Category Archives: January

Baptism of the Lord – St John the Baptist

BaptismOfLord

“He is the lamp in the presence of the Sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the Firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of Him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of Him Who has already come and is to come again. “I ought to be baptized by you…”; we should also add: “…and for you”, for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.”

-from a Sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop

Love,
Matthew

Solemnity of the Epiphany: Why did God become a man?

epiphanyaus

charles_shonk_op
-by Br. Charles Shonk, OP

“Would God have become man if man had never sinned? An odd question, perhaps, but one which St. Thomas [Aquinas, O.P.] takes the trouble to answer with characteristic intellectual humility:

“Such things as spring from God’s will, and are beyond the creature’s due, can be made known to us only through being revealed in Sacred Scripture, in which the Divine Will is manifested to us. Hence, since everywhere in Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason of the Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of the Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, the Incarnation would not have been. And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate.”

God’s omnipotence, on the one hand, and the testimony of Scripture, on the other, lead us to believe that, although God could have become incarnate in a sinless world, He would not have done so. Still, we may ask, if He had done so, why would He have done so? St. Thomas does not answer this question directly, but, when considering the Incarnation in a more general way, he does say that it was fitting, not only as a remedy for sin, but also simply as an expression of God’s goodness: “It belongs to the essence of goodness to communicate itself to others… [and] it belongs to the essence of the highest good to communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature.”

It is stupefying, really, to think of God becoming incarnate merely to communicate his goodness to unfallen mankind – even more stupefying, in a certain sense, than God becoming incarnate to redeem us from our sins. It may also seem a rather fruitless piece of speculation. I would suggest, however, that this hypothetical scenario can help us better appreciate at least one aspect of the mystery of Christ’s birth, namely, the humble circumstances in which it occurred.

If Christ had been born into a world without sin, it follows – we might almost say it follows “by definition” – that the whole of creation would have welcomed him as jubilantly as the angels did on Christmas night: “Glory to God in the highest!” There would have been no search for hospitality, no rude feeding-trough for a bed, no flight from murderous Herod. The King of kings would have come into a world that recognized him as such, a world that worshiped and adored His ineffable love and majesty; He would not have silently slipped into a world that had become enemy territory. Indeed, although it is fitting that we now see the stable and the manger through the “rose-colored glasses” of our Savior’s love for us, we must also see them as what they were: the contemptuous rebuff of a sinful and fallen world.

Yet God, by submitting to the indignity of such poverty and obscurity, blesses it. In effect, He tells us that a poor and obscure life is the appropriate, natural, and beneficial condition of mankind after the Fall, the fitting exterior sign of our interior wretchedness, a salutary obstacle to our pride and self-sufficiency. Accordingly, the angels announce tidings of peace, not to the wise and powerful, but to the poor and simple shepherds, because, to the shepherds, who know their own need so well, the coming of God’s kingdom does, in fact, mean peace. Herod, on the other hand, and, with him, all who are persuaded by their power or prosperity that they are not wretched and poor, can only see the coming of God’s kingdom as unsettling, inconvenient, or irrelevant.

We moderns have our own pride and blindness, even if it is less obvious than Herod’s. In this egalitarian, scientific, “information” age, we habitually approach the mysteries of the Faith as so many mere facts, as items to be reviewed in a more or less casual way, analyzed from a critical distance, even evaluated on a strictly evidential basis. We respect, but do not reverence. We are interested, but not ravished. We read, but do not meditate. We experiment, but do not commit. These are signs of a spiritual and moral disease, and, if we would overcome that disease – if we would hear the Christmas Gospel afresh – we must learn from the shepherds, who teach us that the mysteries of God are revealed, not to the proud and the subtle, not to the “well-informed” and sophisticated, but to the humble and to those who suffer, to the innocent and to those who know their own sinfulness, to the teachable, and to those whose hearts are prepared.”

Merry Christmas,
Matthew

Jan 6 – Rev. Gregor Mendel, OSA, (1822-1884), “Father of Modern Genetics”, Man of Science, Man of God

gregor_mendel

As a professional applied scientist and a man of faith, I often hear, even from fellow Catholics, “How can that be?”  I respond, “How can what be?”  “Faith & Science together…in the same person?…in the same mind?…How can that be?”  If they are a little educated, I will also get, “What about Galileo?”

There is no contradiction.  In all my professional training, almost all in public schools except for one master’s degree, and even then you could hardly tell that school was Catholic, as is the schizophrenia of “Catholic identity” in our (Catholic) higher ed, I have never encountered any scientific topic which contradicted my Catholic faith.  None.  In conjunction, in all my amateur study of the Catholic faith, I have never encountered any article of faith or doctrine which contradicted my scientific training.  None. Never. Ever.  Amen.

In fact, modern physics takes even the scientist’s breath away with awe.  Romans 11:33.

Dr. Stephen Hawking who recently appeared in the documentary Curiosity on the Discover Channel concluding, “God does not exist!”  It is embarrassing for all scientists, irregardless of specialty, with even the slightest training in the scientific method, when such a famous one of us reach’s a very public conclusion not based on science, but on bias and prejudice.  Not very scientific, doctor.  No, not very scientific, indeed.  I have since offered my services to the Discover Channel as an expert, especially if that is the level of science they care to offer.

Dr. Hawking’s conclusion was that God did not exist since nothing, including God, existed before the Big Bang, as first proposed by Msgr Georges LeMaitre.  The basis of Dr. Hawking’s conclusion is that nothing existed.  No matter or energy existed.  That fallaciously assumes God is matter or energy.  ?  Dr. Hawking, even a budding high school science student would not presume to assume the Almighty was relegated to the domain of matter or energy.  Convenient for a desired conclusion, but intellectually and scientifically bankrupt.

The Church has an expression for it:  Fides et Ratio = Faith and Reason.  There is no contradiction.  If one carefully studies the Galileo affair, one will quickly find both sides were answering a different question, how so many misunderstandings commence, and no one will defend Messr. Galileo’s tact.  Not even his daughter, Virginia, or by her religious name, Suor Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun of the San Mateo Convent, Arcetri, and some say his closest confidant and advisor, even scientifically.  She had his brains, no?  Messr. Galileo is especially untactful when he mocks in word and illustration as a simpleton and a fool the then pope, who up until the publishing of Galileo’s book had been his friend, benefactor, and supporter.  Not very politic, Messr. Galileo.  Not very politic.

———————————————————–

Gregor_Mendel_oval

“Pea hybrids form germinal and pollen cells that in their composition correspond in equal numbers to all the constant forms resulting from the combination of traits united through fertilization.”

Gregor Johann Mendel was born on July 22, 1822 to peasant parents in a small agrarian town in Czechoslovakia. During his childhood he worked as a gardener, and as a young man attended the Olmutz Philosophical Institute.  From 1840 to 1843, he studied practical and theoretical philosophy as well as physics at the University of Olomouc Faculty of Philosophy.  In 1843 he entered an Augustinian monastery in Brunn, Czechoslovakia. Soon afterward, his natural interest in science and specifically hereditary science led him to start experiments with the pea plant.  Mendel’s attraction for scientific research was based on his love of nature in general. He was not only interested in plants, but also in meteorology and theories of evolution. However, it is his work with the pea plant that changed the world of science forever.

His beautifully designed experiments with pea plants were the first to focus on the numerical relationships among traits appearing in the progeny of hybrids.  His interpretation for this phenomenon was that material and unchanging hereditary “elements” undergo segregation and independent assortment.  These elements are then passed on unchanged (except in arrangement) to offspring thus yielding a very large, but finite number of possible variations.

Mendel often wondered how plants obtained atypical characteristics. On one of his frequent walks around the monastery, he found an atypical variety of an ornamental plant. He took it and planted it next to the typical variety. He grew their progeny side by side to see if there would be any approximation of the traits passed on to the next generation. This experiment was “designed to support or to illustrate Lamarck’s views concerning the influence of environment upon plants.”  He found that the plants’ respective offspring retained the essential traits of the parents, and therefore were not influenced by the environment. This simple test gave birth to the idea of heredity.

Overshadowing the creative brilliance of Mendel’s work is the fact that it was virtually ignored for 34 years. Only after the dramatic rediscovery of Mendel’s work in 1900 (16 years after Mendel’s death) was he rightfully recognized as the founder of genetics.

Why Peas?

Pisum sativum

Mendel was well aware that there were certain preconditions that had to be carefully established before commencing investigations into the inheritance of characteristics. The parental plants must be known to possess constant and differentiating characteristics.  To establish this condition, Mendel took an entire year to test “true breeding” (non-hybrid) family lines, each having constant characteristics.   The experimental plants also needed to produce flowers that would be easy to protect against foreign pollen.  The special shape of the flower of the Leguminosae family, with their enclosed styles, drew his attention.  On trying several from this family, he finally selected the garden pea plant (Pisum sativum) as being most ideal for his needs.  Mendel also picked the common garden pea plant because it can be grown in large numbers and its reproduction can be manipulated.  As with many other flowering plants, pea plants have both male and female reproductive organs.  As a result, they can either self-pollinate themselves or cross-pollinate with other plants. In his experiments, Mendel was able to selectively cross-pollinate purebred plants with particular traits and observe the outcome over many generations.  This was the basis for his conclusions about the nature of genetic inheritance.

Mendel observed seven pea plant traits that are easily recognized in one of two forms:

1.        Flower color: purple or white

2.        Flower position: axial or terminal

3.        Stem length: long or short

4.        Seed shape: round or wrinkled

5.        Seen color: yellow or green

6.        Pod shape: inflated or constricted

7.        Pod color: yellow or green


Mendel’s Law of Segregation

Mendel’s hypothesis essentially has four parts. The first part or “law” states that, “Alternative versions of genes account for variations in inherited characters.” In a nutshell, this is the concept of alleles. Alleles are different versions of genes that impart the same characteristic.  For example, each pea plant has two genes that control pea texture.  There are also two possible textures (smooth and wrinkled) and thus two different genes for texture.

The second law states that, “For each character trait (ie: height, color, texture etc.) an organism inherits two genes, one from each parent.”  This statement alludes to the fact that when somatic cells are produced from two gametes, one allele comes from the mother, one from the father. These alleles may be the same (true-breeding organisms), or different (hybrids).

The third law, in relation to the second, declares that, “If the two alleles differ, then one, the dominant allele, is fully expressed in the organism’s appearance; the other, the recessive allele, has no noticeable effect on the organism’s appearance.”

The fourth law states that, “The two genes for each character segregate during gamete production.”   This is the last part of Mendel’s generalization. This references meiosis when the chromosome count is changed from the diploid number to the haploid number. The genes are sorted into separate gametes, ensuring variation.  This sorting process depends on genetic “recombination.”  During this time, genes mix and match in a random and yet very specific way.  Genes for each trait only trade with genes of the same trait on the opposing strand of DNA so that all the traits are covered in the resulting offspring.  For example, color genes do not trade off with genes for texture.  Color genes only trade off with color genes from the opposing allelic sight as do texture genes and all other genes.  The result is that each gamete that is produced by the parent is uniquely different as far as the traits that it codes for from every other gamete that is produced.  For many creatures, this available statistical variation is so huge that in all probability, no two identical offspring will ever be produced even given trillions of years of time.

So, since a pea plant carries two genes, it can have both of its genes be the same.  Both genes could be “smooth” genes or they could both be “wrinkled” genes.  If both genes are the same, the resulting pea will of course be consistent.  However, what if the genes are different or “hybrid”?  One gene will then have “dominance” over the other “recessive” gene.  The dominant trait will then be expressed.  For example, if the smooth gene (A) is the dominant gene and the wrinkle gene (a) is the recessive gene, a plant with the “Aa” genotype will produce smooth peas.  Only an “aa” plant will produce wrinkled peas.  For instance, the pea flowers are either purple or white.  Intermediate colors do not appear in the offspring of these cross-pollinated plants.

The observation that there are inheritable traits that do not show up in intermediate forms was critically important because the leading theory in biology at the time was that inherited traits blend from generation to generation (Charles Darwin and most other cutting-edge scientists in the 19th century accepted this “blending theory.”).  Of course there are exceptions to this general rule.  Some genes are now known to be “incompletely dominant.”  In this situation, the “dominant gene has incomplete expression in the resulting phenotype causing a “mixed” phenotype.  For example, some plants have “incomplete dominant” color genes such as white and red flower genes.  A hybrid of this type of plant will produce pink flowers.  Other genes are known to be “co-dominant” where both alleles are equally expressed in the phenotype.  An example of co-dominant alleles is human blood typing.  If a person has both “A” and “B” genes, they will have an “AB” blood type.  Some traits are inherited through the combination of many genes acting together to produce a certain effect.  This type of inheritance is called “polygenetic.”  Examples of polygenetic inheritance are human height, skin color, and body form.  In all of these cases however, the genes (alleles) themselves remain unchanged.  They are transmitted from parent to offspring through a process of random genetic recombination that can be calculated statistically.  For example, the odds of a dominant trait being expressed over a recessive trait in a two-gene allelic system where both parents are hybrids are 3:1.  If only one parent is a hybrid and the other parent has both dominant alleles, then 100% of the offspring will express the dominant trait.  If one parent has both recessive alleles and the other parent is a hybrid, then the offspring will have a phenotypic ratio of 1:1.

Mendel’s Law of Independent Assortment

The most important principle of Mendel’s Law of Independent Assortment is that the emergence of one trait will not affect the emergence of another. For example, a pea plant’s inheritance of the ability to produce purple flowers instead of white ones does not make it more likely that it would also inherit the ability to produce yellow peas in contrast to green ones.  Mendel’s findings allowed other scientists to simplify the emergence of traits to mathematical probability (While mixing one trait always resulted in a 3:1 ratio between dominant and recessive phenotypes, his experiments with two traits showed 9:3:3:1 ratios).

Mendel was so successful largely thanks to his careful and nonpassionate use of the scientific method. Also, his choice of peas as a subject for his experiments was quite fortunate.  Peas have a relatively simple genetic structure and Mendel could always be in control of the plants’ breeding. When Mendel wanted to cross-pollinate a pea plant he needed only to remove the immature stamens of the plant. In this way he was always sure of each plants’ parents. Mendel made certain to start his experiments only with true breeding plants. He also only measured absolute characteristics such as color, shape, and texture of the offspring. His data was expressed numerically and subjected to statistical analysis. This method of data reporting and the large sampling size he used gave credibility to his data. He also had the foresight to look through several successive generations of his pea plants and record their variations. Without his careful attention to procedure and detail, Mendel’s work could not have had the same impact that it has made on the world of genetics.

Some of the “greatest minds”? of our generation comment on the importance of science education for our youth.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYuOKb3gO7E&feature=mr_meh&list=FLA5FfORE3_g_3bVcKeb4qVw&lf=plpp_video&playnext=0
Hey, how ‘bout that Internet thing?  Not bad, huh?  🙂

Scientifically yours,  Happy New Year!
Matthew

Jan 20 – St Sebastian (d. 288 AD), Martyr, Patron of Athletes

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-St Sebastian, by Guido Reni, 1618, oil on canvas, 170 x 133 cm, Prado Museum, Madrid

Born in Narbonne, Gaul (modern day France), Sebastian was the son of a wealthy Roman family. He was educated in Milan and became an officer of the Imperial Roman army.  As a favorite of the Emperor, Diocletian, he was appointed captain of the Praetorian guard, the Emperor’s personal soldiers.

During Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians, Sebastian visited them in prison, bringing supplies and comfort. He was reported to have healed the wife of a brother soldier by making the Sign of the Cross over her. He converted soldiers and a governor.

In 288 AD, charged as a Christian, Sebastian was tied to a tree, shot with arrows, and left for dead. He survived, recovered, and returned to preach to Diocletian. The emperor then had him beaten to death.  His body was thrown into a sewer.

Lodovico_Carracci_(Italian_-_St._Sebastian_Thrown_into_the_Cloaca_Maxima_-_Google_Art_Project

 -Lodovico Carracci’s rare treatment of the subject of St. Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima (1612)

Prayer

Dear Commander at the Roman Emperor’s court, you chose to be also a soldier of Christ and dared to spread faith in the King of Kings – for which you were condemned to die. Your body, however, proved athletically strong and the executing arrows extremely weak. So another means to kill you was chosen and you gave your life to the Lord. May athletes be always as strong in their faith as their Patron Saint so clearly was in his. Amen.

San_Sebastian_El_Greco

-Saint Sebastian by El Greco (1578) in Cathedral of San Antolín, Palencia

Love,
Matthew

Jan 22 – St Vincent Martyr, Deacon (d. 304 AD) & the Hymn of Prudentius

Vicente_de_Zaragoza_anonymous_painting_XVI_century

-Vicente de Zaragoza, anonymous, 16th century

Vincent was archdeacon of the church at Saragossa, Spain, at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century, AD.  Valerian, his friend and the bishop of that diocese at that time, had an impediment in his speech; thus Vincent preached in his stead.  Valerian had ordained his friend Vincent deacon.

The Roman emperors had published their edicts against the clergy in 303, and the following year against the laity. Vincent and his bishop were imprisoned in Valencia. Hunger and torture failed to break them. Like the youths in the fiery furnace (Book of Daniel, chap 3), they seemed to thrive on suffering.

It was Vincent who answered in his own and in his bishop’s and friend’s name for them both when both were brought before Dacian, governor of Valencia during the persecution of Diocletian.

When Valerius was sent into banishment and exile, Vincent remained to suffer and to die, and faced the full fury of Dacian’s rage and earthly power.

First of all, he was stretched on the rack; and, when he was almost torn asunder, Dacian, asked him in mockery “how he fared now.” Vincent answered, with joy in his face, that he had ever prayed to be as he was then.  Uncontrollably frustrated in his lack of success to fully control Vincent, the main effect the tortures as they progressed was the progressive disintegration of Dacian himself, emotionally and psychologically.  Dacian then had the torturers beaten themselves for their failure.

It was in vain that Dacian struck the executioners and goaded them on in their savage work. The martyr’s flesh was torn with hooks; he was bound in a chair of red-hot iron; lard and salt were rubbed into his wounds; and amid all this he kept his eyes raised to heaven, and remained unmoved.

Finally Dacian suggested a compromise: Would Vincent at least give up the sacred books to be burned according to the emperor’s edict? He would not. Torture on the gridiron continued, the prisoner remaining courageous, the torturer losing control of himself. Vincent was thrown into a filthy prison cell—and converted the jailer.  Dacian wept with rage, but strangely enough, ordered the prisoner to be given some rest.

Vincent was cast into a solitary dungeon, with his feet in the stocks; but the angels of Christ illuminated the darkness, and assured Vincent that he was near his triumph. His wounds were now tended to prepare him for fresh torments, and the faithful were permitted to gaze on his mangled body. They came in troops, kissed the open sores, and carried away as relics cloths dipped in his blood. Before the tortures could recommence, the martyr’s hour came, and he breathed forth his soul in peace.

“Wherever it was that Christians were put to death, their executions did not bear the semblance of a triumph. Exteriorly they did not differ in the least from the executions of common criminals. But the moral grandeur of a martyr is essentially the same, whether he preserved his constancy in the arena before thousands of raving spectators or whether he perfected his martyrdom forsaken by all upon a pitiless flayer’s field” (The Roman Catacombs, Hertling-Kirschbaum).

Even the dead bodies of the saints are precious in the sight of God, and the hand of iniquity cannot touch them.  A raven guarded the body of Vincent where it lay flung upon the earth. When it was sunk out at sea the waves cast it ashore; and his relics are preserved to this day in the Augustinian monastery at Lisbon, for the consolation of the Church of Christ.

St. Vincent suffered martyrdom at Valencia in Spain in the year 303 during the persecution of Diocletian and Maximian. His story has been transmitted to posterity in three documents: the Passion, a hymn of Prudentius, and the sermons of St. Augustine. The hymn of Prudentius, entitled “The Passion of the Holy Martyr Vincent,” certainly precedes the writings of Augustine and may also precede the other work known as the Passion. It is the primary reference I have used in this account.

During the persecution, Vincent, a deacon of the Church of Saragossa in Spain, was apprehended and brought before the prefect Dacian. Initially, using “soft, cajoling words,” the judge attempted to get Vincent to renounce his faith and worship the pagan gods as the laws of Rome demanded.

In answer Vincent then cries out,
A levite of the sacred tribe,
Who at God’s altar stands and serves,
One of the seven pillars white:

‘Let these dark fiends rule over you,
Bow down before your wood and stone;
Be you the lifeless pontifex
Of gods as dead as you, yourself.

‘But we, O Dacian, will confess
The Father, Author of all light,
And Jesus Christ, His only Son,
As one true God, and Him adore.’

The prefect was angered at Vincent’s scorn for the gods of Rome. He forcefully retorted that Vincent must bend to the civil power that ruled the world or die.

‘Give ear to this fiat of mine:
You must now at this altar pray
And offer up incense and turf,
Or bloody death will be your lot.’

Vincent was undeterred and invited the judge to use whatever power he might muster. Even then, Vincent insisted, he would still defy the laws. He then boldly rejected the judge’s threat in a less than tactful manner.

‘How senseless are your false beliefs,
How stupid Caesar’s stern decree!
You order us to worship gods
That match your own intelligence.’

Vincent ridiculed the idols made by human hands and the foolishness of housing them in costly temples. He declared that any spirits dwelling there were infernal powers living in terror of Christ and His kingdom.

No longer could the wicked judge
Endure the martyr’s ringing words,
‘Silence the wretch,’ he madly cries;
‘Stop his contemptuous blasphemies!

‘Come tie his hands behind his back
And on the rack his body turn,
Until you break his tortured limbs
And tear asunder every joint.

‘When this is done, flay him alive
With piercing blows that bare the ribs,
So that through deep and gaping wounds
The throbbing entrails may be seen.’

And so, Vincent was tortured. But still, he did not yield. The indomitable deacon laughed at his torments and rebuked the two executioners for not wounding him more grievously. They were rapidly becoming exhausted with their efforts.

The martyr now in ecstasy,
No shadow of his bitter pain
Upon his shining countenance,
In vision, saw Thee near, O Christ.

‘O shame! What face the man puts on!’
Cried Dacian in an angry voice.
‘More ardent than his torturers
He beams with joy and courts their blows!’

The prefect recognized that the punishments being meted out to Vincent were having no effect. He did not criticize the torturers for they knew their work well and had never been outdone. Rather, he ordered them to rest their hands awhile so that their muscles might revive.

‘Then when his wounds are dry,
And clotted blood has formed hard scabs,
Your hands may plow them up again
And rend anew his tortured frame.’

To him the levite makes reply:
‘If now you see that all the strength
Of your vile dogs is giving way,
Come, mighty slaughterer, yourself,

‘Come, show them how to cleave my flesh
And my inmost recesses bare;
Put in your hands and deeply drink
The warm and ruddy streams of blood.

‘You err, unfeeling brute, if you
Imagine that you punish me
When you dismember me and kill
A body that is doomed to die.

‘There is within my being’s depths
Another none can violate,
Unfettered, tranquil and unmarred,
Immune from pain and suffering.’

Vincent explained that it is the spirit within him that Dacian must subdue. He added that that spirit is free, invincible, and subservient to God alone.

Then the tortures resumed. The prefect saw he was unable to break Vincent and tried another tack. He asked Vincent to show him his scriptures so that he might consign them to the flames. The martyr quickly replied that anyone who threatened to burn the holy books would suffer an even worse fate and end up “in the depths of hell.”

The tyrant, maddened at these words
Turns pale, then red with burning rage;
He rolls his frenzied blood-shot eyes,
Foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth.

Then after some delay, he roared:
‘Let trial by torture now be made,
The crown of all our punishments,
The gridiron, flames, and red-hot plates.’

The dauntless martyr hurried with swift steps to receive these new torments. With “no trace of fear upon his brow,” he mounted the pyre “as though ascending upon high to take possession of his crown.” The crackling fire sent forth sparks that implanted themselves “with sizzling punctures in his flesh.” Fat oozed forth from the burning wounds and slowly covered his frame with smoking oil.

Unmoved amid these sufferings,
As though unconscious of his pain,
The saint to Heaven lifts his eyes,
For heavy fetters stay his hands.

Then the prefect has Vincent raised “from his fiery bed of pain” and “cast into a dungeon foul … a stifling subterranean pit.”

The angry foe now hurls the saint
Into this pit of deepest woe
And thrust his feet in wooden stocks
With tortured limbs set far apart.

The monster skilled in penal art
Then adds a torment new and strange,
To no oppressor known before,
Recorded in no previous age.

He orders broken earthenware,
Sharp-cornered, jagged, piercing keen,
Spread out upon the dungeon floor
To make for him a painful bed.

However, the plans of the prefect are once again frustrated. The darkness of the prison cell is soon replaced with a radiant light. The stocks on the martyr’s feet fly open.

And then does Vincent recognize
That Christ, the Source of light, has come
To bring the promised recompense
For all the pangs he has endured.

He sees the broken earthenware
Now clothe itself with tender flowers
That fill the narrow prison vault
With fragrance like to nectar sweet.

And then around the martyr throngs
A host of angels greeting him,
Of whom one of majestic mien
Accosts the hero in these words:

‘Arise, O glorious martyr saint,
Arise, set free from all your chains,
Arise, now member of our band,
And join our noble company.

‘You have already run your course
Of frightful pain and suffering;
Your passion’s goal is now attained,
And death now gives you kind release.’

Vincent’s sufferings were ended. The light within the cell penetrated the bolted door through narrow crevices. The guardian of the cell who had been stationed there to keep watch noticed the light. He also heard the prisoner singing and more hauntingly, he also heard “a voice chanting in response.”

Then, trembling, he draws near the door
And plants his eyes against the jamb
That he may through the narrow slit
Explore the room as best he can.

He sees the bed of potsherds bloom
With fragrant flowers of many hues,
And, singing as he walks about,
The saint himself with fetters loosed.

The jailer sent word to the prefect who again reacted with rage. He wept at his defeat. He groaned with anger and chagrin. Next, he ordered Vincent to be removed from the dungeon and asked that his wounds be bathed with healing balms. His intention was that when the prisoner was somewhat restored, he would again be put to torture.

Upon his release, the faithful from all the city thronged to their deacon. They made him an easeful bed, cared for his wounds, and carried away blood-soaked cloths as relics. The warden of his prison cell accepted Christ with sudden faith. Soon afterwards, in this peaceful setting, Vincent died.

The prefect was furious that Vincent had eluded him yet again and was determined to feed the anger that “burned within his vengeful heart.”

As serpent of its fangs bereft
The madman raged in frenzy wild.
‘The rebel has evaded me
And carried off the palm,’ he cries.

‘Though he be dead, I still can wreck
One last outrage upon this wretch:
I’ll throw his body to the beasts,
Or give it to the dogs to rend.’

Dacian wanted to destroy Vincent’s body lest it be honored in a tomb inscribed with the martyr’s name. Accordingly, “the sacred body he exposed, all naked in a sedgy marsh.” And then a strange thing occurred — despite the indignity to the body, neither beast nor bird fed on the corpse. In fact, a raven guarded the body. It drove away a bird of prey and also a huge ferocious wolf.

The prefect, unsuccessful in his first plan, concocted another. He decided to plunge the body into the sea where it would be food for fish or where it would be tossed by storms and be torn and rended on the jagged points of flinty rocks. He sought for someone who would undertake the task.

‘Is there some man among you here
Who, skilled in piloting a boat
With oar and rope and hoisted sail,
Can briskly plow the open sea?

‘Go, take the body that now lies
Unharmed among the marshy reeds
And, in a wherry light and swift,
Bear it away through surging tides.

‘Wrap up the corpse and then enclose
It in a sack of rushes made,
To which a heavy stone is tied,
That it may sink into the deep.’

A soldier, a fierce, hot-headed ruffian, volunteered for the job. He wove a net of ropes into which he sewed Vincent’s lifeless form. Then he sailed into the middle of the sea and hurled it out into the waves. Although a heavy stone had been attached to it, the body of the saint did not sink. Rather, it moved with the tide toward the curving shore.

The heavy millstone swims along
As lightly as the snow-white foam;
The bag that holds the sacred pledge
Is borne on top of swelling waves.

Aghast, the baffled mariners
Behold it floating calmly back
Across the level shining sea,
Sped on by favoring tide and wind.

With rapid oars they cleave the main,
As wroth they urge their vessel on,
But far ahead the body flies
Into a quiet, secluded bay.

The body came to rest on the friendly beach before the skiff could reach the shore. And there it was buried until the Christians could build a tomb for the body. Later, when the persecution was over, a church was built and the blessed bones of Vincent were laid in the sanctuary and buried at the foot of the altar.

StVincentMartyrReliquary

-Reliquary containing the leg bone of St. Vincent, located in the Treasury of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris.

Vicente_de_Zaragoza_(School_of_Francisco_Ribalta)_XVII_century

-San Vicente Mártir arrojado al muladar. Escultura en alabastro. Documentado 1533 – Diego de Tredia – Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 23 – St Marianne Cope, OSF, (1838-1918), “He paulele ho’i ‘oe”, = “Faithful to God’s Loving Plan”

Mother_Marianne_Cope_in_her_youth

-1883, Sister Marianne Cope, just before her departure from Germany to Hawaii.

In one of the most beautiful, colorful, loveliest, Eden-like places on earth, the cross of a horrific disease had turned everything grey; taken the taste out of life.  It took the Gospel and a nun –  in love with God and color –  to bring joy back, for beauty to return to people’s lives:

Interview with Mother Marianne’s Nurse, Sister Magdalene, in 1941:

Utica Reporter:  “Do the books and stories about Mother Marianne exaggerate her qualities?”

Nurse: “No, Mother Marianne was the gentlest, the cheeriest and the most dignified person you could imagine, and a disciplinarian, too.”

“She revolutionized life on Molokai, brought cleanliness, pride and fun to the colony. People on Molokai laugh now—like other people in the world, laugh at the same things, the same dilemmas and jokes.”

“It was Mother Marianne who bought the girls hair ribbons and pretty things to wear, dresses and scarves. Women keep their cottages and their rooms in the big communal houses neatly, pride fully. There are snowy bedspreads, pictures on the walls. They set their tables at meal time with taste, Mother Marianne brought that about.”

“She interested the women in color harmony. Sit in services at the back of the church in Molokai and observe the lovely arrangements of color of the women. When Mother Marianne went to the island, people there had no thought for the graces of life. ‘We are lepers,’ they told her. ‘What does it matter?’ Well, she changed all that. Doctors have said that her psychology was 50 years ahead of her time.”

Sister Magdalene was one of the nuns who attended Mother Marianne during her last illness, an old woman, but still valiant.

“She knew that the end was near but on that last day she insisted on joining the nuns at mealtimes. ‘No tears,’ she said. ‘Of course, I am coming to table. Why not?’ That night she died while we were at her bedside, August 9, 1918.”

On January 23, 1838, a daughter was born to Peter and Barbara Cope of Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany. The girl was named after her mother. Two years later the Cope family immigrated to the United States and settled in Utica, New York. Young Barbara worked in a factory until August 1862, when she went to the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York. After solemn profession of her religious vows, having taken the religious name Marianne, in November of the next year she began teaching at Assumption parish school.

Marianne held the post of superior in several places and was twice the novice mistress of her congregation. A natural leader, three different times she was superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, where she learned much that would be useful during her years in Hawaii.

Elected provincial in 1877, Mother Marianne was unanimously re-elected in 1881. Two years later the Hawaiian government was searching for someone to run the Kakaako Receiving Station for people suspected of having leprosy. More than 50 religious communities in the United States and Canada were asked. None accepted. When the request was put to the Syracuse sisters, 35 of them volunteered immediately. On October 22, 1883, Mother Marianne and six other sisters left for Hawaii where they took charge of the Kakaako Receiving Station outside Honolulu; on the island of Maui they also opened a hospital and a school for girls.

In 1888, Mother Marianne and two sisters went to Molokai to open a home for “unprotected women and girls” there. The Hawaiian government was quite hesitant to send women for this difficult assignment; they need not have worried about Mother Marianne! On Molokai she took charge of the home that Blessed Damien DeVeuster (d. 1889) had established for men and boys. Mother Marianne changed life on Molokai by introducing cleanliness, pride and fun to the colony. Bright scarves and pretty dresses for the women were part of her approach.

Awarded the Royal Order of Kapiolani by the Hawaiian government and celebrated in a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mother Marianne continued her work faithfully. Her sisters have attracted vocations among the Hawaiian people and still work on Molokai.

Sisters_of_St._Francis_in_1886_at_the_Branch_Hospital_for_Lepers_in_Kakaako,_Honolulu

-1886, The Sisters of St. Francis, at the Kakaʻako Branch Hospital.  Left to right: Sr. M. Rosalia McLaughlin, Sr. M Martha Kaiser, Sr M. Leopoldina Burns, Sr. M Charles Hoffmann, Sr. M. Crescentia Eilers, and Mother Marianne Cope. At center, rear: Walter Murray Gibson.

To the Reverend Sister Marianne
Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa

To see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God.

He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breast of pain!—
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores.

-poem by Robert Louis Stevenson
Kalawao, May 22, 1889

Mother Marianne Cope was beatified on May 14, 2005.  Over one hundred faithful followers from Hawai‘i attended the beatification ceremony Rome. Three hundred followers from the Blessed Mother’s religious order in Syracuse were also in attendance. During the ceremony the Hawaiian song Makalapua was sung. The song was a favorite of Mother Marianne Cope.

Makalapua –  The Opening Flower (Hawaiian traditional)

`O makalapua ulu mähiehie
`O ka lei o Kamaka`eha
No Kamaka`eha ka lei nä Li`a wähine
Nä wähine kïhene pua

Hui:
E lei ho`i, e Lili`ulani e
E lei ho`i, e Lili`ulani e

Ha`iha`i pua kamani (pauku) pua ki
I lei (ho`owehi) wehi no ka wahine
E walea ai ka wao kele
I ka liko io Maunahele

Lei Ka`ala i ka ua o ka naulu
Ho`olu`e iho la i lalo o Hale`au`au
Ka ua lei koko `ula i ke pili
I pilia ka mau`u nene me ke kupukupu

Lei aku la i ka hala o Kekele
Na hala moe ipo o Malailua
Ua maewa wale i ke oho o ke kawelu
Na lei Kamakahala o ka ua Wa`ahila

—-

The sweetest and most fragrant flowers of the garden
For the lei of Kamaka`eha
The goddesses of the forest weave a lei for Kamaka`eha
The ladies with baskets of flowers

Chorus:
Here is your lei, o Lili`ulani
Here is your lei. o Lili`ulani

Kamani leaves entwined with ti flowers
A lei to beautify the fair Lili`u
One who loves the beauteous and fragrant uplands
Where bud the flowers at Maunahele

Ka`ala wears a lei of rain and showers
Pouring down on Hale’au’au
Rainbow mist that is a lei on pili grass
Where nene grass grows close to kupukupu ferns

Wearing a lei of hala fruit of Kekele
Hala of Malailua that lovers dream of
Swaying freely amid kawelu grasses
Kamakahala flower leis of Wa`ahila rain

This song incorporates both names of the Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch: Lili`u (smarting) and Kamaka`eha (sore eyes) a name given to her at birth by Kina`u, her grand aunt who was suffering from sore eyes at that time. It was a Hawaiian custom to name a child for an important event at the time of their birth. Maunahele was the name of the gardens in the shadow of the pali on the windward side. These gardens were sacred to Lia, the mountain goddess of flowers. The Kamani tree (calaphyllum inophyllum) native of Hawaii has edible nuts and fragrant flowers. The ti or ki (cordyline ternminalis) an indigenious plant has leaves that are used for cooking, thatching houses and making hula skirts. The fibrous roots when cooked make a sweet candy and when fermented, produce an intoxicating beverage.

Father_Damien_on_his_funeral_bier_with_Mother_Marianne_Cope_by_his_side

-April 15, 1889, Mother Marianne with funeral bier of Fr Damien of Molokai.

“The charity of the good knows no creed and is confined to no one place.”  (1870’s)

“I do not think of reward; I am working for God, and do so cheerfully.”  (1902)

“I am hungry for the work…  I am not afraid of any disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister the abandoned ‘lepers.'”

Mother_Marianne_Cope_with_sisters_and_patients,_1918

-Mother Marianne Cope, a few days before she died, with sisters and patients, 1918.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 11 – Blessed William Carter (1548-1584)

A layman all his life, born into Elizabethan London, William Carter entered the printing business at an early age. For many years he served as apprentice to well-known Catholic printers, one of whom served a prison sentence for persisting in the Catholic faith. William himself served time in prison following his arrest for “printing lewd [i.e., Catholic] pamphlets” as well as possessing books upholding Catholicism.

But even more, he offended public officials by publishing works that aimed to keep Catholics firm in their faith. Officials who searched his house found various vestments and suspect books, and even managed to extract information from William’s distraught wife. Over the next 18 months William remained in prison, suffering torture and learning of his wife’s death.

He was eventually charged with printing and publishing one thousand copies of the Treatise of Schisme written by Dr. Gregory Martin, which was fallaciously alleged to be intended to incite violence by Catholics due to a paragraph in the pamphlet where confidence was expressed that the Catholic Hope would triumph, and pious Judith would slay Holofernes – a reference to a well known, at that time, Old English poem about Judith of Bethulia, inspired, of course, by the Book of Judith in the Old Testament, in which the Jewess heroine beheads the enemy general. This was interpreted as an incitement to slay the queen, though it obviously had no such meaning.  The pamphlet was accused of having been written by a traitor and addressed to traitors.

While William calmly placed his trust in God, the jury met for only 15 minutes before reaching a verdict of “guilty.” William, who made his final confession to a priest who was being tried alongside him, was hanged, drawn and quartered the following day: January 11, 1584.  He was 35 yrs old.  This was the customary punishment for “traitors” to an earthly crown and faithful servants of the Divine Crown.  William gave his life for his efforts to encourage his brothers and sisters to keep up the struggle, to keep the faith.

Love,
Matthew