Tuesday, February 9, 2010

St. Jerome Emiliani (1481?-1537)

A careless and irreligious soldier for the city-state of Venice, Jerome was captured in a skirmish at an outpost town and chained in a dungeon. In prison Jerome had a lot of time to think, and he gradually learned how to pray. When he escaped, he returned to Venice where he took charge of the education of his nephews—and began his own studies for the priesthood. In the years after his ordination, events again called Jerome to a decision and a new lifestyle. Plague and famine swept northern Italy. Jerome began caring for the sick and feeding the hungry at his own expense. While serving the sick and the poor, he soon resolved to devote himself and his property solely to others, particularly to abandoned children. He founded three orphanages, a shelter for penitent prostitutes and a hospital. Around 1532 Jerome and two other priests established a congregation, the Clerks Regular of Somasca, dedicated to the care of orphans and the education of youth. Jerome died in 1537 from a disease he caught while tending the sick. He was canonized in 1767. In 1928 Pius Xl named him the patron of orphans and abandoned children.

A reflection on the first reading, 1 Kings (8: 22-30)

"Yet will God really live with men on the earth? Why, the heavens and their own heavens cannot contain you. How much less this house that I have built!" (1 Kings 8: 22-30).

The Eucharist
(Reflection by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Solomon is in wonderment at the thought that the Temple would be the dwelling place of God who cannot be contained by the heavens and the earth. It required an act of faith on his part. He was filled with a sense of the privilege accorded to him and to the chosen people. God had a house among them.

Now we have a far greater reality and mystery in our midst. It is the holy and most august Eucharist. We have the Mass and the abiding Eucharistic presence of Jesus in our churches. Whenever we think of Jesus, whenever we imagine him, whenever we think of his abiding presence in the Church till the end of time, we should in the first instance think of the Eucharistic Jesus. It is as the Eucharist that the Lord Jesus is most fully and intensely present in the Church. The Eucharist is the heart and soul of every parish and of the Catholic community, indeed of the whole universal Catholic Church. St Paul writes that in Christ we have every heavenly blessing. Inasmuch as the Eucharistic Jesus resides in our parish church, it is the locale of every heavenly blessing. But we must believe this and strive daily to realise this truth. The Eucharist is the summit and the source of our whole Christian life — such is the Church’s teaching. The spiritual life of an individual and of a parish is to be measured by this standard. Solomon's prayer is a type and forerunner of the prayer that ought fill the heart of the Christian whose life has its centre in the wondrous reality that is the Eucharist, present in each of our churches.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (7:1-13)

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus and saw some of His disciples eating food with hands that were unclean, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the market-place they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: 'These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. And He said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, 'Honour your father and your mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."

Religion of the heart
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

It can be an interesting exercise to sit and watch in a busy human thoroughfare. It might be a busy airport, a bustling inner-city commercial centre, or a thronging plaza. Some people are hurrying, preoccupied with what they have at hand. Others are walking in company with others, talking with animation or in leisurely manner, as the case may be. The whole mass of people surges this way or that, their minds full of varied issues. Now, watch the lips of some: they appear to be talking to themselves. Their hearts are full of certain matters and they are acting them out in their silent speech. Observe the variation in dress and manner — it bespeaks the variation in the hearts of the people who are there. In a sense, we may say that the range of human phenomena — which is to say, the variety of dress, manner, work, goals and everything else that characterizes the life of man — manifests the unseen and varied life of the human heart. Only God sees the heart of man, and he sees all. What a world, then, does he see! Let us put it this way. Is there a key to the course of human history, and to the future of man? Inasmuch as every human being is, by God’s creative will, immortal, what is the key to the eternal destiny of mankind? The key does not lie in the physical constitution of the world, nor in the state of the environment, nor in the inter-galactic movement of the universe. The key does not lie in economics, nor, as such, in politics. At root, it lies in what goes on in the human heart. What I am thinking, wanting and intending is what my life depends on. What mankind is thinking, wanting and intending is what the eternal destiny of man will depend on. That is to say, it is the heart of man that will decide the fate of the world. The most important goal a person can set himself in life is to do whatever can be done to ensure that his heart becomes objectively right — which is to say, pleasing to the God who always sees it. This means combating and overcoming the sin that grips the human heart, and turning it to God.

In our Gospel today (Mark 7: 1-13) we read that “the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?” The religious leaders observed the religious practice of Christ’s disciples and found it deeply wanting. Let us notice, by the way, that they did not accuse Christ himself of this — even though undoubtedly he, too, did not bother with such excessive washing practices. They did not confront him because, perhaps, they feared him in any direct debate. But they made their point by criticizing his disciples. Our Lord’s response was to draw immediate attention to the vast disparity between their observable practice and the unseen state of their hearts. Their hearts were very far from God. As we read, “He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: 'These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” The prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, said that the people were not honouring God in their hearts — and it was a religion of the heart that God required. Our Lord applied these words of Isaiah to his critics who were insisting on the ceremonial washing before eating. Our Lord required a religion of the heart. It is this above all that we must concentrate on, understanding all the while, of course, that it will flow out into an obedient observance of God’s commandments in everyday life. There is indeed an external religion, but external obedience to God’s law is the fruit of internal obedience to his will. Our Lord said that the one who loves him keeps his commandments — which is to say that it is love for him that is the foundation of a religion of external observance. The religion of the heart shapes religious practice. I remember watching a film of an Eastern-rite Catholic monastery and the devout singing of the Divine Office was shown. A priest who was over ninety years of age was shown in this Divine Service, devoutly engaged in the whole ceremony of prayer. His heart was entirely in it. His devout religious practice was the manifestation of a profound religion of the heart.

Let us endeavour every day to purify our heart and to make of it a true temple of the triune God. One of the greatest mysteries and blessings of the Christian religion is that the baptized Christian, who is in the state of grace, has the triune God dwelling within his soul. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell within. How could such a religion not be primarily a religion of the heart? What a travesty it would be for our religion to consist primarily in external observance alone! Let us then strive to give our hearts to God, combating the sin that is within and which strives to gain possession, whether it be by anger, jealousy, lust — or whatever. God must have our hearts.

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