Greetings to dearest Sisters in Christ! Advent arrives in hopes of rousing us from our spiritual drowsiness. A wide-eyed keenness of heart reminds, renews and revives! We are then readied to remember and recognize the true brilliance of our Emmanuel. A retired priest shared recently a nugget from his seminary professor on how to summarize Advent for each Sunday: 1) Wake up. 2) Shape up. 3) Cheer up. 4) Hurry up.
Liturgical seasons offer timely perspective. In nature’s darkest period of the year, there happily arises the celebration of the arrival of the Light of the World. It hearkens to the bolstering reality that even in spiritually dark times, the darkness will not overcome the Light! (John 1:5)
Our Catholic heritage merits pondering. What mighty and deep roots we have, often strengthened by prayers and courageous sacrifices. In 2014 a visit to Ireland awakened in me an awareness of Mass rocks. Under the odious penal times (1695-1756), the Catholic Faith was outlawed. Priests were hunted like criminals and killed. Holy Mass was celebrated secretly atop large rocks in fields and wooded areas. The faithful secretly fashioned the settings and acted as protectors and sentinels during Mass. The Irish priests and faithful kept the flame of Faith alive!
In an earlier period, under the reign of terror of Elizabeth (1558+), the English also hunted priests and any laity who hid them or taught the Faith to others. Ingenuity and carpentry skills shrouded the clergy in “priest holes” built in walls, recesses, under floors and staircases, even behind fireplaces, to conceal their presence during countryside manhunts. Our Apostolate patron, St Margaret Clitherow, commissioned a priest hole to be built in her home. Here she also hid vestments, elements for Mass and her personal catechetical materials. She was discovered and martyred in 1586. Her two young sons later became priests and her daughter a religious Sister. St Nicholas Owen, a Jesuit brother, was a master at constructing ingenious priest holes. He too was eventually captured, tortured and martyred in 1606. His Memorial is celebrated March 22, fittingly close to our patron, St Margaret Clitherow on March 26. The English priests and faithful kept the flame of Faith alive!
Moving even further back in history, one might regard the well-recognized statue of a lean, youthful David balancing a lamb upon his shoulders. Seen traditionally as a prototype of Christ and His brother priests, the image conveys a symbiotic strength. While David is sure and steady in his grip, the lamb, though docile to being carried, stretches its head high, with an upward, hopeful glance. One senses a mutual benefit of vigor.
What a fitting marble piece to study as Seven Sisters, who resolutely keep the flame of Faith alive along with the shepherd, who is armed in your prayers and sacrifices. Like the ever-ready and courageous help of the Irish and English in earlier times, your work vivifies. Your endeavors aid to perpetuate the Faith in untold ways. Your sacrifices support both the priest and yourself. Whatever darkness may surround or attempt to settle in our midst will not overcome the Light!
The Church is set to be fortified in the shower of graces in these Advent and Christmas seasons. Let us continue to pray in earnest as protectors and sentinels of our priests who steadfastly celebrate holy Mass and serve as conduits of those graces through the sacraments and their countless acts of mercy and love. In the fitful fluctuating pandemic restrictions throughout the world, the clergy everywhere need intensified sacrifices of prayer. Let us take up arms (and knees) in response, knowing full well that in Divine economy we too will be strengthened in the acts.
The resolve of the priests and faithful alike will continue to fuel the light of Faith. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:15). Be light!
United in prayer and mission…that our prayers may find the heart of every bishop and priest…
… eternal gratitude continues as you each remember to offer a wee Hail Mary for me every day…. “One Ave Maria makes hell tremble” (St John Vianney). Pray that I will not ‘spoil the beautiful work that God has entrusted…’ (St Teresa of Calcutta)
… your kind emails and notes and phone calls and generous support always arrive to my heart door at the right moment! Your financial sacrifices are for 100% furtherance of Apostolate. THANK YOU! The letters of testimony are so beautiful and edifying! What glory is given to God through your writing! Eternal gratitude is mine for YOU! Be assured of my continued daily prayers for you at the altar.