visitation Order.
Jesus attracted crowds wherever he went. Today, Mark's Gospel shows us Jesus in a house with so many around him that it was impossible for them to even eat. He was a charismatic leader and people were drawn to him. Yet, when his relatives heard of this crowd, "they set out to seize him, for they said, 'He is out of his mind.'" How would you feel if your relatives thought you were crazy just because you were doing good? Come to think of it, there are times when others seem to think it strange when I want to do something that seems inspired by the Holy Spirit. This always calls for discernment. Still, I think the misunderstanding that Jesus felt from those closest to him was a real heart suffering. Let us make up by our love.
Jesus appointed the "Twelve" whom he also named Apostles. He called them by name and chose each to be with him. He would form them and then send them forth to preach and have authority to drive our demons. He spent the night in prayer before naming his Twelve. Today's Gospel tells us that he had gone up the mountain to summon "those he wanted and they came to him." It was an important moment in their lives. These are the ones he wants to have as special friends; they are to travel with him, share his life. One of them will betray him. Let us remember that we, too, have been called by Jesus, chosen to be a special friend, and that he is always with us and has strength for our weakness.
Sunday Liturgy is important and when we prepare ahead of time we appreciate it more and profit spiritually from our reflections made ahead of time. For the past few years I have had a faculty faith-sharing group that meets in my office and we prepare the next Sunday's Gospel together. It has not only been life-giving, but has made the Liturgy more meaningful for me. Now I am going to try to do something of the same at the suggestion of a dear friend in Scotland. She made me aware, too, of a great website at St. Louis University, the very University where I studied for my master's and my doctorate in historical theology. Here is the link: http://liturgy.slu.edu/3OrdB012509/main.html and I shall try to put it on the right side so you can just click on it. I think it will help you to prepare for Sunday's Liturgy. I will also try putting a brief reflection of my own each Thursday.
The Responsorial Psalm 25:4-5,6-7,8-9 has the refrain, "Teach me your ways, O Lord." That is a good phrase to take as the theme of the Liturgy today. The Gospel is from Mark 1:14-20 where Jesus has begun his preaching and is seen choosing his first apostles. Mark tells us that it is only after John had been arrested that Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." I had a professor in a New Testament course who told us that those last six words were the message that Jesus set out to preach and therefore very important. I think the six words that precede them are just as important. The fact is that Jesus was now aware of his mission and goes to seek others to help him. As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.'" The essential thing to note is that Jesus not only called them, but they immediately abandoned their nets and followed him. John and James will do the same. Is Jesus still calling us to leave all and follow him? I think so and wrote about this a short time ago when we had this same Gospel on January 12. Now it is back as a Sunday Gospel so that we will see the importance of listening to Jesus and having the courage to leave all and follow him. It does take courage; to abandon one's way of life and follow Jesus means that we have learned to trust him. This was not the first encounter with the Lord. Andrew and John had followed him before and stayed with him that day and then told their brothers about him. Still, it seems rather a dramatic call and leave-taking, but Mark wants to impress us with the whole mission of Jesus. We pray then Teach me your ways, O Lord. Help us to realize that the Kingdom of God is at hand and that we need to repent and believe in the Good News!
Agnes was a popular Roman martyr who lost her life when only about twelve years old. It was during an early fourth century persecution and her feast has always been on January 21. She is often pictured with a lamb because of her name, but also because of her sacrifice and innocence.
Jesus again bothers the Pharisees by curing on the sabbath. This time it is a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees were watching him "so that they might accuse him." So he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than do evil, to save life rather than to do destroy it? They remained silent so Jesus was angry and grieved at their hardness of heart. He told the man with the withered hand, "Stretch our your hand." He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and "immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death." They were the ones doing evil on the sabbath! How easy it is to be critical. We need to stretch out our hands to others.
Today celebrates two early saints: St. Fabian and St. Sebastian. Fabian was elected Pope as a layman! It seems that a dove descended on his head and that was seen as a diving sign. He reigned for fourteen years and died a martyr in the persecution of 250. St. Sebastian was also martyred in Rome around the year 300. St. Ambrose tells us that Sebastian was from Milan, but we really know little about him. He is buried in the catacombs.
In Mark's Gospel today, Jesus is passing through a field of grain on the Sabbath; his disciples began to pick the heads of grain. When the Pharisees criticized them, Jesus defends them. He reminds them of David and companions who ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat. Then Jesus said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath." Jesus kept the law but with a free spirit. He is always showing the Pharisees that they are keeping the letter but not the spirit of the law.
It is an important day for us in the United States and maybe it is also an important day for the rest of the world. May our new President govern with wisdom and justice and charity for all.
Today we have a holiday to celebrate Martin Luther King; tomorrow many will take a holiday or stop work to watch Obama become the first black president of the United States. It is a special moment in history. With the economy causing problems in all our land and with wars in the world, we need to pray hard for our new government. May the poor be protected and peace procured.
I want to share with you three books I have recently bought and find interesting. The first is a small book called Before the Living God by Ruth Burrows, OCD. It was published by HiddenSpring, 2008, but had first been published by Sheed and Ward in 1975 with a 2nd edition in 1979, and a third in 1983. Because of her two more recent books, Essence of Prayer (I recommended this one last year) and Interior Castle Explored, her autobiography now is helpful to understand this Carmelite whose interior suffering reminds one of Mother Theresa. Ruth Burrows had a tremendous trust in God and surrendered herself to him.
The second book is by Pope Benedict XVI, The Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine and is a delightful portrayal of these important figures of early Christianity. I will certainly want students in the International On-line Certificate Program in Spirituality Studies to read this book. Benedict makes the Fathers come alive and shows how essential their teachings are for us even today. Each chapter was a talk given for his General Audiences from March 207 through February 2008.
The third book is one that I have just begun but think I will be reading slowly and using even for prayer. It is Jesus, A Portrait by Gerald O'Collins, S.J., an Australian Jesuit who was professor of systematic theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and who has authored many books, including "Jesus Our Redeemer" in 2007 and now this one in 2008 published by Orbis Books.
I do not ask others to go get books I mention here, but I do encourage all to do some good spiritual reading each day. I wish I had followed the advice of a wise woman who told me years ago to spend at least 10 or fifteen minutes reading the Old Testament and the same amount of time for the New Testament each day. Maybe I will get back to this but for now I am at least trying to do some serious spiritual reading daily. It is tempting to say that I do not have time, but that is not true. No day is that busy. It may mean skipping television completely (I do not watch much) or staying up a bit later, but spiritual reading nourishes the soul. These three books merit being added to the list of Spiritual Books on the right side of my blog.
God called to Samuel when he was sleeping. Each time, Samuel replied, "Here I am." He thought Eli, the high priest was calling him. At that time Samuel was not familiar with the Lord so he did not recognize who was calling him but he was very prompt to respond. Finally, Eli understood that the Lord was calling the youth and told him, "Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." Samuel did this and the Lord came to him and Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him..."
That is the first vocation we have today in the first reading. The Gospel tells of the first two disciples who follow Jesus after John the Baptist has pointed him out as the Lamb of God. These two heard John and began to follow Jesus. Jesus turns to them and says, "What are you looking for?" They answer, "Rabbi, where are you staying?" Jesus says "Come, and you will see." So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day.
From that first following of Jesus will come a call to leave all and follow him. I often wonder about that first conversation with Jesus. Did he reveal something of his own life? I am sure he asked them to talk about themselves, their families, their life as fishermen, and their dreams and hopes. He is still asking us the same and often saying to us, "Come and see! Are we able to leave behind our many pursuits and follow Jesus and stay with him?
Anthony (spelled without an "h" in the early Church) was the most famous of the early hermits and desert Fathers. He heard God calling him in a sermon, gave away all his possessions and went into the desert to live a solitary life; he had provided for his sister before he left which means much to me. He spent years alone in the desert and learned wisdom; he was noted for his holiness and mortification; others came to learn from him how to live as hermits. His life, written by Athanasius, influenced others to follow a life of solitude in the desert. Anthony was the first monk. Many others flocked to Egypt to live alone in the desert in the third century.
In the Gospel today Jesus calls another to follow him. This one was a tax collector, a despised profession among the Jews. Jesus was passing by and he "saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Jesus said to him, 'Follow me.' And he got up and followed Jesus."
What a simple vocation! Jesus saw him, called him, and he followed! There was no looking back, no trying to hang on to something - he simply heard Jesus calling him and he followed. I think we are too busy to hear Jesus as he is still calling us each day to follow him. Or is it that we do not want to hear his call? Or we trying to protect ourselves? Let us leave all and trust Jesus. Jesus goes to the house of Levi to eat and is immediately spied on by the Scribes and Pharisees who ask the disciples why Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus heard them and replied, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." There is always plenty to reflect on in this Gospel!
Today's Gospel presents us with several scenes to reflect upon: Scene One = Jesus has returned to Capernaum after some days. When people heard that he was at home, so many gathered that no one could even get to the door. He preached to them.
Mark does not tell us what Jesus said. Was he telling them stories? Or was he letting them know about the Beatitudes that he would later preach to so many? These are the people he cured and their families. They are filled with gratitude and so their hearts are open to hear the Word of God. There are also some Scribes present and they seem always to be critical of Jesus and he knows that. Listen to Jesus.
Scene Two: Four friends have carried a paralytic but cannot get in to see Jesus. They carry the paralytic up to the roof, remove part of the roof, and let the mat down with the paralytic lying on it. Mark tells us that "when Jesus saw their faith (this is the faith of the four friends), he said "Child, your sins are forgiven."
Have I faith enough to bring others to Jesus? These friends did not let the press of people stop them, but found a way to make Jesus notice the paralytic by making him present to Jesus in spite of the obstacles. And Jesus saw their faith!
Scene Three: The Scribes begin to murmur and criticize. Jesus asks them, "Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Then Jesus tells them, "But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth" - he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home." And he rose, picked up his mat at once and went away. They were all astounded and glorified God.
Nothing is impossible with God. Let us have faith and trust the Lord!
It is good to be able to assist at daily liturgy, but when we do not but take time to pray over the readings of the day, I think there is a special grace for us. Today, I hear the Lord saying to each of us: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
The Gospel is the wonderful scene of the leper kneeling before Jesus and saying, "If you wish, you can make me clean." And Jesus at once stretches out his hand and touches the leper and says, "I do will it. Be made clean." I am the leper; I need only to go to Jesus and beg him to make me clean. His Heart is always moved with compassion and he reaches out, touches me, and makes me clean. Let us all go to Jesus today and kneel before him with the same petition as the leper so that we, too, may experience once again the compassion of Jesus and his healing power!
The opening prayer for today's Liturgy says: "Lord our God, help us to love you with all our hearts and to love all as you love them." That is really what Jesus came to teach us and what we should be about each day.
The response to the Psalm is: "The Lord remembers his covenant for ever." My favorite verses from today's Psalm 105 are: "Glory in his holy name; rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord! Look to the Lord in his strength; seek to serve him constantly." The serving the Lord constantly is a challenge and needs daily personal reflection. I think that I am aware of serving the Lord when I can glory in his holy name and rejoice! Joy is always the touchstone for me; just a quiet joy that is deep in the heart. I suspect that when we are seeking the Lord we do have that kind of joy!
In the Gospel today, Jesus cures not only Peter's mother-in-law, but all those who were brought to him after sunset. Then, Jesus "rising very early before dawn...went to a deserted place, where he prayed." Jesus needed this early morning prayer and has taught me how vital it is in my own life.
St. Hilary was born in Poitiers around 320. He was an adult convert to Christianity and was chosen to be bishop of Poitiers in 350. He defended the faith against the Arian heresy and was exiled to the East but then sent back as he was causing trouble with his strong defense of the true faith. He was made a Doctor of the Church in 1851.
The opening prayer for today's Liturgy asks God to direct his love that is within us, that our efforts in the name of his Son may bring mankind to unity and peace. We need peace so badly in our world and it begins with each of us. The alternate opening prayer is also worth reflecting on today: "Almighty Father, the love you offer always exceeds the furthest expression of our human longing, for you are greater than the human heart. Direct each thought, each effort of our life, so that the limits of our faults and weaknesses may not obscure the vision of your glory or keep us from the peace you have promised. We ask this through Christ our Lord." Amen.
And then we have the wonderful lines from both Hebrews and Psalm 8: What is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man that you should care for him?
The Gospel tells us that the people were astonished at the teaching of Jesus for he taught them as one having authority..."
The Communion antiphon tells us "Look up at the Lord with gladness and smile; your face will never be ashamed." That is good for all of us to do today!
The Gospel today has Jesus coming to the Sea of Galilee and seeing Peter and his brother, Andrew, casting their nets into the sea. Jesus calls to them and says:"Come after me, and will make you fishers of men."
The wonderful thing is that they left their nets and followed Jesus. They were willing to leave all because of Jesus. Then they walked a little farther (this is Mark's version of the call of the first disciples) and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. "They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him." The first four of the twelve to leave all and set out on the road with Jesus. Since then, Jesus continues to call us; he still is saying "Come, follow me" but so often we are too busy to even hear the call; or we are too attached to our "nets", our boats, our family, our own concerns, that we do not even hear the call of Jesus. May this year of 2009 make us more attentive to the many calls each of us receives from Jesus. May we have the grace to always follow him without looking back. It takes trust, but above all it takes love!
Jesus goes to be baptized in the Jordan by John. "On coming our of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'"
This was an important moment for Jesus. He is given the affirmation for his mission; he had left Nazareth to begin his public ministry but he may not have been sure of what he was to do. Now there is a visible sign of the Spirit and he hears the Father telling him that he is beloved. We all need moments when we feel that God is telling us, "You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased." Let us thank God for those moments and remember that it was after this that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert!
In the first reading from Isaiah 55 in this Sunday's liturgy, we are told, "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near." All the readings are good for reflection and speak to us of God's love;I need to mention the Psalm refrain, "You will draw waters joyfully from the springs of salvation." It is with joy that we draw the life-giving water from the Heart of Christ.
Today is a good day to reflect on the gift of our own Baptism.
Today, one of my former students in the International On-line Certificate Program in Spirituality Studies, sent me his latest book. It is called Spiritual Formation on the Run: Meditations to Grow the Busy Life by Alex Tang. The book was published in Singapore in 2009 and I have received an autographed copy. That is fast work, but Alex was always so efficient and able to do the work of several. Here is what the back cover says about him and his book: "Alex is a consultant paediatrician in private practice and director of Kairos Spiritual Formation Ministries in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. He earned his medical degrees from Malaysia and the United Kingdom, and his theological degrees fro Malaysia and the United States. Alex is active as a Bible teacher, preacher, blogger, spiritual director and writer. His personal passion is to nurture disciples of Jesus Christ to develop informed minds, hearts on fire and contemplative actions. Alex is married with two daughters." About the book: "Many of us live life on the run. But busyness is not an excuse to neglect the spiritual formation of our souls. In fact, the busier we are, the more we need spiritual formation. This book allows us to practice lectio divina, which is the Latin for "spiritual reading". Lectio divina opens us up to the work of the Holy Spirt in our lives and instills in us the disciplines of reading, listening, meditating, praying, and contemplation. Short and crisp, the meditations and stories in this practical and thought-provoking book will give you focus in your life, rejuvenate your soul and draw you closer to God. Topics covered include: choose to grow, know His love, yield to His rule, a Christian on the run, a Church in the world, heroes and superheroes, tales from the monastery, and windows to my soul."
I am beginning to read this book at once; I know it will make me think and reflect and also that it will be interesting as I have read other books and reflections by Dr. Alex Tang. I have no hesitation about adding this book to my list of books for Spiritual Reading.
I find myself wanting to hold on to the Christmas season; we used to celebrate the birth of Jesus until the Feast of the Purification, February 2; one year we even left our tree up until then which was not to be repeated in our warm climate. However, I did find the O Antiphons I wrote last year and think I probably did not have the humility to share them with anyone, but will start putting some on now to maybe inspire you to write your own or at least keep the Christmas spirit.
"O Come, O come Emmanual! Wake my weary heart that slumbers still; So sluggish to your daily presence. Come this season to transform my will!
O Come, O come tiny Infant dear! Attract me to your crib by helplessness; My heart and arms reach out to hold you As you fill me with your tenderness.
O Come, O come ever Faithful One! Call me back to fervor everyday That I may truly live for you alone, Who for love left your heavenly home.
O Come, O come Shepherd of us all Who knows each sheep deeply and by name We follow joyfully when You call You come to seek us when strayed or lame.
O Come, O come most Merciful One! Forgive our world so fraught with sin Bring your Peace to our suffering world. Lord, do not delay, Come, take us in.
Come, O come Prince of Peace Who rule the nations from afar; Forgive our fighting wars without cease, Come to teach us peaceful harmony.
Come, o come my heart's desire! clear the clutter to make some space, Take up your abode and flame the fire; Give us light until we see your face.
O come, O come my Beloved dear Come penetrate my heart, Come to stay and not depart. Come, Lord, do not delay!
I wrote these in Advent of 2007 but think they are still valid "O Antiphons" for this Christmas season!
This is long overdue, but I did say I would share the first Christmas eve with you and one of my readers reminded me of this promise. I went to school at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles, Missouri. Here is a description of the foundation in 1818: "when the sisters finally arrived in St. Louis (MO) they were asked to establish themselves in St. Charles, 14 miles from St. Louis on the Mississippi River, which Mother Duchesne described as “the remotest village in the United States.” In a one-room shanty on a two-acre plot without a tree or blade of grass, they established the first Convent west of the Mississippi and the first free school for girls in the United States.
In her famous letter describing that first brutal winter, she reported how water froze in the pails on the way from the creek to the cabin, how food froze to the table, and how the sisters often had no fire for lack of tools to cut wood. By the spring of 1819, the house in St. Charles was considered impracticable, and a new foundation with a convent, novitiate and boarding school was begun at Florissant, north of St. Louis, Mo."
Here is the story of the first Christmas Eve in the first convent of the Sacred Heart founded in America. It is taken from the "Life of Philippine Duchesne" "A few village girls were invited to spend Christmas Eve at the convent with the boarding pupils. They arrived with their blankets or buffalo robes; each prepared to make her own shakedown for the night in the schoolroom. After supper they gathered around the log fire that lighted the rough, low-ceilinged room with its bright glow, and enjoyed a story hour. The wonders of the Christ Child's first coming to earth held their minds and hearts in rapt attention, then gay Noels were sung, and Mother Duchesne told them of Christmases in France and of the children she had known and loved at Sainte Marie. While the nuns prayed or completed preparations, the children slept for a couple of hours. At the sound of the bell all assembled in the chapel or its adjoining rooms for midnight Mass. The Christ Child was reborn on the altar and in the hearts of the twenty nuns and children who welcomed Him with love and gratitude. Then silence enveloped the little convent, and the children slept until the nuns called them to breakfast. The Christmas dinner was a festive affair, thanks to the kind Prattes, for Emilie was twelve years old that day, and her family had sent bountiful provisions for celebration."
A few days ago I finished translating the notice of Mother Gertrude (Daisy to friends)Flynn who had been the Mistress General at St. Charles from 1924 to 1951 - 27 years in charge of the school. It made me go back and relive my days there. It is a very holy place and the spirit of Mother Duchesne is very present. The school now has over 700 boys and girls in the grade school and they are still noted for their politeness and excel in both sports and academics. When I was there from 1944-48 we were less than 70 in the high school and most of us were weekly boarders.
The picture today is "an image of joy" that I had stored and could not remember what it was until I uploaded it as I was in the mood to find an image of joy. This one has a lot to reflect on, but I will leave it to each to do so.
We are having the last and most important college football game tonight here in Miami. The headlines in the special section of the newspaper are "Who Wants It More?" I guess we could apply that to our own spiritual lives and New Year's Resolutions. Today thousands will clog the roads leading to the stadium; a million more will be watching the game on television. The newspapers have spent the week comparing the coaches, the quarterbacks, the defensive lines, the offense, the history of the two teams...and all this for a football game!! (I am a college football fan and a Florida team is playing...).
In today's Gospel, Jesus goes into the synagogue in Nazareth where he had grown up. He read the passage from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor..." And Jesus, after rolling up the scroll and handing it back to the attendant, sat down and said, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."
The picture is of dawn on the sea of Tiberias. Today's Gospel is one of my favorites. After Jesus had fed the 5,000, Mark tells us,"Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side...he went off to the mountain to pray." Jesus sent his disciples out into a storm; he, however, is praying but realizes that they are in trouble for the boat is being tossed about and the wind was against them. "He came to them walking on the sea." They are terrified as Jesus is walking on the water! He calls out, "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid." He is still saying the same to each of us and coming to us when we need him. So listen to him as he says once again, "Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid."
Today is also the feast of St. Raymond of Penafort, a 13th century Spanish Dominican who was famous for his teaching and preaching. He became the Master General of the Order and revised their Constitutions. He also organized the papal decrees which became the basis for the code of Canon Law.
Blessed Andre was a saintly Holy Cross Brother who lived from 1845-1937. He was born in Quebec and orphaned at the age of twelve. He entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross and had a gift for tending the sick; he was called "The Miracle Man of Montreal" and was much loved by all. With some lay friends he built a wooden chapel in 1904 that became St. Joseph's Oratory; it is now a basilica with over two million visitors each year. Andre was declared "Blessed" in 1982. One of my Dad's five sisters drove my grandmother to Montreal to visit St. Joseph's shrine when I was still a young child. I suppose I remember it because they brought me a rug with a bear woven into it. I seem to associate the rug with the shrine and the devotion to Andre. I had two peaceful days at the Cenacle in Gainesville, but would never drive up on January 2 again. It seemed as if cars from every state were returning north on the Florida Turnpike. It was bumper to bumper with long lines for gas at the rest stops. However, the return trip on Monday was easy and took less than the six hours it usually does. Beginning the year with a mini retreat is a real grace and I am grateful for the opportunity and for the visits with my spiritual director. I hope that it will be a year not only of gratitude and joy, but one of transparency--open to God to reflect his light and love to others.
Basil and Gregory Nazianzen are two of the four great doctors of the Eastern Church. They were great friends and both ended up being Bishops, but reluctant ones. Basil wanted to be a hermit but so many joined him that he wrote a Rule that is still used by monks today and influenced both eastern and western monasticism.
Here is my quote for the day: "May peace be your gift to all who come near or depend on you . . . May God's presence be ever your living joy; with that in your soul you can meet anything and each trial will be a small treasure to offer Him in the secret of the sanctuary." Janet Erskine Stuart
I am driving to Gainesville today for three days of prayer and visits with my spiritual director - a great way to begin the New Year! I will not be on the computer again until January 6 but wish you all a great feast of the Epiphany this Sunday and tomorrow is the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.
Today we begin a new year and it is good to begin it with this Feast that honors Mary as Mother of God. May she be with us each day during this new year. It is a time to look forward and to plan to renew ourselves where we see we need to change. I will continue to try to live in gratitude and joy, but have added transparency with God, myself, and others. I thought I was very open and straightforward, but the more I reflect on that little word "transparency", the more I realize that I try to hide, forget, ignore, some areas of my life. Now I want to shed light even in the darkest corners and pray for that transparency that will reflect God's light and love. The Gospel today is the story of the shepherds who found Mary and Joseph and the Infant lying in a manger...They made known the message that had been told them about this child. "And Mary kept all these things reflecting on them in her heart."
We, too, are called to reflect in our hearts today about these things. As we begin a new year, we are like the shepherds who found Jesus and "returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen..."
I read this excerpt from the writings of Mother Seton, the first native-born saint of the United States; she said: "We must be careful to meet our grace." As we begin this new year, grace is waiting for us. Each day we must be careful to "meet our grace." What joy to think that grace is waiting for each of us today!!
Hello, my name is Helen Rosenthal, RSCJ. Those initials stand for Religious of the Sacred Heart in Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish. Since my religious congregation began in France in 1800 and now is all over the world, we have kept the RSCJ. By now you know that I am not only known as Dr. Helen Rosenthal, but also as Sister Helen Rosenthal.
I am the oldest of four children. We were all born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. We lived in a big house with a playroom on the third floor. On Sundays we either went to my paternal grandmother's house where her six children would gather faithfully for supper or we would have my mother's father and our great aunt and uncle for a roast beef dinner at home. In summer, I would go to the lake with my Dad and I still love to swim.