Feast of the Presentation of Jesus – Candlemas

The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is also known as Candlemas. The tradition of Candlemas blessing on the Feast of the Presentation dates to the 11th century and is inspired by words of the Nunc Dimittis (Canticle of Simeon), speaking of Christ as the “light to lighten the Gentiles”. 

In our community, as in many others, this celebration includes the blessing of the liturgical candles for the coming year. As our candles are handmade by our members, this service blesses the work that goes on throughout the year to keep the church supplied with candlelight.

This feast also celebrates ‘spiritual sight’.  Both Simeon and Anna, who had dedicated their lives to prayer were able to recognize Christ as the Messiah when Mary and Joseph brought him to the Temple. Scripture verses from Malachi that point to the coming of John the Baptist are part of the lectionary readings for this feast. “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple…Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord.” Several of the Gregorian chant psalm antiphons for this Feast also link the offering of Christ in the Temple with our own salvation.

“Offer, blessed one, the child, your only one and the Father’s; offer him through whom we are offered, the price at which we were redeemed.”

“Go on, O regal virgin, bring forward the son with a sacrifice; he recalls all people to joy, who comes, the salvation of all.”

Icon: Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Sr. Faith Riccio, Community of Jesus

Feast Day of St. Marcella – January 31st

Sculpted stone pillar of Saint Marcella at the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod

Sculpted stone pillar of Saint Marcella

Saint Marcella was born in Rome in the year 325. The daughter of Albina, an educated and wealthy woman, she emulated her mother in both piety and benevolence.

Because of her wealth and beauty, Marcella was part of fashionable Roman society. At a young age, she married an equally wealthy aristocrat who died only seven months later. Rather than re-marry, Marcella chose the life of a widow, devoting herself to charity, prayer, and a life of poverty and service.

Rather than beautiful dresses of the latest fashion, she decided to wear a coarse brown garment. Her hair was of a simple style, and she wore no makeup. A community of women formed, known as the brown dress society. They spent their time in praying, Biblical studies, singing, and serving the needy. Marcella’s once palatial home became a refuge for the poor.

Saint Jerome came to Rome in 382 and lodged at Marcella’s “hospitality house,” which Jerome referred to as her domestic church.There, with Marcella’s assistance, he spent three years on a Latin translation of the Bible. He held Marcella in high regard, recognizing her Christian devotion and scholarship, as well as her vast knowledge. Jerome became the spiritual guide of Marcella’s Brown Dress Community. She, on the other hand, helped Saint Jerome control his legendary temper and intervened when quarrels with his opponents threatened to escalate.

In the year 410, Visigoths invaded Rome and brutally attacked Marcella in her residence. She was scourged, beaten and suffered other tortures for riches she no longer had. Marcella and her pupil, Principia, were taken to the church of St. Paul where Marcella died the following day.

Saint Marcella, widow, and martyr, is revered for her contribution to early monasticism and her sacrifice of riches to the poor and needy.

 

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – January 13

Christmas, Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord, and the Cana Wedding miracle are manifestations of that which the prophets foretold and the fulfillment of God’s promises to His creation.  At the manger, we find the very human birth of the Word; God made flesh to dwell among us.  Star-led Epiphany illustrates Christ’s availability to all people and nations, and at the Jordan River, Jesus joined the gathering of those baptized by His cousin, John. On Him alone, the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “you are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” Luke 3:22, 23. 

This most blessed season is summed up beautifully by hymnist Christopher Wordsworth, who wrote:

Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to thee we raise;
Manifested by the star
To the sages from afar,
Branch of royal David’s stem
In thy birth at Bethlehem;
Anthems be to thee addressed,
God in flesh made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, priest, and king supreme;
And at Cana wedding guest
In thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine,
Changing water into wine;
Anthems be to thee addressed,
God in flesh made manifest.

Keeping Gratitude in Your Attitude

I’ve had a lot of doctors’ appointments lately, unusual because I’ve had a miracle life regarding health. I’m even a stranger to antibiotics. So perhaps this explains my sudden interest in Luke, a Gospel writer, and physician. I researched his background and am in the middle of reading the Gospel According to Luke. I’d like to share a discovery from his carefully written narrative.

Luke, Chapter 1, verses 5 through 24, relates the story of Zechariah. He was “of the sons of Aaron,” a Jewish priest, advanced in years and steeped in Jewish law and tradition. Upon receiving a message from the Angel Gabriel regarding the birth of a son, Zechariah replied, “How will I know that this is so?” So far, so bad. Gabriel rebukes Zechariah for his unbelief and Zechariah forfeits his ability to speak until the birth of the son he doubted. We skip to verses 26 through 38, where the Angel Gabriel visits Mary, a young devout Israelite, and announces that she will bear a son. Mary inquires, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” So far so good. Gabriel encourages her and explains the circumstances of a holy conception.

What made the difference? Two people basically ask the same question, one is reprimanded and the other comforted. Very simple. Attitude. One asks in disbelief with a touch of arrogance and skepticism, and the other in an innocent moment of confusion, without doubt, looking for clarification, not proof.

So much of what we encounter each day is molded by attitude, both our own and those with whom we interact. It can make or break us, strengthen or diminish us. Just this past week, I had a series of medical tests. The facility was modern, clean, well-organized and even provided coffee and cookies in the waiting areas. The appointment was in six steps. Step one, a conversation and some papers to fill out with a kind older woman. Step two, an examination by two young nurse-practitioners, both energetic and positive. Three, a brief wait where I ate shortbread cookies and read a magazine. Next, a rather painful diagnostic test during which I could do nothing right. I didn’t stand properly, I was accused of withholding information from my physician (not true), I didn’t tie my robe correctly, my stomach was in the way. Ouch, wait a minute. God placed my stomach there, and I’m actually thinner than a year ago. I became a human apology machine, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m really sorry, I’m really so sorry.” I left the room discouraged, worried, and chastising myself for incompetence. Step five was an additional test, administered by a technician who exemplified professionalism. I felt secure, welcomed, and unafraid. And finally, a return of the two young nurse-practitioners who, with great joy, declared all tests normal and sent me on my way.

My turn to work on attitude: fret over the one in six who seemed to dislike me, or concentrate on the five blessings, especially confirmation that all is well. My choice. I can spread joy or perpetuate the discontent I innocently encountered. I choose an attitude with gratitude.

 

Feast Day of Saints Simon & Jude – October 29

We commemorate Saint Simon and Saint Jude, loyal apostles of Jesus, chosen not for their inherent greatness, but as a priceless gift from God.

Simon, mentioned in all four of the Gospels, was called “the Zealot” and was part of a sect that practiced extreme Jewish nationalism. As such, he participated in illegal actions, including the assassination of those against the cause of Jewish independence.  Once converted to Christ, Simon turned his zeal toward the spreading of the gospel to all who would listen.

Jude, also known as Thaddeus, is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, and the Book of Acts. Some scholars believe he wrote the book of Jude, while others dispute his authorship. Saint Jude Thaddaeus (so named to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot) has an enviable lineage. He and

St. James the Lesser were brothers, he was Mary’s nephew and a cousin of the Lord.  Matthew 13:55 describes Jesus as the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary and brother (cousin) to James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, referring to Jude Thaddeus.

Both were present at Pentecost and received the Holy Spirit.  Simon then went to preach in Egypt, Jude Thaddaeus in Mesopotamia. Eventually, they became an evangelizing team throughout the Middle East, and if tradition is correct, were martyred together circa 65 AD in Beirut, in the then Roman province of Syria.

A few points of interest:

• Some believe St. Jude was the bridegroom at the Cana wedding feast.
• St. Jude is Patron Saint of lost causes and desperate situations.
• St. Simon is mentioned only four times in the Bible.
• St. Simon is Patron Saint of curriers, sawyers, and tanners.

 

Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr – October 17th

Today we celebrate in remembrance of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. He was born May 15, 35 A.D., in the Province of Syria, then part of the Roman Empire.  He called himself Theophorus, meaning God-Bearer.  We know him as the writer of seven letters, each one a treasure of encouragement, instruction and inspiration to young Christian communities.

A letter went to each of the following:  the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.  In his letters, Ignatius stressed the concepts of the deity of Christ, ecclesiology, the value of the Eucharist, and the theology of salvation. Many believe the epistles, which contain multiple grammatical errors, were composed in haste as Ignatius journeyed to Rome as a prisoner, marching to his death.

There is little written history concerning Ignatius, but many traditions surround this exemplary servant of God. One such tradition is that he was among the children that Jesus took in his arms and blessed (Luke, Chapter 18.) He was said to be a disciple of the beloved Apostle John, and some scholars claim that he was consecrated Bishop of Antioch by the Apostle Peter.

Trajan, Emperor of Rome, issued the order for Ignatius’s arrest and subsequent death.  Trajan, a blood-thirsty tyrant, was said to have sacrificed 10,000 gladiators and 11,000 wild beasts to entertain one equally blood-thirsty crowd.  While the exact date of Ignatius’ martyrdom is unknown, he died circa 108 A.D., at the age of 83. Condemned for nothing more than loving Christ and refusing to renounce his faith, he was cruelly attacked and devoured by wild beasts in a public display.  Upon hearing the roar of the lions in Rome’s Coliseum, the saint proclaimed, “I am a kernel of wheat for Christ that must be ground by the teeth of beasts to be found bread wholly pure.”

Feast of the Holy Cross – September 14

Today we venerate the Holy Cross upon which our Savior died to redeem us from sin.  We recognize this intended instrument of torture as the blessed instrument of our salvation, a simple, wooden cross made triumphant by an outpouring of innocent Love.

The Feast of the Holy Cross, sometimes referred to as The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, honors three events. The first and most significant is the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Saint Helena traveled to Jerusalem in the early fourth century to search for the holy places of Christ’s earthly mission. Tradition held that a Temple to Aphrodite was built over the Savior’s tomb.  Helena had the temple razed, and Constantine construct the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in its place.  Three crosses were found during the excavation believed to be the Cross of Christ and those of the two thieves crucified with Him. All three appeared much the same; however, legend tells us that the True Cross was identified when a dying woman touched it and was instantly healed.

 

The cross remains the universal symbol of our Christian faith.  May we find grace in its shadow and draw strength from the One who died upon its outstretched arms.

From the Hymn
Beneath the cross of Jesus

   Words by Elizabeth Clephane
Scotland, 1872

 I take, O cross, thy shadow
For my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by,
My sinful self my only shame,
      My glory all the cross.    

 

Feast of St. Laurence, Deacon and Martyr – August 10th

St. Laurence (or Lawrence) was a young and heroic martyr, born 31 December AD 225 in modern day Spain. He became a disciple of the future Pope Sixtus II, who was of Greek origin, and one of the most highly esteemed teachers of his time. Sixtus became Pope in 257 AD and ordained Laurence as a deacon, the first among seven who served in the patriarchal church.  Laurence received the title “Archdeacon of Rome,” a position that included overseeing the Church’s treasury and riches, including distribution of alms to the poor and needy. To Laurence, the real treasures of the Church were the indigent, the disabled, the blind and the suffering  to whom he presented alms.

Pope Sixtus so respected the young deacon that he was given the care of the altar, and served at the side of the Pope when Holy Communion was offered. During the persecution of Roman Emperor Valerian, Sixtus II and four of his deacons martyred. Laurence greatly desired to die with his spiritual father and reportedly asked, “Father, where are you going without your son? Where are you hastening, O priest, without your deacon?

Pope Sixtus II answered with this prophecy: “I am not forsaking you, my son; a severer trial is awaiting you for your faith in Christ.” Indeed, on 10 August AD 258, Laurence was tortured, scourged, and burned upon a fiery gridiron. In excruciating pain, he prayed these simple words, “Lord Jesus Christ, God from God, have mercy on Your servant.”

 

St. John Cassian – Abbot, July 23

The Christian theologian John the Ascetic, or John Cassian the Roman, was born in Scythia Minor (Dobruja in modern-day Romania) ca. 360 AD and passed from this world in 435 AD.  He was honored as a saint in both the Western and Eastern Churches, primarily for his mystical writings. Born to wealthy parents, John was provided with a good and well-rounded education. He was bilingual in Latin and Greek, and his writings indicate the influence of two great men of Rome, Cicero and Persius, orators, poets, and writers of philosophy.

John is quoted as follows:  The bond between friends cannot be broken by chance; no interval of time or space can destroy it. Not even death itself can part true friends. Perhaps these are strange words from an ascetic and a man of the desert.  But there is a record of a friendship between John and an older man named Germanus, with whom he traveled to Palestine as a young adult.  Together for the next twenty-five years, they pursued a deeper faith and understanding of monasticism. They entered a hermitage near Bethlehem, residing there for three years. Next, their spiritual journey sent them to the desert of Scete in Egypt and a number of other monastic foundations in the area.

Beleaguered by heresies and controversies in the church, the two men eventually sought refuge in Constantinople and petitioned John Chrysostom for protection.  There Cassion was ordained a deacon, priest, and finally, invited to found an Egyptian-style monastery in southern France, near Marseilles.  The Abbey of St. Victor was one of the first complexes in the West that included monasteries for men and women.  It served as a model for further monastic development.

Saint John Cassion is responsible for two important spiritual works, Conferences of the Desert Fathers and Institutes of the Coenobia (or colony of monastic cells.)

In Conferences, Cassion defines and summarizes the wisdom and spiritual principles of the ascetic life, that is, “the training of the inner man and perfection of the heart.” Institutes deals with the practical “living out”, the external organization of monastic communities. Cassion’s desire was to bring order to a movement he found chaotic. Manual labor stood alongside the pursuit of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.

Saint John Cassion was a man of common sense. His life of rigorous asceticism was bordered by practicality: a realization of his own frailty, and a genuine love and generosity toward all.