Category Archives: January

Jan 22 – Bl William Joseph Chaminade, SM, (1761-1850) – Founder of the Marianists, A Man of Faith

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To the south of Bordeaux a road leads down across the Pyrenees into Spain. This was the road Father William Joseph Chaminade followed into exile in September of 1797. He was a French priest in disguise, escaping the enemies of the Church in his native land. Close by lay the danger of arrest. Other priests had already died as martyrs. But Father Chaminade was at peace. He was a man of faith.

The night before his journey into exile Father Chaminade wrote: “What is a faithful man to do in the chaos of events which seem to swallow him up? He must sustain himself calmly by Faith. Faith will make him adore the eternal plan of God. Faith will assure him that to those who love God all things work together for good.”

The Vision
In Saragossa, Spain, near the Shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar, Father Chaminade settled down to wait out his exile. Here he prayed and planned for his future work. And here he received from Our Lady a special message. He was to be Mary’s missionary. He was to found a society of religious who would work with her to restore the Faith in France.

So vivid and detailed was the inspiration given to Father Chaminade, that years later he could say to his first religious, “As I see you now before me, I saw you in spirit at Saragossa, long before the foundation of the Society. It was Mary who conceived the plan of the Society. It was she who laid its foundations, and she will continue to preserve it.”

Two of Father Chaminade’s favorite prayers reveal the intensity of his love of God and of Mary:
“The most just, most high, and most amiable will of God be done, praised, and eternally exalted in all things!”
“May the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit be glorified in all places through the Immaculate Virgin Mary.”

The beginning work . . .
Father Chaminade returned to Bordeaux in 1800. There he established Sodalities of OurLady which spread their influence throughout France. He considered himself a missionary of Mary. Strong in his love for Our Blessed Mother, he gathered men and women around him who dedicated their lives to her service.

Working together, these men and women of Faith began to rebuild the Church which had been destroyed. The Society of Mary and the Daughters of Mary sprang from the sodalities of Father Chaminade. These groups continue to do Mary’s work in countries all over the world. Because Chaminade’s work was the work of Mary, it remains. And the words of this man of Faith still speak to us today.

From the Chapel of the Madeleine as from a fountain, grace poured throughout the entire city of Bordeaux and southern France. To this day the Madeleine, in the old down-town section of Bordeaux, is a center of Christian life. There Marianist priests and brothers, members of the religious congregation Father Chaminade founded, minister to the people. Many come to pray, to receive the Sacraments, or to seek spiritual refreshment.

All kinds of people involved . . .
From the beginning Father Chaminade invited people from varied backgrounds to work with him. There were husbands and wives, teachers, business men, young men and women, seminarians, priests, and representatives of every class.

-Together they worked to rebuild the shattered Faith in France.
-Together they found a deepening of their own Faith in the imitation of Jesus.
-Together they responded to the words of Mary at Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Father Chaminade called this group the Family of Mary. Their outstanding characteristic was a deep spirit of Faith. For Chaminade, Faith expresses itself most perfectly in the imitation of Christ:

“A true Christian cannot live any life but the life of Our Savior Jesus. When we try to imitate Him the divine plan is carried out in our lives. The Blessed Virgin is our Model. She is a very exact copy of her Son Jesus. When we are devoted to Mary we will imitate Jesus.” “YOU MUST TASTE WHAT YOU BELIEVE.”- Father Chaminade

The importance of Mary
Father Chaminade never tired of speaking about the strong, victorious Virgin Mother of Christ:
“Jesus made Mary the companion of His labors, of His joy, of His preaching, of His death. Mary had a part in all the glorious, joyous, and sorrowful mysteries of Jesus. The deposit of the Faith is entirely in Mary. At the foot of the Cross she held the place of the Church. The mysteries which were announced to Mary were accomplished because she believed.”

History of the beatification cause
Chaminade died January 22, 1850. He was buried in the Carthusian cemetery in Bordeaux. In 1871 his remains were removed from the priest’s vault to a large square plot where a monument was erected to his memory. Father John Lalanne, the first Marianist, spoke on the occasion. He said, “We were witnesses during our younger days of his life and words. We affirm that we never saw him spend a day, not even a single hour at anything which did not relate directly to God and to the welfare of souls.”

Before long people began to come to his tomb. Some of them remembered him as a saintly old priest. Others knew only that a holy man was buried there.

In 1973 Pope Paul VI proclaimed that Father Chaminade had practiced virtue in a heroic degree. This proclamation of the Church is an official step toward the beatification and canonization of Father Chaminade.

Prayer +
O God, light of the faithful and shepherd of souls,
who set blessed William Joseph Chaminade in the Church
to feed your sheep by his words and form them by his example,
grant that through his intercession
we may keep the faith he taught by his words
and follow the way he showed by his example.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal: Common of Pastors—For One Pastor)

Love,
Matthew

Solemnity of the Epiphany – wise people still seek Him…

Adoration_of_the_Magi_Tapestry
The Adoration of the Magi, tapestry, wool and silk on cotton warp, 101 1/8 x 151 1/4 inches (258 x 384 cm.), Manchester Metropolitan University, designed 1888, woven 1894, designed by Edward Burne Jones with details by William Morris and John Henry Dearle, please click on the image for greater detail.

While we may not all possess gold, frankincense and myrrh to give the newborn King this Epiphanytide, Pope Francis says we can all nevertheless offer him three precious gifts.

In his homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord, which the Vatican celebrates on January 6, Pope Francis said that the Magi represent “the men and women throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God.”

“Countless people in our own day have a ‘restless heart,’ (St Augustine, Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee!”) which continues to seek without finding sure answers,” he said. “They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.”

He noted that the Magi saw many stars in the sky, but one shone more brightly than the others, and forever changed their lives.

In a similar way, it is up to the Church, whose nature it is to receive God’s light and reflect it in the lives of individuals and peoples, “to draw out the desire for God present in every heart.”

“How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ,” he said. “They need to know the face of the Father.”

The Pope continued: “Let us follow the light which God offers us, the light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity. And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love.”

For when we open these most precious gifts to the newborn King, Pope Francis said, he fills them with grace, enabling us “to rise and go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light which illumines our lives: ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’” (Isaiah 60:1).

Here below we publish the official English translation of the pope’s homily:

“The words of the Prophet Isaiah — addressed to the Holy City of Jerusalem — are also meant for us. They call us to rise and go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light that illumines our lives: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1). That “light” is the glory of the Lord. The Church cannot illude herself into thinking that she shines with her own light. St. Ambrose expresses this nicely by presenting the moon as a metaphor for the Church: “The moon is in fact the Church … [she] shines not with her own light but with the light of Christ. She draws her brightness from the Sun of Justice, and so she can say: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’” (Hexaemeron, IV, 8, 32). Christ is the true light shining in the darkness. To the extent that the Church remains anchored in him, to the extent that she lets herself be illumined by him, she is able to bring light into the lives of individuals and peoples. For this reason the Fathers of the Church saw in her the mysterium lunae.

We need this light from on high if we are to respond in a way worthy of the vocation we have received. To proclaim the Gospel of Christ is not simply one option among many, nor is it a profession. For the Church, to be missionary does not mean to proselytize: for the Church to be missionary means to give expression to her very nature, which is to receive God’s light and then to reflect it. This is her service. There is no other way. Mission is her vocation; to shine Christ’s light is her service. How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ. They need to know the face of the Father.

The Magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as good and faithful Father. The Magi represent the men and woman throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God. Before Jesus, all divisions of race, language and culture disappear: in that Child, all humanity discovers its unity. The Church has the task of seeing and showing ever more clearly the desire for God which is present in the heart of every man and woman. This is the service of the Church, with the light that she reflects: to draw out the desire for God present in every heart.

Like the Magi, countless people, in our own day, have a “restless heart,” which continues to seek without finding sure answers — it is the restlessness of the Holy Spirit that stirs in hearts. They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.

How many stars there are in the sky! And yet the Magi followed a new and different star, which for them shone all the more brightly. They had long peered into the great book of the heavens, seeking an answer to their questions — they had restless hearts — and at long last the light appeared. That star changed them. It made them leave their daily concerns behind and set out immediately on a journey. They listened to a voice deep within, which led them to follow that light. It was the voice of the Holy Spirit, who works in all people. The star guided them, until they found the King of the Jews in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem.

All this has something to say to us today. We do well to repeat the question asked by the Magi: “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matt. 2:2). We are impelled, especially in an age like our own, to seek the signs which God offers us, realizing that great effort is needed to interpret them and thus to understand his will. We are challenged to go to Bethlehem, to find the Child and his Mother. Let us follow the light which God offers us — that tiny light. The hymn in the breviary poetically tells us that the Magi lumen requirunt lumine [following a light, they were searching for the Light] — that tiny light. The light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity. And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love. True wisdom lies concealed in the face of this Child. It is here, in the simplicity of Bethlehem, that the life of the Church is summed up. For here is the wellspring of that light that draws to itself every individual in the world and guides the journey of the peoples along the path of peace.”

Love, and praying for Epiphany, constantly, in my life,
Matthew

Jan 1 – Te Deum

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-click on the image for more detail, please.

-The Te Deum window by Christopher Whall, St Mary the Virgin, Ware, Hertfordshire, UK.

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-by Br John Sica, OP

“The Church places the ancient Latin hymn, the Te Deum, at the end of the year as a way of giving solemn thanks to God. The Manual of Indulgences grants an indulgence to the faithful who pray it in a church on the final day of the year as a way of thanking God for all the benefits He has bestowed on them throughout the year (#26, §1, 2°). Yet, this traditional hymn of thanksgiving does not have any explicit mention of giving thanks.

A Catholic who is unfamiliar with the content of the hymn might recognize instead the great 19th-century hymn Holy God, we praise Thy name, which is a paraphrase of the Te Deum. In order to get the sense of the place of the Te Deum in the liturgy, it would be useful to compare it to the Gloria in the Mass. Both are very ancient Latin hymns which praise God for the greatness of His divinity and move on to the praise of His saving works in Jesus Christ. Both are prescribed to be sung on days of an especially festive nature. On Sundays, solemnities, and feast days, the Gloria is sung at Mass, while the Te Deum is sung at the Liturgy of the Hours. We also sing the Te Deum outside the liturgy. The friars often sign it as a song of thanksgiving at a particularly joyous event, like the election of a pope or superior.  So why isn’t there a mention of thanksgiving in the hymn?

When we speak of gratitude, we are usually referring to a specific form of justice. Justice is the virtue that makes us give others what we owe them. Gratitude is what we owe those who are our benefactors, in return for benefits received. By explicitly acknowledging what is good in our lives, we are at the same time constrained to acknowledge these goods as benefits from God. “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above,” St. James says, “coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). The Church’s pedagogy in gratitude is meant to train us to go more and more quickly from acknowledging the gift to thanking the giver.

God’s greatness, His glory, His very divinity, however, are not really “benefits” given to us, so it is difficult to see how they would form the basis for thanksgiving. Yet, adoration of God, confession of His glory, and thanks for it seem to merge into one in the Gloria: we give you thanks for your great glory! In harmony with this line from the Gloria, the triumphant joy in confession of the truth of God’s greatness, which the Te Deum displays, might be called instead a sort of proto-thanksgiving. For God’s divinity is the basis of the liberality and mercy of God which lavishes His gifts on us, undeserving as we may be.

As our year ends, the Church encourages us to reflect on the blessings He has bestowed on us over the past year, and to pray and praise Him for it. Beneath the many gifts, the Church is always solicitous that we not forget the Giver, and so encourages us to break forth in praise of Him—thanksgiving for Him being God. “O God, we praise Thee: we acknowledge Thee to be Lord!”

Love, and great thanks to You, Lord Jesus Christ!!!
Matthew

Jan 23 – Bl Henry Suso, OP, (1295-1366), Priest, Mystic, Poet, “Servant of the Eternal Wisdom”

TRIVIA CHALLENGE!!!! QUICK!!!! Who wrote the lyrics to “Good Christian Men, Rejoice!/In dulci jubilo“?  ….Answer = Bl Henry Suso, OP!!!  Now you know.

Famed German Dominican mystic whose work, The Book of Eternal Wisdom, is considered a classic. Born Heinrich von Berg in Constance, Swabia, he entered the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans, at an early age.

Undergoing a conversion, he developed an abiding spiritual life and studied under Meister Eckhart in Cologne from 1322-1325. He then returned to Constance to teach, subsequently authoring numerous books on spirituality: Das Buchlein der Wahrheit (The Little Book of Truth, 1327) and Das Buchlein der Ewigen Weisheit (The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, 1328), a book of practical meditations that became the most popular work on mysticism until the Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis; Horologium Sapientiae (Clock of Wisdom); sermons; and a life of the Dominican nun Elsbeth Stägel (d. 1360).

As he supported Meister Eckhart — who was then the source of some controversy and had been condemned by Pope John XXII (r. 1316-1334) in 1329 — Henry was censured by his superiors and stripped of his teaching position. He subsequently became a preacher in Switzerland and the Upper Rhine and was a brilliant spiritual adviser among the Dominicans and the spiritual community of the Gottesfreunde. He endured persecution right up until his death at Ulm. Pope Gregory XVI (r. 1831-1846) beatified him in 1831.

Konstanz_Bodensee_Inselhotel

-Konstanz Bodensee Inselhotel, click image for larger image, Dominican Island on the left, with Steigenberger island hotel; the Old Rhine Bridge is visible in the centre of the image


— by Fr. Ezra Sullivan, OP

“Once a Dominican friar in Konstanz, Germany would have been a familiar sight. Now, however, the habit garners side-long glances and blatant stares as visitors and residents try to grasp the meaning of the uncommon clothing. In this way, the habit is somewhat like an island.

An island is a land of adventure, a little world of its own surrounded by watery boundary that separates it from the mainland. To cross that boundary, whether by boat or by bridge, and to fathom its significance is to enter a frontier of exploration. It can even be a portal to the past.

Archeological evidence shows that since the Stone Age humans have inhabited what is now called “Dominican Island” in Lake Bodensee, just off the shore from Constance (Konstanz), Germany. The left bank of the Rhine river and the lake make it a beautiful location. It was occupied by the Romans and enjoyed by Charlemagne. It became sacred ground soon after the Dominicans were given the land in 1220. Within fourteen years, the Friars Preachers had erected a sizeable convent there with the aid of the local prince bishop. Additionally, in 1257 the friars helped Dominican contemplative nuns establish a convent in Konstanz known as Kloster Zoffingen.

Bl. Henry Suso is likely the most celebrated Dominican to have lived in the island-convent. There, around the year 1324, he was clothed with the habit. For some time, his literal separation from the mainland made little difference to his spiritual life, for he was still chained to the world in his heart. Through grace, however, he underwent a conversion and afterwards devoted himself entirely to the Eternal Wisdom of God. Along with the Dominicans Meister Eckhart and John Tauler, Suso became known as a “Rhineland Mystic” whose spiritual writings bore enormous fruit in the late medieval Church.

Dominican Island was also the sometime residence of more controversial characters. Jan Hus, for example, was imprisoned there during the Council of Constance in 1414. Condemned by political enemies during the Council, Hus was burnt at the stake in the city. Protestants claim Hus as their own, a John the Baptist who prefigured the coming of Martin Luther. However, not all Catholics burnt at the stake were heretics, as St. Joan of Arc well knows. A more careful analysis suggests that Jan Hus was “a Catholic by his personal profession of faith, but he was of Protestant significance in the fabric of history.”

Life was generally more tranquil on Dominican Island for the next hundred years or so, until 1528. At that time, Protestant governmental forces expelled the friars and converted the convent into a “temporary” hospital. It lasted for twenty one years. When the Catholic Hapsburgs regained control of the town 1549, the Dominicans were finally able to return to their home.

Over two hundred years later, just as a new union of States was being formed across the Atlantic, the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II, made his mark on the island. Though baptized a Catholic and trained in part by a Jesuit, the Hapsburg Emperor embraced what came to be called “Josephinism.” His was a practical doctrine that subordinated the Church to the State and aimed at eliminating contemplative life, musical litanies, novenas, processions, vespers, and other devotions. The Catholic ruler achieved what Protestants could not: about five hundred monasteries were closed, their property was stolen, and an ecclesiastical order of services was mandated. Under this regime, too, the Dominicans were once again driven from the island that had been their home for five hundred years. This time their departure was permanent. On July 26, 1785, the last mass was celebrated in the Dominican chapel. The convent closed the following day.

With the definitive departure of the friars from the island, the property entered the hands of various businessmen. For over a century it housed a dye manufacturing plant. When political turmoil disturbed Switzerland, some bankers fled to the former Dominican grounds. They changed the name of their new home to “Geneva Island.” A census in 1868 counted Geneva Island as an autonomous district with a population of eighteen.

After a railway was built in Konstanz, a hotel entrepreneur gained control of the island. His name was Eberhard von Zeppelin, the brother of the better-known Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, inventor of the infamously flammable air vehicle. Soon the former Dominican chapel was adapted into a ballroom and concert hall, the cells of the friars expanded into guest rooms, and the entire building was renovated.

Biblical frescoes once illuminated the cloister walls of the original Dominican convent, but centuries of change had gradually damaged them. Therefore, to commemorate the wonderful history of that little world, the artist Carl von Häberlin was commissioned to create a series of murals. He worked from 1878 to 1894, producing a series of twenty six extraordinary images that display in chronological order the island’s entire known history. It is considered to be an artistic masterpiece.

Many visitors to the island now hurry past the murals, on their way to comfy rooms with mini-bars, but Häberlin’s murals elegantly testify that the Dominican influence there may still be felt. The friars preachers lived, prayed, studied, and preached on that small piece of land surrounded by water for half of a millennium, making it their own for longer than any other individual or institution in known history. Although it requires effort to grasp the significance of a man in a white habit, much may still be learned in that place that is once again called “Dominican Island.”

Bl Henry Suso, OP

-Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg, Inkunabel K. 7


-by Br Henry Stephan, OP, a graduate of Princeton, where he studied Politics.

“If I were on the sun-kissed beaches of Italy today rather than in the frigid swamps of Washington, then I would be enjoying the Italian celebration of my onomastico, or name-day in honor of one’s patron saint. Today the Dominican Order celebrates Blessed Henry Suso, O.P., the great Rhineland mystic and poet, who also does duty as my heavenly patron. Truth be told, if I weren’t confident that Henry presently enjoys the fullness of the beatific vision and communion with the Trinity, then I would wonder if he might not be entirely pleased to have me as a namesake.

After all, we don’t have very much in common aside from our common profession as Dominicans. He was a sensitive man of great interiority who endured the most fearsome of medieval penances for the sake of his love for God, which poured out in lyrical verses and mystical spiritual writings. I am a garrulous spiritual dilettante who finds the ‘fresh catch of the day’ on Fridays about as much penance as I can bear. If Bl. Henry and I had somehow met on this side of paradise, then I likely would have exhorted him to shower more frequently and keep away from sharp objects. (Editor’s note: A mystic that practiced extreme asceticism, Henry wore a tight-fitting undergarment as a nightshirt. This shirt was outfitted with 150 brass nails fitted facing into his skin. He was also inspired to carve Christ’s name into his chest. After 16 years, an angel appeared to him, asking that he end these severe practices. He listened.) I rather shudder to think what he might have told me.

I didn’t know much about Bl. Henry when he became my patron. When I was in the process of applying to the Province, an older friar mentioned that he received his middle name as a religious name, as it coincided with the name of an under-appreciated Dominican blessed. The idea stuck with me, and when the time came to discuss potential religious names with the novice master (in the process outlined by Br. Innocent in his post last month), we settled on Henry without much debate. The novice master maintains to this day that I asked for the name in order to keep my monogrammed bath towels (which don’t exist except in his literary imagination).

In some respects, Henry Suso remains enigmatic to us moderns—his incredible penances and mortifications seem so distantly medieval that we lose sight of the man. He is, in the words of another great Dominican Henry—Henri-Dominique Lacordaire—“that lovable man from Swabia.” Even in its more bizarre episodes, his biography depicts an eminently human fellow, prone to misunderstandings with unintentionally tragic-comic results—whether in the form of a confused mob of pitchforked peasants, a murderous stalker, or his runaway sister. Still, Henry kept on praying and preaching, even when angry townspeople put a price on his head. Many of the particulars might belong to another age, but the love that drove Henry transcends time and place, and draws us to him even today. Henry Suso was a man entirely swept up by the ineffable mystery of God’s mercy, and he put his whole life at the service of that Eternal Wisdom.

Having Bl. Henry as a patron has forced me to expand my horizons of what it means to be a Dominican. All the great Dominican saints and blesseds are, in one way or another, in the image of St. Dominic himself. They reflect some particular extension of his charism. Having a mystical eccentric like Bl. Henry for a namesake works against the tendency to redefine the Order in one’s own image at the expense of the expansive vision of our holy founder. It is sometimes heard in the Order that, when you meet a Dominican, you’ve met exactly one Dominican, rather than them all. Considering what a varied lot must be huddled together under Mary’s mantle in heaven, this seems about right.

So on this feast of Henry Suso, I thank God for this eccentric patron who challenges me to draw ever closer to Christ, not by slavishly imitating his example, but by following the path the Lord has laid out for this modern, very different Henry. Blessed Henry Suso, pray for us!”

Bl Henry Suso t-shirt

Suso

“Lord, I can see plainly that you are the only and the true source of wisdom, since you alone can restore faith and hope to a doubting and despairing soul. In your Son, Jesus, you have shown me that even the most terrible suffering can be beautiful, if it is in obedience to Your will. And so the knowledge of your Son has enabled me to find joy in my own suffering.

Lord, my dear Father, I kneel before You this day, and praise You fervently for my present sufferings, and give thanks for the measureless sufferings of the past. I now realize that all these sufferings are part of Your paternal love, in which You chastise and purify me. And through that discipline I now look at You without shame and terror, because I know that you are preparing me for your eternal kingdom.” -Bl Henry Suso, OP

Love,
Matthew

Jan 15 – St Francis Ferdinand de Capillas, OP, (1607-1648), Priest, Protomartyr of China

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The 17th century was a period of great missionary activity. Many martyrs shed their blood on distant shores. Dominicans and Jesuits contributed a great share to the blood of martyrs. Among this glorious company, the Dominican Francis de Capillas has become the type and exemplar of them.

De Capillas was born in Baquerín de Campos, Palencia, Spain, on August 14, 1607. At the age of 17 he entered the Order of Preachers, receiving the religious habit in the Dominican Priory of St. Paul in Valladolid. While still a deacon he was sent by his Order to do missionary work in the Philippines, landing in Manila during February 1631. Shortly after his arrival he was ordained as a priest.

The Spain of his youth was still ringing with the missionary zeal of Saints Louis Bertrand, Philip de las Casas, and Francis Xavier; the report of the martyrdom of Alphonsus Navarette (June 1), in Japan, was news at the time. Perhaps the bravery of these men helped to fire the young Francis with apostolic longing, for he volunteered for the Philippine mission while he was a deacon. At age 23 (1631) he left Spain and was ordained in Manila. Here, at the gateway to the Orient, the Dominicans had founded a university in 1611, and the city teemed with missionaries traveling throughout the Orient.

De Capillas remained there for the next decade, working hard alongside his fellow friars. His own field of labor was the district of Tuao, Cagayan Valley, on the island of Luzon, where he was able to inspire a great flourishing of conversions. An apostolic soul and at the same very ascetic, he was able to join zeal to an extraordinary spirit of penance. He would take his short rest stretched out over a wooden cross and willingly not defending himself from the bites of the many insects infesting the region.

De Capillas considered that time spent in the Philippines as a period of preparation for a mission to China. The young priest labored for 10 years in the province of Cagayan, the Philippines, where heat, insects, disease, and paganism leagued against the foreigner to make life very hard.

But it was not hard enough for Francis. He begged for a mission field that was really difficult; perhaps, like many of the eager young apostles of that time, he was hoping for an assignment in Japan, where the great persecution was raging.

At the Provincial Chapter held by the friars of the Order in Manila in 1641, he was given permission to transfer, soon transferring to Taiwan, along with a friend, Friar Francisco Díez, O.P. He was one of the last Spanish missionaries in Taiwan before they were ousted from the island by the Dutch later that same year.

The two friars arrived in the Province of Fujian/Fukien, on mainland China, in March 1642, where they joined a fellow Dominican who had survived an earlier period of persecution.

They then embarked upon a fruitful period of evangelization among the Chinese people of the region, especially in the cities of Fu’an, Fogan and Ting-Moyang Ten. They were so successful that they were able to establish a community of the Third Order of Saint Dominic.

On November 4, 1647, there was a huge change of fortune for the mission. That day, Díez died of natural causes. Later that same day, Manchurian forces, in their conquest of the Ming dynasty, invaded the region and seized the city of Fu’an, where the missionaries were based. They were hostile to Christianity and immediately began to persecute the Christians.  On November 13, 1647, De Capillas was captured while returning from Fogan, where he had gone to administer the sacraments to a sick person.

Francis, like his Master, was subjected to a mock trial. Civil, military, and religious officials questioned him, and they accused him of everything from political intrigue to witchcraft. He was charged with disregarding ancestor worship and being a spy, and, finally, since they could “find no cause in him,” he was turned over to the torturers.

He endured the cruel treatment of these men with great courage. Seeing his calmness, the magistrates became curious about his doctrines. They offered him wealth, power, and freedom, if he would renounce his faith, but he amazed and annoyed them by choosing to suffer instead. They varied the tortures with imprisonment, and he profitably used the time to convert his jailor and fellow prisoners. Even the mandarin visited him in prison, asking Francis if he would renounce his faith or would he prefer to suffer more. Being told that he was glad to suffer for Christ, the mandarin furiously ordered that he be scourged again “so he would have even more to be glad about.”

Enduring many insults, he was taken to the worst local prison, where he suffered the torture of having his ankles crushed while being dragged. He was scourged, repeatedly bloodied, but he endured the tortures without cries of pain, so that judges and torturers were surprised at the end. He was moved, almost dying, to a prison where they locked up those criminals condemned to death. His conduct was uplifting, and aroused the admiration of others sentenced to death and even the prison guards themselves, who allowed food to be brought to him, that he not die of hunger.

While in prison, he wrote:

“I am here with other prisoners and we have developed a fellowship. They ask me about the Gospel of the Lord. I am not concerned about getting out of here because here I know I am doing the will of God. They do not let me stay up at night to pray, so I pray in bed before dawn. I live here in great JOY (Ed. emphasis added) without any worry, knowing that I am here because of Jesus Christ. The pearls I have found here these days are not always easy to find.”

Francis was finally condemned, as it says in the breviary, as “the leader of the traitors,” these being (presumably) the rebel army that was besieging the city. The official condemnation is stated in those words: “After long suffering, he was finally beheaded and so entered into the presence of the Master, who likewise suffered and died under a civil sentence”.

On January 15, 1648, De Capillas was sentenced to death on charges of disseminating false doctrines and inciting the people against new Emperor. His death sentence, by decapitation, was carried out at Fogan the same day. He thus became the first martyr within the vast Chinese empire.

On January 15, 1648, the judge came and ordered that he be flogged again and put into the sentry box of the city wall. He was ordered to step down from the box, and as he did so, the executioner beheaded him, separating his head from his body with a heavy blow of the sword. His body was thrown outside the city wall and found two months later. It was preserved incorruptible for two months, and was left untouched by a fire that reduced to ashes the house where his coffin was kept. Of the many relics of St. Francisco de Capillas which have been preserved, the most important remains his head, which is found in the convent of St. Paul of Valladolid, where began his religious life.

Let us Pray : O God, who didst strengthen with wonderful constancy the faith of Thy Blessed martyr, Francis, grant propitiously to Thy church, that aided by his prayer it may deserve to celebrate in all places new triumphs of faith. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

First Vespers:
Ant. This is a martyr indeed, who for the name of Christ shed his blood; who neither feared the threats of judges, nor sought the glory of earthly dignity, but has joyously come to the the heavenly kingdom.
V. Pray for us, Blessed Francis.
R. That we may be worthy of the promises of Christ.

Lauds:
Ant. Let him that would come after Me de deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.
V. A crown of gold is on his head.
R. Signed with the sign of sanctity.

Second Vespers:
Ant. This is he whom for the law of his God delivered himself to death. He did not hesitate to die; he was slain by the wicked and lives forever with Christ: he followed the Lamb and has received the palm.
V. Pray for us, Blessed Francis
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

When Blesseds Peter Sanz, OP, Francis Serrano, OP, John Alcober, OP, Joachim Royo, OP, and Francis Diaz, OP, were asked if they could feel the pain from their torture, Bl. Peter Sanz, O.P. responded, “Indeed I do, but I think of my Savior’s sufferings.”  The guards didn’t understand them because they continued to evangelize even amidst the grueling conditions of their imprisonment.  The viceroy of Peking wrote about them,

“What are we to do with these men? Their lives are certainly irreproachable; even in prison they convert men to their opinions, and their doctrines so seize upon the heart that their adepts fear neither torments nor captivity. They themselves are joyous in their chains. The jailors and their families become their disciples, and those condemned to death embrace their religion. To prolong this state is only to give them the opportunity of increasing the number of Christians.”

Bl. Peter Sanz, OP, said at his execution, “Rejoice with me, my friend; I am going to Heaven!”

O God, You gave us an outstanding example of faith and fortitude in the glorious martyrdom of Blessed Francis and his companions; grant, we beseech You, that, through their prayers and example we may strongly resist the adversities of this world and be found persevering in the confession of the true faith. This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 14 – St Macrina the Elder, ( ~270~340 AD), Holy Motherhood

motherhood-collective

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

Is 49:15

On January 2, we celebrated the feast of St. Basil the Great, who was a grandchild of today’s saint, St. Macrina. Basil, who was born around 329, came from a family of saints. Macrina, his father’s mother, was one of his favorites. She seems to have raised Basil. As an adult, Basil praised his grandmother for all the good she had done for him. He especially thanked her for having taught him to love the Christian faith from the time he was very small.

Macrina and her husband learned the high price of being true to their Christian beliefs. During one of the Roman persecutions, they were forced into hiding. They found refuge in the forest near their home. Somehow the couple managed to escape their persecutors. They were always hungry and afraid, but they would not give up their faith. Instead, they patiently waited and prayed for the terrible persecution to end. It lasted for seven long years. During that time Macrina and her husband hunted for food. They managed to survive by eating wild vegetation. St. Gregory Nazianzen, who shares St. Basil’s feast day on January 2, is the one who wrote down these few details about St. Basil’s grandparents.

During another persecution, Macrina and her husband had all their property and belongings taken from them. They were left with nothing but their faith and trust in God’s care for them.

St. Macrina lived longer than her husband, but the exact year of each of their deaths is not known. It is believed that Macrina died around 340. Her grandchild, St. Basil, died in 379.

St. Macrina was a loving grandmother. She showed Basil and the rest of her family the beauty of Christianity by really living all that she believed in. We can ask St. Macrina to help us to be strong Christians too.


-by Br Joachim Kenney, OP

“Pope Francis recently gave an address on the importance and the value of motherhood. In one of his concluding statements he noted, “It is they, mothers, who often give the first roots of the faith, the ones that permeate deepest; without them not only would the faithful be lost, but also a good part of the deepest fire of our faith.” One of the saints celebrated today, St. Macrina the Elder, was a mother and grandmother who epitomized what the Holy Father was talking about.

We do not know much about St. Macrina’s life, but she was the mother of at least one and the grandmother of at least four saints. Her son, St. Basil the Elder, fathered a large family and his sons included Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the Cappadocian Fathers who were prominent in the early Church during the Arian controversy. Another son, Peter of Sebaste, and a daughter, Macrina the Younger, also became saints. St. Macrina the Elder is thought to have studied the faith under St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (or perhaps his close disciples), who converted his native Neocaesarea to Christianity. She persevered in the faith and suffered for it during one of the early persecutions of the Church under Emperor Diocletian.

St. Macrina was well equipped, then, to educate her children and grandchildren in the faith, imparting to them its “deepest fire.” St. Basil the Elder died when his children were still young and so Macrina helped raise her grandchildren. She insisted on a solid intellectual formation for them. This of course became a great boon to the Church, as Basil and Gregory used their brilliance and subtlety to help articulate the true doctrine of who Christ is. St. Basil honored his grandmother with these words in defending himself against the slander of certain citizens of Neocaesarea:

“What clearer evidence can there be of my faith, than that I was brought up by my grandmother, blessed woman, who came from you? I mean the celebrated Macrina who taught me the words of the blessed Gregory; which, as far as memory had preserved down to her day, she cherished herself, while she fashioned and formed me, while yet a child, upon the doctrines of piety. And when I gained the capacity of thought, my reason being matured by full age, I travelled over much sea and land, and whomsoever I found walking in the rule of godliness… those I set down as fathers, and made them my soul’s guides in my journey to God. And up to this day, by the grace of Him who has called me in His holy calling to the knowledge of Himself, I know of no doctrine opposed to the sound teaching having sunk into my heart; nor was my soul ever polluted by the ill-famed blasphemy of Arius.”

As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” May St. Macrina and all holy mothers pray for us!”

I contend the love of a mother for her child is, perhaps, as powerful a force in the universe as God.

Prov 31:10-31

Pope Benedict XVI’s Prayer for Grandparents

Lord Jesus, you were born of the Virgin Mary, the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne. Look with love on grandparents the world over. Protect them! They are a source of enrichment for families, for the Church and for all of society. Support them! As they grow older, may they continue to be for their families strong pillars of Gospel faith, guardian of noble domestic ideals, living treasuries of sound religious traditions. Make them teachers of wisdom and courage, that they may pass on to future generations the fruits of their mature human and spiritual experience.

Lord Jesus, help families and society to value the presence and roles of grandparents. May they never be ignored or excluded, but always encounter respect and love. Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed in all the years of life which you give them. Mary, Mother of all the living, keep grandparents constantly in your care, accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage, and by your prayers, grant that all families may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland, where you await all humanity for the great embrace of life without end.
Amen!!

Love & in thanksgiving for women who fear the Lord,
Matthew

Jan 9 – Sts Julian & Basilissa of Egypt, (d. 319 & 304 AD), Husband & Wife

Basilissa_Julian

-“Christ with Saints Julian and Basilissa, Celsus and Marcionilla”, Pompeo Batoni, 1736-8, currently held in Los Angeles, Getty Museum.  Note they each hold the palm of martyrdom, the palm of victory.  The palm branch is a symbol of victory, triumph, peace and eternal life.  In particular, the species of palm is known as Phoenix, and has relation to the ever resurrecting from ashes bird of ancient Egypt. 

I LOVE married saints!!!!  Julian and Basilissa were married, served the poor, ill, and destitute, during the reign of Diocletian.

While little substantive information is known of the lives of this holy couple, it appears that Julian was forced by his family to marry. To comply with their pressure, Julian selected Basilissa as his spouse, and together, they both pledged to live in celibacy, preserving their chastity before the Lord. Basilissa eventually founded a convent for women, of which she became the superior. Similarly, Julian gathered a large number of monks to himself and served as their spiritual director. Together, the two converted their home into a hospice for those in need, housing approximately 1,000 people at any given time. The sisters and monks provided daily food and care to the ill, poor, and dying, and accepted no money in return. As their hospital was located in Egypt, and many were introduced to the faith through their work, conversions were numerous. As word spread of their heroic and Christian work, they attracted the attention of those who were actively persecuting Christianity.

Saint Basilissa died a holy death after years of Christian persecution, worn out from hard work and constant threats. Before her death, she foretold that her husband would die a martyr. Saint Julian survived for some time, keeping the hospital running, and providing the Lord’s care to all who needed it. Eventually, he was arrested, interrogated, and tortured during the reign of Diocletian and beheaded for refusing to recant his faith. His interrogation and his tortures were accompanied by astonishing prodigies and numerous conversions of his captors and tormentors. Following his burial, numerous miracles were reported at his tomb, including the cure of ten lepers in a single day.

Saints Julian and Basilissa devoted their life to service to the Lord through service to those around them needing the most help. In their hearts grew the flame of Christian love, illuminated for all to see. In their touch, those in need found the healing and redemption of a life in Christ.

Relics of Sts. Anastasius, Celsus, and Julian rest in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame University reliquary chapel, South Bend, Indiana.

Joy & Peace, and special prayers to those called to the vocation of Christian marriage, as the means and vehicle by which they are to work out their salvation.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 7 – “My Man Ray!!!!”

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-by Anne

“It’s Saint Ray’s day, and I am PUMPED!!!  I can’t tell you how excited I am to share with you one of my favorite saints.  That’s right.  Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Raymond Peñafort.

Probably many of you are saying, “Saint Who?”  Yeah, I know.

I first heard about St. Raymond in January of 2004 while reading myMagnificat in my weekly adoration holy hour.  I share it with you here.  Because, it’s a little long, I typed up the article in a separate document.  Please click here to read his amazing story.  (This link is a Word doc.  If for some reason it doesn’t pop up after you click “open” , you already have Word up on your computer.  Click on the W (which is probably blinking) on the toolbar & you’ll be able to read it.  This appears to be a new “feature” of Word. )

I remember being blown away by what I read, and something happened inside me.  All I can say, is that a childlike faith let loose in me.  The miracles he witnessed and performed were truly amazing, and I just immediately believed them.

When I tell people his story, there’s a rather immediate disbelief.  I see it in their faces, “You really believe that he windsurfed across the Mediterranean on his cloak?  You must be nuts.” True, it’s pretty unbelievable, but I just remember thinking, “These are too crazy for me not to believe.  What have I got to lose?”

It’s kind of funny because in a court of law or in a newspaper article, we rely on the witness of others, but with apparent outrageous, miraculous occurrences, suspicion and doubt rule.  Not for me.  Not that day.

I guess the juxtaposition of his big brain, his logical mind, his scholarly position in the church, his holiness, and his no-nonsense approach to dealing with the powerful attracted me.  This little known saint from the 13th century was referred to as “…such miracles of genius and erudition as Albert the Great, Raymond de Peñafort, Thomas Aquinas, in whom especially, a follower of Dominic, God ‘deigned to enlighten his Church’,” in Pope Benedict XV’s encyclical “On Dominic” published on June 29, 1921.   A Pope put him in company with Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas?  How come I’ve never heard of him?

The more I learn of him and the more I pray to him and he intercedes for me, the more I just love him.  One time I was talking with my daughter about heaven.  With wide eyes, I started to talk about all the saints I would meet when I get there.  Then I remembered that I’d meet St. Ray.  I giggled with glee.  My daughter just shook her head and grinned, “You’re so weird, Mom.” (Ed. Whew!!  I’m NOT the only one!!! 🙂 )

Since that night in the adoration chapel, I have called on “My man Ray”, my code name for St. Raymond.  I call him, to help me out in all kinds of situations.  Some people call on St. Anthony to help them find things, but not me.  It’s my man Ray.

It started first with parking spaces and helping me when I got lost.  Then it moved up to finding missing items.  See, I figure that Ray’s not as busy as St. Anthony, so he’s just way more available to help!  Ha!  But seriously, my daughter lost her high school ring for several days. Unable to find it, she searched the van once again.  It literally fell from the ceiling of the van.  My dad lost his wedding ring.  My parents looked “everywhere”.  Several days later they found it in a drawer where they looked about 5 times.  My nephew couldn’t find his keys.  He and my niece tore apart the apartment looking for them – nowhere.  Finally, one of them picked up a pillow on the couch that had been turned upside down, and the keys sat there quietly staring back at them.  A friend of mine lost a journal that was very personal, and he fretted over it.  I told him not to worry; he’d find it.  I prayed to St. Ray and got a call from my friend the next week that it had been found.  He, of course, credited St. Anthony, but I knew it was my new secret weapon!  Story after story like this inspires in me complete confidence in his intercession in everything.

The last sentence of the article in Magnificat says, “He had dedicated half of his life to the Dominican ideal, manifesting itself in his devotion to Mary, a love of learning, the desire for holiness and the salvation of souls.”  Like him, I have a devotion to Mary, a love of learning, and the desire for holiness.  Maybe that’s what attracted me.  Only God knows.  All I can say is that I am grateful to know my older brother in Christ, and I pray that he will continue to intercede in my life.  I pray he will do the same for  you.

Saint Raymond Peñafort, Pray for us!.  –Anne”

Love,
Matthew

Jan 7 – St Raymond of Penafort, OP, (1175-1275), Priest, Evangelist, Father of Canon Law, Master General of the Order of Preachers

Love is the fulfillment of the Law!!!

Saint Raymond of Penafort, a Dominican priest who worked to aid Christian captives during the era of the Crusades and also helped organize the Church’s legal code, is celebrated liturgically on Jan. 7.

A contemporary of Saint Thomas Aquinas, he inspired the theologian to write the “Summa Contra Gentiles” for the conversion of non-Catholics. At least 10,000 Muslims reportedly converted as a result of St. Raymond’s evangelistic labors.

Descended from a noble family with ties to the royal house of Aragon, Raymond of Penafort was born during 1175 in the Catalonian region of modern-day Spain.

He advanced quickly in his studies, showing such a gift for philosophy that he was appointed to teach the subject in Barcelona by age 20. As a teacher, the young man worked to harmonize reason with the profession and practice of Catholic faith and morals. This included a notable concern for the poor and suffering.

Around age 30 the Spanish scholar went to study secular and Church law at Bologna in Italy. He earned his doctorate and taught there until 1219, when the Bishop of Barcelona gave him an official position in the diocese. During 1222, the 47-year-old Raymond joined the Dominican order, in which he would spend the next 53 years of his remarkably long life.

As a penance for the intellectual pride he had once demonstrated, the former professor was asked to write a manual of moral theology for use by confessors. The resulting “Summa Casuum” was the first of his pioneering contributions to the Church. This work is especially noted because it gives guidance as to how the sacrament of Penance may be administered justly and with benefit to the penitent. Meanwhile, in keeping with his order’s dedication to preaching, the Dominican priest strove to spread the faith and bring back lapsed and lost members of the Church.

During his time in Barcelona, Raymond helped Saint Peter Nolasco and King James of Aragon to establish the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, whose members sought to ransom those taken captive in Muslim territory. During this same period Raymond promoted the Crusades through preaching, encouraging the faithful to defend their civilization from foreign threats.

Pope Gregory IX called the Dominican priest to Rome in 1230, asking him to compile the Church’s various decisions and decrees into one systematic and uniform collection, which, when he started, was nothing better than a chaotic accumulation of isolated decrees.  The fruit of his work was the papal bull Rex Pacificus (1234) and the papal declaration that only Raymond’s collection should be considered authoritative within the whole Church.  The resulting five books served for centuries as a basis of the Church’s internal legal system. Raymond was the Pope’s personal confessor and close adviser during this time, and nearly became the Archbishop of Tarragona in 1235. But the Dominican did not want to lead the archdiocese, and is said to have turned down the appointment.

Later in the decade, Raymond was chosen to lead the Dominicans, though he did so for only two years due to his advancing age. Ironically, however, he would live on for more than three decades after resigning from this post. During this time he was able to focus on the fundamentals of his vocation: praising God in prayer, making him known through preaching, and making his blessings manifest in the world. Raymond’s later achievements included the establishment of language schools to aid in the evangelization of non-Christians.

St. Raymond of Penafort’s long pilgrimage of faith ended on Jan. 6, 1275, approximately 100 years after his birth. Pope Clement VIII canonized him in 1601. His patronage extends toward lawyers in general, and canon lawyers in particular.

Tomb_of_Saint_Raymond_of_Penyafort

-tomb of St Raymond of Penafort, OP

Legalism can suck the life out of genuine religion if it becomes too great a preoccupation with the letter of the law to the neglect of the spirit and purpose of the law. The law can become an end in itself, so that the value the law was intended to promote is overlooked.

But, we must guard against going to the opposite extreme and seeing law as useless or something to be lightly regarded. Laws ideally state those things that are for the best interests of everyone and make sure the rights of all are safeguarded. From Raymond, we can learn a respect for law as a means of serving the common good.

“Look then on Jesus, the Author and Preserver of faith: in complete sinlessness He suffered, and at the hands of those who were His own, and was numbered among the wicked. As you drink the cup of the Lord Jesus (how glorious it is!), give thanks to the Lord, the giver of all blessings. May the God of love and peace set your hearts at rest and speed you on your journey; may He meanwhile shelter you from disturbance by others in the hidden recesses of His love, until He brings you at last into that place of complete plenitude where you will repose for ever in the vision of peace, in the security of trust, and in the restful enjoyment of His riches.” – from a letter by Saint Raymond

St.-Raymond

Prayer

Prelates, Kings, and people of the earth!!!! Celebrate the glorious name of Raymond, to whom the salvation of all mankind was an object of loving care.
His pure and spotless life reflected all the marvels of the mystic life; and the light of every virtue shines brightly forth in him.
With admirable study and research, he collects together the scattered Decrees of the Sovereign Pontiffs, and all the sacred maxims of the ancient Canons, so worthy to be handed down to all ages.
He bids the treacherous sea be firm, and on her open waters carry him to land; he spreads his mantle, and his staff the mast, he rides upon the waves.  Amen.

O redeemer of captive slaves,
those enslaved to sin
and those enslaved
by the clutches of the world –
preach to us this day
the freedom found
under the Cross of Christ
and in the repentance of heart
blessed by the grace
upon the Church.
Teach us well
the path to Heaven,
which is wrought not in comfort and peace
but in struggle against sin,
in the laying down of our lives
before our persecutors.
Ransom us from wayward
thoughts and actions,
and from the snares
of the adversary
who waits for our misstep.
In Christ alone
may we find our rest.  Amen.

O most holy and lovable St. Raymond, you were born into a wealthy and noble family, and acknowledged patron of those who seek for enlightenment. We come to you to seek your help in the name of our Blessed Mother, for you have been endowed with a brilliant mind and magnificent wisdom.

Many people are torn into confusion between knowledge and spirit. They seek your help, now that you are with the heavenly Father. We, too, seek your assistance for our confusion in mind and spirit. We ask especially for enlightenment for this/these particular intention/s (mention your request here). O Lord, we humbly ask to grant our prayers during this novena so that we may be worthy to imitate the virtues of St. Raymond and inspire sinners to return to you. Amen.

O God, Who didst choose blessed Raymond to be eminent as a minister of the Sacrament of Penance and didst lead him in wondrous wise upon the waves of the sea: grant that by his intercession we may be able to bring forth worthy fruits of penance, and to reach the port of everlasting salvation. Through our Lord.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 2 – Sts Basil & Gregory, An Appeal to Protestants

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Talk about FAITH!!!!!  RCIA participants have INFINITELY MORE FAITH, holiness, and humility than I EVER could dream to have.  Do you realize what those who convert to Catholicism sacrifice???  Go through???  May we always be a Church worthy of such living saints!!!!  They humble me by their witness, constantly.  I tremble before the strength & the power & the witness of such FAITH!!!!  I doubt, sincerely, I would ever have the courage to consider their courage and the price they have paid.  Deo Gratias!!!


-by A. David Anders, PhD

A reflection on the importance of friendship in ecumenical dialogue in honor of the feast day of St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory Nazianzus, two early Church Fathers with a deep and life-long friendship.

St. Gregory Nazianzus and St. Basil of Caesarea

The Catholic Church on 2 January celebrates the feast day of St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory Nazianzus, two fourth century Church Fathers known for their deep theological reflections and devoted adherence to Orthodoxy as bishops in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, is considered an early important influence in the development of monasticism, the liturgy, and the doctrine of the Trinity. St. Gregory Nazianzus, called “The Theologian” by the Orthodox Church, was the Bishop of Constantinople, and is known for his strong opposition to the Arian heresy, and his “prodigious” scholarly output, in the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. 1 The two men’s lives crossed several times, including while studying in Caesarea in Cappadocia (also present-day Turkey), and later in Athens. They enjoyed an intimate life-long friendship, so much so that Gregory wrote of Basil,

Then not only did I feel full veneration for my great Basil because of the seriousness of his morals and the maturity and wisdom of his speeches, but he induced others who did not yet know him to be like him… The same eagerness for knowledge motivated us…. This was our competition: not who was first but who allowed the other to be first. It seemed as if we had one soul in two bodies.“2

Their mutual love of Christ, and mutual passion for seeking the truth, provided them the substance of this profoundly important friendship. In 371, Basil even urged Gregory to work with him, side-by-side, as Bishop of Sasima, a position the contemplative Gregory was disinclined to take. Reflecting not only on the theological significance of their lives but also their mutual relationship is an occasion to consider how friendship and the pursuit of truth can be connected, sometimes in mutual harmony, other times with deep and difficult disagreement and division. It is in light of Basil and Gregory that I wish to share a story from my own life that exemplifies how friendship and the pursuit of truth can present great challenges to a friendship, but ultimately can be an occasion for sanctification and deeper relational intimacy, as, ideally, it should.3

Five years ago I spent three cold, long, hard months in Afghanistan for work. A little over a month after arriving, several of my co-workers were killed in a terrorist attack. Also unnerving were the Taliban fighters who had snuck into Kabul to launch frequent rocket attacks towards the downtown area where most Westerners lived and worked, several landing within 100 meters of my living quarters. Compounding the ever-present uncertainty of when the next 107mm would strike, the Taliban stormed a nearby building and engaged in a day-long firefight with Afghan police while we waited it out in a bunker; stray bullets from the battle even hit buildings on my compound. To add insult to injury, in my personal life, my long-distance relationship with a girlfriend of the time was falling apart.

In the midst of all this, I clung hard to my Reformed faith, listening to the sermons of my PCA pastor back in the States. I found time for the White Horse Inn podcast while I did laundry on Saturdays. I even gave out old copies of Modern Reformation to military chaplains and evangelical coworkers. I suppose in a way I thought my peculiar form of Christianity was being tested in the refiner’s fire. Sure, Reformed theology sounded Biblically and intellectually compelling, but would it hold up in the foxhole? I was anxious to prove that it did.

One day during that interminably long winter I called my best friend, Barrett Turner, a student in his last year at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. We joked and caught up on the latest news. Then, his mood turned a bit serious, as if he knew that what he was going to tell me would probably hurt or upset me. He said that he and his wife, after long and prayerful reflection, had decided to enter the Catholic Church at the upcoming Easter vigil. ”Just great”, I thought, ”with all the other crap in my life, now this!” Not that this was a total shock; we had been engaged in a lengthy theological back-and-forth on many of his frustrations and dilemmas with the Reformed faith and subsequent interest in Catholicism. Some of these conversations had even involved the pastors at my PCA church, whom I consulted with a variety of my friend’s questions and concerns.

All the same, to hear that my worst fears had come to fruition was deeply painful and discouraging. This was my best friend. We had both explored and ultimately accepted Reformed Christianity while in college. We had lived together, studied together, sought to evangelize together. We had dressed up as ninjas and raided a Christian girls’ sorority party together, pilfering a number of their desserts (I fell down the stairs and sprained my ankle on our way out the door; but it was worth it). I was the best man at his wedding, where the presiding minister was our favorite PCA pastor. We had both gone off to seminary after college, he to Covenant and I to Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Yet his studies had been for a prospective career as a pastor or professor, mine were part-time with the objective of deepening my own theological knowledge and keeping my options open for possible later ministry or service in the PCA. Now this man that I had admired so much had seemingly gone of the theological deep-end, which, I was concerned, might have grave implications for his soul and those of his wife and son.

I confess there was a lot of rationalizations and psychologizing in the weeks and months that followed as I tried to make sense of my friend’s decision. Why didn’t he consult me before deciding to swim the Tiber? Isn’t our friendship worth that much?, I thought. I know he said he was doing this for sincere theological, philosophical, and historical reasons, but I figured there must be some other explanation. I mean, he was wrong, wasn’t he? All of my explanations were less than charitable and quite stupid (I’m not afraid to say “stupid,” since they were my own). It’s probably because he went to Covenant instead of a better, more intellectually serious and faithfully-Reformed seminary, like Westminster, I thought. He needed better theological training and answers to his questions, and he didn’t get them. Or maybe he was under the undue influence of his wife Beth, who I had always suspected was a little too sympathetic to Catholicism. She always used to talk about that “Female Saints” class she took at UVA. (Holla!!!  Wahoo-wa!!!!) Why should I care what St. Teresa of such-and-such thinks about God? Isn’t the Bible enough? They probably didn’t even understand Catholicism, anyway. I grew up Catholic and had left the Church as a child with my parents. I had grown up spending hours and hours hearing and talking about the problems with Catholicism, especially given much of my extended family was still Catholic. My friends don’t know the first thing about being Catholic, I remember thinking; they didn’t grow up in it like I did. They don’t really understand.

In retrospect I see how deeply prideful and unsympathetic these thoughts were. So often my desire was not so much to see God glorified, but to prove myself right. Presupposing not that I needed to humbly listen and learn, but that I already had the answers. Looking so hard for the supposed “thorn” in the Catholic converts’ eye, yet so oblivious to my own. Yet couldn’t anyone have said the same thing about me and my Protestantism, that I had become an evangelical or Reformed not for motives of truth and God’s glory, but for any number of deep-seated psychological or emotional needs? In truth, Christ calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, a calling that requires us to exemplify a love that is eager not so much to prove ourselves right, or win an argument, but that seeks to presuppose the best, rather than the worst motives in others. We, like Christ, must be long-suffering with others, (Ed. as I pray they will be, and obviously NEED, to have long-suffering patience with me!  🙂 ) especially with those we are keen to unfairly caricature. Alas, like St. Paul, I needed the film removed from my self-righteous eyes, a process that would take time and require the work of the Holy Spirit, and the patient, prayerful companionship of those who loved me.

I came home to Virginia, and not too long after, got word from my friend that he would be moving to Virginia with his family to pursue a graduate degree at Catholic University. I confess I had mixed emotions – it would be good to see them more often, but now there was this great obstacle to our friendship. Maybe this will be my opportunity to straighten him and his wife out, I thought. They arrived that summer and immediately started developing friendships with people in the Catholic community in Washington, D.C., but they certainly didn’t ignore me. I’d see them for meals, and Barrett and I spent time together bike riding, grabbing a beer, and the like. It was a bit unnerving though, having to spend all this time around Catholics just to be with my friend and his family. Even little things really bothered me. Once at their house Beth told some anecdote that involved her going to confession. Oh brother, I thought. Can’t they just tone down the Catholic stuff while I’m here? Don’t even get me started on how praying before meals now involved crossing themselves at the dinner table.  (Mara was a little Orthodox there for a while at the beginning, still have to watch for that, but I think we have proper Latin rite established now.  Deo Gratias.  🙂 )

I suppose what surprised me was how deeply my friend and his wife still loved me and valued our friendship. They knew something now stood between us, but they tried so hard to make me welcome in their lives. I was also surprised at how they seemed to be growing in holiness and virtue. I thought that since they were embracing a false faith with dangerous beliefs that they’d start regressing, especially with all the less emphasis on the Bible and Jesus (so I thought). The opposite seemed true, the more I spent time with them. It wasn’t long before we started having the theological conversations. I asked for the explanations behind why all of this had happened, the extended version. I started pressing with questions, particularly those as a Reformed Christian that had been most compelling to me in contemplating the problems with Catholicism. Hasn’t the Church modified it’s supposed inerrant teaching, especially with the changing moods and cultures of the times? Doesn’t all this emphasis on the saints and Mary detract from the glory of God? What about all the corruption, the immorality, the wickedness done in the name of the Catholic Church? Aren’t so many of the Catholic Church’s teachings not founded on the Bible? And so on.

Yet my friends asked the same questions when they were contemplating Catholicism, and their answers, though not always immediately compelling, were at least reasonable and worthy of further reflection. They countered with questions of their own, going after some of the most fundamental tenets of Reformed Christianity, and even general Protestant principles: the premise of the “Bible alone” or sola scriptura, the formulation and contents of the Biblical canon, Luther’s call for “faith alone” or sola fide. Was the “Bible alone” even a Biblical idea? (2 Tim 3:16, calls it good.  It is.  Luther insisted on the ALONE in each of his principles.  ALONE is unscriptural.  Read Romans correctly, in context, it was written to a JEWISH community, for whom the Law was all.  Of course, Paul would write what he wrote to a JEWISH community.  Were they Gentiles, would he have written similarly?  Not happenin’.  🙂 )On what authority do we even accept the contents of the Biblical canon as truly from God?  (“I would not believed in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not influence me to do so.”-St Augustine of Hippo, Bishop, “Against the letter of Mani, 5,6,” 397 A.D.)  Was “faith alone,” and Luther’s rejection of what he styled a “salvation by works” truly faithful to Jesus and the Apostle Paul? I had heard criticisms of these beliefs before, but never so sophisticatedly presented or deeply troubling for my evangelical faith. I realized I was a bit in over my head. My friend had graduated with the highest honors at seminary, and had a strong command of Greek, Hebrew, Biblical exegesis, and Christian history. I was starting to feel, much to my annoyance, like a bit of a theological novice. Wasn’t I the one in college who knew more than him about history and religion?

But more than all this, I still deeply valued my friendship with both of them. At that time, we had been friends for almost ten years, and had been through a lot together. I loved them. If they had made a terrible decision by becoming Catholic, it was a duty, an obligation of our friendship, that I urge them to get out before they did real damage to their lives or souls. As Proverbs 18:24 observers, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (ESV). Through our conversations, I realized I really hadn’t taken the time to listen, to understand, to appreciate my friends’ perspectives. I needed to start thinking at a much more sophisticated level, praying with a deeper earnestness and urgency. I had pridefully thought myself an expert on Protestantism and Catholicism. I wasn’t sure now I was proficient in either. It was time to eat some humble pie, hit the books, and consult all my mentors in the Reformed faith. Like St. Gregory’s observation of St. Basil, Barrett and his wife Beth’s pursuit of wisdom and truth proved infectious. Thus proceeded a Summer and Fall of intense reading, praying, reflecting, and conversing, both with Protestants and Catholics. I don’t need to re-tell all the details, many of which can be found here. Needless to say, the Protestant position was becoming less and less compelling, and more and more problematic as I studied the centuries-old debates.

Friendship was what initiated this opportunity for a deeper and more honest examination of Truth. Once I was able to stop the polemics, the psychologizing, the uncharitable and prideful ways of thinking and communicating that had so often defined my interactions with Catholics, I was able to start listening to my friends. Indeed, this is what is required of all of us if we want to get to the Truth, which is so often communicated not just through books and articles, but in personal and intimate interactions between people who care about one another. Indeed Truth, according to our Christian faith, is much more than an abstract concept; it is a person, Jesus Christ, who is Truth incarnate (John 14:6). As John writes in his Gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, ESV).

Theological, historical, and logical arguments are all important, and in many ways drive and provoke the necessary reflections and conversations for ecumenical dialogue. But just as important is a willingness to see our interlocutors not solely as “sparring partners,” but as real people, (Ed. SINCERE!!!) with real convictions, and real stories that need to be heard and appreciated. This is equally true of Protestants and Catholics. Yet if we believe those people whom we deeply love and care about have made decisions that will endanger their lives, their futures, and possibly their souls, we have an obligation to reach out, in love, and mutually pursue Truth together. Furthermore, it is often through friendship that the most difficult and painful truths are often communicated – things we do not want to hear, that challenge us, that complicate what we thought to be simple and straightforward, that frustrate our plans or intentions. (Ed. It is the people who LOVE US that will make the effort, take the risk of truth, the least of which is theological, the most of which is about our unchallenged, damaging behaviors/habits.)  Yet when (Ed. dangerous, dangerous) truth is involved, wouldn’t we rather hear it than not, especially from those whom we know truly love us and have our interests at heart, who are willing to risk even friendship to communicate hard truths? As Christ himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13, ESV).

TurnerChalk
The Turner and Chalk families at Turner boy #4’s baptism, officiated by Fr. Matthew Zuberbueler (center back)

I hope that this feast day commemorating a wonderful deep friendship in Christian history – that of St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory Nazianzus — would be an occasion for renewed attempts at understanding and contemplating, at a truly thoughtful and charitable level, why so many of us have turned to the Catholic Church. We of course, in turn, will need to try our best to listen to and appreciate our Protestant brothers and sisters, who have many questions, as well as many sincere and valuable insights and beliefs of their own. May God spur a renewed desire for ecumenical dialogue amongst friends, and may we pursue the Truth, as it leads to God, no matter what sacrifices it requires, all for the glory of God.

St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, who exemplified true Christian friendship in your mutual love of Christ and pursuit of truth, pray for us!

  1. Pope Benedict XVI, The Fathers, (Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Indiana) p. 73-90.
  2. St. Basil, Orationes 43: 16, 20; SC 384: 154-156, 164.
  3. This is not to suggest that any of my friendships bear more than a very weak and vague resemblance to Basil and Gregory’s in either depth of relational intimacy or theological or spiritual sophistication!”

Love,
Matthew