“There is nothing else in the world that could bring together young people from Africa, from the Americas, from Europe, from Asia and from the greatest continent of all, Australia, nothing else. The Olympics brings them to the same place but at the Olympics, these Aussies and Americans in the sanctuary at the moment would be fighting each other for medals. Here, we’re all on the same team. We’re all on Jesus Christ’s team. Hold on to that thought in the days ahead. Nothing else can bring the world together like Jesus Christ can bring the world together.
As you just heard, I was coordinator of the last World Youth Day held in Sydney, Australia in 2008. Thousands of young people say that they encountered God very personally there. Faith and idealism was deepened. That it was the best week of their lives so far. And amidst the massive crowds that had to be gathered and transported and fed and accommodated and toileted and the rest – and I had to learn about all those things – amidst the complexity of those huge events, there were so many individual personal stories about God and me. Let me tell you just a few.
Philip, a young atheist from New Zealand was persuaded by his mother to come to World Youth Day. He told a young nun, “You have this life, this flame about you. You’re so full of joy and I want that for myself.” It was the beginning of a profound conversion for him. Two other sisters told me how they met some young people in the street from communist China. They were in Sydney for university not for World Youth Day. They knew practically nothing about Christianity. But the sisters talked them into coming to the opening mass with them and they gave them a crash catechism course along the way. By the time of the consecration at the mass, these Chinese young people were crying. They had got it.
The visiting bishop from Canada – and we see those wonderful maple flags over there – wrote about the number of ordinary Australians that he met on the street, the railway or in pubs. I don’t know how many pubs that bishop visited. Canadians do have a name for it. And he wrote, “For not people of faith, these people I met were filled with wonder and curiosity and joy at how well the young people behaved and their enthusiasm for Jesus Christ. A few of them said it really raised deep questions for them for they knew they would have to reflect upon once World Youth Day was over. This is a great working of the Holy Spirit” he said. It raised deep questions for them.
From very early, young children ask questions. What is it? Is it me or not me? What does it taste like? How do I manipulate it? Why Mommy, why Daddy? Why universe?
At first, babies think they are the universe or that the whole purpose of the universe is to satisfy their wants. In due course, they discover rivals for the attention of the universe like their brothers and sisters – if they’re lucky enough to have them – and the complexity of negotiating with these rivals.
As they become increasingly reflective, children discover not only that the universe is not them and not even for them, but that the universe doesn’t need them. They don’t even have to exist. They come to understand that there was a time when they didn’t exist, that they were brought into existence and constantly sustained by others. And that their continued existence is rather tenuous. Eventually, as I said, they learn that the universe too comes and goes, depends each part on other parts for its beginning and its existence.
This is natural science, the study of the what and how of things which we learn at school or by reading or by our own exploring. But behind those explorations, there’s a deeper awe before the mystery of existence itself. And those deep questions that even guys in pubs starting asking themselves when they see World Youth Day happening.
Why is there anything at all rather than nothing at all? Does the universe have to exist? How can that be given its comings and goings, its causes and effects, its wholes and its parts? Is there something necessary that grounds our unnecessary world? Is there something unchanging that sustains our changing world? I know I don’t have to be. I know you don’t have to be.
There was a time when I didn’t exist and a time will come when I’ll be dead. In the meantime, why this me and this universe? What am I for? Is there more for me when this life is over? Does that something, that someone behind the universe care about me, have a plan for me? Our deep wonder and awe at the beauty, the complexity, the resilience, the vulnerability of the universe and of ourselves is the beginning of the adventure of science but also of the adventure of religion.
Science helps explain the what and the how of things but not the ultimate why. Our inner child keeps asking, “But Daddy, why?” We’re left wondering not just how the world is but that the world is.
As a physicist, Stephen Hawking, once remarked, “What is it that breathes fire into these equations and makes there a world for them to describe? Wise men and women through the ages have concluded that there are only two possible answers. Either there is not reason, it just is, the way it is but there’s no ultimate cause, no ultimate sense to make of it all. Or there is some cause and sustainer of things, of all life and being and meaning. Some necessary being that gives the world its existence and sustains it without which or whom the world would not exist.
Some things are mysteries. I don’t mean theological Sudoku puzzles that are hard to solve. I don’t mean gobblety-gook that no one can understand. By mysteries I mean things that are so profound yet intelligible that we can explore them and learn about them and come to understand them more and more and more and still never exhaust them.
Take the mystery of evil especially of innocent suffering. Or the sometimes more stunning mystery of good, such as the hard loving that some people do in the face of exhaustion, in gratitude or persecution. Or the mystery of human life that parents experience when awe struck at the baby that came from them and yet they’re sure can’t just have come from them; or the mystery of a spider’s web or the Milky Way or our own minds or hearts or so much else in the natural world.
It’s not just big or small or intricate or simple but truly wonderful, full of wonders. All these things we can explore from different perspectives. Natural science, social science, the arts, the trades but still there is more to know. God is the first and greatest mystery and before Him we gape uncomprehending, God.
Our minds glimpse but never fully comprehend the mystery of God. We see and know things God has made and can point to Him as the source of being – creativity, life, knowledge, love. For this is very partial because for every similarity between the creature and the creator, there are big differences, too. That’s why the postures of the ancients towards God was to bow or kneel, to cover their eyes. God is transcendent and He is tremendous. That is, God is something that makes us tremble with terror and delight. To have faith in God is not to identify and comprehend yet one more object in the universe. God is not a thing. To know God is not to know something like our dad, writ large, or a kryptonite immune Superman or a kind of super computer with Wikipedia on it only more reliable. No, God is not in or of our universe.
But to believe in God is to believe the whole universe has a source and direction and meaning. It’s to ask the big questions and to be ready for some unexpected answers.
Now it’s risky saying God is not a creature but the source of creatures. That God is not a thing, but the reason for things. That God is the big “B” being behind all beings. It’s risky saying that because it can make God sound rather remote and hypothetical like a math theorem or an alien got the universe going and then zipped away into hyper-space.
But to believe firmly in God is to believe there is a meaning to the universe, a meaning that includes not only the big bang and the laws of nature but each individual human being and every life, our lives, every day. It’s to believe that there is a beauty, a wisdom, a guiding hand, a universal law, an ultimate Truth, a Purpose behind the story of everything. To grasp and hold on to this big idea, to have it planted firmly in our hearts is called faith.
There are three more things about faith that I’d like to say and I’ll say them much more quickly, because it’s hot. Hot because of the Holy Spirit whose Mass we’ll celebrate later. Hot because the Holy Spirit is breathing into and out of every one of you, and you’re hot; not just temperature-wise but hot with God. So, three more quick things about faith.
I’ve said that faith is the ability to grasp and hold on to. That big idea to have that planted firmly in our hearts; the big idea that there is a Beauty, a Wisdom, a guiding hand, a universal law, an ultimate Truth, a Purpose behind everything including me. But my three more thoughts are first that the awe at the heart of faith, at the beauty and truth and goodness of things, at the inexhaustible mystery of things, at the impossibility of ever grasping the awesomeness of things is something worth exploring all the way to the grave and beyond.
It’s not just little kids who ask, “Why Mommy, why Daddy? What’s that?” We are all at heart explorers. And at your age, there’s a very special kind of exploring to be done, exploring the big questions of the universe of God and of me, exploring the big question about what I’m for, what I will do with my life.
Secondly, that beauty and truth and goodness that we grasp for all our limitations is something we can come to know something of and know with certainty. Appreciate with wisdom and live with passion.
And thirdly, that sort of seeking and finding requires commitment. Be awake to all dangers says Saint Paul. Stay firm in your faith. Be brave and strong to everything in love. That’s brave faith, adult faith. After saying this, “what can we add” says Paul. “With God on our side, who can be against us?” Sadly, some people never grow up spiritually. They may be very knowledgeable and sophisticated in their particular profession or art or science. Yet on the level of faith they remain five-year-olds. They never go on pilgrimage beyond their own little world that they know. They never read or study or reflect on the big questions as adults. They leave their faith stunted at the level of Santa Claus, a vague memory or sentiment from their childhood.
And then as young adults, unable to reconcile this new adult knowledge and experience with the childish faith, they either live with a kind of split personality, religious children on Sundays and sophisticated adults every other day or else they throw away their childhood religion and think themselves very sophisticated and grown up because they don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore. They call themselves, then, agnostic or atheist which sounds more adult.
But that, frankly, is intellectual and spiritual laziness. “Brothers and sisters,” says Saint Paul, “Don’t be childish in your outlook. Grow up in Christ.” If people are going to abandon their Catholic faith as adults they should at least know what or who they are abandoning understood in an adult way.
Tomorrow’s catechesis is going to focus on that question, the Who question. Faith is all very well but faith in what, in Whom? Tomorrow we’ll consider what the encounter with Jesus Christ does for our outlook and identity. To say my Lord and my God is to change everything, deepen everything, find a new joy in everything.
And so on Friday, we’ll consider what it means for who and what we are in the world and for the world.
But let me conclude today’s talk with one last thought. The world needs you to ask the big questions and not be satisfied with the glib answers. Secularism with is amnesia about God is pushing faith and mystery to the margins. Sells you short by saying your questions are meaningless or too hard or to profitable and that you should be satisfied with just accumulating wealth and gadgets or with the physical and emotional roller coaster ride of endless experiences and partners but with no firm faith for commitments, no self sacrifice, no possibility of transcendence.
Secularism sells you short because by God’s grace you really are capable of so much more than this. You have the power and passion within you to do great things. That power and passion is faith and humanity in which God and humanity are revealed in all their possibilities.
Secularism sells you short because without reference to God, without relationship with Him, we quickly lose sense with our own dignity and purpose. But if I can declare that I believe in God who creates and sustains this wonderful world visible and invisible, that I believe in his communication to me through the natural world and my own reason informed by faith and by the scriptures and by the sacraments. That I believe in Jesus Christ is the word for my mind and in the Holy Spirit, who is inspiration for my heart. If I can say I believe, then my life is built on rock, firm and secure.
If I can say I believe these things, then I must say also we believe. We, that church that is big enough for all the world. The only thing big enough for all the world drawn together by Jesus Christ, I believe. In my diocese, we have a movement called Theology On Tap. It’s only one of about 80 active youth groups and movements that we have.
A group of us go to a local pub each month to discuss a theological topic, so it’s not just Canadian bishops that can be found in pubs. We get a good speaker and a good topic and have plenty of discussion. Five, six, sometimes seven hundred young people join us there at the pub. They’re ordinary, exuberant, diverse young people. They come from every cultural background like a mini World Youth Day.
They’re not religious fanatics, just young people with hearts and heads big enough to wonder, believe and commit. It’s great fun and great support for young people to be surrounded by other young people asking the same big questions as them who believe the things they do, who can encourage and strengthen them. And with whom they can have a good time.
The church and the world right now needs young people with those sorts of questions and answers. Firm in faith, firm in the faith not lazy about it or angry about it, not against things so much as for things, not against anyone but for someone in particular, for Jesus Christ. And because of that, for every other human person from Africa and Asia and the Americas and Europe and Australia.
I believe, we believe, the Church needs you. Thank you.”
Veni Creator Spiritus
– as sung at the opening of the recent conclave to elect our new Holy Father, Francis.
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav’nly aid,
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made.
O Comforter, to Thee we cry,
Thou heav’nly gift of God most high,
Thou Fount of life, and Fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.
O Finger of the hand divine,
the sevenfold gifts of grace are thine;
true promise of the Father thou,
who dost the tongue with power endow.
Thy light to every sense impart,
and shed thy love in every heart;
thine own unfailing might supply
to strengthen our infirmity.
Drive far away our ghostly foe,
and thine abiding peace bestow;
if thou be our preventing Guide,
no evil can our steps betide.
Praise we the Father and the Son
and Holy Spirit with them One;
and may the Son on us bestow
the gifts that from the Spirit flow.
There was something eerie in the air as the tumbrils passed through the streets of Paris that led to Place du Trône Renversé. It was, in fact, too eerie that the normally noisy and violent crowd was “in a respectful silence such as has never been accorded throughout the Revolution.” No rotten fruit was pelted and no clamorous insult was raised on the condemned women and men. That evening one only heard the ethereal chanting of sixteen Discalced Carmelite nuns on their way to death.
These women could hardly be recognized as nuns. Wrapped in their white mantles, they did not, however, wear their veils. Their wimples had been cut away, exposing their necks to facilitate the truculent job of the guillotine’s blade.
At around eight in the evening, after a ride of two hours, the tumbrils finally arrived at the place of execution. A horrid stench of rotting flesh from the common graves in nearby Picpus and of putrifying blood beneath the scaffold greeted them. The crowd remained reverently silent. The Carmelites have finally come face to face with the dreaded guillotine. Led by their courageous prioress, Mo. Thérèse of St. Augustine, they sang the Te Deum: “You are God: we praise You; You are the Lord: we acclaim You; You are the eternal Father: all creation worships You…. The glorious company of apostles praises You. The noble fellowship of prophets praises You. The white-robed army of martyrs praises You…
Mother Thérèse of St. Augustine (Marie-Madeleine-Claudine Lidoine; b. 22 September 1752 in Paris), a woman “so loved by God,” was serving her second term as prioress when the Revolution struck. Her correspondences reveal a woman of great human and supernatural qualities.
Mother St. Louis (Marie-Anne-Françoise Brideau; b. 07 December 1751 in Belfort), the sub-prioress, was given to silence and gentleness. She celebrated the divine office with admirable remembrance and exactitude.
Mother Henriette of Jesus (Marie-Françoise de Croissy;b. 18 June 1745 in Paris), the novice mistress, was the predecessor of Mother Thérèse. She “made herself esteemed for the qualitites of her heart, her tender piety, zeal, the happy combination of every religious virtue.”
Sr. Charlotte of the Resurrection (Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret;b. 16 September 1715 in Mouy, Oise), the most senior member of the community, possessed a lively temperament. Fond of frequenting balls in her youth, she entered Carmel “after a tragic event.”She served as infirmarian to the point of developing a spinal column deformation that she endured until death.
Sr. of Jesus Crucified (Marie-Anne Piedcourt; b. 09 December 1715 in Paris) was younger than Sr. Charlotte by a few months but was senior to her by profession. She occupied the office of sacristan for many years.Speaking about their persecutors, she said: “How can we be angry with them when they open the gates of heaven for us?”
Sr. Thérèse of the Heart of Mary (Marie Hanisset; b. 18 January 1742 in Reims), first sister of the turn and third bursar, was endowed with wisdom, prudence and discernment.
Sr. Thérèse of St. Ignatius (Marie-Gabrielle Trezel; b. 04 April 1743 in Compiègne), the “hidden treasure” of the community, was undoubtedly a mystic. Asked why she never brought a book for meditation, she replied: “The good God has found me so ignorant that none but He would be able to instruct me.”
Sr. Julie-Louise of Jesus (Rose Cretien de Neuville; b. 30 December 1741 in Evreux) entered Carmel as a widow. She dreaded the guillotine but she chose to stay with her sisters.
Sr. Marie-Henriette of Providence (Marie-Annette Pelras; b. 16 June 1760 in Cajarc, Lot), the assitant infirmarian, first entered the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction of Nevers but left it for the more secluded Carmelite life. Youngest among the choir nuns, she possessed a most exquisite beauty.
Sr. Euphrasie of the Immaculate Conception (Marie-Claude-Cyprienne Brard; b. 12 May 1736 in Bourth, Eure),the “philosopher” and “joie de vivre of the recreation,”admitted that she was filled for some time with resentment against her prioress. She worked very hard on herself that in the end she was able to overcome her negative disposition.
Along with these ten choir nuns were three lay sisters. Sr. Marie of the Holy Spirit (Angélique Roussel; b. 03 August 1742 at Fresne-Mazancourt, Somme) was afflicted by atrocious pains throughout her body, which she heroically bore up until her death. Sr. St. Martha (Marie Dufour, b 02 October 1741 at Bannes, Sarthe) edified her companions with her virtues. Sr. St. Francis Xavier (Elisabeth-Juliette Vérolot; b. 13 January 1764 at Lignières, Aube) was frank, lively, and full of goodness.
The youngest member of the community was Sr. Constance(Marie-Geneviève Meunier; b. 28 May 1765 at Saint Denis, Seine)Circumstances forced her to remain as a novice for seven years. Her parents wanted her to return home and even sent the police for this purpose. Sr. Constance told them: “Gentlemen, I thank my parents if, out of love, they fear the danger that may befall me. Yet nothing except death can separate me from my mothers and sisters.”
The two tourières were blood sisters. Anne-Catherine Soiron (b. 02 February 1742 in Compiègne)tearfully begged the prioress not to let her and her sister be separated from the community during those crucial hours. Thérèse Soiron,(b. 23 January 1748 in Compiègne) possessed such a rare beauty and charming personality that the ill-fated Princess de Lamballe wanted her to be attached to her court. She responded: “Madame, even if your Highness would offer me the crown of France, I would prefer to remain in this house, where the good God placed me and where I found the means of salvation which I would not find in the house of your Highness.”
On 12 July 1790, the National Assembly implemented the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Among its articles was a provision for the suppression of the monastic orders and the liberation of monks and nuns who would choose to renounce their vows. On 15 August, the members of the Directory of the Compiègne district came to the monastery to interrogate each nun and offer her liberty.
The unanimous reply of the religious was to remain and keep their vows. Some of the nuns made their declarations more vivid:
“For fifty-six years I have been a Carmelite. I desire to have the same number of years more to be consecrated to the Lord.” (Sr. of Jesus Crucified)
“I became a religious by my own will. I have made up my mind to go on wearing this habit, even if I have to purchase this joy with my own blood.” (Sr. Euphrasie)
“A good spouse desires to remain with her husband. I do not wish to abandon my spouse.” (Sr. Saint Francis Xavier)
“If I will be able to double the bonds of my attachment to God, then, with all my strength and zeal, I will do so.” (Sr. Thérèse of the Heart of Mary)
Another provision of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy required priests and religious to take a loyalty oath that required them “to be faithful to the nation, the law and the king; and to maintain the constitution with all their power.” What the ambiguous statement meant was that they were to give the revolutionary government the right to control and democratize the Church in complete disregard of Papal jurisdiction. Pope Pius VI issued on 10 March 1791 a condemnation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and forbade the clergy to take it. A schism was inevitable. The clergy was split between the “juring” (those who took the oath) and “non-juring” bishops and priests.
Two weeks after Easter of 1792, the guillotine was installed in Paris. Everyone was talking about it, even in the Carmel of Compiègne, and everyone feared it. In September, around 1,400 “enemies of the Republic” were killed during the infamous September Massacre; among them were hundreds of non-juring priests.
A belief that they would all be called to martyrdom someday prevailed in the community. Between June and September of that year, Mo. Thérèse proposed that the community offer their lives to God with an act of oblation “in order that the divine peace which Christ has brought to the world may be restored to the Church and to the State.” All promised to unite themselves to it, except for Sr. of Jesus Crucified and Sr. Charlotte of the Resurrection, the two most senior nuns. Trembling and fearful that they would end more than fifty years of peaceful life in Carmel with a bloody death, both withdrew from the community. Before the day ended, however, they prostrated themselves before the prioress and tearfully asked forgiveness for their momentary weakness. All the nuns renewed the act until the very day of their death.
The Final Choir
The journey was long… but the air was permeated by their solemn chants of the sixteen, hands tied behind their backs, singing as they did in choir: “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion, blot out my offense…. Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy….”
The guillotine had been standing for more than a month already at the Barrière du Trône. Upon arriving there, Sr. Constance suddenly accused herself before Mother Thérèse of not having finished her divine office. The prioress, told her: “Be strong, daughter.You will finish it in Paradise!”
At the foot of the scaffold, the prioress asked the executioner if she might die last so that she could encourage and support her sisters. She also asked for a few minutes to prepare them. This time her requests were granted. They sang once more, invoking the Holy Spirit: “Creator Spirit, come….” Afterward, they all renewed their religious vows.
One by one, from the youngest to the oldest, the nuns were called.
“Citizeness Marie Geneviève Meunier!”
Summoned by her real name, the youngest, Sr. Constance, knelt before Mother Thérèse and asked for her blessing and the permission to die.
Sr. Constance mounted the scaffold singing the psalm the nuns chanted daily to announce their coming into the house of God: “O praise the Lord, all you nations…”
Her sisters followed: “…acclaim Him, all you peoples! Strong is His love for us; He is faithful for ever.”
All the sisters followed the example of the youngest, asking their superior’s blessing and permission to die. They each went to their death joining the song of those waiting for their turn.While the blade of the guillotine snuffed their lives one by one, the chorus progressed into a decrescendo. As she ascended the scaffold, Sr. of Jesus Crucified was assisted by the assistants of the executioner.“My friends,” she told them, “I forgive you with all my heart, as I desire forgiveness from God.”
Finally, only one voice was left.
“Citizeness Marie Madeleine Claudine Lidoine!”
Having seen fifteen of her daughters precede her to the scaffold, Mother Thérèse followed them to the guillotine. At the sixteenth thud, there was nothing left… but silence. On that day, it was said, more than one religious vocation was born and just as many conversions took place.
-the tiny terra cotta Mother & Child statuette held by Madame Ledoine was kissed by all the nuns before the climbed the ladder up to the executioner.
Ten days later, amidst cacophonous shouts and screams, an infuriated and disillusioned crowd led a man to his death on the guillotine. “Down with the tyrant!” they cried. This time, it was the turn of Maximilien Robespierre. More than a week later, an enervated Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, the implacable Reign of Terror’s public prosecutor, followed his fate on the very instrument where he had sent hundreds to their death. The Terror consumed its own. And with the inglorious end of these two died, also, the Reign of Terror.
Guillotined on 17 July 1794 at the Place du Trône Renversé (modern Place de la Nation) in Paris, France, the sixteen, the heads and bodies of the martyrs were interred in a deep sand-pit about thirty feet square in a cemetery at Picpus. As this sand-pit was the receptacle of the bodies of 1298 victims of the Revolution, there seems to be no hope of their relics being recovered. Five secondary relics are in the possession of the Benedictines of Stanbrook, Worcestershire.
-plaque at the Picpus cemetery in memory of the 16 Martyrs of Compiègne
Lord God, You called Bl. Teresa of St. Augustine, OCD, and her companions to go on in the strength of the Holy Spirit from the heights of Carmel to receive a martyr’s crown. May our love too be so steadfast that it will bring us to the everlasting vision of Your glory. 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. Amen.
Lord our God, You called the 16 blessed Carmelites of Compiègne to show You the greatest testimony of love through the offering of their blood that “peace may be returned to the Church and to the State.” Remember the joyful and heroic fidelity with which they glorified You. May Your goodness manifest their favor with You, in granting through their intercession the grace (the miracle) that we ask You in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen!
On 1 April 1572 a group called the Watergeuzen or Gueux de mer (water-/sea-beggars, i.e. rebels) rebelled against the Spanish Habsburg crown which ruled the Low Countries, and conquered Brielle and later Vlissingen and other places. The town of Gorcum (also Gorkum or Gorinchem) fell into their hands in June, and they captured nine Franciscan friars and two lay brothers, as well as the parish priest, his assistant, and two others. These fifteen endured much abuse and suffering in prison and were then transported to Brielle, being exhibited for money to curious crowds on the way. At Brielle they were joined by four others. At the command of William de la Marck, Lord of Lumey, commander of the Gueux de mer, they were each interrogated and ordered to renounce their belief in the Blessed Sacrament and in papal supremacy. They all remained firm in their faith – even those who had been less than perfect Christians before their arrest. The prince of Orange, William the Silent, ordered those in authority to leave priests and religious unmolested, but Lumey ignored this command and had them all hanged, in a turf-shed on the night of 9 July.
‘The hour is now at hand,’ Father Nicholas said, ‘to receive from the hand of the Lord the long desired reward of the struggle, the crown of eternal happiness.’ He encouraged them [his companions] not to fear death nor to lose through cowardice the crown prepared for them and soon to be placed on their brows. Finally he prayed that they would joyfully follow the path on which they saw him leading the way. With these and similar words he joyfully mounted the ladder without ceasing to exhort his companions until strangulation deprived him of the use of his voice” (contemporary account of the martyrdom).
There were especially two dogmas of the Faith that were attacked by the heretics of the 16th century: the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff. The Calvinists in Holland persecuted with relentless fury the confessors of the Catholic Faith. The holy martyrs gave their lives particularly in defense of these two fundamental doctrines.
When the Calvinists, who had set themselves against all ecclesiastical as well as civil authority, took possession of the city of Gorcum, they retained 19 of the clergy as prisoners, though they had promised to let the inhabitants depart from the town without being molested. There were four secular priests among the prisoners, four priests of other religious orders, and 11 Friars Minor of the convent at Gorcum. The latter were the guardian, Father Nicholas Pieck; his vicar, Father Jerome of Weert; Fathers Wilhad, an old man of 90; Theodoric of Emden; Nicaise Jonson, a learned theologian; Godfrey of Mervelan; Anthony of Weert; Anthony of Hornaer; young Father Francis Rod; and 2 lay brothers, Peter van Asche and Cornelius of Dorstat.
Cast into a filthy prison, they were cruelly treated during the first night by the drunken soldiers. They seemed to vent their hellish rage principally against the guardian, Father Nicholas. Taking the cord which he wore around his waist and putting it around his neck, they dragged him to the door of the prison and threw the cord across it in order to hang him at once. But as a result of pulling the cord back and forth against its weight, the cord tore, and Father Nicholas fell to the earth unconscious. In order to make sure that he was dead or just for the purpose of outrage, the persecutors took a burning candle and burned off his hair and eyebrows, applying the flame also to his nose and open mouth. With a parting laugh of derision, they then left the motionless body in order to torment the others. They struck the face of the aged Father Wilhad with savage blows, but each time he merely said, “Deo gratias! Thanks be to God!”
After the miscreants had departed, Father Nicholas regained consciousness, for he had only fainted. As soon as he was able to speak again, he encouraged his brethren, declaring that in defense of the Faith he was ready to undergo the same torments again, and even more cruel ones, if it so pleased God, and as often as it pleased God. “For” he said, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us.”
On the following day several attempts were made to cause the friars, and in particular their superior, to apostatize. The Calvinists opened a discussion with them about the Blessed Sacrament and the primacy of the pope. But the heretics soon found themselves cornered by the clear proofs advanced by the guardian and his brethren. They hoped to be able at least to deceive one of the lay brothers, but he answered very simply that he was in accord with everything that his guardian had said.
Meanwhile, the relatives of Father Nicholas, especially his two brothers, were making every effort to obtain his deliverance. But, like a good shepherd, the guardian declared: “I will not leave prison unless my brethren come with me, and even though there were only one detained, and he the lowliest of them all, I would remain here with him.” When his brothers declared that one could renounce the primacy of the pope without denying God, he showed them that he who separates himself from the pope, separates himself from the Church; and that he who renounces the Church, renounces Christ the Lord. And then he spoke with holy zeal: “I would rather endure death for the honor of God than swerve even a hair’s breadth from the Catholic Faith.”
Eight days later the confessors were taken to Briel, where the Calvinist leader had his headquarters. He had them all hanged there on July 9, 1572. With Christ they shared the disgrace of shameful death, but at the same time also a glorious ascension.
In 1865, at the solemn celebration of the day on which the holy Apostles Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom, Pope Pius IX canonized the martyrs of Gorcum.
There were eleven Franciscan friars or Minderbroeders, one Dominican friar or Predikheer, two Norbertine canons regular and a local canon regular, or witheren and five wereldheren (secular clergy). The nineteen put to death on 9 July 1572 were:
- Leonard van Veghel (1527), spokesman, secular priest, and since 1566 pastor of Gorkum
- Peter of Assche (1530), Franciscan friar
- Andrew Wouters (1542), secular priest, pastor of Heinenoord in the Hoeksche Waard
- Nicasius of Heeze (1522), Franciscan friar, theologian and priest
- Jerome of Weert (1522), Franciscan friar, priest, pastor in Gorcum
- Anthony of Hoornaar, Franciscan friar and priest
- Godfried van Duynen (1502), secular priest, former pastor in northern France
- Willehad of Denemarken (1482), Franciscan friar and priest
- James Lacobs (1541), Norbertine canon
- Francis of Roye (1549), Franciscan friar and priest
- John of Cologne, Dominican friar, pastor in Hoornaar near Gorkum
- Anthony of Weert (1523), Franciscan friar and priest
- Theodore of der Eem (born c.1499–1502), Franciscan friar and priest, chaplain to a community of Franciscan Tertiary Sisters in Gorkum
- Cornelius of Wijk bij Duurstede (1548), Franciscan lay brother
- Adrian van Hilvarenbeek (1528), Norbertine canon and pastor in Monster, South Holland
- Godfried of Mervel, Vicar of Melveren, Sint-Truiden (1512), Franciscan priest, vicar of the friary in Gorkum
- Jan of Oisterwijk (1504), canon regular, a chaplain for the Beguinage in Gorkum
- Nicholas Poppel (1532), secular priest, chaplain in Gorkum
- Nicholas Pieck (1534), Franciscan friar, priest and theologian, Guardian of the friary in Gorkum, his native city
A shrub bearing 19 white flowers is said to have sprung up at the site of their martyrdom. Many miracles have been attributed to their intercession, especially the curing of hernias. Their beatification took place on 14 November 1675, and their canonization on 29 June 1865. For many years the place of their martyrdom in Brielle has been the scene of numerous pilgrimages and processions. The reliquary of their remains is now enshrined in the Church of Saint Nicholas, Brussels, Belgium.
Each religious order holds its particular members of this esteemed group, understandably, especially to heart. I find the story of James Lacops, O. Praem, especially comforting and hopeful to a backsliding Catholic like me. 🙂 James Lacops, a canon of Middelburg, was born at Oudenaarde in 1542. He was an intelligent and charming young man whose success went to his head. His religious life was mediocre. When the iconoclastic Calvinists infiltrated the abbey in 1566, the 24-year-old James renounced his faith together with two others. His father and his brother, who was also a Norbertine, eventually brought him to reconsider. Touched by the grace of God, he returned to the abbey and was kindly received by the community when he asked forgiveness for his apostasy. Among other things, he had gone so far as to write a pamphlet attacking the Church, and had become a preacher of the Calvinist beliefs. His abbot sent him to the abbey of Mariëweerd for a prolonged period of penance of five years.
-SS, Adrian & James, O.Praem., two of the Martyrs of Gorcum, pray for us!
It is reported one of the secular priests, St Andrew Wouters, notorious for his unchastity, was tormented by his captors with this knowledge. His reply is famous. “Fornicator I always was. Heretic I never was.”
Messrs. Dickenson, Milner, & Humphrey lived in England at a time when the practice of one’s Catholic faith meant imprisonment and possible execution. Ralph Milner was an elderly, illiterate farmer, the father of eight children, from Flacstead, Hampshire. He was brought up as a Protestant but was so impressed by the lives of his Catholic neighbors that he took instructions and was received into the Catholic Faith. On the very day of his First Communion, he was arrested for having changed his religion and imprisoned in the Winchester jail.
Farmer Milner’s behavior in prison was such that he gained the respect and trust of the prison guards and so was granted frequent “parole” during which he could come and go at will. He made use of these times to see to the spiritual and temporal needs of his fellow prisoners and to aid and escort undercover Catholic priests. This is how he came into contact with the secular priest, Father Roger Dickenson (sometimes spelled Dicconsen).
Father Dickenson was a native of Lincoln who had studied for the priesthood in Rheims, France. In 1583 he was sent on a mission to England and was imprisoned soon afterwards but managed to escape when his guards got drunk. He was not so fortunate the second time he was arrested, this time with Ralph Milner who had been escorting him around the local villages. The two men were put under close confinement at the Winchester jail; Father Dickenson was charged with the crime of being a Catholic priest, Ralph Milner for aiding him.
At their trial, the judge took pity on the elderly farmer and made several attempts to set him free, urging him to merely visit a Protestant church as a matter of form. Since to Ralph Milner this would have been tantamount to renouncing his new-found Faith, he refused, saying that he could not “embrace a counsel so disagreeable to the maxims of the Gospel.”
On July 7, 1591, the day of execution, Ralph Milner’s children were escorted to the gallows, begging him to renounce his Faith and so save his life, but again he refused. He gave them his final blessing, declaring that “he could wish them no greater happiness than to die for the like cause.” The two men were hanged, drawn, and quartered; it is said that they faced their deaths calmly and with great courage.
We may think that the days of dying for one’s faith are over, but a look at the news from around the world shows that it’s as much a reality today as it was in Ralph Milner and Roger Dickenson’s time. Let us pray fervently for the priests, religious, and lay people throughout the world who are suffering and dying for their Catholic Faith.
Ralph Milner was a simple, uneducated man who offered his help wherever he saw the need. Think of the wonderful example he set for his children, not only in his aid to his fellow prisoners and to priests, but in the inspiring example of his steadfastness in his Faith, in his loyalty to God. May all fathers today follow in his footsteps and teach their children by their own example of living always in the Truth.
The third martyr, Lawrence Humphrey, had been brought into the Church by Father Stanney, S.J. He would not give up the faith he had so recently acquired. Lawrence was just twenty-one years old when he was martyred.
Every martyr reminds us that a treasure is worth defending. The martyrs recognized the value of their Catholic religion. They would not give it up for any reason. We can pray to Blessed Roger, Blessed Ralph and Blessed Lawrence. They will lead us to love and cherish our beliefs as they did.
All ye holy men & women, strengthen us! Pray for us!
-“Oliver Plunkett”, by Edward Luttrell, (d. 1737), National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 262
Oliver Plunkett was born in Loughcrew in County Meath, Ireland on November 1, 1629. In 1647, he went to study for the priesthood at the Jesuit Irish College in Rome. On January 1, 1654, he was ordained a priest in the Propaganda College in Rome.
Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53) had defeated the Roman Catholic cause in Ireland and, in the aftermath, the public practice of Roman Catholicism was banned and Roman Catholic clergy were executed. As a result, it was impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years. He petitioned to remain in Rome and, in 1657, became a professor of theology. He became the Irish bishops’ representative in Rome.
Throughout the period of the Commonwealth and the first years of Charles II’s reign, he successfully pleaded the cause of the Irish Roman Church, and also served as theological professor at the College of Propaganda Fide. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on 9 July 1669, he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh, the Irish primatial see, and was consecrated on 30 November at Ghent by the Bishop of Ghent.
He eventually set foot on Irish soil again on 7 March 1670, as the English Restoration of 1660 had started on a tolerant basis. The pallium was granted him in the Consistory of 28 July 1670. Archbishop Plunkett soon established himself as a man of peace and, with religious fervor, set about visiting his people, establishing schools, ordaining priests, and confirming thousands.
After arriving back in Ireland, he set about reorganizing the ravaged Roman Church and built schools both for the young and for clergy, whom he found ‘ignorant in moral theology and controversies’. He tackled drunkenness among the clergy, writing ‘Let us remove this defect from an Irish priest, and he will be a saint’. The Penal Laws had been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he was able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670. A year later 150 students attended the college, no fewer than 40 of whom were Protestant, making this college the first integrated school in Ireland. His ministry was a successful one and he is said to have confirmed 48000 Catholics over a 4 year period. The British Dublin Government, especially under the Duke of Ormonde ( the Protestant son of Catholic parents) extended a generous measure of toleration to the Catholic hierarchy until the mid-1670s.
On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett would not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college was levelled to the ground. Plunkett went into hiding, traveling only in disguise, and refused a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile. For the next few years he was largely left in peace since the Dublin Government, except when put under pressure from London, preferred to leave the Catholic bishops alone.
In 1678, the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by Titus Oates, led to further anti-Roman Catholicism. Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin was arrested, and Plunkett again went into hiding. The Privy Council in London was told he had plotted a French invasion.The moving spirit behind the campaign is said to have been Arthur Capell, 1st Earl of Essex, who had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and hoped to resume office by discrediting James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. However, Essex was not normally thought to be a ruthless or unprincipled man and his later plea for mercy suggests that he had never intended that Plunkett should actually die.
Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, Plunkett refused to leave his flock. He was arrested in Dublin in December 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, where he gave absolution to the dying Talbot. Plunkett was tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. Though this was unproven, some in government circles were worried about, and some used the excuse, that another rebellion was being planned. The Duke of Ormonde, aware that the Earl of Essex was using the crisis to undermine him, did not defend Plunkett in public. In private he made clear his belief in Plunkett’s innocence and his contempt for the informers against him: “silly drunken vagabonds… whom no schoolboy would trust to rob an orchard”.
The English knew Oliver Plunkett would never be convicted in Ireland and had him moved to Newgate Prison, London. The first grand jury found no true bill, but he was not released. The second trial has generally been regarded as a serious miscarriage of justice; Gilbert Burnet, an eyewitness, had no doubt of the innocence of Plunkett, who he praised as a wise and sober man who had no aim but to live peacefully and tend to his congregation. Lord Campbell, writing of the judge, Sir Francis Pemberton, claimed it a disgrace to himself and his country. More recently the High Court judge Sir James Comyn called it a grave mistake: while Plunkett, by virtue of his office, was clearly guilty of “promoting the Catholic faith”, and may possibly have had some dealings with the French, there was never the slightest evidence that he had conspired against the King’s life. Plunkett was found guilty of high treason on June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and was condemned to death.
Numerous pleas for mercy were made but Charles II, although himself a reputed Catholic, thought it too politically dangerous to spare Plunkett. The French Ambassador Paul Barillon conveyed a plea for mercy from his King: Charles said frankly that he knew Plunkett to be innocent, but the time was not right to take so bold a step. Essex, apparently realizing too late that his intrigues had led to the condemnation of an innocent man, made a similar plea: the King turned on him in fury, saying ” his blood be on your head- you could have saved him but would not, I would save him and dare not”.
Plunkett’s many letters showed his determination not to abandon his people, but to remain a faithful shepherd. He thanked God “Who gave us the grace to suffer for the chair of Peter.” He was put on trial, and with the help of perjured witnesses, unable to bring his own from Ireland, and was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Upon hearing sentence, he replied, “Deo Gratias!” With deep serenity of soul, he was prepared to die, calmly rebutting the charge of treason, refusing to save himself by giving false evidence against his brother bishops. Oliver Plunkett publicly forgave all those who were responsible for his death on July 1, 1681.
His body was initially buried in two tin boxes next to five Jesuits who had died before in the courtyard of St Giles in the Fields church. The remains were exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. The head was brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh and eventually to Drogheda where, since 29 June 1921, it has rested in Saint Peter’s Church. Most of the body was brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe. Some relics were brought to Ireland in May 1975, while others are in England, France, Germany, the United States, and Australia.
-The shrine of St. Oliver Plunkett at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Drogheda, Ireland. His head is just visible in the box under the spire.
Glorious Martyr, St. Oliver,
who willingly gave your life for your faith,
help us also to be strong in faith.
May we be loyal like you to the see of Peter.
By your intercession and example
may all hatred and bitterness
be banished from the hearts of Irish men and women.
May the peace of Christ reign in our hearts,
as it did in your heart,
even at the moment of your death.
Pray for us and for Ireland. Amen.
Hymn to St Oliver Plunkett
Come glorious martyr, rise
Into the golden skies,
Beyond the sun!
Wide, wide the portals fling
And martyr hosts, O sing
To greet his entering
“Well hast thou done”.
Never reproach he made,
Like to his Lord betrayed
By his own kind.
Sharing his Masters blame,
Gladly he bore the shame,
While the false charge they frame,
“Guilty” they find.
As coach of state he hails,
Hurdle of shame and trails
All rough way through London streets, he goes,
Heedless of lesser woes,
Tyburn holds greater throes,
Ready that day.
Blood stained the path he trod,
Leading him onto God,
Counting no the cost,
Now for my faith I die,
Said he in glad reply,
O for my God I sigh, All fear is lost.
Lord in Thy hands, he prays
My soul for-ever stays,
Strengthen Thou me.
Welcome, o rope and knife!
All those who made this strife
I now forgive, my life offer to Thee.
Hail then, great martyr, hail,
In death thou did prevail
Blow the full trumpets, blow,
Wider the portals throw,
Martyr triumphant go
Where waits your crown.
After taking a look at the life of St. Cyril, it’s easy to see him as a man who always came into a situation with both barrels blazing. Seriously, Cyril took no prisoners.
Cyril was born at Alexandria, Egypt. He was nephew of the patriarch of that city, Theophilus. Cyril received a classical and theological education at Alexandria and was ordained by his uncle. He succeeded his uncle Theophilus as patriarch of Alexandria on Theophilus’ death in 412. Before Cyril became Patriarch, he had to survive a riot that ensued due to a rivalry for the Patriarchy with his rival, Timotheus. Thus, Cyril followed his uncle in a position that had become powerful and influential, rivaling that of the Roman prefect.
When he became Patriarch of Alexandria in 412, he “assembled a mob” that plundered and closed the churches of the Novations1. Novations had been persecuting Christians in the area. Cyril also drove out of Alexandria the Jews, who had formed a flourishing community there since Alexander the Great. The Jews of Alexandria were also political backers of the Roman Prefect of Alexandria, governor of the Roman Diocese (political, not ecclesiastical) of Egypt. Expulsion from a territory was a secular power that belonged to the pagan Roman Prefect. But the Jews had caused tumults and had massacred the Christians. Expelling their enemies may have been the only possible defense for the Christians. The Roman Prefect of Egypt, Orestes, though was very angry at Cyril for usurping power that was his. Cyril offered Orestes a Bible; a gesture which would mean Orestes’ acquiescence to Cyril’s religious authority and policy, which Orestes rejected.
Yes, you guessed it, a serious brawl ensued as a result of the conflict between Cyril and Orestes. 500 (yes, five hundred) monks came swinging out of the lower deserts of Egypt (Nitria) to defend Cyril. Can you imagine 500 men with big beards and worn-monastic habits storming into a fight against Orestes’ soldiers? One word comes to mind: Fortitude. One of the monks, Ammonius, actually beamed Orestes with a rock during the skirmish. Orestes had Ammonius tortured to death. Cyril actually honored the remains of the rock lobbing monk for a time.
Prefect Orestes enjoyed the political backing of Hypatia, a pagan female astronomer, philosopher and mathematician who had considerable moral authority in the city of Alexandria, and who had extensive influence. Indeed many students from wealthy and influential families came to Alexandria purposely to study privately with Hypatia, and many of these later attained high posts in government and the Church. Several Christians thought that Hypatia’s influence had caused Orestes to reject all reconciliatory offerings by Cyril. Modern historians think that Orestes had cultivated his relationship with Hypatia to strengthen a bond with the pagan community of Alexandria, as he had done with the Jewish one, to handle better the difficult political life of the Egyptian capital. A Christian mob, however, led by a lector named Peter, took her from her chariot, dragged her to a church and tore her flesh with potsherds till she died, finally burning the pieces outside the city walls. Cyril did not support this action and it caused him much embarrassment and political difficulty after the fact, but since this Peter was only a lector, and not a member of the clergy, Cyril could distance himself from this event.
Cyril, in league with Pope Celestine I, is most known for intellectually duking it out with Nestorius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople (present day Istanbul). At one point, the Emperor (Theodosius II) had both Nestorius and Cyril arrested. The emperor, however, cut Cyril loose after Papal Legates showed up on his doorstep saying that Pope Celestine endorsed Cyril’s condemnation of Nestorius.
So what was the big deal with Nestorius? Well, he promoted the heresy of Nestorianism, which says that “Mary was not the Mother of God, Theotokos(Θεοτόκος), since Christ was Divine and not human, and consequently she should not have the word theotokos (God-bearer) applied to her.” Dyophysitism. (Caution to the reader: there are LOTS of “physitisms”. Don’t ask. It gets very long, shades of grey, & complicated! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 🙂 And you thought ecumenism was easy?)
Nestorianism goes, well, “out-of-its-way” to overly emphasize the disunion, or, at best, a very loose union between the human and Divine natures of Jesus, preferring the term Christotokos, in terms of whom Mary gave birth to; arguing that it was only the humanity of Christ which was born at the Incarnation, and not the Deity. Conversely, the implication, at least, with Theotokos, possibly, Nestorians would argue, was it suggesting the Divine nature was also somehow created at the Incarnation?, which they could not stand. However, Theotokos, properly understood, contains none of these objected to and objectionable connotations. Nestorianism is a clear heresy from orthodox Christianity, negating the hypostatic, ὑπόστασις, union. (How’s that for ten cent words? Church techno speak! It helps to know a little Greek, Latin, & Hebrew. It does. Nicean orthodox Christianity says “True God & True Man”, in which it means: two unique, full, complete natures, perfectly united in one person. Dear Reverend Fathers on this distribution, how did I do? Whew! Did I pass? These distinctions are NOT trivial, meaningless, nor unimportant. Depending on how the Church defines the nature of Christ, it gives a whole new reading, meaning, & coloring to the interpretation of Scripture, tough enough as it is. Better get it right! Better! 🙂
Cyril was the bedrock for the third general Council of Ephesus in 431, which declared Nestorianism a heresy. Oddly enough, a group of bishops that sided with Nestorius convened their own council after the one at Ephesus and deposed Cyril (this is the point where Cyril and Nestorius got arrested by the Emperor).
The exegetical works of St. Cyril are very numerous. The seventeen books “On Adoration in Spirit and in Truth” are an exposition of the typical and spiritual nature of the Old Law. The Glaphyra or “brilliant”, Commentaries on Pentateuch are of the same nature. Long explanations of Isaiah and of the minor Prophets give a mystical interpretation, after the Alexandrian manner. Only fragments are extant of other works on the Old Testament, as well as of expositions of Matthew, Luke, and some of the Epistles, but of that of St. Luke much is preserved in a Syriac version. Of St. Cyril’s sermons and letters the most interesting are those which concern the Nestorian controversy. Of a great apologetic work in the twenty books against Julian the Apostate ten books remain. Among his theological treatises we have two large works and one small one on the Holy Trinity, and a number of treatises and tracts belonging to the Nestorian controversy.
“By nature, each one of us is enclosed in his own personality, but supernaturally, we are all one. We are made one body in Christ, because we are nourished by One Flesh. As Christ is indivisible, we are all one in Him. Therefore, He asked His Father “that they may all be One as We also are one.” – Saint Cyril of Alexandria
“That anyone could doubt the right of the holy Virgin to be called the Mother of God fills with astonishment. Surely she must be the Mother of God if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and she gave birth to him! Our Lord’s disciples may not have used those exact words, but they delivered to us the belief those words enshrine, and this has also been taught us by the holy fathers. The divinely inspired Scriptures affirm that the Word of God was made flesh, that is to say, he was united to a human body endowed with a rational soul. He undertook to help the descendants of Abraham, fashioning a body for himself from a woman and sharing our flesh and blood, to enable us to see in him not only God, but also, by reason of this union, a man like ourselves. It is held, therefore, that there is in Emmanuel two entities, divinity and humanity. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ is nonetheless one, the one true Son, both God and man; not a deified man on the same footing as those who share the divine nature by grace, but true God who for our sake appeared in human form. We are assured of this by Saint Paul’s declaration: “When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.” – from a letter by Saint Cyril of Alexandria
But the biggest reason why St. Cyril of Alexandria is a ‘Trooper’ is his doctrine, which has been quoted by multiple Church councils—Cyril has the title Doctor of the Church. Here is an excerpt from his book on the Divine Motherhood of Mary:
“In the third book of his work on the holy and consubstantial Trinity, our father Athanasius, of glorious memory, several times refers to the holy Virgin as “Mother of God.” I cannot resist quoting his own words: “As I have often told you, the distinctive mark of holy Scripture is that it was written to make a twofold declaration concerning our Savior; namely, that He is and has always been God, and that for our sake in these latter days He took flesh from the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and became man.”
Prayer in Honor of Mary, Mother of God
“Hail, Mary, Mother of God, venerable treasure of the whole universe, lamp that is never extinguished, crown of virginity, support of the true faith, indestructible temple, dwelling of Him whom no place can contain, O Mother and Virgin! Through you all the holy Gospels call blessed the One whom comes in the name of the Lord.
Hail, Mother of God. You enclosed under your heart the infinite God whom no space can contain. Through you the Most Holy Trinity is adored and glorified, the priceless cross is venerated throughout the universe. Through you the heavens rejoice, and the angels and archangels are filled with gladness. Through you the demons are banished, and the tempter fell from heaven. Through you the fallen human race is admitted to heaven.
Hail, Mother of God. Through you kings rule, and the only-begotten Son of God has become a star of light to those who were sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.” -Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor
1Novation was born about the year 200. He was a man of considerable learning, apparently educated in literary composition; the first writer to use Latin in the Church. His immediate rival in Rome, Bishop Cornelius, spoke of him sarcastically as ” that maker of dogmas, that champion of ecclesiastical learning”. During the persecutions of emperor Decius in mid third century, Novatian took the position that those who had stopped practicing Christianity, the “Lapsi”, during the persecutions, to save themselves, could not be accepted back into the Church even if they repented and that the only way to reenter the church would be by re-baptism. Cornelius and Cyprian of Carthage did not believe in the need for re-baptism. Instead they thought that the sinners should only need to show contrition and true repentance to be welcomed back into the church.
During the election of the bishop of Rome in 251, Novatian opposed Cornelius because he was too lax in accepting the return of Christians who had lapsed during the persecutions. His party then consecrated him as a rival bishop (antipope) to Cornelius. He announced throughout the empire his election, as had Cornelius, as both parties appointed bishops and priests in cities where the incumbent favored his rival, thus creating a widespread schism in the Church.
By the end of 251, Bishop Cornelius assembled a council of sixty bishops that condemned and excommunicated Novation apparently over the legitimacy of his claim to the ecclesiastical throne of Rome. It was only later that Novation began to be called a heretic and this appeared to be over the question of the Church having the power to grant absolution in certain cases. Novatian is known for his writing of which only two have survived, the De Cibis Judaicus and De Trintate (On the Trinity), an interpretation of the early church doctrine on the Trinity which is his most important work. Novationists called themselves καθαροι (“katharoi”/Cathari) or “Puritans” reflecting their desire not to be identified with what they considered the lax practices of a corrupted Catholic Church. They went so far as to re-baptize their own converts. Because Novatianists (including Novatian) did not submit to the bishop of Rome, they were labeled by Rome as schismatics.
Novations were Montanists, another name for a heretical group, who took their name from a priest and Anti-pope, Montanus. Montanus preached that those who fell from grace were out of the church forever, as opposed to the orthodox position that by sincere contrition and repentance the fallen might be readmitted. In addition they believed that the value of the sacraments depended on the purity and worthiness of the priest administering the rites. In time they merged with the Donatists who sprang up in Carthage, 4th century in a split with Rome over the failure of a their man to win the bishop’s seat. The Novations also held second marriages were not valid.
-Cuzco School, Peru, “Saint Joseph and the Christ Child”, late 17th-18th century. Oil on canvas, 43 x 32 1/8in. (109.2 x 81.6cm), Brooklyn Museum
In the Litany of St Joseph, one the titles of honor given to him is Terror of Demons. Due to his unshakeable faith, his assiduous perseverance, his admirable purity and his exceptional humility, and given the nobility and grandeur of his vocation – the protection, sustenance and care of the Blessed Mother and Our Lord Jesus Christ, as head of the Holy Family – we can expect that God also endowed him with an equally proportional grace to carry out such a lofty mission in life. And certainly we can picture him as a sublime icon of manliness and a pillar of strength that would sow terrible fear among the powers of darkness given his noble task. Would God allow/accept anything less for the earthly foster-father of His Son?
In Catholic iconography, St Joseph is pictured holding a staff from which a white lily grows. This is due to Catholic hagiography which states from reliable, albeit non-scriptural, sources near to the period, when the holy priest Simeon gathered all the young men of Jerusalem from the house of David at the temple to choose who would be the rightful spouse of Our Lady, he was inspired by God to give each man a dry rod. After a period of prayer asking for the manifestation of the Divine Will, pure white lilies – the symbol of purity – blossomed from St. Joseph’s staff and a white dove, most pure and brilliant, hovered over his head giving Simeon the sign that he was the chosen one.
Hence, St. Joseph is the epitome of a pure man: pure in thought, pure in heart; pure in body and soul – destined to be the most chaste spouse of Mary Most Holy conceived without sin. In face of such sublime purity and holiness, it would not be farfetched to believe that the ugly, filthy infernal spirits would cower in petrified fear in his presence.
I have a special intention I am entrusting to St Joseph, in addition to so much I have already entrusted to him. Pray for me! St Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!