Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Prayers today: When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run half of her swift course, your all-powerful Word, 0 Lord, leaped down from heaven, from the royal throne. Wisdom 18: 14-15

All-powerful God, may the human birth of your Son free us from our former slavery to sin and bring us new life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,..

St. Egwin (d. 717)
You say you’re not familiar with today’s saint? Chances are you aren’t—unless you’re especially informed about Benedictine bishops who established monasteries in medieval England. Born of royal blood in the 7th century, Egwin entered a monastery and was enthusiastically received by royalty, clergy and the people as the bishop of Worcester, England. As a bishop he was known as a protector of orphans and the widowed and a fair judge. Who could argue with that? His popularity didn’t hold up among members of the clergy, however. They saw him as overly strict, while he felt he was simply trying to correct abuses and impose appropriate disciplines. Bitter resentments arose, and Egwin made his way to Rome to present his case to Pope Constantine. The case against Egwin was examined and annulled. Upon his return to England, he founded Evesham Abbey, which became one of the great Benedictine houses of medieval England. It was dedicated to Mary, who had reportedly made it known to Egwin just where a church should be built in her honour. He died at the abbey on December 30, in the year 717. Following his burial many miracles were attributed to him: The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the sick were healed.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (2: 36-40)

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him Luke 2: 36-40

The example of Anna
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

The flame of religion burns with great variety in the histories of different people. We think of those whose turn to God is distinguished by a decisive conversion. St Paul’s conversion was so dramatic that the phrase, “A Damascus experience,” is a byword for a sudden and enduring conversion. Augustine had been living in sin and dallying with non-Catholic religious creeds and, due especially to the unceasing prayers and love of his holy mother Monica, he underwent a conversion. His conversion was an extraordinary one in its fruitfulness. He became one of the most dominant saints in the Church’s history. Other conversions could be cited. In 1845 John Henry Newman, the leader of the Oxford Movement in England, converted to the Catholic Church. But there are other disciples of Christ whose stories are not defined by a visible change in course. Of course, in the life of every Christian there must be a turning away from sin and an acceptance of the truth of the Gospel. Indeed, this has to be going on throughout life and if sanctity is to be attained, conversion from sin must be a daily and frequent occurrence. But in many — perhaps even the majority — this change is gradual and not especially visible. Imagine a flash-back from the past. A farming family has a small holding in a fairly remote valley among the mountains of New South Wales. The parents are religious and they say the rosary every evening as a family, getting to Mass when the priest comes to their district once a month. The children grow, and gradually the varied quality of their religious faith slowly becomes apparent. One seems to be worldly, and his religion, though there, is never the ruling factor. He never truly understands it because it never becomes the love of his life. His younger sister, though, has always been religious and her Catholic faith seems always to be growing. She has many struggles in life and has to recognize her faults and repent from them, but her religion is real and deep. She loves God, prayer, the Mass, the Sacraments and her Faith. She outlives her brothers and sisters and lives a long life with her religion never failing. She ends her days in the arms of the Lord, with Christ and the Church meaning everything to her.

In our Gospel today (Luke 2: 36-40), we are presented with the impressive figure of Anna the prophetess. There is no suggestion of a Damascus-like, or Augustine-like, or Newman-like conversion at any point of her life. Of course, we do not know, but it looks as if she was religious from her earliest years, her immersion in God growing with the decades of her life. We read that “She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2: 36-40). There is no mention of children, and it seems as if once her husband died she gave herself up to the Lord’s service with abandon of heart. She seems to own nothing, but lives in the Temple night and day, perhaps having her simple shelter in some hidden cranny among the vast structure. Who knows, but there she may have been perhaps for many decades. She may have known and been revered by the parents and grandparents of Mary the mother of the Child. She has lived in God, and the Holy Spirit has at times spoken through her to people — she is a prophetess and a holy daughter of Sion. Like Simeon, she too looks forward with ardour to the coming of the Messiah — and now, O joy of joys! — the Messiah is suddenly in the Temple. This she knows by an inspiration. The Holy Spirit leads her — and there! The Child of Mary is he. Simeon has handed him back to his mother, and Anna stands by their side with a pure joy filling her faithful soul. She gazes on the serene Child and sees in him the wonder of the world. She raises her eyes and gazes on the holy couple before her, each of whom outstrip her in holiness. Beautiful soul is Anna! Anna the prophetess, embodiment of the best of Israel, as is Simeon who has just prophesied over the Child and his coming sufferings — what a grouping is this. There we have before us the hidden pinnacle of holiness in the Old Testament: Jesus, Mary and Joseph with Simeon and Anna by their side. How heaven must have smiled in joy at the sight.

Anna the prophetess lived her whole life for God and doubtlessly ended her days — perhaps not long after — in the odour of sanctity. Her life was grand and yet filled with a humble round in the Temple, day and night in fasting and prayer before God. Whatever be our route to God, let us hold fast to him when we find him and never let go. Let us humbly run the race to the finish where the crown awaits us. Fidelity is the name, and this faithfulness is lived out in the ordinary things of an ordinary life. Thus — as with Anna — does the ordinary and little life become grand.

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