Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bishop Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus


Cheverus High School is named after the first Bishop of the Boston diocese, Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, a French missionary priest to New England. At that time, Maine was still part of Massachusetts and was within the juridical boundaries of the Boston diocese. Cheverus was born on January 28, 1768 and died on July 19, 1836.

As a newly ordained priest, Fr. Cheverus could not bring himself to renounce his allegiance to Rome by taking the oath imposed upon all priests by the French Revolution. It cost him his parish in France and nearly cost him his life forcing him to flee to London in disguise. Fr. Cheverus learned English so that he could form a congregation in exile in England, but a letter from his former professor at seminary, Fr. Francis Matignon of Boston (after whom a school is named in North Cambridge, MA), explained the difficult conditions and the desperate needs of the Catholic community in New England. Cheverus answered Matignon’s call and arrived in Boston in October 1796 putting him at the service of Bishop John Carroll (founder of Georgetown University.)

Cheverus worked as a missionary in New England for twenty-seven years, especially serving the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot missions. He lived among them and learned their language. He visited the small widely-dispersed Catholic communities and nursed the sick and buried their dead during yellow-fever epidemics. He raised money to build a church in Boston and skillfully attended to the diverse needs of the various communities.

While ministering in a hostile and prejudiced Puritan environment, Cheverus won the respect of both Protestants and Catholics alike. He is said to have been blessed with brilliant talents, wide learning, transparent holiness and Christ-like charity. Protestants invited him to their pulpits and legislators often sought his counsel. Because of his reputation, he was seated next to President John Adams at a state banquet. He was name the first Bishop of Boston on April 8, 1808.Bishop Cheverus was recalled to Montauban, France on January 15, 1823 because of his poor health. Montauban was a Protestant Huguenot stronghold, but shortly after his arrival there a resident wrote: "There are no longer Protestants at Montauban; we are all the bishop's people". On 30 July, 1826, he was named Archbishop of Bordeaux and on February 1, 1835 he was created a Cardinal.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Feast of Epiphany

The feast of Epiphany in the Catholic Church is traditionally celebrated on January 6th, though it is such an important feast that the Church celebrated it as a whole on Sunday, January 4th. Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas. The song "Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as a double-meaning, secretive way of passing along the faith to children during the time when Catholicism was outlawed in the land (1558-1829.)

Epiphany celebrates the manifestation or revelation of God in human form - the person of Jesus. The Roman church commemorates the visitation of the Magi (three kings or wise sages) to the infant Jesus. This is the day of recognition that the whole world, beyond the Jewish people, would come to know Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.

The magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts to the child, Jesus. In the Western Church some households celebrate this feast by getting water, gold, frankincense and chalk blessed at church. The chalk is used to write the initials of the three magi over the doors of churches and homes. The letters, CMB, stand for Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, the three magi, but also Christus mansionem benedicat, which translates as "may Christ bless the house."

Finally the ancient custom on solemnly announcing the date of Easter and the church year occurs on the feast of Epiphany. This was done in a time when reading and writing was not widespread. It set the celebrations of the liturgical years once the priests determined the date of Easter.

Let us pray:

Father, you revealed your Son to the nations by the guidance of a star. Lead us to your glory in heaven by the light of faith. Your light is strong; your love is near; draw us beyond the limits which this world imposes, to the life where your Spirit makes all life complete. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Titular Feast of the Society of Jesus

January 1st is the titular feast of the Society of Jesus, a day which honors Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos) and a day which celebrates the giving of the name of Jesus to the tiny infant who was born unto us.

The Gospel (Luke 2:16-21) from today's liturgy mentions that on the eight day of Christmas, Mary and Joseph had named their son:

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. When eight days were completed for his circumcision,he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The giving of the name "Company (Society) of Jesus" occurred in September 1540 when the early companions and Ignatius were founded as a religious institute.

Ignatius and two of his companions, Peter Faber and James Lainez, decided to go to Rome to place themselves and the other companions at the disposal of the Pope. A few miles outside of Rome at a chapel at La Storta, the companions stopped to pray. At this spot, Ignatius had the second most significant of his mystical experiences. In his vision, God the Father told Ignatius, "I will be favorable to you in Rome" and that he would place him (Ignatius) with His Son. Ignatius did not know what his experience meant, for it could mean persecution as well as success since Jesus experienced both.

While in Rome, the Pope joyously put them to work teaching scripture and theology and preaching. On Christmas morning, 1538, Ignatius celebrated his first Mass at the church of St. Mary Major in the Chapel of the Manger, which was thought to have the actual manger from Bethlehem. If Ignatius was not going to be able to say his first Mass at Jesus' birthplace in the Holy Land, then this would be the best substitute.

During Lent in 1539, Ignatius convened all of his companions in Rome to discuss their future. They had never thought of founding a religious order, but now that going to Jerusalem was out, they had to think about how they would spend their time as companions. After many weeks of prayer and discussion, with the Pope's approval, in which they would vow obedience to a superior general who would hold office for life, they would place themselves at the disposal of the Holy Father to travel wherever he should wish to send them for whatever duties. A vow to this effect was added to the ordinary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Formal approval of this new order was given by Pope Paul III on September 27, 1540. Since they had referred to themselves as the Company of Jesus, in English their order became known as the Society of Jesus. Ignatius was elected on the first ballot of the group to be superior, but he begged them to reconsider, pray and vote again a few days later. The second ballot came out as the first, unanimous for Ignatius, except for his own vote. He was still reluctant to accept, but his Franciscan confessor told him it was God's will, so he acquiesced. On the Friday of Easter week, April 22, 1541, at the Church of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, the friends pronounced their vows in the newly formed Order.

Perhaps the first reading from today's liturgy, Numbers 6:22-27, would be an appropriate prayer from the Jesuits to you today. Let us bless the Lord and ask him to bless each of you:

The LORD said to Moses: "Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace! So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them."

May the Lord abundantly bless you and your loved ones.