‘There are two icons of the transfiguration which struck me very deeply when I saw them in the original in the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow. One is by Rublev and the other by his master, Theophan the Greek. In both there are three mountain peaks, the Lord Jesus in the centre, with Moses and Elijah on the right and left-hand sides, and the three disciples on the slopes of the mountain. The difference between the two icons lies in the way in which the things are seen. The Rublev icon shows Christ in the brilliancy of his dazzling white robes which cast light on everything around. This light falls on the disciples, on the mountain and the stones, on every blade of grass. Within this light, which is the divine splendour - the divine glory, the divine light itself inseparable from God - all things acquire an intensity of being which they could not have otherwise; in it they attain to a fulness of reality which they can have only in God. The other icon is more difficult to perceive in a reproduction. The background is slivery and appears grey. The robes of Christ are silvery, with blue shades, and the rays of light falling around are also white, silvery and blue. Everything gives an impression of much less intensity. Then we discover that all these rays of light falling from the divine presence and touching the things which surround the transfigured Christ do not give relief but give transparency to things. One has the impression that these rays of divine light touch things and sink into them, penetrate them, touch something within them so that from the core of these things, of all things created, the same light reflects and shines back, as though the divine life quickens the capabilities, the potentialities of all things, and makes all reach out towards itself. At that moment the eschatological situation is realised, and in the words of St Paul, “God is all and in all”’.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, 1914-2003
O God, who on the holy mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine Only Begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold in the King in his beauty; who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants: and that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity from Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘To pray is to speak to God. Our Collect is about prayer. We ought to be able to speak to God about anything, including our thoughts and actions. He is interested in us and likes us to speak to Him. We may want to ask Him for something, that is petition, or we may want to thank Him for His gifts, that is thanksgiving, or we may want to pray for others, that is intercession, or we may want to praise Him for being what He is, that is adoration. Or again, we may want to confess our faults and failings, that is confession. So you see there are five different kinds of prayer, all of which have their place in our prayer life. Confession is often very necessary, but intercession and adoration are the best kinds of prayer because they are unselfish. All types of prayer are acceptable because God is our Father.
The Collect asks that we may pray in such a spirit that we may obtain our petitions. It prays that we may ask such things as shall please Thee. We shall only please God in our petitions if we ask for the right things - if we pray in the spirit of the Lord Jesus. Then it will be in His Name. So we must learn to love God more and more. We must thank Him for His gifts, we must learn to pray for others, and this means that we shall confess our sins. We must try and use the best type of prayer, Adoration. An old peasant who could not read or write used regularly to go in church each day and kneel before the Blessed Sacrament. One day the Cure D’Ars asked him what he said, and the reply was that he said nothing, “I just look at Him, and He looks at me”. That is adoration. If we learn this type of prayer, and pray more for others, when we come to our own petitions they will more and more become the things that will please God’.
from Teaching the Collects, 1965, by H.E. Sheen
Today is the memorial of the Cure d’Ars, Saint John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. The statue below, carved in the late 19th century, is from my own collection, given to me by my wife in 2009. It occupies pride of place in my study; the good pastor looking down upon me as I strive to live out the vocation God has given me in his sacred priesthood. Please pray for all priests today, asking St John Vianney for his intercession, that we may ever strive to live by his example of evangelical zeal in the exercise of our pastoral and sacramental ministry, to the glory of God and for the salvation of many souls.
‘The Cure of Ars is a model of priestly zeal for all pastors. The secret of his generosity is to be found without doubt in his love for God, lived without limits, in constant response to the love made manifest in Christ crucified. This is where he bases his desire to do everything to save the souls ransomed by Christ at such a great price, and to bring them back to the love of God. Let us recall one of those pithy sayings which he had the knack of uttering: “The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus”. In his sermons and catechesis he continually returned to that love: “O my God, I prefer to die loving you than to live a single instant without loving you... I love you, my divine Saviour, because you were crucified for us... because you have me crucified for you”. For the sake of Christ, he seeks to conform himself exactly to the radical demands that Jesus in the Gospels puts before the disciples whom he sends out: prayer, poverty, humility, self-denial, voluntary penance. And, like Christ, he has a love for his flock that leads him to extreme pastoral commitment and self-sacrifice. Rarely has a pastor been so acutely aware of his responsibilities, so consumed by a desire to wrest his people from the sins of their luke-warmness. “O my God, grant me the conversion of my parish: I consent to suffer whatever you wish, for as long as I live”. Dear brother priests, nourished by the Second Vatican Council which has felicitously placed the priest’s consecration within the framework of his pastoral mission, let us join Saint John Mary Vianney and seek the dynamism of our pastoral zeal in the Heart of Jesus, in his love for souls. If we do not draw from the same source, our ministry risks bearing little fruit!’
from a letter to all priests, Maundy Thursday, 1986, by Pope St John Paul II, 1920-2005
Almighty and merciful God, who didst wonderfully endue Saint John Vianney with pastoral zeal and a continual desire for prayer and penance: grant, we beseech thee; that by his example and intercession, we may win the souls of brethren for Christ, and with them attain glory everlasting; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘After Jesus Christ, of course, and as far away as the infinite is from the finite, there exists a created being who was always the “praise of glory” of the Most Holy Trinity. She corresponded fully to the divine vocation of which the apostle speaks; she was always holy, unspotted, blameless in the sight of the thrice holy God.
Her soul is so simple, its movements so profound that they cannot be detected; she seems to reproduce on earth the life of the Divinity, the simple Being. And she is so transparent, so luminous that she might be taken for the light itself. Yet she is but the mirror of the Sun of Justice.
“His Mother kept all these things in her heart”. Her whole history can be summed up in these few words. It was within her own heart that she dwelt, and so deeply did she enter it that no human eye could follow her. When I read in the Gospel that Mary “went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda” to perform her charitable office to her cousin Elizabeth, I picture her to myself as she passes - beautiful, calm, majestic, absorbed in communion with the Word of God within her. Her prayer, like his, was always; “Ecce - here I am!” Who? “The handmaid of the Lord”, the last of his creatures, she, his Mother!
Her humility was so genuine! For she was always forgetful of self, unconscious of self, delivered from self. So she could sing: “He that is mighty has done great things for me; henceforth all generations shall call me blessed”’.
St Elizabeth of the Trinity, 1880-1906
‘With his sound formation in the Nicene faith, Eusebius did his utmost to defend the full divinity of Jesus Christ, defined by the Nicene Creed as “of one being with the Father”. To this end, he allied himself with the great Fathers of the fourth century - especially St Athanasius, the standard bearer of Nicene orthodoxy - against the philo-Arian policies of the Emperor. For the Emperor, the simpler Arian faith appeared politically more useful as the ideology of the Empire. For him it was not truth that counted but rather political opportunism: he wanted to exploit religion as the bond of unity for the Empire. But these great Fathers resisted him, defending the truth against political expediency.
Eusebius was consequently condemned to exile, as were so many other Bishops of the East and West: such as Athanasius himself, Hilary of Poitiers… and Hosius of Cordoba. In Scythopolis, Palestine, to which he was exiled between 355 and 360, Eusebius wrote a marvellous account of his life. Here too, he founded a monastic community with a small group of disciples. It was also from here that he attended to his correspondence with his faithful in Piedmont, as can be seen in the second of the three Letters of Eusebius recognised as authentic. Later, after 360, Eusebius was exiled to Cappadocia and the Thebaid, where he suffered serious physical ill-treatment. After his death in 361 Constantius II was succeeded by the Emperor Julian, known as “the Apostate”, who was not interested in making Christianity the religion of the Empire but merely wished to restore paganism. He rescinded the banishment of these Bishops and thereby also enabled Eusebius to be reinstated in his See. In 362 he was invited by Anastasius to take part in the Council of Alexandria, which decided to pardon the Arian Bishops as long as they returned to the secular state. Eusebius was able to exercise his episcopal ministry for another 10 years, until he died, creating an exemplary relationship with his city which did not fail to inspire the pastoral service of other Bishops of Northern Italy… such as St Ambrose of Milan and St Maximus of Turin.
While Eusebius was adopting the cause of the sancta plebs of Vercelli, he lived a monk’s life in the heart of the city, opening the city to God. This trait, though, in no way diminished his exemplary pastoral dynamism. It seems among other things that he set up parishes in Vercelli for an orderly and stable ecclesial service and promoted Marian shrines for the conversion of the pagan populations in the countryside. This “monastic feature”, however, conferred a special dimension on the Bishop’s relationship with his hometown. Just like the Apostles, for whom Jesus prayed at his Last Supper, the Pastors and faithful of the Church “are of the world” (Jn 17: 11), but not “in the world”. Therefore, Pastors, Eusebius said, must urge the faithful not to consider the cities of the world as their permanent dwelling place but to seek the future city, the definitive heavenly Jerusalem. This “eschatological reserve” enables Pastors and faithful to preserve the proper scale of values without ever submitting to the fashions of the moment and the unjust claims of the current political power. The authentic scale of values - Eusebius’ whole life seems to say - does not come from emperors of the past or of today but from Jesus Christ, the perfect Man, equal to the Father in divinity, yet a man like us. In referring to this scale of values, Eusebius never tired of “warmly recommending” his faithful “to jealously guard the faith, to preserve harmony, to be assiduous in prayer” (Second Letter, op. cit.).
Dear friends, I too warmly recommend these perennial values to you as I greet and bless you, using the very words with which the holy Bishop Eusebius concluded his Second Letter: “I address you all, my holy brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, faithful of both sexes and of every age group, so that you may... bring our greeting also to those who are outside the Church, yet deign to nourish sentiments of love for us.”’
Pope Benedict XVI
Lead us, O Lord God, to imitate the constancy of Saint Eusebius in affirming the divinity of thy Son: that, by preserving the faith he taught as thy Bishop, we may merit a share in the very life of the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Today is the Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, bishop, Doctor of the Church, patron saint of penitents and confessors, theologian, philosopher, poet, and founder of the Redemptorists. St Alphonsus possessed a great devotion to Our Blessed Lady, and in his famous work The Glories of Mary he cites the veneration of the Early Fathers and Doctors of the Church to Mary and also expounds his own love and devotion to her through prayer and meditation. How fitting that his memorial - the day of his death in 1787 - should fall on the first day of this month which is traditionally dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin.
‘Most holy Virgin Immaculate, my Mother Mary, to thee who art the Mother of my Lord, the queen of the universe, the advocate, the hope, the refuge of sinners, I who am the most miserable of all sinners, have recourse this day. I venerate thee, great queen, and I thank thee for the many graces thou has bestowed upon me even unto this day; in particular for having delivered me from the hell which I have so often deserved by my sins. I love thee, most dear Lady; and for the love I bear thee, I promise to serve thee willingly forever and to do what I can to make thee loved by others also. I place in thee all my hopes for salvation; accept me as thy servant and shelter me under thy mantle, thou who art the Mother of mercy. And since thou art so powerful with God, deliver me from all temptations, or at least obtain for me the strength to overcome them until death. From thee I implore a true love for Jesus Christ. Through thee I hope to die a holy death. My dear Mother, by the love thou bearest to Almighty God, I pray thee to assist me always, but most of all at the last moment of my life. Forsake me not then, until thou shalt see me safe in heaven, there to bless thee and sing of thy mercies through all eternity. Such is my hope. Amen’.
St Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, 1696-1787
Fr Lee Kenyon