Today we optionally celebrate the Feast of St. Agnes of Rome, born 291 AD and died a martyr circa 304 AD at the age of 12 or 13. Like many saints of the 3rd century, there are no historical records per se, but only the stories that were told within the Christian community. Those accounts were collected in the 5th century Acts of Saint Agnes.
I have always like numbers. I have always wondered about numbers. Often, we don’t think about them, just using them for their great functional attributes – keeping score, setting goals, etc. But sometimes we should ask how/why numbers are used. For example, why were Levi’s 501s and WD-40 given those names? Levi Strauss lost all of its records in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. It does not know why 501s are so named. WD-40? It was the name from the product development lab: Water Displacement, 40th formula.
The other day, a friend and colleague forwarded to me an email that she had received containing a wonderful reflection by Fr. John Predmore, S.J., Director of Ignatian Ministries at Boston College High School. The article matched so much of my experience in celebrating the Mass as a priest and in my many years as a lay person at Mass in the years before. A resonance that was only amplified by last week’s leading an RCIA session on “The Mass and Eucharist” during which I talked about full, active, and conscious participation in the Mass. I reached out to Fr. John who graciously gave me permission to post this for your enrichment.
Fr. John wrote: “A deaf priest is part of our Jesuit community and he will say mass for us routinely. Lately as he has been presiding, I have found my mind wandering as I wonder about the mass itself. He is a cheerful guy and very generous, and I am conscious that a life with hearing impairments is certainly a lonely life. I make certain to talk with him each day, I share my homilies with him, and I try to affirm him and tell him that I’m grateful he is with us.”
Today’s liturgical possibilities include an optional memorial for St. Sebastian who is the patron saint of athletes. Relatively little is known about St. Sebastian, a Christian martyr of the 3rd century. It is believed that he was an officer in the imperial bodyguard and Christian, but not openly so. When his faith was discovered the Diocletian, the Roman emperor, sentenced him to death. Sebastian was tied to a tree, executed by archers and left for dead. However, he had not died. He was found alive and nursed back to health. When at last he was able, he publicly announced his faith, denounced Diocletian for his persecution of Christians, and for this was martyred as he was beaten to death by the emperor’s guard. It is his virtues and gifts of strength, stamina, perseverance, courage and justice in the face of adversity and a superior opponent – and yet he gave his all.
The readings from today’s Mass include optional readings in celebration of the saint. The first reading is from the first letter of St. Peter and includes the following admonition:
Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,
but do it with gentleness and reverence (1 Pt 3:15)
Are you ready?
St. Paul writes, “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1–2). It is, therefore, appropriate to offer prayers in liturgical settings for our civic leaders, as the prayers of the needs of the faithful and the world are lifted up and offered to the Lord. The inauguration of the President of the United States is a particularly significant moment which draws the attention of all citizens of our land. It is fitting that the prayer of the Church, particularly gathered at the Eucharist, be attuned to the occasion. (USCCB website) The US Bishops offer these prayers on this day:
The Psalm from today’s Mass asks if we are aware of the foundation of Hope in our lives.
May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts,that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call. (Eph 1:17-18)
Depend, rely, trust, hope – all synonyms, but each one brings its own nuance. But all generally carry the same questions. Do we depend on a what or who? Upon what or whom do we rely? Where do we place our trust? Upon whom do we trust? And the same questions surround “hope.” What do we hope for? Who do we hope in?
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Familiar words from the Pledge of Allegiance. It the ideal to which we commit ourselves as a reminder to ourselves and a light held up to the world.
We are more than a little divided these days. Pick a demographic quality – almost any quality and there are divisions. Not the normal distinctions that are part of the melting pot uniqueness that makes our nation vibrant, diverse, and gives us an amazing array of cuisines, celebrations and customs. I mean some of the divisions are hardline separation, with-us-or-against-us discord in which friends and families are broken and subsumed into a deepening silence. The words “e pluribus unum” (out of many, one) seems a distant echo.
Today, we as a nation will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I thought it would be good that we, again, listen to the words of Dr. King from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” This excerpt, found in the later part of that marvelous and challenging letter, asks a simple but profound question: “What kind of people worship here?” Are we a people of the Gospel that comforts the afflicted? Are we a Gospel people who stand with those on the margins? Are we a full Gospel people? Continue reading
One hundred years ago today, an English magician called Percy Thomas Tibbles literally and laboriously sawed through a sealed wooden box that contained a woman. And so was created one of the world’s best known magic act tricks. The celebrations are being streamed virtually under the auspices of The Magic Circle, “the premier magical society in the fascinating world of magic and illusion.”
Early in the morning of January 7th, at the conclusion of the congressional joint session that affirmed the electoral college results, the Senate chaplain, Barry C. Black (a Seventh-day Adventist minister and retired Navy rear admiral), closed the session with prayer
Lord of our lives and sovereign of our beloved nation, we deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life, and the quagmire of dysfunction that threaten our democracy.
These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We have been warned that eternal vigilance continues to be freedom’s price.
Lord, you have helped us remember that we need to see in each other a common humanity that reflects your image.
You have strengthened our resolve to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies domestic as well as foreign.
Use us to bring healing and unity to our hurting and divided nation and world. Thank you for what you have blessed our lawmakers to accomplish in spite of threats to liberty.
Bless and keep us. Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to do your will and guide our feet on the path of peace. And God bless America. We pray in your sovereign name. Amen.