5-15-2022 Reflection

Like an early morning fog that later yields to the sunshine and uncovers what has been hidden, the event of the Passion, Death and Resurrection shows us the true glory of Jesus as the Son of God. There is no other event like it in the history of human life on planet earth. We note from the gospel scene that Jesus Himself declared it as such, and added that it is His glorification.

Judas had left the room with betrayal on his mind. But it freed Jesus from hesitation and I imagine He must have raised His voice a bit to say the great “Now!” Now the stage was set for the selfsame glory to come.

What this implies is that the agony in the garden, the arrest, the trial, the jail time, the rejection of Him before Pilate, the scourging, crowning with thorns and the crucifixion itself all amounted to “the Son of Man being glorified.” Certainly not the way we would describe glory. But then, God’s ways are not ours. The resurrection is the ultimate end of the process. But it was also a beginning. That is why we celebrate a ‘Triduum” of Liturgies, that is three days all components of one great Day. It is one methodical passage of Our Lord from agony to ecstasy.

So we return five weeks after the Last Supper event to note the importance of Our Lord’s “new commandment.” He announced it at that Supper. So He had the undivided attention of His now eleven closest friends.

Note also that Jesus did not speak of methods or plans. No long list of rules and procedures for the future. Just one powerful command: “Love one another as I have loved you.” So it becomes the distinctive hallmark of a Christian. It would be noticed later by pagan historians writing descriptions of the Church. It is meant to identify each of us.

“Did Christ have the credentials to make that command, that overarching demand” some outsiders might ask? The nearest crucifix is our answer. “Is it easy to obey?” they might coyly ask us. Our short answer is a definite “No!” And we know why. It’s because of sin. Sin in the world and in each of us, vestige of the damage done by our first parents. Each of us could name the sins, especially if they are our personal downfall. We might even add the fact that God has created some people who are custom designed to annoy us. All of it makes for a command that demands.

At this juncture it is always helpful to recall two facts. First, that we are not asked by God to like a whole lot of people as our choice of best friends. That number is limited to a precious few. Maybe even to one.

Secondly, we are not to let feelings interfere in our efforts. Feelings confuse the issue as is their habit. It’s a matter of decision, an act of our will. We decide to love others, to will their good, because Jesus said we have to do so.

If it’s any comfort, note that there were no Pharisees or Sadducees at the Last Supper table. Jesus had decided who would be there. Those others were His designated enemies. Yet His love would prompt Him to die on the cross for their sins also on Good Friday afternoon.

To live as Christ wants us to requires perseverance. That only comes from prayer and a close association with the saints, those canonized and those not. Here are the thoughts of the American poet Edwin Markham (d. 1940) on this matter:

“He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”

God love you and give you His Easter peace.

Reading I: Acts 14: 21-27
Paul and Barnabas report to the Antioch community all the good things that the Lord had done with them on their first missionary journey.

Reading II: Revelation 21: 1-5a
John’s vision includes that of a new heaven and a new earth. God will end the old order marked by pain and death.

The Gospel: John 13: 31-33a, 34-35
God’s kingdom will be known by a people who will truly love one another.

5-8-2022 Reflections

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

There was one scene broadcast worldwide at the height of the war in Ukraine that will forever be etched in my memory. It was a small but significant march of Ukrainian men heading back from safe homes in neighboring countries to their homeland to take up the fight along with their fellows.  How to explain it other than courageous patriotism mixed with love. The combination acted as a certain magnetic energy drawing them from comfort to confidence in their cause.

Although it is certainly quite different in context and meaning, I daresay there is in the Easter event a certain magnetism that draws us as believers into the lifelong battle with spiritual evil, personified in the devil.  We too have a cause, namely to make Jesus and His teachings known and loved throughout the world.  Easter clarifies His identity once and for all.

The battlefield for the struggle is not on foreign soil by any means, but takes place on two fronts, the deeply personal and the wide reaching interpersonal.  First we must be armed with knowledge of Him whom we champion, as well as of His actual teachings, as presented to us by the teaching office of His Church.

We will be ineffective at our task if all we have is a superficial knowledge of Jesus. Childhood portraits, well-meaning as they may have been, will tend to repel hardened adults.  A superficial acquaintance of Jesus will soon give itself away as having no basis in the Scriptures.

Equally important is articulate sharing of what Jesus and His Church teaches.  No flimsy understanding based on magazine articles, media presentations, or the pompous posturing of misinformed “talking heads” will substitute for familiarity with the official Catholic Catechism or authorized journals and other official sources.  We have to know what we’re taking about or else we set the cause back some or many measures.

If the Church is indeed a family, there is added attraction built into it that makes it easy for us to incorporate even a secular celebration like Mother’s Day. The magnetism of the Master certainly derived from the wonderful woman who birthed Him.  Among Our Lady’s many honorific titles is “Mary, Mother of the Church.” So saying, we acknowledge her as our Mother too, bequeathed to us from Her Son on His cross.

Whatever we cherish in our earthly mothers is inevitably linked with that same virtue in Mary. In her we see that goodness raised to its highest level.  Well did her own prayer begin with the words “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

Meanwhile, she supports all our efforts to make her Son known and loved, so we need not fear being alone with the task.  In addition, she knows the best road home for us soldiers of the Lord.  Forever shall she be as the poet Wordsworth described her: “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”  Happy Mother’s Day!

God love you, give you His Easter peace.

Reading I:  Acts 13: 14, 43-52: Certain Jews, jealous of Paul and Barnabas’ popularity, stir up a persecution of the two Apostles and expelled them. The preachers move on to Iconium, “shaking the dust from their feet” as they did so.

Reading II:  Revelation 7: 9, 14b-17:John’s vision of the Lamb on His throne, who will shepherd the flock, will also banish their sorrows.

The Gospel:  John 10: 27-30: Since God has given the sheep to Jesus, no one else can take them away. The unity of Father and Son draws in the community as well and gives them eternal life.

5-1-2022 Reflection

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

Before there were smartphones, tablets, pods and computerized wristwatches, there was the kaleidoscope.  A relatively simple but ingenious gadget, it is a tube containing mirrors and pieces of colored glass or paper whose reflections produce changing patterns when the tube is rotated. A bit of fun with no need of batteries, it still fascinates the user.

The kaleidoscope was the first image in my mind’s eye right after I read today’s Gospel for reflection.  Three significant events wrapped up in one chapter of John’s composition, always with a hidden meaning beyond the surface words.

First we have another lakeside resurrection appearance of Jesus, as He meets up with Peter and the disciples, coming full circle from those early days when He, as a younger unknown former carpenter from Nazareth, called these same men to follow Him on a mission that would make them “fishers of men.”

Peter “steals the show,” so to speak, by plunging into the water when he saw the near bursting net full of fish and the beloved disciple’s announcement “It is the Lord.”  We, along with the others still in the boat, might well shrink back from Peter’s impulsive response, but we have to bless him for his unqualified love of Jesus. Come to think of it, why do we so often stay planted in our “comfort zone” when it comes to acknowledging our Christianity in public?  The saints we admire so much never did any such thing.

Next we have the breakfast scene.  Jesus doesn’t hesitate to act as the waiter, which underscores His self-understanding as one who serves. In offering the men a piece of bread to go with the fresh caught fish straight from the charcoal fire, John surely wants us to think of the Holy Eucharist.  It is the Bread of Life, the Gift that keeps on giving, right down to this Mass this day. How strong is our faith in the Eucharist today?  Does it still retain in our hearts and minds at least a trace of the fascination and thrill of the day we made our First Holy Communion?  It should, you know, even if tempered by what we know of the world as mature adults, as well as the flaws in the Church that presents Jesus to us.

Last but hardly least, we come to the high drama of Our Lord’s triple questionnaire addressed to Peter, still called for the last time “Simon, son of John.”  From then on He will be Peter, “petra” in Latin, the rock, and the love bond between them will be tested mightily in the years to come.  All that will culminate with Peter’s death, when someone else will lead him “where he would not want to go.”  Have we told God recently that we love Him?  Does God’s forgiveness of our often subtle or occasionally outright blatant denial of Him through sin been motive for conversion?  There is such good news in knowing that we can always join Peter in declaring, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Then, on Judgment Day, the good Lord would be able to look at our lives, so full of prayers and good works as to offset any of our sins. He would then likely smile to see our lives looking like so many brightly colored pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope. And for us that scene would be just so…..heavenly!

God love you and give you His Easter peace.

Reading I:  Acts 5: 27-32, 40b-41: Peter and the apostles bravely proclaim Jesus’ name before the assembled Sanhedrin, boldly stating “We must obey God rather than men.” They add their conviction that the Holy Spirit is with them as a fellow witness.

Reading II:  Revelation 5: 11-14; John heard and saw great numbers of angels and elders proclaiming the Lamb as worthy while prostrating before Him. This posture and praise was typically given to the Roman emperor.  John is announcing a conflict between God and Caesar.

The Gospel:  John 21: 1-19, or 21: 1-14: Jesus makes a third post-resurrection appearance to Peter and the disciples seaside at Tiberius.  He breakfasts with them and then gives Peter a chance to repeal his triple denial.  Then follows Peter’s unique commission.

4-24-2002 Reflection

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

You remember those days in your high school English class.  You had to distinguish between a noun as a thing and a verb, which is always some kind of an action. “Divine Mercy” strikes me as both. It is the good Lord’s prerogative as a loving God, but also His bestowal of it on those who seek Him in their daily lives.

I must admit that the whole devotion of the Divine Mercy and Sister Faustina’s vision came upon me years ago quite by surprise. A lady came up to me at the parish where I resided quite upset wondering why there were no confessions being heard on Divine Mercy Sunday, I told her that I didn’t know what she was talking about. Reflecting on that long ago incident, it occurred to me that my ignorance might well have sprung from the fact that I was immersed in academe, unaware of this relatively new phenomenon. Now I am well aware of how confession is an integral part of the annual Divine Mercy celebration.

Praying the Divine Mercy chaplet has become part of my daily life now, and I try my best to pray it at 3:00 each afternoon.  I imagine its Polish roots easily led Pope St. John Paul II to urge the devotion be kept by the whole Church on this second Sunday of Easter. Certainly both the secular world and the Church need mercy.  We can devise so may ways to damage our relationship with God.  Just think of these contemporary movements: “Cancel” and “Woke.”

Now that we’re in the third year of Covid, I believe we can derive at least some good from what this killer virus has collectively caused as well as individually.  I for one believe Covid has brought me a renewed awareness of how dependent I am on God for everything.  Yes, we can be grateful that science came up with vaccines. But science implies scientists. But where did they get their intelligence and analytical powers to do this service?  No doubt from a watchful and merciful God.

We’re given a beautiful example of divine mercy today in the Gospel story of St. Thomas. After Our Lord encouraged “the Doubter” to probe His sacred scars, He never strongly remonstrated or belittled Thomas or demand an apology from him.  Instead, He prompts a beautiful act of faith from Thomas. His words encompass everything the New Testament seeks to proclaim about Jesus’ identity. In a prayer that is short and simple but profound and adoring: “My Lord and my God.” That same mercy Thomas received is offered to us, especially if we pray for it.

I close with a lighter take on the whole subject of justice and mercy with this story: Once upon a time a young lady who occasionally walked through the park after work stopped to have her picture taken by a photographer on a particular day. She was very excited about the whole idea. As she walked out of the park, she looked at her picture in total amazement.  Then she turned and headed back to the cameraman. When she got to him she raised her voice and said angrily: “This is not right!  This is not right!  You have done me no justice!”

The photographer looked at the picture and then looked at her and said, “Miss, you don’t need justice.  What you need is mercy.”

God love you and give you His peace.

Reading I:  Acts 5: 12-16: The miracles featuring St. Peter represent such cures as performed by all the Apostles in these early days of the Church. They drew many new people to Christ.

Reading II:  Revelation 1: 9-11a, 12-13, 17-19: This scene is a type of epiphany given to John.  It included a message.  Jesus, having been exalted to divine status, gives the Apostle John a command to preach about what he has seen and heard.

The Gospel:  John 20: 19-31:Jesus suddenly appears to the barricaded Apostles and sends them on mission.  The once doubting Thomas makes a profound profession of faith, encapsulating the entire New Testament theme and purpose.

4-17-2022 Reflection

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

Musicologists tell us that some great classical pipe organs have as many as a thousand pipes in their makeup.  But today, even that amazing number falls short of what the Church wants to proclaim musically, the joy that is the message of Easter.

Liturgical committees have likely festooned their parish sanctuaries with a near surplus of Easter lilies. The blooms themselves resemble trumpets, and so they are meant to “blare out” the Gospel of the Resurrection of Christ.  But even their beauty and fanciful music is not enough to herald the Easter message of the holy Gospel today.

Today is truly “the Day of days.”  The “Alleluias” are sprinkled liberally throughout today’s celebration for all good reason. The word means in English “Praise God.” It conveys exactly what the Holy Spirit wants us to have in our hearts in the wake of the discoveries of Mary Magdalene, Peter and the “beloved disciple” on that unforgettable morning.

To be honest, on Easter our emotions likely differ in kind and intensity from what they are on a Christmas morning.  The Infant in the manger is adorably cute as he wriggles in the straw. Greeting card artists help us picture that, along with Mary and Joseph nearby guarding Him.  After all, nobody but a few anonymous Roman soldiers actually saw the resurrection. It is fair to assume that they may have been either too drowsy or too shocked at the time. Again, our artists have helped here, but to a lesser degree.  Apparently the announcing angels did not form a choir to sing as they did for the shepherds some thirty three years before.

Still, Easter trumps Christmas in its importance and its lasting impact on world history and our own. For us, it’s a faith-based call to pay more attention to the things of heaven and less to the things of earth as St. Paul advises.

Easter also urges us to energize that love of God and neighbor that Jesus preached. We cannot forget that awesome display of mercy and love when amid those awful hours while He hung on the cross, He cried out: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The news outlets will likely offer a few passing lines on their 24 programming to acknowledge this day, maybe offering a snippet of the pope’s Mass or universal blessing. It will forget all about it on Monday and more or less expect us to do the same. That’s the way it is in a culture based on profit and productivity for which God and the things of God are alien and awkward.

But we know better, mostly because Easter is the guarantee that our trust in God is well-placed. It sources our hope and optimism.  The Easter message comes across to our eyes and our ears as we see the lilies and hear the singing and the organ music today. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

“With Christ’s resurrection, the Father breaks the silence and expresses His judgment on Christ’s action and, of course, on those who crucified Him.  It is a source of hope and joy for us because the Scriptures assure us that what God did for Jesus, He will do for us.”  – Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, 1991
God love you and give you and yours His Easter peace.

Reading I:  Acts 10: 34a, 37-43: Peter’s sermon covers the full original kerygma of the early Church’s message to the world.  A recap of Jesus’ life and works precedes the great news of what happened “on the third day.”

Reading II:  Colossians 3: 1-4:Paul urges his readers in the community to “think of what is above” rather than to be captivated by the old ways. The reason: you were raised with Christ.

The Gospel:  John 20: 1-9, or Luke 24: 13-35John offers a brief account of Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the empty tomb.  Later, Peter and the “beloved disciple” visit the site.  For us today and always, we observe faith in action, for “they say and believed.”

4-10-2022 Reflection

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

Statues and paintings have done their part. So too for the movies, which have given us Hollywood’s various versions of the Passion of Christ. That last includes Mel Gibson’s version of a few years ago.  For the sake of transparency, I must admit that when it came to the scene of the scourging of the Lord in that film, I broke down in tears, averted my eyes from the screen for some moments. I also found myself making a spontaneous Act of Contrition.  Yes, I was grateful for the darkened theater and the absence of a crowd for the matinee showing. I had time to
compose myself before the house lights came on.

As I reflected on that powerful experience, I know it sprang from my belief in the fact that my sins ultimately caused that brutal horror.  Ever since, I know that I cannot hide, nor can any of us hide behind a glib recitation of the second Sorrowful Mystery. The realistic sights and sounds of it offered by that movie, depicting the devastation wrought upon the Savior’s sacred Body, endured for our sake, is enough to thaw the coldest of hearts.

Of course, we believers know that besides redeeming us from our sins, Jesus underwent this cruelty out of His loving obedience to His Father coupled with His unfathomable love for all of us.

I’m not particularly fond of that word “wretch” that appears in the hymn “Amazing Grace.” It seems to me despairing. But I have to admit that when the focus is on the Lord’s Passion, that’s exactly what we all are: wretches. But praise God we don’t remain such in His eyes.  We have the everlasting comfort of knowing that the story doesn’t end with Good Friday.

Such thoughts easily come to my mind on reading or hearing St. Luke’s version of the Jesus story, from Christmas to Calvary and beyond.  Luke’s boyhood studies, combined with his medical training and his eye for detail as he recounts what he was told, together cause me to rank his gospel as my favorite. His gospel has been labeled the “Gospel of Mercy.” Who among us doesn’t need that?

Here is a telling opinion about Luke’s gospel from author Elizabeth Scalia, the Editor-at-Large for Word on Fire Catholic Ministries:

The great strength of Luke’s Gospel, as with Acts, is how accessibly, rationally, and convincingly he presents a narrative that must necessarily challenge, even defy, reason.  In comparison with the other Gospel writers, Luke is the one who gives us a distinct, richly detailed account of the ongoing interplay between God and humanity, heaven and earth—one that we can and do believe because for this Gospel in particular, belief is grounded in plausible and subtle human reactions and responses.”

God love you and have a beneficial Holy Week.

Reading I:  Isaiah 50: 4-7: Like the prophets before him, the Suffering Servant is ignored and badly treated.  Having a “face like flint” is a very effective description here because it includes the defacing spittle upon it.

Reading II:  Philippians 2: 6-11: This ancient hymn Paul uses to exhort selflessness among the believers in the place. The hymn has its special beauty and emotional tug.

The Gospel of the Passion:  Luke 22: 14 – 23: 56: Opening with the institution of the Eucharist, Luke’s Passion account includes details galore, but above all the rejection of Jesus by the people in His crucifixion. The story ends with a kingly kind of burial.

4-3-2022 Reflection

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

Evil enjoys entrapment. That is evident from any search we do in Scripture, going all the way back to the time that low down snake spoiled Eden right up to today’s well-known scene involving Jesus, His perennial tormentors, the scribes and the Pharisees, show up dragging a frightened unnamed adulteress behind them.  His enemies believe that they have caught Jesus in a trap. It would catch Him between the law of Moses and His own preaching about Divine mercy.

Of course, the other side has no idea that they are confronting a divine mind in Jesus, and their inevitable loss in any argument. If only they had been innocent inquirers, they could have been among the first Christians.  But they were far from innocent, with scowls on their faces and the smug attitude of know-it-alls anywhere and everywhere.

There has been speculation I’ve read over the years about what Jesus was writing on the ground.  Some say he wrote the Aramaic word for “hypocrisy.”  Others say he spelled out the names of other sins His enemies committed.  Still others hold that He just doodled on the ground to let His pesky questioners know that He sees right through their phony perplexity.

As for the trembling woman before Him, she could not have been more relieved to hear Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you.”  It’s the same feeling we get every time the priest prays the absolution prayer over us at the end of our good confession.

Do you ever experience the pain of entrapment by a sinful habit?  Do you think “No Way Out?”  You can take comfort from the fact that it’s a common feeling.  Meanwhile, the devil enjoys the little victory we give him by our feeling of unworthiness. He really triumphs when we give up on God.

You know, that promise of freedom Isaiah made to the exiled Jews recounted in today’s First Reading could well be applied to us in our individual situations.  And this too for a whole human world unwittingly trapped by a misunderstanding of true freedom.  If we could ask that healed woman who met Jesus that long ago day, she could tell us what it’s like.

Friends, today we have entered a time of year that we might call “the vestibule” of Holy Week. Coming up is the perfect time to make a good confession. End your entrapment. Get ready for the relief it will bring.

Here’s a thought from Bessie Ten Boom, a condemned Jewish woman who died in the Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War 2. She steadfastly refused to hate the guards who eventually beat her to death.  Her dying words were: “We must tell the people what we have learned here.  That there is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” To me, that’s the opinion of a truly free person.  What do you think?

God love you and give you His peace.

Reading I:  Isaiah 43: 16-21: Yahweh is identified by a series of actions He performed in Israel’s past at the first exodus. Now the prophet tells the Babylonian exiles that a greater exodus is coming.

Reading II:  Philippians 3: 8-14: Paul’s “knowing” Christ, that means on an intimate and personal way, fosters his involvement.  He hopes that this identification with Christ and trust in His resurrection, will be his salvation on Judgment Day.

The Gospel:  John 8: 1-11:Scholars tell us that this story was added late to the text, only coming in at the 3rd century. It certainly illustrates the statement of Jesus that comes a few verses later, namely: “I pass judgment on no one.” (8:15)

April 8: Our Lady of the Valley

Our Parish chose Our Lady of the Valley to be our Patron when we purchased the new statue. We felt our Shenandoah Valley was also a “green valley” and  it was appropriate to chose her.

April 8: Our Lady of the Valley, Sicily (1040)

The Sicilian shrine to Our Lady of the Valley, or of the Green Valley, (Our Lady of Valverde) is said to have originated about the year 1040.Our Lady of the Valley

According to tradition, a soldier named Dionysius remained behind on the island of Sicily to engage in banditry, having been enticed by the wealth on the island and his greed for the money he felt he could easily steal from others. Assault, theft and murder meant nothing to him. Dionysius found a cave in which to hide, and then lurked in the shadows of the thick woods along the path that led from Catania to Aci. Dionysius was so active that this region near Mount Etna soon became infamous as the scene of robberies, violence and even murder.

At that time there was a certain man named Giles who lived in the city of Catania. In the course of business it became necessary for him to make the dangerous trip to Aci. Now, while Giles was aware of the danger, he was a pious man who was greatly devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he was absolutely convinced that she would watch out over him on his journey. As Giles passed through the wood beneath Mount Etna, (which is actually a volcano) a bandit barred his way and threatened his life with a dagger. Suddenly the earth shook violently and a globe of blinding light appeared nearby. From within the light a woman’s voice could be heard:

“Dionysisus, Dionysius, do not touch my devotee.” The assassin’s arm was frozen by the command. He turned and looked around at the light. “Lay down that weapon – and cease this life of banditry.”

At these words Dionysius saw in a flash the monstrosity of what had been his life passing before his eyes. Throwing away his knife, he humbly acknowledged the errors of his former life and prostrated himself at the feet of his intended victim, begging his forgiveness. Dionysus retreated alone to his cave to weep over his sins. Knowing his sincerity, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him where he lived to comfort him. She urged him to trust in the goodness and mercy of God and go at once to confession. She also requested that a church be built on the hill of Valverde with the wealth Dionysius had obtained through his life of crime.

Within a few days word got out about what had happened, and the faithful from Aci processed to the hill of Valverde. Once on the hill they observed a noisy flock of cranes hovering in the sky before landing on a particular clearing nearby. Taking it as a sign, the bandit turned hermit began the work of constructing the chapel on that very spot. Although he began working immediately, and with impressive fervor, progress soon came to a halt due to the lack of a water supply.

Dionysius turned in prayer to the Virgin Mary, who once again appeared to order that a pickaxe be used to strike at the base of the rock forming the entrance to the bandit’s cave. The result of the blow was a trickle of water that formed a pool sufficient not only for the continuation of the work, but also proved to be miraculous, as it soon became a source of healing for many of the sick who came and drank there. So many people came to assist that the work that had begun in the year 1038 was finished only two years later.

Dionysius kept the faith and continued to live on Valverde as a hermit. One night he was rapt in prayer when he was struck by an intense beam of light and saw a cloud in which the Madonna appeared surrounded by heavenly angels. The light dispersed as the cloud rose toward heaven, revealing a magnificent image of the Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son imprinted on the rough wall of a pillar of the church.

The image, now known as Our Lady of the Valley, depicts the Virgin Mary seated and wearing a robe with gold accents. Her head is covered with a veil, although Mary’s hair can be seen framing her face. With her right hand she holds the Divine Child, who is seated upon a red and gold cushion. He has curly hair, and is dressed in a white tunic. His right hand is raised in blessing, while the other rests upon a small crane that seems to hide behind the Virgin’s left hand.

In the year 1565 a group of Christian soldiers stopped here to invoke the aid of Our Lady of the Valley while on their way to the island of Malta. Suleiman the Magnificent was about to lay siege to the island fortress with countless thousands of his finest warriors, while only 600 knights of St. John would stand against them to defend the stronghold. These Christian soldiers were the same who would later operate the cannon that fired the round that mortally wounded the infamous pirate commander Dragut Rais. A votive offering of two iron cannon balls now hang to the left of the altar as testimony and thanksgiving for the assistance of the Mother of God during that siege.

The feast of Our Lady of the Valley is kept throughout three dioceses of Sicily.

*From The Woman in Orbit and James Fitzhenry, Roman-Catholic-Saints.com, Marian Calendar

3-27-2022 Reflection

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

I doubt they loved the idea. I refer to the hundred and a half sophomore boys in my daily charge as their English and Religion teacher at a thriving (at that time) Catholic high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. What they probably didn’t like was my daunting homework assignment to compose a parable of their own, only loosely connected to one of Our Lord’s. Of course, every “t” had to be crossed and every “i” dotted along with flawless spelling. The latter demand blended my two items of specialty, much to their chagrin.

Memory serves me to tell you that none of them grasped the idea of originality, since they offered only papered over biblical originals. Maybe I had asked too much of them for their age to accomplish. But they certainly learned how much genius was behind those parables we know so well. Especially the one we focus on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, “Gaudete” (“Rejoice!”) in the ancient Latin rendition.

The creativity and power of those 21 lines have only suffered somewhat because of the popular title given this gem of “The Prodigal Son.” The story is mainly about the all-loving mercy of God the Father toward sinners.

Only when we admit our place among such souls do we realize that the parable is directed at us just as much as to the original hearers of it. Depending on which of the two sons most resembles us in behavior, we receive today the gift of clarity as to where our Lenten resolve needs to focus as we go through the remaining weeks of the season.

Have we become the dissolute wandering prodigal or the cynical stay-at-home son who yearns for accolades? The unjust deserter or the self-pitying cynic? Or the dutifully-present-on-Sunday type but who only comes from habit? There are many degrees between the two, but you get the point I’m sure. This parable is definitely the “mirror” type, offering us an opportunity to act on what we see in it. After our decision for the good comes that long-awaited hug from Our Father some day and the heavenly banquet that follows it. This is a guarantee and it is all because we avoid being “sophomoric” about our commitment to the Lord. In humility we can pray this prayer, from the Liturgy of the Hours, Week I:

You desired, Lord, to keep from us Your indignation and
so did not spare Jesus Christ, who was wounded for
our sins. We are your prodigal children, but confessing our
sins we come back to You. Embrace us that we may rejoice
in Your mercy together with Christ Your beloved Son. Amen.

God love you and give you His peace.

Reading I: Joshua 5: 9a, 10-12: This celebration of Passover in the promised land closes the time of Moses and the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. The end of that era is signified by the cessation of the miraculous manna.

Reading II: II Corinthians 5: 17-21: Anyone who belongs to the believing community is immediately entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Only when members are restored to God can they claim authenticity as Christians,

The Gospel: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32: Our Lord’s listeners knew of many “Two brothers” stories. Ones in which the younger brother triumphs over the older one. Not so with this masterful parable. The usual title given to it tends to obscure its main purpose: to illustrate God the Father’s great mercy toward sinners.

3-20-2022 Reflection

Reflection by Rev. Leonard N. Peterson

Biblical scholars are often unheralded people. They labor in dedicated anonymity in the background of the Church’s activities. Yet they frequently gift us with richer understanding of God’s word. The Exodus story is a sterling example.  They tell us that it is the central event of the Old Testament, indeed presaging Our Lord as the new Moses leading us out of slavery to sin and freedom in a promised Paradise.

The particular incident of the encounter of Moses with God at the burning bush is well known. I must admit that I can’t help picturing the scene as Cecil B. DeMille gave it to us in his movie “The Ten Commandments” that I first sat enthralled by as a youngster.  (In a later viewing I noticed that God sounded very much like Charlton Heston with a deeper voice and slower diction!)

The point here is that not only did Yahweh hear the cry of His enslaved people but also that Moses was to be His chosen vessel of leadership for them. Again we note a subtle reminder that each of us has a mission, one that involves walking away from sin if not temptation.  Along with that is God’s admission that He does hear our prayers, even if we are impatient about when and how He responds.

In the Gospel selection we note how Jesus uses contemporary tragedies to illustrate that the victims of such are not greater sinners than the rest of us.  He stresses the need for us to repent of our own sins as well as compassion for the victims of tragic events.

Philadelphia had its worse fire tragedy in a long time back in January that drew a lot of attention and sympathy, especially because several children were involved. But who would dare accuse those victims of worse sins than our own?

Finally, we hear the famous fig tree parable. Its frustrated owner wants the unproductive tree to be cut down.  But his plant-loving gardener asks for a reprieve for the tree, and he promises to bring the tree back to productive life.

If we become spiritually like that tree, unproductive of the many graces we have received in life, it is more than a comfort to know that we have such a sympathetic Gardener of souls who notes our good will even when we fail. Lent has its reassuring aspects.  If only we would get this and many other messages from reading and pondering the Bible that our gifted biblical scholars bring to light.  It would brighten our days.

Mark Twain once said: “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, I have always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me the most are those which I do understand.”

God love you and give you His peace.