Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Our Lady of Mt Carmel
“Receive my beloved son, this habit of thy order: this shall be to thee and to all Carmelites
a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire. . . . It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, and a pledge of peace.”— Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Mount Carmel, in what is today northern Israel, has always been a place rich in mystical tradition. The word hakkarmel means “the garden” in Hebrew, and true to its title, there is a remarkable profusion of plants and wildflowers on this mountain. It is considered a natural paradise and a sacred place, and in biblical times it was forbidden to disturb any of the natural life on it. Those who wanted to ascend the mountain for meditation lived in caves so as not to intrude on the landscape with unnatural structures. In about 860 b.c., the prophet Elijah (also known as Elias) arrived on this holy mountain to begin a life of contemplation and prayer. The First Book of Kings is filled with tales of wonders he performed and prophesies he gave. In his prophetic visions on Mount Carmel, Elijah became aware of the coming of the mother of the Messiah. He and his followers mystically dedicated themselves to her, setting an example as the first monks.

The descendants of these ancient contemplatives were among the first to accept the teachings of Christ and to be baptized by His apostles. Upon meeting Mary after Christ’s Ascension, they were so overcome by her sanctity that they returned to the mountain to build a chapel in her honor. For the next thousand years Mount Carmel continued to be a place where hermits devoted themselves to prayer. By the twelfth century, pilgrims from Europe who had followed the Crusades to the Holy Land settled with the ascetics on Carmel and started a religious holy order known as Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.

Their rule, which was given in 1209 by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, says that all converges toward the contemplation of God. The Rule of Mysticism exhorts those who follow it to live a life of continual prayer, obedience to a superior, perpetual abstinence and fasting, manual work, and total silence. Simon Stock, an English pilgrim, had joined the group on a visit to Jerusalem.

At this time, Saracen invaders forced the monks out of their spiritual home on Mount Carmel. All those who would not leave were murdered. Simon Stock was instrumental in getting the order to move to Aylesford, England, where the Baron de Grey gave them a manor house. The Carmelite lifestyle of contemplation, poverty, and silent prayer was not easily accepted in Europe, particularly among the clergy who enjoyed almost the same status and privilege as royalty. Reading into the life of Mary, Simon Stock was inspired by her unquestioning acceptance of all that befell her: her virgin pregnancy; her raising and loving a child doomed to be executed; and her staying at the foot of the Cross while others ran away. It was through his insistence that the Carmelites evolved from a band of hermit ascetics who regretted the loss of their home on Mount Carmel into a traveling society of mendicant friars, opening schools and mission houses in the major capitals of Europe.

Still, it was difficult for many monks to accept the alteration of the rule of the order to adapt to European conditions. Their presence was also shunned and not easily tolerated by other religious orders. The people thought these hermits strange and did not accept that they chose to live in such absolute poverty and isolation. In order to preserve what was left of their order, the Carmelites invoked their patroness, the Virgin Mary, for help in establishing their new life. The answer came in a vision to Saint Simon Stock on July 16, 1251, when he was alone in his cell. Mary appeared to him holding the scapular of his order. She told him, “Receive my beloved son, this habit of thy order: this shall be to thee and to all Carmelites a privilege, that whosoever dies clothed in this shall never suffer eternal fire. . . .It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, and a pledge of peace.”

The scapular, two pieces of brown wool joined at the shoulders and hanging down the back and breast, was not new to the Carmelite order. For hundreds of years before Saint Simon Stock’s vision, monks in Europe had worn scapulars. But it is thought that the brown scapular that Mary delivered was referencing Elijah’s camel-hair garment on Mount Carmel. Eventually, the brown scapular became reduced in size for laypeople to wear under their clothing. This is a special devotion to Mary worn as a sign to commemorate her faith in both God and humankind. This gift from Mary helped the Carmelites explain the historical significance of their order to the laypeople; it served as a reminder that belief in Mary as the Mother of God extended back to the Old Testament with the prophet Elijah.

After Pope John XXII (r. 1316–1334) had a vision of Mary where she promised those wearing the brown scapular, “I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I find in Purgatory, I shall free, so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of everlasting life,” the scapular became extremely popular among the common people. By the end of the sixteenth century it had become smaller in size and very similar to the one that is worn today. Admiration for the Carmelite Order spread as their adherence to the rules of solitude and prayer produced some of the greatest mystical saints in Catholicism, all of whom had visions of or openhearted communications with Mary. Among them are Saint Simon Stock, Saint Teresa, Saint John of the Cross, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Though the original scapular handed to Saint Simon Stock was brown wool cloth without a picture, the Carmelite scapular that is now worn and the one that is most favored now has an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel holding the Baby Jesus while she offers the scapular.

The other piece of cloth often has a picture of Jesus as a man. Neither image is prescribed. Wearing the scapular is a form of prayer and is considered a visible sign of consecrating oneself to Mary and to accepting her maternal protection. Devotion to Our Lady of Carmel can be found wherever the Carmelites founded a monastery or convent.

Many small towns in Italy have churches named after this aspect of Mary. As the townspeople emigrated to other countries, they brought the devotion with them. In many cities in the United States these churches have great celebrations in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Artistic representations of Our Lady of Mount Carmel depict her either appearing in the sky over Mount Carmel itself or holding Jesus as a toddler. In both versions the figure of Mary is often depicted offering the scapular to the viewer.

Tradition has it that the prophet Elijah saw Mary appear in the clouds over Mount Carmel eight hundred years before her birth. Sometimes this representation includes her handing the scapular to Saint Simon Stock. The other version of this aspect of Mary illustrates the Sabbatine privilege where Mary vows to take the souls of those who died wearing the brown scapular out of purgatory on the Saturday after their death. Purgatory is depicted in flames because it is a place where the soul goes to have its sins burned away.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patroness of the Carmelite Order, Chile, and Bolivia. Her feast day is July 16.

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Visions of Mary, Our Lady of Light

Our Lady of Light is the patroness of Egypt.

The Coptic Church in Egypt celebrates thirty-two feast days in honor of the Virgin Mary. The last one of these falls on April 2 and commemorates Mary under her title of Our Lady of Light. The great majority of Egypt’s population is Muslim. The Copts are a Christian sect whose members did not convert when that country was invaded in the eighth century. They make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population. The Copts have a great reverence for the Holy Family since it was to Egypt that Joseph and Mary took the Infant Jesus to hide from Herod. One place where the family rested was Zeitoun near Cairo. When Mary appeared over the Coptic Church of Saint Mark on April 2, 1968, she was seen by a diverse religious crowd. Islamic tradition also has great reverence for Mary. A hadith of the Prophet Muhammad states, “Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son.” Like Catholics, the Muslims believe that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus and that she was spiritually superior to all other humans. She is one of eight people who have their own chapter in the Koran. When Mary appeared in Egypt she was welcomed by Coptic Christians, the Protestant Church, the pope’s envoy, and the Muslim population.

On April 2, 1968, at 8:30 at night, the mechanics and bus drivers who worked out of the Public Transport Authority heard a disturbance in the street. A young woman dressed in white was on the dome of the Church of Saint Mark across from the garage. Frightened that she was about to kill herself, the Muslim mechanic implored her to be careful, while his compatriot ran to alert the priests. Since it was impossible to walk on the curved dome of the church, the onlookers gathering in the street were astounded to see the woman move onto the dome, bowing and kneeling in front of a cross. It was then that someone yelled out, “It is our Holy Mother Mary!” Cries of “Virgin Mary!” went up from the crowd. As the night sky darkened, the figure of Mary on the roof glowed luminously.

This was the start of a series of hundreds of apparitions that was to last three years. In all of them Mary remained silent but brought a sense of peace and harmony to the hundreds of thousands in the crowds who would gather to be with her. Not everyone in the crowd saw her, some saw only lights. Others, Muslims as well as Christians viewed her with great clarity. The apparitions became so well-known that they were even broadcast on Egyptian television to an audience of one million people. The Marxist president of Egypt, Abdul Nasser, was among the many political dignitaries who would stand in the street, waiting for Mary.

The Egyptian government went so far as to tear down buildings around the church to make room for the ever-expanding crowds. This silent apparition never appeared at the same time and would come two to three times a week. It was instantly declared a miracle by the Coptic Church when the first man who saw Mary, the mechanic from the garage, went the next day to have a gangrenous finger amputated. Doctors unwrapping his bandages were shocked to find his finger totally healed. Many nights the Virgin would bow to the crowd and bless it; sometimes she appeared with a baby in her arms; many times she waved an olive branch of peace; other times a luminous mist spread everywhere, giving off the scent of incense. A priest at the church has written, “I have seen the Virgin myself reflected against the surface of the moon whose disk got bigger as the moon got nearer to the church. The Virgin made her apparition carrying a babe in her arms.”

Another witness who watched from his brother’s apartment said, “I saw her twice. She was very tall, and she did not stand on the ground. She shone more than the moon, all completely white, sometimes with her arms together and sometimes with her arms outstretched. Every night there were doves, and doves, you know, do not fly at night.” A woman remembering the time of the apparitions said, “There were Muslims and Christians, and everyone was as one, one religion together.” Scientific studies were launched within a fifteen-mile radius of the church. It was thought that the apparition was being projected from somewhere, but no evidence of such an elaborate hoax was ever found. Pope Pius VI’s envoy, who witnessed several of the apparitions in the first month, recommended these visions as legitimate visits by Mary. They were widely reported in the newspapers, though not in the West. Several reasons were suggested for why Mary chose this time and place to appear. One was the disastrous defeat Egypt suffered in the 1967 Six Day War with Israel. Because of it, the Coptic holy sites in Jerusalem were off-limits to Egyptians. Not only was Mary soothing the people in their defeat, she was visiting them when they could not go to the Holy Land to visit her. Another reason was that Zeitoun had sheltered the Holy Family during their flight from Herod, and Mary was revisiting a place that had protected her.

The apparitions ended in 1971, when the Egyptian government started to charge admission to stand in the street. There are many black-and-white photographs of these
sightings, but original witnesses insist they serve as poor documentation of the luminous visions they remember.

Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13

I promise salvation to those who embrace devotion to my Immaculate Heart. Their souls will be loved by God as flowers placed by me to adorn His throne. These souls will suffer a great deal but I will never leave them. My Immaculate Heart will be their refuge, the way that will lead them to God.—Our Lady of Fatima

The twentieth century was the first time in history where we had the ability to destroy not only the entire human race but all other forms of life on this planet. During World War I, the violence of which people had never seen before, Mary came to Fatima, Portugal, with a very serious warning. Expressing the belief that humankind had drifted away from God, she wanted the world to offer up reparations for the disastrous state of the earth. Fatima is the most prophetic of Mary’s apparitions. She correctly foretold the suffering imposed by the Communist states and the carnage of World War II. The third secret of Fatima was deemed too terrifying to release.

It was finally revealed by the Vatican on May 13, 2000, in the hopes that what it had predicted had passed. Others strongly disagree with the Vatican’s interpretation and insist it is a portent of the end of the world. Our Lady of Fatima is an angry, pained mother, demanding that her children take action before it is too late.

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It is said that Mary usually appears to the simplest and least complicated of people because they do not try to judge or interpret what she says, they merely report it. For this reason, many times her visionaries are children. In 1916, a nine-year-old girl from Fatima named Lucia dos Santos was out tending sheep with her two younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta. They were happily playing a little game with stones when they saw an immense light come from the sky in their direction. At the center of the light was a translucent angelic form. “Do not be afraid!” he said. “I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” Kneeling, he bowed down until his forehead touched the ground. He taught them a prayer that he made them repeat three times. “My God, I believe, I adore, I trust and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not trust and do not love You.” Rising, he told them, “Pray thus. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the words of your prayers.”

This was not the first time Lucia had seen this angel. When she had previously tended sheep with other companions, she had witnessed the light of the angel overhead. When her friends had told their parents what they had seen, they were all accused of fabricating a story out of boredom. Because of this, Lucia convinced her younger cousins to keep the angelic visit a secret. All three children began praying in the manner taught to them by the angel. Toward the end of summer they received another visit from the angel, admonishing them for frittering away so much time in play. He told them he was Guardian Angel of Portugal and that God was offended by the sins of others. He advised the children to pray more and “Above all, accept and bear with submission, all the suffering which the Lord allows in your lives. In this way you will draw down peace upon your country.”

Before winter came they received one more visit from this angel in which he told them that Jesus Christ was outraged by ungrateful and indifferent men. He implored them to keep praying and gave them Communion. The children continued to work, play, and pray together throughout the winter months. On Sunday, May 13, 1917, they were leading their flocks to a grazing field called the Cova da Iria. They were frightened by flashes of lightning and were shocked to see a beautiful lady who glowed brighter than the sun. When she spoke to them, Lucia was the only one who could hear her, “Fear not, I will not harm you. I am from heaven.” When Lucia asked her what it was she wanted, the lady answered, “I ask you to come here for six consecutive months, on the thirteenth day at this same hour. I will tell you later who I am and why I have come to you. I shall return here again a seventh time.” Lucia asked if they could go to heaven with the lady, and she was told that they would all come to heaven with her but that “Francisco must pray many rosaries.”

The lady added, “Let him pray the rosary. In that way he too will be able to see me.” Francisco had only seen Lucia talking to a bright light. He said one decade of the rosary, and he, too, was able to see the lady. Streams of light radiated onto the children from the lady’s hands. As she left them, she told the children, “Say the rosary every day to earn peace for the world and the end of the war.” Lucia’s family and friends greeted her story about the lady with scorn and mockery.

Her cousins had a different experience. Their father, believing that they truly had some sort of celestial vision, protected and respected them. On June 13 about fifty people accompanied the children to the Cova da Iria. Lucia called Jacinta out of a group of playing children. Lightning had started to flash even though it was a beautiful day. Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco ran toward the oak tree where they had seen the lady a month before. Though others in the crowd could not see her, some reported hearing a “buzzing noise” or a “tiny little voice.” The lady, enveloped in a mystical light, taught the children a prayer, and made the following promise to the world, “I promise salvation to those who embrace devotion to my Immaculate Heart. Their souls will be loved by God as flowers placed by me to adorn His throne. These souls will suffer a great deal but I will never leave them. My Immaculate Heart will be their refuge, the way that will lead them to God.”

She again showered the children with light from her hands. People in the crowd heard a “rushing sound” and the three children shouted, “There she goes, there she goes!” as they pointed to the sky in the east. To everyone’s amazement, the branches of the tree, which had been standing straight up a few minutes before, were also pointing to the east. The third visit, which took place on July 13, was attended by thousands of believers, cynics, and those searching for miracles. Lucia has written that between the past month and this day she was continually tormented by self-doubt.

No one in her immediate family seemed to believe her, perhaps this was all a trick of her mind. The large crowd quieted down as they heard a buzzing sound. A cloud moved in over the oak tree. They watched as Lucia, enraptured, appeared to be having a conversation with the cloud. At one point, the girl cried out in horror. After a few minutes, there was the sound of thunder and the cloud lifted. The children waved good-bye to it. When asked what made her cry out, Lucia said, “It was a secret.” In her own memoirs, she wrote that as the lady started to appear all her doubts about whether this was really happening or not left her forever.

In this visit, the famous Three Secrets of Fatima were imparted to the children. The local government looked upon the growing interest in the alleged apparitions in Fatima as a dangerous threat to its sovereignty. The royalists had recently been driven out of government and religion was looked upon as equaling royalism. Many monasteries and parochial schools had been closed down. The prime minister had promised that within twenty years all trace of religion would be gone from Portugal. The fourth apparition of the lady took place on August 13. Almost fifteen thousand people were gathered in the Cova da Iria, but Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco were locked in the town jail.

Even without the seers the crowd witnessed the cloud hovering over the oak tree, there were sounds of explosions, and the ground shook. A mystical light showered the crowd, reflecting all the colors of the rainbow. While this was happening, each of the children were separately questioned for hours. They refused to give up the secrets they were told by the lady. Though each was told that the others had completely recanted their story of the lady, not one of them would change their personal account. As a last resort the mayor told them that obviously there were no secrets, and he was going to boil them in oil if they did not admit the apparitions were all a lie. Instead of collapsing in hysteria, the three remained silent, and the children were released on August 15.

The lady came to them in the area near their village and told them she wanted them to continue their pilgrimages to the Cova da Iria on the thirteenth of the month. She also told them to pray the rosary every day. “Pray. Pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners. So many souls go to hell because there is no one to pray and to make sacrifices for them.” The seriousness with which the children took her words greatly altered their personalities. Neighbors who once mocked them became their biggest defenders. By the September 13 apparition, there were over thirty thousand people in the Cova da Iria. In the middle of a cloudless sky, many witnessed a luminous globe moving from east to west. According to Lucia, the lady asked the people to pray the rosary to obtain the end of the war. She also promised that she would perform a miracle on her next and last visit so that everyone would believe.

The apparition of October 13 is widely documented and was reported by newspapers all over the world. Even the most anticlerical Portuguese news agencies reported “strange natural phenomena” that had occurred in front of a crowd of at least fifty thousand people. Despite heavy rains, pilgrims arrived to the little town, most of them on foot. A few minutes before 1:30 in the afternoon it stopped raining. What happened next has been detailed by news reporters (most of whom were extremely skeptical of the children), eyewitnesses in the crowd, professors from the university, government officials, and even those who lived miles away. The sun appeared through the clouds, shone very brightly, and began to tremble and dance, whirling through the sky at a dizzying speed, it cast all the colors of the rainbow on the crowd. The crowd began shouting for the Virgin Mary.

The strange movements and light from the sun lasted a few minutes before it returned to its natural place in the sky. The crowd, who had been soaked to the skin, was now completely dry. As for the children, they were unaware of any “dance of the sun,” they had been communing with Mary. According to Lucia, “When Our Lady disappeared in the immense distance of the sky, next to the sun we saw Saint Joseph holding the Child Jesus and Our Lady dressed in white with a blue mantle. Saint Joseph seemed to be blessing the world, making the sign of the cross. Shortly after this vision had vanished, I saw Our Lord and Our Lady who reminded me of Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Lord was blessing the world as was Saint Joseph. This vision vanished too, and it seemed to me I again saw Our Lady in a form resembling that of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” The story of Our Lady of Fatima had worldwide repercussions, and Fatima became a major pilgrimage site. It is visited by five million Marian devotees a year.

The three seers were hounded by the sick, the desperate, and the curious. Jacinta and Francisco died during the flu epidemic of 1918. Lucia joined a convent in May 1921. She is still alive at this writing. In 1941, Lucia allowed the first two secrets of Fatima to be released. According to her memoir, The first part is the vision of hell. Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent.

This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first apparition, to take us to heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror. We then looked up at Our Lady, who said to us so kindly and sadly, “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.

The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted the world. Lucia was so confused by the content of the third secret that she placed it in an envelope and sent it to the Vatican with the instructions that it was not to be opened until the year 1960. Pope John XXIII chose not to release it upon reading it, Paul VI also kept it a secret. On May 13, 1981, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, an assassin fired a bullet at Pope John Paul II as he was out greeting the pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square. He impulsively bent down to hug a little girl wearing an Our Lady of Fatima medal and the bullet only wounded him instead of killing him.

He has always credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life. It was he who decided to release the third secret on May 13, 2000, to mark the beatification of Francisco and Jacinta. Lucia met with him beforehand and approved of the action. This is the third secret as released by the Vatican: After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the angel cried out:  And we saw in an immense light that is God: something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it, a bishop dressed in white, we had the impression it was the Holy Father.

Other bishops, priests, men and women religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big cross of rough-hewn trunks of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way. Having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other bishops, priests, men and women religious, and various laypeople of different ranks and positions.

Beneath the two arms of the cross there were two angels each with a crystal aspersorium in their hands, in which they gathered up the blood of the martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God. Pope John Paul II felt that this last secret was a symbol of the attempt on his life. The Russian Revolution brought into the world a society that outlawed spirituality and religious practices. By the last half of the twentieth century, communism had engulfed many nations under this umbrella. Coming from Poland, Pope John Paul II was a force to be reckoned with. He inspired many in Russia and Poland to rebel against totalitarian systems. He felt the prayers Our Lady of Fatima asked for and the visions given to the three children helped to change the course of history.

Students and St. Thomas Aquinas

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Novena to St. Thomas

Saint Thomas Aquinas, patron of students and schools, I thank God for the gifts of light and knowledge God bestowed on you, which you used to build up the church in love. I thank God, too, for the wealth and richness of theological teaching you left in your writings. Not only were you a great teacher, you lived a life of virtue and you made holiness the desire of your heart. If I cannot imitate you in the brilliance of your academic pursuits, I can follow you in the humility and charity that marked your life. As Saint Paul said, charity is the greatest gift, and is open to all. Pray for me that I may grow in holiness hand charity. Pray also for Catholic schools and for all students. In particular, please obtain the favor I ask during this novena.
(Mention your request).
Amen.

Meditate with Our Lady of Guadalupe

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On December 9, 1531, a Mexican Indian peasant named Juan Diego was walking through the countryside where Mexico City now lies. From the top of a hill, a beautiful woman called out to him, asking, “Am I not your mother?” She told him she was Mary, Mother of God, and that she would like a church to be built upon the ground on which she stood. As proof of her appearance, she imprinted her image on Juan Diego’s tilma, or cloak.

Today, nearly 500 years later, the cloth still defies scientific explanation of its origin. On view in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, it attracts up to 10 million pilgrims a year, making it the most popular Marian shrine in the world. This cloth bears the only image of Mary on the North American continent that is officially recognized by the Catholic Church. And it made Our Lady of Guadalupe not only the patron saint of Mexico, but also the patron saint of the United States and the rest of the Americas. The preserved cloth image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is famous throughout the world. It shows an Aztec woman enveloped in a womblike body halo and is most popular in Mexico, Southern California and the American Southwest. The image has spread beyond organized religion to become embedded in folk art in a variety of ways. Key chains, private altars, textiles, needle crafts, T-shirts, car decals, tattoos, stained glass windows, and statues, as well as the little painted tin retablos common in Mexico and the American Southwest, bear her picture.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is treated like a member of the family in most Mexican homes. Both Catholics and non-Catholics have a fervent devotion to her. Many social activists honor her for her commitment to the poor and downtrodden. Feminists and New Age religious groups honor her for her goddess roots. Indigenous people honor her for her Aztec roots.

She is a symbol of motherly solace, offering protection to all people, weak or strong, rich or poor, making Our Lady of Guadalupe the most popular and best-loved incarnation of Mary.

Novenas, or nine-day prayers, do not have to be for specific requests (though they frequently begin in this way). They are a form of meditation that clears the mind and stops the chatter and distraction of the material world. Many people pick a saint, angel, or incarnation of Mary they feel comfortable with and pray to it every day.

Novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe, according to your message in Mexico I venerate you as “the Virgin Mother Of the true God for whom we live, the Creator of all the world, maker of heaven and earth.” In spirit I kneel before your most holy image which you miraculously imprinted upon the cloak of the Indian Juan Diego. And with the faith of the countless numbers of pilgrims who visit your shrine, I beg you for this favor:

(mention your request).

Remember, O Immaculate Virgin, the words you spoke to your devout client, “I am a merciful Mother to you and to all your people who love me and trust in me and invoke my help. I listen to their lamentations and solace all their sorrows and their sufferings.” I beg you to be a merciful Mother to me, because I sincerely love you and trust in you and invoke your help. I entreat you, Our Lady of Guadalupe, to grant my request, if this should be the will of God, in order that I may bear witness to your love, your compassion, your help and protection. Do not forsake me in my needs.
Amen.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

 

St. Joseph, First Century

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“I know by experience that the glorious Saint Joseph assists us generally in all necessities. I never asked him for anything which he did not obtain for me.

—Saint Teresa of Avila
Patron of: Fathers

A righteous man who never shirked his responsibilities as protector of his family, Saint Joseph offers a perfect example for fathers everywhere. He is invoked by families for all matters of support needed to sustain a household, both material and spiritual.

A descendant of the House of David, there is very little written about Joseph in the gospels. He was said to be betrothed to Mary when she became pregnant with Jesus. Instead of leaving her in scandal, he accepted the word of the angel Gabriel who told him that the child was divinely given and Joseph and Mary were chosen by God to be his earthly parents. It was Joseph who protected Mary on the journey to Bethlehem when Jesus was born. He also suffered the frustrations of a man who could not find proper shelter for his family as his wife was about to give birth. Upon returning to their native city of Nazareth, Joseph was once again visited by an angel warning him of the impending slaughter of the innocents. On faith alone, he dispensed with his business and personal effects, taking Jesus and Mary to Egypt where they stayed for seven years until Herod’s death. It fell upon Saint Joseph to support his young family in this foreign country.

The last mention of Joseph comes when Jesus is twelve years old and strayed from his family while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It is thought that he died well before Jesus began his mission with Jesus and Mary at his deathbed. For this reason, more than any other saint, he is invoked for a happy death, one where a person is older and has their family at their side.

Though of noble lineage, Joseph was a carpenter and it was from him whom Jesus learned his trade. Because he worked with his hands and frequently put his family ahead of any personal ambitions, workers everywhere who live similar lives call on him as a patron. It is no mystery that the cult of Saint Joseph became more popular in modern times with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Many saints throughout the ages have declared him to be a powerful advocate as well, since it is thought that Jesus obeyed him in his earthly life, he is inclined to listen to Joseph in his heavenly life. Teresa of Avila always buried medals with his image when she needed land for a new convent. This tradition has extended itself to realtors of all faiths who bury statues of Saint Joseph on properties they wish to sell. It is assumed that since Joseph respected his wife’s virginity that he was an older man when he married. He is depicted in art with a staff, which he led his family ( precursor to the bishop’s staff) a lily for purity, and with carpenter tools or holding the baby Jesus

Novena to Saint Joseph

O glorious Saint Joseph, faithful follower of Jesus Christ, to you we raise our hearts and hands to ask your powerful intercession in obtaining from the compassionate heart of Jesus all the helps and graces necessary for our spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly the grace of a happy death, and the spiritual grace for which we now ask.

(Mention your request.)

O guardian of the Word Incarnate, we feel animated with confidence that your prayers for us will be graciously heard at the throne of God.

(The following is to be said seven times in honor of the seven joys and seven sorrows of Saint Joseph.)

O glorious Saint Joseph, through the love you bear for Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his name, hear our prayers and grant our petitions.

 

The Women With Jesus

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Luke refers to a number of people accompanying Jesus and the twelve. From among them he names three women: “Mary, called Magdalene, … and Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources” (Luke 8:2-3).

SAINT MARY MAGDALENE
Apostle to the Apostles
First Century
Feast Day: July 22
Patron of: Provence, contemplatives, converts, gardeners, glove makers, hairdressers, penitents, perfumers, pharmacists, prisoners, reformed prostitutes
Invoked against: sexual temptation
Symbols: alabaster jar, long hair, skull

“Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.”
Christ to Mary Magdalene according to John 20:17

Though the subject of Mary Magdalene’s true identity may be fodder for a heated debate, there is one aspect of her life that all ecclesiastical writers agree upon: She never left Christ during His crucifixion, and she was the first person to see Him after His resurrection. Because Jesus chose her as His first witness and because He told her to go and tell the others what she saw, she is known as the “Apostle to the Apostles.” This title aside, it is the example she sets as a penitent and reformed sinner that she is most well known and honored.

According to ancient Jewish texts, the seaside town of Magdala was known as a place of loose morals. This town was Mary’s home, and she took its name as her own, signifying her unmarried state. It was said that Mary had wealth and took great pride in her appearance, enjoying luxuries and lapsing into promiscuity. Many shunned her because of her reputation for lewdness and it is as this sinner that we are first introduced to her.

After Jesus had raised the son of a widow from the dead, a man named Simon invited him to be guest of honor at a dinner. While they were seated, a certain notorious woman walked into the room carrying an alabaster box. Weeping, she threw herself down and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair and then anointed them with the oil. Simon was outraged that Jesus would accept such tribute from someone so disgraceful. But instead of judging the woman Jesus rebuked Simon, “Does thou see this woman? I entered into thy house–thou gave me no water for my feet. But she with tears has washed my feet, and with her hair has wiped them. Thou gave me no kiss. But she, since she came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou did not anoint but she with ointment has anointed my feet. Wherefore I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven her, because she has loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loves less.” He then told the penitent woman to go in peace, all her sins were forgiven.

In the next chapter of Luke he mentions the travels of Christ and his followers in Galilee, among them is “Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils.” Luke also tells us that the day before Christ’s entry into Jerusalem he dined with Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. When Judas objects to the use of such expensive oil he is rebuked by Christ, like Simon, for being so self-righteous. “. . . For the poor you have always with you . . . but me you have not always. . .” Because in this story, Mary too wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair and anoints them with oil in the same manner as the penitent woman, Catholics believe both women to be Mary Magdalene, whom after being exorcized by Christ became one of his greatest and most loyal followers.

Indeed, her loyalty to Jesus was unsurpassed even at His death. Unlike His other disciples, Mary never renounced Jesus or ran from Him. She stood with His mother until He was dead, helped take Him down from the cross and wept outside of His tomb. On Easter morning it was Mary Magdalene who returned at dawn to keep a vigil. When she found the great stone covering the tomb rolled away, she ran back to tell Peter and the others that someone had taken Jesus’ body. They ran ahead of her, saw the open tomb, and left.

But it was Mary Magdalene who stayed behind, searching the tomb and weeping. Two angels dressed in white appeared to her and asked why she was weeping. “They have taken my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him,” she responded. A gardener asked her the same question and she begged the man to tell her where Christ’s body might be found. “Mary,” said the man, and she suddenly knew this man was not a gardener. She was talking to the risen Christ. When she went to embrace him he told her, “Touch me not!” (The phrase Noli me tangere in the Latin bible). Mary spread the good news to the disciples–the last action the gospels recorded of Mary Magdalene.

The rest of her life story was written in the early Middle Ages. It is said that after the resurrection of Christ, political leaders in Israel tried to quash the cult that was rapidly growing around Him. These leaders placed Mary Magdalene, her sister Martha, their brother Lazarus, and other followers in a rudderless boat, in hopes that they would perish at sea. Divine Providence brought them to the coast of Marseilles, France. There they had much success converting the local people to Christianity. Mary took her apostolic mission to Provence and was greeted with equal enthusiasm. After converting the king and helping to install a bishop, she retired to a cave to live out the last thirty years of her life as a penitent. Her hair grew long enough to cover her naked body, and she repented for her previous deeds as a sinner. Once a day angels would carry her to heaven, where she received her “daily sustenance,” which took the place of earthly food. Eventually her death drew near, and she sent for Maximinus, the bishop she had installed years earlier. She received the eucharist and died in tears.

Early French ecclesiastical writers claimed Mary Magdalene and her family as their evangelists. Since they were favorites of Christ, this divine favoritism then extended to France and the French people. Miraculous discoveries of her relics abounded from Provence to Burgundy. The Cathedral at Vézelay was dedicated to her in the twelfth century and became the center of her cult and an important stop on the pilgrimage to Campostela. Her feast, falling in the heart of summer was happily celebrated throughout France.

To the people of the Middle Ages, Mary Magdalene was a wildly glamorous figure, a beautiful woman with long, red hair. She presented an alternative to the image of an ever pious saint. Here was a woman who had enjoyed luxuries, made mistakes, and tried to redeem herself. As towns grew into cities, they began to face an onslaught of urban problems such as prostitution. Though there is no mention in the Bible of Mary Magdalene ever being a prostitute, preachers invented lurid tales of her youthful sexual indiscretions. That God could extend forgiveness to such a willful, wayward creature gave hope to everyone for their own forgiveness. Homes for reformed prostitutes took her as their patron, and the word magdalene became a description for a fallen woman. It was not until the twentieth century that Mary Magdalene’s role as a penitent and devoted follower of Christ was stressed.

Always a popular subject for artists, Mary Magdalene is always depicted as a beautiful, sorrowful woman with long hair. In some images she carries the alabaster unguent jar and in others a skull is present, the symbol of the penitent to remind us of how we are all going to end up. The English word maudlin is a derivative of Magdalene. Oxford University has a famous college named for her. Because she loved luxury before her conversion, and bought expensive unguents after it, she is the patron of such trades as glove makers, hairdressers, and perfumers. Since devils were cast out of her, she is the patron of prisoners who cast off their chains. Because Christ appeared to her as a gardener she is the patron of the profession. Her knowledge and use of unguents also makes her the patron of pharmacists.

Prayer to Saint Mary Magdalene
Saint Mary Magdalene, woman of many sins,
Who by conversion became the beloved of Jesus,
Thank you for your witness that Jesus forgives
through the miracle of love.

You, who already possess eternal happiness
in His glorious presence,
please intercede for me, so that someday
I may share in the same everlasting joy.
Amen.
Learn more about Joanna at http://www.aletheiacollege.net/bl/19-1Joanna_Character_Study.htm.

Not much is known about Susanna.

 

St. Vincent Ferrer

Religious_Cards-00100web

 “Christ, master of humility, manifests his truth only to the humble and hides himself from the proud.”
Patron of: Builders, construction workers, brick makers, epilepsy, fields, headaches, inn keepers, lightning strikes, penance, plumbers, preachers, tile makers, reconciliation, roofers, vineyards
Feast Day: April 5
Symbols: Dominican habit, flame overhead, trumpets, banner

Born in Valencia, Spain to an English father and Spanish mother, Vincent Ferrer’s time on earth was spent during an extremely tumultuous period in history. The Black Death had ravaged Europe, decimating the population and the church was divided in a Great Schism, with three men claiming the papacy at one time. Because of his work in healing this rupture and his untiring labors in revitalizing the faithful, as well as his charismatic ability to convert thousands, he is the patron of builders and those in all of the construction trades.

With encouragement from his parents, Vincent realized his dream of becoming a Dominican friar at an early age. His intellectual gifts were immediately apparent and he soon became an expert on theology and scripture. His advice was much sought after by bishops and cardinals, and eventually, Vincent was summoned to Avignon to advise the schismatic pope Benedict XIII. In 1398 he suffered from a near fatal fever where he had a vision of Christ, Saint Dominic de Guzman (founder of the Dominicans), and Saint Francis of Assisi advising him to unite the world by evangelizing throughout it. Always a popular and skillful preacher, Vincent’s talents were said to have become supernatural after this vision. He left his political duties and took it upon himself to travel throughout Western Europe preaching about the Final Judgment, earning him the title “Angel of the Apocalypse.” Though he could only converse in his native Catalan, he was clearly understood by the tens of thousands who thronged to hear him preach. The Moslem-controlled city of Granada invited him to speak there resulting in 8,000 conversions. At a time when many were left reeling and faithless by the plague which had killed off one fourth of the population, Vincent Ferrer’s message of hope in the face of despair was wildly popular in cities and towns in England, France, Italy the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Spain. Throngs of religious pilgrims drawn from every level of society devoted themselves to a life of penance, following him wherever he went. Along with his spectacular success as an evangelist, he also had the ability to heal the sick and hours were put aside every day for his prayers and cures. Because many of his miracles took place where thousands could gather in fields, one of his patronages is the protection of fields. Because lightning was such a threat to crops, he is also invoked against lightning strikes.

Vincent Ferrer is credited with helping to heal the great schism in the church when he realized that his friend and benefactor Benedict XIII should relinquish his claims on the papacy when he refused to submit himself to a vote among cardinals. Vincent withdrew his support and recognition of him and Benedict XIII was deposed in favor of Gregory XII in Rome.

Prayer

O Saint Vincent Ferrer, our guardian, because God, our eternal Father, has blessed you with and inexhaustible fountain of grace and blessing, we beg you to hear our prayers and to assist us with your powerful intercession which is even more effective now that you are in heaven than it was when you were on earth. Full of confidence in your mercy and compassion, we kneel in prayer before you, and commend to your powerful intercession all our needs, those of our families, our friends, relatives, and especially (your request here).

Glorious Saint Vincent Ferrer, let not our hope and confidence in your protection be deceived. Intercede for us before the throne of God. Watch over our eternal welfare. If our trials and tribulations in this world multiply, may they serve to give us spiritual joy and happiness. If God will only grant us the grace of ever increasing patience to the end that we may save our souls. Amen.

The Last Supper and Jesus’ Final Teachings

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The room where the Last Supper took place. Jerusalem, Israel.
The Last Supper and Jesus’ Final Teaching (22:7-38)

Luke loves meals. This is his seventh meal scene; it is also one of his most dramatic (see 5:29-32; 7:36-50; 9:12-17; 10:38-42; 11:37-54; 14:1-24; two more remain, 24:28-32, 36-43). At the dinner table friends can enjoy fellowship and reflect on events. Such an intimate occasion is the setting for Jesus’ final words to his disciples. Added to the intimacy of the scene is its timing. A Passover meal is being celebrated (vv. 7-9). During the celebration of God’s saving of Israel, Jesus will discuss his sacrifice on behalf of his disciples. It will be a meal to remember, not only because this event forms the basis of the Lord’s Supper but also because Jesus predicts a betrayal, defines true leadership, promises authority to the eleven, predicts Peter’s failure and warns of coming rejection. Even as he faces death, Jesus serves by preparing others for their task.

The passion did not catch Jesus by surprise. In fact, many of the Passion events reveal that Jesus is in control; and the Passover meal preparation is no exception. The Passover meal launched the celebration of both Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which ran in the week following Passover. So Luke’s introduction makes a combined reference to the two. Jesus directs Peter and John to prepare the meal and tells them where to find the room for it. It was a legal requirement that the meal be celebrated within Jerusalem, which meant that a suitable location was necessary (2 Chron 35:18; Jubilees 49:15-16 even held the temple was the desirable locale). The preparation would involve organizing the sacrifice of lambs in the temple, cooking them, preparing the place, assembling the side dishes and utensils, and serving the wine.

Jesus tells Peter and John that “a man carrying a jar of water” will show them “a large upper room, all furnished.” Peter and John find things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepare the meal. The room would have been filled with cushions on which to recline. So Jesus directs the disciples, and they are faithful in following him. They see that he is aware of the events that are unfolding. They can trust him.

The meal itself is fraught with emotion. Jesus expresses how much he has longed to eat this meal with the disciples. He uses a Hebrew idiom, “I have desired with desire,” to make the point emphatically (NIV: I have eagerly desired; compare Gen 31:30; Num 11:4). Before Jesus suffers, he has this last meal with them. The meal serves literarily for Luke as a “last testament,” Jesus’ parting words to his own. Like an ill person on his deathbed, Jesus leaves his last impressions on those who have ministered with him. We can only imagine how he felt knowing what was ahead and realizing, “I will not eat [this meal] again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” Jesus knows that his earthly ministry is drawing to a close and only the future great messianic banquet table will permanently and physically unite these special men to him again. He knows that the Passover will not touch his lips again until the promise is fulfilled with the consummation of the kingdom of God, just as he had discussed in 21:25-28.

Some see the fulfillment of these words in Acts and in the Lord’s Supper, but Jesus does not eat that meal himself, he only is present. Also, the Lord’s Supper is not a Passover meal, which is what he alludes to here. Jesus has in mind the great consummation of promise, when he returns to earth and directly and visibly rules with his saints. (I prefer a premillennial approach to the end times. Amillennialists will see this return as involving the setting up of the new heavens and new earth.) With Jesus’ return, redemption will draw near and the kingdom will come in its decisive, most fulfilling form.

Like the meal, the cup is a final sharing of fellowship with his disciples. Only Luke mentions this first cup. The moment clearly is bittersweet for Jesus. His destiny requires separation from those he loves. When the kingdom comes, they will resume celebration.

The sequence of bread and cup follows. They form the basis of our Lord’s Table. It is likely that Jesus is lifting the third cup of the Passover here. This cup followed the eating of the Passover lamb, the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs. It have followed the explanation of why the meal was being celebrated, a review of the exodus. Thus Jesus’ words mirror earlier salvation events and resonate with all the imagery of that linkage. As he reinterprets the symbols, he fills them with fresh meaning.

So the bread is “my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus is not arguing that the bread becomes his body, the view called transubstantiation. Nor is he arguing that he surrounds and enters the bread with his presence, a view known as consubstantiation. Like the Passover, the bread pictures his death and represents his self-sacrifice as his body is broken for the disciples on the cross. The Lord is present, but the elements serve to remind and proclaim; the elements are not transformed (1 Cor 10:15-18).

The call to remember shows the symbolic nature of the meal. “Keep in mind my sacrifice” recalls the Hebrew concept of zikron, where something is to grip the memory (Ex 2:24; Lev 24:7; Num 5:15; 10:9-10; Ps 20:3; Ezek 21:23). When the church takes this meal looking back to this event, it becomes a statement of solidarity with Jesus, a public covenant renewal—which is why taking the meal is such serious business for Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” The new covenant is a major theme of the New Testament (see Jer 31:31; Mt 26:28; Lk 24:49, the Father’s promise; Acts 2:14-39; 2 Cor 3—4; Heb 8—10). Jesus’ blood is shed for his followers. By it he purchases the church (Acts 20:28). The foundation for a new era is laid. A new sacrifice brings an era of fresh fulfillment. That new era starts with Jesus’ death and the distribution of the Spirit.

Two features are key to this understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus as pictured by the cup. First, his death takes our place in paying for sin. Paul says this most explicitly in Romans 3:20-26. Luke’s language only leaves it implied, though he is aware of the teaching, as Acts 20:28 shows. Second, Jesus notes that his death is inseparably connected to the establishment of the new covenant. A covenant is always inaugurated with the shedding of blood. By far the most eloquent explanation of this new covenant idea is found in Hebrews 8—10.

Jesus sits at the table and reveals why he is going away: to provide a new sacrifice for forgiveness that will open the way for the coming of God’s Spirit (24:44-49). In order to give the Spirit, he must give himself. John 14—16 discusses this point in detail in a text unique to that Gospel. Jesus will sit again at the table one day. But then he will do so having offered himself so that others might sit with him. That is the story of God’s grace.

There is great pathos here. Even as Jesus gives himself for those he loves, one of them is giving Jesus over in betrayal. The table fellowship is not pure. One sits at the table who longs for Jesus to be removed. So “the Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” Jesus reveals that his death is no surprise. His passing away is not a sign of a plan disappointed or of salvation gone awry. Still, the betrayer is responsible to God for his betrayal. Judas may have met the leadership in private, but God was not fooled. As with all secretly plotted sin, God was there. Luke has placed this remark in a different order from the parallels, where Jesus reveals his knowledge before the meal. The effect is to magnify the note of irony. As Jesus dies to secure forgiveness for others, he himself meets with betrayal. Even one of his own betrays him (Ps 41:9). Woe will befall Jesus’ rejecter. It is a fearful thing to reject the One who gives his life to secure our forgiveness.

The disciples do not know who the betrayer might be. So they speculate with one another: “Who would do this?” Sometimes those allied to Jesus are near him for a time before they reveal that their heart truly lies elsewhere. As John 6:70 puts it, Judas was “a devil” even though for more than three years he looked like Jesus’ devoted follower. Those who know the Son cling to him; those who do not know him depart from him through denial (Col 1:21-23).

So what makes for greatness? Faithfulness, yes, but even more the service that reveals faithfulness. Amazing as it seems, in the midst of Jesus’ revelation about his coming suffering the disciples are fighting over who is number one among them. The text speaks of a “rivalry” (NIV: dispute) breaking out among them. Using the comparative “greater” with a superlative force, the disciples want to know who God puts at the top of the Best Disciple list.

In response, Jesus contrasts leadership in the world with leadership in the kingdom. In the world leadership involves the bald exercise of authority—people lord it over others. In the ancient world when men exercised such power, people publicly recognized their authority and called them benefactors. A benefactor in the ancient world had clients who were to appreciate their lower position (Josephus Jewish Wars 3.9.8 459; 4.2.5 113). Glory and honor came to the leader.

In contrast stands greatness in the kingdom. The disciple-leader should serve with youthful deference. The greatest among the disciples will be the one who is like the youngest and like the one who serves. Jesus points to his own example, not that of the culture. In the ancient world the greater person sits at table while the lesser person serves the meal (see 17:7-10). The Greek interrogative particle ouchi expects a positive reply to the question whether the one at the table is considered greater than the servant. But Jesus notes that he is among the disciples as one who serves. The offering of his life for them is service. He has taught them in service. John 13 tells us that before this meal, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet in humble service. Greatness is defined not by position nor resume, but by one’s attitude and service.

As Jesus calls them to service, he also gives them a promise. He notes their constancy; unlike the betrayer, they have continued with Jesus in his trials. In the face of pressure, like exemplary disciples, they have stood firm with God’s chosen one. So they will share in something he already possesses. The Father has assigned to Jesus a kingdom. Authority has become his (Mt 28:18-20). So he will assign them a role with him. They are to share in his rule. The rule in the future involves table fellowship with Jesus and authority over God’s people, Israel. They will celebrate with him at the messianic banquet table, and they will administer justice over Israel. Their union with Jesus means that they share in the benefits of his rule.

Jesus’ words about greatness and rule are especially important, since they come in the shadow of his death. He wants to remind his followers that no matter how bad the suffering, rejection and persecution get, a day will come when vindication and authority will reign. We can suffer now if we remember not only what Jesus did but also what he will do. Though the authority given to the eleven is unique, all disciples share the promise of reward and a place at the table of messianic fellowship.

Not all of Jesus’ news is good. The cosmic battle is not just between Jesus and Satan. Anyone associated with Jesus is subject to satanic attack. Nothing makes this clearer than the section where Peter is warned about his coming denials. Jesus’ awareness of events continues as he predicts Peter’s temporary unfaithfulness. Verses 31-32 are unique to Luke and follow his stress on prayer. Satan has put in a request to sift all the disciples like wheat. Though Peter is discussed individually in verse 32, the use of hymas, the plural “you all,” in verse 31 shows that he is only part of the coming battle. “Sifted like wheat” is an idiom that in our culture would parallel “take someone apart” (Amos 9:9 has the image). Perhaps Satan believes that if Peter is shamed, others will be disheartened.

Jesus’ prayer has dealt with the threat through a request not that the failure be prevented but that any permanent damage be averted. His request is that Peter’s faith may not fail. Here is our advocate stepping to our defense through a ministry of prayer. Peter will make no total renunciation of Jesus. The disciple’s failure of nerve will not come because of a failure of heart, nor will it be permanent. There will be restoration. In fact, Peter will turn from his denial. His call then will be to strengthen his fellow disciples. What he will be able to teach them may well be revealed by his response. Having learned that failure is possible and the flesh is weak, Peter will be able to strengthen the saints. Though failure is regrettable, sometimes our best lessons come in reflection on failure.

Peter is sure that he is ready to serve in prison, even to die, for Jesus. He is perceptive in that he understands that Jesus’ suffering will envelop his followers. Yet he is confident that he can face whatever comes. Though such self-assurance might seem commendable, one’s own strength is not sufficient to resist severe temptation (1 Cor 10:12-13). Peter is brave in the privacy of a quiet meal, and when the soldiers show up, he will initially take up arms to defend Jesus. But what will he do when those hostile to Jesus ask him where his allegiance lies? Jesus’ prediction of a triple denial before the rooster crows shows that he knows Peter better than Peter does. When we try to stand up to pressure in our own strength, we may wilt. Self-confidence when we are not relying on Jesus is deceptive.

Peter will be able to strengthen fellow believers after his fall because he will understand how easy it is to fall. He can call on them to embrace God’s mercy, be prepared to suffer and be ready to give a defense because he will have experienced all of these opportunities himself—some with failure and others with success.

Jesus teaches God’s grace in this warning to Peter: Do not trust in your own strength, but realize that after failure there will be opportunity for restoration. Jesus intercedes for his own even when he knows they will fail him. Intercession evidences the Savior’s love (1 Jn 2:2). Even disciples who fail in a moment of weakness can experience the success of God’s work. The lesson is an important one not only for Peter but also for all the disciples he represents. Though Satan will come after all of them, Jesus will be praying for them all.

Jesus’ final words make it clear that circumstances are changing. Opposition to the disciples is rising. Where before Jesus had sent them out empty-handed yet they were provided for (9:1-6; 10:3-4), now they will have to take provisions and protection for their travel. They will have to procure a sword. Scripture such as Isaiah 53:12 is finding its fulfillment in Jesus. Jesus is rejected; he is numbered with the transgressors.

The disciples take Jesus’ remarks literally and incorrectly. They note that they have two swords, but Jesus cuts off the discussion. Something is not right, but it is too late to discuss it. As the arrest will show, they have misunderstood. They draw swords then, but Jesus stops their defense in its tracks. He is not telling them to buy swords to wield in physical battle. They will have to provide for themselves and fend for themselves, but not through the shedding of blood. They are being drawn into a great cosmic struggle, and they must fight with spiritual swords and resources. The purchase of swords serves only to picture this coming battle. This fight requires special weapons (Eph 6:10-18).

Humility, dependence, promise of authority and reward, warnings about opposition and the pursuit of faithfulness are the topics of Jesus’ final testament meal. Luke assumes that disciples will engage the larger world and face a great cosmic battle. But they are not to withdraw or be afraid. Rather, with humility and looking to God, they can face suffering and the world bravely and effectively. Jesus is about to exemplify the walk of the innocent before a hostile world. His success is not indicated by his withdrawal or even his survival; it is indicated by his faithfulness (1 Pet 2:21-25).

 

Holy Week Saints: Saint Jude

Nola st. jude '02Shine of Saint Jude in New Orleans
Saint Jude, 
Apostle

Feast Day: October 28
Patron of: impossible causes Invoked for: help in times of desperation
Symbols: Club, cloth with image of Jesus, flame over head,

“…in accordance with his surname Thaddeus [meaning generous or loving], he will show himself most willing to give help.” Saint Bridget of Sweden, fifteenth century

Saint Jude was one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus. During his lifetime, his compassion and love for others was profoundly evident. Now, thousands of years after his death, his relief aid in seemingly hopeless situations ensures his place as one of the most popular and invoked saints in the world.

Jude Thaddeus was said to be a cousin of Jesus and the brother of James the Lesser. As an apostle of Christ, Jude learned firsthand the power of God to bring about healing and protection for what some might call “lost causes.” The most intriguing example can be found in the legends of Edessa (a city in Mesopotamia). As the story goes, King Abgar suffered greatly from leprosy and, desperate for relief, wrote a letter to Christ, which read, “I have heard about you and the cures you effect, that you do this without medicaments or herbs, and that with a word you cause the blind to see, the lame to walk, lepers to be cleansed, and the dead to live again. Having heard all this, I have decided in my mind that you are either a god and have come down from heaven to do what you do, or you are the Son of God and so do these things . . .”

Jesus was happy that King Abgar believed in Him without even seeing Him; however, He did not have time to visit the king. When the king realized he would never see Christ Himself, he sent an artist to draw a portrait. The artist was so overcome with the radiance emanating from Christ’s eyes, his hands shook and he could not accomplish his task. Jesus took a cloth and wiped His face with it, leaving His image imprinted in the cloth. Jude was sent back to Edessa to present this portrait to the king who rubbed it on his own body and was instantly cured of his disease.

In a different version of the story, Jude presented the burial cloth of Christ to King Agbar by carrying the precious material seared with Christ’s image folded up as a portrait. The king was cured when he touched the shroud. His subsequent baptism by Jude established Christianity in Edessa. Jude’s role as a helper to the despondent was sealed, as was his influence in the Mideast region of the world. The shroud, of course, has become known as the Holy Shroud of Turin.

After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, Jude and the apostle Simon were sent back to Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), Persia, Armenia, and southern Russia to preach. The men became popular with the local population for their keen intellect, clever dialogue, and the amusing ways in which they outwitted sorcerers and magicians in public discourses and arguments. When invited to choose, as was the custom of the day, how their losing antagonists were to be executed, Jude and Simon would reply, “We are not here to kill the living but to bring the dead back to life.” They would then joyfully preach the message of Christ, converting thousands at a time.

Jude and Simon were not without detractors, however, and in the Epistle of Jude, his only writings to survive him, Jude exhorts recent converts in the East in a.d. 60, to stay strong in the face of persecution and to persevere through harsh and difficult circumstances. These persecutions caught up with both Simon and Jude just five years later when they were martyred together for their evangelizing. Today, their relics are buried under the main altar of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Over the centuries, Saint Jude became confused with Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver. In many instances, to avoid this confusion, he is referred to as “Thaddeus” in the writings of the evangelists. Because he shared a name with such a notorious character, few Christians invoked Saint Jude for help. The mystical saints Bernard of Clairvaux in the twelfth century and Bridget of Sweden in the fifteenth century were exceptions. According to a vision, Jesus told Saint Bridget of Sweden to dedicate an altar to Saint Jude, because “in accordance with his surname, Thaddeus [meaning generous or loving] he will show himself most willing to give help.”

Few Catholics took these words seriously until the nineteenth century when a tradition began that when Saint Jude would answer the most impossible of prayers, the petitioner in turn, must thank the saint in a public way. The advent of inexpensive newspapers made this obligation possible and to this day, weekly and daily periodicals all have their share of “Thank you Saint Jude” personal ads. Perhaps the grandest gesture of public thanks to this saint is the world famous Saint Jude’s Children Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. It was built by the entertainer Danny Thomas as a tribute to Jude for answering his prayers when he was struggling to support his family. This hospital serves children with “hopelessly incurable diseases” and has become a groundbreaking research institution, saving innumerable young lives on its premises and even more internationally through its discoveries. From its great success, the name Saint Jude has become a common name for research hospitals all over the world.

Since he was present at the Pentecost, Saint Jude is usually depicted with the flame of the Holy Spirit over his head. His principal attribute is the cloth with Christ’s image, sometimes displayed on his body in a medallion form. He carries the club or axe he was beaten to death with and also displays the palms of the martyr.
Prayer to Saint Jude
Saint Jude, glorious Apostle, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, The name of the traitor has caused you to be forgotten by many, But the true Church invokes you universally as the patron Of things despaired of; pray for me, that I may receive the consolations and the help of heaven in all my necessities, tribulations, and sufferings, particularly
(here make your request)
and that I may bless God with the elect throughout eternity. St. Jude, Apostle, martyr, and cousin of our Lord Jesus Christ, intercede for us.
Amen.