All posts by techdecisions

Dec 28 – Holy Innocents

My novice master, Fr. Ambrose Eckinger, O.P., previously a barber in secular life, who insisted as part of our poverty we learn to cut each other’s hair!, silliest thing I ever was ordered to do, IMHO, and a cliché rotund friar, think jovial cookie jar, an excellent organist, and whose Christian name was previously Joseph, had just returned from Rome prior to accepting the office of novice master for the province of St Joseph.  There he collected “goodies”.  One of the “goodies” he collected were religious medals only to be found in Rome – the good stuff, literally.  Cannot be had/found here, for any price.

Novices and postulants to Catholic religious orders are held in special affection as the youngest, as children would be in a family, and as the future and the potential glory of the Order in the service of God Himself, alone. In some monasteries, the normal order of seniority, aka, order of religion, as in whom entered the order the earliest, not necessarily strictly age, is reversed on the feast, as a kind of humor and lesson in humility for all.

On the Feast of the Holy Innocents 1988, Fr. Ambrose presented to each novice a medal of the Holy Innocents containing a third class relic (LONG, technical explanation, if you are not familiar).  It being very fine, I placed mine on the beautiful, fine, nicest I EVER received, saw, was given, made in France rosary given me by the very young, blonde, most attractive Dominican Sister of Nashville, for whose grade school class I was mascot.

You’re not really Catholic until you’ve got many, high quality, jingly-jangly, coveted religious medals, four to a Pater Noster, as you WORK the beads!, hanging from the rosary you will be buried with, or hope to.  The rosary is held in special esteem by the Order of Preachers.  By legend, given to St Dominic himself by the Blessed Mother, it is the Dominican sword, always worn to the left by the right-handed and vice-versa for easy and immediate withdrawal from the scabbard as a spiritual weapon.  And, oh, what a weapon.  Just ask the Saracens at Lepanto!

We keep that rosary in the safe deposit box along with the wills, jewels, emeralds, diamonds, rubies, krugerrands, (just kidding on the rubies), and other items I require I be buried with including most touching letters of thanks I have received from survivors of clergy sexual abuse.  Proof for Jesus, upon my Resurrection, as if He needed any.  Kelly has express instructions.  God have mercy on our souls.

I believe God and a mother’s love are the two most powerful forces in the Universe.  I witnessed this as a son.  I witness this even more profoundly and have ever more irrefutable proof of said every day.  I stagger back and fall down.  My breath is withdrawn from me.  I tremble, literally, in fear, so powerful is this force.  The very incarnation (small “I”) of God’s love for His people.  I am not being facetious.  Fatherhood has NOTHING analogous.

Mt 2:18

Hymn: Salvete Flores

All Hail! ye infant Martyr flowers,
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours:
As rosebuds snapt in temptest strife,
When Herod sought your Savior’s life.

You, tender flock of lambs, we sing,
First victims slain for Christ your King:
Beside the very altar, gay
With palms and crowns, ye seem to play.

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to Thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete.

Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Nov 18 – St Rose Phillipine Duchesne, RSCJ, (1769-1852), Foundress of the American branch of the Society of the Sacred Heart

(c) Digby Stuart College, University of Roehampton; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Digby Stuart College, University of Roehampton; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Patroness of, and included among those opposed by Church authorities, including: St Elizabeth Ann Seton, St Joan of Arc, and St Teresa of Avila.  Known as “The Lady of Mercy”.  Named  “Quah-kah-ka-num-ad” = “Woman-who-prays-always” by the Potawatomi, St Rose Phillipine Duchesne is a model of Christian love, faith, and perseverance.

Born in Grenoble, France, of a family that was among the newly rich, Philippine learned political skills from her father and a love of the poor from her mother. The dominant feature of her temperament was a strong and dauntless will, which became the material—and the battlefield—of her holiness.

She entered the convent at 19 without telling her parents and remained despite their opposition. As the French Revolution broke, the convent was closed, and she began taking care of the poor and sick, opened a school for street urchins and risked her life helping priests in the underground.

When the situation cooled, she personally rented her old convent, now a shambles, and tried to revive its religious life. The spirit was gone, and soon there were only four nuns left. They joined the infant Society of the Sacred Heart, whose young superior, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, would be her lifelong friend.

In a short time Philippine was a superior and supervisor of the novitiate and a school. But her ambition, since hearing tales of missionary work in Louisiana as a little girl, from a Jesuit missionary, was to go to America and work among the Indians. At 49, she thought this would be her work. With four nuns, she spent 11 weeks at sea en route to New Orleans during which time disease nearly killed her, and seven weeks more on the Mississippi to St. Louis, which also nearly killed her.

She then met another of the many disappointments of her life. The bishop had no place for them to live and work among Native Americans. Instead, he sent her to what she sadly called “the remotest village in the U.S.,” St. Charles, Missouri. With characteristic drive and courage, she founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi.  St Rose Phillipine Duchesne went on to found six other Sacred Heart houses including schools and orphanages.  She struggled since her teaching methods were based on French models and her English was terrible, but everyone could see the purity of her intentions.

Though she was as hardy as any of the pioneer women in the wagons rolling west, cold and hunger drove her and her fellow sisters out of St Charles to Florissant, Missouri, where she founded the first Catholic Indian school, adding others in the territory. “In her first decade in America Mother Duchesne suffered practically every hardship the frontier had to offer, except the threat of Indian massacre—poor lodging, shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and money, forest fires and blazing chimneys, the vagaries of the Missouri climate, cramped living quarters and the privation of all privacy, and the crude manners of children reared in rough surroundings and with only the slightest training in courtesy” (Louise Callan, R.S.C.J., Philippine Duchesne).  “Poverty and Christian heroism are here”, Rose Phillipine wrote, “and trials are the riches of priests in this land.”

Finally, at 72, in poor health and retired, she got her lifelong wish. A mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi. She was taken along. Though she could not learn their language, they soon named her “Woman-Who-Prays-Always.” While others taught, she prayed. Legend has it that Native American children sneaked behind her as she knelt and sprinkled bits of paper on her habit, and came back hours later to find them undisturbed. She died in 1852 at the age of 83.  She spent her last ten years in retirement in a tiny shack at the convent in Saint Charles, Missouri where she lived austerely and in constant prayer.

Divine grace channeled her iron will and determination into humility and selflessness, and to a desire not to be made superior. Still, even saints can get involved in silly situations. In an argument with her over a minor change in the sanctuary, a priest threatened to remove her tabernacle. She patiently let herself be criticized by younger nuns for not being progressive enough. Through it all, 31 years, she hewed to the line of a dauntless love and an unshakable observance of her religious vows.

Setback after setback after setback, even into old age! This woman of bronze—St. Rose Philippine Duchesne—let nothing stop her, nothing discourage her, nothing slow her down. We can do almost anything for God if we refuse to be discouraged and are willing to pay the price: the price is something called holiness.

“We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self.”
-Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne

“I live now in solitude and am able to use my time reflecting on the past and preparing for death. I cannot put away the thought of the Indians and in my ambition I fly to the Rockies. “
-Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne

DCF 1.0
DCF 1.0

Prayer
Gracious God, you filled the heart of Philippine Duchesne with charity and missionary zeal, and gave her the desire to make you known among all peoples. Fill us who honor her memory today, with that same love and zeal to extend your kingdom to the ends of the earth. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.

Love,
Matthew

Nov 3 – Venerable Solanus Casey (1870-1957)

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Barney Casey became one of Detroit’s best-known priests even though he was not allowed to preach formally or to hear confessions!  Barney came from a large family in Oak Grove, Wisconsin. At the age of 21, and after he had worked as a logger, a hospital orderly, a streetcar operator and a prison guard, he entered St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee—where he found the studies difficult. He left there and, in 1896, joined the Capuchins in Detroit, taking the name Solanus. His studies for the priesthood were again arduous.

On July 24, 1904, he was ordained, but because his knowledge of theology was judged to be weak, Father Solanus was not given permission to hear confessions or to preach. A Franciscan Capuchin who knew him well said this annoying restriction “brought forth in him a greatness and a holiness that might never have been realized in any other way.” During his 14 years as porter and sacristan in Yonkers, New York, the people there recognized him as a fine speaker. “For, though he was forbidden to deliver doctrinal sermons,” writes his biographer, James Derum, “he could give inspirational talks, or feverinos, as the Capuchins termed them”. His spiritual fire deeply impressed his listeners.

Father Solanus served at parishes in Manhattan and Harlem before returning to Detroit, where he was porter and sacristan for 20 years at St. Bonaventure Monastery. Every Wednesday afternoon he conducted well-attended services for the sick. A co-worker estimates that on the average day 150 to 200 people came to see Father Solanus in the front office. Most of them came to receive his blessing; 40 to 50 came for consultation. Many people considered him instrumental in cures and other blessings they received.

Father Solanus’ sense of God’s providence inspired many of his visitors. “Blessed be God in all His designs” was one of his favorite expressions.

The many friends of Father Solanus helped the Capuchins begin a soup kitchen during the Depression. Capuchins are still feeding the hungry there today.

In 1946 in failing health, he was transferred to the Capuchin novitiate in Huntington, Indiana, where he lived until 1956 when he was hospitalized in Detroit. He died on July 31, 1957. An estimated 20,000 people passed by his coffin before his burial in St. Bonaventure Church in Detroit.

At the funeral Mass, Father Gerald, the provincial, said: “His was a life of service and love for people like me and you. When he was not himself sick, he nevertheless suffered with and for you that were sick. When he was not physically hungry, he hungered with people like you. He had a divine love for people. He loved people for what he could do for them —and for God, through them.”

In 1960 a Father Solanus Guild was formed in Detroit to aid Capuchin seminarians. By 1967 the guild had 5,000 members—many of them grateful recipients of his practical advice and his comforting assurance that God would not abandon them in their trials. He was declared Venerable in 1995.

James Patrick Derum, Father Solanus’ biographer, writes that eventually Father Solanus was weary from bearing the burdens of the people who visited him. “Long since, he had come to know the Christ-taught truth that pure love of God and one’s fellowmen as children of God, are in the final event all that matter. Living this truth ardently and continuously had made him, spiritually, a free man—free from slavery to passions, from self-seeking, from self-indulgence, from self-pity—free to serve wholly both God and man”.

Father Maurice Casey, the blood brother of Father Solanus, was once in a sanitarium near Baltimore and was annoyed at the priest-chaplain there. Father Solanus wrote his brother: “God could have established his Church under supervision of angels that have no faults or weaknesses. But who can doubt that as it stands today, consisting of and under the supervision of poor sinners—successors to the ‘poor sinner fishermen of Galilee’; the Church is a more outstanding miracle than any other way?”

Truly, it is not through our efforts or talents or skill or virtue or lack thereof that the Church has persisted these two millenia or will persist or will be changed for the better, in this world, in this life; quite frankly, it is in spite of such or its lack.  Only inasmuch as those things cooperate with, in and through His Grace, does the Church persist and will persist and grow in holiness.  He is its One Foundation.

ryan_blute
-Ryan Blute, who credits his cure from cancer to the intercession of Ven Solanus “Barney” Casey. The high school junior keeps a relic of Solanus in his wallet when he goes for scans at the hospital and when he took the SAT. “When I need help, he’s always with me,” Ryan said.

“Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people.  Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.”  -Ven. Solanus “Barney” Casey

Love,
Matthew

Nov 9 – Solemnity of the Dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran, 325 AD

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-baptistry of St John Lateran

The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome. It was built during Constantine’s reign and was consecrated by Pope Saint Sylvester I in 324 AD. That church and the adjoining palace were destroyed during the “Babylonian Captivity”, or Avignon Papacy.  The current structure Pope Innocent X commissioned in 1646.

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One of Rome¹s most imposing churches, the Lateran¹s towering facade is crowned with 15 colossal statues of Christ, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and 12 doctors of the Church. Beneath its high altar rest the remains of the small wooden table on which tradition holds St. Peter himself celebrated Mass.  As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, containing the papal throne (Cathedra Romana), it ranks above all other churches in the Roman Catholic Church, even above St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

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The basilica itself stands over the remains of the Castra Nova equitum singularium, the ‘new fort’ of the imperial cavalry bodyguard. The fort had been established by Septimius Severus in AD 193, but following the victory over Maxentius (whom the Equites singulares augusti had fought for) at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge by Constantine I the guard were abolished and the fort demolished. Substantial remains of the fort lie directly beneath the basilica nave. The rest of the Basilica site was occupied during the early Roman Empire by the palace of the gens Laterani. The Laterani served as administrators for several emperors; Sextius Lateranus was the first plebeian to attain the rank of consul. One of the Laterani, Consul-designate Plautius Lateranus, became famous for being accused by Nero of conspiracy against the emperor. The accusation resulted in the confiscation and redistribution of his properties.

The Lateran Palace fell into the hands of the emperor when Constantine I married his second wife Fausta, sister of Maxentius. Known by that time as the “Domus Faustae” or “House of Fausta,” the Lateran Palace was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine. The actual date of the gift is unknown but scholars believe it had to have been during the pontificate of Pope Miltiades, in time to host a synod of bishops in 313 that was convened to challenge the Donatist schism, declaring Donatism as heresy. The palace basilica was converted and extended, eventually becoming the cathedral of Rome, the seat of the popes as bishops of Rome.

Every pope from Miltiades occupied the Lateran Palace until the reign of the French Pope Clement V, who in 1309 decided to transfer the official seat of the Catholic Church to Avignon, a papal fief that was an enclave within France.  How and why that happened is a, some say very, long story I will spare you at the moment.

During the Avignon papacy, the Lateran Palace and the basilica began to decline. Two destructive fires ravaged the Lateran Palace and the basilica, in 1307 and again in 1361. In both cases, the Avignon papacy sent money to their bishops in Rome to cover the costs of reconstruction and maintenance. Despite the action, the Lateran Palace and the basilica lost their former splendor.

When the Avignon papacy formally ended and the Bishop of Rome again resided in Rome, the Lateran Palace and the basilica were deemed inadequate considering the accumulated damage. The popes took up residency at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and later at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Eventually, the Palace of the Vatican was built (adjacent to the Basilica of St. Peter, that already existed at the Vatican since the time of Constantine), and the papacy moved in; the papacy remains there today.

This feast was later made a universal celebration in honor of the basilica in reflection of the basilica’s primacy in the world as mother church.  The words: “Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput” are incised in the main door, meaning “Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.”. This feast was established as a sign of love for and union with the See of Saint Peter for the entire Universal Church.

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The square in front of the Lateran Palace has a red-granite obelisk, the largest in the world, commissioned by Pharaoh Thuthmose III and completed by his grandson Thutmose IV in Karnak, and placed in the Circus Maximus before being re-erected in its current place.  Truly, suggestive of, to me, King of Kings.

Love,
Matthew

Franciscan Reform: Francis & Clare

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Clare and Francis both embraced the proposition of Gregory the Great that we are saved by those we despise.

-from “The Great Catholic Reformers…”, by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, USML

“The idea that God uses people we regard as unimportant or as offensive to save us by teaching us humility, which Gregory saw revealed in Christ’s life and in the stories of the Old Testament saints, had become quite commonplace (by Clare and Francis’ time).

Rather than demanding the recognition of rights, Franciscan reform demanded a willingness to be despised in order to save others…this idea makes Franciscan thought and reform largely inaccessible to people who privilege current categories of thought…Ideas such as inherent rights and modern notions of freedom would not begin to appear until roughly five hundred years later.

Both Clare and Francis subscribed to the idea that the path to peace was poverty.  They would not have understood contemporary ideas that there will be no peace until there is justice.  Instead, Clare and Francis believed it was necessary to give others more than they deserved to establish peace.

By calling Christians to actively embrace and steadfastly love evil people, Franciscan reform went beyond passive resistance.  Based on the belief that the only way to overcome fear is through love,…Francis forbid his brothers from growing angry, from gossiping, from revilement, detraction, judging, and condemning those who were corrupt…

In fact, there is something radically, and Clare said ‘wonderfully’, subversive about Francis & Clare’s desires and actions to give those who are corrupt more respect than they deserve.  By giving the corrupt more respect than they deserve, Francis and Clare were imitating the way Christ desires to give to sinners the grace they do not deserve.  Franciscan reform hopes to compunct the sinner into reform.

Franciscan reform is absolutely nonsensical to those who do not possess the fear of God.  It is the fear of God, the recognition that God is just and that people are not, which moves the sinner to seek reconciliation.  Grateful for the gift of salvation, the sinner learns to be gracious with others.  Fear of God also allows people to let go of their anger and desire for vengeance.  In this sense, the fear of God is a mercy for those who have suffered real oppression or evil.  Filled with this gift, the only pious or appropriate response to sinners, even clerical sinners, is to feel pity for them.”

stfrancis_and_clare

Love,
Matthew

Nov 1 – Solemnity of All Saints

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I realize, as a Catholic, not all Christians, perhaps not all Catholics, and certainly not most non-Christians subscribe with enthusiasm to “I believe in…the communion of saints,…”( –Apostle’s Creed, the ancient baptismal creed of the Church).  Yet, a wise priest I know once said to me, “Get over it!  It’s a Christian Hall of Fame!”

Football has a hall of fame; baseball has a hall of fame; nations have halls of fame, why not Christianity?  Critics of the saints contend they have the potential to deflect worship from God directly; with respect, I firmly believe they amplify our worship of God directly.  By showing us how the Gospel might actually be lived in this life they, in fact, not only amplify our worship of God directly, they echo it so loudly and so clearly that the Glory of God resonates back into our “real world”; applied Christianity.

It is most encouraging to a weak and back-sliding sinner like me to read of the Apostles stumbling and fumbling around.  (I sometimes picture Jesus like Moe Howard of the Three Stooges wanting to knock their heads together like Larry and Curly because they just don’t get it, saying “OK, you numbskulls!” with that perfect, unique, hollow coconut sound effect in the background.  I know, I know, not very Jesus-like. J  Love my enemies?  Pray for my persecutors?  Bless those who curse me?  Forgive and forgive and forgive? C’mon what are you smokin’?)

Eventually, no pun intended, they did get it.  Tradition holds only John died a natural death.

These men and women, whom we call saints, many deeply and profoundly flawed often for the majority of their lives, finally got it and often in glorious and earth shaking ways.  It gives me hope for myself that there is hope I might “get it” even just a little more before I meet the Lord face-to-face, God willing.

I also take great solace when reading the Lives of the Saints when I come across a challenge or a crisis of faith similar to what I have experienced or what I know others have experienced and how the saints, real men and women, suffered under similar circumstances or even much more dramatic ones, and what their non-intuitive, non-instinctual, but rather Christ-like response ultimately was.

I am an engineer I know because I can never be satisfied with pure theory, knowledge for the sake of knowledge; but, rather, I have an internal need to solve practical, “real world” problems, applied knowledge for the sake of a practical benefit.  Scientists = pure science, knowledge simply for the sake of having new or more knowledge; engineers = applied science, knowledge for the sake of obtaining a practical benefit.  And so, I have a deep affection, resonance, and amazement at the lives of the saints and their applied Christianity.  Who needs Hollywood or soap operas, these stories are great!

If, at times, you could use a little encouragement in your struggles and on your faith journey, as I regularly do, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself more fully with lives of some of the Christian saints.  I would be amazed if you could not take great courage and solace from them as I have often been able to do.

“No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.”
-St Ignatius of Antioch, 107 AD, third bishop of Antioch, Syria (St Peter, tradition holds, was the first bishop of Antioch, before becoming bishop of Rome), in his last letter to the Roman Christian community, on his way to execution by exposure to wild beasts in the Flavian amphitheater in Rome.  He was also the first Christian writer to use the term “catholic” = universal and apply it to the Church.

forerunners_w_saints_and_martyrs
-“The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs”, by Fra Angelico, (about 1423-24) Tempera on wood, 31,9 x 63,5 cm cm National Gallery, London, please click on the image for greater detail.

Prayer to All the Saints

Lord, Your Beloved now live in eternal happiness and in the fullness of Your glory.  Because of their love of You, they also care about me and my family, my friends, my church, and my neighbors, everyone.  Thank you for the gift of their holy lives and their witness of their love for You.  I ask them to intercede for me and my intentions and for those whom I love.  I ask them to help us journey safely to You.  Lord, give us their protection, so we too may come to enjoy the joy You have promised those who remain faithful to You.

Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Conversion of the Baptized – the New Evangelization, Dr. Carol Brown, PhD

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Having been a Dominican novice, I still keep my ear tuned to Dominican thought.  The Order that brought you the Inquisition.  Tomas Torquemada, OP, pray for us!  My Jesuit friends will never forgive me/understand. Thank God (& DARPA) for the Internet, no?

Dr. Carole Brown, PhD, is an expert on the thinking of JPII and the New Evangelization.  Dr. Brown, is the eldest of five children and grew up on a cattle ranch in western South Dakota.  Carole has been involved in youth and young adult ministry all her adult life.  She acquired bachelors degrees in communications and education from Black Hills State University in 1994 and earned her Masters Degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1997.  She went on to work at Steubenville for eight years as the Director of Evangelistic Outreach.  In 2004, Carole spent a year on mission with Kerygma Teams in Vienna, Austria.  Kerygma Teams is a branch of Youth with a Mission, an interdenominational missionary outreach team of lay missionaries. Kerygma Teams operate in primarily Catholic areas.  Subsequently, she moved to Ireland, where she completed a PhD in Systematic Theology in 2010.  Her dissertation is entitled “Crossing the Threshold of Faith: Pope John Paul II’s Approach to the Problem of the Conversion of the Baptized.”  She currently lives in Dublin, where she works as the speech content editor for Ireland’s first national Christian radio station, Spirit Radio.

As a catechist for adults, I cannot resist the New Evangelization.  What is the New Evangelization?  It is believed that Blessed John Paul II first used the term in 1983 in an address to Latin American Bishops. He would later bring this term to the attention of the entire Church. Perhaps, the most clear definition of the New Evangelization is in his encyclical, Redemptoris Missio. In section 33 of this encyclical, Blessed John Paul II describes three different situations for evangelization: mission ad gentes, Christian communities, and the new evangelization.

Mission ad gentes: Latin for “to the nations.” This is a situation where “Christ and his Gospel are not known.”

Christian communities: “In these communities the Church carries out her activity and pastoral care.” This is the ongoing evangelization of those “fervent in the faith.”

New Evangelization: So, what is the new evangelization? Blessed John Paul II describes a situation between the first two options “where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case what is needed is a ‘new evangelization’ or a ‘re-evangelization.’”

The new evangelization pertains to a very specific group of people: fallen-away Christians. For most Catholics in the western world, we see the need for this type of evangelization all around us. Everyone knows someone who was once baptized but who no longer practices the faith. Blessed John Paul II wanted the faithful to clearly recognize this problem and then try to solve it.

Pope Benedict has continued the mission of the new evangelization in his pontificate. In 2010, Pope Benedict established The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. In 2012, he declared a Bishops’ Synod to discuss the New Evangelization.

http://www.ewtn.com/new_evangelization/index.htm

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-by Dr. Carole Brown, PhD

“U.S. Marines have a code of honor: no one gets left behind—not even the fallen on the battlefield. They are bound together in brotherhood. Their commitment to this code enables Marines to act with courage and valor. Similarly, as baptized Catholics we form a bond as God’s family and pledge to accompany any child of God through conversion. In a culture hostile to the faith, we must exercise Marine-strength courage to remain vigilant for those who fall away.

How well are we keeping that pledge? Admittedly, too many baptized and confirmed Catholics fall away from the faith without taking hold of the treasure of our faith and its promise of eternal life. They are dying on the battlefield, spiritually speaking. Statistics in this regard are nothing short of alarming, with Catholics experiencing the greatest net loss due to changes in affiliation.[1] An estimated 70% of young Catholics no longer practice their faith by the time they reach adulthood.[2] Do we strategically think about the way in which our “baptismal training” equips people to survive spiritually in a toxic secular culture? Are we praying vigilantly for their return and going in search of them?

One of the reasons that many of our baptized people do not survive with their faith intact is that “basic training” for becoming a disciple—personal conversion to Jesus Christ, personal relationship with him—is a neglected dimension of Catholic formation. Children baptized in infancy come to the parish for catechesis, and we work hard to communicate the content of the faith; but we often fail to put them in touch with—in intimacy with—the person of Jesus Christ, which Pope St John Paul II said is the “definitive aim of catechesis.”[3] In our concern to communicate Christian doctrine effectively, we sometimes overlook the fact that baptized people may not yet know Jesus Christ enough to care about what he taught.

In this article, I will set forth a small offering of some principles and practices by which we can create conditions that favor personal conversion amidst the secular culture. This is less about developing new programs (though this can be helpful) than about applying these principles and practices in ministries that already exist. First, I will set forth a number of principles drawn from the teaching of recent popes, who are the architects of the New Evangelization. These will be followed by four kinds of practice.

Principles of Initial Evangelization
1. The Holy Spirit is the principle agent of evangelization. Foster devotion to him, and promote those means that help people not only to know about him but also to experience his power.

2. The Church exists to help people to find Jesus Christ. Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “The Church wishes to serve this single end: that each person may be able to find Christ, in order that Christ may walk with each person the path of life…”[4] That may seem obvious at first glance, and yet statistics have shown that only 60% of Catholics believe in a personal God.[5] In what ways is the energy of our parish directed to bringing people into contact with God in a personal way? Just because people come to Church does not mean that they have found Christ. Pope Francis has cautioned us about being a self-referential church. The goal is not just to get people in the Church but also to help them to encounter Jesus Christ.

3. Faith in Jesus is both personal AND communal. We have perhaps relied too much on the communal dimension of faith, which becomes increasingly more anemic as the personal aspect is neglected. Personal faith in Jesus Christ does not replace communal faith, but rather enlivens it. By the same token, a community comprised of people who are living in a continual personal relationship with Jesus Christ will be most enriching to the persons who associate themselves with that community. On the other hand, a community comprised primarily of people who do not experience their faith in Jesus Christ in a personal way will tend to be impersonal, lonely, superficial, anonymous—and boring.

4. Converting the culture begins by converting persons. Every movement begins with a slow groundswell. People whose lives have been touched by Jesus Christ tend to recognize that other people need to have this experience too, and look for ways and means to bring people into this experience.[6] This can happen in programs but also, perhaps even more importantly, in the context of interpersonal relationships.

5. Faith needs the support of reason. Many young people today are preparing themselves for careers in engineering, medicine, journalism, and law, requiring strong reasoning skills. Yet many capable young people have never been exposed to such treasures as St Thomas’ Five Proofs of the Existence of God, or CS Lewis’ argument for the divinity of Christ. Leaving them without solid reasons for belief is like sending a Marine into battle without weapons.

6. The power of the sacraments is not automatic but released by the assent of the person. Once they reach the age of reason, people baptized in infancy must be evangelized and brought to a place of personal assent, in order for the sacraments to bear their intended fruit.[7] John Paul II said it well when he wrote, “Conversion means accepting by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ, and becoming his disciple.”[8] Coming under the saving sovereignty of Christ is a lot like falling in love—and this love releases the energy for the moral life[9] and enables us to accept the cross.

Bearing these principles in mind, now let us examine some methods that foster personal conversion.

Ways to Create Conditions that Favor Conversion

1. Conversion begins as a response to the Word of God. In what ways is the Word delivered to people?

Kerygma: The initial proclamation of the Gospel is “the permanent priority of mission” and has a “central and irreplaceable role, since it introduces man ‘into the mystery of the love of God, who invites him to enter into a personal relationship with himself in Christ and opens the way to conversion.’”[10] But many times, the centrality of the initial proclamation is lost on those who are already Catholics by baptism or culture. We must recover it! Do people in our parishes know the content of the core message of the Gospel, the kerygma? Do they know how to build relationships of trust with people, thus earning the right to proclaim it? Can they deliver it effectively in their personal relationships with family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers?

Pope Francis recently summarized the content of the kerygma as follows: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”[11] Do you believe that personally, on more than an intellectual level? Do you know anyone for whom that would be good news? Could you memorize it, and be prepared to proclaim it to the next person who starts complaining to you?

Personal Witness: St. Paul tells us that faith comes through hearing. “The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission.”[12] Often enough, it isn’t so much the words that are said, as the tone with which they are said. If we ask our kids every night whether they’ve said their prayers, and ask it in the same tone of voice that we ask whether they’ve brushed their teeth, finished their homework, or made their beds, then what they hear is: prayer is a task on the to-do list, perhaps even a chore.

My life changed as a teenager, when a friend listened to me complaining about my problems and asked me, “Have you ever prayed about this?” Her tone of voice conveyed a certain eagerness and excitement, and suggested to me that there was a potential source of help that I had not yet discovered. That conversation got the wheels of my mind turning, provoked my curiosity, and sparked my own faith. These kinds of conversations need to take place in every possible context: faith formation settings of course, but also with altar servers in the sacristy, with fellow parishioners at the coffee hour, with our kids’ friends and their parents.

Homily: Does homily preparation have pride of place in the priest’s weekly time commitments? Does he know how to pray with the Word of God, using Lectio Divina, or Ignatian meditation to draw out the personalistic substance of God’s self-revealing word?[13] Do parishioners have the opportunity to learn these methods for prayer?

Fostering Personal Meditation on the Word: Pope Benedict XVI said, “…it is decisive, from the pastoral standpoint, to present the Word of God in its capacity to enter into dialogue with the everyday problems which people face. Jesus himself says that he came that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn. 10:10). Consequently, we need to make every effort to share the Word of God as an openness to our problems, a response to our questions, a broadening of our values and the fulfilment of our aspirations.”[14] Unfortunately, the Bible seems like a “protestant book” to many Catholics. Fostering a personal love for God’s Word is essential to personal conversion. What concrete resources do children, teens, and adults have for accessing the Word of God for prayer and establishing a personal dialogue with him? What daily scriptural meditation materials are available, and what still needs to be done?

2. Conversion involves an experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. In what ways can we foster the expectation for this encounter?

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said it well when he wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon.”[15] What are the practices that prepare the heart for such an encounter?

Witness Testimony: Regular exposure to personal, Christ-centered witness testimony is a profoundly valuable practice in this regard. To encounter someone who has encountered Jesus arouses wonder and curiosity. Good preparation is essential. Besides the value of live testimony, what possibilities exist in various forms of media (video, radio, social networking) to expose people to real people, Catholics whose lives have been changed by Jesus Christ? For the New Evangelization, giving explicit personal witness to Jesus Christ must come to be understood as something Catholics can do.

Meditation: Regular meditation on the Word of God (above) prepares the ground for such an encounter. The Word of God is alive and active and has a way of hitting us between the eyes, if only we pray with it frequently (and not just at Sunday Mass).

Sacramental Encounters: In what ways do our children experience sacramental moments as a personal encounter with Jesus? Particularly in the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation, in what ways can we intentionally foster this sense of a personal encounter with the Lord? Pope John Paul II encouraged us to foster the experience of “Eucharistic ‘amazement.’”[16] My friend asked her young charges which of them had seen the movie Spiderman. She then referred to the fact that Spiderman was really Peter Parker in disguise. Jesus, she explained, also has a disguise—he disguises himself as bread, but it’s actually Jesus. These children were delighted with this discovery and soon began to visit Jesus at church after school. Parents can foster this amazement by attending adoration with their children, or when stopping by the tabernacle together after Mass to leave their prayers with him.

Likewise, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a tremendous encounter “with Christ saying, through the minister of the sacrament of Reconciliation: ‘Your sins are forgiven’; ‘Go, and do not sin again.’…this is also a right on Christ’s part with regard to every human being redeemed by him: his right to meet each one of us in that key moment in the soul’s life constituted by the moment of conversion and forgiveness.”[17]

These two sacraments enable a person to remain in right relationship with God in order to be in communion with him.

Non-Sacramental Encounters: In what non-sacramental ways can we develop the consciousness of living out a personal relationship with the Lord during the rest of the week? For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: “To pray ‘Jesus’ is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him.”[18] Placing ourselves in the presence of Jesus at home, in the car, and at work, is a tremendous antidote to anxiety and loneliness, and profoundly enriches the culmination of our relationship with Jesus in our reception of Holy Communion.

3. Conversion requires an act of explicit, personal self-entrustment to Jesus Christ by faith.

Another word for this is “the act of faith”—not just in terms of reciting the creed but also in terms of entrusting one’s whole life to God. This act of self-entrustment is the engine for catechesis and sacramental practice, the engine for the moral life, the engine for vocations and stewardship. When Catholic catechesis is undesired, when moral teaching is rejected, when Mass is boring, when the experience of the faith community is anonymous, lonely, and superficial; all these are flags that little has been invested in bringing people to a personal act of self-entrustment to the Lord. Witness testimony (above) is valuable because it creates the opportunity for people to share how they did it (or how Christ did it to them), what the circumstances were that occasioned it, and what benefit there would be for others to do likewise.[19] For maturing disciples, witness testimony is especially powerful when it exemplifies the profound intimacy with Jesus that grows out of the shadow of a cross we carry with him.

4. To enable the conversion of children and teens, we must help their parents come to know Jesus Christ, too.

What creative possibilities exist to expose parents to personal witness testimony that is both Christ-centered and Catholic, and put meditation materials in hand that will help them to engage in dialogue with God through his Word? For parents whose children are preparing to receive a sacrament, consider conducting a daylong retreat to help parents come to know Jesus better, to spark their own conversion, and to supply them with concrete resources for growing in discipleship.

Conclusion
This brief survey is directed to the development of conditions that favor the conversion of the baptized, but it only addresses the first stage of discipleship. It is by no means a comprehensive plan. Maturing disciples need a complete catechetical, moral, and liturgical formation. When we attend to the initial stages of personal conversion, we enable people to entrust themselves to Jesus; and the one who entrusts himself to Christ by faith “endeavors to know better this Jesus to whom he has entrusted himself.”[20] Catechetical, moral, and liturgical formation have little hope of being effective if self-entrustment to Jesus Christ has not yet taken place, still less the missionary discipleship that is called for in the New Evangelization.

A personal relationship with Jesus Christ, nurtured by the Word of God and sacramental practice, keeps the baptized well armed and fortified to “support and defend” our faith with those on the battlefield of secular culture. Let us also exercise courage and valor in our commitment to leave no one behind, just like the Marines. Semper fi!”

Love,
Matthew

Notes
[1] US Religious Landscapes Survey, 2008. http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf, 6.

[2] Sherry A. Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Followng Jesus (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2012), 24.

[3] John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae (Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1979), art. 5.

[4] John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, Vatican Translation (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1979), art. 13.

[5] See US Religious Landscapes Survey, 2008, 164.

[6] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1975), art. 20. Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, art. 10.

[7] John Paul II, Ecclesia in Europa (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2004), art. 47. Ecclesia in America (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1999), art. 7.

[8] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, Vatican Translation (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1990), art. 46.

[9] John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993), art. 18.

[10] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, art. 44.

[11] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014), art. 164.

[12] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, art. 42.

[13] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, arts. 135-144.

[14] Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2010), arts. 23-36.

[15] Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, art. 1.

[16] John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 6.

[17] John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, art. 20.

[18] CCC, par. 2666.

[19] CF. John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, arts. 19, 25; Veritatis Splendor, art. 18; Christifideles Laici (Libreria Editrice,1988), art. 27.

[20] John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae, art. 20.

The Seal of the Confessional

http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0059.html
The standard of secrecy protecting a confession outweighs any form of professional confidentiality or secrecy. When a person unburdens his soul and confesses his sins to a priest in the Sacrament of Penance, a very sacred trust is formed. The priest must maintain absolute secrecy about anything that a person confesses. For this reason, confessionals were developed with screens to protect the anonymity of the penitent. This secrecy is called “the sacramental seal,” “the seal of the confessional,” or “the seal of confession.”
The sacramental seal is inviolable. Quoting Canon 983.1 of the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism states, “…It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason” (No. 2490). A priest, therefore, cannot break the seal to save his own life, to protect his good name, to refute a false accusation, to save the life of another, to aid the course of justice (like reporting a crime), or to avert a public calamity. He cannot be compelled by law to disclose a person’s confession or be bound by any oath he takes, e.g. as a witness in a court trial. A priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession either directly, by repeating the substance of what has been said, or indirectly, by some sign, suggestion, or action. A Decree from the Holy Office (Nov. 18, 1682) mandated that confessors are forbidden, even where there would be no revelation direct or indirect, to make any use of the knowledge obtained in the confession that would “displease” the penitent or reveal his identity.
(Just as an aside, a great movie which deals with this very topic is Alfred Hitchcock’s “I Confess,” which deals with a priest who hears a murder confession and then is framed for the murder…
However, a priest may ask the penitent for a release from the sacramental seal to discuss the confession with the person himself or others. For instance, if the penitent wants to discuss the subject matter of a previous confession — a particular sin, fault, temptation, circumstance — in a counseling session or in a conversation with the same priest, that priest will need the permission of the penitent to do so. For instance, especially with the advent of “face-to-face confession,” I have had individuals come up to me and say, “Father, remember that problem I spoke to you about in confession?” I have to say, “Please refresh my memory,” or “Do you give me permission to discuss this with you now?”
Or if a priest needs guidance from a more experienced confessor to deal with a difficult case of conscience, he first must ask the permission of the penitent to discuss the matter. Even in this case, the priest must keep the identity of the person secret.
What happens if a priest violates the seal of confession? The Catechism (No. 1467) cites the Code of Canon Law (No. 1388.1) in addressing this issue, which states, “A confessor who directly violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if he does so only indirectly, he is to be punished in accord with the seriousness of the offense.” From the severity of the punishment, we can clearly see how sacred the sacramental seal of confession is in the eyes of the Church.
Actually, the Church’s position in this matter has long-standing credibility. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) produced one of the first comprehensive teachings concerning the Sacrament of Penance. Addressing various problems ranging from abuses to heretical stands against the sacrament, the council defended the sacrament itself, stipulated the need for the yearly sacramental confession of sins and reception of the Holy Eucharist, and imposed disciplinary measures upon priest confessors. The council decreed, “Let the confessor take absolute care not to betray the sinner through word or sign, or in any other way whatsoever. In case he needs expert advice he may seek it without, however, in any way indicating the person. For we decree that he who presumes to reveal a sin which has been manifested to him in the tribunal of penance is not only to be deposed from the priestly office, but also to be consigned to a closed monastery for perpetual penance.”
A beautiful story (perhaps embellished with time) which captures the reality of this topic is the life of St. John Nepomucene (1340-93), the vicar general to the Archbishop of Prague. King Wenceslaus IV, described as a vicious, young man who easily succumbed to rage and caprice, was highly suspicious of his wife, the Queen. St. John happened to be the Queen’s confessor. Although the king himself was unfaithful, he became increasingly jealous and suspicious of his wife, who was irreproachable in her conduct. Although Wencelaus tortured St. John to force him to reveal the Queen’s confessions, he would not. In the end, St. John was thrown into the River Moldau and drowned on March 20, 1393.
Each priest realizes that he is the ordained mediator of a very sacred and precious sacrament. He knows that in the confessional, the penitent speaks not so much to him, but through him to the Lord. Therefore, humbled by his position, the priest knows that whatever is said in confession must remain secret at all costs.
Another interesting side to this question is the obligation of the laity: An interpreter needed for someone to make a confession or anyone who gains knowledge of a confession (such as overhearing someone’s confession) is also obligated to preserve secrecy (Code of Canon Law, No. 983.2). For such a person to violate the secrecy of another person’s confession is a mortal sin and warrants “a just penalty, not excluding excommunication” (No. 1388.2). A person who falsely accuses a priest of breaking the seal of the confession incurs a mortal sin and perhaps other canonical penalties, including excommunication.
Clearly, the Church regards the seal of confession as sacred. Every person — whether priest or laity — must take the obligation to preserve the secrecy of confession absolutely seriously.
 
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Saunders, Rev. William. “The Seal of the Confessional.” Arlington Catholic Herald.
Reprinted with permission of the Arlington Catholic Herald.
THE AUTHOR
Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria, Virginia. The above article is a “Straight Answers” column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

Nov 7 – Blessed John Duns Scotus, OFM, (1265-1308), Defender of the Immaculate Conception

You may have heard of the Knights Templar in scandal-invecting modern fiction such as The DaVinci Code, et al.  Blessed John was a contemporary and was affected by the intrigues of King Phillip the Fair of France.  We fear, through superstition, whenever the 13th of a month falls on a Friday thanks and due to Phillip’s persecution, unjustified, of the Knights Templar on Friday, October 13, 1307.

His most famous victim, Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, cried out from the flames as he was burning March 18, 1314 about Pope Clement, who had acquiesced to Philip’s avaricious and power-seeking threats and demands, and Philip, who owed the Templars A LOT of money!  Why pay them if you can just kill them and seize their property? The Templar Grand Master cried out from the flames that Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before God:  “Dieu sait qui a tort et a pëché. Il va bientot arriver malheur à ceux qui nous ont condamnés à mort” = “God knows who is wrong and has sinned. Soon a calamity will occur to those who have condemned us to death.”  Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died in a hunting accident before the end of the year.

KingPhilipIV

philippe_iv_le_bel

-King Phillip IV (the Fair = pretty, not just), 1268-1314

Blessed John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan priest and theologian of the 13th century, next to St. Bonaventure, is perhaps the most important and influential theologian in the history of the Franciscan Order. He was the founder of the Scotistic School in Theology, and until the time of the French Revolution his thought dominated the Roman Catholic faculties of theology in nearly all the major universities of Europe. He is chiefly known for his theology on the Absolute Kingship of Jesus Christ, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his philosophic refutation of the evolution of morality.  The doctrines for which he is best known are the “univocity of being,” that existence is the most abstract concept we have, applicable to everything that exists; the formal distinction, a way of distinguishing between different aspects of the same thing; and the idea of haecceity, the property supposed to be in each individual thing that makes it an individual. Scotus also developed a complex argument for the existence of God.

Bl. John Duns Scotus was born in Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland, around 1265. He was immediately baptized after birth and was named after St. John the Evangelist. He received a solid Christian formation from home and from the parish priest. He frequented the Cistercian Abbey of Melrose for his catechism lessons. There, he absorbed the ardent love for the Mother of God which St. Bernard had left as a patrimony to the Cistercians.

As a little boy, Bl. John suffered very much from the obtuseness of his intellect. He wanted to read, to write and to study the profundity of the truths of the Faith, but his mind just could not manage to learn or understand anything. By means of with prayers and sighs, he had recourse to Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, asking her to heal his dullness so that he could advance in his studies. Mary appeared to him and granted his request. Going back to school, the “pea-brained” could only astonish his classmates and teachers. Bl. John resolved to make use of the heavenly gift of sublime intelligence, above all, to glorify the sweet and glorious Virgin Mary, treasurer of every good.

In Roman Catholicism, the epithet (in its positive sense, as in a title) “the Seat of Wisdom” or “Throne of Wisdom” (Sedes Sapientiae) is identified with one of many devotional titles for the Mother of God. In ancient times, authority “sat” and everyone else stood.  That is why thrones were important.  The only one(s) who sat were the most important ones in the room.  We still carry this concept in our language as in “chairman”.  In church or in Roman court, the judge sat, i.e. “all rise!”, and celebrants in church sat, parishioners stood.  Universal pews in church are a recent Protestant invention.  Thank you!  You can still see evidence of this in the great cathedrals of Europe where impermanent wooden benches occupy the space previously for the standing congregation.

The phrase, “Seat of Wisdom”, which was characterized in the 11th and 12th centuries, by St Peter Damian and Guibert de Nogent as likening Mary to the Throne of Solomon, refers to her status as a vessel of the Incarnation, carrying the Holy Child. As the phrase associates the Blessed Virgin with glory and with teaching, Madonna-images in this tradition are especially popular in Catholic imagery.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom

In Christian iconography, Sedes Sapientiae (“The Throne of Wisdom”) is an icon of the Mother of God in majesty. When the Virgin is depicted in sedes sapientiae icons and sculptural representations, she is seated on a throne, with the Christ Child on her lap.  This type of madonna-image, appeared in a wide range of sculptural and, later, painted images in Western Europe, especially about 1200.

In these representations, some structural elements of the throne invariably appear, even if only handholds and front legs. For hieratic purposes, the Virgin’s feet often rest on a low stool. Later, Gothic sculptures of the type are more explicitly identifiable with the Throne of Solomon, where:  “…two lions stood, one at each hand. And twelve little lions stood upon the six steps on the one side and on the other.” (I Kings 10: 18–20, repeated at II Chronicles 9: 17–19)  The Sedes Sapientiae icon also appeared in illuminated manuscripts, and Romanesque frescoes and mosaics, and was represented on seals.

Presbyter_Martinus_Madonna_als_Sedes_Sapientiae

-Madonna as Seat of Wisdom, January, 1199, poplar wood, from the Camaldolese abbey in Borgo San Sepolcro near Arezzo, Italy.  The inscription reads, in part, “On the mother’s bosom shines the wisdom of the Father.”

At the age of 15, Bl. John entered the novititate of the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans) at Dumfries, in the Kingdom of Scotland. There he made praiseworthy progress day by day in piety and in seraphic virtue. After a year he consecrated himself to God by the religious profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He was then sent for his studies in various theological schools of the Order. He was ordained a priest by Msgr. Oliver Sutton, Bishop of Lincoln, England, on March 17, 1291, at the church of St. Andrew of the Monks of Cluny. After his ordination, he began a series of travels between England and France to pursue advanced philosophical and theological studies.

The Blessed Virgin Appears to Bl. John

During the night of Christmas, 1299 at the Oxford Convent, Bl. John, immersed in his contemplation of the adorable mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, was rapt in ecstasy. The Blessed Mother appeared to him and placed on his arms the Child Jesus who kissed and embraced him fondly. This was perhaps the occasion which inspired Bl. John to write so profoundly and fluently on the absolute primacy of Christ and the reason for the Incarnation. Christ’s Incarnation, which is decreed from all eternity even apart from the Redemption, is the supreme created manifestation of God’s love.

Bl. John at the University of Oxford, England

Duns_Scotus_plaque_University_Church_Oxford

-plaque, University Church, Oxford University, honoring Bl John Duns Scotus, OFM

After about four years of teaching at Oxford and Cambridge, at the end of 1301, Bl. John returned to Paris. He was granted his bachelor’s degree in theology. Later, on the vigil of receiving his doctorate, he had to leave France suddenly, to return to England. Philip, the Fair, in a disgraceful quarrel with Pope Boniface VIII demanded all clerics, nobles religious, bishops and the University of Paris to appeal to the Council against the Pope. Bl. John Duns Scotus, among the few members of the faculty, refused to accede to the wishes of the King, who wanted to tax the Church to finance his war with England, and chose the way of exile, sometime between the 25th and 28th of June 1308.

After a year, the situation abated and Bl. John was back again at the University of Paris where he received the doctorate in theology and thus inaugurated his official professorship which was to lead him to singular glory among the great medieval scholastics. Soon the fame of his genius and learning spread abroad and students came in great numbers to attend the lectures of the new master. On account of his habit of making refined distinctions during theologic argumentation, the title “Subtle Doctor”(Doctor Subtilis) was conferred on him by his contemporaries.

Rodulphus wrote of him: “There was nothing so recondite, nothing so abstruse that his keen mind could not fathom and clarify; nothing so knotty, that he like another Oedupus, could not unravel, nothing so fraught with difficulty or enveloped in darkness that his genius could not expound.” Another author wrote: “He described the Divine Nature as if he had seen God; the celestial spirits as if he had been an angel; the happiness of the future state as if he had enjoyed them; and the ways of Providence as if he had penetrated into its secrets.”

Bl. John’s Defense of the Immaculate Conception

It was also in Paris that Bl. John came to be called as the “Marian Doctor” after he championed the privilege of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. In England, Bl. John taught the truth of this Marian privilege without any opposition. But at Paris the situation was reversed. The academic body of the University admitted only the purification of Mary in the womb of Her mother St. Anne, like St. John the Baptist.

Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Parisian Masters, were not able to solve the problem of the universality of original sin and of the efficacy of Christ’s Redemption. They thought that even the Blessed Virgin Mary was included in this universality, and therefore subject to contract the original stain even if only for an instant, so that she may also be redeemed.

Scotus in his attempt to introduce and teach a theological position different from that upheld by the university, had to appear in a public dispute before the whole academic body, at the risk of expulsion from the university if he failed to defend his doctrine. Bl. John Scotus prepared himself for the event in prayer and recollection and in total confidence to the Immaculate Virgin, the Seat of Wisdom.

When the fixed day of the dispute arrived, on leaving the convent, he passed before a statue of Our Lady as we might pass before the photo of a loved one and recall them to mind, and with suppliant voice entreated her: “Allow me to praise You, O Most Holy Virgin; give me strength against your enemies.” Our Lady responded with a prodigious visible sign: the head of the statue moved and bowed slightly before him. It was as if to say: “Yes I will give you all the strength you need.”

Two Papal legates presided over the dispute. Then with powerful dialectic and with deep and subtle reasoning, Bl. Scotus refuted all the objections of the learned men in attendance, undermining the foundation of every argument contrary to Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Bl. John Scotus pointed out: “The Perfect Redeemer, must in some case, have done the work of redemption most perfectly, which would not be, unless there is some person, at least, in whose regard, the wrath of God was anticipated and not merely appeased.” Bl. John triumphed. From that day the University of Paris took up the same cause to defend this privilege of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The following hymn is a Christian hymn from the 4th century AD.  It is one of the five antiphons for the psalms of Second Vespers for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec 8, nine months before the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, or the day Mary’s birthday is celebrated in the Church, Sep 8.  It takes some text from the deutero-canonical book of Judith, and other text from Song of Songs (Solomon), specifically 4:7.

Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu laetitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Tota pulchra es, Maria.

You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
Your clothing is white as snow, and your face is like the sun.
You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you give honor to our people.
You are all beautiful, Mary.

Bl. John’s Death and Beatification

Bl. John Duns Scotus had to leave the university at Paris one more time, partly for some political reasons and partly because some doubts had been cast on his theology by opponents. The Franciscan Minister General sent Scotus to Cologne, Germany, where he lectured for some time in the Franciscan house of studies until his untimely death on 8th November, 1308, barely 43 years of age. He was called “blessed” almost immediately after his death.

Bl John Duns Scotus is buried in the Church of the Franciscans in Cologne, Germany. His sarcophagus bears the Latin inscription: “Scotia me genuit. Anglia me suscepit. Gallia me docuit. Colonia me tenet. = “Scotland brought me forth. England sustained me. France taught me. Cologne holds me.”  According to an old tradition, Scotus was believed eventually to have been buried alive following his lapse into a coma, a common hazard until modern times, i.e. Edgar Allen Poe.

Through the centuries his tomb has been visited by large numbers of the faithful and public veneration has been offered to him in the dioceses of Edinburgh, Scotland, Nola, Italy, and Cologne, Germany, as well as throughout the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans).

The Dunce Cap

dunce_cap

The word “dunce” comes from the name of John Duns Scotus, a Scholastic, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism ,whose followers were called “duns” or “dunsmen”. Duns Scotus wrote treatises on grammar, logic, and metaphysics which were widely used as textbooks in the medieval British universities. As the English Renaissance began and the new learning superseded Duns Scotus’ theories, his adherents remained loyal. The word “dunce” then began to be used by humanists to ridicule the Scholastics, gradually acquiring its modern meaning.

Frequently the ‘dunce’ was made to stand in the corner (I remember having to do this, sans the cap), facing the wall as the result of some bad behavior, usually rudeness or mean threatening actions. Depending on the teacher, they might have to stand for as long as half an hour and throwers of spitballs or pulling on a girl’s hair (Heaven!:)  could prompt the measure.   Class clowns were frequently admonished with the dunce cap.  Who?  Me?  C’est moi.

Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception & Beatification of John Duns Scotus

In 1854, Pope Pius IX solemnly declared that the Marian doctrine of Bl. John , was a correct expression of the faith of the Apostles: “at the first moment of Her conception, Mary was preserved free from the stain of original sin, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ.”  The seal of the Church’s approval was also placed on Bl. John’s doctrine on the universal primacy of Christ when the feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925. On March 20, 1992 Bl. John Duns Scotus was beatified by Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Bl. John Duns Scotus, “The minstrel of the Word Incarnate” and “Defender of Mary’s Immaculate Conception” is presented by Pope John Paul II to our age “wealthy of human, scientific and technological resources, but in which many have lost the sense of faith and lead lives distant from Christ and His Gospel,” as “a Teacher of thought and life.” For the Church, Bl John is “an example of fidelity to the revealed truth, of effective, priestly, and serious dialogue in search for unity.” It was also the Holy Father’s hope that “Bl John’s spirit and memory enlighten with the very light of Christ the trials and hope of our society.”

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-Bl John Duns Scotus

Intercession of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, is often wisely sought out by students.  You know of my particular sympathy/affection for students, especially the ones who have to work a little, or a lot, harder for satisfactory results.  God does work miracles!  Deo gratias!  It’s a miracle! (With a little help from humane professors!)

Prayer of Students to Mary, Seat of Wisdom

Under your patronage, dear Mother, and calling on the mystery of your Immaculate Conception, I desire to pursue my studies and my literary works: I hereby solemnly declare that I am giving myself to these studies chiefly with the following goal: that I may the better contribute to the glory of God and to the promotion of your veneration among men. I ask you, therefore, most loving Mother, who are the Seat of Wisdom, to bless my work in your loving-kindness. I also promise with true affection and a willing spirit, as it is right that I should do, to ascribe all the good that shall come to me from my studies, wholly to your intercession for me in God’s holy presence.

Amen.

Consecration of Students to Mary, Seat of Wisdom

O Mary, Seat of Wisdom, so many persons of common intellect have made, through your intercession, admirable progress in their studies.
I hereby choose you as guardian and patron of my studies. I humbly ask you to obtain for me the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that from now on I could understand more quickly, retain more readily, and express myself more fluently.  May the example of my life serve to honor you and your Son, Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving for the wisdom Blessed John Duns Scotus

Heavenly Father, you filled Bl. John Duns Scotus with wisdom, and through his life and teaching gave us a witness of Your Incarnate love. May we come to understand more deeply what he taught so that we may live in ever growing charity.  Amen.

Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed John Duns Scotus

O Most High, Almightily and gracious Lord, Who exalts the humble and confounds the proud of heart, grant us the great joy of seeing Blessed John Duns Scotus canonized. He honored Your Son with the most sublime praises; he was the first to successfully defend the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary; he lived in heroic obedience to the Holy Father, to the Church and to the Seraphic Order. O most holy Father, God of Infinite Love, hear, we beseech You, our humble prayer, thorough the merits of Your Only-Begotten Son and His Mother, the Gate of Heaven, Seat of Wisdom, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“The learned will shine like the brilliance of the firmament,
and those who train many in the way of justice
will sparkle like the stars for all eternity.”
-Daniel 12:3

Love,
Matthew

Affascinato – fascinated with the person of Jesus Christ

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On Friday, November 4, 2011, the Holy Father celebrated Vespers in a very full St. Peter’s Basilica to open the new academic year for all of the Pontifical Universities in Rome. Vespers was celebrated on the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of seminary studies. Although the Pontifical Universities are attended by seminaries, religious, and the lay faithful, the Pope chose to address his comments particularly to the spiritual and academic formation of priests.

In his homily, the Pope spoke especially on the conditions necessary for a priest to be fruitful in his ministry to shepherd the community. The Pope underlined three factors that aid a priest’s ability to grow in accord with Christ in his own priestly life.  First, he must encounter the Lord Jesus, he must be struck by the very person of Christ, his words and actions. The priest must be “affascinato”–fascinated with–the person of Christ.  In this way, he is capable of hearing Jesus’ voice above all of the voices of the world. The priest is called to be the instrument of Christ’s presence into his own time, but he can do so only by that intimate relation with Jesus Christ that is friendship.

Second, priests are called to be “amministratori dei Misteri di Dio”–administrators of the mysteries of God, not for themselves alone but for the people of God. Just as the priest himself is chosen by God in the sacrament of Ordination, so he must choose daily to give himself over to the love of God and of neighbor. To be a priest is to follow in the complete self-gift of the love of Christ expressed on the cross, remembering that growth in ministry is characterized not by success but by the cross.

Finally, the logic of the foregoing means that what it means to be a priest is to serve, especially in the example of one’s own life. This life of service is shown especially in the priest’s careful attention to his flock, his faithful celebration of the liturgy, and his ready solicitude for all his brethren, especially the poor.  It is in living a life of “carità pastorale”–pastoral charity–that the priest truly lives his vocation.

Thank You, tremendously!  And, God Bless You in all you do and the lives you have given for the Lord and His People!  Your reward will be GREAT in Heaven!

Love,
Matthew