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.

St. John Cassian

Pearls in the Pigpen

When I was a small girl living in Pennsylvania farm country, I begged my father for a little pig. I went so far as to say I just loved little pigs. He was a man of wisdom and suspected how long that particular fascination would last. “I’ll tell you what,” he replied. “Christmas is coming. Why don’t you ask Santa to bring you a pig?”

I replied without hesitation, “Oh, I already asked Santa Claus and he doesn’t have any little pigs.”  Touché, mon père!  Bested by a conniving three-year- old with her eye on a Betty Crocker Junior Oven. Just as well, because I later discovered pigs smell terrible.

But let’s consider pigs for a moment. I know of two Biblical instances where they played an integral part in the general discourse. From Matthew 7:6, Do not throw your pearls before swine. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces. The second reference is found in Matthew 8:31, where demons pleaded with Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into that herd of swine.”

The swine promptly dove over a cliff, demons and all. These two verses tell us pigs have difficulty discerning value and they’ll ingest just about anything!

The verses do, of course, contain important truths. In the first instance, we’re cautioned about what we choose to share and with whom. I try to follow two self-made rules:  don’t confide what isn’t fully life in me, nor what another may not understand and become a stumbling block to them. Our pearls can be quite the opposite to someone else. I confess I’m too often swine-like, the one who says carelessly, “What’s the big deal?  or “Oh by the way, you know your new coat?  I saw the same one on sale, half price.” I sometimes inappropriately speak too soon about a personal conviction and end up misunderstood and confused.  I can rob joy, incite jealousy, inspire anxiety, obliterate a friendship, or badly mishandle a situation simply by what I say.  Or don’t say.

We’re often the recipients of wonderful words of love and encouragement.  We must cherish them as pearls of great price.  We’re the guardians of such gifts to others that require wisdom, a second thought, and gentle participation.

Feast Day of Benedict of Nursia, Abbot — July 11

Saint Benedict was the son of a Roman noble of Nursia, in Umbria, a region of Central Italy. While there isn’t extensive biographical information on the life of Benedict, there is a clear and well-defined “spiritual portrait” of this Godly man. He was a compassionate, disciplined abbot, a worker of miracles and respected for his holy way of life. His motto and golden rule? Ora et Laborapray and work. He believed each day should be divided in this way: eight hours of prayer, eight hours of sleep, and eight hours of manual work, sacred reading, and works of charity.

Benedict left home in 500 AD at the age of twenty, abandoning both his literary studies and his carefree, dissolute lifestyle. He was sent to Rome to study and then afterward, was to assume his expected career as a Roman noble. However, he grew unhappy and dissatisfied with life there. Taking with him only his old nurse as a servant, he withdrew to a place of solitude. He met by chance a monk, Romanus of Subiaco, whose influence led Benedict to become a hermit. For three years he lived in a cave beneath the Monastery of Subiaco. Benedict’s cave became known as Sacro Speco (Holy Cave or Grotto of Prayers.)  There, forgoing human companionship, he matured in both mind and character.

In time and with reluctance, Benedict agreed to become abbot of a small, neighboring monastery. He knew in his heart that “their manners were diverse from his and therefore, they would never agree together.” Yet they were so insistent, he eventually gave consent. The monks grew to hate Benedict’s regimen with such intensity that they plotted his murder. They offered him a glass of poisoned wine. According to witnesses, when he made the sign of the cross over the wine glass, as was the custom, it shattered, spilling the wine upon the floor.  Benedict, for his part, called his monks together and said he forgave them. He reminded them of his own doubts from the beginning.  His final words to them were, “Go your ways and seek some other father suitable to your own conditions, for I intend not now to stay any longer amongst you.”

Perhaps Benedict was too strict with his first monks or perhaps they were simply unsuited for his leadership. Regardless, years later, Benedict wrote a rule of life that remains a model of monastic moderation.  He performed signs and wonders, calling forth water from a rock, raising the dead, and other miracles. Yet it is his rule that earned him the title “Founder of Western Christian Monasticism.”  His seventy-three short chapters comprise wisdom of two kinds: spiritual (how to live a Christ-centered life) and administrative (how to run an efficient monastery.)  The Rule of Saint Benedict is a balance of practical moderation without compromise.  He understood the difficulties inherent in differences of age, capabilities, dispositions and spiritual needs. He said, “In drawing up these regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.” Knowing himself and having suffered throughout his life, he made allowance for weaknesses and failure, as well as mercy for the physically unable.



Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle — July 3

Saint Thomas, apostle, preacher, and Christian martyr was born in the First Century AD, in Galilee, Roman Empire (present-day Israel.) The Patron Saint of India, he died on Saint Thomas Mount, Ramapuram, India, in Seventy-two AD. According to legend, Thomas was reluctant to accept his mission to preach the gospel in India. Then one night, the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said, “Fear not, Thomas. Go to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.” His ministry resulted in many conversions throughout the kingdom, including the king and his brother.

Thomas was an ordinary man who led an extraordinary life because he was chosen to walk by Jesus’ side. He was heart-wrenching in his clumsiness, his impetuosity, and his flagrant unbelief.

He declared to the other disciples, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25b

A week later, as the disciples once again gathered, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Speaking to Thomas directly, he offered these words: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas replied without hesitation,”My Lord and My God!” Why had he not believed earlier? Was he jealous of the other disciples and a missed opportunity, angry that things hadn’t turned out as he hoped, or perhaps afraid of being hurt again?

Now and forever known as Doubting Thomas, he opened the way for Jesus to encourage all of us who followed. “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

Cloister Saint, The Community of Jesus — St. Thomas

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul — Friday, June 29

Each man has his own feast day.  Why then, do we celebrate the third feast, honoring both men together?  According to legend, both died as martyrs on the same day at the command of the Roman Emperor Nero. Because Saint Paul was a Roman citizen, he was executed by beheading;  Peter, a Jewish peasant, was crucified. Considering himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Christ, he asked to be crucified upside down.

Peter, originally named Simon, was a fisherman of Galilee. Jesus gave him the new name Cephas (Petrus in Latin.) Peter, His rock upon which He would build His Church, was both a bold and passionate follower. Impetuous, opinionated and head-strong, Peter none-the-less was chosen as shepherd of God’s flock and head of the Church.

Paul also received a new name. He was Saul, a Jewish Pharisee, and persecutor of Christians. His conversion along the road to Damascus, blindness and the subsequent return of his sight, led him to take the new name, Paul. In Hebrew, Paul means small or humble. He later earned the title “Apostle of the Gentiles”. His letters are an important tool of the New Testament, teaching us not only about his life, but the faith of the early Church.

We honor two strong and worthy men, one a fisherman, the other a well-educated Roman citizen. Both were impulsive by nature and tireless in their work as they proclaimed the gospel and shared  God’s love for mankind.

From a sermon of Leo the Great: About their merits and virtues, let us not make distinctions or draw comparisons; for both were chosen, they were alike in their labors, they were partners in death.

Peter and Paul, whom the grace of God has raised to such a height among all the members of the Church that He has set them like twin lights of eyes in that Body whose head is Christ.

Saints Peter and Paul – Community of Jesus, Cloister

Feast of St. Irenaeus — Thursday, June 28

Irenaeus was a Christian of Greek descent, born 130 AD in Smyrna (Modern-day Izmir, Turkey.)  He served as Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, now Lyon, France, and died there in 202 AD. A noted theologian, he was a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of John the Evangelist.

Remembered as the first great “systematic theologian”, Irenaeus combatted the heresies of his time, foremost of which was Gnosticism. In its simplest form, Gnosticism taught that humans are divine souls, trapped in the material world, the world having been made by an imperfect spirit. The root word Gnosis means “knowledge from experience.” To counter such false teachings, Irenaeus defined orthodoxy. He championed three pillars of orthodoxy: the scriptures, tradition inherited from the apostles, and the teaching of the apostles’ successors. He was one of the first to recognize all four gospels as equal and essential to the Christian life. His writings, first in Greek and then translated to Latin, were well circulated and succeeded in quelling the expansion of Gnosticism.

Irenaeus placed great emphasis on the unity of God and the unity of salvation history. He insisted that “in the beginning, God created…” and has been overseeing His creation ever since. God viewed humanity as immature creatures, requiring a long period of maturation, eventually growing into His divine likeness.

Saint Irenaeus explored the depths of Christian theology and epitomized the modern adage “The best defense is a good offense.” His preparation included in-depth studies of Christ as the New Adam, the life of Christ, apostolic authority, Paul’s Epistles, and the Millennium to name a few.  But at the center of his theology are two indispensable truths: all that we encounter in life helps achieve spiritual maturity, and all unity and goodness are of God.


The Nativity of John the Baptist

John the Baptist was born to elderly parents. His father, Zechariah, belonged to the priestly order of Abijah and his mother, Elizabeth, was a descendant of Aaron. Both lived blamelessly and followed the commandments and regulations of the Lord. Zechariah, while conversing with the Angel Gabriel, considered the facts and decided God was mistaken – he and Elizabeth were too old to conceive a child. He demanded a sign and God more than provided; Zechariah would be unable to speak until his son was born.  Among his first words was this beautiful canticle, recorded in Luke 1:76-79:

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Zechariah’s words are sung each day as we close our service of Lauds. Even though June 24th is set aside as the Feast Day of John’s Nativity, we do, in fact, commemorate his birth at every Lauds service. His example of great humility, serving with love and without rancor, content to be the forerunner and the wilderness voice deserves our respect and admiration. He preached the good news at the risk of personal gain and safety, to fulfill his mission of delivering unwavering truth. May we, like John, one day say, “I am like the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, greatly rejoicing at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason, my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3: 29b-30

St. John the Baptist (Forerunner) – Sr. Faith Riccio, Artist

Feast of St. Barnabas, Companion of Paul — June 11

Barnabas, named Joseph at birth, was an early and prominent disciple.  His new name, Barnabas, means “son of encouragement” and was given to him by the apostles.  They recognized his kindness, compassion, and ability to offer consolation in times of affliction.

Barnabas, a native of Cyprus and a Levite, is identified in the Acts of the Apostles.  His first recorded action is one of generosity toward Jerusalem’s Christian community.  He sold a parcel of land that he owned, and gave the much needed proceeds to the community.  He showed an equal generosity of Spirit by welcoming Saul after his conversion. Himself highly respected by the Christian disciples in Jerusalem, Barnabas convinced them of Saul’s courage and sincerity. The two men subsequently led several successful missions, converting many to the Christian faith.

Barnabas is thought to be the cousin of Mark the Evangelist based on Colossians 4:10, which directly refers to them as cousins. It was a dispute over John Mark that led Barnabas and Paul to separate.  Consequently, Barnabas returned to Cyprus with John Mark, while Paul and Silas evangelized Galatia.

According to fifth century writings, Barnabas was martyred for his faith in 61 AD. Tradition and legend describe his martyrdom as follows:  certain Jews, jealous of his extraordinary success, fell upon him as he was disputing in the synagogue, dragged him out, and after the most inhumane tortures, stoned him to death.  It’s also said that his kinsman, John Mark was present at his death, and privately interred his body.

Barnabas, prophet, teacher, apostle, and missionary is often depicted with a pilgrim’s staff and olive branch. A humble man, he was servant to all and understood the importance of prayer in daily life.  He was a courageous and kindhearted man whose life of love and sacrifice made a difference.

Community of Jesus St. Barnabas, Cloister Saint, Church of the Transfiguration

St. Barnabas, Cloister Saint, Church of the Transfiguration