New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Thursday, June 11, 2009

St. Barnabas - 11th June 2009

Barnabas, a Jew of Cyprus, comes as close as anyone outside the Twelve to being a full-fledged apostle. He was closely associated with St. Paul (he introduced Paul to Peter and the other apostles) and served as a kind of mediator between the former persecutor and the still suspicious Jewish Christians.

When a Christian community developed at Antioch, Barnabas was sent as the official representative of the Church of Jerusalem to incorporate them into the fold. He and Paul instructed in Antioch for a year, after which they took relief contributions to Jerusalem.

Later, Paul and Barnabas, now clearly seen as charismatic leaders, were sent by Antioch officials to preach to the Gentiles. Enormous success crowned their efforts. After a miracle at Lystra, the people wanted to offer sacrifice to them as gods—Barnabas being Zeus, and Paul, Hermes—but the two said, “We are of the same nature as you, human beings. We proclaim to you good news that you should turn from these idols to the living God” (see Acts 14:8-18).

But all was not peaceful. They were expelled from one town, they had to go to Jerusalem to clear up the ever-recurring controversy about circumcision and even the best of friends can have differences. When Paul wanted to revisit the places they had evangelized, Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark, his cousin, author of the Gospel (April 25), but Paul insisted that, since Mark had deserted them once, he was not fit to take along now. The disagreement that followed was so sharp that Barnabas and Paul separated, Barnabas taking Mark to Cyprus, Paul taking Silas to Syria. Later, they were reconciled—Paul, Barnabas and Mark.

When Paul stood up to Peter for not eating with Gentiles for fear of his Jewish friends, we learn that “even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy” (see Galatians 2:1-13).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Blessed Joachima - 10th June 2009

Born into an aristocratic family in Barcelona, Spain, Joachima was 12 when she expressed a desire to become a Carmelite nun. But her life took an altogether different turn at 16 with her marriage to a young lawyer, Theodore de Mas. Both deeply devout, they became secular Franciscans. During their 17 years of married life they raised eight children.

The normalcy of their family life was interrupted when Napoleon invaded Spain. Joachima had to flee with the children; Theodore, remaining behind, died. Though Joachima reexperienced a desire to enter a religious community, she attended to her duties as a mother. At the same time, the young widow led a life of austerity and chose to wear the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis as her ordinary dress. She spent much time in prayer and visiting the sick.

Four years later, with some of her children now married and younger ones under their care, Joachima confessed her desire to a priest to join a religious order. With his encouragement she established the Carmelite Sisters of Charity. In the midst of the fratricidal wars occurring at the time, Joachima was briefly imprisoned and, later, exiled to France for several years.

Sickness ultimately compelled her to resign as superior of her order. Over the next four years she slowly succumbed to paralysis, which caused her to die by inches. At her death in 1854 at the age of 71, Joachima was known and admired for her high degree of prayer, deep trust in God and selfless charity.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

St. Ephraem - 9th June 2009

St. Ephraem (306-373) was born in Nisibis, Mesopotamia. He became a disciple of St. James, Bishop of Nisibis, and probably accompanied him to the Council of Nicea in 325. The deliverance of Nisibis from the Persians is attributed to his prayers. He retired to a cave near Edessa where he did most of his writing. He visited St. Basil at Caesarea in 370. Ephraem wrote many works on dogmatic and ascetical themes. He also strongly combated the Arians and Gnostics in numerous works.

He was one of the greatest pioneers of Mariology and was known for his defense of the Immaculate Conception. As a missionary, he wanted to make the truths he taught as amenable as possible to the people. For this reason he composed poems and songs for them to sing. They were so pleasing that he became known as the Lyre of the Holy Spirit. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1920.

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

I cannot imagine anything more beautiful and appealing than St. Ephraem with his characteristic Eastern features seated on a stone in a rolling valley framed by a large tree and small fountain. I picture him in that position recollected and composing a beautiful song about Our Lady to be sung with those simple, rural lyrics that characterize the music of the East. As he composes the poem, he simultaneously develops theology about Our Lady.

In those cities and villages of 4th century Mesopotamia, adults and children learned Catholic doctrine by means of the songs of St. Ephraem. They would sing his songs during their work in the fields at day, with their family at night, during their celebrations and feasts, and so on. St. Ephraem had the genial good spirit to inaugurate this type of apostolate that answered the legitimate need of the people for songs to glorify Our Lady.

The name he earned, the Lyre of the Holy Spirit, also reflects a part of his soul. You can imagine a lyre sitting on a table that starts to play without anyone touching it. It is the Holy Ghost who plays on it. This scene reflects a trait of the soul of St. Ephraem. The Holy Ghost inspired St. Ephraem to write the songs in honor of Our Lady as if He were playing a lyre.

The apostolate of song that St. Ephraem made reminds me of how songs were often made in the past to accompany major episodes in Catholic life. For instance, the epopee of the Crusades had many songs Catholic knights would sing either en marche to battle or in the battle itself that prepared them to die for Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is beautiful to consider the warrior prepared to give his life for Christ. It is the beauty of heroism, the beauty of the war for Our Lord. Contemplating this, we admire those who are ready to pay God the tribute of their lives. Even if his death achieves no practical goal, the Catholic knight offers it for the sole reason of paying a perfect tribute to God. God created that Catholic knight, and he offers himself to God as a precious perfume that emits from its bottle in order to glorify Him. It is the beauty of the holocaust.

The Holy Ghost who inspired St. Ephraem to compose songs in order to teach people good Catholic doctrine will perhaps also inspire other composers to write songs to prepare Catholics to fight and act for the glory of God and Our Lady in the great events predicted by Her at Fatima.

Let us pray to St. Ephraem on his feast day and ask him to give us an understanding of the Catholic Church in all her beauty and poetry, so that even if we are not able to compose songs and hymns for the glory of God and Our Lady as he did, we can admire them and elevate our souls.

Monday, June 8, 2009

St. William of York - 8 June 2009

June 8th is the feast of William of York (also known as William Fitzherbert and William of Thwayt).

Born early in the 12th century, William was, according to tradition, the son of Herbert of Winchester, Henry I’s treasurer, and Emma, sister of King Stephen (though this is now disputed). With such connections it was perhaps inevitable that, having been ordained a priest, he received rapid preferment and in the early 1130s became canon and treasurer of York.

In 1142 Stephen secured William’s election as Archbishop of York at the expense of a Cistercian monk called Henry Murdac. Murdac’s supporters questioned the validity of the election (not least because of the royal intervention), and Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury, decided to defer the consecration until Rome had had an opportunity to pass judgment.

St Bernard of Clairvaux, a towering figure not only within the Cistercian order but within the Church as a whole, backed Murdac, but in 1143 the Pope ruled that Theobald should proceed with the consecration provided that William could demonstrate his innocence of charges of bribery and excessive royal influence.

Once consecrated, William’s pastoral zeal soon won for him the affection of his flock, but may have been one of the reasons for his overlooking the need to obtain from the hands of Cardinal Hincmar the pallium which had been conveyed to him in 1146 by Pope Lucius II sent him in 1146.

Before William could be invested, Pope Lucius died and was succeeded by a Cistercian, Bl Eugenius III, whose election encouraged the English Cistercians, supported by St Bernard, to renew their campaign against William and on behalf of Murdac. Hincmar took the pallium back to Rome, William sold treasures belonging to York in order to fund his own journey to Rome – thus raising another storm of protest – and the last straw for Eugenius were allegations of irregularities in the appointment of William of St Barbara as Dean of York.

While William was in Sicily (taking refuge with his friend King Roger II), the Cistercian Pope deposed him and appointed Murdac in his place, though Stephen prevented him from taking up his see (probably because he wanted to use recognition of Murdac as a bargaining-counter for obtaining papal support for the idea that his son Eustace should be crowned as his successor in his own lifetime, thereby heading off the rival claims of Henry of Anjou).

William retired to a life of mortification and prayer in his home-town of Winchester, but, after the deaths of Bernard and Eugenius, appealed in 1153, who took the opportunity of the death of Murdac to restore William to the see of York.

On his return William treated the Cistercians with great generosity. Within a few weeks, however, he was dead – possibly by poison administered at Mass in the chalice. Miracles soon abounded at his tomb, from which (in 1223) sweet-smelling oil began to flow. In 1283 a shrine was constructed behind the high altar of York Minster to which his relics were translated.