Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Zechariah's Doubt

Today’s Gospel is the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist. The phrase jumped out at me: “your prayer has been heard.”

Imagine if you had been praying for something for years and years, and suddenly you see an angel standing before you telling you that finally, after all this time, God is going to grant your prayer. Wouldn’t you be overwhelmed with joy and happiness, and maybe even jump up and down? I would!

But not Zechariah. For some reason not told to us, he wouldn’t believe it and raised objections. We don’t know what was in his heart, but because he was punished, something in his heart must have gone awry. Was God just being vindictive here? No, because the punishment had a purpose. It was to teach him something. What?

This gospel passage plays off the ideas of speaking and listening in a quite interesting way. First, Zechariah’s prayer was heard, so he had already spoken to God about what was in his heart. But then Zechariah couldn’t hear God’s response. So Gabriel—who obviously is a pretty tough angel—says “I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place.”

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the punishments of people always match their sin. So it is for Zechariah. Because he wouldn’t listen, he will get to know what it’s like to have people not listen to him because now he can’t speak. Perhaps God wanted to teach Zechariah—and us—that prayer is a relationship. It’s not about us making demands of God to be fulfilled in exactly the way we want. That would turn God into some kind of big vending machine in the sky.

In prayer, instead, we bring our needs to God and make our requests. But then we need to hold that request before the Lord, and talk to him about it. We can even use our imagination to picture what the response to our request might be and hold that picture before God, but in a way that allows him to change it.

We hear no more from Zechariah until John was born. But we do hear in this gospel from Elizabeth, who praised God, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”And what of John himself? Luke later describes him, quoting Isaiah, as "the voice of one crying in the desert..." The son of a speechless father became a mighty voice to prepare the way of the Lord. As St Augustine said, "The voice is John's; the Word is Christ." Such are the ways of God.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Saint Ambrose (c. 340--April 9, 397)

Born into a prominent Roman family, Ambrose studied law and became a governor in northern Italy. When the bishop of Milan died, Ambrose was elected by popular acclaim. He fled because he wasn’t even baptized! But then he accepted, and was baptized and ordained bishop. Despite his lack of theological education, he studied and became an outstanding theologian.
Ambrose was firm in opposing the Arian heresy. Showing great courage in upholding the truth of the faith, Ambrose did not fear to oppose even the Roman emperor Valentinian II. As a pastor, Ambrose also showed great compassion for the poor. He even melted down some of the Church’s vessels to aid the needy. His eloquent preaching impressed the young Augustine of Hippo, who converted to the Catholic faith with the help of Ambrose.
In his theology, Ambrose wrote extensively about Mary. He emphasized her virginity and was also the first to speak of Mary as a certain image or symbol of the Church. He also proposed Mary as a model for those called to a life of consecrated virginity in the Church.

The Arians denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. To counter this, Ambrose wrote about Mary and explained how she is truly the Mother of God. What the Church teaches about Mary is aimed at safeguarding what it teaches about Jesus. In other words, Mary leads us to Jesus. In my life as a disciple of Jesus, have I allowed Mary to lead me closer to her Son?

Saint Ambrose, you labored tirelessly in preaching the Gospel and helping the poor. Pray for us that we too may reach out to others with the Good News of Jesus Christ with courage and zeal.

Copyright 2017, Daughters of Saint Paul

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

St Albert the Great

Saint Albert the Great (c. 1193/1206-November 15, 1280)

Feast: November 15

Patron: students, teachers, philosophers, scientists, World Youth Day

Albert was the type of person to whom people would go whenever a question came up. He knew almost everything there was to know in the medieval world. An outstanding philosopher and theologian, he also studied the natural sciences. He painstakingly observed and recorded facts about insects, birds, astronomy, and many other fields.
Born in Germany, Albert entered the recently-founded order of Dominicans. His talents made him an important asset, and he became a professor in Paris and Cologne. At that time the works of Aristotle were getting better known in Europe, and Albert took part in the important movement to use the philosopher’s thought in better understanding Christian doctrine. In this Albert influenced his student, Thomas Aquinas, who went on to develop that field even more. Albert became the provincial of the Dominicans, and was appointed bishop of Regensburg in 1260. But being a bishop didn’t suit him, and he resigned after three years. He returned to scholarly work and preaching, mainly in Germany. In 1931 Pope Pius XI canonized him and named him a Doctor of the Church.


Throughout his life Albert thirsted for knowledge of both human and divine things. He knew how to see the natural world in the light of God. Albert also knew himself. He realized that he was not well suited for the pastoral ministry of a bishop, and resigned from that office. All the saints showed a passion for doing the will of God. But sometimes doing the will of God can mean turning down an offer rather than accepting it. How do we know the difference? Only by prayer and careful discernment.


Saint Albert the Great, pray for us that we may grow in knowledge of God and of ourselves, so as to serve God in the best way we can.

© 2014 Daughters of Saint Paul

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Saint Bartholomew and the fig tree

Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles, usually identified with Nathanael. According to tradition he preached in India and Armenia and was martyred by being skinned alive. When Philip told him about Jesus, Nathanael at first dismissed it, saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But he goes with Philip to see Jesus, who says to Nathanael, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael replies, “Where did you get to know me? And Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn 1:46-49).

What does this mean? Jesus praises Nathanael as a true Israelite. Jacob had been deceitful but after struggling with God, his name was changed to Israel. The prophet Hosea spoke of Israel as being like a fig tree: “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree, in its first season, I saw your ancestors” (9:10). Did Jesus have that text in mind? Perhaps under the fig tree Nathanael had been struggling with God in prayer, and was changed, like Jacob, into a true Israelite. He was like the fig tree that brought forth good fruit. From this we can gather that despite his initial skepticism about Jesus, Nathanael had a pure heart open to the truth.

John’s Gospel opens and closes with doubting apostles: Nathanael at the beginning, and Thomas at the end. Despite their initial resistance, they both believed in Jesus and became great apostles. Their example can give us courage to keep on being disciples even if we feel inadequate.

Saint Bartholomew, pray for us that like you, we may have hearts that are true and good, free of any deceit, so that we may prove to be faithful disciples of Jesus despite any difficulties.

© 2017, Daughters of Saint Paul

Monday, August 21, 2017

Saint Pius X

Saint Pius X  (1835-1914)

Feast: August 21

Patron of first communicants, immigrants

Though he rose to become a bishop, cardinal, and  pope, Giuseppe Sarto always remained at heart a simple parish priest. Born into a poor family near Venice, he wrote in his last will and testament, “I was born poor, I lived poor, I die poor." As a priest his extensive pastoral work made him aware of the acute need for religious instruction. After becoming Pope in 1903,  he still taught a weekly catechism class to children. He wrote the Catechism of Saint Pius X and  worked to establish the CCD in every parish.
His motto  “To restore all things in Christ” guided his papacy. He encouraged liturgical reforms, lowered the age for First Communion, and encouraged frequent Communion. Under his leadership the Code of Canon Law was codified in one volume for the first time (it was promulgated by his successor, Benedict XV). Pius reacted strongly to the rise of Modernism, which he saw as a synthesis of all heresies, and condemned its theological errors. Though he is sometimes remembered mainly for his strong anti-Modernism, his legacy includes his emphasis on pastoral work, concern for the poor, and formation of the clergy. He died on the eve of World War I, grieving over the conflict about to explode in Europe.


The great goal of St. Pius X was to restore all things in Christ. That is why the pope put such an emphasis on Holy Communion. Personal union with Jesus through this sacrament can light a fire in our hearts, leading us to give of ourselves to others. Ultimately, love builds up the Church. And as Pius liked to say, “Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven.”

St. Pius X, intercede for us that the love of Christ may always inflame our hearts and spur us to share that love with others.

© 2017, Daughters of Saint Paul