Posted by: fvbcdm | March 22, 2017

Feast of Saint Nicholas Owen (22 March 2017)

In 1983, I made my first trip with my travel group to the Holy Land. We were under the management of a Palestinian tour group and therefore followed a somewhat different itinerary than we did some years later with a Jewish tour agency.

One of the places we visited was the city of Nablus in Samaria, just outside of which there is the well at which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman. That incident is recounted in the gospel of [last] Sunday’s Mass; it comes from the gospel according to Saint John, chapter 5. We must always bear in mind that Saint John reported far fewer events in the life of Jesus than did the other three evangelists, but he recounted them in much greater detail and with very deep theological insight.

It is from this passage of the gospel that we get the beautiful notion of the “living water” that Christ comes to bring us and with which our spiritual life is meant to flourish. It is midday. Jesus and the apostles have been traveling all through the hot, dry morning. They are thirsty and crave a drink. The apostles leave our Lord at the local well in the village of Sychar. Archaelogical research reveals that that is the only well ever to have been dug in that area, so it is certainly the one at which Jesus sat and spoke to the woman who came to draw water. It is one of the best-authenticated relics of Our Lord to be found in the Holy Land. A Samaritan woman comes to the well with her bucket to draw water. In those days, the buckets were not the relatively light aluminum buckets with which we are familiar today. They were usually made of earthenware, like our flowerpots. Even when empty, they were heavy. And when filled with a gallon or two of water, they were much heavier. It was the endless chore of the ordinary women of the time to make countless trips from their homes to the local well to obtain water for their cooking, washing of themselves and their families, the laundry, the watering of any animals they might have, and the irrigation of a garden or a vine or any other vegetation in their possession. The obtaining of water was probably the most onerous task of the typical Palestinian woman who did not have servants, and the one she would have most wanted to get rid of.

There are two reasons why the Samaritan woman is surprised when Jesus, sitting on the rim of the well, asks her for a drink. First, they are strangers— man and woman. Ordinarily they would not have spoken for that reason. Then, he is a Jew and she a Samaritan, an offshoot of the Jews who followed a slightly different religious tradition. The Jews and Samaritans were on very bad terms and avoided each other whenever possible. Yet Jesus asks her, “Give me a drink.” He had neither bucket nor cup, so he would have had to use her Samaritan utensils, which was also forbidden by common usage to the Jews. When she registers surprise that this young Jewish man speaks to her and is willing to use her utensils, he answers her, “If you knew who I am, you would ask me and I would give you living water.” Living water meant flowing water, as in a brook or spring, as opposed to the stagnant water in a deep well. The conversation goes on and Our Lord says, “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”

There isn’t time here to explore this idea thoroughly. I simply ask you to meditate upon this simple and beautiful concept of a thirsty man or woman being offered a drink of cool, fresh, delicious, pure spring water which produces in the thirsty person not just the temporary slaking of thirst, but a constant spring bubbling up and never running dry. The Samaritan woman is thrilled by this idea. We, too, should be thrilled by it, especially since Our Lord is referring to our spiritual life and not merely our bodily thirst. Think and pray about this.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God Bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | March 15, 2017

Feast of Saint Louise de Marillac (15 March 2017)

Today is what the ancient Romans used to call the ides of March, and in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” a soothsayer, or fortune-teller, says to Caesar, “Beware the ides of March.”  It has come into our language as a sort of adage, although I doubt that most people would be able to identify its source or know its meaning.

In any case, on these ides of March, I come to tell you that on this past weekend, I returned to New Orleans to attend the celebration of the 50th anniversary of ordination of two of our friars.  It was the third time I’ve been back to the city since the devastation of hurricane Katrina and the flood that it caused.  And again, I was very happy to see so much progress since that first horrible visit just two months after the subsidence of the water. And also, I got to see many old friends of mine who came for the celebration.  Most of them I hadn’t seen since I left New Orleans in 2005.  In that period, us old folks have gotten older; former teenagers have married and are having children; and former toddlers are now as tall as their parents.  What a marvelous opportunity to reflect upon the human condition, the passage of time, the beauty of family life, and the inevitability of death since we were not made for this life, but for the next, and we must pass through the doors of death to get there!

While I was there, I heard of a teenager who wore a sweatshirt made in New Zealand, where the sheep outnumber the people.  On the sweatshirt appeared the words: “The Lord is my shepherd.”  Then, below that, in smaller print, there was written: “He thinks I’m a sheep!”  That is not only delightful, but quite true.  Our Lord speaks of himself as the good shepherd, and of us as his sheep.  The loving, caring, tender relationship that a GOOD shepherd has with his sheep is a beautiful paradigm of God’s loving care for us. We are led through this life, following this divine leader of ours, and if we don’t deviate from his guidance, we will arrive, sooner or later, at our eternal destination.  We have every reason to rejoice that Our Lord IS our good shepherd and that he DOES think of us as his sheep whom he loves dearly and even searches out carefully if one does go astray. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago

Posted by: fvbcdm | March 14, 2017

Feast of Saint Matilda (14 March 2017)

In the gospel reading for today, we find Our Lord finding no figs on a fig tree in the vicinity of Jerusalem.  Saint Mark tells us that is was not the time for figs.  Didn’t Our Lord know that?  Of course he did!  Both by his human knowledge of agriculture (even most of us know when to expect figs on fig trees and when not to) and by his divine knowledge of ALL things.  But he used the example of that fig tree which was covered with leaves but had produced no fruit as yet to point out that just as men expect fruit from fruit trees, so God expects virtue and good works from us human beings, and not just a lot of show.  Then he went into the temple and there drove out people who were buying and selling the animals used in sacrifice.  They were also engaged in changing the ordinary Roman coins for the temple coins for the purchase of those animals.  Jewish coins did not bear the forbidden images of human beings which were considered “graven images” and therefore forbidden by the second commandment.  To this day, we will find no images of human beings on Israeli currency, neither the paper money nor the coins, for that same reason.  When driving the merchants and money sellers out of the temple, Our Lord said to them, “My house is a house of prayer, and you have made it a den of thieves.”

Let’s apply these two episodes to ourselves.  A good tree bears good fruit.  What about us?  Are we bearing good fruit?  Are we living the kind of life that Our Lord wants us to live?  And what about our minds and hearts? Are they “houses of prayer” and not dens of thieves that steal from God the glory, adoration, and praise which he has a right to expect from us?  A devout French Carmelite nun of the early 20th century—Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity—loved to call herself the “Praise of Glory” of God, a phrase she found in the writings of Saint Paul.  Are you and I trying to be living “Praises of God’s glory?”

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the three classical means encouraged by the Church for Lent.  There are many kinds of prayer, the holy Sacrifice of the Mass being the greatest of them.  There are many forms of self-denial.  There are many kinds of almsgiving whereby we give to those in need some of our possessions.  Money is the easiest to give, but we can also give of our time, our attention, our service.

We have much to think about in our spiritual lives.  Let’s avoid what we might call spiritual absentmindedness, and FOCUS our attention upon Our Divine Lord.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago

Posted by: fvbcdm | March 10, 2017

Feast of Saint John Ogilvie (10 March 2017)

This weekend we will observe the second Sunday of Lent. And the gospel at Mass will be that of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, when he appeared in dazzling glory, flanked by Moses and Elijah, the greatest lawgiver and prophet of the Old Testament. And then, to add even more to the powerful, beautiful scene, the voice of God the Father rings out over the mountaintop: this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; listen to him.

Stop now and think of the contrast in the mind of Saints Peter, James, and John. They were chosen to witness the Transfiguration. They were also chosen to see Our Divine Lord in the agony in the garden, prostrate on the ground, sweating blood, and begging the Father: if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me! And then there was the unspeakable horror of the passion and death of their beloved Lord. Saint Peter saw Jesus as a captive, being led to his trial. And he denied under oath even knowing him. Saint James was nowhere to be found during those terrible hours. Only Saint John was courageous enough to stand at the foot of the cross with Our Lady and some other holy women to keep watch as Jesus died.

During those awful hours, those three must have thought back to the moment of the Transfiguration. Was it possible that this was the same man: the beautiful, radiant Christ of Mount Tabor and this pathetic figure, beaten, disfigured, crowned with thorns, bleeding from every part of his body, stripped naked or nearly so, gasping for breath, and hanging in unimaginable pain on the cross? It was a long way from Mount Tabor to Mount Calvary. As we make our way through the holy season of Lent, let us always remember, too, that the same Jesus who is so radiant on Easter Sunday morning was, on Good Friday, as the prophet Isaiah said of him, “A worm, and no man.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago

Posted by: fvbcdm | March 3, 2017

Feast of Saint Katharine Drexel (3 March 2017)

During most of my life before entering religious life, I lived in a part of New Orleans that was conveniently located near several streetcar and bus lines. When we wanted to get to Audubon Park, a wonderful place of greenery with a lagoon, swimming pool, zoo, aquarium, rides for children, and plenty of place to play, we would take the Magazine Street streetcar. It cost 7 cents to ride all over town on the public transit system. That streetcar passed Xavier Prep School on its way uptown to the park. Then, when I went to high school, I took the Louisiana bus every morning and afternoon to get to and from Jesuit High School on South Carrollton Avenue. And that bus passed Xavier University. I was aware that those two schools were founded by a nun who was still alive in those days, but in retirement because of bad health, in Pennsylvania. Her name was Katharine Drexel, but she became “Mother Katharine” in religious life. She came from a very wealthy family in Philadelphia; her stepmother was a Bouvier, possibly related to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy who later became first lady of our country.

“Mother Katharine” was raised in a devoutly Catholic home; the family money was not allowed to turn the family members into hedonistic or materialistic people, but rather was seen as an opportunity to do good, as they knew God intended. Before her death (nearly 97 years after her birth), Mother Katharine had founded a congregation of religious women called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament whose primary purpose was the education of blacks and American Indians throughout our country. She then began to build schools in which her Sisters could teach. Those two schools that I passed on streetcars and busses during my childhood and youth were among the establishments founded by Katharine Drexel. Over the years, she spent about twenty million dollars of her inheritance on the education of her beloved “colored people” and American Indians.

Mother Katharine died on March 3, 1955. She had met two Popes during her long and very fruitful life: Blessed Pius IX and Leo XIII. And now, when Karol Wojtyla of Poland was elected Pope and took the name of John Paul II, he determined to bring her to the attention of the whole world because of the magnificent example of charity and evangelical spirit that motivated her. He beatified her in 1988 and then canonized her in 2000. So we now have in the chapel of their Sisters’s motherhouse in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, the tomb of another American saint, to whom her Sisters still refer with family affection as “Mother Katharine,” even though she is more properly called Saint Katharine Drexel.

She was very wealthy in this world according to the worldly concept of wealth connected with money and the things that money can buy. But imagine her wealth in heaven! Our Lord says to us in the gospel: Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. A devout life, nearly 97 years long, the foundation of a congregation of Sisters, and then some sixty schools, ranging from elementary schools to Xavier University in New Orleans. Imagine the welcome that she received in our Father’s house where she had laid up so much treasure! Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday (1 March 2017)

As I sit at my computer to compose this message, we have just celebrated our community Mass here in Holy Rosary Priory, Houston.  The black smudge of ashes is still on my forehead, and just about now, our Holy Father is going to our Dominican headquarters at the ancient basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill which is the so-called “stational church” for Ash Wednesday.  In the middle ages, the Pope often went to the various stational churches in and around Rome to celebrate particular feastdays.  Santa Sabina, which was given to our founding father Saint Dominic by Pope Honorius III when he approved our Order in the year 1216, became the stational church for Ash Wednesday.  Recently, the Popes have begun to revive that tradition and thus Santa Sabina becomes the focal point of the eyes of the Catholic world on Ash Wednesday.

Let’s think for a few moments: what is the connection of the holy season of Lent with the practice of penance?  Why should we do things like fasting, abstinence, and other forms of mortification especially at this time of the year?  Follow with me the logic of penance:

  1. God wants us to be like himself.

  2. To be like God means to be holy and sinless.

  3. Unfortunately, original sin has weakened the human will and made it difficult to be holy and sinless.

  4. We are all to some degree sinful and less holy than we should be.

  5. Since we are not all holy, we can all be repentant, that is, we can regret our sins and realize our guilt.

  6. We wish to atone for that guilt.

  7. We make that atonement by practices like fasting, abstaining, and other forms of self-denial.

  8. Self-denial is opposed to self-indulgence.  The former brings virtue; the latter brings sin.

So, let us embark today upon the holy season of Lent, of atonement, of self-denial, and of seeking after godliness and virtue. There is no better way of preparing for the great Christian festival of Easter in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb after his supreme act of atonement for our sins, namely, his death on the cross. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | February 28, 2017

Feast of Saint Hedwig (28 February 2017)

This is Mardi Gras day in those parts of the world that celebrate a carnival before Lent begins.  It brings back all my childhood and youth memories of carnival in New Orleans. One memory in particular stands out for me.  It was Mardi Gras of 1950 and that night I was at the Rex ball with my date. Suddenly, in the middle of one of the dances, the music stopped abruptly and the captain came to the microphone and asked that everyone clear the floor.  My first thought was that there was a fire in the auditorium where the ball was being held.  But no; there was some excitement at the door, and then the Duke and Duchess of Windsor came in, dressed in appropriate finery.  He had been for a few months King Edward VIII of England, but had abdicated about 13 years earlier in order to marry the woman who was a twice-divorced, American commoner.  The pair made their way to a place before the stage where Rex and his queen were enthroned, and there the duke and duchess bowed and curtseyed to the make-believe king and queen of Misrule, as is the official title of Rex in New Orleans every year.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, when our Holy Father will, I suppose, follow his custom of going to our Dominican mother church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill and there he will receive ashes from one of the cardinals and then give them to many others who will be there.

As we think of the make-believe kings of carnival and the almost make-believe rulers of the world’s constitutional monarchies, we should also remember that the REAL king of the entire universe—Christ the King—never wore a crown except one of thorns, and never held a scepter except a reed that was thrust into his hands in ridicule.  Instead of being a King of Misrule, he is the Lord who tells us to love God and our neighbor—the basis of all human wisdom, and who, instead of surrounding himself with jewels and gold and pomp, tells us “learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”

Let us laugh at the kings of carnival, but let us lovingly adore the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | February 23, 2017

Feast of Saint Polycarp (23 February 2017)

Today in our liturgical calendar we celebrate the early father and martyr of the Church with the strange-sounding name of Polycarp.  If we spoke Greek, we wouldn’t find it so strange-sounding, because the prefix “poly-” in Greek means “many,” and “karpos” means “fruit.”  Thus this child who was born just about 125 years after Our Lord’s ascension into heaven and the great event of Pentecost, was given the name Polycarp to indicate the wish that he bear many fruits, or much fruit—one of the favorite concepts of scripture.  Our Lord tells us that “by their fruits you shall know them.  The good tree bears good fruit; the bad tree, bad fruit.”  And in one of the visions of the Old Testament, the prophet Ezechiel sees water seeping out from under the threshold of the Temple in Jerusalem.  As it flows it increases in volume and depth and becomes a great river so fruitful and fertile that the fruit trees that grow on both its banks give forth another harvest EVERY MONTH of the year!  That is indeed “many fruited,” the meaning of the name Polycarp.

Saint Polycarp was the bishop of the ancient city of Smyrna in what was then the Roman province of Asia Minor, now the west coast of Turkey.  He was the successor to Saint John the Apostle.  A few years ago, my travel group and I went by cruise ship to the modern Turkish city of Izmir, what used to be Smyrna.  It is now an enormous, bustling port city and predominantly Muslim.  But the cruise ships call there principally to bring Christian pilgrims and visitors to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus where Saint Paul preached and founded a Christian community, and to which he wrote the magnificent Letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament.  There is fairly good evidence to indicate that when Saint John became bishop there, he brought Our Lady to live there with him.  Today, thousands of tourist busses drive up a hill from the ruins of ancient Ephesus to a charming cool, shady spot which, it is believed, was the site of the house where Our Lady spent her last years on earth and from which she was assumed into heaven.  Be that as it may, that area was one of the first areas where our holy faith was preached, took root and then spread across the Hellespont into Europe.

The proper name Polycarp might not be much used today, but the idea of our bearing much fruit in the kingdom of Our Divine Lord is still a very valid one and one that we should use as an inspiration.  Let us do what we can to bear fruit—good fruit which will prove the goodness of our lives and our value to the Christian community of which we are happy to be a part.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | February 21, 2017

Feast of Saint Peter Damian (21 February 2017)

Our Lord tells us in the gospel that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Let’s stop and consider this saying of Christ’s a bit more.  He is God, and thus the one to whom all prayer is ultimately directed.  And here he is, telling us to pray for those who persecute us.  So basically he is saying to us: ask me for the well-being of those who persecute you.  Doesn’t that seem a bit strange?  If he is concerned about the well-being of our persecutors, why doesn’t he simply load them with graces and bring about the change for the better in their lives which he wants?  Why tell US to pray to HIM for THEM?

Much thought has been given to this problem down through the ages since the life of Jesus upon earth.  And a number of explanations have been offered for the words of Jesus.  They boil down to several; one is that by praying, we become more aware of God’s supremacy over all things and our need to have recourse to him for all good gifts. Another is that by asking him for what we need and want, we humble ourselves and remind ourselves that of ourselves, we can do nothing, and therefore we must turn to him for our wants and needs.  And yet another is the fact that we are given the great privilege of cooperating with God in the salvation of souls and the benefitting of our world, ourselves, and our neighbors.  Our Lady told Saint Bernadette at Lourdes, “Pray for sinners.”  Again, why?  Are not the prayers of the Immaculate Mother of God far more powerful and efficacious than the prayers of the teenage girl gathering firewood by a small mountain stream in southwestern France?  Couldn’t Our Lady of Lourdes do far more for sinners than thousands of us ordinary people?  Yes, but by encouraging us to pray for sinners, Our Lady emphasizes the evil of sin and sinning, the dangers to which sinners expose themselves, and the importance of our concern for their well-being and our desire to help them. That is essentially the message of Jesus hanging on the cross, and crying out, “Father, forgive them . . .”

So, my dear friends, let us take the words of Our Divine Lord and his most holy Mother very seriously.  Let us pray for those who persecute us and not treat them as they treat us.  And let us pray for the sinners of the world, including ourselves in that category, of course.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

Today we celebrate the commemoration of the Seven Founders of the Servite Order, a community of priests founded in Florence, Italy, just a few years after Saint Dominic founded our Dominican Order.  And today, at Mass we read the passage from the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans which the Church chose for this celebration.  I found it especially appropriate and helpful.  During this illness of mine, I have found it difficult to pray; I find myself fearful when Our Lord enjoins trust; sad when the Word of God tells us to rejoice in our difficulties; somewhat rebellious when it asks us to accept the holy Will of God with total patience and toleration.  Listen to what Saint Paul says: “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.  And the one who searches hearts (God our Father) knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because He intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”

I tell you these things not to ask for sympathy from you, although a number of my readers and hearers have sent very supportive and encouraging messages.  I mention them because I hope to help you in your ups and downs, and let you know that you are by no means alone on your journey.  The same Lord who says to us very often in the Scriptures “Don’t be afraid,” prayed in the Garden of Gethsemani, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.  However not as I will, but as you will it.”  There is a time for great joy and exultation; there is a time for shrinking before suffering and confusion.  Our Lord has known them both, and will be with us in our experiences of both.  Later on in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul says to us: “All things work for good for those who love God.”  Let us do our best to love our God and then to accept what comes from his hands into our lives.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

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