Category Archives: Lent

Stations of the Cross

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-Durward’s Glen (please click on the image for greater detail)

“God, deliver me from sullen saints!”St Teresa of Avila, OCD

Kelly, Mara, and I have been invited to enjoy Stations of the Cross at the beautiful Durward’s Glen Retreat this Good Friday. I am looking forward to it very much.

I have been much flattered in the past to be asked to lead the Stations of the Cross at Mundelein Seminary for the Old St Pat’s RCIA community. There is a funny story with that one. It is dark by the time we begin. I much favor traveling by foot to each station. The movement allows one to more fully and readily enter the Via Crucis. Parts of RCIA community were selected at random to read each station. There were innocent mispronunciations while I carried this very large, but not so heavy, cross. The mis-pronouncements made my start to laugh, I don’t know why, hysterically.

Well, laughter from the guy carrying the cross in the Stations of the Cross just do not go together! They don’t! No one could see the expression on my face because of the dim light, so I just HAD to bite my tongue/lip, while DYING, maintaining a solemn posture and presence. Each station a new mispronunciation would ensue, and I would DIE EVEN MORE!!!

I almost stumbled in a depression in the grass while walking and this did not help. I am sure by the end, I was bleeding somewhere where I had bitten to stop myself from making sounds of hilarity during the Stations of the Cross. When they were over I had to return to my room to compose myself, lest anyone see me less than dour. 🙂

Have you ever done the Stations of the Cross, but thought perhaps you had been reading an airline flight schedule? There are odd versions of the Stations out there. Whether they’re disjointed, sappy, or downright heterodox, some booklets have caused people to think of the Stations of the Cross as not being worthwhile. Why bother with the “Catholic calisthenics” when the underlying point behind them is misrepresented?

What is the will of God?  The Cross is the will of God.

Kevin_Cotter
-by Kevin Cotter

“The Stations of the Cross are an ancient tradition in the Catholic Church going back to the fourth century when Christians went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Like many of our Catholic traditions, the Stations of the Cross can be rich, deep, and meaningful, but at the same time we can lose sight of their significance and how to relate them to our everyday lives.

1. They Allow Us to Place Our Trust in Him.

“The Cross of Christ contains all the love of God; there we find His immeasurable mercy. This is a love in which we can place all our trust, in which we can believe…. let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, let us give ourselves over to Him, because He never disappoints anyone! Only in Christ crucified and risen can we find salvation and redemption.” — Pope Francis, Address, World Youth Day, Way of the Cross, July 26, 2013

2. They Put Us into the Story.

“And you, who do you want to be? Like Pilate? Like Simon? Like Mary? Jesus is looking at you now and is asking you: do you want to help Me carry the Cross? Brothers and sisters, with all the strength of your youth, how will you respond to Him?” —Pope Francis, Address, World Youth Day, Way of the Cross, July 26, 2013

3. They Remind Us That Jesus Suffers with Us.

“The Cross of Christ bears the suffering and the sin of mankind, including our own. Jesus accepts all this with open arms, bearing on His shoulders our crosses and saying to us: ‘Have courage! You do not carry your cross alone! I carry it with you. I have overcome death and I have come to give you hope, to give you life’ (cf. Jn 3:16).” —Pope Francis, Address, World Youth Day, Way of the Cross, July 26, 2013

4. They Compel Us to Action.

“But the Cross of Christ invites us also to allow ourselves to be smitten by His love, teaching us always to look upon others with mercy and tenderness, especially those who suffer, who are in need of help, who need a word or a concrete action.” —Pope Francis, Address, World Youth Day, Way of the Cross, July 26, 2013

5. They Helps Us Make a Decision for or Against Christ.

“[The Cross] reveals a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us. Let us remember this: God judges us by loving us. If I embrace His love then I am saved, if I refuse it, then I am condemned, not by Him, but my own self, because God never condemns, He only loves and saves.” —Pope Francis, Address, Good Friday, March 29, 2013

6. They Reveal God’s Response to Evil in the World.

“The Cross is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world. Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil, as if He is silent. And yet, God has spoken, He has replied, and His answer is the Cross of Christ: a word which is love, mercy, forgiveness.” – Pope Francis, Address, Good Friday, March 29, 2013

7. They Give Us the Certainty of God’s Love for Us.

“What has the Cross given to those who have gazed upon it and to those who have touched it? What has the Cross left in each one of us? You see, it gives us a treasure that no one else can give: the certainty of the faithful love which God has for us.” – Pope Francis, Address, World Youth Day, Way of the Cross, July 26, 2013

8. They Guide Us from the Cross to the Resurrection.

“O, Our Jesus, guide us from the Cross to the resurrection and teach us that evil shall not have the last word, but love, mercy and forgiveness. O Christ, help us to exclaim again: ‘Yesterday I was crucified with Christ; today I am glorified with Him. Yesterday I died with Him, today I live with Him. Yesterday I was buried with Him, today I am raised with Him’”.” – Pope Francis, Address, Good Friday, April 18, 2014

Love,
Matthew

Introduction to “The Sadness of Christ”, by St Thomas More

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“I am sorrowful, even unto death.” Mt 26:38

The History of the Passion closes the long list of works, both Latin and English, written by St. Thomas More. His imprisonment in the Tower lasted from April 17 , 1534, to July 6, 1535, the day of his martyrdom.

From the beginning he knew that he was never likely to regain his freedom and determined to make the best possible use of his time as a preparation for death. In all sincerity he expressed his satisfaction at obtaining so valuable a period of quiet and recollection for prayer and study.

To Margaret Roper, his beloved daughter, he wrote of his appreciation of the grace of God that ‘hath also put in the king towards me that good and gracious mind, that as yet he hath taken from me nothing but my liberty, wherewith (as help me God) his grace hath done me great good by the spiritual profit that I trust I take thereby, that among all his great benefits heaped upon me so thick I reckon, upon my faith, my imprisonment even the very chief.’ 1

Similarly on another occasion he said to her: ‘They that have put me here ween they have done me a high displeasure.’… ‘I find no cause, I thank God, Meg, to reckon myself in worse case here than in my own house. For methinketh God maketh me a wanton and setteth me on his lap and dandleth me.’ 2

He had spent long years in writing against the new heresies the controversial books which form the bulk of his English works, but now, although occasional references to current controversies are still to be found, his chief preoccupation is to prepare himself, and his family, too, for the inevitable separation of death. Thus did he write the Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation and the History of the Passion.

Devotion to our Lord’s passion was familiar to him. ‘Every year on Good Friday,’ writes Stapleton, ‘he called together the whole of his family into what was called the New Building, and there he would have the whole of our Lord’s passion read to them, generally by John Harris. From time to time More would interrupt the reading with a few words of pious exhortation.’ 3 It may well be that in the present work we have echoes of those exhortations. Another clue to their contents may perhaps be provided by More’s words to Tyndale: ‘Who can speak of Christ’s passion and speak nothing of His mercy?’ 4

Pico of Mirandula, whom More in his early years had chosen as a model, upon his death-bed gazed upon the crucifix, ‘that in the image of Christ’s ineffable passion, suffered for our sake, he might, ere he gave up the ghost, receive his full draught of love and compassion in the beholding of that pitiful figure, as a strong defence against all adversity, and a sure portcullis against wicked spirits.’ 5

More, too, wished his last thoughts to be with his crucified saviour. To Cromwell, who examined him concerning the new statute by which the king was declared supreme head of the Church, he replied: ‘I have fully determined with myself neither to study nor meddle with any matter of this world, but that my whole study should be upon the passion of Christ and mine own passage out of this world.’ 6

From the number of references to our Lord’s passion in the letters which he wrote during his imprisonment it is clear that he kept this resolution faithfully. Thus speaking of his death he says : ‘The fear thereof, I thank our Lord, the fear of hell, the hope of heaven, and the passion of Christ daily more and more assuage.’ And in the same letter: ‘I beseech Him to…give me grace and you both in all our agonies and troubles devoutly to resort prostrate unto the remembrance of that bitter agony which our Saviour suffered before His passion at the mount. And if we diligently do so, I verily trust we shall find therein great comfort and consolation.’ 7 In another he writes of the fall of St. Peter who ‘fell in such fear soon after, that at the word of a simple girl he forsook and forswore our Saviour,’ and takes warning to himself by the example. 8

The Dialogue of Comfort, written at the same time, bears similar witness to the constant preoccupation of his mind with our Lord’s passion. It is not too much to say that the moving passage on the subject in the last chapter is the grand climax towards which everything else in the book leads. ‘If we could and would,’ he writes, ‘with due compassion conceive in our minds a right imagination and remembrance of Christ’s bitter painful passion, of the many sore bloody strokes that the cruel tormentors with rods and whips gave Him upon every part of his holy tender body, the scornful crown of sharp thorns beaten down upon His holy head, so straight and so deep that on every part His blessed blood issued out and streamed down, His lovely limbs drawn and stretched out upon the cross to the intolerable pain of His forebeaten and sore beaten veins and sinews, new feeling, with the cruel stretching and straining, pain far passing any cramp in every part of His blessed body at once, then the great long nails cruelly driven with hammers through His holy hands and feet, and in this horrible pain lift up and let hang, with the peise (weight) of all His body bearing down upon the painful wounded places, so grievously pierced with nails, and in such torment (without pity, but not without many despites), suffered to be pined and pained the space of more than three long hours, till Himself willingly gave up unto His Father His holy soul, after which yet to shew the mightiness of their malice after His holy soul departed they pierced His holy heart with a sharp spear, at which issued out the holy blood and water whereof His holy sacraments have inestimable secret strength: if we would, I say, remember these things in such wise, as would God we would, I verily suppose that the consideration of His incomparable kindness could not in such wise fail to inflame our key-cold hearts, and set them on fire in His love, that we should find ourselves not only content, but also glad and desirous, to suffer death for His sake that so marvellous lovingly letted not to sustain so far passing painful death for ours.’ 9

Passio Christi, conforta me , prays St. Ignatius, ‘Passion of Christ, strengthen me.’ It was from his meditations upon our Lord’s passion that St. Thomas drew the strength to suffer martyrdom. To the very end it was his comfort and his support. Thus he set out upon his last journey up Tower Hill with a cross in his hand, and in his reply to the good lady who offered him wine showed how his thoughts were with Him who died for us upon the cross. ‘Christ in His passion,’ he said, ‘was given not wine, but vinegar to drink.’ 10

1 English Works , 1557, p. 1442 E.
2 Roper’s Life of More , E.E.T.S., p. 76.
3 Life of Sir T. More , Eng. trans., p. 96.
4 E.W. , p. 408, B.
5 ibid., p. 8, F.
6 ibid., p. 1452, A.
7 ibid., p. 1431, E. and H.
8 ibid., p. 1442, G.
9 E.W., p. 1260, E.
10 Stapleton, l.c. 209.

Sir Thomas More’s Psalm on Detachment

(Written while imprisoned in the Tower of London, 1534)
Give me Thy grace, good Lord:
To set the world at nought;
To set my mind fast upon Thee,
And not to hang upon the blast of men’s mouths;
To be content to be solitary,
Not to long for worldly company;
Little and little utterly to cast off the world,
And rid my mind of all the business thereof;
Not to long to hear of any worldly things,
But that the hearing of worldly phantasies may be to me displeasant;
Gladly to be thinking of God,
Piteously to call for His help;
To lean unto the comfort of God,
Busily to labor to love Him;
To know mine own vility and wretchedness,
To humble and meeken myself under the mighty hand of God;
To bewail my sins passed,
For the purging of them patiently to suffer adversity;
Gladly to bear my purgatory here,
To be joyful of tribulations;
To walk the narrow way that leadeth to life,
To bear the cross with Christ;
To have the last thing in remembrance,
To have ever afore mine eye my death that is ever at hand;
To make death no stranger to me,
To foresee and consider the everlasting fire of hell;
To pray for pardon before the Judge come,
To have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered for me;
For His benefits uncessantly to give Him thanks,
To buy the time again that I before have lost;
To abstain from vain confabulations,
To eschew light foolish mirth and gladness;
Recreations not necessary — to cut off;
Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss
at right nought for the winning of Christ;
To think my most enemies my best friends,
For the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.
These minds are more to be desired of every man than all the treasure of all the princes and kings, Christian and heathen, were it
gathered and laid together all upon one heap.

-from Complete Works of St. Thomas More , vol. 13 (Yale University Press, 1976), pp. 226-227). Modernized in Sadness of Christ and Final Prayers and Instructions (Scepter Press, 1993), pp. 148-150).

Love, and praying, wishing for you a blessed & spiritually fruitful Lent,
Matthew

The temptation we face to come down from/put down our Crosses…

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Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. – JC

As life goes along, rather light-of-foot/quickly/ too quickly, if you ask anyone with a few years under the belt, this temptation grows stronger as we grow weaker, more feeble, more tired, more infirm.

An elderly woman in a wheelchair once commented, respectfully, to a much younger priest, when the priest reminded her of the Passion of Our Lord in regards to her own troubles, “Yes, but He was only thirty-three.” I, myself, have harbored such thoughts, and I am only middle-aged.

msgr_charles_pope
-by Msgr Charles Pope

“One of the most remarkable aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus is the humble reserve He displayed. As God, He had the power to end His suffering and humiliation in an instant. He had already reminded Peter, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt26:52-54)

And now, as Jesus hung on the Cross, Satan and the crowds give Him one final temptation: the call to come down from the Cross:

Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You Who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if You are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him. (Matt 27:39-44)

The temptation is to pride and power, comfort and ease, to anything but the Cross. They seem to taunt Him by saying, “Since God is powerful, if You were God, You would have the power to come down and not be overpowered by Your enemy.”

The temptation is very crafty and very worldly. To the worldly-minded, the demand makes sense. In effect, they are saying, “If it’s faith You want from me, You can have it if You’ll just come down from the cross. Then I’ll be impressed; then I’ll believe.” In effect and truth, the tempters want to be saved on their own terms.

Why does Jesus stay on the Cross? For three reasons, at least:

1. Humility – Jesus is out to overcome Satan. In the world, we seek to overpower our foes. Does it work? No. Usually the cycle of violence just continues and in fact often gets worse. We think, “If I can just yell louder and outwit or outgun my opponent, I’ll win the day.” Yes, but there’s more to life than one day. The next day your opponent returns with louder and wittier arguments and bigger guns. And the cycle of violence goes on. It is an endless power struggle.

But as was once said, Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that. And I would add that here at the Cross, pride cannot drive out pride, only humility can do that.

And therefore, although the crowd and Satan try to coax Jesus into a power struggle, the Lord chooses the only weapon that is truly effective against pride: humility. Humility is like kryptonite to the Devil!

To our eyes, it seems that the Lord is defeated. But in His humility, the Lord is doing more damage to Satan than we could ever imagine. He stays on the Cross to defeat Satan’s pride by His own profound humility. Jesus does this despite Satan’s desperate attempts to engage His pride, and entice Him into a power struggle.

2. ObedienceIt was disobedience that got us into trouble in the first place. And it will be obedience that restores us. Adam said, “No.” Jesus, the New Adam, says “Yes.” It is not essentially the suffering of Jesus that saves us; rather, it is his obedience. And Jesus’ suffering is part of that obedience.

Jesus decides to obey his Father, no matter the cost. Isaiah says of Jesus, “He suffered because he willed it.” (Is 53:7) St. Thomas says that if Jesus had suffered and gone to the cross, but not willed it, we would not be saved. Jesus himself said, “No one takes my life from me, I lay it down freely. (Jn 10:18) Cassian says, “We are saved by the human decision of a divine person.”

Jesus went to the Cross and decided to stay on the Cross in obedience. And it is by his obedience, by his will to obey and to save us, that we are saved.  AMEN!!!  AMEN!!! AMEN!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!

3. To save ME!!! – On a more personal level, we can also see (based on what has already been said), that Jesus decided to stay on the Cross to save ME. No, really, ME!! If He had come down, I WOULD NOT be saved; you WOULD NOT be saved. We might have been impressed; we might have even had a kind of faith. But it would not be a SAVING FAITH.

Pure and simple, Jesus decided to stay on the Cross and to endure mockery, shame, pain, and death, in order to save a poor sinner like me. An old gospel song says:

When Jesus hung on Calvary, people came from miles to see
They said, If you be the Christ, come down and save your life

But Jesus, sweet Jesus, never answered them
For He knew that Satan was tempting

If He had come down from the cross, my soul would still be lost
If He had come down from the cross, my soul would still be lost

He would not come down from the cross just to save Himself
He decided to die just to save me.”

“I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?”
—2 Corinthians 11:23-29

Love,
Matthew

Spiritual Deep Cleaning

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deep-cleaning

megantwomey
-by Megan Twomey

“I am not a natural deep cleaner. Extensive projects that involve organizing minutiae, inordinate scrubbing, and rubber gloves are just not my thing. Now I’m the first person to be stressed when my house looks a mess. In fits of cleaning, I tear through the house like a hurricane tidying stray toys, wiping down counters, and shepherding dirty laundry into the hamper. I will pull out the vacuum minutes before guests arrive or re-arrange the shoes by the back door for the hundredth time. Yet, when it comes to making sure things are really and truly spotless, inside and out, I often shirk. I can honestly count the number of times I’ve cleaned the outside of my windows on one hand. I recently cleaned the inside of my fridge in a moment of Lenten intensity, and, let me tell you, it had gotten pretty bad. It’s easy to ignore the dirt and mess that few see and focus on creating a tidy appearance to passersby.

Often I find myself falling into the same trap spiritually: ignoring the real deep problems in my soul and concentrating on keeping myself looking spiritually clean. Jesus pointed out this problem in the Pharisees; in fact, He called them “whited spelchures” for following the exterior law while neglecting to have charity in their hearts (cf. Matthew 23:27). That is a very serious accusation: to be rotten at the core while appearing morally upright. I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of spiritual sloth (acedia, a deadly sin), but all of us can suffer from it, even those who are honestly seeking holiness.

It took me almost all forty days to realize that I had taken the easy spiritual road this Lent. Instead of really examining what in my life was keeping me from getting closer to Christ, I made a few resolutions and sacrifices that would be easy to identify. I did not earnestly search my soul for the areas of selfishness and sin that were hindering my spiritual life. Then, I wondered why I didn’t seem to be making any spiritual progress.

The thing about Lent is that when we remove things from our life, we are meant to replace them with Christ. We sacrifice things that in our suffering we are brought closer to the suffering Christ, but also that we may find that the things of this world for which we hold affection are poor substitutes for spiritual things.

I forgot that this Lent. I gave up sweets and mostly replaced it with…whining about needing more sweets. I found several weeks in that, had I really done some serious examination, there was something else with a hold on me. I had been using social media as more than an occasional outlet for connecting with world.

Whenever I found myself with a free or quiet minute, I was checking, scrolling, and reading every post I came across. With access to a smart phone, I was trying to escape the things I didn’t want to face in my life. When I found myself impatient with my kids for interrupting an article I was reading or wasting valuable time with my husband on the computer, I knew that a fun tool had become a problem.

Thankfully, Lent is not the only time we can make changes in our spiritual life and it is never too late to turn to Christ. I took a long look at my behavior and headed to confession as soon as I could. The sacrament of confession is the perfect opportunity to start on that spiritual deep cleaning we often ignore.  (Ed. Drag yourself there, kicking & screaming, if only inside, if you must, but go!!!!!  All you have to do is get yourself in front of the priest.  He will, or should be, a MAJOR help from that point forward.  Hey, he does this for a living!!!  You are not the first, very likely, you won’t be the last, very likely, and you are not the worst, almost certainly.  I would also bet whatever major hangup you have to lay on him, it’s probably not the first time he’s heard that one, just my strong suspicion.  Just.  He’s a professional.  He can handle it.  Let him take over.  It’s his thing.  Let go!!!  Give it to JESUS!!!)

There’s a reason the Church requires yearly confession and encourages it much more often: it forces us to examine our consciences thoroughly, to admit out loud the things that keep us from God, and to turn toward Christ for spiritual rebuilding. A good confession can put us back on track and remind us not to settle for the appearance of holiness. When we peer deep into our souls and search out the things that are keeping us from pursuing Christ, we can begin the difficult but worthwhile task of working with the Holy Spirit to put our souls in order.  (No substitutes!!!  Do it!!!)

The condition of your soul is a project that will take more than a weekend and more than a liturgical season, it is a lifetime pursuit.  AMEN.  AMEN.  AMEN.  The Saints have told us that the road to perfection isn’t easy and that it looks different for every soul. (Which is EXACTLY WHY THEY are such excellent guides and companions!!!)  Some are purified by great trials and others, like St. Therese, take a little way of daily sacrifice. Whatever our spiritual journey, we are all called to examine our souls, to root out sin, and seek after Christ with all we have. When we pursue true holiness, it will require everything of us, but our Savior deserves nothing less.”  AMEN.

Love,
Matthew

Lent, Suffering, & Offering it Up!!!

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liana_mueller
-by Lliana Mueller

“Lent causes suffering. The small (perhaps large to us) sacrifices that we make are meant to bring us closer to the cross. They are meant to bring us to greater reliance on Jesus instead of whatever it is we’ve chosen to give up. We can also “offer up” our myriad annoyances and sufferings, or the fact that we’ve committed not to eating chocolate and there is a chocolate birthday cake in the break room. These offerings can benefit our loved ones or the greater world. Your current suffering might involve feeling constantly exhausted due to the demands of caring for young children that don’t sleep through the night. Maybe you’re a student spreading yourself thin with academics, jobs, and extracurriculars. No matter your current state in life and the challenges that have come with it, at any given moment there is always someone suffering much, more more.

Naturally, we try to avoid suffering. It isn’t pleasant. When we’ve experienced one setback after another, or a day when absolutely every moment seems filled with a disaster, it’s easy to feel “woe is me.” We are human and need to process our frustrations, and at times may need to take steps to change a situation. But the moment we begin to dwell on the negatives is the moment where selfishness creeps in and we become the most important person. We forget the sufferings of so many brothers and sisters, both within our own circles and throughout the entire world. Instead of spiraling into bitterness about the sufferings that we have been asked to carry, or even put upon ourselves in some way, what if we remembered the suffering of someone else? What if we “offered it up,” benefitting another human being? In the process, we, too, can become better people.

Let’s take a look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Though this paragraph is about illness specifically, I believe it can apply to suffering in general and how it hinders or helps us.
“Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.” (¶1501, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

As I gripe about car problems and issues at work, I forget that having a job and a car are luxuries. A stable job that allows one to support a family shouldn’t be a luxury, but sadly these days it is. Poverty is a stark reality for millions of people throughout the world. Jobs that will support a family in third world countries are scarce, and many times when food is available, parents make the choice to feed their children and go without. Some people walk hours to their jobs that barely pay. Many in the United States involuntarily rely on public transit systems that can be unreliable and add large amounts of time to a commute, and that may force them to stand outside in sub-zero temperatures in order to keep a roof over their family’s head. Most of what we complain about is actually a blessing, and too often we forget that.

As we finish up this Lent and walk into Holy Week, let’s finish strong. Let’s allow our small burdens to mature us and also, in some way unknown to us, benefit our suffering brothers and sisters. May we embrace the cross and have a greater realization of Jesus’ love for us, as well as the immense sufferings that so many people throughout the world carry daily.”

Love & compassion,
Matthew

Faith means to stay – the Faithful, momentary Sorrowful Mother

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Jn 6:68

This 13th-century hymn is variously attributed to Gregory I, Bernard of Clairvaux, Pope Innocent III, St. Bonaventura, Jacopone da Todi, Pope John XXII, and Pope Gregory XI, and others; translated from Latin to English by Edward Caswall (1814-1878). It was the liturgical sequence for the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin (Sept. 15 and the Friday before Palm Sunday). It is no longer used on the Friday before Palm Sunday and is optional on September 15, but it continues to be sung at the Stations of the Cross during Lenten services. It was not admitted as a liturgical sequence until 1727, and musical settings are more numerous after that date.

Stabat Mater Dolorosa is considered one of the seven greatest Latin hymns of all time. It is based upon the prophecy of Simeon that a sword was to pierce the heart of Our Lord’s mother, Mary (Lk2:35).

Prayer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latin

Stabat Mater dolorosa
Juxta Crucem lacrimosa,
Dum pendebat Filius.

Cujus animam gementem,
Contristatam et dolentem,
Pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
Fuit illa benedicta
Mater Unigeniti!

Quem maerebat, et dolebat,
Pia Mater, dum videbat
Nati paenas inclyti.

Quis est homo, qui non fleret,
Matrem Christi si videret
In tanto supplicio?

Quis non posset contristari,
Christi Matrem contemplari
Dolentem cum Filio?

Pro peccatis suae gentis
Vidit Jesum in tormentis,
Et flagellis subditum.

Vidit suum dulcem natum
Moriendo desolatum,
Dum emisit spiritum.

Eia Mater, fons amoris,
Me sentire vim doloris
Fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
In amando Christum Deum,
Ut sibi complaceam.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
Crucifixi fige plagas
Cordi meo valide.

Tui nati vulnerati,
Tam dignati pro me pati,
Paenas rnecum divide.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
Crucifixo condolere,
Donec ego vixero.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
Et me tibi sociare
In planctu desidero.

Virgo virginum praeclara,
Mihi jam non sis amara:
Fac me tecum plangere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem
Passionis fac consortum,
Et plagas recolere.

Fac me plagis vulnerari
Fac me cruce inebriari,
Et cruore Filii.

Flammis ne urar succensus
Per te, Virgo, sim defensus
In die judicii.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
Da per Matrem me venire,
Ad palmam victoriae.

Quando corpus morietur,
Fac, ut animae donetur
Paradisi gloria.

Love,
Matthew

Vexilla Regis = “Let Royal Banners fly!”

Jesus-Crucifixion


Vexilla Regis was written by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609 AD) and is considered one of the greatest hymns of the liturgy. Fortunatus wrote it in honor of the arrival of a large relic of the True Cross which had been sent to Queen Radegunda by the Emperor Justin II and his Empress Sophia. Queen Radegunda had retired to a convent she had built near Poitiers and was seeking out relics for the church there. To help celebrate the arrival of the relic, the Queen asked Fortunatus to write a hymn for the procession of the relic to the church.

The hymn has, thus, a strong connection with the Cross and is fittingly sung at Vespers from Passion Sunday to Holy Thursday and on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The hymn was also formerly sung on Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament is taken from the repository to the altar.

Abroad the royal banners fly,
The mystic Cross refulgent glows:
Where He, in Flesh, flesh who made,
Upon the Tree of pain is laid.

Behold! The nails with anguish fierce,
His outstretched arms and vitals pierce:
Here our redemption to obtain,
The Mighty Sacrifice is slain.

Here the fell spear his wounded side
With ruthless onset opened wide:
To wash us in that cleansing flood,
Thence mingled Water flowed, and Blood.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song, of old:
Unto the nations, lo! saith he,
Our God hath reignèd from the Tree.

O Tree! In radiant beauty bright!
With regal purple meetly dight!
Thou chosen stem! divinely graced,
Which hath those Holy Limbs embraced!

How blest thine arms, beyond compare,
Which Earth’s Eternal Ransom bare!
That Balance where His Body laid,
The spoil of vanquished Hell outweighed.

Fragrant aromatics are thrown,
sweetest nectar is sown,
Dearest fruit of tree!
Be my noble victory!

Hail wondrous Altar! Victim hail!
Thy Glorious Passion shall avail!
Where death Life’s very Self endured,
Yet life by that same Death secured.

O Cross! all hail! sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passion-tide:
New grace in pious hearts implant,
And pardon to the guilty grant!

Thee, mighty Trinity! One God!
Let every living creature laud;
Whom by the Cross Thou dost deliver,
O guide and govern now and ever! Amen.

Translation from “The Psalter of Sarum”: London 1852.

Love,
Matthew

Good Friday – “Popule meus, quid feci tibi?”, “My people, what have I done to you?”

jeffrey-tucker

-by Jeffrey Tucker, a convert from Southern Baptist to Roman Catholicism.

“It is puzzling what happened to the Reproaches on Good Friday, an essential part of the Roman Rite for ages, but all-but-vanished today. At least since the 9th century, they had been sung during the veneration of the cross: “My people, what have I done to you?” Or in Latin: “Popule meus, quid feci tibi?”

My copy of the missallete, which is the template that most choirs use to sing on Good Friday, contains no mention of the Reproaches at all. We instead are instructed to sing a song written in 1976 (with a chorus that sounds a bit like the theme to Gilligan’s Island) or to sing “other appropriate songs.”

The GIRM contains no instructions on the matter, but I’ve yet to discover evidence that the Reproaches have been abolished or are even optional.

The Reproaches are still in the Graduale Romanum. Many things appear in this book that are rarely used so perhaps that is understandable. However, the Reproaches are also printed larger than life in the Sacramentary itself, taking up three full pages with music. So let no one say that it was the 1970 Missal that caused them to disappear.

I gather that most celebrants skip over these pages since the music is for the choir to sing, not the priest. In some ways, it is a puzzle as to why they appear in the Sacramentary at all since this book doesn’t print other chants that are exclusive to the choir, such as the Offertory proper at every Mass.

But, as I say, there is no mention of their existence in my missalette at all. And let’s face it: if it is not in this fly-away book, it will not happen. That’s how much influence these publications wield. These private companies can wipe out whole swaths of the Roman Rite just by declining to print things. After 10 or 20 years, no one remembers that it was ever sung.

It seems Orwellian in some way, but I actually think it is a reflection of the chaotic system of: 1) endless numbers of choices over what to do at liturgy, 2) the lack of rubrical specificity in the ordinary form, 3) the way the parts of the Mass are sprawled out over so many books, 4) the remarkable and pervasive ignorance concerning the role of the choir at Mass, and 5) the way that the Missalettes are targeted for use by the people and tend to be inattentive to the parts that belong exclusively to either the celebrant or the choir.

In this thicket, some things gets lost.

The Reproaches are an important part of Good Friday because they highlight the essential injustice of the Crucifixion, the culpability of humanity in this action, and the role of sin in those times and our times in bringing this about. We are given remarkable gifts by God, and the signs are all around us, and yet we do not show gratitude. Rather, we turn our backs on God and deny God due reverence in our lives and in our worship.

The narrative of the Reproaches is presented as a historical epic but it is impossible to hear them and not think of the universal ethical and theological implications. When we leave them out, we are refusing to let the Christ of all history speak to us, saying perhaps what we do not want to hear but we must hear.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 15 – Improperia (The Reproaches), Our Lady of Sorrows

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: “This Child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
-Luke 2:34-35

And with “Woman behold your son.”  And, “Son, behold your Mother.”  cf Jn 19:26-27, Mary became our mother, and the mother of the Church.

Good Friday is a day of mourning, remembering Christ’s death, and so is not typically a day of songs and hymns. During the Veneration of the Cross, the following Antiphon and verses known as “The Reproaches” (Improperia) are sung. Individual parts are indicated by no. 1 (first choir) and no. 2 (second choir); parts sung by both choirs together are indicated by nos. 1 and 2.

The Reproaches (Improperia)

Antiphon 1 and 2:
We worship You, Lord,
we venerate Your cross,
we praise Your resurrection.
1: Through the cross
You brought joy to the world.
1: (Psalm 66:2)
May God be gracious and bless us;
and let His face shed its light upon us.

Repeat Antiphon by 1 and 2:

The Reproaches:

I.

1 and 2: My people, what have I done to you
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you out of Egypt,
from slavery to freedom,
but you led your Savior to the cross.

2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!
1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

1 and 2: For forty years I led you
safely through the desert.
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.

1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

1 and 2: What more could I have done for you.
I planted you as my fairest vine,
but you yielded only bitterness:
when I was thirsty you gave Me vinegar to drink,
and you pierced your Savior with a lance.

1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

II.

1: For your sake I scourged your captors
and their firstborn sons,
but you brought your scourges down on me.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you from slavery to freedom
and drowned your captors in the sea,
but you handed me over to your high priests.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I opened the sea before you,
but you opened my side with a spear.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud,
but you led me to Pilate’s court.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I bore you up with manna in the desert,
but you struck me down and scourged me.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I gave you saving water from the rock,
but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: For you I struck down the kings of Canaan.
but you struck my head with a reed.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I gave you a royal scepter,
but you gave me a crown of thorns.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

Love,
Matthew

Apr 16 – St Benedict-Joseph Labre, TOSF, (1743-1783), Beggar of Perpetual Adoration, Patron of the Homeless

BJL-TOSF copy

St Benedict Joseph Labre, TOSF

-tomb of Benedict-Joseph Labre

-from SAINTS FOR SINNERS by Alban Goodier, SJ – Fr. Alban Goodier, SJ, (1869–1939) was a Jesuit author who served for a time as Archbishop of Bombay, India.

“There is no condition of life which the grace of God has not sanctified; this is the first reflection that must rise in the mind of anyone who studies the history of Benedict Joseph Labre. He died a beggar in Rome in 1783. Within a year of his death his reputation for sanctity had spread, it would seem, throughout Europe. The man and his reputed miracles were being discussed in London papers before the end of 1784. During that year the first authentic life of him appeared, from the pen of his confessor; it was written, as the author expressly states in the preface, because so many tales were being told about him. In 1785 an abridged translation was published in London; surely a remarkable witness, when we consider the place and the times—it was only five years after the Gordon riots—to the interest his name had aroused. We wonder in our own day at the rapidity with which the name of St. Therese of Lisieux has spread over the Christian world; though St. Benedict’s actual canonization has taken a longer time, nevertheless his cultus spread more quickly, and that in spite of the revolutionary troubles of those days, and the difficulties of communication. Rousseau and Voltaire had died five years before; ten years later came the execution of Louis XVI, and the massacres of the French Revolution were at their height. In studying the life of Benedict Joseph Labre these dates cannot be without their significance.

Benedict from the beginning of his days was nothing if not original. His originality consisted mainly in this, that he saw more in life than others saw, and what he saw made him long to sit apart from it; it gave him a disgust, even to sickness, for things with which ordinary men seem to be contented. Other men wanted money, and the things that money could buy; Benedict never had any use for either. Other men willingly became the slaves of fashion and convention; Benedict reacted against it all, preferring at any cost to be free. He preferred to live his life untrammeled, to tramp about the world where he would—what was it made for but to trample on?—to go up and down, a pure soul of nature, without any artificial garnish, just being what God made him, and taking every day what God gave him, in the end giving back to God that same being, perfect, unhampered, untainted.

But it was not all at once that Benedict discovered his vocation; on the contrary, before he reached it he had a long way to go, making many attempts and meeting with many failures. He was born not far from Boulogne, the eldest of a family of fifteen children, and hence belonged to a household whose members had perforce to look very much after themselves. From the first, if you had met him, you would have said he was different from others of his class. The portrait drawn of him by his two chief biographers seems to set before us one of those quiet, meditative youths, not easy to fathom, unable to express themselves, easily misunderstood, who seem to stand aside from life, looking on instead of taking their part in it; one of those with whom you would wish to be friends yet cannot become intimate; cheerful always (the biographers are emphatic about this), yet with a touch of melancholy; whom women notice, yet do not venture too near; a puzzle to most who meet them, yet instinctively revered; by some voted “deep” and not trusted, while others, almost without reflecting on it, know that they can trust them with their very inmost souls.

Benedict had good parents, living in a comfortable state of life; their great ambition was that from their many children one at least should become a priest. Benedict, being the quiet boy he was, soon became the one on whom their hopes settled; and they spared no pains to have him educated to that end. He chanced to have an uncle, a parish priest, living some distance from his family home; this uncle gladly received him, and undertook his early education for the priesthood. Here for a time Benedict settled down, learning Latin and studying Scripture. He was happy enough, though his originality of mind dragged against him. His Latin was a bore, and he did not make much of it, but the Scriptures he loved. On the other hand, the poor in the lanes had a strange attraction for him; they were pure nature, without much of the convention that he so disliked; and he was often with them, and regularly emptied his pockets among them. Besides, he had a way of wandering off to the queerest places, mixing with the queerest people, ending up with long meditations in his uncle’s church before the Blessed Sacrament.

But in spite of these long meditations, Benedict’s uncle was by no means sure that with a character such as his, and with his wandering propensity, he would end as a priest. Meanwhile the thought came to Benedict himself that he would be a Trappist; the originality of their life, with its ideals the exact contrary to those of ordinary convention, seemed to him exactly like his own. He applied to his uncle; his uncle put him off by referring him to his parents; his parents would have none of it, and told him he must wait till he grew older. At the time of this first attempt Benedict was about sixteen years of age.

He remained some two years longer with his priest-uncle, who continued to have his doubts about him. While he was still trying to make up his mind, when Benedict was about eighteen, an epidemic fell upon the city, and uncle and nephew busied themselves in the service of the sick.

The division of labor was striking; while the uncle, as became a priest, took care of the souls and bodies of the people, Benedict went to and fro caring for the cattle. He cleaned their stalls and fed them; the chronicler tells the story as if, in spite of the epidemic, which had no fears for him, Benedict were by no means loth to exchange this life of a farm laborer for that of a student under his uncle’s roof.

But a still greater change was pending. Among the last victims of the epidemic was the uncle himself, and his death left Benedict without a home. But this did not seem to trouble him; Benedict was one of those who seldom show trouble about anything. He had already developed that peculiar craving to do without whatever he could, and now that Providence had deprived him of a home he began to think that he might do without that as well. But what was he to do? How was he to live? At first he had thought that his natural aloofness from the ordinary ways of men meant that he should be a monk. His family had put him off, but why should he not try again? He was older now, arrived at an age when young men ordinarily decide their vocations; this time, he said to himself, he would not be so easily prevented.

Benedict returned to his family with his mind made up. He loved his parents—we have later abundant evidence of that; natures like his have usually unfathomed depths of love within them which they cannot show. He would not go without their consent.

He asked, and again they refused; his mother first, and then all the rest of the household with her. But he held on in his resolution, till at length in despair they surrendered, and Benedict set off with a glad heart in the direction of La Trappe.

He arrived there only to be disappointed. The abbey at which he applied had suffered much of late from the admission of candidates whose constitutions were unfitted for the rigor of the life; in consequence the monks had passed a resolution to admit no more unless they were absolutely sound in body. Benedict did not come up to their requirements. He was under age, he was too delicate; he had no special recommendations. They would make no exception, especially so soon after the rule had been made. Benedict was sent away, and returned to his family, and all they said to him was: “We told you so.”

Still he would not surrender. For a time he went to live with another parish priest, a distant relative, that he might continue his studies, and above all perfect himself in Latin. But the craving to go away would not leave him. If the Trappists would not have him, perhaps the Carthusians would. At least he could try. Once more he told his parents of his wish, and again, more than ever, they opposed him. They showed him how his first

failure was a proof that he would fail again; how he was throwing away a certain future for a shadow; how those best able to judge were all against him, how with his exceptional education he might do so much good elsewhere. Still he would have his way, and one day, when he had won a consent from his parents that at least he might try, he went off to ask for admission among the Carthusians of Montreuil. But here again he met with the same response. The monks were very kind, as Carthusians always are; they showed him every mark of affection, but they told him as well that he had no vocation for them. He was still too young to take up such a life; he had not done so much as a year of philosophy; he knew nothing of plain chant; without these he could not be admitted among them.

Benedict went off, but this time he did not return straight home.

If one Carthusian monastery would not have him, perhaps another would. There was one at Longuenesse; he was told that there they were in need of subjects, and postulants were more easily admitted. He tramped off to Longuenesse and applied; to his joy the monks agreed to give him a trial. But the trial did not last long. Benedict did his best to reconcile himself to the life, but it was all in vain. Strange to say, the very confinement, the one thing he had longed for, wore him down. The solitude, instead of giving him the peace he sought, seemed only to fill him with darkness and despair. The monks grew uneasy; they feared for the brain of this odd young man they told him he had no vocation and he was dismissed.

Benedict came home again, but his resolution was in no way shaken. His mother, naturally more than ever convinced that she was right, left no stone unturned to win him from his foolish fancy. Friends and neighbors joined in; they blamed him for his obstinacy, they accused him of refusing to recognize the obvious will of God, they called him unsociable, uncharitable, selfish, unwilling to shoulder the burden of life like other young men of his class. Still, in spite of all they said, Benedict held on.

He could not defend himself; nevertheless he knew that he was right and that he was following a star which would lead him to his goal at last. Since the Carthusians had said that he could not be received among them because he knew no philosophy or plain chant, that a year’s course in these was essential, he found someone willing to teach him, and much as he disliked the study, he persevered for the year as he had been told. Then he applied once more at Montreuil. The conditions had been fulfilled, he was now older and his health had been better; he had proved his constancy by this test imposed upon him; though many of the monks shook their heads, still they could see that this persistent youth would never be content till he had been given another trial, and they received him.

But the result was again the same. He struggled bravely on with the life, but he began to shrink to a shadow. The rule enjoined quiet in his cell, and he could not keep still. After six weeks of trial the monks had to tell him that he was not designed for them, and asked him to go. He went, but this time not home; he made up his mind never to go home any more. He would try the Trappists again or some other confined Order; perhaps he would have to go from monastery to monastery till at last he found peace, but he would persevere. At any rate he would no longer trouble, or be a burden to, his parents or his family. On the road, after he had been dismissed from Montreuil, he wrote a letter to his parents; it is proof enough that with all his strange ways he had a very wide place in his heart for those he dearly loved.

“My dear Father and Mother,

“This is to tell you that the Carthusians have judged me not a proper person for their state of life, and I quitted their house on the second day of October.—I now intend to go to La Trappe, the place which I have so long and so earnestly desired. I beg your pardon for all my acts of disobedience, and for all the uneasiness which I have at any time caused you.—By the grace of God I shall henceforth put you to no further expense, nor shall I give you any more trouble.—I assure you that you are now rid of me. I have indeed cost you much; but be assured that, by the grace of God, I will make the best use of, and reap benefits from, all that you have done for me.—Give me your blessing, and I will never again be a cause of trouble to you.—I very much hope to be received at La Trappe; but if I should fail there, I am told that at the Abbey of Sept Fonts they are less severe, and will receive candidates like me. But I think I shall be received at La Trappe.”

With hopes such as these he came to La Trappe and again was disappointed; the good monks declined even to reconsider his case. But he went on to Sept Fonts, as he had said he would in his letter, and there was accepted; for the third time he settled down to test his vocation as a monk. The trial lasted only eight months. He seems to have been happier here than anywhere before, yet in another sense he was far from happy. This youth with a passion for giving up everything, found that even in a Trappist monastery he could not give up enough. He craved to be yet more poor than a Trappist, he craved to be yet more starving; and what with his longing to give away more, and his efforts to be the poorest of the poor, he began to shrink to a mere skeleton, as he had done before at Montreuil. Added to this he fell ill, and was disabled for two months. Once more the community grew anxious; it was only too clear that he would never do for them. As soon as he was well enough to take the road he was told that he must go, that the strict life of the Trappist was too much for him and with a “God’s will be done” on his lips, and some letters of recommendation in his pocket, Benedict again passed out of the monastery door, into a world that hurt him.

Nevertheless in those few months he had begun at last to discover his true vocation. Though the longing for the monastic life did not entirely leave him, still he was beginning to see that there was now little hope of his being able to embrace it in the ordinary way. He was unlike other men; he must take the consequences and he would. He could not be a monk like others, then he would be one after his own manner. He could not live in the confinement of a monastery; then the whole world should be his cloister. There he would live, a lonely life with God, the loneliest of lonely men, the outcast of outcasts, the most pitied of all pitiful creatures, “a worm and no man, the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people.” He would be a tramp, God’s own poor man, depending on whatever men gave him from day to day, a pilgrim to heaven for the remainder of his life. He was twenty-five years of age.

He set off on his journey, with Rome as his first objective, a long cloak covering him, tied with a rope round the waist, a cross on his breast, a large pair of beads round his neck; his feet were partly covered with substitutes for shoes, carefully prepared, one might have thought, to let in water and stones. In this dress he braved every kind of weather, rain and snow, heat and the bitterest cold; he faced and endured it all without ever wincing or asking for a change. Over his shoulder he carried an old sack in which were all his belongings; chief among these were a bible and prayerbook. He ate whatever men gave him; if they gave him nothing he looked to see what he could find on the roadside. He refused to take thought for the morrow, if at any time he had more than sufficed for the day, he invariably gave it to another.

Moreover, as a result of his poverty, Benedict soon ceased to be clean; the smell of Benedict was not always pleasant; even his confessor, who wrote his life, tells us very frankly that when Benedict came to confession he had to protect himself from vermin. Men of taste, even those who later came to look on him as a saint, could scarcely refrain from drawing aside when he came near them; and when they did, then was Benedict’s heart full of joy. He had found what he wanted, his garden enclosed, his cloister that shut him off in the middle of the world; and the more he was spurned and ignored, the more did he lift up his eyes to God in thanksgiving.

With this light dawning on his soul, soon to grow into full noon, Benedict set out on his travels. He had gone through a long noviceship, living as it were between two worlds, one of which he would not have, while the other had repeatedly closed its doors to him; now at last his life proper had begun. We can discover his final decision in a letter he wrote to his parents from Piedmont, when he had now left France, and was half-way on his journey to Rome. It is a letter full of soul and warmth; it teems with sympathy and interest for others; there is not a word which implies bitterness or disappointment; the man who wrote it was a happy man, in no way disgruntled; evidently his only fear is that he may give pain to those he loved.

“My dear Father and Mother, “You have heard that I have left the Abbey of Sept Fonts, and no doubt you are uneasy and desirous to know what route I have taken, and what kind of life I intend to adopt.—I must therefore acquaint you that I left Sept Fonts in July; I had a fever soon after I left, which lasted four days, and I am now on my way to Rome.—I have not traveled very fast since I left, on account of the excessive hot weather which there always is in the month of August in Piedmont, where I now am, and where, on account of a little complaint, I have been detained for three weeks in a hospital where I was kindly treated. In other respects I have been very well. There are in Italy many monasteries where the religious live very regular and austere lives, I design to enter into one of them, and I hope that God will prosper my design.—Do not make yourselves uneasy on my account. I will not fail to write to you from time to time. And I shall be glad to hear of you, and of my brothers and sisters; but this is not possible at present, because I am not yet settled in any fixed place; I will not fail to pray for you every day. I beg that you will pardon me for all the uneasiness that I have given you; and that you will give me your blessing, that God may favor my design.—I am very happy in having undertaken my present journey. I beg you will give my compliments to my grandmother, my grandfather, my aunts, my brother James and all my brothers and sisters, and my uncle Francis. I am going into a country which is a good one for travelers. I am obliged to pay the postage of this to France. “Again I ask your blessing, and your pardon for all the uneasiness I have given you, and I subscribe myself, “Your most affectionate son, Benedict Joseph Labre. “Roziers in Piedmont, Aug. 31, 1770.”

This was the last letter he appears to have written to his family.

He had promised to write again; if he wrote, the letter has perished. Indeed from this moment they seem to have lost sight of him altogether; the next they heard of him was fourteen years later, when his name was being blazoned all over Europe as that of a saint whose death had stirred all Rome. And he never heard from them. He had told them he could give them no address, because he had no fixed abode; from this time forward he never had one, except during the last years in Rome, and that for the most part was in a place where the post could scarcely have found him, as we shall see.

Except to give an idea of the nature and extent of his wanderings during the next six or seven years, it is needless to recall all the pilgrimages he made. They led him over mountains and through forests, into large cities and country villages, he slept under the open sky, or in whatever sheltered corner he could find, accepting in alms what sufficed for the day and no more, clothed with what men chose to give him, or rather with what they could induce him to accept; alone with God everywhere and wanting no one else. During this first journey he called on his way at Loreto and Assisi. Arrived in Rome, footsore and ill, he was admitted for three days into the French hospital; then for eight or nine months he lingered in the city, visiting all the holy places, known to no one, sleeping no one knows where. In September of the next year we find him again at Loreto; during the remaining months of that year, and through the winter, he seems to have visited all the sacred shrines in the kingdom of Naples. He was still there in February, 1772, after which he returned to Rome. In June he was again at Loreto, thence he set out on his tour to all the famous shrines of Europe. In 1773 he was tramping through Tuscany; in 1774, after another visit to Rome, he was in Burgundy; during the winter of that year he went to Einsiedeln in Switzerland, choosing the coldest season of the year for this visit to the mountain shrine. 1775, being the Jubilee year, he again spent in Rome; in 1776 he was making pilgrimages to the chief places of devotion in Germany. At the end of that year he settled down definitely in Rome, going away henceforth only on special pilgrimages, most of all to his favorite Loreto, which he did not fail to visit every year.

Naturally enough stories are recalled of the behavior of this peculiar man on his journeys. He seems never to have had in his possession more than ten sous, or five pence, at a time; when charitable people offered him more than sufficed for the day he invariably refused it. At Loreto, where he came to be known perhaps more than anywhere else, at first he lodged in a barn at some distance from the town; when compassionate friends found a room for him closer to the shrine, he refused it because he found it contained a bed. In Rome, as we have already hinted, his home for years was a hole he had discovered among the ruins of the Coliseum; from this retreat he made daily excursions to the various churches of the city. Except when he was ill he seldom begged; he was content with whatever the passersby might give him of their own accord. Once a man, seeing him in his poverty, gave him a penny. Benedict thanked him, but finding it more than he needed, passed it on to another poor man close by. The donor, mistaking this for an act of contempt, supposing that Benedict had expected more, took his stick and gave him a beating Benedict took the beating without a word. We have this on the evidence of the man himself, recorded in the inquiry after Benedict’s death; it must be one instance of many of its kind.

But for the rest Benedict’s life was one of continued prayer; he was a Trappist in a monastery of his own making. So far as he was able he kept perpetual silence, those who knew him afterwards related that he seemed to go whole months together without allowing his voice to be heard. He lived in retirement and solitude, he would accept no friend or companion; he would have only God, a few who had come to notice him, and who helped him when he would allow them, were invariably treated as patrons and benefactors, but no more. When a convent of nuns, at which occasionally he applied, had observed him and began to show him more interest and respect, Benedict discovered their esteem and never went near them again. All his possessions were a few books of devotion and a wooden bowl; the latter had split, and he had kept it together with a piece of wire. He fasted and abstained continually, sometimes perforce, sometimes by chance by constantly kneeling on the hard ground, or the stone floors of the churches, he developed sores on both knees. He deliberately tried to be despised and shunned, and when men could not refrain from showing contempt in their manner, then would Benedict’s face light up with real joy. Let his confessor, who wrote his life a year after his death, describe his first meeting with him: “In the month of June, 1782, just after I had celebrated mass in the church of St. Ignatius belonging to the Roman College, I noticed a man close beside me whose appearance at first sight was decidedly unpleasant and forbidding. His legs were only partially covered, his clothes were tied round his waist with an old cord. His hair was uncombed, he was ill-clad, and wrapped about in an old and ragged coat. In his outward appearance he seemed to be the most miserable beggar I had ever seen. Such was the spectacle of Benedict the first time I beheld him.”

For what remains of Benedict’s story we cannot do better than follow the guidance of this director. After the priest had finished his thanksgiving, on the occasion just mentioned, Benedict approached him and asked him to appoint a time when he would hear his general confession. The time and place were arranged.

During the confession the priest was surprised, not only at the care with which it was made, but also at the knowledge his penitent showed of intricate points of theology. He concluded that, beggar though he was then, he had evidently seen better days; indeed he felt sure that he had once been a clerical student. He therefore interrupted the confession to ask whether he had ever studied divinity. “I, Father?” said Benedict. “No, I never studied divinity. I am only a poor ignorant beggar.”

The confessor at once recognized that he was dealing with something unusual. He resolved to do for him all he could, and for the future to keep him carefully in mind.

As it has so often been in God’s dealings with hidden saints whom He has willed that men should come at last to know, that apparently chance meeting was the means by which the memory of Benedict was saved. It took place in June, 1782; in April of the following year Benedict died. During those ten months the priest to whom he addressed himself had ample opportunity to watch him. As the weeks passed by he grew in wonder at the sanctity that lay beneath rags; and yet he tells us that, not a little fastidiously clean as he seems to have been himself, it never so much as occurred to him to bid Benedict mend his ways. To hear his confession cost him an effort, yet he never thought twice about making that effort; only at times, for the sake of others, the appointed place was out of the way.

He saw him last on the Friday before Holy Week, 1783, when Benedict came to make his confession as usual. He remarks that though always before Benedict had fixed the day when he would come again, this time he made no appointment. The next the priest heard of him was that he was dead, exactly a week later.

But he was not surprised. For some months before, when once he had come to know Benedict and his way of life, he had wondered how he lived. Apart from his austerities, and his invariable choice of food that was least palatable, of late his body had begun to develop sores and ulcers. The priest had spoken to him on this last point, and had exhorted him at least to take more care of his sores, but Benedict had taken little notice. On his side, as the confessor could not but notice, and as is common with saints as death draws nearer, the love of God that was in him left him no desire to live any longer.

It came to Wednesday in Holy Week. Among the churches which Benedict frequented none saw him more than S. Maria dei Monti, not very far from the Coliseum. In this church he usually heard mass every morning; in the neighborhood he was well known. On this day he had attended the morning services; as he went out of the door, about one in the afternoon, he was seen to fall on the steps. Neighbors ran towards him. He asked for a glass of water, but he could not lift himself up. A local butcher, who had often been kind to Benedict, offered to have him carried to his house, and Benedict agreed. They laid him on a bed, as they thought, to rest; but it soon became clear that he was dying. A priest was sent for, the Last Sacraments were administered; but Benedict was too weak to receive Viaticum. The prayers for the dying were said; at the words: “Holy Mary, pray for him,” Benedict died, without a sigh or a convulsion. It was the 16th of April, 1783: Benedict was thirty-five years of age.

And now some remarkable things happened. His confessor and first biographer writes: “Scarcely had this poor follower of Christ breathed his last when all at once the little children from the houses hard by filled the whole street with their noise, crying out with one accord: ‘The Saint is dead, the Saint is dead.’—But presently after they were not only young children who published the sanctity of Benedict; all Rome soon joined in their cries, repeating the self-same words: ‘A Saint is dead.’ . . . Great numbers of persons who have been eminent for their holiness, and famous for their miracles, have ended the days of their mortal life in this city; but the death of none of them ever excited so rapid and lively an emotion in the midst of the people as the death of this poor beggar. This stirred a kind of universal commotion; for in the streets scarcely anything could be heard but these few words: ‘There is a saint dead in Rome. Where is the house in which he has died?”‘

Nor does this description seem to have been exaggerated. Not only was it written within a year of the event, so that anyone could bear witness to its truth; but we know that scarcely was Benedict dead before two churches were contending for the privilege of possessing his body. At length it was decided that it should be given to S. Maria dei Monti, which he had most frequented; and thither, on the Wednesday night, it was carried.

So great was the crowd that the guard of police had to be doubled; a line of soldiers accompanied the body to the church; more honor could scarcely have been paid to a royal corpse.

From the moment that it was laid there the church was thronged with mourners; the next day, Maundy Thursday, and again throughout Good Friday, it almost lay in state during all the Holy Week services. The throng all the time went on increasing, so that the Cardinal Vicar was moved to allow the body to remain unburied for four days. People of every rank and condition gathered there; at the feet of Benedict the Beggar all were made one. They buried him in the church, close beside the altar, on Easter Sunday afternoon; when the body was placed in the coffin it was remarked that it was soft and flexible, as of one who had but just been dead.

But the enthusiasm did not end with the funeral. Crowds continued to flock to the church, soldiers were called out to keep order. At length the expedient was tried of closing the church altogether for some days. It was of no avail; as soon as the church was reopened the crowds came again, and continued coming for two months. Nothing like it had been seen before, even in Rome; if ever anyone was declared a saint by popular acclamation it was Benedict Joseph Labre, the beggar. Then the news spread abroad. Within a year the name of Benedict was known all over Europe. Lives of him began to appear, legends began to grow, miracles, true and false, were reported from all sides; it was to secure an authentic story, among many inventions, that his confessor was called upon to write the Life that we know.

Let us add one touching note. All this time the father and mother, brothers and sisters of Benedict were living in their home near Boulogne. For more than twelve years they had heard nothing of him; they had long since presumed that he was dead.

Now, through these rumors, it dawned upon them very gradually that the saint of whom all the world was speaking was their son! “My son was dead, and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found.”

Labre’s confessor, Marconi, wrote his biography and attributed 136 separate cures to his intercession within three months of his death. Those miracles were instrumental in the conversion of the Reverend John Thayer, the first American Protestant clergyman to convert to Catholicism, who was resident in Rome at the time of St. Benedict’s death.

Pope Francis blesses 'Jesus the Homeless' sculpture during general audience in November

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Love,
Matthew