May begins tomorrow and it launches us into a very busy week liturgically. Our week begins with the celebration of the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, on Monday, 1 May. This feast was instituted by Pope Pius XII in 1955 as a religious response to communist May Day celebrations. St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of the Universal Church and, among other things, the Patron of Workers.
On the third of May we celebrate two Apostles simultaneously – Saint Philip and Saint James. St. Philip, from Bethsaida, the hometown of Saints Peter and Andrew, was an early follower of Jesus. St. Philip plays a meaningful role in the Gospels. St. Philip questions Jesus about being shown the Father; St. Philip leads Greek Gentiles to a meeting with Jesus; and St. Philip was tested by Jesus before the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
St. James is known as “The Lesser” not because he frequents the express lane at “The Ac-a-me” but because lesser words are written about him in Sacred Scripture than St. James The Greater – the brother of St. John. St. James The Lesser is credited with the Epistle that bears his name. James, in this Epistle, emphasizes the Works of Mercy, respect and dignity for the poor, the insistence of justice, the essentiality of the Sacrament of Anointing, and the importance of demonstrating your faith through works of mercy and justice. Like a true artist, James may have been lesser known in his lifetime but his prominence as a defender of the oppressed continues to inspire many.
Between these two feasts we celebrate a Doctor of the Church – St. Athanasius. There is an absolutely gorgeous church dedicated to “St. A” on Limekiln Pike in the West Oak Lane section of Northwest Philadelphia. St. Athanasius was a defender of the divinity of Christ against the heresies that emphasized Jesus’ humanity over his divinity. St. Athanasius beautifully describes the Incarnation of Jesus in these words: “Within the Virgin he built himself a temple, that is, a body; he made it his own instrument in which to dwell and to reveal himself. In this way he received from mankind a body like our own, and, since all were subject to the corruption of death, he delivered this body over to death for all, and with supreme love offered it to the Father. He did so to destroy the law of corruption passed against humanity and to free humanity from this corruption by the grace of his Resurrection.” Because of his defense of the Divinity of Jesus, and the Holy Trinity, St. Athanasius is often depicted with an equilateral triangle. He was my prayer buddy during my Pre-Calc/Trig adventures! What’s your sine?
The words of St. Athanasius, and his belief that only God could restore humanity to communion with him, leads us to the most important celebration of this week. This Saturday, 6 May, our Parish will celebrate the reception of First Holy Communion for students from our PREP and from our Notre Dame de Lourdes School. Congratulations and blessings to our First Communicants and to their families.
In preparation for this occasion it may be helpful to reflect on your own reception of the Eucharist for the first time. Where and when was it celebrated? How did you receive the Most Blessed Sacrament – on your tongue or on your palm? Were you kneeling at an altar rail or standing? What else do you recall from that inspirational moment? Have you ever received the Eucharist under both species? Why are you drawn to the chalice? What keeps you from it?
The great saints that we celebrate this week all draw us into a relationship with Our Savior. The Savior whom Joseph held, Philip explored, James shared, and Athanasius defended. It is a wonderful week to reflect upon Jesus’ relationship with you and yours with him. May the Fourth be with you!