Pope Gregory I, was a man of many virtues and accomplishments. Credited for organizing the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome, He also reached many through his prolific writings, more than any of his papal predecessors. During his papacy, his considerable administrative skills significantly improved the welfare of the Roman people.
In the the Middle Ages, Gregory was referred to as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his devotion to the improvement of the Divine Liturgy. Pope Gregory was instrumental in the standardization of Western Plainchant, later renamed Gregorian chant in honor of his work and dedication.
Gregory was born in the city of Rome, around the year 540. His was a Patrician Roman family, wealthy and with close connections to the church. His father, Gordianus, served as a senator and for a time Prefect of the City of Rome. His mother, Silvia, and two paternal aunts attained sainthood, and his great-great-grandfather was Pope Felix III, making Saint Gregory’s family the most distinguished clerical dynasty of the time.
While contemporaries and historical biographers referred to him as Pope Gregory the Great (Magnus), he called himself “servant of the servants of God.” He lived a devout life, punctuated by humility and sensitivity of spirit in spite of a long list of human accomplishments. Plagued throughout life with chronic illness, he never allowed physical pain to interfere with the plan to which God called him. Not even imminent death deterred his sacred work.
Before he was thirty, Saint Gregory was made prefect of Rome but resigned the office after five years. He subsequently founded six monasteries on his Sicilian estate and served as a Benedictine monk at his home in Rome. An ordained priest, he became one of the pope’s seven deacons and served six years as a papal representative in Constantinople. He was then called home to become abbot, and at the age of fifty was elected pope. In spite of great secular and religious success, he stated that his happiest years were those spent as a simple monk, a beloved calling he sacrificed to serve God.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.