|Do the Petitions in Your Parish Sound Like They Were Composed by the DNC?
The Eighth Wednesday of Ordinary Time; the Memorial of Saint Bede the Venerable, Priest & Doctor of the Church; the Memorial of Saint Gregory VII, Pope; or, the Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi, Virgin.*
Lessons from the secondary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Peter 1: 18-25.
• Psalm 147: 12-15, 19-20.
• Mark 10: 32-45.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Gregory VII, Pope & Confessor; and, the Commemoration of Saint Urban I, Pope & Martyr.**
Lessons from the common, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Peter 5: 1-4, 10-11.
• Psalm 106: 32, 31.
• Matthew 16: 13-19.
If a Mass for the Commemoration is taken, the same lessons as above.***
The First Wednesday of the Apostles Fast; and, the Feast of the Third Finding of the Head of John the Baptist.
First & third lessons from the pentecostarion, second and fourth from the menaion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Romans 4: 13-25.
• II Corinthians 4: 6-15.
• Matthew 7: 21-23.
• Matthew 11: 2-15.
8:39 AM 5/25/2016 — Of the three saints whose memorials all fall on this day—and from which the Roman Missal requires us to choose—I've chosen who is probably the least popular, Saint Bede. Most of you who follow the Roman Calendar with interest were probably hoping for Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi, of whom I know very little, and I doubt any of you were hankering for Pope Saint Gregory VII. But Father Bede is by far my favorite, and since I'm the priest, there's not a whole lot you can do about it.
Born in England in 672, he entered the Benedictine monastery of Saints Peter and Paul in Northumberland in the remote North of England where he is remembered as the happiest monk anyone ever encountered; but, that's not why he's a saint, and certainly not why he's my favorite, as I've clearly made no attempt to imitate his jovial nature, as I'm sure you've noticed. He was a tremendous theologian and scholar, whose writings are so full of sound doctrine that he was known as “venerable” even while he was still alive. He wrote treatises on theology, as well as many commentaries on Holy Scripture; and, if you've found anything erudite about the Scriptures in my homilies, you should give a lot of the credit to Saint Bede. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that, next to Saint Jerome, no one knew the Bible better.
But, his most influential writings by far are his historical works. He is, in fact, recognized as the “Father of English History” even by non-Catholics, and most of what we know about the history of England before the seventh century we owe to Bede. When we are reading or discussing historical events, we use the abbreviations BC, meaning “before Christ,” and AD, meaning anno Domini or “the year of the Lord,” automatically without thinking, completely oblivious to the fact that we owe our debt for those convenient designations to Saint Bede, who invented them. There's been a movement in the last fifty years or so by secularists to replace those designations with abbreviations which don't refer to Christ: CE for “common era” and BCE for “before the common era”; but, we owe it to Saint Bede, I think, to do all we can to resist that anti-Christian movement.
But, what I really want to offer you today is a reflection on our Gospel lesson from Mark, which is his version of a lesson we heard out of Matthew back in Lent (cf. Matt. 20: 17-20 on the 3rd Wed. of Lent), which contains the petition of the sons of Zebedee that they might be given the first places in our Lord's new kingdom.
When viewed within the context of our Lord's priestly prayer from John's Gospel, which we had been reading in the last days of Easter leading up to Pentecost, we find a new dimension being added to our Lord's lessons on how we are to pray: having learned during Lent that we must always pray with a sense of gratitude for what we've already received, it was during Easter that we learned that we must also pray with humility and abandonment; a much more difficult task to master, because it requires us to understand and speak the language of the Cross, and very few of us can. When Jesus asked James and John whether they could drink from the cup from which He must drink, they said they could, but I doubt they understood what He meant. In fact, back when these same two disciples were privileged to witness the Transfiguration along with Peter, and our Blessed Lord warned them not to say anything to anyone until after He had risen from the dead, Saint Mark specifically told us that they didn't know what this meant (cf. Mark 9: 10).
The language of the Cross is not easy to understand; in fact, it's impossible to understand for someone just beginning the journey of the interior life, and whose prayer is still on the level of “God, give me this” or “God, rescue me from that.” When I first came here to the Shrine, I was questioned why I never use the already composed petitions from the “Pastoral Companion,”—on most week days I don't do petitions at all—and I explained that I just don't like the idea of telling God what we want Him to do; and, I referenced a remark once made by then-Pope Benedict about how he had always thought that the petitions, if they are done, should be done according to a set formula which never varies, so that we aren't presuming to impose an agenda on God. And you may have noticed that sometimes I'll close the Bidding Prayers, when I choose to do them, with an invocation asking God to grant us the grace to accept His will in all things. One could legitimately presume that that's understood in every prayer, but I'm not sure that it is, especially when the petitions being read sometimes at Mass sound like they were composed by someone at the New York Times or in the Democratic National Committee.†
As you can imagine, we hear a lot of confessions here at the Shrine, and one of the most common complaints a priest hears in confession is from souls who simply don't understand why bad things are happening to them. And, as a priest you want to help them understand, and you try, but you know that there's no more chance of them understanding what you tell them than if you explained it in Japanese. They simply don't understand the language of the Cross. No one whose relationship with God hasn't progressed beyond “God, give me this” or “God, give me that” could possibly understand. That's why, when James and John asked our Lord to grant them a place next to Him in the Kingdom to come, He said right away: “You do not know what it is you ask. Have you strength to drink of the cup I am to drink of, to be baptized with the baptism I am to be baptized with?” (Mark 10: 38 Knox), but they had no idea what He was talking about. Drinking from a cup belonging to another was a common Middle Eastern expression of friendship, and that was probably what they thought he meant—thank you, Father Bede, for that insight.
Now, it is a fact that just a few years after this, not long after our Lord's own death and resurrection, James would be beheaded on the orders of Herod Agrippa (cf. Acts 12: 2), but significant things had happened to him in the interval, principally his having experienced the events of Holy Week and Easter. And it wasn't just that he had suffered through them; he also had to internalize them, and embrace them, and make them his own so as to reproduce the sufferings of Christ in his own life, in complete abandonment to God's Holy Will. It isn't simply that he had suffered, but the fact that he suffered willingly for Christ that translated the language of the Cross for him. The same can be said of John's sufferings toward the end of his life.
In discussing this particular aspect of our Lord's lesson on prayer, St. Teresa of Jesus—Teresa of Avila—referenced this Gospel passage when she said, “His Majesty knows best what is suitable for us; it is not for us to advise Him what to give us, for He can rightly reply that we know not what we ask” (The Interior Castle, 2, 8); and, we won't know until we've not only suffered for Him, but have done so willingly, even joyfully.
That most eminent preacher and Father of the Church, Saint John Chrysostom, commenting on the Lord's reply to James and John, said,
The Lord knew that they could imitate His passion; but nonetheless, He asked them, so that for us too it is made clear that no one can reign with Christ who has not previously imitated His Passion. For highly-valued things are not obtained except at a high price (Homilies on Matthew, 25).
And when that is understood, then the language of the Cross, which previously was meaningless to us, now makes sense, and we can then say, along with Saint Paul,
Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with heavenly glory. A faithful saying: for if we be dead with him, we shall live also with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him (II Tim. 2: 10-12 Douay-Rheims).
* A Benedictine from Tuscany, Pope Saint Gregory VII promulgated a reform against the evils of clerical marriage, simony (the granting of ecclesiastical offices to friends and relatives, or the buying and selling of the same), lay investiture (the appointment of bishops by monarchs), and greatly expanded the practical authority of the Holy See over local Churches, all of which put him on a collision course with the Holy Roman Emeror, Henry IV, whom he eventually excommunicated, and who exiled Pope Gregory from Rome in revenge. He died in exile in 1085; but, the veto authority of kings over the appointment of bishops was effectively ended due to his efforts, and is regarded as the turning-point in medieval civilization.
Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was a Carmelite mystic from Florence who led a hidden life of prayer and self-denial, praying particularly for the reform of the Church and encouraging her fellow sisters in holiness. Intrumental in the reform of the Camelite Order, she died in 1607.
** Pope Saint Urban suffered martyrdom in 230.
*** In the extraordinary form, a Mass for a martyred Pope is taken from the Common of Saints for a Pope, not from the Common of Martyrs; the color for a martyr, however, is still worn.
† Here at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, the Universal Prayer, known as the General Intercessions or the “Bidding Prayers,” are almost always omitted except on Sundays, First Fridays and Saturdays, and any other day on which a collection is taken. Inasmuch as these prayers are purely optional in any form of Holy Mass, I use them to signal to those who assist in chapel that a collection is to be taken. As stated, when they are done, they follow an invariable formula as follows. Notice that, while they pray for certain people, they avoid as far as possible asking God to do anything in particular for them:
For our Holy Father, Pope Francis, his health and intentions, we pray to the Lord.
For our Bishop James and all his clergy, and all faithful priests and deacons of the Catholic Church, we pray to the Lord.
For the fidelity of the married, comfort for the lonely and healing for the sick, we pray to the Lord.
[In Masses for the living:] For [name], and all those who have asked us, unworthy though we be, to pray for them, we pray to the Lord.
[In Masses for the dead:] For the repose of the soul of [name], and all the faithful departed, we pray to the Lord.
Let us place before our Blessed Lord the needs we each hold secretly in our hearts.
Merciful Father, hear our prayers, and grant us the grace to accept Your will in all things, through Christ our Lord.
I composed these petitions to specifically avoid any hint of an agenda, or imposing our own will upon God. I always pray them myself, and never designate them to a lay person or deacon inasmuch as offering prayers on behalf of the faithful is the duty of the priest; it is a mistake that the Roman Missal allows them to be prayed by a deacon or lay person.