Category Archives: August

Aug 28 – St Augustine & the heretics


-St Augustine icon, by Joseph Brown, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY, ~2009

Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.

“A heresy is never totally wrong. Its just that it is never totally right. A heresy is a half truth or a truth twisted. The reason a heresy is attractive is that it always seems to make perfect sense. A heresy is a religious truth you would make up if you were making up a religion. However, Catholic truth is stranger and subtler than that, and it takes sound teaching to expose and battle the heresy.

Heresies are persistent because they are attractive, and they are persistent because they usually console the heretic in some way. In other words, it is easier to believe the heresy than the fullness of the Catholic truth. The fullness of the Catholic truth is either difficult to believe or difficult to obey or both. The heresy always offers an easy way out–either an easier way of believing or an easier way of behaving.

The first heresy Augustine battled was Donatism. The Donatists were a schism in the North African Church that were sort of like Puritanical Protestant or Jansenists. They thought the church should be pure, and should be a church of saints, not sinners. They were unwilling to accept back those Christians who, out of weakness, compromised their faith during the persecutions and they insisted that for sacraments to be valid the priest had to be faultless.

While this sort of rigorism is understandable, it doesn’t take much to see where it leads. It leads to unbearable self righteousness. “We few, we holy few. We are the remnant, the true church, the only real Christians…” Nonsense. If you think the core error of Donatism does not exist today, look a little harder. Although the name “Donatism” is now a footnote of church history there are plenty of rigorist schisms and sects and plenty of the attitude within individuals and groups in many different churches.

The fact is, most heresies, while seeming attractive, can be countered very easily with a passage from the gospel. Donatists should read the parable of the wheat and tares. The sinners and the saints grow together and God will sort it out.

The second heresy Augustine battled was Manicheanism. This false religion was started by a Persian prophet named Mani (274 AD). He blended elements of occult Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity and came up with a complicated New Age kind of religion. His core heresy was dualism. He taught that the physical world was evil and the spiritual world was good. Manicheanism had a huge influence in the 3-4 centuries. We can see it in the harsh asceticism of the early monks for example.

Augustine’s teachings on the nature of evil countered this. He taught that the created world is good because God does not make evil. Instead evil is good twisted, distorted or destroyed.

While Manicheanism is also a footnote in church history, the idea that the physical world is bad and the spiritual world is good continues today. It is present in some New Age teachings and in Eastern religions and philosophies. It also lingers like an echo in elements of Christianity. It is tempting to look down on physical pleasures, and the right embrace of holy poverty can be twisted into a hatred or disgust or guilt about the goodness of the physical world.

The third heresy is Pelagianism. This is named for the British monk Pelagius (d. 420) His teaching was probably misunderstood, but if so, the misunderstanding was that he taught that the human will was not so tainted by original sin that it lost its power to do good. In other words, you can do good without God’s help. This led to the conclusion that you can get into heaven through good works.

Augustine corrected this heresy with his teachings on grace. It is God’s grace, continually working in and through creation and in and through our own lives that empowers our faith, empowers our good works and empowers the supernatural transformation of our lives.

These three heresies do us the service of bringing to light the true Catholic teaching. The created world is beautiful, good and true. If this is true, then we also, created in God’s image are good. However, that goodness is wounded by original sin. While we don’t have to be perfect at once, that is our destiny, our calling and the hard adventure on which we must embark. God’s good grace gives us the power to do this. Without his grace we are paralyzed by sin and locked in darkness. With his grace we can be free.”

Love, & His grace,
Matthew

Aug 2 – St Peter Faber, SJ, Priest, Co-founder of the Society of Jesus, patron saint of business?

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-by Chris Lowney

“I want to propose a new patron saint for business people: Peter Faber.

On Dec. 17, 2014, Pope Francis signed the bull of canonization recognizing Faber as a saint, and the relatively low-key elevation — no ornate Mass in St. Peter’s Square for poor Faber — is in keeping with his relative obscurity in the Jesuit pantheon. Faber was among the handful who co-founded the Jesuit order in the mid-1500s, but he never quite attained the renown of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier. No Jesuit church is complete without some triumphalistic mural or statuary of Loyola or Xavier. But Faber? He is usually one of an indistinguishable line of black-robed Jesuit extras, looking plastically pious at stage left of the mural.

His ministry was vital but not headline-grabbing. He was an extraordinarily capable spiritual director who reinvigorated clergy and bishops who had grown decadent, and patiently drew wavering Catholics back to the fold at a time when the Protestant Reformation was sweeping Europe. In an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, Francis praised Faber’s style, his “dialogue with all … even with his opponents … his simple piety … his careful interior discernment … capable of being so gentle and loving.” Faber’s patient but ever-persistent outreach, his “frontier spirit” so to speak, embodies the culture change Francis is trying to engender in our church at large.

But how does Faber become my patron saint of business?

Once, on mission to Mainz in Germany, he was appalled by its widespread poverty. “Having arisen in the quiet of the night to pray,” he wrote, “I felt strongly inspired to do my very utmost to provide for the needy and homeless sick wandering about the city of Mainz.” Faber, estimating that there were some 6,500 beggars in the city, concluded: “Perhaps if we [Jesuits] had a flair for business … and we had not such a [spiritual] harvest to be reaped … we could concern ourselves more with this problem.”

Faber’s vision of the positive role of business is remarkable. He wrote two centuries before Adam Smith lifted a pen, during an era when the Catholic church generally looked askance at business. Yet in a few short phrases, Faber crystallizes a profound and profoundly challenging philosophy of business.

First, business, when done well, plays an unparalleled role in enabling individuals to support themselves and their families with dignity. Faber’s reaction upon seeing so many beggars? Not “We need a soup kitchen” but “We need businesses.” Of course, charity is also essential: Jesus told us we’re going to hell if we don’t clothe the naked and feed the hungry. But Faber also perceives the unique role of business in creating positive, systemic, long-term societal change.

Second, Faber recognizes that great businesspeople have a “flair.” The imagination to identify unmet needs, the willingness to try something new and bear the risk of failure, the scrupulous attention to detailed execution, the ability to inspire team members, and a hundred other things all mark the flair of good business people. These are talents, gifts from God, and ought to be recognized as such. It is not a sin to succeed in business by employing these talents fully.

But Faber implicitly challenges businesspeople that their talents are only being used well when they maintain a proper perspective on life. Business and money-making are not the highest ends: “If there were not such a harvest of souls to be reaped,” Faber writes. Our destiny lies beyond this world, and we’re here for purposes beyond what we can sell, trade, build, buy, flaunt or own during this short earthly sojourn. That includes, if we are businesspeople, remaining aware that our every business decision impacts, for better or ill, the lives of employees, customers, shareholders and communities.

Faber’s vision of business is an ennobling, inspiring one. Entrepreneurs with a Faber-style flair for business don’t think only of “enhancing shareholder value” and making themselves hog-whimperingly rich; they hop out of bed each morning feeling blessed to help fellow citizens use their talents, support their families in a highly dignified way, and alleviate poverty in their communities.

Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, also has plenty to say about the role of business, launching salvos, for example, at a business culture that sometimes turns money into a modern-day golden calf. Catholics and pundits more generally have rushed to react with predictable party-line tropes. Republican Catholics tsk-tsk that the pope really doesn’t understand how markets work; Democratic Catholics reduce the pope’s agenda to nothing more than an endorsement for more aggressively redistributionist tax policies. But a close read of his exhortation reveals challenges and affirmations for all Catholic parties and tribes in this debate.

In fact, the pope, like Faber, is calling businesspeople and all of us to ponder our human vocation in much more fundamental ways. After all, that’s what great leaders do, whether popes or entrepreneurs with a flair for business. They try to inspire us to transcend our ideologies and differences and coalesce around a higher viewpoint.

Saint was the first Jesuit ordained

St. Peter Faber, who was born in 1506 in what is now France, shared lodgings with Ignatius and Francis Xavier at the College of St. Barbara at the University of Paris. Faber was the first of the Jesuits to be ordained a priest and he celebrated the Mass in 1534 during which St. Ignatius and the others took their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, who conducted the interview with Pope Francis published in Jesuit periodicals in September, asked Francis about his favorite Jesuits.

The pope began “by mentioning Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier, but then focuses on a figure that other Jesuits certainly know, but who is of course not as well-known to the general public: Peter Faber (1506-46),” Spadro wrote.”

“Take care, take care, never to close your heart to anyone.”
— St Peter Faber, SJ

Love & success in His service,
Matthew

Aug 15 – Why the Assumption matters to you

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-Titian’s, Assunta, 1516-18

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-by Dr. Peter Howard, STD

“The perfection of all virtues and gifts of God is beatitude. In other words, the more perfect virtue and use of the gifts of God are, the more perfect is one’s happiness. And there is no greater happiness than to see God. That is why it is called the beatific vision and is the final grace that God gives those who are pure of heart: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).

The Solemnity of the Assumption is both a declaration of victory and an invitation to hope! It is a declaration of victory because the Mother of Our Lord was the first to receive the full reward of the saints: salvation and the gift of her glorified body. What the souls of the just will receive at the final judgment, the Mother of the Savior has already received. Why?

Humanity Perfected

As Pope Pius XII pointed out in his Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, in which he proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, Mary’s Assumption into heaven was the most fitting gift to Mary that corresponded to her unique privileges, most especially her Immaculate Conception by which Mary was created with the fullness of grace. Having never succumbed to temptation and sin, Mary lived what truly was a perfect life.

How did she do it? Mary being full of grace does not mean that Mary possessed some superhuman nature. She shared the same humanity we possess. Her physical senses were no different than ours. We read of her Divine Son:

For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15-16)

Since Mary is the perfect disciple of the Redeemer as much as she is His Immaculate Mother, we can say that Mary, as the Mother and model of the Church, “in every respect” was “tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hence, she is no ethereal model. Mary, like her Divine Son, went to battle against the same temptations that every Christian born of her must engage.

Purity of Heart

How did Mary triumph over these temptations? “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” The Church both in its teaching and through the lives of its saints, especially Our Blessed Mother, has affirmed that for one who sees the face of God, it is impossible to sin, for we behold our greatest Good. And while we cannot behold the face of God in the fullness of its glory, Jesus in this Beatitude tells us that we can begin to experience this beholding of God’s face even now through grace. And the specific way we do it is by having a pure heart.

It is no wonder then that the Feast of the Assumption is tied directly to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the feast that celebrates Mary’s perfect purity: She is the Immaculate one – or as St. Maximiliam Kolbe called her, the Immaculata.

The Feast of the Assumption celebrates, therefore, the great triumph of Mary over sin through her purity of heart! Victory is also ours and so is the glory that God wishes to give such souls who persevere in living a pure life. Hence, this Feast is an invitation to hope! It can be done by asking for and fostering the grace of purity in our hearts. Otherwise, Jesus would not have made this one of the Beatitudes, which represent the heart of the Good News.

Our Hope

So, wherever we are in our walk with Christ, let us never forget that what will always keep us on the path to seeing the full glory of God, is purity of heart. And this is impossible without purity of the senses. To that end, let us guard what we allow into our souls by guarding our senses and seeing to it that, if we have fallen off the narrow path of purity, we run to the wellsprings of Divine Mercy that await us in the Sacrament of Confession. How much clearer can we see God after this incredibly awesome sacrament! How much it helps us with clarity in all aspects of our life!

As we reflect on this great mystery of Mary’s Assumption, let us joyfully thank God for the gifts He has given our Mother and for her triumph. She is “one of our own.” And as our Mother who has walked the walk, she now wishes to lavishly pour the same graces of purity upon us. May we beg for them every day because, like Mary, we want to be at the peak of the mountain where we see the full light of the sun while the storms rage beneath us. And when dark times come upon us and the light of the sun seems obscured, let us remember the encouraging and hopeful words of Venerable Fulton Sheen:

“God, Who made the sun, also made the moon. The moon does not take away from the brilliance of the sun. The moon would be only a burnt-out cinder floating in the immensity of space were it not for the sun. All its light is reflected from the sun. The Blessed Mother reflects her Divine Son; without Him, she is nothing. With Him, she is the Mother of Men. On dark nights we are grateful for the moon; when we see it shining, we know there must be a sun. So in this dark night of the world when men turn their backs on Him Who is the Light of the World, we look to Mary to guide their feet while we await the sunrise.” -Fulton J. Sheen, The World’s First Love, Chapter 5

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Dr. Peter Howard presently lives in Aspen, Colorado, with his wife, Chantal, and four children. Dr. Howard is a professor of Theology at the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation. In 2015, Peter and his wife, Chantal, founded HeroicFamilies.com. He is also a Catholic videographer (MEDIAtrix.tv), author and national Catholic speaker who has spoken at the 2012 Midwest Catholic Family Conference in Wichita, Kansas; the United States Air Force Academy; parish retreats and on Catholic radio programs. He also taught me my “Saints: from Anthony to Bernard of Clairvaux” class at the Avila Institute.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 8 – St Dominic’s Nine Ways of Prayer

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St Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers, to which I belong now joyfully as a layperson, having been a novice after college, but called by God to my current state, to serve Him in His plan, “left no writings on prayer, but the Dominican tradition has collected and handed down his living experience in a work called: ‘The Nine Ways of Prayer of St Dominic’… and each one — always before Jesus Crucified — expresses a deeply penetrating physical and spiritual approach that fosters recollection and zeal. The first seven ways follow an ascending order, like the steps on a path, toward intimate communion with God, with the Trinity…the last two positions… correspond to two of the Saint’s customary devotional practices. First, personal meditation…Then come his prayers while traveling from one convent to another. He would recite Lauds, Midday Prayer and Vespers with his companions, and, passing through the valleys and across the hills he would contemplate the beauty of creation. A hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for his many gifts would well up from his heart, and above all for the greatest wonder: the redemptive work of Christ…St Dominic reminds us that prayer, personal contact with God is at the root of the witness to faith which every Christian must bear at home, at work, in social commitments and even in moments of relaxation; only this real relationship with God gives us the strength to live through every event with intensity, especially the moments of greatest anguish. This Saint also reminds us of the importance of physical positions in our prayer. Kneeling, standing before the Lord, fixing our gaze on the Crucifix, silent recollection — these are not of secondary importance but help us to put our whole selves inwardly in touch with God…the need, for our spiritual life, to find time everyday for quiet prayer; we must make this time for ourselves…to have a little time to talk with God. It will also be a way to help those who are close to us enter into the radiant light of God’s presence which brings the peace and love we all need.”Pope Benedict XVI, August 8, 2012

These ways of prayer were written by an anonymous author, possibly a Dominican friar, who had most probably received this information from a Sister Cecelia of the Monastery of St. Agnes at Bologna (who had personally received the habit from Saint Dominic) and other people who had known him personally.

The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic presume a connection between the body and the soul, devotion and prayer. Each of the ways speaks to the importance of what is called “vocal” prayer. Such prayer goes beyond words that are said out loud. Bodily though it is, such prayer reaches for that true and total spiritual worship advocated by St. Paul in Romans 12:1-2. It takes up gestures of the body which move the soul with devotion so that the grace-filled and Holy Spirit imbued soul might move the body in true worship to make Christ-like sacrifices of love:

1. The bowing of one’s head and heart with humility at the beginning of prayer before the crucifix, at the altar, in the Name of the Trinity;
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2. The throwing down and prostrating of one’s whole body with tears of compunction for the sins of others when one can find no more tears for his own;
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3. The welcoming of all the physical difficulties and the patient endurance of all kinds of bodily discomforts during prayer as part of prayer itself, as a way of offering one’s body to God in praise;
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4. The fixating of one’s gaze on Christ crucified while kneeling and standing with bold petitions filled with confidence in the indescribable goodness of God and sober acceptance of one’s own weakness;
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5. The raising of one’s hands to heaven with eyes wide open in the ancient orans of the first Christians;
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6. The stretching out of one’s arms cruciform with a cry for help in heartbreaking situations;
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7. The standing strong with hands folded in prayer like an arrow shot into the heart of God;
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8. The sitting in holy reading and contemplation – that ancient practice of lectio divina; and
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9. The frequent quest for solitude in which one resists fantasies and evil thoughts like flies and prepares for spiritual battle against diabolical malice by the sign of the Cross.
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Love & prayer,
Matthew

Aug 23 – “Grace follows after tribulation.” – St Rose of Lima, OP

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Let us know the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding.

“Our Lord and Saviour lifted up His voice and said with incomparable majesty: “Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.

When I heard these words, a strong force came upon me and seemed to place me in the middle of a street, so that I might say in a loud voice to people of every age, sex and status: “Hear, O people; hear, O nations. I am warning you about the commandment of Christ by using words that came from His own lips: We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions. We must heap trouble upon trouble to attain a deep participation in the divine nature, the glory of the sons of God and perfect happiness of soul.”

That same force strongly urged me to proclaim the beauty of divine grace. It pressed me so that my breath came slow and forced me to sweat and pant. I felt as if my soul could no longer be kept in the prison of the body, but that it had burst its chains and was free and alone and was going very swiftly through the whole world saying:

“If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights! Without doubt they would devote all their care and concern to winning for themselves pains and afflictions. All men throughout the world would seek trouble, infirmities and torments, instead of good fortune, in order to attain the unfathomable treasure of grace. This is the reward and the final gain of patience. No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men.”

—Saint Rose of Lima, virgin
Office of Readings, 23 August

Love,
Matthew

Aug 18 – Bl Manez de Guzman, OP, (1170-1235) – Older brother of the Holy Founder

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-by Br Matthew Jarvis, OP, English Province

“Brothers can be a mixed bunch. In the Bible, alas, it starts badly for brothers…

The older brother Cain murders Abel; the younger brother Jacob tricks Esau out of his birthright; and Joseph is left for dead by his eleven brothers. But, on the other hand, brotherly love can overcome great adversity. Joseph forgives his brothers and saves their lives. Look, too, at the early disciples of Christ: the brothers Peter and Andrew, James and John (sons of Zebedee), among many others. For them, being brothers in Christ was more important than consanguinity; yet it is a beautiful thing when the two brotherhoods overlap. After all, the love between blood brothers or sisters should point to, and school us in, the more perfect love between brothers and sisters in Christ. So, as it is written (Heb 13:1), let brotherly love continue!

Both kinds of brotherly love are evident at the very beginning of the Dominican Order. St Dominic was the youngest of three brothers. His eldest brother, Anthony (Antonio), was also a priest. But it is the middle brother, Manez (also spelt Manés, Mannes or Mames), who interests us here. Manez was old enough to have begun his own training for the priesthood when Dominic was born; but later, he joined Dominic in his preaching mission to the Albigensians. When the Order of Preachers was formally approved by the Pope, Manez was one of the first to receive the habit and make profession in the hands of Dominic, his younger brother.

Manez proved immediately to be active and devoted Dominican friar. He was among those sent by Dominic to Paris in the early dispersal of the brethren in 1217; there Manez was one of the founders of the St Jacques community. In 1219, he was sent to Madrid to be chaplain to the first community of Dominican nuns in Spain. After many more years of service, he died in 1238 and was buried at the Cistercian monastery in Gumiel de Izán.

We know very little else about the life of Manez. His contemporaries reported that he was a gentle and effective preacher, a prayerful and discreet friar. He was inclined towards the contemplative life, but did not hesitate to attend obediently to whatever task he was set. Friar Rodrigo de Cerrato called him a ‘gentle, humble, cheerful and kind and ardent preacher’.

This hiddenness and humility of Manez marks him out as a true brother of Dominic. If the greatness of Dominic owes much to his humility, his giving way to the brethren and the Order’s mission above his own personal status, then Manez has perhaps an equal claim to greatness: he devotedly served God in the Order his younger brother founded, not seeking his own advantage or aggrandisement but simply the salvation of souls.

Manez showed no sign of jealousy or sibling rivalry. After Dominic’s canonisation in 1234, he travelled to their hometown of Caleruega to persuade the people to build a church in his older brother’s honour. Although beatified by Gregory XVI, Manez has faded into the background of the Order’s history. But that is what he would have wanted. Dominicans exist to preach Jesus Christ, not themselves; and that is why Manez was a great Dominican.”

Blessed Mannes, an older brother of Saint Dominic, was born at Caleruega, Spain, about 1170. He was among his younger brother’s first followers and later assisted in establishing the priory of Saint-Jacques at Paris in 1217. In 1219 he was entrusted with the care of the Dominican nuns at Madrid. According to an early source he was “a contemplative and holy man, meek and humble, joyful and kind, and a zealous preacher.” He died at the Cistercian monastery of San Pedro at Garniel d’Izan near Caleruega about the year 1235.

The second reading taken from the supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours for the Order of Preachers:

From a letter of our Holy Father Dominic to the nuns of Madrid.

“Mannes has worked so hard to bring you to this holy state of life.”
Brother Dominic, Master of the Preachers, to the dear prioress of Madrid and all the nuns in the community, greetings. May you progress every day!

I am delighted at the fervor with which you follow your holy way of life, and thank God for it. God has indeed freed you from the squalor of this world.

Fight the good fight, my daughters, against our ancient foe, fight him insistently with fasting, because no one will win the crown of victory without engaging in the contest in the proper way. Until now you had no place where you could practice your religious life, but now you can no longer offer that excuse. By the grace of God, you have buildings that are quite suitable enough for religious observance.

From now on I want you to keep the silence in the prescribed places, namely, the refectory, the dormitory and the oratory, and to observe your Rule fully in everything else too. Let none of the sisters go outside the gate, and let nobody come in, except for the bishop or any other ecclesiastical superior, who comes to preach to you or to visitate. Be obedient to your prioress. Do not chatter with each other, or waste your time gossiping.

Because we can offer you no help in temporal affairs, we do not want to burden you by allowing any of the brethren any authority to receive women or make them members of your community; only the prioress shall have such authority, on the advice of the community.

Furthermore, I instruct my dear brother Mannes, who has worked so hard to bring you to this holy state of life, to organize you and make whatever arrangements he considers useful, to enable you to conduct yourselves in the most religious and holy way. I also give him power to visitate you and correct you, and, if necessary, to remove the prioress from office, provided that a majority of the nuns agree. I also authorize him to grant you any dispensations he thinks appropriate.

Farewell in Christ.”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 29 – Jn 3:30, “I must decrease.”

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-“Salome with the Head of John the Baptist”, by Caravaggio, National Gallery, London, c. 1607–10

At nearly 50, it starts around 45 in my experience, one does begin to experience diminishment.  No longer the energy.  Little health problems/deviations begin to pop up here and there.  We spend more time with medicine, doctors, and treatment.  These physical diminishments, so quickly do they arrive in our life.  Life IS short.  But, truth be told, I can begin to feel them already.  In youth, energy was boundless, physical activity, motion, play, exercise, was effortless, if not skilled.  We return to Him from whence we came.  We surrender ALL to Him Who first gifted us.  Thank you.  Thank you, is all I can say.  The shadow of the cross begins to encroach.

“Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” [MARRIAGE!!!!] Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked.   Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”  -Mt 14:3-12.

-by Fred, aka Aquinas, Etc.

“It is the feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, and it is easy to think of lots of politically-oriented things to say, and to prod myself to the same sort of courage that John had when it came to telling people what they needed to hear and not what they wanted to hear. They needed to hear truth, and John gave it to them in its unvarnished wholeness, shirking nothing. But it seems too easy to me to mumble about speaking truth to power; I live in a day and age where power neither wants nor needs to listen to anybody. This is in part because (or so I imagine) power is invested so much in listening to what everybody says at all times anyway.

There is another aspect of the life of St. John the Baptist that strikes me as more compelling today, and it is summed up in these words that John spoke: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). It is easy for pride and attention-seeking to put themselves forward into the spotlight, most especially in an era characterized by spotlight-seekers who crave their fifteen minutes of fame. It is a lot more difficult, maybe, simply to bloom where I am planted.

It is a difficult thing to me to distinguish where personal ambition leaves off and zeal for the truth begins. Why do I wish to put myself forward? Why do I think that I must push myself into the public forum? What pomposity it feels like. Who am I but a dead dog? Is it not better to do those things at hand? I do not know whether God calls me to speak publicly for Him, but I know for a fact that He calls me to be a faithful husband, a good father. I know this because this is the vocation He has given me in marriage. This is not to say that there are no other forms of service I may offer to God, but why do I hope to offer them? Is it the humility of the servant heart or the vainglory of ambition that drives me to dissatisfaction with my place in the world? That question answers itself, doesn’t it?

A less-easy question for me to answer is to know that to which God actually calls me. Maybe the answer rests not in the things I’d like to do or think I can do but rather in that vocation I mentioned. If I must decrease like St. John the Baptist, then why am I thinking about how I can increase (even for what seem like good reasons)? Lord, help me to decrease like St. John.”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 28 – Son of Tears

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-“The Conversion of St Augustine”, Bl John of Friesole, OP, aka Fra Angelico, 1430-1435, tempera on wood, 21.8 × 34.2 cm (8.6 × 13.5 in), please click on the image to view more detail.

“If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother!”  -Mary D. McCormick, oft repeated to her children.

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-by Br Augustine Marogi, OP

“Fra Angelico’s painting, The Conversion of St. Augustine, offers a great insight into the spirituality of the Doctor of Grace. At the forefront of the painting, commanding the immediate attention of the viewer, is the figure of St. Augustine sitting and weeping. The painting portrays the moment of St. Augustine’s conversion as it is described in his Confessions (book VIII, chapter 12).

In the garden of his friend’s house in Milan, after long struggles with “old attachments” that kept him from embracing the life of continence, Augustine gave way to the “storm” of tears that had been welling up inside of him, expressing his great remorse for his sinfulness, which proved to be invincible to his own strength. He wept because he felt he was the “captive” of his “sins,” and while crying, he kept repeating, “How long shall I go on saying ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?”

Augustine’s tears signify a moment of recognition as well as an articulation of “inexpressible groanings,” of sentiments that are too profound to be expressed in human words (Rm 8:26). He recognizes his ineptitude and powerlessness when dealing with the consequences of his wounded nature. This recognition makes him look for a different source of strength through which he can overcome his weaknesses. He lifts his gaze to God and discovers the mystery of grace, which alone has the power to change the hardest of hearts and heal the most festering of wounds. Tears are the beginning of the road to holiness for this hopeless sinner.

These “inexpressible groanings” communicate to God the soul’s deepest yearnings for salvation. On the one hand, these yearnings are mysterious and difficult for us to put into words. They are often tucked away or covered with the meaningless noise and clamour of our transient and worldly cares. On the other hand, the Father hears these yearnings from afar. He catches “sight” of them while they are “still a long way off” and sends the Holy Spirit, Who “comes to the aid of our weakness” by translating them into a prayer consisting of “inexpressible groanings,” which communicate to the Father our deep-seated longing for heaven (Lk 15:20, Rm 8:26). The visible sign of this communication is torrential tears, tears of repentance that wash away our past and urge us on to a new beginning.

St. Augustine’s tears were not without important parallels. To the left of Fra Angelico’s painting stands the figure of a man whose posture also denotes an emotional moment that is related to the one experienced by the main character. This figure is Alypius. At the same time of Augustine’s conversion, Alypius also experiences the voice of God in his life through a scriptural passage that he reads in the Letter to the Romans. When they both disclose to each other their desire to commit their lives to God and take up the life of celibacy, they go to Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, and inform her of their decision. In turn, Monica is overjoyed at this news because she sees her son’s commitment to the celibate life as God’s generous response to her many “prayerful tears and plaintive lamentations.”

St. Monica is very closely connected to her son’s conversion. She spent 17 years shedding tears over his waywardness, begging God for his soul. When her son embraced the Manichean heresy, she asked a Catholic bishop to speak to him and refute his errors. The bishop told her it was unwise to have that conversation with her son because he was “unripe for instructions,” and that, in time, he would discover the truth simply by reading the Manicheans’ books. This answer would not pacify the mother. She was relentless in her visits to the bishop, incessant with her tears for her son’s conversion. Finally, losing his patience, the bishop said to her, “Leave me and go in peace. It cannot be that the son of these tears should be lost.” He was correct; the son of tears discovered the Truth and offered his life to Him.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 8 – Study as Asceticism, or “The Wood of the Desk is the Wood of the Cross!”

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-by Br. Joseph Paul Albin, OP

“As Dominicans we have a number of aphorisms that come up again and again. If you’ve hung out with us you’ve heard, “contemplate and share the fruits of your contemplation,” “if you’ve met one Dominican you’ve met one Dominican,” and “never deny, seldom affirm, and always distinguish.” One that I haven’t heard as often but is of principal importance in my life as a student is, “the wood of the desk is the wood of the Cross.”

In our lives as Dominicans we hear again and again of the four pillars: prayer, study, community, and preaching. Study is one of the most important aspects of our lives. We are called to study. Our study is not self-serving; we don’t chase titles, adding lists of letters to the end of our names. Instead our study is intimately linked to our mission, the salvation of souls. Study enriches our prayer, our community life, and our preaching. Through our study we cultivate a desire for truth, and we bring that desire for truth to others. Our Constitutions state this clearly, “Study enables the brothers to ponder in their hearts the manifold wisdom of God, and equips them for the doctrinal service of the Church and of all people. They ought to be all the more committed to study because in the Order’s tradition they are called to stimulate people’s desire to know the truth.” Our study ends up being one of our great gifts to the Lord in service to His people and His Church.”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 28 – St Moses the Black, (330-405 AD), Hermit & Martyr

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Saint Moses Murin the Black lived during the fourth century in Egypt. He was an Ethiopian, and he was black of skin and therefore called “Murin” (meaning “like an Ethiopian”). In his youth he was the slave of an important man, but after he committed a murder, his master banished him, and he joined a band of robbers.

Because of his bad character and great physical strength they chose him as their leader. Moses and his band of brigands did many evil deeds, both murders and robberies. People were afraid at the mere mention of his name.

Moses the brigand spent several years leading a sinful life, but through the great mercy of God he repented, left his band of robbers and went to one of the desert monasteries.  Some stories say he hid near the monastery in the commission of a robbery and was so impressed with the monks he converted.

Here he wept for a long time, begging to be admitted as one of the brethren. The monks were not convinced of the sincerity of his repentance, but the former robber would not be driven away nor silenced. He continued to ask until they accepted him.

St Moses was completely obedient to the igumen and the brethren, and he poured forth many tears of sorrow for his sinful life. After a certain while St Moses withdrew to a solitary cell, where he spent the time in prayer and the strictest fasting in a very austere lifestyle.

Once, four of the robbers of his former band descended upon the cell of St Moses. He had lost none of his great physical strength, so he tied them all up. Throwing them over his shoulder, he brought them to the monastery, where he asked the Elders what to do with them. The Elders ordered that they be set free. The robbers, learning that they had chanced upon their former ringleader, and that he had dealt kindly with them, followed his example: they repented and became monks. Later, when the rest of the band of robbers heard about the repentance of St Moses, then they also gave up their thievery and became fervent monks.

St Moses was not quickly freed from the passions. He went often to the igumen, Abba Isidore, seeking advice on how to be delivered from the passions of profligacy. Being experienced in the spiritual struggle, the Elder taught him never to eat too much food, to remain partly hungry while observing the strictest moderation. But the passions did not cease to trouble St Moses in his dreams.

Then Abba Isidore taught him the all-night vigil. The monk stood the whole night at prayer, so he would not fall asleep. From his prolonged struggles St Moses fell into despondency, and when there arose thoughts about leaving his solitary cell, Abba Isidore instead strengthened the resolve of his disciple.

In a vision he showed him many demons in the west, prepared for battle, and in the east a still greater quantity of holy angels, also ready for fighting. Abba Isidore explained to St Moses that the power of the angels would prevail over the power of the demons, and in the long struggle with the passions it was necessary for him to become completely cleansed of his former sins.   

Early one morning, Saint Isidore, abbot of the monastery, took Moses to the roof and together they watched the first rays of dawn come over the horizon. Isidore told Moses, “Only slowly do the rays of the sun drive away the night and usher in a new day, and thus, only slowly does one become a perfect contemplative.”

When a brother monk committed a fault, and Moses was invited to a meeting to discuss an appropriate penance, Moses refused to attend. When he was again called to the meeting, Moses took a leaking jug filled with water and carried it on his shoulder. Another version of the story has him carrying a basket filled with sand. When he arrived at the meeting place, the others asked why he was carrying the jug. He replied, “My sins run out (Ed:  are as many, are as long as the trail) behind me and I do not see them, but today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” On hearing this, the assembled brothers forgave the erring monk.

St Moses undertook a new effort. Making the rounds by night of the wilderness cells, he carried water from the well to each brother. He did this especially for the Elders, who lived far from the well and who were not easily able to carry their own water. Once, kneeling over the well, St Moses felt a powerful blow upon his back and he fell down at the well like one dead, laying there in that position until dawn. Thus did the devils take revenge upon the monk for his victory over them. In the morning the brethren carried him to his cell, and he lay there a whole year crippled. Having recovered, the monk with firm resolve confessed to the igumen, that he would continue to live in asceticism. But the Lord Himself put limits to this struggle of many years: Abba Isidore blessed his disciple and said to him that the passions had already gone from him. The Elder commanded him to receive the Holy Mysteries, and to go to his own cell in peace. From that time, St Moses received from the Lord power over demons.

Accounts about his exploits spread among the monks and even beyond the bounds of the wilderness. The governor of the land wanted to see the saint. When he heard of this, St Moses decided to hide from any visitors, and he departed his own cell. Along the way he met servants of the governor, who asked him how to get to the cell of the desert-dweller Moses. The monk answered them: “Go no farther to see this false and unworthy monk.” The servants returned to the monastery where the governor was waiting, and they told him the words of the Elder they had chanced to meet. The brethren, hearing a description of the Elder’s appearance, told them that they had encountered St Moses himself.

After many years of monastic exploits, St Moses was ordained deacon. The bishop clothed him in white vestments and said, “Now Abba Moses is entirely white!” The saint replied, “Only outwardly, for God knows that I am still dark within.”

Through humility, the saint believed himself unworthy of the office of deacon. Once, the bishop decided to test him and he bade the clergy to drive him out of the altar, reviling him as an unworthy Ethiopian. In all humility, the monk accepted the abuse. Having put him to the test, the bishop then ordained St Moses to be presbyter. St Moses labored for fifteen years in this rank, and gathered around himself 75 disciples.

When the saint reached age 75, he warned his monks that soon brigands would descend upon the skete and murder all that were there. The saint blessed his monks to leave, in order to avoid violent death. His disciples began to beseech the monk to leave with them, but he replied: “For many years already I have awaited the time when the words which my Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, should be fulfilled: “All who take up the sword, shall perish by the sword” (Mt. 26: 52). After this, seven of the brethren remained with the monk, and one of them hid nearby during the attack of the robbers. The robbers killed St Moses and the six monks who remained with him.

Love,
Matthew