"I will simply counsel every man and woman to beware of even the very least speck of [pride], which seems to me to be the mere delight and liking of ourselves for anything whatsoever that either is in us or outwardly belongs to us." — St. Thomas More
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St. Gregory of Narek
As the world observed the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide (1.5 million people) in the Ottoman Empire, Pope Francis concelebrated a Mass at the Vatican with Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni and declared this monk, poet, and saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church a Doctor of the Church.
When Armenia was the first nation officially to become Christian (AD 301), the Roman Empire still considered Christianity an illegal religion. Gregory's father was an archbishop; soon after Gregory's mother died, he was raised by a cousin. Gregory entered the Narek monastery, a very active center of learning on Lake Van in modern-day Turkey. He taught in its school.
Gregory wrote a mystical interpretation of the Song of Songs and a long mystical poem entitled Book of Prayer, also known as the Book of Lamentations. He described it "an encyclopedia of prayer for all nations." This classic of Armenian literature has been translated into 30 languages. The Russian text was set to music in 1985.
Recognized as a saint in the Armenian Apostolic Church, he was already listed on February 27 in the Roman Martyrology.
The Armenian Apostolic Church did not accept the Council of Chalcedon's teaching in 451 about Christ as fully divine and fully human. The Armenian Catholic Church began in the 17th century. In 1996, St. John Paul II and Apostolic Catholicos Karekin I signed a declaration about the common faith of these two Churches.
Prayer often unites groups of people who have seen themselves as very distinct—even enemies.
"Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours. In the East, the litany called the Akathistos and the Paraclesis remained closer to the choral office in the Byzantine churches, while the Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac traditions preferred popular hymns and songs to the Mother of God. But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of St. Ephrem or St Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the same" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2678)
As I sit here, the beating of my heart, the ebb and flow of my breathing, the movements of my mind are all signs of God's ongoing creation of me. I pause for a moment, and become aware of this presence of God within me.
I will ask God's help, to be free from my own preoccupations, to be open to God in this time of prayer, to come to know, love and serve God more.
Knowing that God loves me unconditionally, I can afford to be honest about how I am. How has the last day been, and how do I feel now? I share my feelings openly with the Lord.
The Word of God
Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter
Reading 1 Acts 7:51—8:1a
Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it."
When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and Stephen said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them"; and when he said this, he fell asleep.
Now Saul was consenting to his execution.
Responsorial Psalm PS 31:3cd-4, 6 and 7b and 8a, 17 and 21ab
R. (6a) Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
or: R. Alleluia. Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety. You are my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake you will lead and guide me.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
or: R. Alleluia. Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God. My trust is in the LORD; I will rejoice and be glad of your mercy.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
or: R. Alleluia. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your kindness. You hide them in the shelter of your presence from the plottings of men. R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. or: R. Alleluia.
Alleluia Jn 6:35ab
R. Alleluia, alleluia. I am the bread of life, says the Lord; whoever comes to me will never hunger.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Jn 6:30-35
The crowd said to Jesus: "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat."
So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
So they said to Jesus, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."
Some thoughts on today's scripture
The word 'bread' comes up six times in this short passage! What does bread mean for me? I love freshly baked bread, its taste, texture and smell. When I am not well, I like white toasted bread, but when I'm well, I love brown. There are innumerable types of bread to satisfy different tastes and needs. What sort of bread is Jesus for me?
Begin to talk to Jesus about the piece of scripture you have just read. What part of it strikes a chord in you? Perhaps the words of a friend - or some story you have heard recently - will slowly rise to the surface of your consciousness. If so, does the story throw light on what the scripture passage may be trying to say to you?
I thank God for these few moments we have spent alone together and for any insights I may have been given concerning the text.
What a scene! When Stephen upbraids the elders and the scribes, they become infuriated and stone him to death. But before he is executed, Stephen announces that he sees the glory of the Lord in an open heaven.
We often read Stephen's words as his declaration of a new and intense vision that comes to him just before his death. But what if we were to look at it from a different angle? Surely this was not Stephen's first encounter with the Lord! He may not have seen Jesus with his physical eyes every day, but surely he had "seen" him in other ways many, many times before this. The way Luke describes him in Acts, Stephen is "a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit" long before he draws the ire of some of his fellow Jews (Acts 6:5). In fact, it was the witness of his life with the Lord that agitated them in the first place (6:8). No, Stephen had already learned to trust God; he had already experienced the heavens "opening" for him.
Stephen's experience may seem to be in stark contrast to our own, but it doesn't have to! The idea of an open heaven is not something reserved for the great saints and martyrs of the Church. All it means is that through Jesus' cross, the barrier between God and his people—between heaven and earth—has been removed. It means that we who believe and are baptized can now "see" Jesus every day as we turn to him in prayer and seek his word in Scripture. We can experience heaven opening for us as we feel his love and as we find the grace to share that love with the people around us.
This was the secret to Stephen's bravery on the day of his death. By pursuing the promise of an open heaven during the easier days, he was able to find the Lord on the day when he needed him the most.
It's no different for you. Jesus wants to open your eyes every day so that you can see him and feel his love. This is your heritage as a child of God. Come and claim it today!
"Jesus, thank you for wanting to reveal yourself to me. Help me to see you more clearly each day. Come, Lord, and make your presence known!"
my2cents: We heard today ""Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell to his knees and cried out..." and what St. Stephen cries out are the words of Christ, "forgive them Lord..." If words weren't convincing, then perhaps giving his life would be. Saul was a witness, for he was there as a bystander on the side of death. I remember times I would hear at abortion clinics, a young lady outside talking with a sidewalk counselor "I'm not really in favor of abortion but I am here to support my friend that is having an abortion". Well, that is a lie covered with frosting. You are indeed consenting, like Saul was consenting to the death of St. Stephen. You weren't there to defend life, you were there to let death win. And this is the dilemma of the day. We believe we are good but don't do anything about it. We talk good, but inside, don't do good things, and all things good come from Heaven, and this is our daily bread. Please, allow me to share with you a poem/upcoming song that came in an instant that reminds me of the saints and St. Stephen today:
I am a warrior. In what I do, where I am, speaking with you, where I stand.
I am trained, and I am training, with one verse, I aim to gain.
My shield and my armor, you can not see.
I am a warrior, God has chosen me.
I have dodged the punches and the arrows because I hit my knees,
I send flaming arrows to enflame the world with my pleas.
Yes, I am a warrior like you can not imagine. I don't hide in the dark, I stand in the light.
I don't use brutal forces, I don't use harm, I simply use what is right.
A Warrior like this is unseen, standing among normal people, I blend right in.
But test my courage, and you will see what will flourish.
You will hear words you are not accustomed to hearing. You will sense what is coming is truth.
Because I am a warrior, and I have now stood before you.
I reject your sin, and I will never reject you.
I know where you have been, and I want to make you new.
I have come to conquer the world, and indeed it has been done.
I am a warrior, For I stand with the SON.
When you pierce me, the world will know. When my blood and water begin to flow, I am a warrior that came to show, that you too can die like this so that others will grow.
I am a warrior unlike the world has ever seen. You come to me and will know what I mean.
I have a white horse, and with the flag of peace I will ride. Away with all your selfish lives, away with that evil pride.
I have come to conquer your heart, I want You at my side. This means I have come for my love with whom, and in whom I will abide…I am a warrior…and you are my BRIDE!!!
We pray today "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." My wife and the women in their A.C.T.S. retreat sang "Lord I give you my heart..and I give you my soul". The song touched my heart, I had to learn it, and from then on have been singing it at retreats, funerals, and as Holy Communion, the bread, the Body of Christ is given to souls from the soul of Christ. It moves me tears just thinking about it.
In comes the Lord of our lives after being asked for a sign: ""Amen, amen, I say to you,it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." And He is speaking again of the sign of the cross, the sign of His opening up to the world, the sign of giving His heart and all His soul. This is a lover, this is a groom, this is a Man in love with Love, and He is in love with you. He has defeated and conquered sin and death so that we could live forever. Sounds impossible? Welcome to a world where the impossible is possible. Welcome to a life with Him. Welcome to a world where big things are little things and little things are big things. I welcome you then...to a life of Christ! If you ever become immersed in the Catholic faith, everything is about Christ, and everything is about life, and a life about Christ. Mary? The first Christ lover and believer. The saints? The people haven given their lives for Christ. You? The same, called to give your life away. Stop throwing it away and wasting away in little things. Look up to Heaven...behold, BEHOLD says St. Stephen, BEHOLD! LOOK!!! And in disbelief they charged at him for their souls were covered in death and wanted death for others. No. You are a bystander, then stand for life that looks to Christ! Is there anything more precious than His Body and Blood? BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD