All posts by techdecisions

Freedom for Excellence!!!!

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)

Saul’s Conversion, Caravaggio, 1601, Oil on canvas, 230 cm × 175 cm (91 in × 69 in), Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery (of sin) (Gal 5:1)

In 21st century America, we understand the freedom as an absence of coercion or restraint.  This was not always how this word has been understood.  Christians have understood freedom as freedom for the good,  the Freedom for Excellence.

As a catechist, I am strongly of the opinion, the crises of our age are directly related to a crises of catechesis. Our modern concept of “freedom to/of” suggest, wrongly, that the beauty of freedom is a vacuum of restraint.  Rather than,”You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32), the modern concept of freedom proposes, “You will ignore the truth, and the ignorance will make you free?”

Freedom of indifference (free will) (William of Ockham) provides the ability to do anything one likes, to feel a lack of constraint. Freedom for excellence1, on the other hand, is the freedom to do good. It can develop and grow over time.

Everyone has freedom of indifference when playing the piano. Even if you’ve never had a single lesson, you can sit down and hit any key you wish. But only the trained musician has freedom for excellence, the freedom to play beautiful, sophisticated music. Similarly, everyone has freedom of indifference to throw a basketball toward a hoop, but only an experienced player has freedom for excellence, freedom to shoot and score consistently.

Freedom to achieve the goal of human life is aided and enhanced through revelatory instruction—what to do and what to avoid, or law/constraint. Natural law, that which is plainly evident from nature, enables all to do good and avoid evil. Revealed law is an additional grace that specifies for the individual conscience even more clearly the good to be done.

John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote in his letter to the Duke of Norfolk, our “conscience is the voice of God . . . a messenger of Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ.”

Conscience has dignity and rights because of its relationship to truth, a truth to which we owe allegiance. Conscience does not create values; it inquires zealously into what is true.  Recall my layman’s fascination for Pilate’s query, albeit mockingly lacking sincerity, “What is truth?” Jn 18:38.  More important than what we are free from is what we are free for:  to live the truth in love, both now and forever.

The human person, or moral agent, is a unity of body and soul, not soul alone. What a person does with his or her body partially constitutes who he/she is and whether he/she is moving toward increased virtue or vice.

As Thomas Aquinas wrote, to analyze the morality of an action, we have to look at the means, motive, and circumstances (Summa Theologiae I-II.18).  All three elements of an action must be good for the action to be good, just as to be a good airplane pilot, the pilot must see well, have flying experience, and be sober. Two out of three is not enough and is likely tragic. An otherwise good act motivated by greed, hatred, or cruelty is not a good act. Likewise, there are situations in which the motive is laudable (say, to express and reinforce love), the means is good (for example, spouses making love), but the circumstances are wrong (making love in a public park at noon).

The moral life involves the challenge to live a life of holiness to a heroic degree – such as the saints have done. Obedience to the truth about the human person —a pursuit of deep happiness and freedom—cannot be achieved through human power alone…

Freedom…even for…the Cross?  Explain the Cross and you will know, imho, all necessary to understand, at least, Christianity.  Spend a little time, slowly…this week, I humbly suggest, with the Cross.  Don’t be afraid.  Don’t turn away.  Don’t rush to Easter.  Just be at the foot of the Cross and relish the radiance and joy of its meaning, splendor and purpose.  I think, doctor, I’ll take my own advice, too.

Love,
Matthew

1  Pinckaers, Servais, O.P. The Sources of Christian Ethics, Translated by Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.

Mar 17 – An Innis Aigh, The Happy Isle…

One of my favorites…some say a land of poets and saints?  I have been twice.  Very different.  Very old.  Can’t wait to take Mara.

I studied Irish (Gaelic) for a very short time at irish-american.org. Hard.  There is no “yes” or “no” in Irish.  Which explains SO MUCH!!!!!

And just remember, lads and lassies, if there is ever a topic which is uncomfortable to speak about in a family, the Irish way is to just ignore it!!!!  Maybe it will go away?  Right?  (It never does, but at least we can pretend?)  Remember, too, whenever someone does something uncouth, like burp or fart loudly, or does something truly stupid, just say, as within Irish families it is known to do, “You’re SO Irish!”  

I will cherish forever my Mother’s question, very discreetly, after I informed her of a date I went on.  There would be a very pregnant pause. (There is no small case of pause pregnancy, no?)  And then it would always come. “Is she one of us?”  Either way, my Mother would always give or feign approval.  Saying, regarding any deviation from the preferred answer, “Well, that’s very nice, too.”

Seinn an duan seo dhan Innis Àigh
An innis uaine as gile tràigh
Bidh sian air uairean a’ bagairt cruaidh ris
Ach se mo luaidh-sa bhith ann a’ tàmh

Càit’ as tràith an tig samhradh caomh
Càit’ as tràith an tig blàth air craobh
Càit’ as bòidhche ‘s an seinn an smeòrach
Air bhàrr nan ògan ‘s an Innis Àigh

An t-iasg as fiachaile dlùth don tràigh
Is ann ma chrìochan is miann leis tàmh
Bidh gillean easgaidh le dorgh is lìontan
Moch, moch ga iarriadh mun Innis Àigh

‘S ged thèid mi cuairt chun an taoibh ud thall
‘S mi ‘n dùil air uairibh gu fan mi ann
Tha tàladh uaigneach le teas nach fuairich
Gam tharraing buan don Innis Àigh

O ‘s geàrr an ùine gu’n teirig latha
Thig an oidhche ‘s gun iarr mi tàmh
Mo chadal buan-sa bidh e cho suaimhneach
Mo bhios mo chluasag ‘s an Innis Àigh

Sing this song to the Happy Isle
The green isle of whitest sands
Though storms at times threaten severely
It is where I love to be

Where does Summer come earlier?
Where do trees come into bloom sooner?
Where does the thrush sing more sweetly
On the tips of branches, than in the Happy Isle?

The most prized fish closest to land
Wishes to live about its shores
Lively youths hunt it early in the morning
With line and net, around the Happy Isle

And although I sometimes go to the mainland
And at times even think that I could stay there
A sad longing whose heat never cools
Always draws me back to the Happy Isle

It is only a short time until the close of day
Night will come and I will want for rest
My eternal sleep will be so peaceful
If I lay my head in the Happy Isle

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

Love,
Matthew

I call as my witness…

“I call as my witness Christ, the Lord, who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.” -oath of each Cardinal, in Latin, each time they cast a ballot having approached and standing beneath Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment.
Prayers,
Matthew

Mar 9 – St Catherine (de Vigri) of Bologna, OSC, (1413-1463) – Patroness of Art & Artists, Mystic, Prophetess

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“I really wish I could believe, because you (Catholics) have the coolest s***!”, so blogged a respondent in reply to a page displaying the mummified head of St Catherine of Siena.  (She was so popular different pieces of her relics are scattered throughout Italy.)

I must say, the relics of St Catherine of Bolgna, OSC, lead the category, at least what I can tell from the web.

Catherine Vigri was born and died in Bologna but spent most of her life in Ferrara. She was raised at the court of Nicholas III d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara, whom her father served as a diplomatic agent. Ferrara had spent much of the preceding century defending itself from Milan and Venice, so a period of relative peace allowed the Este family to do what the other northern courts were doing: trying to compete with Florence as a cultural center.

In this environment Catherine apparently received a humanist education; we know that she learned Latin, music, and the art of manuscript illumination. She was educated with Margaret d’Este, Nicholas’ daughter, and was one of her attendants until 1427, when Margaret was married to Roberto Malatesta. After Margaret’s marriage and the death of her own father, Catherine joined a community of about 15 lay women in Ferrara. The women wished to join one of the established religious orders but disagreed as to which.

Twenty years earlier a Frenchwoman, St Colette of Corbie, of prior note, had established a reformed branch of the Poor Clares, the order that had been founded by Clare of Assisi 200 years earlier but that had, over the years, grown far away from Clare’s vision. Word of Colette’s reform had spread to Italy, and Catherine and some (but only some) of the other women in her group wished to join the Reformed Poor Clares.

The disagreement among the women was severe: first, in 1431, the bishop briefly disbanded the entire group; a year later, Catherine and some of the others were professed as Poor Clares, although not according to the reformed Rule; then in 1434, 14 nuns, including Catherine, were absolved by the pope of unspecified crimes involving “apostasy.” It wasn’t until the following year that the new monastery was officially allowed to follow Colette’s reformed Rule.

During her years in Ferrara, Catherine acted as mistress of novices, and it was in this capacity that she began to write “Le sette armi spiritual” (The seven spiritual weapons). By 1450 the Ferrara monastery had grown to include 85 women, and in 1456 Catherine was sent to found a new house in Bologna, Corpus Domini. There she became abbess and stayed until her death. Before she died, she gave her nuns her manuscript to be read by them and to be shared with the nuns at Ferrara. Le sette armi spirituali was printed by the Bolognese nuns in 1475 (one of the earliest printed works in that city) and was frequently reprinted during the 1500s.

Some of Catherine’s other works, as well as her hymns (laudi) and letters, have been published but not yet translated. Among these are I dodici giardini (The twelve gardens), on the stages of growth in love of God; Rosarium metricum (a Latin poem); and I Sermoni (a collection of sermons that Catherine gave to her nuns at Corpus Domini in Bologna). Six years after Catherine’s death, her secretary, Illuminata Bembo, wrote Catherine’s biography, Specchio di illuminazione (Mirror of illumination), which includes the words of as well as anecdotes about the abbess.

Catherine also produced frescoes, free-standing paintings, and illuminated manuscripts; the frescoes are gone, but some of her other art has survived. When art scholars write of her work, they usually use her family name, Caterina Vigri.

Le sette armi spirituali seems to be almost two separate documents. The first six chapters and the start of the seventh are very practical and down-to-earth, intended for newcomers to the religious life. This part is brief, the organization is clear and easy to follow, and the dominant image is that of the almost constant warfare familiar to the courtier families from which her novices had come.

The rest of the long Chapter 7 and Chapters 8-10 describe Catherine’s visionary experiences and her attempts to make sense of them. Like Chapters 1-6 they are addressed to the novices, but content and structure are quite different. For the modern reader, the last chapters are perhaps the most interesting because of what they reveal of Catherine’s internal conflict.

Graced with many heavenly visions and mystical experiences, on Christmas Eve in 1445, the Blessed Mother gave Catherine the Infant Jesus to hold.  Catherine wrote of this experience, “The perfume that emanated from His Pure Flesh was so sweet that there is neither tongue that can express, nor such a keen mind imagine, the very beautiful and delicate Face of the Son of God, when one could say all that was to be said, it would be nothing.” Catherine was not alone in experiencing this most wondrous event as her fellow Sisters smelled the holy Presence of the baby Jesus and our Lady as a heavenly fragrance filled the room. Another time Jesus spoke to her from the crucifix in her room.

In Lent of 1463, Catherine became seriously ill, and died on March 9th.  Buried without a coffin, her body was exhumed eighteen days later because of cures attributed to her and also because of the sweet scent coming from her grave.  Her body was later enshrined in the chapel.  The flesh is grown dark, but that may well have been because of the heat and soot of candles that were burned for years around her exposed remains.  She is seated in response to a request of hers to a sister she appeared to in a vision in 1500.

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“Whoever wishes to carry the cross for His sake, must take up the proper weapons for the contest, especially those mentioned here. First, diligence; second, distrust of self; third, confidence in God; fourth, remembrance of Passion; fifth, mindfulness of one’s own death; sixth, remembrance of God’s glory; seventh, the injunctions of Sacred Scripture following the example of Jesus Christ in the desert.” – Saint Catherine of Bologna, from On the Seven Spiritual Weapons.

Prayer

Dear saintly Poor Clare, so rich in love for Jesus and Mary, you were endowed with great talents by God and you left us most inspiring writings and paintings of wondrous beauty. You were chosen as Abbess in the monastery of Poor Clares at Bologna. You did all for God’s greater glory and in this you are a model for all. Make artists learn lessons from you and use their talents to the full.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Mar 7 – St Teresa Margaret Redi of the Sacred Heart, OCD, (1747-1770) – Saint of the Hidden Life, “Deus Caritas Est!”

StTeresaMargaret

This Tuesday, Kelly will register Mara, in person, for Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary School, Sun Prairie, WI, 4K.  (feigned sobbing) They grow up SOOOO fast!  I know I will ponder that truth melancholically in my own heart, sincerely, soon enough. 🙁

We were asked, also, to send in a deposit if we intend Mara to continue at Sacred Hearts (aka, Little Hearts on the Prairie, cute! 🙂 beyond 4K, and we do, so we did.  Both my fathers, the one of blood and the one of marriage, were wise and witty men and both faithful Catholics.  My father-in-law, the late Richard B. Whitney, said of being Catholic, “It’s expensive!”  How true.  One of my favorite lines I’ll always remember and cherish.  Tell you my own father’s favorite line regarding the Church and money some other time!  🙂

Also, we are in the midst of “Potty Wars”.  My money is on the baby.  Who knew?  The only sound I have yet to hear coming from the bathroom is gun fire.  And, Kelly, just this week, celebrated one of those “can’t say thirty-something anymore” birthdays.  This is a particularly delicate time for me, I must say.  I just follow directions and don’t interfere, which is difficult, as men and engineers are wont to solve problems!  No?  🙂  But, men who want to remain married know their place.  Right, guys?  🙂

The McCormick family has a very special devotion to the Sacred Heart.  Grace always ended, growing up, with “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!”  I am becoming more adept, through experience, interpreting those “knowing” looks my parents would always throw at each other when praying that prayer.

Born Anna Maria Redi into a large devout family in Arezzo, Italy in 1747.  From the earliest days of her childhood, Anna Maria was filled with a deep love of God questioning the adults around her as to “Who is God”?  Already she was dissatisfied with answers given her.   Her entire life was driven by the desire to “return love for love”.  She entered the Carmelite convent in Florence at the age of seventeen, advanced rapidly in holiness and died an extraordinary death at twenty-two.  Her spiritual director reflecting on her death remarked “she could not have lived very much longer so great was the strength of the love of God in her”.

She was a beautiful child with clear blue eyes, golden hair and delicate features which might have caused one anticipate for her a future as the lady of a manor and a life of leisure.

Her father Ignatius and her mother Camille were of the lower Tuscan nobility but were not overly wealthy. Anna Maria was the second of thirteen children. Her mother bore twelve children in fourteen years. The last two were twins who lived only a few weeks. Three other children also died in infancy. After a gap of six years the last child, Teresa was born. This child was given Anna Maria’s name in Carmel.  Anna Maria (St. Teresa Margaret) had died six years before little Teresa’s birth.

Camille did not have a strong constitution and the strain of childbirth left her a semi-invalid. As the oldest girl, Anna Maria was entrusted with the supervision of the older of her little siblings while her mother was busy in the nursery. Her father said of Anna Maria that she had a fiery temperament and she was not above getting physical to maintain control over her little charges.

Her father testified that he could clearly see that from the age of five, Anna Maria had given her heart completely to God and she used all her facilities to know and to love Him. In later years she told her confessor simply that “from infancy I have never longed for anything other than to become a saint.”

“Who is God?” she asked her mother, her father, her aunt… The answers she received from the adults around her never fully satisfied her. People told her about God, what God is, not who God is. When her mother told her one day that God is love, Anna Maria lit up with joy. This answer at last gave her some satisfaction. But then she wondered, “What can I do to please Him?” From this moment her inexhaustible quest to love God as He loved her had begun. It is touching to note that when this childhood zeal was brought up to her, she replied in innocence “But everyone does that”.

Anna Maria’s parents were serious and pious. The family circle was warm and loving. Family prayer and daily Mass were an integral part of their lives. It appears that Camilla would have liked more social life in the villa but Ignatius would have seen that as a waste of resources and time.

The Redi villa was an ideal home for a child with a religious disposition and it is probably not an accident that all but one of the eight surviving children entered religious life or the priesthood. The large comfortable house had inspiring murals of the crusades on the walls of the entrance hall. The bedrooms contained religious art. A striking fresco of the Assumption was on the ceiling of Camilla’s room. Anna Maria’s bedroom had its own altar where she spent hours in prayer, after bribing the young ones with holy cards if they would leave her in peace. Sometimes they would creep back to observe her absorbed in prayer. Her brother Cecchino recorded that he thought she looked like a little Madonna.

The villa contained beautiful gardens and orchards. Anna Maria could be found in the corner of the gardens looking toward heaven and “thinking”. Close to the house was a chapel. It was decorated simply with frescos from episodes in the life St. Francis of Assisi. Anna Maria took St. Francis as her patron and was inspired by him with a love of poverty.

Although it was a peaceful and prosperous home, the children were not permitted to be idle. They were expected to spend their leisure time constructively. Anna Maria learned sewing and knitting and she was sometimes found knitting a simple object while completely absorbed in prayer.

At the age of seven Anna Maria made her first Confession. At that time first Confession preceded first Communion by several years. She was very attracted to the sacrament and prepared for it carefully and received it often. A conversation which took place while returning from Church and recorded by her father gives an idea of her attitude towards the sacrament.

“I have been thinking about the text that was preached on Sunday, the unforgiving servant. We come to the great King of Heaven with empty hands, in debt to Him for everything: life itself, and grace, and all the gifts He lavishes on us. Yet all we can say is, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all I owe,’ while all the time we could never pay anything towards the remission of our own debts, if God did not put into our hands the means to do so. And then, how often do we go away and refuse pardon for some slight fault in our neighbors, withholding our love, remaining aloof, or even nursing a grievance against them, and building up grudges that cool charity.”

After this conversation, Ignatius, who already appreciated the piety of this child, felt certain that God was calling Anna Maria in a special way. From that point on he began to provide her with true spiritual direction appropriate to her understanding. It was Ignatius who introduced Anna Maria to the devotion to the Sacred Heart, a devotion which became one of the central focuses of her spiritual life. The love of this father and daughter grew deeper as their profound spiritual confidences expanded the already deep familial affection. As an adult, Sr. Teresa Margaret would say “So great was the good my father has done to my soul that I can truly claim that he has been my father twice over”. It is a tender irony that in aiding the rapid spiritual growth of this most beloved daughter Ignatius was preparing the path that would take her away from him forever.

St. Apollonia’s Boarding School

At the age of nine, Anna Maria was sent to the boarding school of the Benedictine nuns of St. Apollonia’s in Florence. While other families of their status thought educating their daughters was a waste of money, the Redi family was determined to do so. His decision to provide the best of educations for Anna Maria and her three sisters as well as for his four sons forced Ignatius to tighten the family budget. One of their sacrifices was to give up the family coach. This was not only a sacrifice in convenience but also in status. A coach was a mark of a family’s situation but Ignatius was not moved by such considerations. Young Anna Maria was deeply impressed by this sacrifice and urged her older brother to be very diligent in his studies in response to this generosity.

There were two reasons Anna Maria wanted to keep her interior life hidden. First, she understood from an early age that “the merits of a good action can diminish when exposed to the eyes of others who, by their praise or approval, give us satisfaction or at least flatter our self-love and pride too much; and that therefore it is necessary to be content to have God alone.” The second reason was in order to imitate the hidden life of the Holy Family. This singular family appeared to the folk of the little village of Nazareth to be no different from any other. This was Anna Maria’s goal.

She continually experienced movements of love which impelled her to try to live a more holy life. Yet she feared others would notice if she intensified her devotional exercises and this went against her determination to remain hidden.  In her need, she turned to the one she called twice her father; and so started an extraordinary correspondence with Ignatius Redi. He remained her spiritual director for the next five years. It is a great loss for us that Ignatius, obedient to her wishes, burned each of Anna Maria’s letters after reading it.

It is a mark of Anna Maria’s intelligence that she succeeded in her almost contradictory goals, extraordinary growth in holiness while appearing to be just like all the rest. At the age of sixteen as her time at St. Apollonia was coming to an end, Anna Maria was finding it difficult to make a decision regarding her future. She felt drawn to the religious life and loved the Benedictine nuns at St. Apollonia yet there was something missing. A very strange and singular incident put Anna Maria on the path to Carmel.

One day a distant acquaintance of Anna Maria, Cecilia Albergotti, who was about to enter Carmel, paid a farewell visit to St. Apollonia. She told Anna Maria she wished to speak to her but the time passed and there was no opportunity to do so. However, as she was leaving Cecilia took Anna Maria’s hand and looked at her intently, saying nothing. Anna Maria walked back to her room with a strange feeling inside. Suddenly she heard the words “I am Teresa of Jesus, and I want you among my daughters.” Confused and a bit frightened, she went to the chapel and knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. She heard the words again.

Now convinced of the authenticity of the locution, she determined at that moment to enter Carmel and started immediately making plans to leave the school. She was only home for a few months when preparations were made for her application to the Carmel in Florence. She entered on September 1, 1764 a few weeks after her seventeenth birthday taking the name Teresa Margaret of the Heart of Jesus.

Entrance into Carmel

The community she entered contained thirteen professed nuns and two novices. The religious observance in the convent was excellent and Teresa Margaret always had high regard for the nuns there whom she called angels or great saints. She always, to her last day, felt unworthy to be among them.

From her first days in Carmel it was obvious to her superiors that she was an unusually mature and capable young woman. Because of her spiritual maturity she was treated severely by the novice mistress, Mother Teresa Maria, for the purposes of aiding her growth. Although Teresa Margaret exercised complete control over her actions and attitudes, her fair complexion which blushed bright red often gave away the interior battle she waged to maintain this control.

The period of postulancy was usually three months but it was extended one month because she developed an abscess on her knee. The ailment required surgery to scrape the infection away from the bone. This was done without anesthesia and the nuns marveled at her courage. Teresa Margaret however chided herself when a small whimper escaped her during the cutting. She feared that this ailment might cause the nuns not to accept her into the novitiate but there was no cause to worry. The nuns had found her spiritually mature, obedient, with a sweet and gentle nature. They considered her a gift and a true daughter of St. Teresa. She was accepted by a unanimous vote.

It was the custom at the time for the candidate to make a brief return to the world to consider once more the life she was leaving behind. Teresa Margaret visited again with members of her family and spent precious time with her father. There was no doubt now that their next parting would be forever. If anything could have kept Teresa Margaret from retuning to the Carmel, it would have been the pain she was causing her father. When Ignatius brought her back to the convent those around her were alarmed at her pallor. That evening she confided in her superior, Mother Anna Maria “I do not think that it is possible for me ever to suffer greater pain than that which I experienced in leaving my father.” She wept copious tears that night to the point of alarming Mother Anna Maria and causing her to wonder how Teresa Margaret had kept her composure through the day.

The next day Teresa Margaret was composed and radiant. Her father however was overcome and moved to a back corner of the church unable to watch the clothing ceremony. Later in the afternoon he was able to visit with her in the parlor. He could see her flooded with the peace the world cannot give and a joy no earthly pleasure can produce. He left her with an emptiness his other children could never fill yet he was at peace and thankful to God for the gift of this sacrifice.

The duties of the novices were general housekeeping and various small tasks needed by the community. But even as a novice, Teresa Margaret started the work that would take most of her time and energy for the rest of her years in Carmel; that of caring for the sick. Of the thirteen professed nuns, nine were elderly and often ill. Teresa Margaret started by assisting the aged novice mistress prepare for bed each night. She then took on the care of an ailing novice. More and more she spent any free time assisting the infirmarian in caring for one or the other of the seriously ill nuns. Some times she would move into the room of a sick sister to provide care during the night. Aside from the required periods of prayer Teresa Margaret gave her self to physical labor. Her work went far beyond what was required or expected.

A year after her clothing Teresa Margaret was scheduled to be professed. The abscess on her knee reappeared. She wondered if this might be a sign that she was mistaken, that she did not have a vocation after all. She brought her doubts before God with simplicity and humility desiring only the will of God whatever it might be. The abscess disappeared. When the time came for her profession, with honest feelings of unworthiness she asked to be professed as a simple lay Sister. This was not allowed but she kept this humble attitude all through her life in Carmel and often helped the lay sisters at their tasks. No duty was too lowly for her.

Theresa Margaret lived only four years after her Profession. For two years she served as assistant sacristan but never gave up her work among the sick. She was finally named assistant infirmarian though she had been doing the job all along.

She loved this job and the constant charity it demanded for she stated “love of neighbor consists in service.” Although “assistant” she soon was in fact exercising full responsibility for the infirmary. She was young and strong and seemed to thrive on the hard work. During her years of service, in spite of her continued determination to keep hidden her gifts and graces, remarkable incidences occurred: the miraculous healing which occurred after Teresa Margaret, filled with compassion, kissed a sister weeping in pain; her ability to converse with a deaf nun with whom no one else could communicate; various cures which, though not miraculous were at the least unusual; and her uncanny ability to know when a patient needed her no matter where in the monastery she might be.

Her Interior Life

Teresa Margaret had a rich, active interior life. The first tenant, as has been mentioned, was to remain hidden, to keep her gifts and graces hidden from all but her Lord while appearing quite ordinary to the world.

In her desire to prove her love to God, she practiced severe penances; sleeping on the floor, using a hairshirt, leaving windows open in the winter and closed in the summer, taking the discipline, etc. There was nothing masochistic in these practices. She wanted to discipline her body and unite herself to the suffering Christ. For her, suffering was a way of repaying love for love. As she grew she modified these practices and took as her motto “Always receive with equal contentment from God’s hand either consolations or sufferings, peace or distress, health or illness. Ask nothing, refuse nothing, but always be ready to do and to suffer anything that comes from His Providence.”

Her daily spiritual exercises were simple. She determined to present a smiling and serene exterior no matter how severe her interior and exterior trials. She practiced the art of never doing her own will for she believed that “she who does not know how to conform her will to that of others will never be perfect.” She would never offer an excuse for a fault or defend herself when falsely accused. She wrote that “everything can be reduced to interior movements, where the constant exercise of abnegation is essential.” She believed that God would be found when God alone is sought. To that end she made the following resolution: “I propose to have no other purpose in all my activities, either interior or exterior, than the motive of love alone, by constantly asking myself: ‘Now what am I doing in this action? Do I love God?’ If I should notice any obstacle to pure love, I shall take myself in hand and recall that I must seek to return my love for His love.” As for love of neighbor, she determined to “sympathize with their troubles, excuse their faults, always speak well of them, and never willingly fail in charity in thought, word or deed”.

All these little practices seem to be no more than what any good Christian should be doing. How simple and un-heroic they are. Yet to spend even one day in the minute by minute application of them would be more than most could hope to accomplish.

One Sunday in choir, Teresa Margaret was given a particular grace to understand the deep meaning of the love of God. While the community was reciting Terce, the words “Deus caritus est” (God is Love, I John 4:8) were read and it seemed to her she heard them for the first time. She was flooded with an elevated understanding of these words that seemed to be a new revelation. Despite the fact that she tried carefully to hide this sudden grace, all around her were aware something out of the ordinary had happened. These words occasioned a mystical experience which transformed her knowledge of God.

For the next few days the words “God Is Love” were constantly on her lips as she went about her duties. She appeared so out of herself that the Carmelite Provincial was brought in to examine her to see if she were suffering from “melancholy”. After examining her he responded: “I would indeed very happily see every sister in this community afflicted with such ‘melancholy’ as that of Sister Teresa Margaret!” It was only later that the community came to attribute her “faraway look” to her habitual awareness of the presence of God and His continual operations in her.

Night of the Spirit

This grace was however to start a great spiritual trial for Teresa Margaret. She had always found it impossible to return to God “love for love” as she desired. Now that she had a mystical experience of the love of God the abyss between God’s love for her and her ability to return that love sufficiently became a source of increasing torment to her.

In a series of letters to her spiritual director, Fr. Ildephonse, she wrote: “I am telling you in strict confidence, sure of your discretion that I find myself in pain because I am not doing anything to correspond to the demands of love. I feel that I am continually being reproached by my Sovereign Good and yet, I am very sensitive to the slightest movement contrary to the love and knowledge of Him. I do not see, I do not feel, I do not understand anything interiorly or exteriorly which could impel me to love … no one can imagine how terrible it is to live without any love when one is actually burning with the desire for it.”

“This is a torture to me, let alone the fact that it requires such an effort to apply myself to the things of God,” she confessed later. “I fear that God is very displeased with my Communions; it seems that I have no desire to ask His help because of the great coldness which I experience … It is the same with prayer and, of course, in all the other spiritual exercises. I am continually making good resolutions but I never succeed in attaining some way of successfully overcoming these obstacles which stand in my way and prevent me from throwing myself at His feet.”

“The tempest has become extremely violent and I feel myself being so knocked about that I scarcely know what to do if this continues. Everywhere there is darkness and danger. My soul is so dark that the very things which used to afford me some spiritual consolation are only a source of torture to me … I must do violence to myself in order to perform each interior and exterior spiritual exercise … Finding myself in this state of supreme weariness I commit many failings at each step … My mind is in such turmoil that it is open to temptations of every sort, especially to those of despair … I have a great fear of offending God grievously … I see that I do wrong and at the same time try to follow the inspiration to do good and then I feel remorse for my infidelity; and to top it all, I am not succeeding in conquering myself because my repugnance is so great …”

“The cruelest torturer of her soul,” wrote Fr. Ildephonse, “was her love which, in the very same measure that it increased – hid itself from the eyes of her spirit. She loved, yet believed she did not; in the measure love grew in her soul, in the same measure augmented the desire of loving and the pain of thinking that she did not love.” He was convinced that she was at the stage of Spiritual Marriage. When he later heard of her sudden and unexpected death he remarked “she could not have lived very much longer so great was the strength of the love of God in her.”

Her Death

It is suspected that Teresa Margaret had a premonition of her death. After obtaining permission from Fr. Ildephonse, she made a pact with Sr. Adelaide, an elderly nun she was caring for. The pact was that when she died, Sr. Adelaide would ask God “to permit Sister Teresa Margaret to join her quickly in order that she may love Him without hindrance for all eternity and be fully united with the fount of divine charity.” Shortly after the death of Sr. Adelaide, Teresa Margaret was indeed with God. It is likely that the cause of Teresa Margaret’s death was a strangulated hernia. It is probable that it was in lifting the heavy, inert body of Sister Adelaide that she strained herself causing the hernia. If so, it was a delightful seal to their pact.

In mid-February, 1770, Teresa Margaret wrote her last letter to her father, in which she begged that he begin a novena to the Sacred Heart at once for a most pressing intention of hers.

On March 4th she asked Father Ildefonse to allow her to make a general confession, as though it were to be the last of her life, and to receive Communion the following morning in the same dispositions. Whether or not she had any presentiment that this was indeed to be her Viaticum one cannot know; but in fact it was. She was only twenty-two years old and in excellent health, yet it appears she was making preparations for her death.

On the evening of March 6th Teresa Margaret arrived late to dinner from her work in the infirmary. She ate the light Lenten meal alone. As she was returning to her room, she collapsed from violent abdominal spasms. She was put to bed and the doctor was called. He diagnosed a bout of colic, painful but not serious. Teresa Margaret did not sleep at all during the night, and she tried to lie still so as not to disturb those in the adjoining cells. The following morning she seemed to have taken a slight turn for the better

But when the doctor returned he recognized that her internal organs were paralyzed and ordered a surgeon for a bleeding. Her foot was cut and a bit of congealed blood oozed out. The doctor was alarmed and recommended that she should receive the Last Sacraments right away. The infirmarian however, felt that this was not necessary, and was reluctant to send for a priest because of the patient’s continued vomiting. In addition, Sister Teresa Margaret’s pain appeared to have lessened. The priest was not called.

Teresa Margaret offered no comment, nor did she ask for the Last Sacraments. She seemed to have had a premonition of this when making her last Communion “as Viaticum”. She held her crucifix in her hands, from time to time pressing her lips to the five wounds, and invoking the names of Jesus and Mary, otherwise she continued to pray and suffer, as always, in silence.

By 3 p.m. her strength was almost exhausted, and her face had assumed an alarmingly livid hue. Finally a priest was called. He had time only to anoint her before she took her flight to God. She remained silent and uncomplaining to the end, with her crucifix pressed to her lips and her head slightly turned towards the Blessed Sacrament. The community was stunned. Less than twenty-four hours earlier she had been full of life and smiling serenely as she went about her usual duties.

Glory Revealed

Teresa Margaret had attempted all her life to remain hidden. In many ways she succeeded. But upon her death, the veil over her exalted sanctity was lifted by God Himself.

The condition of Teresa Margaret’s body was such that the nuns feared it would decay before proper funeral rites could be accomplished. Her face was discolored, her extremities were black, the body already bloated and stiff. When her body was prepared and laid out in the choir later in the day, it was almost unrecognizable to the sisters who had lived with her for the last five years.

Her funeral was held the following day and plans were made for her immediate burial. When she was moved into the vault however, everyone noticed that a change had taken place in the body. The blue-black discoloration of her face was much less noticeable. The community decided to postpone the burial. A few hours later a second examination showed that the entire body had regained its natural color. The nuns were consoled to see the lovely face of Teresa Margaret looking just as they had known her.

They begged the Provincial’s permission to leave her unburied until the next day, a request which he, dumbfounded at this astonishing reversal of natural processes, readily granted. The final burial of the body was arranged for the evening of the 9th of March, fifty-two hours after her death. By that time her skin tint was as natural as when alive and in full health, and the limbs, which had been so rigid that dressing her in the habit had been a difficult task, were flexible and could now be moved with ease.

This was all so unprecedented that the coffin was permitted to remain open. The nuns, the Provincial, several priests and doctors all saw and testified to the fact that the body was as lifelike as if she were sleeping, and there was not the least visible evidence of corruption or decay. Her face regained its healthy appearance; there was color in her cheeks. Mother Victoria, who had received the profession of this young nun, suggested that a portrait should be painted before the eventual burial. This was unanimously agreed to, and Anna Piattoli, a portrait painter of Florence, was taken down to the crypt to capture forever the features that now in death looked totally life-like.

The Carmel burial vault was a scene of much coming and going during these days, and had assumed anything but a mournful atmosphere. By the time the painting was completed, a strange fragrance was detected about the crypt. The flowers that still remained near the bier had withered. But the fragrance persisted, and grew in strength, pervading the whole chamber. And then, miles away in Arezzo her mother Camilla also became aware of an elusive perfume which noticeably clung to certain parts of the house.

During the next two weeks several doctors and ecclesial authorities came to the crypt to examine the body. As the days continued to pass the body regained more and more the characteristics of a living being. The Archbishop of Florence came on March 21 to make his own examination. The body was now totally subtle. Her bright blue eyes could be seen under lids slightly opened. Finally a little moisture collected on her upper lip. It was wiped off with a piece of cloth and rendered a “heavenly fragrance”. The Archbishop declared: “Extraordinary! Indeed, it is a miracle to see a body completely flexible after death, the eyes those of a living person, the complexion that of one in the best of health. Why, even the soles of her feet appear so lifelike that she might have been walking about a few minutes ago. She appears to be asleep. There is no odor of decay, but on the contrary a most delightful fragrance. Indeed, it is the odor of sanctity.”

Teresa Margaret was finally buried eighteen days after her death. The report of miracles attributed to her intercession began immediately. Thirty-five years later, on June 21, 1805, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the incorrupt body of St. Teresa Margaret was transferred to the nuns’ choir in the Carmel of Florence where it remains to this day.

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IMG_2921 St TM REDI web

“… my God, I do not want anything else other than to become a perfect image of You and, because Your life was a hidden life of humiliation, love, and sacrifice, I desire the same for myself. I wish, therefore, to enclose myself in Your loving Heart as in a desert in order to live in You, with You, and for You this hidden life of love and sacrifice.  You know indeed that I desire to be a victim of Your Sacred Heart, completely consumed as a holocaust by the fire of Your holy love.  And thus Your Heart will be the altar upon which I must be consumed, my dearest Spouse; You will Yourself be the priest Who must consume this victim by the fire of Your holy love.” -from the Act of Oblation of St Teresa Margaret Redi of the Sacred Heart.

St Teresa Margaret Redi of the Sacred Heart, OCD, was the subject of Chapter 2 of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD, (Edith Stein)’s (1891-1942), who was killed at Auschwitz, book, “The Hidden Life”, written in 1939.

Love,
Matthew
It was long, mea culpa, but it’s Lent.  It’s good for us! 🙂

Feb 21 – St Robert Southwell, SJ, (1561-1595) – Poet, Priest & Martyr

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As February is thought of as a month of love, it is terribly fitting, IMHO, to remember this great lover and poet, and most importantly, as always, The Object of his love.

Robert Southwell was born at Horsham St. Faith’s, Norfolk, England, in 1561, the third of eight children. His grandfather, Sir Richard Southwell, had been a wealthy man and a prominent courtier in the reign of Henry VIII, and the family remained among the elite of the land. He was so beautiful as a young boy that a gypsy stole him. He was soon recovered by his family and became a short, handsome man, with gray eyes and red hair.

It was Richard Southwell who in 1547 had brought the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, to the block, and Surrey had vainly begged to be allowed to “fight him in his shirt”. Curiously enough their respective grandsons, Robert Southwell and Philip, Earl of Arundel, were to be the most devoted of friends and fellow-prisoners for the Faith. On his mother’s side the Jesuit was descended from the Copley and Shelley families, whence a remote connection may be established between him and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Despite their Catholic sympathies, the Southwells had profited considerably from King Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries.

Even as a child, Southwell was distinguished by his attraction to the old religion. Protestantism had come to England, and it was actually a crime for any Englishman who had been ordained as a Catholic priest to remain in England more than forty days at a time. In order to keep the faith alive, William Allen had opened a school at Douai, where he made a Catholic translation of the Bible, the well-known Douai version. Southwell attended this school and asked to be admitted into the Jesuits. At first the Jesuits refused his application, but eventually his earnest appeals moved them to accept him. He wrote to the Jesuits “How can I but waste in anguish and agony that I find myself disjoined from that company, severed from that Society, disunited from that body, wherein lyeth all my life, my love, my whole heart and affection.” (Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Anglia 14, fol. 80, under date 1578).  He was ordained a priest in 1584. Two years later, at his own request, he was sent as a missionary to England, well knowing the dangers he faced.  A poet and a scholar, his poetry would have a profound influence on the moral climate of the age.

A spy reported to Sir Francis Walsingham the Jesuits’ landing on the east coast in July, but they arrived without molestation at the house at Hackney of William Vaux, 3rd Baron Vaux of Harrowden. For six years they kept him under surveillance. He assumed the last alias “Cotton” and found employment as a chaplain to Ann Howard, Lady Arundel, her husband being accused of treason for being a Catholic and in prison.  Southwell wrote a prose elegy, Triumphs over Death, to the earl to console him for a sister’s premature death. Although Southwell lived mostly in London, he traveled in disguise and preached secretly throughout England, moving from one Catholic family to another. His downfall and capture came about when he became friendly with a Catholic family named Bellamy.

Southwell was in the habit of visiting the house of Richard Bellamy, who lived near Harrow and was under suspicion on account of his connection with Jerome Bellamy, who had been executed for sharing in Anthony Babington’s plot, which intended to assassinate the Queen and place Mary, Queen of Scots, on the English throne.

One of the daughters, Anne Bellamy, was arrested and imprisoned in the gatehouse of Holborn for being linked to the situation. Having been interrogated and raped by Richard Topcliffe, the Queen’s chief priest-hunter and torturer, she revealed Southwell’s movements and Southwell was immediately arrested. When Bellamy became pregnant by Topcliffe in 1592, she was forced to marry his servant to cover up the scandal.

Southwell was first taken to Topcliffe’s own house, adjoining the Gatehouse Prison, where Topcliffe subjected him to the torture of “the manacles”. He remained silent in Topcliffe’s custody for forty hours. The queen then ordered Southwell moved to the Gatehouse, where a team of Privy Council torturers went to work on him. When they proved equally unsuccessful, he was left “hurt, starving, covered with maggots and lice, to lie in his own filth.” After about a month he was moved by order of the Council to solitary confinement in the Tower of London. According to the early narratives, his father had petitioned the queen that his son, if guilty under the law, should so suffer, but if not should be treated as a gentleman, and that as his father he should be allowed to provide him with the necessities of life. No documentary evidence of such a petition survives, but something of the kind must have happened, since his friends were able to provide him with food and clothing, and to send him the works of St. Bernard and a Bible. His superior St Henry Garnet, SJ, later smuggled a breviary to him. He remained in the Tower for three years, under Topcliffe’s supervision.

Tortured thirteen times, he nonetheless refused to reveal the names of fellow Catholics. During his incarceration, he was allowed to write. His works had already circulated widely and seen print, although their authorship was well known and one might have expected the government to suppress them. Now he added to them poems intended to sustain himself and comfort his fellow prisoners. He wrote “Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live; Not where I love, but where I am, I die.” He was so ill treated, his father petitioned the Queen that he be brought to trial.

February 21, 1595, Southwell was brought to Tyburn, where he was to be hung and then quartered for treason, although no treasonous word or act had been shown against him. It was enough that he held a variation of the Christian faith that frightened many Englishmen because of rumors of Catholic plots.  He addressed the crowd gathered, “I am come hither to play out the last act of this poor life.”  He prayed for the salvation of the Queen and country.

Execution of sentence on a notorious highwayman had been appointed for the same time, but at a different place — perhaps to draw the crowds away — and yet many came to witness Southwell’s death. Eyewitness accounts, both Catholic and Protestant, are unanimous in describing Southwell as both gracious and prayerful in his final moments.

When cut loose from the halter that tied him to the cart, he wiped his brow with a handkerchief and tossed the “sudarium” into the crowd, the first of what would become his relics. When asked if he would like to speak, Southwell crossed himself and first spoke in Latin, quoting Romans 14:8:“Sive uiuimus, Domino uiuimus, sive morimur, Domino morimur, ergo uiuimus, sive morimur, Domini sumus.” (If we live, we live in the Lord. If we die, we die in the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or we die, we are in the Lord.)  The sheriff made to interrupt him; but, was allowed to continue for some time.  He then addressed himself to the crowd, saying he died a Catholic and a Jesuit, offenses for which he was not sorry to die. He spoke respectfully of the Queen, and asked her forgiveness, if she had found any offense in him.

Then, after the hangman stripped him down to his shirt and tightened the noose around his neck, Robert Southwell spoke his last words (found in both Psalm 30 and the Gospel of Luke),“In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum. Redemisti me, Domine Deus veritatis,” while repeatedly making the sign of the cross. “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, Lord God of truth.”

At the third utterance of these words, the cart rolled away and Southwell hung from his neck. Those present forbade the hangman cutting him down to further the cruelties of drawing and quartering before Southwell was dead.  He hung in the noose for a brief time, making the sign of the cross as best he could. As the executioner made to cut him down, in preparation for disembowelling him while still alive, Lord Mountjoy and some other onlookers tugged at his legs to hasten his death.  Yet, despite their efforts, according to one account, he was still breathing when cut down. When the hangman lifted Southwell’s head up before the crowd, no one cried “Traitor.” Even a pursuivant present admitted he had never seen a man die better.

Southwell’s writings, both in prose and verse, were extremely popular with his contemporaries, and his religious pieces were sold openly by the booksellers though their authorship was known. Imitations abounded, and Ben Jonson declared of one of Southwell’s pieces, The Burning Babe (below), that to have written it he would readily forfeit many of his own poems. Mary Magdalene’s Tears, the Jesuit’s earliest work, licensed in 1591, probably represents a deliberate attempt to employ in the cause of piety the euphuistic prose style, then so popular. Triumphs over Death, also in prose, exhibits the same characteristics; but this artificiality of structure is not so marked in the Short Rule of Good Life, the Letter to His Father, the Humble Supplication to Her Majesty, the Epistle of Comfort and the Hundred Meditations. Southwell’s longest poem, St. Peter’s Complaint (132 six-line stanzas), is imitated, from the Italian Lagrime di S. Pietro of Luigi Tansillo. This with some other smaller pieces was printed, with license, in 1595, the year of his death. Another volume of short poems appeared later in the same year under the title of Maeoniae. Perhaps no higher testimony can be found of the esteem in which Southwell’s verse was held by his contemporaries than the fact that, while it is probable that Southwell had read Shakespeare, it is practically certain that Shakespeare had read Southwell and imitated him.

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-Line engraving by Matthaus Greuter (Greuther) or Paul Maupin, published 1608, frontispiece to St Peter’s Complaint.

“The Chief Justice asked how old he was, seeming to scorn his youth. He answered that he was near about the age of our Saviour, Who lived upon the earth thirty-three years; and he himself was as he thought near about thirty-four years. Hereat Topcliffe seemed to make great acclamation, saying that he compared himself to Christ. Mr. Southwell answered, ‘No he was a humble worm created by Christ.’ ‘Yes,’ said Topcliffe, ‘you are Christ’s fellow.'”—Father Henry Garnet, “Account of the Trial of Robert Southwell.” Quoted in Caraman’s The Other Face, page 230.

Southwell: I am decayed in memory with long and close imprisonment, and I have been tortured ten times. I had rather have endured ten executions. I speak not this for myself, but for others; that they may not be handled so inhumanely, to drive men to desperation, if it were possible.

Topcliffe: If he were racked, let me die for it.

Southwell: No; but it was as evil a torture, or late device.

Topcliffe: I did but set him against a wall. (The “Topciliffe Rack” was vertical, against a wall, not horizontal, adding the victim’s own weight to his pain, with never a relief.)

Southwell: Thou art a bad man.

Topcliffe: I would blow you all to dust if I could.

Southwell: What, all?

Topcliffe: Ay, all.

Southwell: What, soul and body too?

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The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter’s night
Stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat,
Which made my heart to glow;

And lifting up a fearful eye,
To view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright
Did in the air appear;

Who, scorched with excessive heat,
Such floods of tears did shed,
As though His floods should quench His flames,
With which His tears were fed.

“Alas,” quoth He, “but newly born,
In fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts,
Or feel my fire, but I;

“My faultless breast the furnace is,
The fuel, wounding thorns:
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke,
The ashes, shame and scorn;

“The fuel Justice layeth on,
And Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought
Are men’s defiled souls,

“For which, as now on fire I am
To work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath,
To wash them in My blood.”

With this he vanish’d out of sight,
And swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind,
That it was Christmas day.

-Robert Southwell, SJ

A VALE OF TEARS.
By Robert Southwell, SJ

A vale there is, enwrapt with dreadful shades,
Which thick of mourning pines shrouds from the sun,
Where hanging cliffs yield short and dumpish glades,
And snowy flood with broken streams doth run.

Where eye-room is from rock to cloudy sky,
From thence to dales with stony ruins strew’d,
Then to the crushèd water’s frothy fry,
Which tumbleth from the tops where snow is thaw’d.

Where ears of other sound can have no choice,
But various blust’ring of the stubborn wind
In trees, in caves, in straits with divers noise;
Which now doth hiss, now howl, now roar by kind.

Where waters wrestle with encount’ring stones,
That break their streams, and turn them into foam,
The hollow clouds full fraught with thund’ring groans,
With hideous thumps discharge their pregnant womb.

And in the horror of this fearful quire
Consists the music of this doleful place;
All pleasant birds from thence their tunes retire,
Where none but heavy notes have any grace.

Resort there is of none but pilgrim wights,
That pass with trembling foot and panting heart;
With terror cast in cold and shivering frights,
They judge the place to terror framed by art.

Yet nature’s work it is, of art untouch’d,
So strait indeed, so vast unto the eye,
With such disorder’d order strangely couch’d,
And with such pleasing horror low and high,

That who it views must needs remain aghast,
Much at the work, more at the Maker’s might;
And muse how nature such a plot could cast
Where nothing seemeth wrong, yet nothing right.

A place for mated mindes, an only bower
Where everything do soothe a dumpish mood;
Earth lies forlorn, the cloudy sky doth lower,
The wind here weeps, here sighs, here cries aloud.

The struggling flood between the marble groans,
Then roaring beats upon the craggy sides;
A little off, amidst the pebble stones,
With bubbling streams and purling noise it glides.

The pines thick set, high grown and ever green,
Still clothe the place with sad and mourning veil;
Here gaping cliff, there mossy plain is seen,
Here hope doth spring, and there again doth quail.

Huge massy stones that hang by tickle stays,
Still threaten fall, and seem to hang in fear;
Some wither’d trees, ashamed of their decays,
Bereft of green are forced gray coats to wear.

Here crystal springs crept out of secret vein,
Straight find some envious hole that hides their grace;
Here searèd tufts lament the want of rain,
There thunder-wrack gives terror to the place.

All pangs and heavy passions here may find
A thousand motives suiting to their griefs,
To feed the sorrows of their troubled mind,
And chase away dame Pleasure’s vain reliefs.

To plaining thoughts this vale a rest may be,
To which from worldly joys they may retire;
Where sorrow springs from water, stone and tree;
Where everything with mourners doth conspire.

Sit here, my soul, main streams of tears afloat,
Here all thy sinful foils alone recount;
Of solemn tunes make thou the doleful note,
That, by thy ditties, dolour may amount.

When echo shall repeat thy painful cries,
Think that the very stones thy sins bewray,
And now accuse thee with their sad replies,
As heaven and earth shall in the latter day.

Let former faults be fuel of thy fire,
For grief in limbeck of thy heart to still
Thy pensive thoughts and dumps of thy desire,
And vapour tears up to thy eyes at will.

Let tears to tunes, and pains to plaints be press’d,
And let this be the burden of thy song,—
Come, deep remorse, possess my sinful breast;
Delights, adieu! I harbour’d you too long.

St Robert Southwell, SJ,’s Prayer for the Church:

“We therefore are under an obligation to be the light of the world by the modesty of our behaviour, the fervour of our charity, the innocence of our lives, and the example of our virtues.

Thus shall we be able to raise the lowered prestige of the Catholic Church, and to build up again the ruins that others by their vices have caused. Others by their wickedness have branded the Catholic Faith with a mark of shame, we must strive with all our strength to cleanse it from its ignominy and to restore it to its pristine glory. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Jan 28 – St Thomas Aquinas, O.P., (1225-1274) – Doctor of the Church, Doctor Communis, Doctor Angelicus, “The Dumb Ox!”

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Also known as the “Common Doctor/Doctor Communis”, which is high praise, meaning his opine is universal, something for everyone, relevant in every situation.

Probably, for me, the highlight, liturgically, of the year is Holy Thursday, after communion has been distributed and the priest is enwrapped in cope, incense is lit, the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the monstrance, the procession to the place of reservation begins and Pange Lingua, attributed to St Thomas Aquinas, and not just because I am his wonk, is sung beautifully and reverently, nearly as chant…

“Sing, my tongue, the Saviour’s glory,
of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our Immortal King…

Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail…”

It is very moving for me.  My mother always taught me to genuflect on both knees when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.  The altar is then stripped and ornamentation in the sanctuary is removed in anticipation of the events remembered the following day.  There is such a peace, solemnity, silence, and profound meaning beyond words I look forward to each year.

I tried reading the Summa on my own, once, and only once.  Emphasis on the word “tried” and “once”.  I quickly gave up.  Calculus is easier, more self-evident.

There are a great number of erudite tomes way over my head which are best introduced to the novice, literally, with a well seasoned, compassionate guide to whom the bewildered, overwhelmed student can revert with great frequency, great frequency, receiving tender mercies of experienced instruction and wisdom, presuming these qualities are present in the teacher.  Thank God for merciful instructors.  We would never graduate without their encouragement and support.  I try to imitate that with my own students, who, too, are deeply grateful, usually, but there are some… 🙁  For those students, I have to pray even harder!!! 🙂

Don’t try the Summa on your own, boys and girls.  Fair warning.  Many of the original works of the Church Fathers fall into this category as well.  You have been fairly warned!  I have the intellectual scars from those “knowledge bombs”, a term one of my students recently introduced me to, to prove it!  Wanna see?  🙂

St. Thomas Aquinas was born January 28, 1225, in Aquino, a town in southern Italy from which he takes his surname. In his masterwork, Summa Theologica, he represents the pinnacle of Scholasticism, the philosophical and theological school that reconciles faith with reason and the works of Aristotle with the scriptures.

At the time Thomas lived, the works of Aristotle were being rediscovered in the West and great Christian thinkers of the day spent a good deal of attention and effort trying to unify Divine revelation with human philosophy.  In the East, intellectual life flourished.  The West was still recovering from the inertia of the “Dark Ages”, where little intellectual innovation occurred.  It is said St Thomas was the spark who prepared the the West for the Renaissance.  Aristotle had been preserved in Arabic, and Islam was producing great Aristotelian thinkers.  Western Christians needed to respond in kind.

The family of Thomas Aquinas was a noble one, his parents, the Count of Aquino and Countess of Teano, were related to Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, as well as to the Kings of Aragon, Castile, and France.  He was the youngest of eight children.

During his early education, Thomas exhibited great acumen in the medieval trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Described as “a witty child”, who “had received a good soul”, even as a child student, he posed the question to his instructors, “What is God?”

Because of his high birth, Thomas’ entry into the Dominican order in the early 1240s was very surprising, and especially disturbing to his family. They especially opposed entry into “mendicant”, or begging orders, who beg for their sustenance, thinking it far below their family status.

Thomas’ family employed various means to dissuade him from his vocation, including kidnapping him and imprisoning him for two years.  Thomas spent his time tutoring his sisters, and communicating with other Dominicans.  His resolve was strong.  Family members became desperate to dissuade Thomas, who remained determined to join the Dominicans. At one point, two of his brothers resorted to the measure of hiring a prostitute to seduce him. Thomas drove her away wielding a fire iron. That night two angels appeared to him as he slept and strengthened his determination to remain celibate giving him a mystical belt of chastity.  He never faced sexual temptation again. (????!!!! Really? Wow? :< I guess. Mixed feelings on that one…. 🙂 [I DO like my sin, unfortunately. 🙁 Give me strength, Lord! :] Concupiscence.

Upon his escape, which was arranged by his mother, Theodora, as a face saving measure, rather than all out surrender to a religious order, Thomas returned to the Dominicans and his studies.  Since, “still waters run deep”, Thomas was a thoughtful, and hence, quiet student.  His taciturn nature was deceiving.  So much so, his classmates thought him dim-witted.  Possessing hefty stature, his classmates nick-named him “The Dumb Ox!”

After a stint as a student in Paris, Thomas made his way to Cologne to teach, receiving ordination to the priesthood in 1250. Soon after this, he was assigned to teach at Paris, where he also worked toward his degree of Doctor of Theology, which he received in 1257, with his friend St. Bonaventure, after some intramural political difficulty.

The remainder of his life was spent in prayer, study, and writing his great Summa Theologica, a systematic attempt to present the findings of scholasticism. Although Thomas is sometimes perceived simply as an analytical and methodical writer, he was, especially in his later years, given to periods of mystical ecstasy. During one such experience, on December 6, 1273, he resigned from his writing project, indicating that he had perceived such wonders that his previous work seemed worthless.  During the Feast of St. Nicolas in 1273, St. Thomas Aquinas had a mystical vision that made writing seem unimportant to him. At Mass, he heard a voice coming from a crucifix tell him, “Thou hast written well of Me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?” to which St. Thomas Aquinas replied, “None other than Thyself, Lord.”

When St. Thomas Aquinas’ confessor, Father Reginald of Piperno, urged him to keep writing, Aquinas replied, “I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value, as so much straw.” St. Thomas Aquinas never wrote again.

The Summa Theologica was left unfinished, proceeding only as far as the ninetieth question of the third part. St. Thomas Aquinas died a few months later, on March 7, 1274. Today, Thomist theology stands at the center of the Roman Catholic tradition.

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-The Temptation of St Thomas Aquinas, by Diego Velazquez, 1631-2, oil on canvas, Orihuela Cathedral Museum

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– artist anonymous, Cusco School, (1690 – 1695), “Saint Thomas Aquinas, Protector of the University of Cusco”, oil on canvas, H:1,610 mm (63.39 in), W:1,170 mm (46.06 in), Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru.

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“Joy is the noblest human act.” -St Thomas Aquinas

“Charity is the form, mover, mother and root of all the virtues.” – Saint Thomas Aquinas

“To love God is something greater than to know Him.” -St. Thomas Aquinas

“Almighty and ever-living God, I approach the sacrament of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.  Lord, in your great generosity, heal my sickness, wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness.  Amen.”  -St Thomas Aquinas

“May I receive the bread of angels, the King of kings and Lord of lords, with humble reverence, with the purity and faith, the repentance and love, and the determined purpose that will help to bring me to salvation.  May I receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood, and its reality and power.  Amen.”  -St Thomas Aquinas

“The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Love; It signifies Love, It produces love. The Eucharist is the consummation of the whole spiritual life.”— St. Thomas Aquinas

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Wonderful Theologian and Doctor of the Church, you learned more from the Crucifix than from books. Combining both sources, you left us the marvelous “Summa” of theology, broadcasting most glorious enlightenment to all.  You always sought for true light and studied for God’s honor and glory.  Help us all to study our religion as well as all other subjects needed for life, without ambition and pride in imitation of you. Amen.

Prayer

Father of wisdom, You inspired Saint Thomas Aquinas with an ardent desire for holiness and study of sacred doctrine. Help us, we pray, to understand what he taught, and to imitate what he lived.   Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 13 – St Hilary of Poitiers, (315?-368 AD), Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Christ’s Divinity, Hammer of the Arians

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I love Pilate’s question.  “What is Truth?” (Jn 18:38), asked by so many in our own day, or not.  I have spent a VERY LONG TIME praying on THAT ONE!!!!  I still do.  I will until breath or thought are no longer mine.

Rather than seek out and admit to Truth, the burden of Which is tremendous in its implications and responsibilities for us, many shrink/cower in fear or laziness and become their own truth, their own god, saying falsely, “There is no God.” Or, “God is Whom I wish Him to be.”  In Gen 3:5, the effects of the deception of the serpent persist.  Not only did Adam & Eve not become like God, we still believe we know, inherently, as a matter of fact, of and from our own reference of ourselves, our own whims, preferences, fashions and passions, a self-idolatry, the difference between Good & Evil.  Untrue.  An intellectual idol if ever there was one, not of silver or gold, but of self-satisfaction and reassurance.  Safe, warm, self-satisfied, self-established, self-proclaimed, self-determined, self-assured, and false.  Heresy.  Psalm 135:15-18.

No.  One of the defining qualities of the True God is He is utterly transcendent.  We do not define Him, in any way, form, or iota, nor, be forewarned and wary, should we ever be tempted to try.  He defines us.  He does not need us.  We need Him, desperately.  Classical catechesis teaches us if God ever stopped thinking about us, we would vanish into nothingness.  All Creation exists because of and holds/remains because of the mindfulness of God.  He loves us, surely, but voluntarily loves us; the only true love, and utterly not out of some necessity.  That would be some sort of co-dependency.  And I am unaware God is co-dependent.

After the Resurrection, and even with the compilation, eventually, of the canon of Scripture, i.e., Council of Carthage, 397 AD, there were still many practical questions those wishing to live the Christian faith reasonably had.  Details, details, details.  Details are important.  If, as the conventional wisdom goes, it is all about relationships, then details matter.  How would your most important relationships fare without the intimate details/”history” those relationships are based upon?  Not so well, I confidently posit.

And so, it goes with God, in that most important Relationship, upon which all depends, details matter.  Don’t get the details right and the Relationship is askew, misdirected, misinformed, misshapen, misunderstood, ineffective, failing or failed.  You don’t “get It!”  The very definition of sin is being out of right Relationship with God, of not “getting it”, not rendering, as justice demands, as a creature of the Creator, just worship and love for the fact of even just being.

While the Church certainly faces its challenges in our own day, the first thousand years of Christianity were plagued by, among others, Arianism.  Arianism was a belief created by Arius, Bishop of Alexandria AD 250–336, in Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of God the Father to God the Son, essentially denying the equality in divinity of Jesus to His Father. Arius asserted that the Son of God was a subordinate entity to God the Father. Arius was condemned as a heretic.

The Arian concept of Christ is that the Son of God did not always exist, but was created by, and is therefore a creature/creation of God the Father. This belief is grounded in the misinterpretation of the Gospel of John passage “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (Jn 14:28)  Although condemned, the damage was done. The heresy spread rapidly. St. Jerome said “The world groaned and marveled to find that it was Arian.”

Hilary was a gentle and courteous man, devoted to writing some of the greatest theology on the Trinity, and was like his Master in being labeled a “disturber of the peace.” In a very troubled period in the Church, his holiness was lived out in both scholarship and controversy.  Hilary was born in Poitiers, France, at the beginning of the fourth century. In the early centuries of Christianity, paganism, of course, was prevalent.  Hilary’s family was pagan, as was Hilary, by birth.  He married and raised a family.  His daughter’s name was Apra.

Receiving an excellent education, Hilary, though, was drawn to the study of Scripture.  Hilary learned that, from studying Scripture, a person should practice patience, kindness, justice and as many good habits as possible. These good acts would be rewarded in the life after death. Hilary’s studies also convinced him that there could only be One God Who is eternal, all-powerful and good. He read the Bible continuously.

When he came to the story of Moses and the burning bush, Hilary was very impressed by the name God gave himself: I AM WHO AM. Hilary read the writings of the prophets, too. Then he read the whole New Testament. By the time he finished, Hilary was completely converted to Christianity, and he asked to be baptized.

Hilary lived the faith so well that he was appointed bishop, against his personal wishes. This did not make his life easy because the Roman Emperor was interfering in Church matters. When Emperor Constantius ordered all the bishops of the West to sign a condemnation of St Athanasius, the great defender of the faith in the East, Hilary refused and was banished from France to far off Phrygia (in modern-day Turkey). Eventually Hilary was called the “Athanasius of the West.” It was then when Hilary’s great virtues of patience and courage stood out. He accepted exile calmly and used the time to write books explaining the Catholic faith.

While writing in exile, he was invited by some semi-Arians (hoping for reconciliation) to a council the emperor called to counteract the Council of Nicea, where the true Catholic doctrine of the Trinity was affirmed and defined. Hilary predictably defended the Church, and when he sought public debate with the heretical bishop who had exiled him, the Arians, dreading the meeting and its outcome, pleaded with the emperor to send this troublemaker back home, where they hoped he would receive less notoriety.

Since he was becoming famous, Hilary’s enemies asked the emperor to send him back to his home in France. They hoped that people would pay less attention to him there. So Hilary was sent back to Poitiers in 360.  He was received at home with great joy by the people of Poitiers. He continued writing and teaching about the Faith. Hilary died eight years later, at the age of fifty-two. His books have influenced the Church right to our own day.

“To those who wish to stand in God’s grace, neither the guardianship of saints nor the defenses of angels are wanting.” – Saint Hilary, Commentary on the Psalms

Prayer of St Hilary of Poitiers

“I am well aware, almighty God and Father, that in my life I owe you a most particular duty. It is to make my every thought and word speak of You.

In fact, You have conferred on me this gift of speech, and it can yield no greater return than to be at Your service. It is for making You known as Father, the Father of the only-begotten God, and preaching this to the world that knows You not and to the heretics who refuse to believe in You.

In this matter the declaration of my intention is only of limited value. For the rest, I need to pray for the gift of Your help and Your mercy. As we spread our sails of trusting faith and public avowal before You, fill them with the breath of Your Spirit, to drive us on as we begin this course of proclaiming Your Truth. We have been promised, and He who made the promise is trustworthy: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But Yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek You and to open when we knock.

There is an inertia in our nature that makes us dull; and in our attempt to penetrate Your truth we are held within the bounds of ignorance by the weakness of our minds. Yet we do comprehend divine ideas by earnest attention to Your teaching and by obedience to the Faith which carries us beyond mere human apprehension.

So we trust in You to inspire the beginnings of this ambitious venture, to strengthen its progress, and to call us into a partnership in the spirit with the prophets and the apostles. To that end, may we grasp precisely what they meant to say, taking each word in its real and authentic sense. For we are about to say what they already have declared as part of the mystery of revelation: that you are the eternal God, the Father of the eternal, only-begotten God; that You are one and not born from another; and that the Lord Jesus is also one, born of You from all eternity. We must not proclaim a change in Truth regarding the number of gods. We must not deny that He is begotten of You Who are the One God; nor must we assert that He is other than the true God, born of You, who are truly God the Father.

Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its Truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about You, the One God the Father, and the One Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny You, to honor You as God, Who is not alone, and to proclaim this as Truth.”  -from a sermon On the Trinity (Lib 1, 37-38: PL 10, 48-49) by Saint Hilary of Poitiers.  This prayer is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers.

Old English liturgical books have the following Preface for the Liturgy on the feast day of St. Hilary: “… that we should always and in all places give thanks, pay our vows, and consecrate our gifts to Thee, O Holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God. Who of old didst choose Thy blessed confessor Hilary for Thyself to be a prelate of sanctified confession, shining brightly with radiance vast, mighty in the meekness of his ways, burning with the fervour of his faith, flowing with the fountain of his speech. For the One in Whom his glory lay, is revealed by the multitudes thronging his sepulchre, the purification of those that hasten to it, the healing of the diseased there, the signs of astonishing miracles…”
-from the complete Old Sarum Rite Missal, (c) 1998 St. Hilarion Press

Prayer

O Lord our God, Who raised up Your servant Hilary to be a champion of the Catholic faith: Keep us steadfast in that true faith which we professed at our baptism, that we may rejoice in having You for our Father, and may abide in your Son, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; Who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 29 – St Thomas a’Becket, (1118-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr

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-miniature from an English psalter presenting a spirited account of the murder, c. 1250, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.  Three of the four knights attack the archbishop, who is kneeling in prayer before the altar. One of the knights kicks Thomas to the floor, and sends his miter flying as his sword cracks open Thomas’s head.

A St Thomas, Chancellor of the Realm, killed at the order of his former friend King Henry, where they had previously been dear friends and true confidants, separated by a matter of principle and duty to the Church and its Lord; does history repeat itself?  Perhaps.  But, this is the twelfth century, not the sixteenth.  Certainly, the ancients, and some even up to the twentieth century, believed history is cyclical, not linear, as we do.

Thomas Becket was born of parents who had emigrated from Normandy to England, some years before his birth 21 Dec 1118.  He was well educated and associated with the social elite of his day.

He was described at this early age by Robert of Cricklade, who gives a vivid portrait of him at this period:

“To look upon he was slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face. Blithe of countenance was he, winning and love-able in his conversation, frank of speech in his discourses, but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment and understanding that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner.” He abhorred foul conduct and speech.  Lying and unchastity were hateful to him.

He came into the employ and favor of the then Archbishop of Canterbury for his secretarial skills.  He was subsequently sent by his employer to study civil and canon (church) law in Bologna and Auxerre, and handle several delicate negotiations of import.

It was at this time that Henry II ascended the throne.  Henry had been made aware of Thomas’ reputation and subsequently made him his chancellor.  As chancellor of England, Thomas had a large household and lived in splendor.

Current chroniclers speak with wonder of the relations which existed between the chancellor and the sovereign, who was twelve years his junior. People declared that “they had but one heart and one mind”. Often the king and his minister behaved like two schoolboys at play. But although they hunted or rode at the head of an army together it was no mere comradeship in pastime which united them. Both were hard workers, and both, we may believe, had the prosperity of the kingdom deeply at heart.

In many matters they saw eye to eye. The king’s imperial views and love of splendor were quite to the taste of his minister. When Thomas went to France in 1158 to negotiate a marriage treaty, he travelled with such pomp that the people said: “If this be only the chancellor what must be the glory of the king himself?”

When the archbishop of Canterbury died, Henry wanted the pope to give Thomas this position. It would require that Thomas be ordained a priest. But Thomas told him plainly that he did not want to be the archbishop of Canterbury. He realized that being in that position would put him in direct conflict with Henry II’s plans to control and manipulate the Church towards his own ends. Thomas knew that he would have to defend the Church against Henry, and that would mean trouble. “Your affection for me would turn into hatred,” he warned Henry. The king paid no attention and Thomas was made a priest and a bishop in 1162.

Now a change occurred. Thomas lived more austerely and devoted much more time to prayer. At first, things went along as well as ever. All too soon, however, the king began to demand money, which Thomas felt he could not rightly take from the Church. The king grew more and more angry with his former friend. Finally, he began to treat Thomas harshly. For a while, Thomas was tempted to give in a bit to the “Constitutions of Clarendon”, which enumerated Henry’s proposed abuses. Then he began to realize just how much Henry hoped to control the Church. Thomas was very sorry that he had even thought of giving in to the king. He did penance for his weakness and ever after held firm.

Thomas fled to the continent in fear for his safety for four years.  After a long and protracted negotiation, including many threats upon property and well being of Thomas’ family and allies, it appeared a form of resolution emerged.  Thomas returned to England quietly possessing Henry’s documents of excommunication, After Thomas refused to lift the censures he had placed upon bishops favored by Henry, Henry was particularly annoyed with his former dear friend and said in anger out loud. “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

Some of his knights took him literally. They went off to murder the archbishop. They attacked him in his own cathedral, trying to remove him from the physical church building, but Thomas resisted, struggling and dying on the steps of the altar.  A sword blow scattering his brains on the cathedral floor. He died, saying, “For the name of Jesus and in defense of the Church, I am willing to die.” It was December 29, 1170.

Edward Grim, a monk, observed the attack from the safety of a hiding place near the altar. He wrote his account some time after the event:

“The murderers followed him; ‘Absolve’, they cried, ‘and restore to communion those whom you have excommunicated, and restore their powers to those whom you have suspended.’

“He answered, ‘There has been no satisfaction, and I will not absolve them.’

‘Then you shall die,’ they cried, ‘and receive what you deserve.’

‘I am ready,’ he replied, ‘to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my people whether clerk or lay.’

“Then they lay sacrilegious hands on him, pulling and dragging him that they may kill him outside the church, or carry him away a prisoner, as they afterwards confessed. But when he could not be forced away from the pillar, one of them pressed on him and clung to him more closely. Him he pushed off calling him ‘pander’, and saying, ‘Touch me not, Reginald; you owe me fealty and subjection; you and your accomplices act like madmen.’

“The knight, fired with a terrible rage at this severe repulse, waved his sword over the sacred head. ‘No faith’, he cried, ‘nor subjection do I owe you against my fealty to my lord the King.’

“Then the unconquered martyr seeing the hour at hand which should put an end to this miserable life and give him straightway the crown of immortality promised by the Lord, inclined his neck as one who prays and joining his hands he lifted them up, and commended his cause and that of the Church to God, to St. Mary, and to the blessed martry Denys. Scarce had he said the words than the wicked knight, fearing lest he should be rescued by the people and escape alive, leapt upon him suddenly and wounded this lamb who was sacrificed to God on the head, cutting off the top of the crown which the sacred unction of the chrism had dedicated to God; and by the same blow he wounded the arm of him who tells this. For he, when the others, both monks and clerks, fled, stuck close to the sainted Archbishop and held him in his arms till the one he interposed was almost severed.

“Then he received a second blow on the head but still stood firm. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living victim, and saying in a low voice, ‘For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.’

“Then the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay, by which the sword was broken against the pavement, and the crown which was large was separated from the head. The fourth knight prevented any from interfering so that the others might freely perpetrate the murder.

“As to the fifth, no knight but that clerk who had entered with the knights, that a fifth blow might not be wanting to the martyr who was in other things like to Christ, he put his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to say, scattered his brain and blood over the pavement, calling out to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; he will rise no more.’

The entire Christian world was horrified at such a crime. Pope Alexander III held the king personally responsible for the murder. A year later, Henry II performed public penance, lest he be excommunicated and thereby removing his subjects of the obligation of fealty, and he lose his crown, and likely his life.  There can only be one king.

On 12 July, 1174, the king donned a sack-cloth walking barefoot through the streets of Canterbury while eighty monks flogged him with branches. Henry capped his atonement by spending the night in the martyr’s crypt.

An immense number of miracles occurred at the tomb of St Thomas Becket, and for the rest of the Middle Ages the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury was one of the wealthiest and most famous in Europe. The martyr’s holy remains are believed to have been destroyed in September, 1538, when nearly all the other shrines in England were destroyed.

“For our sake Christ offered himself to the Father upon the altar for the cross. He now looks down from heaven on our actions and secret thoughts, and one day he will give each of us the reward his deeds deserve. It must therefore be our endeavor to destroy the right of sin and death, and by nurturing faith and uprightness of life, to build up the Church of Christ into a holy temple of the Lord. The harvest is good and one reaper or even several would not suffice to gather all of it into the granary of the Lord. Yet the Roman Church remains the head of all the churches and the source of Catholic teaching. Of this there can be no doubt. Everyone know that the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given to Peter. Upon his faith and teaching the whole fabric of the Church will continue to be built until we all reach full maturity in Christ and attain to unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God. Of course many are needed to plant and many to water now that the faith has spread so far and the population become so great. Nevertheless, no matter who plants or waters, God gives no harvest unless what he plants is the faith of Peter, and unless he himself assents to Peter’s teaching. All important questions that arise among God’s people are referred to the judgment of Peter in the person for the Roman Pontiff. Under him the ministers of Mother Church exercise the powers committed to them, each in his own sphere of responsibility. Remember then how our fathers worked out their salvation; remember the sufferings through which the Church has grown, and the storms the ship of Peter has weathered because it has Christ on board. Remember how the crown was attained by those whose sufferings gave new radiance to their faith. The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown.” – from a letter by Saint Thomas Becket

“Remember how the crown was attained by those whose sufferings gave new radiance to their faith. The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown.” -St. Thomas Becket

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Prayer in honor of St Thomas a’Becket

Almighty God, by Whose grace and power Your holy martyr Thomas triumphed over suffering and evil, and was faithful even unto death, keep Thy household free of all evil.  Raise up for us faithful pastors and shepherds, who are wise in the ways of the Gospel.

Grant us, who now remember Your martyr Thomas with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to You in this world, that we may be a compelling sign of faith to those who witness our lives, and hence receive with Your martyrs the crown of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 10 – Sts Swithun Wells, Edmund Gennings, Polydore Plasden, & Bls John Mason, Sidney Hodges, Brian Lacey, (d. 1591), Martyrs

Swithun Wells was born at Brambridge, Hampshire, England around 1536; the youngest of five sons, his parents were Thomas Wells (or Welles) and Mary, daughter of John Mompesson.

He was christened with the name of the ninth century local saint and Bishop of Winchester, Swithun. They were a determinedly Catholic family who, during the Reformation, were to assist in the clandestine burials of Catholics in the local churchyard and whose house became a refuge for priests. His eldest brother, Gilbert, died a known recusant having forfeited the property, but it was later restored to the family by Charles II.

We know that for six years he kept a school for young gentlemen at Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire and that for many years he conformed to the state requirement to attend Protestant services.  In 1583, Swithun Wells was reconciled to the Catholic Church.

In 1585 he went to London, where he took a house in Gray’s Inn Lane. November 7, 1591, Fr. Edmund Gennings (b. 1567) was saying Mass at Wells’s house, when the priest-hunter Richard Topcliffe burst in with his officers.  They would all be executed outside that same house.

Gennings, from Lichfield, Staffordshire, was a thoughtful, serious boy naturally inclined to matters of faith. At around sixteen years of age he converted to Catholicism. He went immediately to the English College at Reims where he was ordained a priest in 1590. He soon returned to England under the assumed name of Ironmonger. His missionary career was brief.

Topcliffe, “the Queen’s Torturer”, “the cruelest tyrant in all of England”, was a lawyer in the employ of the Privy Council and a sadistic interrogator and torturer and a sexual sadist – a man, it is reported, who too much enjoyed his work.

Topcliffe claimed that his own instruments and methods were better than the official ones, and was authorized to create a torture chamber in his home in London.  The “Topcliffe Rack”, where the victim is suspended vertically, rather than horizontally, from a wall by manacles far above their height and weights are added to the ankles, was his invention.

The congregation at Wells’ house, now surrounded, not wishing the Mass to be interrupted, held the door and beat back the officers until the Mass was finished, after which they all surrendered quietly.

Wells was not present at the time, but his wife was, and was arrested along with Gennings, another priest, Fr. Polydore Plasden, and three laymen, John Mason, Sidney Hodgson, and Brian Lacey.

On his return, Wells was immediately arrested and imprisoned. At his trial, he said that he had not been present at the Mass, but wished he had been, upon which saying he was sentenced to be hanged, and was executed outside his own house on 10 December 1591, just after Edmund Gennings.

The victim the executioners most wanted to suffer most would be killed last, watching loved ones and friends die brutally before their own passion.  Fr. Gennings, a convert to Catholicism at age 17, was killed first.  He was 24 yrs old. He is reported to have said, “Sancte Gregori, ora pro me!” while he was being disembowelled, after being hung, but not to death, only stunning him, and that the hangman swore, “Zounds! See, his heart is in my hand, and yet Gregory is in his mouth. O egregious Papist!”  The martyrdom of Edmund Gennings was the occasion of several extraordinary incidents, chief of which was the conversion of his younger brother, John, to the Catholic faith, and who became a Franciscan, and who later wrote his biography, published in 1614 at Saint-Omer.

Fr. Polydore Plasden, age 28, at his execution he acknowledged Elizabeth as his lawful queen, whom he would defend to the best of his power against all her enemies, and he prayed for her and the whole realm, but said that he would rather forfeit a thousand lives than deny or fight against Catholicism. In contrast to the others, Sir Walter Raleigh fought for his reprieve, but only succeeded in his being allowed to hang till he was dead, and the sentence was carried out upon his corpse.

It was upon Fr. Plasden’s word that the Mass they attended and for which they were about to die was allowed to conclude peacefully.  Due to Fr. Plasden’s concern for the Blessed Sacrament and his fear that the Eucharist might be subjected to sacrilege, he gave his word that he, Fr. Edmund Gennings and those recusants hearing Mass would freely surrender should Mass be permitted to conclude. The infamous Richard Topcliffe knew that Fr. Polydore would keep his word and agreed so as to be able to take them away quietly.  The message here is clear.  The Mass is the priority.  Once concluded, do with us what you wish.

On the scaffold, Swithun Wells, said to Topcliffe, “Hurry up, please, Mr. Topcliffe. Are you not ashamed to make a poor old man stand in his shirt in the cold?  God pardon you and make you of a Saul into a Paul, of a bloody persecutor into one of the Catholic Church’s children. By your malice I am thus to be executed, but you have done me the greatest benefit that ever I could have had. I heartily forgive you.” ” His wife, Alice, was reprieved, and died in prison some 10 years later.

NPG D25344,Edmund Geninges,by M. Bas

-St Edmund Gennings, priest & martyr

swithin-wells

-St Swithun Wells, layman & martyr



“If to return to England a priest or to say Mass be popish treason, I here confess that I am a traitor; but I think not so and therefore acknowledge myself guilty of this those, not with repentance but with an open protestation of inward joy!” – St Edmund Gennings, priest & martyr, executed age 24.

Eternal and loving God, the lives of your servants, Swithun Wells and his companions, offer us an example of faithful service to the Gospel and love for the Mass.

Their deaths remind us of the cost that many people pay for witnessing to the Truth.

Through the prayers of St Swithun Wells and his companions
may we be proud of the faith we have inherited from the saints and martyrs, and through our work, prayers, and most importantly Your grace, deepen the roots of the Catholic faith in ourselves and in those who observe our lives.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son.
Amen.

Love,
Matthew