Friday, November 20, 2009

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852)

Born in Grenoble, France, of a family that was among the new rich, Philippine learned political skills from her father and a love of the poor from her mother. The dominant feature of her temperament was a strong and dauntless will, which became the material—and the battlefield—of her holiness. She entered the convent at 19 and remained despite their opposition. As the French Revolution broke, the convent was closed, and she began taking care of the poor and sick, opened a school for street urchins and risked her life helping priests in the underground. When the situation cooled, she personally rented her old convent, now a shambles, and tried to revive its religious life. The spirit was gone, and soon there were only four nuns left. They joined the infant Society of the Sacred Heart, whose young superior, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, would be her lifelong friend. In a short time Philippine was a superior and supervisor of the novitiate and a school. But her ambition, since hearing tales of missionary work in Louisiana as a little girl, was to go to America and work among the Indians. At 49, she thought this would be her work. With four nuns, she spent 11 weeks at sea en route to New Orleans, and seven weeks more on the Mississippi to St. Louis. She then met one of the many disappointments of her life. The bishop had no place for them to live and work among Native Americans. Instead, he sent her to what she sadly called "the remotest village in the U.S.," St. Charles, Missouri. With characteristic drive and courage, she founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi. It was a mistake. Though she was as hardy as any of the pioneer women in the wagons rolling west, cold and hunger drove them out—to Florissant, Missouri, where she founded the first Catholic Indian school, adding others in the territory. "In her first decade in America, Mother Duchesne suffered practically every hardship the frontier had to offer, except the threat of Indian massacre—poor lodging, shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and money, forest fires and blazing chimneys, the vagaries of the Missouri climate, cramped living quarters and the privation of all privacy, and the crude manners of children reared in rough surroundings and with only the slightest training in courtesy" (Louise Callan, R.S.C.J., Philippine Duchesne). Finally, at 72, in poor health and retired, she got her lifelong wish. A mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi. She was taken along. Though she could not learn their language, they soon named her "Woman-Who-Prays-Always." While others taught, she prayed. Legend has it that Native American children sneaked behind her as she knelt and sprinkled bits of paper on her habit, and came back hours later to find them undisturbed. She died in 1852 at the age of 83.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (19.45-48)

Then Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. It is written, he said to them, 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers'. Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.

Christ our Priest
(Homily br Fr. E.J. Tyler)

Our brief Gospel scene today depicts an event of high drama. Christ had arrived in the city. His journey to Jerusalem is one of the structural planks of St Luke’s Gospel. On his journey to the city much teaching was given, and the arrival is a climax of the Gospel. In the city Christ would offer the great sacrifice of his life which would redeem the world. It is to be noted that Christ never in this Gospel calls himself a priest because, obviously, such a statement would place him within the ranks of the Jewish priesthood. His high priesthood was new and the sacrifice of his life for the sins of the people and all mankind would be the supreme act of his priesthood. So then, Christ has entered the city riding the colt as the prophet had foretold. He enters, acclaimed as prophet and Messiah-king who comes in the name of the Lord. But, unknown to the people, he was also entering the holy city as priest, mankind’s high priest about to offer sacrifice. What does he do? He immediately enters the Temple and shows that he is Master of the Temple, filled with zeal for the worship of God. We read that “Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. It is written, he said to them, 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers'.” Who were the masters of the Temple? They were the priests, and here our Lord is taking charge of the Temple - he physically expels all commercial activity. Nothing but worship, teaching and prayer is allowed. Then he himself sets up, teaching the word of God every day. All this is under the very nose of the chief priests and the scribes and the chief men of the people. He acts with an authority he has not obtained from anyone - it is authority he possesses from God. It is a signal, to be understood in the future, that here was the true high priest ordained by God, and his offering of sacrifice was imminent. In the Gospel of St John, this symbolic action occurs at the outset of our Lord’s ministry (2:14), and in that scene our Lord is even more explicit: he states that his own body is the Temple. Our Lord is filled with the awareness that he is mankind’s priest and victim.

It would be an interesting thing to analyse the popular image of Jesus of Nazareth. I suspect it is that of a great prophet. When our Lord asked his disciples who men said he was, he was told that they thought of him as a great prophet: John the Baptist come back, or one of the great prophets back with them again. I think that generally mankind would still imagine him as a great prophet and teacher of religion. Our Lord then asked his disciples who they themselves thought he was. Peter spoke up: he was the Messiah, and indeed the Son of the Living God. It was a splendid avowal, a remarkable perception that actually came from God. God the Father had revealed to Simon the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth, and our Lord immediately went on to appoint Simon to be the Rock on which he would build his Church. But there was a further dimension to our Lord’s identity and mission which had not yet been explicitly acknowledged, but which our Lord then alludes to. The Son of Man, he told them, must suffer greatly and be rejected and put to death. Having no idea as yet of Christ being priest and victim, Simon Peter reacted strongly at such a thought. He was severely rebuked by our Lord and accused of being a Satan - showing just how central to his identity and mission his sacrifice was. He had come to offer a great sacrifice, the sacrifice of his life. That is to say - though our Lord did not put it in these terms - he had come as high priest and victim. He was Prophet, King and, notably, Priest. The priesthood of Christ was fundamental to his identity and mission. In our Gospel today (Luke 19: 45-48), our Lord takes command of the Temple and sets up there. He is acting as the Priest of God who has responsibility for mankind’s worship of the Father. Soon he would offer the perfect sacrifice which would reconcile man to God and take away the sin of the world. He would act as supreme Pontiff, bringing man’s gifts to God and God’s gifts to man. Though the leaders could not touch him because of the people, our Lord as priest-victim would place himself in their hands.

Let us pray for the grace to appreciate the priesthood of Jesus Christ. This priesthood he shares with all those who are baptized into him. All the baptized faithful posses what the Church calls the common priesthood, while the ordained, by the singular grace of ordination, share in the ministerial priesthood. The two are different in kind and not merely in degree, but each is just a share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. He is our one and only high priest, and by his sacrifice the world was redeemed. Let us take our stand with him, then!

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