St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companions

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One of the things that is so memorable about Andrew Dung-Lac is that he was born a poor pagan Vietnamese. His catechesis was coupled with food and shelter, and then baptism. He was not born into Christianity, and the country he lived in was not historically Christian, and he was ethnically Vietnamese. Why do these points interest me? To start, Andrew became a priest, and taught catechism. That was a step up from the impoverished life he was born into, but does not begin to explain this person’s character. Andrews’s character and spirituality come out after the first time he went through imprisonment and persecution for his Christian faith. That persecution was under the emperor’s directive, and was wide spread; though Andrew was able at first to gain freedom with the support of his congregation. This is the part where this priest’s character and spirituality are revealed. After that persecution the priest changed his name, modified his location, and continued his mission. After imprisonment, how easy would it have been for him to simply remove his collar and blend in amongst his countrymen? He was ethnically Vietnamese, so blending in would have been easy. The persecutions going on in that country were among the most brutal in history, yet he did not remove his clerical collar, and to me that speaks volumes about the extent the Holy Spirit descended onto that priest. At his baptism he was initiated into the faith with water, at his first persecution was proof positive that he had received that Spirit. As he continued preaching and baptizing people into the faith, those persecutions continued and they were directed at Christians with unspeakable brutality. Andrew continued with his mission until he was beheaded for the faith at the age of forty-four. His story contains examples of the three types of baptism, that one of water, of the spirit, and by blood. The brutality towards Christians in that country at that time were horrendous. Andrews’s story is easy to tell because it is a brief biographical sketch of a single person. There were one hundred and seventeen martyrs, and each had their own unique story, though I am certain they all had that desire to live and die for their faith and preach the gospel of Christ. It was that faith that defined them, not their ethnicity or social standing. They were European and Vietnamese, Priests, Religious, and Lay people: all placing their faith in Christ. Their story of faith is remarkable and unforgettable.

Christ the King

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It is the last Sunday of the Liturgical year, and also the Sunday of the feast “Christ the King.” It is a hint of what the advent season is awaiting for, Christ the King in a manger. It is also a Feast day that was established with a clear purpose. The feast day was initiated in1925 by Pope Pius XI to combat the rise of secularism. Secularism is informally the separation of Church and state, it also separates the moral and ethical norms of a community from a religious institution. Pope Pius wished to remind Catholics of Christ as the true and supreme King, and also of the supremacy of the Kingdom of God. How important is that to remember! It is Christ the King, not the presidents, prime ministers, dictators, corporate executives, governments, armies, educators. It is that Kings law’s that are supreme, not the whims of any politician that managed to rise to power. That is important to remember as World War One drew to a close, and the Second World War was on the horizon. With this feast of Christ the King, there also is that reminder of the qualities of a fitting King. Christ the King is also the Good Shepard, and the shepherd in the ancient world was the symbol of a true king. It is a reminder of his Kingdom against the manifestos of so many earthly Kings. It is a reminder of one kingdom, against all of the boundaries that were, and are, being drawn on this earthly kingdom. All of the reasons for this day in 1925, truly do to exist today. Secularism today is not a rising force, it is a fully mature and entrenched part of the landscape. Today politicians have no qualms with going against the teaching of Churches, there is little reason for them to fear a pontiff’s rebuttal. Today morals, ethics, beliefs are shaped by the state, not the Church. The objection is that the Church should not interfere in the States affairs; there is no argument for the State interfering with the Church’s teachings. Today most issues that were discerned by Church, today are decided by a political system based on popular vote and its associated lobbyist system. Most often it is not discerned through truth, but bartered for through a capitalist machinery. These are good reasons to remember Christ as King, and the laws and ways of that divine and eternal Kingdom. His kingdom is so much better than our bickering little parcels of land. His kingship is so much better than our feeble heads of state. The problem though is that we do live in this world and are affected by its laws, demands, and realities. Secular society does try to lure us away from Christ Kingdom and into the ideologies of the day. We do battle here, though with all of the advertisements of the earthly fractions of society, days like the feast of Christ the King are needed as a reminder of the true kingdom worth fighting for. The Kingdom of God is at hand, and Jesus Christ is its King.

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Saint Cecilia, patron of music

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Today is the memorial of Saint Cecilia, an early Roman saint, virgin, and martyr of the Church. Briefly Cecilia was a vowed virgin who was married and wished to keep her virginity. She told her husband of an angel which he asked to see, and to which she replied he needed to be baptized. He did see that angel who spoke to him and gave him red roses and white lilies, as a reward for Cecilia’s love of chastity. Her husband Valerian then had his brother converted to the faith. When the prefect, Almachius, heard of the conversions he ordered them imprisoned and put to death. Cecilia’s tomb was found in 822 and her body incorrupt was transferred to a church bearing her name. The sculptor Stefano Maderno carved a sculpture of that body precisely as it was found when the cypress coffin was opened. It now adorns her tomb.

Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of composers, music, musicians, musical instrument makers, poets, and singers. She is the patron of a few others, but these are the ones of interest to me. I think about her and music especially concerning liturgical music. I think of her as I think of a small debate goes on about that sacred music, and I think about the saint and those listed that she is the patron of. One of the arguments that is taking place regards the types of musical instruments fitting for liturgy. There are those that embrace the organ as the instrument of the church, and they feel that this instrument has a special place in the churches. I cannot argue that the pipe organ is strongly associated with liturgical music, but the limiting the instrumentation of the Church to that solitary instrument leaves me a bit divided. It is a grand instrument of the Church, and much sacred music has been composed for it.

 Saint Cecilia though would have never heard music from that instrument, the organ occurs in history probably 1000 years after her death. That is the part that leaves me divided. Cecilia is frequently pictured holding a lyre, and that instrument is related to the harp, and then the violin and guitar. Lyres and tambourines were instruments of the Old Testament. Plainsong and Chant were the foundation of early Christian music. The organ actually occurred late in the Churches musical history. I think of Saint Cecilia too when I think of continents that have no equivalent to that Church organ, but instead have their own assortment of musical instruments. I wonder, what is the traditional music for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church? What are the musical instrument traditions of those devout Catholics in places like Korea, China, India, and the South Pacific?

When thinking of that patron saint of music, and instrument makers I do think of the roles of sacred and secular music, and I do think of how music should be applied to the liturgy. I also think of how it is misapplied. I wonder why it is that the popular styles of Church music are not played before and after the liturgy, and why plainsong and chant have diminished during the liturgy, and why the pipe organ fell out of favor for a time. I also wonder why the concertina, and the violin, and the renaissance recorders are used little during Mass, and why the folk guitar is so popular.

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Presentation of Mary

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Today is the feast of the presentation of Mary to the temple, a feast that mirrors Christ’s presentation in that same temple. Legend states that when an Angel revealed that Anne was present with the Lord, she vowed that Child to the Lord. Mary climbed those steps into the temple when she was three to four years old and was received by John the Baptists father, the priest Zacharias. Think then of that feast of the visitation when Mary visits Johns mother Elizabeth: “Blessed art though and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Elizabeth, the priest Zacharias’s wife, knew that when Mary walked up those steps into that temple, Mary stood in the presence of the Lord. Mary stayed at that temple, the holies of holies for ten years. When she walked back down those steps, how could that Lord leave her presence? When she came down from the temple, and was betrothed to Joseph, the Lord walked with her. She carried that Lord with her for eternity, and with that she became that tabernacle, and the image of Church. In her decent from those temple steps, she brought her Lord from the walls of that building to humanity; and her visit with Elizabeth in a way marks the start of her procession.

 

In so many of the paintings of this event, the artists dramatically emphasize the steps that lead up to the temple. They are as portrayed as almost a mountain, and in looking at them I can’t help but think of the other mountaintop events of the bible; Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, Moses at the burning bush, and the Transfiguration of Mary’s Son. Like Moses, Mary climbs those steps to converse with God. Like her Son, she is transfigured to become the Theotokos or God-bearer or Birth-Giver of God. Mary climbs those steps fully human, and descends them the same way; though in her humanity she never turns away from God. Always immaculate, she never succumbs to the stain of sin. Yet, when she descends from that temple she does walk back into that very messy and sinful human condition. The difference though is that she brings that salvation, her Son Jesus, back into the midst of humanity; so that He might lead us sinners back to the presence of the Lord that she was so adept at conversing with.

Thursday, 33 ot.

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Gospel lk 19:41-44
As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

It is an odd concept to think that war is the path to peace, but many times it is. Of course war does not always have to mean fighting on a battlefield, it does not always require the shooting of bullets, or the bombing of buildings, or the destruction of property, or the loss of life. It simply can mean the violent resolution of a conflict. That conflict can involve bloodshed, or it can be a resolution between competing philosophies, cultures, or ideologies. The courtroom can be viewed as a warzone nearly the same as a battlefield. The same can be said of the conflict between good and evil.
Jesus frequently talks about entry into the Kingdom of God, and entry into that Kingdom requires the resolution of a conflict. It requires that defeat of Satan and victory over sin. The cry of Jesus is his concern that the people of Jerusalem, and that is us, don’t recognize that battle and sink into a complacency. That complacency frequently is surrendering to sin.

Sin, as simply disobedience to God. It is the comfort of living in exile by simply losing sight of the glory of Eden. The thing though, is that battle between good and evil, heaven and hell, goes on even if we are not wise participants in it. The more sin is entrenched, the more violent the battle between that good and evil; but the good will win at all costs. Again, ironically those spiritual battles so often do merge into battles on the battlefield. For that reason alone that gospel passage is simply not poetry, it is the violence of the crucifixion and the joy of Easter. It is the violence of the battlefield, and the exuberance when that battle ends with a lasting peace. That violence made worse, simply because we refuse to open our eyes, and that is not a commentary on ancient history but also of contemporary society.

Sides are being drawn, all’s one has to do is read a newspaper, or turn on a television, or listen to a politician. I wonder in this battle of the twenty first century, which side is gaining victory? Are the advances we so often celebrate an advance towards that Kingdom Jesus preaches, or are the victory’s we celebrate an advance in the opposite direction? Are we steadily marching back towards that Garden of Eden, or retreating further from it? Many of the advances since the 1960’s have brought about the dawn of a new age, but as Jesus looks at this present Jerusalem does He weep again? Ignorance or complacency simply lets that sin get entrenched, and makes that battle that more violent, that much longer, and the wounds that much deeper. That battle with sin began with our exit from Eden, do we realize that battle continues today?

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