Saint Antony of Padua

2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Psalm 118(119):129-133,135; Matthew 5:13-16

St Antony of Padua (1195? - 1231)
Saint Antony was first of all an Augustinian monk, but he was so impressed by the martyrdom of five Franciscans who had been spreading the faith in Morocco that he became a Franciscan friar himself, so that he could preach the gospel in Africa too. Illness obliged him to leave Morocco, and a storm then drove his ship to Sicily, so that he found himself taking part in the General Chapter of the Franciscans in 1221, where he met Saint Francis of Assisi himself. His preaching career then took him to northern Italy and southern France, then a stronghold of the Albigensian heresy. Later he returned to Italy, to Padua, where he was an outstanding preacher and the first Franciscan theologian. His sermons are full of gentleness, but he reproved the wicked with fearless severity – especially backsliding clergy and the oppressors of the weak.
  His shrine is a centre of pilgrimage, and he is also the patron saint of the lost and found.
We inconveniently start at verse 18 in the chapter from Corinthians today. It may make more sense to read verse 17 first:
'Was I vacillating when I wanted to [make my journeys to see you in Corinth] ? Do I make my plans like a worldly man, ready to say Yes and No at once?'
St Paul is really saying that we can be confident - God is not going to deal with us like some politicians might, and back us one day and drop us the next. With God, Yes is constant, and No is constant. We do therefore know what is right and wrong - the choice is therefore clear.

Monday of week 10 in Ordinary Time

2 Corinthians 1:1-7; Psalm 33(34):2-9; Matthew 5:1-12

Bl Alphonsus Mazurek and Companions
He was born in 1891 at Baranowka, near Lubartow, Poland. He entered the Order of Discalced Carmelites in 1908, taking the religious name Alphonsus Mary of the Holy Spirit. He was ordained a priest and appointed as a professor, while dedicating himself to the education of youth. Afterwards he served in his Order as prior and bursar. In 1944, after having been arrested by the troops that had invaded his country, he was shot on 28th August at Nawojowa Gora, near Krzeszowice. He was beatified by John Paul II on 13th June 1999, together with many other Polish martyrs.
In the second letter to the Corinthians, we hear about comfort and affliction. There will always be trials in life - St Paul is promising us that he has also had trials and through them has found comfort - as will we. The people of Poland have in living memory suffered greatly at the hands of tyrants - but from this arose the great life of Pope Saint John Paul II, and the struggles endured by civilians who gave all to bring justice and peace to their country. Similar trials take place all over the world to this day, although our news tends to focus on Ukraine just now.
Because humans are fallen, there will always be difficulties. But God does turn them into opportunites.

Saturday of Week 9 Per Annum

Tobit 12.1,5-15,20; Tobit 13; Mark 12.38-44

St Mark’s Gospel is generally considered the oldest of the four canonical Gospels in the New Testament. About 90% of it is in St Matthew’s Gospel. The passage we read today is an exception. Though Luke (who also seems to have used Mark as the basis of his Gospel) also includes a rather truncated version of the Widow’s Gift [cf Luke 21.1-4] there is no trace of this episode in Matthew’s Gospel. We can only speculate on the reasons for this omission.

Mark narrates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (the ragtag procession that we commemorate each year on Palm Sunday) at the beginning of his chapter 11. The days that follow are all delineated in Mark’s chronology: so on Monday [11.12] Jesus curses a fig tree and cleanses the Temple; on Tuesday [11.20] he teaches, has conflicts with priests, scribes and elders [11.27—12.12], with Pharisees and Herodians [12.13-17] and finally with Sadducees (i.e., the Temple priests) [12.18-27]. The poor widow with her coins appears some time on that same day. On Wednesday Judas prepared to betray Jesus [13.10-11]; on Thursday [13.12] preparations are made for the Passover Supper, and Jesus and his disciples ate that meal together [14.17-26]; afterwards they go together to Gethsemane [14.32-42] where Jesus is betrayed [14.43-45], arrested [14.46] and brought before the high priest. [14.53] On Friday he is brought to the colonial governor, Pilate [15.1], crucified [15.25], and from the cross he breathes his last breath [15.37] and is buried [15.42-46] Nothing happens on Saturday, but when the sabbath was over [16.1] a group of women came to his burial place just as the sun was rising [16.2] on Sunday and found the tomb despoiled, a young man in a white robe seated nearby. [16.5] He instructs the women to go to Galilee where they would find Jesus [16.7] but ‘they said nothing to a soul, for they were afraid….’

There Mark’s Gospel ends, and though later editors have tried to bring it to a more satisfactory conclusion, those thunderstruck women, like the woman who put into the temple treasury ‘everything she possessed, all she had to live on’, form the most fitting epigram of the Gospel we could possibly devise. ‘Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling’ an 18th Century hymn writer put it. If Mark’s Gospel’s purpose is to declare God’s Good News, nothing of that evangelion is the accomplishment of human ingenuity, steadfast purpose or industry. But when everything we have is offered back to the God who is Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer, then despite our falterings and fears, our treacheries and betrayals, God’s Good News travels a trajectory we can neither chart nor thwart. Frightened out of our wits, emptied of any and every thing we once valued, Christ conquers death and leaves it impotent and unrevivable.

Blessed Carlo Acutis Event

Saturday, 17 June 2023

St Columba

Tobit 11.5-17; Psalm 145; Mark 12.35-37

Columba, or Colmcille (in Gaelic, literally, ‘church dove’; legendarily this title supplanted his given birth name, Adomnan, which means ‘fox’), was born around 521 in Gartan, County Donegal. On his father’s side he is claimed to be the great-great grandson of Niall, a 5th Century Irish high King. Columba entered the monastery at Clonard, then governed by Finnian, himself a disciple of St David. Columba was a striking figure of great stature and powerful build, with a loud, melodious voice which could be heard from one hilltop to another. He founded monasteries at Derry, Durrow and Kells but felt compelled to leave Ireland as an act of penance around 563. With twelve companions he travelled in a wicker currach covered with leather. They settled on the Isle of Iona, just off the Isle of Mull, and from this base they spread Celtic Christianity throughout the northern Pictish kingdoms. The monastery on Iona became a significant school for missionaries. Most of the notable personages of the 7th Century Anglo-Saxon explosion of spirituality were products of this remarkable Christian centre. Columba himself was renowned as a man of letters. Three Medieval Latin hymns are attributed to him, and he is credited with transcribing over 300 books. According to traditional sources he died on Sunday 9 June 597 and was buried by his monks in the Abbey he had founded on Iona. In 849, after the abbey had suffered numerous pagan raids, his relics were removed and divided between Ireland and Scotland.

Thursday of Week 9 Per Annum

Tobit 6.10-11; 7.1,9-14; 8.4-9; Ps 127; Mk 12.28-34

he scribes of 1st Century Judaism had knowledge of the law and could draft legal documents (contracts for marriage, divorce, loans, inheritance, mortgages, the sale of land, and the like). Every village had at least one scribe. We can presume that some Pharisees were also scribes, but in general the Pharisees were more often small landowners and tradesmen rather than professional scribes.

St Mark generally makes the scribes the primary opponents of Jesus; St Matthew’s Gospel alters many of these references to make the Pharisees Jesus’ principal adversaries. [Cf Matthew 22.34] Strikingly, though, the scribe who is Jesus’ interlocutor in this passage ends the encounter with a commendation of Jesus, and Jesus declares of him that he is ‘not far from the kingdom of God’. Neither Matthew nor Luke [cf 20.39] include this mutual exchange of approbation. Though Jewish legal experts may well have questioned and contradicted some of Jesus’ interpretations of the Mosaic law, it is notable that Jesus is never charged with an explicit legal offence. Jesus’ crucifixion doesn’t take place in Galilee, where he did most of his teaching, but in Jerusalem, where he appeared to be a threat to the equilibrium between the Temple priests and the occupying power.

Wednesday of 9th Week Per Annum

Tobit 3.1-11, 16-17; Psalm 24; Mark 12.18-27

The Sadducees were the hereditary priests, with the responsibility of conducting sacrifices, of the Jerusalem Temple; their name comes from Zadok, who famously anointed Solomon king. They were aristocrats with high social status, and they were the confidants of the occupying Roman government. Religiously they might be described as conservative, and though it is anachronistic to speak of ‘canonical scripture’ during this period, they esteemed the Torah, the books of Moses, but not the later prophetic writings. Jesus has relatively little to do with the Sadducees, until they and the Pharisees concluded that they should cooperate with each other in giving up Jesus to the Roman authorities. [John 11.45-50]

St Norbert

Tobit 2.9-14; Psalm 111; Mark 12.13-17

Norbert was born around 1080 in Xanten (today in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany). He lived at court until the age of 35 when, following an accident, he experienced a conversion of heart. He was ordained a priest and shortly thereafter, in 1019, at the Council of Reims, Pope Callixtus II asked him to found a new religious order in the ancient Diocese of Laon in France. The Premonstratensians (sometimes known as Norbertines), came into existence on Christmas Day of 1020. Members of the order aren’t monks but canons regular, their work involving preaching and the exercise of pastoral ministry, mostly in parishes. The sustaining dynamic of Norbertine communities is devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. (Later a companion female order, known as canonesses, was added.)

The austerities of Cistercian life were from the first incorporated into Norbertine life. So strict was the discipline that it killed the first three of St Norbert’s disciples! Nonetheless the order grew quickly throughout western Europe: there were 9 houses in 1126; by the mid-14th Century there were 1300 houses for men and another 400 for women.

In 1126 Norbert was appointed Archbishop of Magdeburg, where he reformed the clergy, defended orthodoxy and promoted the unity and liberty of the Church. He died there in 1134.