Category Archives: December

Dec 14 – St John of the Cross, “The Darkness of Unknowing”

st-john-cross


-by Br Brent Bowen, OP

In darkness and secure
By the secret ladder, disguised,
– Ah, the sheer grace! –
In darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled;

We know a lot about God, both through the natural faculty of reason that God gifts to humanity, and through Divine Revelation. However there is a vast difference between knowing about God, and knowing God. The content of theology allows us to know more about God, but all of this knowledge is pointless unless it leads us into deeper intimate communion with the One Who Himself is knowledge.
Saint John of the Cross, vis-à-vis Aristotle, offers us advice in this endeavor:

Let it be recalled that according to a philosophical axiom all means must be proportionate to their end. That is, they must manifest a certain accord with and likeness to the end so that through them the desired end may be attained. For example: those who want to reach a city must necessarily take the road, the means, that leads to the city (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 2, #2).

How can I come to know a God who, in many ways, is so unlike me? Is there a means through which I can truly know God? Saint John seems to answer these questions:

It is noteworthy that among all creatures both superior and inferior, none bears a likeness to God’s being or unites proximately with Him […] Consequently, intellectual comprehension of God through heavenly or earthly creatures is impossible; there is no proportion of likeness (Ascent, Bk 2, #3).

Thus, we can know a lot about God through our study of theology, but we will never exhaust the fullness of God’s being through our study of God. Likewise in the spiritual life we eventually come to the realization that our yearning for God’s presence is never going to be satisfied through any natural means. When we reach this point we certainly should not abandon our quest for union with God, but we need to change tactics. Instead of trying to use our intellectual faculties as the primary means toward union, we must humbly submit to God’s action in prayer.  The mystical tradition often refers to this submission as “darkness.” By entering into the darkness of unknowing, we dispose ourselves to freely receiving God’s presence:

In order to draw nearer the divine ray the intellect must advance by unknowing rather than by the desire to know, and by blinding itself and remaining in darkness rather than by opening its eyes (Ascent, Bk 2, #5).

Although it can be scary, and one can feel downright alone in the darkness, we must cling to our faith and allow ourselves to be purified by the One Who is Light Itself. Occasionally we may see brief glimpses of this light, and these give us the strength and hope to continue trudging along the dark way. The good news is: the darkness does not last forever – it is only a preparation for something infinitely greater! Enter into the darkness! You will not regret it!”

With Saint Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross was called to the exceedingly difficult task to reform a decadent, declining and worldly state of affairs in the Religious life—specifically the Carmelite Order. Neither the men nor the women took a liking to someone rocking their comfortable boat of complacency! God chose these two saints to disrupt their comfortable status quo!

The anger which led to fury leveled against Saint John of the Cross was so intense that violent persecutions descended upon the saint like an unending tempest! John was kidnapped, locked in a small cell in a Carmelite convent. He was scourged, deprived of saying Holy Mass, barely given enough food to eat so as to survive, nor even a bath to take for hygiene purposes. Through Our Lady’s intercession St John escaped.

After all of this unjust abuse both verbal, physical, mental and spiritual, the great mystical doctor of the Church Saint John of the Cross, never uttered an unkind word against any of those who plotted and carried out against his person such unjust and uncharitable actions!

At the end of his life he was asked where he would like to end his days— in a convent where he would be loved and appreciated to end his days or in the convent of a Superior that detested him. St John of the Cross preferred the latter so as to conform his life more and more to the passion, suffering and humiliations of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ.

In conclusion Principle and Foundation teaches us who God is, where we come from, where we are heading and how to get there. An essential component of Principle and Foundation is “Ignatian Holy Indifference”. A key means to attaining Holy Indifference is a constant and dynamic prayer life, which leads to a total confidence in God, which is translated and manifested in a total willingness to give one’s whole self to God as a sacrifice, offering and oblation.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 25 – The Incarnation & The Theological Virtues

Theological-Virtues

Founding Mothers & Fathers of the United States were trained in Virtues, literally, as children.  It was foundational to their education.  See books by Bill Bennett.  The Virtues led and formed the framework in their alphabetical training, reading, and writing.  It does not bode well, this practice & these virtues have fallen out of practice/ fashion in their creation, imho.

In Christian philosophy, theological virtues are the character qualities associated with salvation. The three theological virtues are:

  • Faith – steadfastness in belief.
  • Hope – expectation of and desire of receiving; refraining from despair and capability of not giving up.
  • Love – selfless, unconditional, and voluntary loving-kindness such as helping one’s neighbors.

They occur in the Bible at 1 Corinthians 13:13.

In Catholic theology, it is held that these virtues differ from the Cardinal Virtues in that they can not be obtained by human effort. A person can only receive them by their being “infused”—through Divine grace—into the person.

The theological virtues are so named because the object of these virtues is the divine being (theos). Other virtues have vice at their extremes, and are only virtues when they are maintained between these extremes. In the case of the Theological Virtues, they do not contribute to vice at the positive extreme; that is, there is no vice in having an unlimited amount of faith, hope, or love, when God is the object of that virtue.  (Ed. There is no such thing as “too much of a good thing” with the Theological Virtues, as their ultimate aim is God, Himself.)

More than one vice can be the opposite of each theological virtue:

  • Lack of faith may give place to incredulity (as in atheism and agnosticism), blasphemy or apostasy.
  • Lack of hope may give place to despair or cynicism.
  • Lack of love may give place to hatred, wrath or indifference.

Symbolism:

Theological Virtues are often depicted in art as young women. The symbols most often associated with them are:

Faith – cross, pointing upward, staff and chalice, lamp, candle
Hope – anchor, harp, flaming brand, palm
Charity – flaming heart, with children, gathering fruit

john_sica
-by Br John Sica, OP

St. Thomas Aquinas explains the fittingness of the Incarnation in several reasons, including how it raises our minds and hearts to an increase in faith, hope, and charity. Here I highlight a few of these reasons with respect to the Nativity of Christ and its manifestation.

1. Faith.

Faith, as St. Thomas defines it, is the habit of the mind whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the will assent to what is non-apparent. Faith rests in God as First Truth Speaking. St. Thomas says that faith “is made more certain by believing God Himself Who speaks.” In Jesus Christ, we literally hear God’s own words, from His own mouth. St. Augustine says that, “In order that man might journey more trustfully toward the truth, the Truth itself, the Son of God, having assumed human nature, established and founded faith.”

But note that Jesus became an object of faith before He began His public ministry. Indeed, Simeon takes the child Jesus in his arms and proclaims Him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32). St. Thomas says that “the Magi were the ‘first-fruits of the Gentiles,’ who were to believe in Christ.” Simeon’s prophecy was already fulfilled in the Magi, who sought Him in response to the sign of the star and who did Him homage.

2. Hope.

Consider what hope is. The theological virtue of hope relies firmly on God for what is necessary for eternal life. In hope, our human will clings to the goodness of God for us. Augustine says, “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?” Why should the Incarnation correspond to hope, as St. Augustine suggests? In hope, we formally depend on God’s merciful omnipotence: that He is omnipotent shows us that He can save us, and that He is merciful—as shown by the Incarnation—shows us that He wants to.

In the Incarnation, God pulls out all the stops. One Dominican commentator has noted that “no greater way is intelligible by which God could communicate Himself to the creature” than by uniting human nature to His Person. Seeing the Christ child in the manger, we know that God took the most extreme means to save us from sin, and we have confidence that He will continue to offer us the means to be rescued from our sin and given sanctifying grace.

3. Love.

While hope clings to God as good for us, charity clings to God as good in Himself. The divine goodness is what primarily motivates us to charity. But secondarily, St. Thomas explains, it is aimed at “other reasons that inspire us with love for Him, or which make it our duty to love Him,” and these “are secondary and result from the first.” The Incarnation is the greatest of these secondary reasons. The history of Christ’s Nativity and infancy counts powerfully towards this. Seeing that Christ became a weak and helpless infant becomes, for us, a motive to love in return. As Augustine said, “If we have been slow to love, at least let us hasten to love in return.”

Love breaks forth in acts of joy and peace. We experience joy in the possession of the good and peace when we are at concord, even within ourselves. At the Nativity the angels announce good news of a “great joy” (Lk 2:10), and their hymn of praise wishes “peace” among men of good will (Lk 2:14). All of this is because the Savior is born in the city of David, whose Nativity incites us to the acts and effects of love.”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 26 – Jesus, welcome to our nightmare!!! Exactly.

RozdestvoHristovo_RublevBlagSoborMK

-Andrei Rublev, Nativity, 15th century (please click on the image for greater detail)

luke hoyt

-by Br Luke Hoyt, OP

“St. Stephen’s memorial is always the day after Christmas. But somehow, it always surprises me. We’ve only just arrived at the cozy stable with the little baby under the shining stars, and now we have to commemorate the Church’s first martyr, a guy who was stoned to death?

Sometimes I feel a similar surprise when I see traditional iconographic depictions of the Nativity. I mean, I know that “Away in the Manger” is a little saccharine. But some of these icon Nativity scenes make it look like Jesus was born in a haunted graveyard. In his swaddling clothes, Jesus looks like a little mummy child. Not only is Mary not holding her baby – she’s not even looking at him. Instead of a stable with a dusting of snow on the roof, they’re in a cave – a cave which looks like some rent in the earth which reveals the realm of Hades. And where is Joseph? He’s huddled in a corner with a serious expression on his face, being addressed by some creepy old guy – who happens to be the devil.

After the kinds of Nativity scenes that many of us are used to, this is like a Christmas-themed nightmare.

The question arises, then: what is the Church’s Tradition saying to us in all of this, in its artistic tradition and its liturgical calendar?

It’s saying that Christmas is not a holiday for the content of the world.

Jesus was not born in a secret oasis, removed from the world’s darkness and pain. He was born in that battleground which is our earthly existence, in this world which is indeed something of a haunted graveyard.

We sometimes suppose that the holidays (and perhaps especially Christmas) are events which only happy people with lots of friends and family are entitled to enjoy. And maybe that is the case with some holidays. But it’s not the case with Christmas.

Christmas is a holiday for the broken of the world. It is a holiday for those who feel the darkness and loneliness of the cave; for those who experience, with St. Joseph, the temptations of the Evil One, struggling to maintain faith in the Christian mystery; for those who, like Jesus in his swaddling burial clothes, feel the weight of their feeble mortality; for those who, like St. Stephen, experience the hatred of the world.

Each Christmas, to all the broken and lonely people in the world, Jesus says: this one’s for you.”

Mt 11:5-6

Paolo_Uccello_-_Stoning_of_St_Stephen_-_WGA23196

-Paolo Uccello, 1435 (please click on the image for greater detail)

St Stephen Martyr, Protomartyr of Jesus Christ, pray for us sinners!

Love & Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Dec 24 – Protestant Existential Angst with Christmas

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-Santa Calvin, by the author

publicknotice

brbonaventurechapmanop

-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP (prior to joining the Order, Br Bonaventure received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“Tomorrow is the day that every child (young and old!) has been waiting for: Christmas. We keep vigil on this Eve of the Nativity and anxiously await the celebration of Christ’s first coming in humility, with anticipation for his second coming in glory. Who would deny such a celebration to the Church? Surprisingly, some bearing the name Christian!

When in 1519 Huldrych Zwingli took to his pulpit in the newly Reformed city of Zurich, he did not follow the custom of preaching from the lectionary but began with Matthew’s Gospel and preached through the whole book, in what became known as lectio continua.

Holy days and feasts were ignored in this Scripture-centered form of worship. The most famous Reformer, John Calvin, largely followed Zwingli’s tradition: the city of Geneva had stopped celebrating holy days outside of Sunday. Even Christmas was not to be commemorated in any special way. On Christmas Day 1550, Calvin welcomed a larger than usual church crowd with the following:

“Now I see here today more people than I am accustomed to having at the sermon. Why is that? It is Christmas Day. And who told you this? You poor beasts. That is a fitting euphemism for all of you who have come here today to honor Noel.”

The Puritans in England under Oliver Cromwell would go even further: in 1647 the English Parliament officially abolished celebrating Christmas. The Puritans of New England largely followed suit. In Massachusetts a fine was even imposed on those caught celebrating in secret!

Why this Christmas animus? The Westminster Confession of Faith offers a Protestant principle cited for such a suppression:

“The acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture. (WCF XI.1)”

Christmas Day, December 25th, is not in the Scriptures; therefore, it is not to be celebrated – the simplicity of sola scriptura strikes again!

Happily the majority of modern Protestant churches do not follow their fathers in faith, even if the denial of Christmas liturgy does follow this Protestant principle quite naturally and straightforwardly. Yet, as with many Protestant beliefs, sometimes simplicity is simply too simple for reality. (Ed. It is generally known, the intelligentsia of Europe did not defect during the Reformation.)

Take, for instance, the Protestant detestation of any notion of mediation between God and man in the sacraments of the Church. The Protestant claim of immediacy between God and man sounds simpler, but what of this mortal flesh and physical world we find ourselves surrounded by: all a dream, a vision, an unreality? What of the Incarnation of Jesus, the taking on of this supposedly unseemly medium of creatureliness? It strikes me, at least, that the Catholic teaching on mediation in sacraments, among other things, is exactly and simply right. We are creatures of space and matter. If we are to be met at all, it will be in this space and this matter.

But we are not only creatures of space; we are also creatures of time. St. Augustine, in his famous discourse on time in his Confessions, admits as much: “I confess to you, Lord, that I still do not know what time is, and I further confess to you, Lord, that as I say this I know myself to be conditioned by time” (XI.xxv.32). And this conditioning by time is part of the fabric of the cosmos. As Joseph Ratzinger says in The Spirit of the Liturgy: “Time is a cosmic reality. The orbiting of the sun by the earth… gives existence the rhythm that we call time.” This means, Ratzinger continues, that “man lives with the stars. The course of the sun and the moon leave its mark on his life.”

While the rhythms of time make up creatureliness in general, they especially mark man. We are creatures enveloped by time. We remember the past, perceive the present, and anticipate the future in ways that other animals, let alone plants and stars, can only be represented as doing in fictional and fabulous tales.

For just this reason God seeks to meet us in temporal fashion as the Church celebrates the rhythms of salvation history in time. Seasonal cycles bring about ecclesial and personal remembrances and anticipations of God’s mighty deeds. We, lowly creatures of time, are being educated into God’s time of salvation in preparation for the eternal now of heaven. Worship is about the changing seasons and the developing of God’s story in time and beyond it. As Ratzinger reminds us: “The liturgy is the means by which earthly time is inserted into the time of Jesus Christ and into its present.”

Thus the Church rightly celebrates the Seasons and Holy Days of the Church calendar, and our anticipation on Christmas Eve as children, waiting for the decorated dawn of morning, is taken up in the liturgy in our anticipation of the second coming of Christ. We, creatures of time, need particular Holy Days and Seasons just as we, creatures of space, need particular sacraments and signs. And thankfully God has given us the gift of liturgical time with its special celebrations – especially Christmas, that liturgical day of remembering when God took on human flesh and dwelt amongst us.

This post started off polemically, but on a day such as this, the Eve of our Savior’s birth, perhaps it is fitting to end on a more irenic note with some words from one of John Calvin’s Christmas Sermons (yes – he did occasionally preach them!):

“Let us note well, then, that the peace which the angels of Paradise preach here carried with it this joy, which the first angel had mentioned, saying ‘I announce to you a great joy,’ that is, the salvation you will have in Jesus Christ. He is called our Peace, and this title declares that we would be entirely alienated from God unless he received us by means of his only Son. Consequently we also have something to boast of when God accepts us as his children, when he gives us freedom to claim him openly as our Father, to come freely to him, and to have our refuge in him.”

Love & Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Dec 17-23: The Great O Antiphons – O Radix Jesse

Harley 1892 f. 31v Tree of Jesse

-Harley 1892 f. 31v Tree of Jesse 

athanasius murphy
-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, Who stands as the sign for the peoples,
at Whom kings will shut their mouths,
Whom the nations will entreat:
Come now to free us, and do not delay!

The O Antiphons we sing in Advent give many names to Christ: Wisdom, Lord, Key, Dayspring, King, Emmanuel. One name on the humbler side of titles is Root.

Roots are the hidden plant-parts that keep the rest of the organism aloft. They’re the source of life that make growth and nourishment possible. Christ, by his Incarnation, is no different. Fashioned in the womb and born of Mary, Christ makes us grow from the same shoot that sprung from Jesse. Christ, as God and through his humanity, keeps the Church alive. Here are a few things to remember this Advent about Christ’s human life, and how he’s the root and foundation of our lives.

His obedience. To be obedient means that there’s a good and loving Boss in charge Who’s calling the shots, and you’re okay with that. The Eternal Son of God shares everything equally with the Father, but by His becoming man He also became obedient to the Father. Christ gave His whole life to the Father, becoming obedient even to death on a cross. This is why the Father says throughout the gospels, “This is my Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11, Lk 3:22 Mt 17:5). We may have to learn obedience the hard way, but Christ gives us prodigal sons the grace and example to be newly adopted sons that share the Father’s embrace.

His humility. A humble man recognizes what is above him, and what is below him; what raises him up and what brings him down. Christ humbled himself in taking on our humanity to redeem it. We are made humble when we recognize the sin we’ve chosen below us, and are raised up to God by his mercy when we ask for his help. We learn from Christ because He is meek and humble of heart, and He wants us to take on that same light and easy yoke. The Savior of the universe kneels before his disciples to wash their feet. Pray for humility. You may not wash anybody’s feet this Advent, but you may find the clarity and courage to say sorry for that thing you did months ago to your friend, even if he isn’t expecting an apology. Who knows? You may even find yourself wanting to go back to confession before Christmas.

His prayer. When Christ as man prayed He spoke not to a distant God, but to the Father from Whom He as the Son proceeds eternally and loves infinitely. Christ prayed in the depths of His soul about His life and for us. His prayer, like His life, was always directed toward the Father. He begged the Father on our behalf to forgive our sins and keep us away from our misgivings, temptations, annoyances, and anything else that keeps us from the Father’s love. Jesus wants us to pray like He does, and we learn to pray well when we learn to be beggars for God’s grace. Jesus tells us “whatever you ask in My name I will do it” (Jn 14). Take Him up on His word, and pray in the name of Jesus that the person in your life who really needs divine help will get it in the best way God knows how.

His patience. To have real patience is a rare thing. It’s not only enduring serious trials but doing so because your eyes are fixed on a further goal that makes the present pains worth bearing. The greatest goal we can hope for while on earth is heaven. Christ’s gaze in His earthly life never left heaven, not because He lacked or needed it, but because He wants us to have by grace the sonship that He has by nature. Christ became man to live a fully human life, but also to die a fully human death, and this took patience. He had patience with sinners, pharisees and puppet kings, and Roman soldiers trained in torture. He did this for us, with His eyes fixed on the Father, so that we could one day behold the Father face to face ourselves.

At the seat of all these virtues is Christ’s love. Jesus loves more than any human heart can ever love, and it’s this love that brought the Son to take on our humanity in the first place. We call Christ the root because He’s the source of any good and any grace we can have. We’re grafted onto the same tree of Jesse that tears us away from death.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

“There is a flower sprung of a tree,
The root thereof is called Jesse,
A flower of price;
There is none such in paradise.

This flower is fair and fresh of hue;
It fades never, but ever is new;
The blessed branch where this flower grew
Was Mary mild who bore Jesu,
A flower of grace!
Against all sorrow it is solace.

The seed thereof was of God’s sending,
Which God himself sowed with his hand;
In Bethlehem, in that holy land,
Within her bower he there her found.
This blessed flower
Sprang never but in Mary’s bower.

When Gabriel this maiden met,
With “Ave, Maria,” he her gret [greeted]
Between them two this flower was set,
And was kept, no man should wit, [know]
Til on a day
In Bethlehem, it began to spread and spray.

When that flower began to spread,
And his blossom to bud,
Rich and poor of every seed, [i.e. kind]
They marvelled how this flower might spread,
Until kings three
That blessed flower came to see.

Angels there came out of their tower
To look upon this fresh flower,
How fair He was in His color,
And how sweet in His savor,
And to behold
How such a flower might spring amid the cold.

Of lily, of rose on ryse, [branch]
Of primrose, and of fleur-de-lys,
Of all the flowers at my devyse [I can think of],
That flower of Jesse yet bears the prize,
As the best remedy
To ease our sorrows in every part.

I pray you, flowers of this country,
Wherever ye go, wherever ye be,
Hold up the flower of good Jesse,
Above your freshness and your beauty,
As fairest of all,
Which ever was and ever shall be.

-John Audelay’s beautiful fifteenth-century carol ‘There is a floure’.

Love,
Matthew

Doctrine Saves?….Doctrine Saves!

christian doctrine

Basic Christian Doctrine is the study of the revealed word of God. It is Christian Theology regarding the nature of truth, God, Jesus, salvation, damnation, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Gospel, resurrection, and more.

“holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict,” (Titus 1:9).

brdominicmaryverner-160x160
-by Br Dominic Mary Verner, OP

“It’s a bold claim. “Doctrine”—the word doesn’t exactly conjure images of heavenly harbors or paradisal sands. It hits the ears about as pleasantly as “doctor exam,” “doctoral dissertation,” or “indoctrination.” If the word had a smell, it would probably be the smell of old-book must—the smell of dead letters on acidic paper playing host to acrid fungal spores (I’d rather not think of its taste). Doctrine divides. The letter kills. How can we say that doctrine saves?

To see the goodness of Christian doctrine, how sweet its sound, it first helps to recall what it was like to be aged about three. Yes, you, dear reader, like me, were once three. And at the time, we had the rather obnoxious habit of asking all who would listen, “Why?” It was the most sensible question for us to ask at the time, because we knew, as if by instinct, that the world had a lot of explaining to do.

This is in part because, truth be told, neither you nor I chose to exist—not at that time, not in that place, not to those parents, not as this type of creature, not in this strange world with its storied history. No one asked us. Then, subito! There we were, thrust into history, tuned into season three of The Human Drama without a clue as to what happened in seasons one or two. What are we doing here? What are we to do? How did it begin? How does it end?

Perhaps our despair of these questions is the reason “doctrine” sounds so dismal. Perhaps we never got satisfying answers. Perhaps the answers seemed too abstract, too impersonal, too frightful or demanding. Perhaps we heard the telling of so many fragmented and conflicting stories that we gave up on ever putting the pieces together. Whatever the reason, somewhere along the line, we grew out of our questions. Doctrine lost its existential spice, its invigorating aroma, its sweet saving sound.

There is hope, of course, to recapture the flavor. Advent is a time when the Author of doctrine sets us up to be awestruck again. In times past, the God who placed us dazed and confused in season three of the cosmos spoke to us through the prophets, but in these later days, he sent us His Son. The Word became flesh, doctrine incarnate:

“In these later days, he spoke to us through a Son, Whom He made heir of all things and through Whom He created the universe, Who is the refulgence of His glory, the very imprint of His being, and Who sustains all things by His mighty word.” (Heb 1:1-2)

By the voice that creates, we learn our origin. By the Word that sustains, we know our way. By the Son that radiates glory, we achieve our destiny. Divine love that creates, redeems, and saves; a glorious company forged in filial obedience, self-denial, and hope; an inspired Church commissioned to pass on the flame of God’s teaching—not exactly acrid book must, that!

Sacred doctrine saves because it is the last speech of the first Son, the living legacy of the God-man born in a manger, destined to conquer death by a death born of love: “I AM the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (Jn 11:25-26).

His doctrine has the power to change everything—to give hope to the hopeless, to give sight to the blind—and the power, praise God, to save even a wretch like me.” (Ed…& me, too!) 🙂

She's a Christian

Love,
Matthew

Dec 10 – St John Roberts, OSB, (1577-1610), Priest & Martyr

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John was born in Wales in 1577. Although he was not a Catholic, he was taught by an elderly priest. So, as he said later, he was always a Catholic at heart. John went to Oxford University in England for a while. Even though he was a Protestant, his respect for the Catholic Church prevented him from signing the Oath of Supremacy, which denied the authority of the pope. He had to leave Oxford, so he went to Paris, where, it is reported, upon viewing Notre Dame, he converted to Catholicism.

John lost no time after this in taking steps to become a priest. He went to an English college in Spain and became a Benedictine monk. His great dream of going back to England came true three years later. He and another monk were given permission to set out for that land. They knew the dangers they would meet. In fact, they did not have long to wait before trouble began. They entered England wearing plumed hats and swords at their sides. Soon, however, they were arrested for being priests and sent out of the country.

St. John Roberts went back to London again in 1603 to help the thousands of people who fell victim to the plague. He worked day and night to keep the faith alive during a time when Catholics were persecuted mercilessly. Several times he was captured, put in prison, and exiled, yet he always came back. The last time Father John was arrested, he was just finishing Mass and there would be no escape, having been followed by former priest turned spy John Cecil, who had compiled a dossier on the unfortunate Roberts for James I. He was taken to Newgate prison in his vestments.

When asked, he declared he was a priest and a monk. He explained that he had come to England to work for the salvation of the people. “Were I to live longer,” he added, “I would continue to do what I have been doing.” When he refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy, he was condemned to death.

The night before he was to be hanged, a good Spanish lady arranged for him to be brought into the company of eighteen other prisoners. They were also suffering for their faith. During their supper together, St. John was full of joy. Then he thought perhaps he should not show so much happiness. “Do you think I may be giving bad example by my joy?” he asked his hostess. “No, certainly not,” she replied. “You could not do anything better than to let everyone see the cheerful courage you have as you are about to die for Christ.”

On 5 December he was tried and found guilty under the Act forbidding priests to minister in England, and on 10 December was hanged, drawn, and quartered, at the age of thirty-three, along with Thomas Somers, at Tyburn, London.

It was usual for the prisoner to be disembowelled while still alive, but he was very popular among the poor of London because of the kindness he had shown them during the plague and the large crowd which gathered at his execution would not allow this.

They insisted he be hanged to the death so as not to feel the pain. His heart was then held aloft by the executioner who proclaimed: “Behold the heart of the traitor!” But the angry crowd did not provide the standard response of: “Long live the King!” There was deathly silence.

Roman Catholic Bishop Edwin Regan, a currently living Welsh prelate, said: “Although the name St John Roberts, OSB, isn’t as well known today, he is a major figure in our religious history.” He was the first monk to return to Britain following the Protestant Reformation; the hostility between the Catholics and Protestants was at its height at this stage, when a Catholic priest could only expect to live for approximately two years in Britain during that period.”

On 17 July 2010, Metropolitan Seraphim of Glastonbury of the British Orthodox Church, accompanied by Deacon Theodore de Quincey, attended an Ecumenical Service at Westminster Cathedral in celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St. John Roberts.

Abba Seraphim noted that as a Londoner he wanted to honor the humanitarian and pastoral ministry of the saint to Londoners; and that all those who are conscious of the problems of exercising Christian ministry in times of persecution would immediately value the saint’s determination as well as realizing the extraordinary sacrifice he made to fulfill his priestly vocation.

Large contingents from Wales were in attendance and the service was bi-lingual. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams addressed the congregation in both English and Welsh. It was the first time Welsh had been spoken in a ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.

The choral piece, “Beatus Juan de Mervinia” in both Latin and Welsh, was specially commissioned for the service from the Welsh composer Brian Hughes.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 5 – St John Almond, (1565-1612) – Priest & Martyr

saint-john-almond

John Almond (or, aka Lathom or Molyneux, his aliases when incognito) was born at Allerton near Liverpool of Catholic parents about 1565, a time when being a Catholic was against the law. John spent much of his childhood in Allerton, near Liverpool, and at Much Woolton in Lancashire for his school years, before moving to Ireland with his parents where he was to finish his education and stay until reaching adulthood.

He then went on to study in Reims, France, where he pursued his vocation into the priesthood.

At the age of 20 he went to the English College in Rome where he would be ordained into the priesthood in1598 and then returned to the dangers of England as a missionary priest in 1602. Remembered as a great public debater, it was during the end of his time in Rome that he gave a public defense of theses that cover the whole course of philosophy and theology, and known as the “Grand Act” which was warmly congratulated by Cardinal Caesar Baronius and Cardinal Francesco Maria Tarugi.

John’s love for his homeland and his fellow English Catholics made him eager to return and once there he travelled from house to house, village to village and town to town ministering to Catholics and sternly defending the Catholic Faith to those that opposed or questioned him. Saint John Almond never tired of trying to win back Protestants to the Catholic creed through his discussion and modesty.

Saint John Almond continued to minister to the faithful and labored in his mission for 10 years, during that time he would eagerly speak out against the anti-Catholic powers of the state.

He was first arrested for his papist behaviour in 1608, and then again in 1612 for high treason on account of his priesthood. He had many debates with the Anglican authorities that would try to convince him that the Catholic Church was wrong but they soon found that Saint John Almond was unbeatable in discussions on the subject. This lead to him gaining many enemies in the higher Anglican clergy, including Dr King, the Protestant bishop of London.

It was during the November of 1612 that seven priests made good their escape from prison. The successful escape was considered to infuriate the Catholic persecutors and it was the Protestant bishop of London, Dr King, who was most irritant at John Almond. Thus it was on the 5th December 1612 that Saint John Almond was taken to Tyburn to be hung, drawn and quartered.

He was known as a ‘reprover of sin’ and many considered him as a good example to follow because of his ingenious and acute understanding, sharp and apprehensive in his conceits and answers, yet complete with modesty. Saint John Almond was full of courage and was ready to ‘suffer for Jesus Christ, who had suffered for him’. He courageously displayed modesty and humbleness and died with the name of Jesus upon his lips.

He refused to sign the Oath of Allegiance in the form in which it was offered him, but offered to swear that he bore in his heart “so much allegiance to King James as he, or any Christian king, could expect by the law of nature, or the positive law of the true Church, be it which it will, ours or yours.”

He was committed to Newgate and within a few months was brought to trial as a seminary priest. Having been duly convicted he was hanged, drawn, and quartered on 5 December 1612 at Tyburn, London.

On the scaffold he flung some seven or eight pounds in silver, with his (rosary)beads, his points(?), and his (penetential/uncomfortable garment) discipline, for those to get them who would, and gave to the hangman an angel, not to spare him, but to treat him as he should.

He had come hither, he said, to shed his blood for his Savior’s sake, Who had shed His blood for his sins. In which respect he wished that every drop that he would shed might be a thousand ; that he might have St. Lawrence’s gridiron to be broiled on, St. Peter’s cross to be hanged on, St. Stephen’s stones to be stoned with, to be ript, ript, ript, and ript again.

Then, being in his shirt, he kneeled down, and often repeating “In manus tuas, Domine, &c.”—“Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit ”—he waited till the hangman was ready, without any sign of fear; but, ever smiling, he protested he died chaste, but not through his own ability or worthiness, but by Christ’s special grace, and that he ever hated those carnal sins, for which the Catholic religion had been slandered.

At last, the cart was drawn away, and with the words “ Jesu, Jesu,” his soul flew to Him for Whom he shed his blood, Tyburn, December 5, 1612.

516WThl2SAL

Love,
Matthew

Dec 22 – Bl Jacopone da Todi, OFM, (ca. 1230 – 1306) – “Crazy Jim”, Early Dramatist of Gospel themes…, Author of “Stabat Mater”

I LOVE BEING MARRIED!!!!  Let me repeat, I love being married!!!  It requires I grow everyday.  That’s definitely not a comment about Kelly.  It is infinitely a comment about me.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you, Kelly.  Thank you for saying “yes” or “sure”, or whatever it was.  Thank you for being Mrs. McCormick.  Thank you for being Mara’s “Omi”.  I love you very much.  You know how I feel.

Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna.  His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle, or hairshirt, she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life.

He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order. Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or “Crazy Jim,” by his former associates. The name became dear to him.  On another occasion, he appeared at a wedding in his brother’s house, tarred and feathered from head to toe.

After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor. Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular.

Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, “Fraticelli”, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two brothers, the Colonnas, cardinals of the Church, and Pope Celestine V. Interestingly, Celestive resigned before action could be taken.  These two cardinals, though, along with the King of France, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII, who opposed the more ascetic approach.  During the struggle that followed, Jacopone publicized the Spirituals’ cause by writing verses highly critical of their opponents, the Pope included.  A battle between the two factions ensued, ending in the siege of Palestrina.

At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later in 1303, having been specifically excluded from the Jubilee Year of 1300 by papal bull.  He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping “because Love is not loved.” During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, Stabat Mater.

On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed “Sister Death” with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, he has been venerated as a saint.  He is praised in Dante’s Paradiso.


-The Piazza del Popolo in Todi, where Jacopone crawled around on one occasion, wearing a saddle.

Some of his poetry,

From “Love That Is Silent”:

Love, silent as the night,
Who not one word wilt say,
That none may know Thee right!
0 Love that lies concealed,
Through heat and storm and cold,
That none may guess nor read
Thy secrets manifold;
Lest thieves should soon grow bold
To steal away thy treasure,
Snatch it and take to flight
Deep-hid, thy secret fires
More ardently shall glow;
And he who screens thee close,
Thy fiercest heat shall know.

From “The God-Madness”:

“What happens to the drop of wine
That you pour into the sea?

Does it remain itself, unchanged?
It is as if it never existed.
So it is with the soul: Love drinks it in,
It is united with Truth,
Its old nature fades away,
It is no longer master of itself.

The soul wills and yet does not will:
Its will belongs to Another.
It has eyes only for this beauty;
It no longer seeks to possess, as was its wont–
It lacks the strength to possess such sweetness.
The base of this highest of peaks
Is founded on nichil,
Shaped nothingness, made one with the Lord.”

From “The Soul’s Over-Ardent Love”:

Love, that art Charity,
Why has Thou hurt me so?
My heart is smote in two,
And burns with ardent love,
Glowing and flaming; refuge finding none,
My heart is fettered fast, it cannot flee;
It is consumed, like wax set in the sun;
Living, yet dying, swooning passionately,
It prays for strength a little way to run,
Yet in this furnace must it bide and be:
Where am I led, ah me!

I once could speak, but now my lips are dumb;
My eyes are blind, although I once could see:
In this abyss my soul is stark and numb,
Silent I speak; cling, yet am held by Thee:
Falling, I rise; I go, and yet I come;
Pursue, and am pursued; I am bound yet free;
O Love that whelmeth me!
Maddened I cry:
“Why must I die,
They fiery strength to prove?”

Love, Love, of naught but Love my tongue can sing,
Thy wounded Hand hath pierced my heart so deep:
Love, Love, with Thee made one, to Thee I cling,
Upon Thy breast, let me sleep;
Love, Love, with Love my heart is perishing;
Love, like an Eagle snatching me Thy sleep,
For Thee I swoon, I weep,
Love, let me be,
By courtesy,
Thine own in death. . .

From “Rapture Divine”:

When the mind’s very being is gone,
Sunk in a conscious sleep,
In a rapture divine and deep,
Itself in the Godhead lost:
It is conquered, ravished, and won!
Set in Eternity’s sweep,
Gazing back on the steep,
Knowing not how it was crossed –
To a new world now it is tossed,
Drawn from its former state,
To another, measureless, great,
Where Love is drowned in the Sea.

The Stabat Mater

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had pass’d.

Oh, how sad and sore distress’d
Was that Mother highly blest
Of the sole-begotten One!

Christ above in torment hangs;
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
Whelm’d in miseries so deep
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?

Bruis’d, derided, curs’d, defil’d,
She beheld her tender child
All with bloody scourges rent.

For the sins of His own nation,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above;
Make my heart with thine accord.

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ our Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through;
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Saviour crucified.

Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all my sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourn’d for me,
All the days that I may live.

By the cross with thee to stay,
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins best,
Listen to my fond request
Let me share thy grief divine.

Let me, to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swoon’d
In His very blood away.

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In His awful Judgment day.

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
Be Thy Mother my defense,
Be Thy cross my victory.

While my body here decays,
May my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.

Amen.

-Blessed Jacopone da Todi


-tomb of Bl Jacopone da Todi

Epitaph:  “Here lie the bones of Blessed Jacopone dei Benedetti da Todi, Friar Minor, who, having gone mad with love of Christ, by a new artifice deceived the world and took Heaven by violence.”

Blessed Nativity.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 13 – St Lucy, (283-304 AD), Virgin & Martyr – Two Eyes on a Plate/Light Humor

lucy

saint lucy

Rich, young Christian of Greek ancestry. Raised in a pious family, she vowed her life to Christ. Her Roman father died when she was young. Her mother, Eutychia, arranged a marriage for her. For three years she managed to keep the marriage on hold. To change the mother‘s mind about the girl‘s new faith, Lucy prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha, and her mother‘s long haemorrhagic illness was cured. Her mother agreed with Lucy’s desire to live for God, and Lucy became known as a patron of those with maladies like her mother‘s.

Her rejected pagan bridegroom, Paschasius, denounced Lucy as a Christian to the governor of Sicily. The governor sentenced her to forced prostitution, but when guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; they went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger in the throat. Her name is listed in the prayer “Nobis quoque peccatoribus” in the Canon of the Mass.

Legend says her eyesight was restored before her death. This and the meaning of her name led to her connection with eyes, the blind, eye trouble, etc.

(When I travel on business with colleagues and the diversions include a trip to a cultural or historical site such as a Catholic Church, or even an art museum, I find I am, at least, at their request, only, a practical and useful docent to them, with some awareness of iconography and Latin, etc.)

brleojosephcamurati-160x160
-by Br Leo Camurati, OP

In iconography, there are different tokens, called “attributes,” that help to distinguish between different saints. Attributes can be common objects, or more unusual ones. For example, St. Peter has the Keys to the Kingdom Of Heaven as Christ gave him, St. Jerome is dressed as a cardinal (even though he wasn’t one), and St. Catherine of Alexandria is distinguished by a wheel, her instrument of torture.

Today is the feast of St. Lucy, which brings to mind the first time I saw an image of her, along with her “attribute.” She was holding two eyes, on a plate. No, that’s not a typo. Two eyes. On a plate.

In a word, it was grotesque. In several more words, it was unpalatable, impolite, bizarre, and disturbing. Of course, I wasn’t naïve enough to believe such things never happened—Byzantine history provides plenty of examples—but why would anyone be so crude as to commemorate it with a statue?

It’s said that, after St. Lucy was blinded, God miraculously restored her sight. But it’s also fairly likely that this is only a legend. After all, neither the blinding itself nor the miraculous healing is mentioned either in the thirteenth-century Golden Legend or in earlier works.

Perhaps it will be helpful to go to the Gospels:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light;  but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Mt 6:22–23)

Christ points out the limits of our vision. In one way or another, we are all blinded to our faults. Incidentally, this passage comes right after Christ’s condemnation of hypocrisy. We can all look great in our own eyes, and we can all rationalize anything that gets in the way of our self-deception. But we have been warned, on good authority, not to embrace this way of seeing:

“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Mt 18:9)

And so, the unsettling image of St. Lucy starts to make a bit more sense. More than just a legendary accretion, her story is a call to the profound reevaluation we must make if we are to see clearly.

St. Lucy was martyred during the persecution of Diocletian, but, before she was killed, the Roman authorities tried to humiliate and disgrace her by condemning her to a house of ill repute—to put it more plainly, a brothel. When the judge sentenced her, she replied,

“If you were to lift my hand to your idol and so make me offer against my will, I would still be guiltless in the sight of the true God, who judges according to the will and knows all things. If now, against my will, you cause me to be polluted, a twofold purity will be gloriously imputed to me. You cannot bend my will to your purpose; whatever you do to my body, that cannot happen to me.”

St. Lucy could see something that the judge could not. But preaching the faith to him was like trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to a Manhattanite—a hard sell if there ever was one. His worldly way of thinking might be summed up in Mark Twain’s charming but cynical definition of faith: “believing that which we know not to be true.”

Charming, perhaps, but wrong—dead wrong. Such “faith” does not produce martyrs. St. Lucy, like other saints through the ages, saw through the outward appearance of respectability, comfort, and peace that is offered by the world. These items were off the table for her, because she caught the glimpse of something far greater.

Fulton Sheen once remarked that humor results from the ability to see through things. Slapstick, irony, even puns are only really funny when they point beyond themselves. The Church exhibits her sense of humor in this way by placing the feast day of St. Lucy, whose name means “light,” at the darkest time of the year. It’s not such a great one-liner, of course, and it won’t get as many laughs as Mark Twain. But then it’s a different kind of humor—the sort that doesn’t go stale.

C.S. Lewis gives his own charming description of faith in his second Narnia novel, Prince Caspian. One day, the youngest child in the story—Lucy Pevensie—encounters the lion Aslan, whom she hasn’t seen in a long time; but, much to her dismay, she soon realizes that her siblings cannot see him, even in broad daylight. Then she notices something else:

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

As we grow older, does our faith, like the faith of St. Lucy and little Lucy Pevensie, allow us to see Christ “grow bigger”? Or is there a need to rub our eyes, in the event that we are missing something important? Getting to the bottom of these questions will probably take more than one Advent, so it’s a good idea to get started now.”

master-of-the-saint-lucy-legend-virgin-surrounded-by-female-saints

-The Blessed Virgin Surrounded by Female Saints, Artist Unknown/Anonymous, c. 1488, Oak, 108 x 171 cm, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels –  Three saints are at the center of the composition.  They are Catherine, Mary Magdalen and Barbara.

The Virgin is represented as the Queen of Heaven. She wears a crown and is seated on a throne behind which two angels hold aloft a rich brocade honour cloth. The scene takes place in an enclosed garden, full of plants and flowers, evoking Paradise. A landscape extends far into the background. The eleven young women surrounding the Virgin can be identified by their various attributes accompanying them or decorating their rich garments. The Child is holding a ring to Catherine in order to seal their “mystical marriage”. This saint is also accompanied by a sword and her mantle is decorated with wheels. Mary Magdalene can be recognised by her ointment pot and Barbara by the towers that decorate her brocade mantle and her necklace. To the left, Ursula is identified by the arrows of her martyrdom half hidden beneath her gown, Apollina by a tooth in a pair of pincers and Lucy by a tray with two eyes on it. An unidentified saint holds a crown and a bell. To the right, Agnes carries a lamb in her lap and presents a ring, signifying her mystical marriage with Christ. Cunera, a companion of Ursula, carries a little cradle or footstool, along with an arrow, and Agatha a pair of pincers holding a torn-off breast. Margaret holds a cross in her hand. She is also accompanied in the landscape by a representation of St George slaying the dragon, a scene with which she is frequently associated.

Saint Lucy
Whose beautiful name signifies ‘LIGHT’
by the light of faith which God bestowed upon you
increase and preserve His light in my soul
so that I may avoid evil,
Be zealous in the performance of good works
and abhor nothing so much as the blindness and
the darkness of evil and sin.
Obtain for me, by your intercession with God
Perfect vision for my bodily eyes
and the grace to use them for God’s greater honour and glory
and the salvation of souls.
St. Lucy, virgin and martyr
hear my prayers and obtain my petitions.

Amen.

st lucy 008

O! Glorious St Lucy, Virgin and Martyr, you greatly glorified the Lord by preferring to sacrifice your life rather than be unfaithful. Come to our aid and, through the love of this same most loveable Lord, save us from all infirmities of the eyes and the danger of losing them.

Through your powerful intercession, may we spend our life in the peace of the Lord and be able to see Him with our transfigured eyes in the eternal splendour of the Celestial Homeland. Amen.

St Lucy, pray for us and for the most needy, to Christ our Lord. Amen.

St.-Lucy-Bread

O St Lucy, you preferred to let your eyes be torn out instead of denying the faith and defiling your soul; and God, through an extraordinary miracle, replaced them with another pair of sound and perfect eyes to reward your virtue and faith, appointing you as the protector against eye diseases. I come to you for you to protect my eyesight and to heal the illness in my eyes.

O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.

Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognise His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.

St Lucy, protect my eyes and preserve my faith. Amen.

Love,
Matthew