I truly hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas and that this week-end has been a time devoted to family and perhaps some relaxation. Today at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Indian Rocks Beach we said our farewells to Sister Helen Conway who died on Christmas eve at the age of 78 after a little more than two years of living with cancer. Sister Helen chose to forego all forms of cancer treatment and devoted her remaining days to helping others who were facing death to prepare for it and be at peace with it. It is a little unusual for me to attend a funeral for a religious sister, but Sister Helen had been the General of her religious order for twenty years. She was a Sister of St. Clare (they work at a number of our parishes in the diocese). Born in Ireland and a religious for just a few months shy of sixty years, she was the principal of St. Lawrence School in Tampa and worked in New Port Richey, on St. Petersburg Beach and at St. Jerome. My presence was a way of thanking God for the life of this good women and thanking the Sisters of St. Clare for their presence in the diocese. Sister Helen is now resting in peace, home for Christmas as she predicted.
During the seven days between Christmas and New Year’s the Church celebrates a number of saints and one horrific event. St. Stephen, the first martyr for the faith and a deacon of the Church was celebrated on Friday. Most likely stoned to death by an angry mob which included Saul of Tarsus (later the convert, St. Paul), Stephen’s last words were those of Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
On Saturday, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. John the Evangelist and Apostle. This is interesting because it is highly likely that these were two entirely different men.
On Monday we recall the 12th century martyrdom of Thomas a Becket. Like Thomas More some centuries later, Becket was Chancellor of England to King Henry II who ultimately had him murdered in the Cathedral of Canterbury. Thomas a Becket was also the Archbishop of Canterbury. The “rub” between the two men was the same as for More, the freedoms between Church and State. Canonized only three years after his death, English Catholics would make pilgrimages to his grave in Canterbury, later memorialized by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales and by T.S. Eliot in the wonderful play and movie, Murder in the Cathedral.
The atrocity of which I spoke would have been recalled on Sunday were that day not a Sunday and the Feast of the Holy Family. It is the day the Church remembers all the newborn males slaughtered by a jealous Herod in an attempt to put to death the Messiah born in Bethlehem, in the city of David. We call this day the Feast of the Holy Innocents and it reminds us today’s sad atrocity, the death of over a million of unborn children by abortion each year.
Thursday is a Holy Day of Obligation throughout the United States and attendance at Mass is obligatory. It is the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and the World Day of Peace.
I am taking the next seven days off and will resume again next Sunday night, January 4th. Until then, my prayers and very best wishes go out to the readers of this blog and the people of the diocese for a happy, healthy and holy New Year.