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Episcopal/ordained/professed penance

Firstly, let me say I am loathe to put forward the recommendations another makes for a fellow Christian’s penance, let alone propose such myself, especially for the ordained and especially even more so for the Successors to the Apostles.  Never in my life prior could I have but imagined this turn of events or wanted to.  Yet, it having been more than a little embarrassing to be a Catholic of late, I am sanguine to do so in this case.

I think of all the Irish who suffered degradation, injustice, poverty, death, discrimination and starvation rather than renounce their faith, and then I think of the betrayal of clerical pedophilia and its cover up, and it makes me more than angry, more than sick to my stomach.  My Christian commitment/obligation toward forgiveness is sorely tested.  I am sure, though, not more than I have tested the Lord in His love of me, so I maintain.  To think, it would not be our enemies who could break us or most severely test us, but our spiritual parents/leaders?  Judas lives.  He continues to kiss.  The Passion plays itself out over and over again in OUR lives!!  Does it not?  Tragic, no question.  Spooky, too.

Anyone familiar with Church history will know early Christian penance, once the indelible seal of baptism had been imprinted on the soul of the person, was severe – including sackcloth (no, really, literally, just like it sounds) as the only clothing, the prohibition against bathing, the wearing of dirt or ashes as a sign of remorse, the refraining from marital relations, exclusion from public celebration, refraining from alcohol or other intoxicant, the eating of simplest of sustaining food and drink, its blandness intentional as a form of suffering and remorse, and general exclusion from the community and social relationships.  This could go on for years, depending upon the sin committed and hence penance imposed!  (It was the Irish monks who later developed the Christian practice of frequent confession in place of such severe penances which the universal church adopted, gratefully.)

At the Easter vigil, the bishop would literally “take the penitents by the hand”, they having been excluded, as part of their penance, from regular liturgical celebration with the community, from the vestibule of the Church and lead them back into the community and normal life, the salvific work of the Resurrection literally restoring the penitents to life.  So severe was penance that many early potential Christians, Emperor Constantine himself included, hesitated being baptized for this reason, so grave were the consequences of sinning, in this life at that time, preferring to live as before and be baptized just before death, ostensibly when it was more convenient to forego the pleasures of life and less likely to fall into sin.

The penalty for ordained pedophilia was clearly described in church law.  St Peter Damian, Doctor of the Church & one of the Great Catholic Reformers, urged Leo IX to enforce the law of the Church.  Church law clearly described the following penance:  “Any cleric who seduces young men (adolescentium) or boys (parvulorum), or who is apprehended in kissing or in any shameful situation, shall be publicly flogged and shall lose his clerical tonsure…”  

(Roman tonsure, the form we are most likely most familiar with, is intentional cutting of the crown of the head of hair as a public notice of the renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem.  Up until medieval times, it clearly indicated those in religious life.  Even today in the profession ceremonies of vowed communities, hair is cut as vestigial reminder of this ancient ceremony.  The Pope and the bishops wear skull caps, or “zuchetto”, of the appropriate color given their rank, today as clerical decoration, but originally to warm and cover exposed scalp, recall no central heating, which the Roman tonsure exposed.  The losing of one’s tonsure being a humiliation, a loss of status & position – akin to being perceived as a slave.  Freemen had hair of all kinds.  Slaves were shorn at their master’s pleasure.)

Continuing “…Thus shorn, he shall be disgraced by spitting into his face, bound in iron chains, wasted by six months of close confinement, and for three days each week put on barley bread given him toward evening.  Following this period, he shall spend a further six months living in a small segregated courtyard in the custody of spiritual elder, kept busy with manual labor and prayer, subjected to vigils and prayers, forced to walk at all times in the company of two spiritual brothers, never again allowed to associate with…” juveniles.  (p 41, “The Great Catholic Reformers” by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL.)

In the July 10 edition of the National Catholic Reporter, probably “The” standard of Catholic journalism and news on the Church in the US, Paul Wilkes, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Wilkes, writes a fine article on proposed episcopal penance.  Please see below.

Many lay Catholics are taking his suggestions seriously.  If you don’t believe me, read what my friend Susan Vogt wrote below.  As my friend Susan points out, this would be the innocent doing penance for their culpable Christian brothers and sisters.  I say, how very Christian.  Isn’t that the very premise for the Incarnation?  If VOTF decides to move forward with this initiative, as a member, I will eagerly join them and do my share.

The idea that the laity should demand better behavior from the ordained is not novel.  In Milan, after hearing the preaching of a deacon named Ariald, the laity rose up on May 10, 1057.  Ariald and his followers became known as “Patarines” who opposed clerical concubinage.  “For two years, the Patarines terrorized the unreformed clergy.  They would enter priests’ homes, drag them out of their beds and away from their concubines, and force them to sign pledges that they would be both celibate and chaste…The popes in this period encouraged such resistance on the part of the laity against unreformed clergymen.”(p 47, “The Great Catholic Reformers” by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL.)

“Miserere mei, Deus… Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me…”
“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy… Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin…”
-Psalm 51, Miserere

The words of the Miserere form easily on my lips, I have prayed them so many times before and need no notes or text any longer.

Act of Contrition
(taught to Catholic youth, or at least it used to be, and said after confession, before absolution, heartfelt contrition and a sincere determination to not repeat the moral errors of one’s past required for absolution of sin by the confessor.)

O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins
because I dread the loss of heaven
and the pains of hell,
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace
to confess my sins, to do penance,
and to amend my life.
Amen.

Love,
Matthew

—————————————



A VOTF Year of Penance?

By Susan Vogt


Many of you probably saw last week’s NCR
article (July 10, 2009) by Paul Wilkes, “A modest proposal to (finally) put
abuse crisis behind us.” The proposal is that the US bishops should embark upon
a Year of Penance in personal and public reparation for the clergy sexual abuse
scandal.

This is not a new idea. I remember it
being floated about five years ago. I thought it was a good idea then but no
bishops seemed to bite. I suggested to several lay ministry groups that I was
part of that perhaps even if the bishops didn’t undertake some form of public
penance, maybe we should – not because we personally sexually abused or abetted
the abuse of anyone, but rather because the Church is a community and there is
such a thing as “social sin.” 

I floated the idea of lay people going to
a public place (in Cincinnati it would be Fountain Square, in DC it might be on
the mall or in front of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, etc.) We would
have signs announcing our purpose and we would kneel in prayer and penance at
noon every Friday (or every first Friday, or whatever). Several people
countered that WE were not the ones who should do penance but rather the
bishops and didn’t want to get involved. I decided not to push it further.
 Now
Paul Wilkes reopens the idea and has added 7 points that the bishops could do
to publically show their penance:

·      Bishops
would wear penitential clothing, the modern counterpart to sackcloth and ashes.

·      They
would refrain from wearing their miters and, when in public, only be marked by
the simplest of crosses.

·      They
would spend at least one day a week working alongside the people of their
diocese, doing real labor, working in restaurants, on construction sites, in
offices. Or, as a pastoral associate – not clergy – doing real parish work.

·      They
would spend another day in solitary prayer, part of it in their home cathedral,
where we Catholics might join them, in silent affirmation of their bravery.

·      They
would have monthly dinners with the victims of abuse and their parents, so that
they might know even more deeply of their pain. Without lawyers or the filter
of staff, alone with those violated by our arrogance.

·      They
would refrain from public appearances, other than those proper to their office,
confirmation and such, and avoid banquets and events at which they are esteemed
guests. No public approbation, no honorary degrees.

·      At
such religious events, they would wear the usual garb of a priest and some
somber marking to signify they are doing penance.

Again, it would be wonderful if bishops
would decide to do this voluntarily and collectively. I, however, am tired of
waiting and put the call out to VOTF members: Would we be willing to take this
on as an organization? Most of Wilkes’ 7 points would not apply to most lay
people but we could do public prayer vigils in front of cathedrals or on public
squares…

It is an action that local affiliates
could do to both express their personal sorrow and to raise awareness. (Perhaps
the bishops might even be shamed into action as a result.) Do you think
instituting a VOTF Year of Penance has any traction? It aligns us more closely
with survivors, is non-confrontational, draws upon communal prayer, and could
activate the local affiliates. Besides, it doesn’t cost any money.

————————————————–

A modest proposal to put abuse crisis behind us

by Paul Wilkes, National Catholic Reporter, July 10, 2009

I spend a lot of time in Catholic parishes and rectories these days, talking about the components of local church excellence–the subject of a Lilly Endowment study and a couple books of mine–and speaking on behalf of a poor Indian orphanage my wife and I are trying to help.

And, so from Seattle to Boston, Birmingham to Green Bay, I have the opportunity to hear from a lot of Catholic pastors and parishioners. I sit in their kitchens and living rooms, ride to and from airports, and as we talk about the state of our church and its declining numbers and influence on lives–especially on the lives of our young people–the subject inevitably returns to the clergy abuse scandal of the past decade.

What I hear and feel is a sense of terrible unease that the leadership of my church has not yet fully and squarely dealt with the horrible fallout. Yes, there have been billions of dollars in payouts and a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. But somehow money and policing have not been enough.

I covered the historic meeting of Catholic bishops in Dallas in 2002 when, in a moment of panic and public outcry, the charter was adopted. It mandated that any priest, with even the whiff of an allegation, would be removed. There was nothing to similarly punish or even sanction bishops for their culpability in transferring or sheltering known abusers.

Priests across the country felt betrayed; they noticeably retreated from youth work. Some even stopped wearing their Roman collars in public. They felt doubly betrayed because none of the men voting on that charter–the assembled bishops of America–took a hit. I have not yet found a Catholic priest who felt fairly treated by the Dallas decision. They felt betrayed, sacrificed, sold out.

Looking at this from the bishops’ side, I am sure many are saying: “What else can we do? We have paid and paid dearly. We have sold buildings; some of us have been forced into bankruptcy. We have tried to put a system in place where this will not happen again. We have apologized again and again. What more?”

I have a simple answer, one, I think, would put this horrible chapter in American Catholic life behind us.

A Year of Penance by the bishops of America. A true sign of contrition.

The Year of Penance would include both those who have unduly protected abusing priests and fought the charter–claiming their ecclesiastical rights were being violated–and those who have been the most generous with settlements and open, with their records on suspected abusers. All would stand together, collectively, asking forgiveness. We have had a year of St. Paul, now a year dedicated to the priest: hood, why not a year of penance in this still unsettled time?

Public penance is hardly new to the Catholic church. It has a rich and fruitful history. The hierarchy and popes demanded it of secular rulers for centuries. Many a king and prince have waited in the rain or knelt in the snow, humbly as any common sinner. There was a felt need to make public restitution for especially heinous public offenses against the moral order. There was no better way to make this point than to see royalty shed of their raiment, eyes cast down, outside church or papal chamber, awaiting a sign they are forgiven and can go on with their lives.

Today, the need to rectify is reversed by the clergy abuse scandal. It is the hierarchy who need to take on a penitent’s mantle for it is they who abdicated their shepherd’s trust as they protected their own, some of them cowardly jeopardizing our children while boldly protecting the institution.

Here is how the Year of Penance might look:

* Bishops would wear penitential clothing, the modern counterpart to sackcloth and ashes.

* They would refrain from wearing their miters and, when in public, only be marked by the simplest of crosses.

* They would spend at least one day a week working alongside the people of their diocese, doing real labor, working in restaurants, on construction sites, in offices. Or, as a pastoral associate–not clergy–doing real parish work.

* They would spend another day in solitary prayer, part of it in their home cathedral, where we Catholics might join them, in silent affirmation of their bravery.

* They would have monthly dinners with the victims of abuse and their parents, so that they might know even more deeply of their pain. Without lawyers or the filter of staff, alone with those violated by our arrogance.

* They would refrain from public appearances, other than those proper to their office, confirmation and such, and avoid banquets and events at which they are esteemed guests. No public approbation, no honorary degrees.

* At such religious events, they would wear the usual garb of a priest, with some somber marking to signify they are doing penance.

Such a collective penance, lumping the forthright and the reluctant among them, would acknowledge that they are all culpable for the sins of the few. That they are continually unworthy of the high office to which they have been called, and that they are, after all, priests at their heart, with compassion for their people. Such a collective penance would demonstrate to American Catholics and non-Catholics alike that our bishops realize the hangover of this horrid chapter is still very much with us…


-The reproaches of the Prophet Nathan to King David and the penance of King David, 10th century AD, Paris psaulter (BnF MS Grec 139), folio 136v Reproches de Nathân à David

Proverbs, Chapter 9

Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven columns;

She has prepared her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table.

She has sent out her maidservants; she calls
from the heights out over the city:

“Let whoever is naive turn in here;
to any who lack sense I say,

Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!

Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding.”

Whoever corrects the arrogant earns insults;
and whoever reproves the wicked incurs opprobrium.

Do not reprove the arrogant, lest they hate you;
reprove the wise, and they will love you.

Instruct the wise, and they become still wiser;
teach the just, and they advance in learning.

THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM IS HOLY FEAR OF THE LORD,
and knowledge of the Holy One and counsel of the saints is understanding.

For by me your days will be multiplied
and the years of your life increased.

If you are wise, wisdom is to your advantage;
if you are arrogant, you alone shall bear it.

Woman Folly is raucous,
utterly foolish; she knows nothing.

She sits at the door of her house
upon a seat on the city heights,

Calling to passersby
as they go on their way straight ahead:

“Let those who are naive turn in here,
to those who lack sense I say,

Stolen water is sweet,
and bread taken secretly is pleasing!”

Little do they know that the shades are there,
that her guests are in the depths of Sheol!

May 2 – St Athanasius (293-373 AD), Bishop, Father & Doctor of the Church, Defender of the orthodox Faith

Athanasius_Frederikskirken

-St. Athanasius (1883–84), by Carl Rohl-Smith, Frederik’s Church, Copenhagen, Denmark.

In my study of and training in Christology, I have come to learn and to observe nearly every varied interpretation and manipulation, if you will, throughout history has been attempted, offered, and promulgated by heretics as to whom Jesus was and is.  There is a truth and a saying when one studies Church history:  “there are no new heresies”.  This is so true.  That word, heresy, grates on the modern ear.  We much prefer the calm, soothing, comforting, anesthetizing sounds of relativism – contemplation without thought, without challenge.  Peace at any cost, peace in our time.  Thank you, St Neville Chamberlain (Warning:  NOT a real saint!)  This is so as opposed to a more challenging, sobering truth.

The rational mind with integrity cannot accept mutually exclusive truths and rest easy.  The Church may have to deal with heresies for a time, from time to time, hopefully refute and suppress them successfully, but given the mind of man, general ignorance of and training in the theological sciences, our own willfulness and refusal to learn from our forbears in faith who have climbed Himalayan mountains of faith, thought, and life’s experiences, add in the work of the Enemy, and heresies constantly return over time mutated, altered, changed, but still holding onto the core deception.  Bad thinking leads to bad action.  History is replete with examples.

The most difficult conclusion human beings have had to come to, the hardest to hold, and the most embattled throughout human history, is that He was Whom He said He was:  the Son of the Father, co-equal with the Creator and the Holy Spirit in true Trinitarian theology.  I feel this is the most challenging since it begs of us the most difficult questions and challenges us profoundly.  How would we live differently if His divinity were not an article of faith?  But, rather, a daily, moment-by-moment live experience of fact – as we define fact?  How would we live differently if we knew our appointment with Him were not merely a possibility, but an inevitability?  For this reason, I believe this conclusion is the most difficult to which to come and hold because of the profound challenges and questions it poses – too much to bear many would claim.  Hence, the heresies, both ancient and modern, and the human temptation towards them continue.

Arius (250-336 AD) was a bishop from Alexandria, Egypt.  He taught that Jesus did not always exist, but was created by the Father and was of a different substance than the Father, nearly, or actually, implying Jesus was perhaps divine, but not Divine as God is Divine, but also a creature of God, like us, only better.  At the heart of the Arian heresy, if taken to its logical conclusion, was truly to call into question Jesus’ divinity.  At best, a second rate divinity, really.

It is really helpful at this point if one knows a little Greek and understands how one letter, “i”, one iota, literally, can change the entire meaning of a word and generally cause a big fight.  But, I will spare you that for now.  (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists have sometimes been referred to as Arians or Semi-Arians.  Unitarian Universalists deny the Trinity altogether, as well as several other problems.  Gnosticism, which pre-dates Christianity, has been recreated in the modern age as Freemasonry and Scientology.)

Ok, I lied,

homoiousios/ηομο and homoousios/ηομοουσιος The first, the heretical word if inserted into the Creed, means of a “similar essence/substance”.  The second means of the “same essence/substance”.  BIG FIGHT!!!!!  It caused such a huff, the Emperor Constantine ordered a Church council to meet, the Council of Nicea (325 AD), and work it out for the sake of peace in the empire.  Wars have been fought over the words in the Creed, which is why I am always so scandalized when new, creative, modern, “Oh, what the hell.  Let’s use this one today” type creeds get used rather blithely in Christian, especially Catholic worship.  No wonder people, even the ordained, mea culpa, are often confused.  When I teach young people, consistently they present their brains to me as so much theological mush.  I fancy myself a theological personal trainer for the young – tightening their theological core, as my actual personal physical trainer is teaching me to tighten mine.  Ouch!  I am a certified catechist, you know.  St Athanasius, pray for us!

When we recite the Nicene Creed (325 AD), it is the words,”We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father”, think of and thank St Athanasius, and those who held to the orthodox belief of the Trinity despite profound opposition and difficulty.  We have Arius to thank that we are so emphatic, repeating over and over this truth when we pray the Creed, seventeen centuries later.  Arius had trouble with the Trinity.  Granted, that’s a tough one for any Christian, even the most erudite theologians, to wrap their minds around, let alone explain.  Hence the ascription as mystery.  But, mystery as it may be, most Christians do not slip into heresy and lead others to follow because they don’t like it, most.

StAthanasiusShrineinStMarkCathedralCairo

-Athanasius’ Shrine (where a portion of his relics are preserved) under St. Mark’s Cathedral, Cairo

Tomb of Zaccaria and Saint Athanasius
-Tomb of Zaccaria and Saint Athanasius

“You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.”
-St Athanasius

“Jesus, Whom I know as my Redeemer, cannot be less than God.”
-St Athanasius

Love,
Matthew

May 25 – St Mary Magdalen de Pazzi (1556-1607), Carmelite Mystic & Great Catholic Reformer, “To suffer and not to die”

Pietro_Novelli_Our_Lady_of_Carmel_and_Saints

“Our Lady of Carmel and Saints”, by Pietro Novelli, 1641, Simon Stock (standing), Angelus of Jerusalem (kneeling), Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Teresa of Avila, Museo Diocesano, Palermo

It would be easy to concentrate on the mystical experiences God gave this saint, rather than on her life. In fact, it would be difficult to do differently, so overwhelming were those gifts from God. The temptation for many modern readers (including the author) would be to see little to identify with in these graces and walk away without seeing more. The other temptation would be to become so fascinated with these stories that one would neglect to dig deeper and learn the real lessons of her life.

But Mary Magdalene de Pazzi is not a saint because she received ecstasies and graces from God. Many have received visions, ecstasies, and miracles without becoming holy. She is a saint because of her response to those gifts — a lifelong struggle to show love and gratitude to the God who gave her those graces.

In fact Mary Magdalene saw her ecstasies as evidence of a great fault in her, not a reward for holiness. She told one fellow sister that God did not give this sister the same graces “because you don’t need them in order to serve him.” In her eyes, God gave these gifts to those who were too weak to become holy otherwise. That Mary Magdalene received these gifts proved, in her mind, how unworthy she was.

Born into one of the wealthiest and most distinguished noble families in Florence on April 2, 1566, the normal course would have been for Catherine de Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort.  Baptized Catherine, she was taught mental prayer when she was nine years old at the request of her mother. Her introduction at this age to this form of prayer which involves half an hour of meditation did not seem to be unusual. And yet today we often believe children incapable of all but the simplest rote prayers.  At twelve years old she experienced her first ecstasy while looking at a sunset which left her trembling and speechless.  She received religious training from the Jesuits.

With this foundation in prayer and in mystical experience, it isn’t surprising that she wanted to enter a contemplative monastery of the Carmelite Order. She chose the monastery of St. Mary’s of the Angels because the nuns took daily Communion, unusual at the time.

In 1583 she had her second mystical experience when the other nuns saw her weeping before the crucifix as she said, “O Love, you are neither known nor loved.”

Mary Magdalene’s life is a contradiction of our instinctive thought that joy only comes from avoiding suffering. A month after being refused early religious profession, she fell deathly ill. Fearing for her life the convent had her professed from a stretcher at the altar. After that she experienced forty days of ecstasies that coexisted with her suffering. Joy from the graces God gave were mixed with agony as her illness grew worse. In one of her experiences Jesus took her heart and hid it in his own, telling her he “would not return it until it is wholly pure and filled with pure love.” She didn’t recover from her illness until told to ask for the intercession of Blessed Mary Bagnesi over three months later.

As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. A severe five-year trial would follow. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, “Admonitions”, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious.

What her experiences and prayer had given her was a familiar, personal relationship with Jesus. Her conversations with Jesus often take on a teasing, bantering tone that shocks those who have a formal, fearful image of God. For example, at the end of her forty days of graces, Jesus offered her a crown of flowers or a crown of thorns. No matter how often she chose the crown of thorns, Jesus kept teasingly pushing the crown of flowers to her. When he accused her, “I called and you didn’t care,” she answered back, “You didn’t call loudly enough” and told him to shout his love.

She learned to regret the insistence on the crown of thorns. We might think it is easy to be holy if God is talking to you every day but few of us could remain on the path with the five year trial that followed her first ecstasies. Before this trial, Jesus told her, “I will take away not the grace but the feeling of grace. Though I will seem to leave you I will be closer to you.” This was easy for her to accept in the midst of ecstasy but, as she said later, she hadn’t experienced it yet. At the age of nineteen she started five years of dryness and desolation in which she was repelled by prayer and tempted by everything. She referred to her heart as a pitch-dark room with only a feeble light shining that only made the darkness deeper. She was so depressed she was found twice close to suicide. All she could do to fight back was to hold onto prayer, penance, and serving others even when it appeared to do no good.

Her lifelong devotion to Pentecost can be easily understood because her trial ended in ecstasy in 1590. At this time she could have asked for any gifts but she wanted two in particular: to look on any neighbor as good and holy without judgment and to always have God’s presence before her.  She dedicated herself to the reform and renewal of the Church.  Her great desire for Church reform was born during this time, after witnessing rays of light from on high in the summer of 1586, showing her the true state of the Church in the era after the Council of Trent.  Like Catherine of Siena, she felt ‘compelled’ to write letters to the Pope, cardinals of the Curia, her archbishop and other Church leaders, encouraging them to work for the renewal of the Church.

Far from enjoying the attention her mystical experiences brought her, she was embarrassed by it. For all her days, she wanted a hidden life and tried everything she could to achieve it. When God commanded her to go barefoot as part of her penance and she could not walk with shoes, she simply cut the soles out of her shoes so no one would see her as different from the other nuns. If she felt an ecstasy coming on, she would hurry to finish her work and go back to her room. She learned to see the notoriety as part of God’s will. When teaching a novice to accept God’s will, she told her, “I wanted a hidden life but, see, God wanted something quite different for me.”

Some still might think it was easy for her to be holy with all the help from God. Yet when she was asked once why she was weeping before the cross, she answered that she had to force herself to do something right that she didn’t want to do. It’s true that when a sister criticized her for acting so different, she thanked her, “May God reward you! You have never spoken truer words!” but she told others it hurt her quite a bit to be nice to someone who insulted her.

Mary Magdalene was no pale, shrinking flower. Her wisdom and love led to her appointment to many important positions at the convent including mistress of novices. She did not hesitate to be blunt in guiding the women under her care when their spiritual life was at stake. When one of the novices asked permission to pretend to be impatient so the other novices would not respect her so much, Mary Magdalene’s answer shook this novice out of this false humility: “What you want to pretend to be, you already are in the eyes of the novices. They don’t respect you nearly as much as you like to think.”

Mary Magdalene’s life offers a great challenge to all those who think that the best penance comes from fasting and physical discomfort. Though she fasted and wore old clothes, she chose the most difficult penance of all by pretending to like the things she didn’t like. Not only is this a penance most of us would shrink from but, by her acting like she enjoyed it, no one knew she was doing this great penance!

In 1604, headaches, paralyzation, and tuberculosis confined her to bed. Her nerves were so sensitive that she could not be touched without agonizing pain. Ever humble, she took the fact that her prayers were not granted as a sure sign that God’s will was being done. For three years she suffered, before dying on May 25, 1607 at the age of forty-one.  Even to this day, her body remains with the Carmelite community in which she lived and is incorrupt, and is under the altar of the Church of the Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi in Careggi, Florence.

Rosi_Alessandro-The_ecstasy_of_Saint_Mary_Magdalene_de_Pazzi_

-The Ecstasy of Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi” ,1670, by Alessandro Rosi (1627-1707), oil on canvas, 120 x 102 cm. Sold $90,900 (2008, Christie’s), Musée des Beaux-arts, Chambéry, France

pazzi1

-“The Vision of Santa Maria Maddalena de Pazzi”, 1702,  by Giovanni Sangrestani

carmelitesaints

-Carmelite Saints:  Prophet Elijah; Cyril of Constantinople ;Andrew Corsini, Bishop and Peacemaker; Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi; Brocard, the first Superior of Mount Carmel; Thérèse, The Little Flower; Simon Stock; Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Child Jesus; Albert of Sicily; Teresa of Jesus; Berthold, the Second Prior General of the Carmelites; Patriarch Peter Thomas; Angelus of Sicily; John of the Cross; and the Prophet Eliseus.

Prayer ought to be humble, fervent, resigned, persevering, and accompanied with great reverence. One should consider that he stands in the presence of a God, and speaks with a Lord before whom the angels tremble from awe and fear.”
– Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi

“Come, Holy Spirit. Spirit of truth, you are the reward of the saints, the comforter of souls, light in the darkness, riches to the poor, treasure to lovers, food for the hungry, comfort to those who are wandering; to sum up, you are the one in whom all treasures are contained.
Come! As you descended upon Mary that the Word might become flesh, work in us through grace as you worked in her through nature and grace.
Come! Food of every chaste thought, fountain of all mercy, sum of all purity.
Come! Consume in us whatever prevents us from being consumed in You.”
– from the writings of Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

“A little drop of simple obedience is worth a million times more than a whole vase of the choicest contemplation.”
– Saint Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi

“If I thought that by saying a word, however indifferent, for any other end than the love of God, I could become a Seraph, I certainly would not say it.” – Saint Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi

“If I had a voice sufficiently loud and strong to be heard in every part of the world, I would cry out to make this Love known, loved, and honored by all men as the one immeasurable Good.” -St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

“Trials are nothing else but the forge that purifies the soul of all its imperfections.”
-St Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi

“You will be consoled according to the greatness of your sorrow and affliction; the greater the suffering, the greater will be the reward.” –St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

Prayer:
Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, pray that we will make a commitment to seek the presence of God in prayer the way you did. Guide us to see the graces God gives us as gifts not rewards and to respond with gratitude and humility, not pride and selfishness. Amen

“St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi is a symbolic figure of living love that recalls an essential dimension of every Christian life,” said Benedict XVI in 2007. The Pope said this in a letter to the Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of Florence, Italy, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Carmelite mystic’s death.”She did not let herself be conditioned by the world; the world, though Christian, did not satisfy her desire to become ever more similar to her crucified Spouse,” wrote the Holy Father.  “Purified love, which beat so strongly in her heart, opened her to the desire for full conformity with Christ, her Spouse, even unto sharing with him the ‘nudo patire’ [naked suffering] of the cross,” the Pope continued. “The last three years of her life were a true Calvary of sufferings for her.”  Benedict XVI added: “During her life she would ring the bells and exhort her fellow sisters saying: ‘Come to love Love!’  The great mystic from Florence, from her convent and from the Carmelite monasteries that aspire to her, we pray that we may still hear her voice in the entire Church, spreading the proclamation of God’s love for every human creature.”

“In order to understand the greatness of Your divinity, O Lord, I need faith; and in order to accomplish anything, I need hope, for if I did not have hope of possessing You some day, I would not have the strength to labor here below. I no longer desire the things of earth, although I have never hoped in them. I do have a lively hope of obtaining, not the things of earth upon which worldly people usually set their hopes, but only You, my God.

O God, give me a firm hope, for I cannot be saved unless this virtue is firmly rooted in my soul. I need it in order to implore pardon for my sins and to attain my end. What delight hope gives to my soul, making it hope for what it will one day enjoy in heaven, and by permitting it a partial taste here on earth of what it will savor, understand, and possess eternally, which is You, my God” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).

Love,
Matthew

May 25 – St Bede the Venerable, (673-735 AD), Doctor of the Church, Father of English History

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He was known as the most learned man of his day, and his writings started the idea of dating this era from the incarnation of Christ. The central theme of Bede’s “Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People)” is of the Church using the power of its spiritual, doctrinal, and cultural unity to stamp out violence and barbarism. Our knowledge of England before the 8th century is mainly the result of Bede’s writing.

It was as a teacher that Bede was supreme. He had no interest in speculation and no desire to be original; his genius was that of one who, with infinite pains, educates himself and transmits not only what he has learned but a deep sense of the value of such knowledge. Of his oral teaching–to which he attached great importance–of course we cannot speak, but his books became standard works of reference in his own lifetime.

His carefulness and sobriety of approach, his pains to be accurate, his obvious orthodoxy, gave to them a unique authority. Bede’s works fall into three well-defined classes. His theological writings consist mainly of a teacher’s commentaries on the Bible, based very largely on the western Fathers and written for the most part in the allegorical manner of Christian tradition. Bede used his knowledge of Greek and displayed what we may think was an innocent vanity in making the most of such Hebrew as he had learned. Yet, despite the lack of originality in his approach, the commentaries of Bede remain even today one of the best means to arrive at the thought of the early Fathers.

His scientific writings consist partly of traditional explanations of natural phenomena, in which the poetic approach of St. Ambrose is sometimes reflected, and partly of treatises on the calendar and the calculation of Easter–a matter of moment, as the Paschal controversy between Saxons and Celts had by no means entirely died down. It was Bede’s popularization of the method of calculating calendar years from the supposed date of our Lord’s birth which more than anything else ensured its universal acceptance in western Christendom.

At the time Bede wrote the Historia Ecclesiastica, there were two common ways of referring to dates. One was to use indictions, which were 15-year cycles, counting from 312 AD. There were three different varieties of indiction, each starting on a different day of the year. The other approach was to use regnal years—the reigning Roman emperor, for example, or the ruler of whichever kingdom was under discussion. This meant that in discussing conflicts between kingdoms, the date would have to be given in the regnal years of all the kings involved. Bede used both these approaches on occasion, but adopted a third method as his main approach to dating: the anno domini method invented by Dionysius Exiguus. Although Bede did not invent this method, his adoption of it, and his promulgation of it in De Temporum Ratione, his work on chronology, is the main reason why it is now so widely used.

His death was as sober and undeterred as was his life. In the early summer of 735, when he was sixty-three, his health began to fail, and he suffered much from asthma. He was, however, at work until the very end. On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he summoned the priests of the monastery, made them little gifts of pepper and incense and begged their prayers. At intervals during the next forty-eight hours, propped up in bed, he dictated to the very last sentence an English rendering of the Gospel of St. John upon which he was engaged at the onset of his illness. Finally, asking to be laid on the floor, he sang the anthem ‘O King of Glory’ from the Office of Ascension Day and so died. It was May 27th, 735.

Prayer to St Bede:

“Careful Historian and Doctor of the Church, lover of God and of truth, you are a natural model for all readers of God’s inspired Word. Move lectors to prepare for public reading by prayerfully pondering the sacred texts and invoking the Holy Spirit. Help them to read in such a way that those who hear may attain learning and edification. Amen.”

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-“St Bede Dictates the Translation of the Gospel of John on his deathbed”, one of four scenes on triptych by David Hewson, 2003, St Bede Catholic Church, Williamsburg, VA

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-St Bede’s tomb, Durham Cathedral

The Last Chapter
-The Last Chapter, by J.D. Penrose, 1902

Love,
Matthew

Regina Coeli

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An ancient hymn, from some say as early as the 6th century AD, or as late as the 12th, the Regina Coeli replaces the Angelus during the Easter season.  It is also said immediately after the last prayer of the day in the Liturgy of the Hours, either Vespers or Compline, for that day:

Regina coeli, laetare, alleluia:
Quia quem meruisti portare. alleluia,
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia,
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.
Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.

Oremus. Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi, mundum laetificare dignatus es: praesta, quaesumus; ut per eius Genetricem Virginem Mariam, perpetuae capiamus gaudia vitae. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia:
The Son whom you merited to bear, alleluia,
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.

For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

Regina Caeli (1)

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Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech You, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Happy Easter!

Love,
Matthew

May 12 – Sts Nereus, Achilleus, & Domitilla, (d. 98 AD), Martyrs

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-by Peter Paul Rubens, 1607

Christian devotion to Nereus & Achilleus goes back to the earliest years of the Church, though almost nothing is known of their lives. They were praetorian soldiers of the Roman army, possibly ordered to persecute Christians, they became Christians and were banished to the island of Terracina, where they were martyred by beheading in 98 AD by order of the Emperor Domitian.  Beheading was befitting Roman citizens, similar to St Paul, as opposed to crucifixion – a much longer suffering death reserved for non-Roman citizens. The bodies of Nereus & Achilleus were buried in a family vault, later known as the cemetery of Domitilla. Excavations by De Rossi in 1896 resulted in the discovery of their empty tomb in the underground church built by Pope Siricius in 390 AD.

Everyday, especially twenty-first century, Christians would first be introduced to Nereus by reading St Paul’s Letter to the Romans 16:15, “Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the holy ones who are with them…”.  It is believed Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla, along with other early Christians in Rome were all baptized by St Peter before his crucifixion in ~64 AD.

Domitilla was a Roman noble woman. Grand-daughter of Emperor Vespasian; niece of Emperors Titus and Domitian. Married to Titus Flavius Clemens, a Roman consul, nephew of Emperor Vespasian, and first cousin of Emperors Titus and Domitian. Banished to the island of Pandataria in the Tyrrhenian Sea, her husband was martyred in 96 AD.

For Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla, they were all martyred together.  Their empty tombs were located and identified in the catacomb of Domitilla, part of her former estate near the Via Ardeatina.

Andrea_di_Bonaiuto._St._Agnes_and_St._Domitilla._1365._Galleria_dell'Accademia,_Florence.
-by Andrea_di_Bonaiuto, “St._Agnes_and_St._Domitilla”,_1365, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, Italy.

Two hundred years after their death, Pope Gregory the Great delivered his 28th homily on the occasion of their feast. “These saints, before whom we are assembled, despised the world and trampled it under their feet when peace, riches and health gave it charms.”

Pope Damasus wrote an epitaph for Nereus and Achilleus in the fourth century. The text is known from travelers who read it while the slab was still entire, but the broken fragments found by De Rossi are sufficient to identify it: “The martyrs Nereus and Achilleus had enrolled themselves in the army and exercised the cruel office of carrying out the orders of the tyrant, being ever ready, through the constraint of fear, to obey his will. O miracle of faith! Suddenly they cease from their fury, they become converted, they fly from the camp of their wicked leader; they throw away their shields, their armor and their blood-stained javelins. Confessing the faith of Christ, they rejoice to bear testimony to its triumph. Learn now from the words of Damasus what great things the glory of Christ can accomplish.”

Basilica of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, an underground altar where the Catacomb Pact was signed at a Mass on Nov. 16, 1965. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho
Basilica of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, an underground altar 

-(please click on the image for greater detail), Basilica Catacombs of St Domitilla, part of her former estate, on the outskirts of Rome, the Eternal City.

The church marks the spot where tradition says Sts Nereus & Achilleus were executed for converting to Christianity. And beneath the altar, and extending through more than 10 miles of tunnels, were the tombs of more than 100,000 Christians from the earliest centuries of the church.

A view inside the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho
A view inside the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho

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-(please click on the image for greater detail) Santi Nereo e Achilleo is an ancient church dedicated to St Nereus and St Achilleus, 4th century soldier martyrs.

The present church is the result of a restoration by Cesare Cardinal Baronio – historian and titular priest of the church – in 1596-1597/8. The work was done carefully in order to preserve as much as possible of the ancient church and to restore ancient elements that had been lost. Some of the decorations that were added were taken from San Paolo fuori le mura. Sts Nereus and Achilleus are buried beneath the high altar, together with St Flavia Domitilla. Their remains were brought here from the Catacombi di Domitilla, where they had been placed in the underground basilica. The floor in the choir was raised by Baronio in the late 16th century, to create a proper confessio beneath the high altar. The baldachino is from the 16th century, and has columns of African marble.

Cardinal Baronio asked Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) to entrust the church to his order, the Oratorians. They still serve the church.

Love,
Matthew

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus #1

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The McCormick family has a very special devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Prayer of Trust in the Sacred Heart

In all my temptations, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In all my weaknesses, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In all my difficulties, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In all my trials, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In all my sorrows, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In all my work, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In every failure, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In every discouragement, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In life and in death, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In time and in eternity, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Prayer for Perseverance

O, Sacred Heart of Jesus, living and life-giving fountain of eternal life, infinite treasure of the Divinity, and glowing furnace of love, You are my refuge and my sanctuary.

O adorable and glorious Savior, consume my heart with that burning fire that ever inflames Your Heart. Pour down on my soul those graces which flow from Your love.

Let my heart be so united with Yours that our wills may be one, and mine may in all things be conformed to Yours. May Your Will be the rule both of my desires and my actions.
-St. Alphonsus Liguori

“At the end of this life, only love will matter.”
-St. Sharbel

Love,
Matthew

De Profundis

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Dominicans, after vespers each evening, line the hallways of their priories facing each other and sing the De Profundis (Psalm 130), remembering all the members of their order who have received their eternal reward.  Dominicans traditionally would bury their dead underneath the hallways of their priories.

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam.
Fiant aures tuæ intendentes in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication:
If you, O Lord, mark our iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
I trust in the Lord;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the Lord,
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the Lord;
For with the Lord is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

V.         Eternal rest grant unto him/her, O Lord,
R.         And let the perpetual light shine upon him/her,
V.         From the gates of Hell,
R.         Deliver his/her soul, O Lord,
V.         May he/she rest in peace,
R.         Amen.
V.         O Lord, hear my prayer,
R.         And let my cry come unto You.

Oremus:
O God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind,
Grant unto the souls of the departed
The remission of all their sins:
That through our prayers
They may obtain the pardon
They have always desired.

V.         Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created,
R.         And You shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

“For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my dissolution is at hand.
I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the Faith.
From now on a crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, just judge that He is, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for His appearance.”
-2 Timothy 4:6-8

Bonum certamen certavi,
Cursum consumavi,
Fidem servavi!

I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the Faith!

“The world is tired,
The year is old,
The faded leaves are glad to die…”
-Sara Teasdale, “November” 

Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”  -Isaiah 35:10

Love,
Matthew

Litany for the Healing of the Church

Litany for the Healing of the Church

Sorrowful Mother, pray for us.
Lover of Justice, obedient to the Father’s will, pray for us.
Intercessor of Cana, compassionate toward the unfortunate, pray for us.
Immaculate Heart, pierced by a sword, pray for us.
Patient Mother, doer of God’s will despite atrocity, pray for us.
Faithful Mother, at the foot of the cross, pray for us.
Faithful Mother, unashamed of your Son, pray for us.
Faithful Mother, faithful to the innocent, pray for us.
Healing Mother, guardian and nurse of the Body of Christ, pray for us.
Loving Mother, fierce lover of the Body of Christ, pray for us.
Loving Mother, unvengeful despite disaster, pray for us.
Trusting Mother, helping us to do whatever He tells us, pray for us.
Prayerful Mother, believing despite corruption, pray for us.
Faithful Mother, unwilling to abandon your Son, pray for us.
Faithful Mother, peaceful in the face of calumny heaped upon your Son, pray for us.
Peaceful Mother, faithful in the face of scandal, injustice, and humiliation, pray for us.
Model of Fidelity, caressing your Son’s tortured and bloodied body, pray for us.
Rewarded Mother, witness to the Resurrection, keep us faithful to the end that we too may receive our reward.
Christ, warner of Pharisees and scribes, hear our prayer.
Christ, bringer of the sword, hear our prayer.
Christ, unbelieved though truthful, hear our prayer.
Christ. betrayed with a kiss, hear our prayer.
Christ, tried though innocent, hear our prayer.
Christ, found guilty though innocent, hear our prayer.
Christ, condemned though innocent, hear our prayer.
Christ Reviled, hear our prayer.
Christ Scourged, hear our prayer.
Christ Wounded, hear our prayer.
Christ Mocked & Humiliated, hear our prayer.
Christ Spat Upon, hear our prayer.
Christ Crowned with Thorns, hear our prayer.
Body of Christ Suffering, hear our prayer.
Christ Carrying Your Cross, hear our prayer.
Christ Fallen Three Times, hear our prayer.
Christ Crucified, hear our prayer.
Christ Abandoned, hear our prayer.
Christ, forgiving from the cross, help us to love and forgive one another as you love and forgive us.
Christ Expired, hear our prayer.
Christ in the tomb, hear our prayer.
Christ Risen, turn our mourning into joy, for all things are possible with You and You make all things new.
Christ Risen, make us one, as You and the Father and the Paraclete are One.
Christ Risen, heal our wounds and call us to new life.
Christ Triumphant, Alpha & Omega, Beginning & End, First & Last, resolve all things according to Your Holy Will.
Christ Final Judge, have mercy on us, and welcome us into the Heavenly Banquet.
Christ True High Priest, keep us faithful to our baptismal promises.
Amen.

© 2009, Matthew P. McCormick.  All rights reserved.

Let us pray for the Church.  Let us pray for each other.

Love,
Matthew