Friday, January 8, 2010

Prayers for today: The Lord is a light in darkness to the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and just. (Ps 3: 4)

All-powerful Father, you have made known the birth of the Saviour by the light of a star. May he continue to guide us with his light, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Blessed Angela of Foligno (1248-1309)

Some saints show marks of holiness very early. Not Angela! Born of a leading family in Foligno, she became immersed in the quest for wealth and social position. As a wife and mother, she continued this life of distraction. Around the age of 40 she recognized the emptiness of her life and sought God’s help in the Sacrament of Penance. Her Franciscan confessor helped Angela to seek God’s pardon for her previous life and to dedicate herself to prayer and the works of charity. Shortly after her conversion, her husband and children died. Selling most of her possessions, she entered the Secular Franciscan Order. She was alternately absorbed by meditating on the crucified Christ and by serving the poor of Foligno as a nurse and beggar for their needs. Other women joined her in a religious community. At her confessor’s advice, Angela wrote her Book of Visions and Instructions. In it she recalls some of the temptations she suffered after her conversion; she also expresses her thanks to God for the Incarnation of Jesus. This book and her life earned for Angela the title "Teacher of Theologians." She was beatified in 1693.
People who live in the United States today can understand Blessed Angela’s temptation to increase her sense of self-worth by accumulating money, fame or power. Striving to possess more and more, she became more and more self-centred. When she realized she was priceless because she was created and loved by God, she became very penitential and very charitable to the poor. What had seemed foolish early in her life now became very important. The path of self-emptying she followed is the path all holy men and women must follow.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (5:12-16)

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. "I am willing," He said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him. Then Jesus ordered him, "Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." Yet the news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

The True Way
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Consider the extraordinary power displayed by Christ in our Gospel scene today. From ancient times the mysterious disease known as leprosy was a horror to society and a terrible affliction to the sufferer. Little could be done except to impose a strict separation of the leper from contact with society. In the book of the Leviticus we read that lepers will wear torn clothes, dishevelled hair and covered mouth, and will shout: “Impure, impure!”, adding that while the leprosy lasts they will be impure. They will live isolated and will live outside the camp. It seems that in the Middle Ages all those who suffered the disease had to express their condition through sign language. What could life have amounted to for the leper! Engulfed in his debility and decay he was cut off from human contacts except for his fellow sufferers. It is not hard to imagine the anguish of spirit with which the poor leper of our Gospel today approached Jesus. We read that “he fell with his face to the ground and begged him. Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was his only hope, and Jesus was hope enough. He and he alone could deliver him from this immense and intractable malady which, like a sea-monster holding its unfortunate prey in its vice-like teeth, was dragging him down into the depths. Undoubtedly the demonic world added its due strength to the hold of the leprosy. But Christ, full of compassion, at a single word felled the power that held the man. What power and what love! I ask you — can you think of any one in history who at a single word and by his own power drove out the leprosy “immediately” from a man who was “covered” with it? In a word, Christ was all-loving and almighty. Now, consider this. Is it not to be wondered at that this man who had such extraordinary powers and who lived in God his Father continually, did not himself step forth beyond the chosen people to conquer the world? It is clear that his plan was to make disciples of all the nations, but this he left to his disciples. What did he do? Instead of choosing himself to conquer the world for God with his great powers, he chose to die.

Christ repeatedly showed that he could resist and extricate himself from danger at will. In his home town he was hustled out of town and brought to an edge from which the people intended to throw him. But he passed through the crowd and went on his way. Repeatedly he eluded the Pharisees and religious leaders when they attempted to apprehend him, including when they attempted to stone him. His hour had not yet come. At the very commencement of his Passion when, led by Judas, the temple guard came upon him in the Garden of Gethsemane, at his word they fell back to the ground (John 18:6). He told his disciples that at a word he could summon from his heavenly Father twelve legions of angels. But he chose not to exercise this power, a power the demons themselves had no means of resisting. Rather, he chose to submit himself to the power of his enemies and be put to death. This is incomprehensible to the world. The Cross is madness and folly. Islam, for instance, denies the crucifixion and (therefore the) resurrection of Jesus. Muslims think that God rescued Jesus from the schemes of the unbelievers and raised him to heaven. Apart from the gratuitousness of this denial of the plain facts of history, it also shows how contrary are the ways of God to human expectations. The fact is that the path of obedient suffering and death is revealed by Christ’s own course to be the most fruitful source of good. That is the path God intended his Messiah to take. That is the path Jesus Christ, for all his power and winning goodness, chose as the means to redeem the world. Obedience to the will of God amid suffering has the power of hosts, hosts upon hosts. Christ could have called to his aid legions upon legions of angels. He could have resisted kings and armies. He could have ruled empires — could he not? After all, what is there that he could not have done? Recognizing his prowess, Satan offered him the empires of the world if he would but worship him. But no. Christ, the new Adam, chose the path of obedience unto death. It is this that led to the world’s salvation. It was by his cross and resurrection that he redeemed the world.

If only the average Christian could think with the mind of Christ! Let this mind be in you, St Paul writes, that was in Christ Jesus. If we wish our lives to be truly fruitful in an enduring and even eternal sense, then we must follow Christ. That means we must take up our cross every day and follow in his footsteps. It means the careful and loving fulfilment of our everyday duties for love of Jesus and following his way voluntarily according as taught to us by his Church. It is not by might and not by armies that the world was saved, but by being crowned with thorns, scourged with whips and nailed to a cross. Let us pray for the grace to follow Christ in his way to glory.

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