Zechariah 12: 10-11, 13:1; Psalm 63;
Galatians 3: 26-29; Luke 9: 18-24
"O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water." (Ps 63:2)
"Then [Jesus] said to all, 'If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'" (Lk 9:23)
It is rather ironic–or maybe not ironic at all and simply God's plan–that these readings would be assigned to this particular Sunday in June. This weekend in the Diocese of Burlington Bishop Coyne will ordain Mr. Joseph Sanderson to the transitional diaconate and Deacons Matthew Rensch and Curtis Miller to the priesthood. Following their ordinations, Deacon Sanderson and Fathers Rensch and Miller will either assist at or celebrate Masses of Thanksgiving at which these readings will be used. How these readings speak to those of us in Holy Orders! Both quotes above are great beginning points for those to be ordained priests and a reminder for someone like me who is already a priest.
The journey to the priesthood begins when the candidate realizes his "flesh pines and...soul thirsts" for God. While all people experience this call, the one to enter Holy Orders realizes in the depths of his heart and soul that God has called him to enter an ordained relationship with him. "This sacrament configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit," says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1581), "so that he may serve as Christ's instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church . . . "
The priest feels drawn into a life in which he gives himself totally, body, mind, heart, and soul, to Christ and his Church. Through the priesthood, he satisfies the thirst of his soul as recounted in Psalm 63. This relationship with Christ then overflows into service to God's people. It is a total giving of one's self, and thus it is a joyful life marked by simplicity, obedience, and celibacy. The heart, mind, body, and soul are given to God.
Jesus makes it clear that anyone who wishes to follow him must "deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow [him]." On Good Friday, the priest holds the wooden cross for all to venerate. He knows from his own prayer that it is only through the cross of Jesus that salvation and redemption will come to God's people. The individual crosses of the people must come to the cross of Christ, which is a window to resurrection and hope. The priest has given his life for that cross, and now leads others through it. A priest's life is not a career. He does not seek advancement or career opportunities. His life is set before him. He sets out to minister in the places the Church needs and directs him, as that is how he knows and hears God's will. The priest knows it is not about him, but about Christ and his Church.
The celebrations of the sacraments are the center of the priest's life. His life comes together fully in those moments. He has felt God's call into a deep, unique relationship with him that is marked by prayer. He celebrates the sacraments in humility as he himself is in need of the forgiveness and healing of those same sacraments he provides for God's people. He does so in the person of Christ, for it is Christ who baptizes, forgives sins, and anoints through the priest. It is Christ's body and blood that is made evident upon the altar in the Eucharist.
The priest has felt the need of Christ in his own life. He has given his life for that relationship. He now brings that relationship to each person he meets in celebrating the sacraments, healing God's people. Indeed, he is an icon of Christ, for it is through him that the faithful see Christ, the one to whom the priest is configured through Holy Orders.
By Richard L. Hatin. West Virginia: Headline Books, Inc., 2015. $23.28 paperback, $4.99 Kindle or Nook. 448 pages.
When I first met the author of "Miracle at Janet's Mountain," he was doing a book signing and waving a light saber at the Barnes and Noble on Dorset Street in South Burlington. As it turned out, the store was hosting a special Star Wars promotion that day, and Hatin was more than willing to participate in the celebration, even though his newest work is a far cry from the adventures of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.
To call "Miracle at Janet's Mountain" a feel-good book doesn't quite do it justice, although most readers will feel very good while reading it. As its title implies, it is about a miracle–several of them, in fact–and what can happen when people are brought face to face with a direct intervention from the divine.
There are some strong positives in this story. To begin with, the main character, Janet, the woman through whom the miracles take place, has Down syndrome. Though in her early 30s, she lives at home with her parents and works as a bagger at the local supermarket. When she is not helping her favorite cashier, Mrs. Wannamaker, Janet has a special place she goes to in the meadow adjacent to her family's home. A relatively small granite outcropping, it has never-the-less become known in the family as "Janet's Mountain," and it is where she loves to go to draw.
It doesn't take long for the miraculous events to begin. Janet has an encounter at her mountain with a "pretty lady" who looks vaguely familiar to her. Running back to the house, she retrieves a holy card with a picture of the Blessed Mother on it. Showing it to her new friend, Janet remarks that not only does she look like the lady on the card, but "You even look like the statue at church." Mary–for indeed, it is the mother of Jesus–then tells Janet that she has come to her because God has chosen her to do a very special job.
Suffice it to say that the story progresses from there. There are miracles and healings, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is how various people react to and are changed–or not–by their encounters with this remarkable young woman and what she allows God to do through her. The author has managed to include just about every segment of society we would expect to become involved in such an event. The Catholic Church and its representatives, for instance, have very different reactions to what has happened (along the way, the reader will no doubt learn something about the Church's protocol for dealing with such things.) The media, so prominent in every other part of our lives, is omnipresent here also–in fact, we get a glimpse of what Jesus' life might have looked like had he been born into a world of 24/7 cable news. People, both supporters and protesters, show up in the thousands, and a famous televangelist also becomes part of the story.
The only flaws are minor, grammatical ones (there are a number of places, for instance, where the author switches tenses from one sentence to the next, and some details are over-explained). But overall, both the story and the tone in which it is told reminded me very much of the late Father Joseph Girzone's "Joshua" series. If you are familiar with and liked those books, you will very likely enjoy this one as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Hatin was born in Burlington, Vermont. He attended local elementary and high schools and graduated from St. Michael's College in Colchester in 1971, where he earned a bachelor's in English Literature.
In 1974, Hatin joined the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, working for the New England Office of Community Planning and Development. He retired from that position as Deputy Director in 2010, at which time he turned his attention to writing.
Since then, Hatin has published two other books of fiction in addition to "Miracle on Janet's Mountain." "Evil Agreement" was released in 2012, and "Deadly Whispers," which won an Honorable Mention at the Los Angeles, Great Southeast and San Francisco Book Festivals, was published in 2013.
"My first and greatest passion is to explore the eternal conflict of good versus evil," he said of his writing. "As a young child I was hooked on stories from the Bible. I was schooled early on that 'good always triumphs over evil'" although, as he also noted, "evil may lose in the end, but it sure can produce a great deal of pain until it's defeated."
Currently, Hatin lives in Hooksett, N.H. with his wife, Anne Marie. Together, they have three sons and three granddaughters.
Both the world and the Church have changed so much in the past 600 hundred years that many parts of the story of Joan of Arc sound very foreign to us today. Yet, despite the obvious differences in culture, there are two things regarding this saint that remain constant–the first is her willingness to respond to God, and the second is her commitment to persevere in that response no matter what the cost.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ."
From the First Amendment to the Constitution
Religious freedom is no trivial or mere theoretical issue. It has a direct impact on every person regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof and is an essential dimension of social justice.
Religious freedom is under attack nationally and here in Vermont.
A few months back a couple of Catholic friends of mine were discussing their experiences with different types of prayer. All was going along rather smoothly until one of them brought up the topic of Mary; at that point, opinions were exchanged and I was surprised to hear the conversation take a rather heated turn. The issue in dispute? The speed with which the Hail Mary should be said when praying the Rosary. One was inclined toward a rapid though prayerful recitation, while the other favored a slower, more meditative approach.
When the Second Vatican Council was putting the finishing touches on one of its key documents, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), Pope Paul VI proposed that it include a statement that the pope is "accountable to the Lord alone."
The suggestion was referred to the Council's Theological Commission, which, perhaps to Pope Paul's surprise, flatly rejected it: the Roman Pontiff, the Theological Commission noted, "is . . . bound to revelation itself, to the fundamental structure of the Church, to the sacraments, to the definitions of earlier Councils, and other obligations too numerous to mention." The pope cannot, in other words, change the deposit of faith, of which he is the custodian, not the master. The pope can't decide that the Church can do without bishops, or that there really are eleven sacraments, or that Arius had it right in denying the divinity of Christ.
Some of the more colorful stories about this patron of England are not substantiated by fact, but that doesn't mean that the legends surrounding St. George have any less power on the imagination. In fact, the most common depiction of the saint, in which he is slaying a dragon, persists, even though it derives from a 12th century Italian fable.
Because they were resolved more than a thousand years ago, many of the heresies that plagued the early Church are unfamiliar to modern Catholics; often, they had to do with the struggle to understand the true nature of Christ. Arianism, for instance, which taught that Jesus, although the Savior, was not equal to God but merely His highest creation, was one of the most pernicious and took two ecumenical councils, one at Nicea and another at Constantinople, to finally refute.
Another heresy, perhaps less well known, was Monothelitism. This teaching, championed by the Byzantine Emperor himself, maintained that while on earth Jesus, rather than having a human and divine will as well as a human and divine nature, had only one will – a divine one. Although this, too, was finally refuted at an ecumenical council in 680-681, it was not before it was vigorously opposed by a pope, Martin I. Refusing to back down before the Emperor would cost Martin his life, and he thus became the last pontiff to be venerated as a martyr in the Church.
This was in an age when secular rulers – kings and emperors – saw themselves as people who could, and did, make ecclesiastical and theological decisions that should really have fallen within the purview of the Church. When Martin I, for instance, became pope, he did so without the confirmation and consent of the Byzantine Emperor, Constans II. That act alone would have set him on a collision course with royal authority, but when he went one step further and censured the documents that Constans had promulgated containing the heresy of Monothelitism, his fate was virtually sealed.
After trying unsuccessfully to turn the bishops and the faithful against Martin, Constans then decided to have the pope assassinated. This too failed and, enraged by the continued challenge to his authority, the emperor finally had the pope arrested and dragged in chains from Rome to Constantinople. Convicted of treason but narrowly avoiding execution, the elderly Martin none-the-less died in exile in the year 655 from the torture and ill treatment he suffered at the hands of the emperor.
Martin I would be vindicated 25 years later. When the Third Council of Constantinople was convened, the monothelitist heresy was decisively condemned and the teaching that Jesus possessed a perfectly united divine and human nature was upheld. Martin's feast day is celebrated on April 13.
"What can I do? I am just one person." How many of us have thought that or have even said it out loud?
Perhaps motivated by a sense of humility, that mindset can lead to paralysis and inaction. After all, we live in a world that is inhospitable to our beliefs as Catholics. In contrast, let's examine five specific examples of individuals whose courage and willingness to take a risk made an impact.
I have always enjoyed Jesuit Father James Martin's books as well as his commentaries on television, so it was surprising that when I picked up his latest work, "The Abbey," I did so with mixed emotions. It's not that I anticipated questioning the overall quality of his thoughts or his writing; rather, I was wondering whether he could successfully navigate the switch in genres. Father Martin, who has produced some very moving commentaries, retreats, reflections and memoirs, has now ventured into the world of novel writing, and I was curious to see if he could pull it off.