Christ the Lord was tempted and suffered for us. Come, let us adore him.
Or: O that today you would listen to his voice: harden not your hearts.
Year: B(I). Psalm week: 4. Liturgical Colour: Violet.
Other saints: St Bernadette Soubirous (1844 - 1879)
Hexham & Newcastle, France, Slovenia
She was born in 1844 to a destitute family in Lourdes, in France. On 11 February 1858 she went down to the river Gave with her sister and a friend, to look for firewood and bones. There she received the first of a series of visions of the Mother of God which led to Lourdes becoming a place of pilgrimage and healing. In 1866 she became a nun at Nevers, where she died on 16 April 1879.
It is a rule of the Church that saints are to be celebrated for what they are and what they do – to serve as examples of heroic virtue for us all – and not merely for what happens to them. There is no way that we can all go off and have visions of Our Lady, and the world would be a madhouse if we tried. So what of Bernadette? What heroic virtue has she that we should imitate? There are two: suffering, and humility.
Bernadette was seriously ill with asthma all her life and she died young; but she never let illness be an excuse for anything – how many times do we, feeling a little unwell, use that as an excuse for being bad-tempered or simply not doing what we ought?
To move away from Bernadette for a moment: imagine that you are a poor working-class boy with little education who happens to be good at kicking a ball about. Within a few years you find yourself earning more, annually, than your father earned in his entire lifetime. You receive attention, adulation, status – all that you could possibly desire. People emulate you. They hang on your every word. How would you feel? How would you act?
Next, imagine that you are a poor girl – not even working-class, because your father hardly ever has any work – poor in a way that we can hardly conceive of – unintelligent and uneducated, and suddenly something happens to you. Overnight you are famous. People come in crowds to see you (sometimes the police have to control them). Everyone treats you with respect and admiration. They hang on your every word and ask you, over and over, questions about even the tiniest detail of your experience. They press coins into your family’s hands. You shut yourself up in a convent far from home, but even there you are constantly visited by bishops and other eminent persons who just want a quick look at you.
Wouldn’t that turn your head? Just a little? Wouldn’t you think that there must be something about you that made you worth seeing? However tiny that something was?
Here is Bernadette’s response, in conversation with one of the nuns:
“What do you do with a broom?”
“Why, sweep with it, of course.”
“Put it back in its place.”
“Yes. And so for me. Our Lady used me. They have put me in my corner. I am happy there, and stay there.”
Saint Bernadette Soubirous is patron saint of the sick, and rightly so. But if there is to be a patron saint of celebrities and footballers, Bernadette would be a wise choice for that task too.
(Note: St Bernadette’s feast is celebrated on 16 April by most of the world but on 18 February in France. Some people called “Bernadette” celebrate their name-day on 11 February, which is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the date of the first vision).
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: Saint Athanasius (295 - 373)
Athanasius was born in Alexandria. He assisted Bishop Alexander at the Council of Nicaea, and later succeeded him as bishop. He fought hard against Arianism all his life, undergoing many sufferings and spending a total of 17 years in exile. He wrote outstanding works to explain and defend orthodoxy.
The matters in dispute with the Arians were vital to the very nature of Christianity; and, as Cardinal Newman put it, the trouble was that at that time the laity tended to be champions of orthodoxy while their bishops (seduced by closeness to imperial power) tended not to be. The further trouble (adds Henry Chadwick) is that the whole thing became tangled up with matters of power, organization and authority, and with cultural differences between East and West. Athanasius was accused of treason and murder, embezzlement and sacrilege. In the fight against him, any weapon would do.
Arianism taught that the Son was created by the Father and in no way equal to him. This was in many ways a “purer” and more “spiritual” approach to religion, since it did not force God to undergo the undignified experience of being made of meat. Islam is essentially Arian. But Arianism leaves an infinite gap between God and man, and ultimately destroys the Gospel, leaving it either as a fake or as a cruel parody. Only by being orthodox and insisting on the identity of the natures of the Father and the Son and the Spirit can we truly understand the goodness of creation and the love of God, and live according to them. For this reason many extracts from the works of St Athanasius have been adopted as Second Readings in the Office of Readings.
Liturgical colour: violet
Violet is a dark colour, ‘the gloomy cast of the mortified, denoting affliction and melancholy’. Liturgically, it is the colour of Advent and Lent, the seasons of penance and preparation.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Isaiah 55:3 ©|
Come to me and listen to my words: hear me, and you shall have life. I will make a covenant with you, this time for ever, to love you faithfully as I have loved David.
|Noon reading (Sext)||(Jeremiah 3:12,14) ©|
Come back, says the Lord, and I will frown on you no more, since I am merciful and I shall not keep my resentment for ever. Come back, disloyal children, says the Lord.
|Afternoon reading (None)||James 1:27 ©|
In the eyes of God our Father, pure unspoilt religion is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.