Category Archives: Liturgy

Extemporaneous Prayer & The Joy of Ritual

Ritual, contrary to naive impressions, is not oppressive.  It is freeing.  Praying the rosary, responding at Mass, I used to know the words, and I liked them more.  The current language, more literal to the Latin, as if that were good translation technique, or, why not just put it back in Latin instead of bastardize it? Beautiful North American English, or beautiful Ecclesial Latin, pick one! The pomp and bluster we have now IS oppressive.  I can barely stand to listen.  The simplicity of the original English translations were moving and beautiful.  I knew it by heart, and as a technologist whose world was constantly changing and in motion, it was the one weekly constant I deeply counted on.  It steadied me.

Ritual, for those versed in its blessings, is not oppressive.  It frees one, one’s mind, one’s tongue, one’s body, one’s prayerful soul from having to fret, “OK!!!  Now what do we do next?  How do we top that one!  How do we continue to escalate this never ending spiritual arms race!”, as if breathtaking or moving were the ultimate or only good measures of devotion.

I find extemporaneous prayer exceedingly well intentioned and heartfelt, but perhaps not as brilliant or as articulate as could be hoped for.  Sigh.  I know.  Sigh.  But, fear not!!!  Ritual comes to the rescue when we know not what to say!!!  Are too mad to say it, or can only say it poorly, either when emotion is too painful or nonexistent, or the person leading is not the best.  Either way, on any end, ritual saves the day!!!  Let’s hear it for ritual!!!!  Ancient quality control & ego saver!!!  🙂  My parents, when visiting Paris & Rome, could still participate in Mass said in Latin.  They always appreciated that, and mentioned it to their children.

Missa_tridentina_002

-by Michael, blogger @WhiskeyCatholic, a Pittsburgh attorney with a lovely wife and newborn daughter.

“Perhaps more than any other religion, Catholicism is a belief system based on informed ritual. This is particularly prevalent with younger Catholics, many of whom have a desire to rediscover the rituals that have been lost in the past 100 years. While others deride these rituals as “antiquated” or “relics of a more ignorant age,” the Catholic Gentleman seeks to understand the importance of ritual and helps recapture its former beauty and grace.

Ritual is an action or actions, performed in a prescribed order, which give greater reverence to worship. Some rituals, such as kneeling at communion rails, reverencing a bishop’s ring, or wearing mantillas, have generally fallen into disuse in the United States while others, such as genuflecting, making the sign of the cross, and lighting candles to remember the dead are still strong in today’s Catholic culture.

Not all rituals are created equal. Some rituals, like Lebron James’ chalk throw before every game are designed to excite a crowd, and others, like the rally-cap in baseball, are just plain silly. The Catholic Church’s rituals, evolving over a period of two thousand years, are designed to augment and improve worship. Some simply add to the atmosphere of reverence, while others are a form of worship in and of themselves. The Catholic Gentleman should gravitate to those rituals which aid in creating a certain sense of gravity, reverence, and wonderment befitting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Sacrifice of the Mass, it might be said, is the ultimate ritual. In the Mass, the words of Christ are recited as He gave them to the apostles in order to replicate the perfect prayer of the Last Supper. A loving God instructs His people how to worship and please Him, and Christ instructed His Church not on the basis of abstract principles but on the concrete example of the first Mass. We have been saved, in a manner of speaking, through a divine ritual.

Ritual often gives the laity an opportunity to participate in an authentic way in worship. Ritual gives the Catholic Gentleman an opportunity to self-express reverence for the divine while uniting him with the larger Sacrifice. For example, a simple genuflection is an authentic participation because it expresses reverence for the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle while uniting the Catholic to the sacrifice on the altar.

The laity can also seek out ritual as a common cultural thread through time and space. There is something inherently unifying in the fact that a Mass said in South Carolina is conducted through the identical rituals of a Mass said in Tokyo. Similarly, there is something unquestionably comforting in knowing that the rosary we pray today is nearly identical to the rosary prayed by our ancestors in faith nearly one thousand years ago. Ritual forms a common culture which connects Catholics from all parts of the world and gives identity to successive generations of Catholics throughout the history of the Church. In a single instant the ritual allows us to draw a cultural connection to fellow believers separated by time or space.

Ritual is also part of what makes Catholicism unique. Whereas others might decry ritual as nothing more than an attempt to muddle a clear understanding of the divine, the Catholic Gentleman knows that ritual informs Catholics of the divine; it is an acknowledgement that something spectacular and extraordinary is taking place.

Of course, ritual is dead and meaningless if it is not an expression of love for Christ. Love is the essence of what drives and perfects rituals. Love is the very thing that gives them reason for existing in the first place. The root of all Catholic ritual should be the authentic love of Christ. The Catholic Gentleman embraces the opportunity ritual provides to show Christ reverence and in doing so provides an example to others.”

Love,
Matthew

Nov 2 – All Souls, Dies Irae

THAT day of wrath, that dreadful day,
shall heaven and earth in ashes lay,
as David and the Sybil say.

What horror must invade the mind
when the approaching Judge shall find
and sift the deeds of all mankind!

The mighty trumpet’s wondrous tone
shall rend each tomb’s sepulchral stone
and summon all before the Throne.

Now death and nature with surprise
behold the trembling sinners rise
to meet the Judge’s searching eyes.

Then shall with universal dread
the Book of Consciences be read
to judge the lives of all the dead.

For now before the Judge severe
all hidden things must plain appear;
no crime can pass unpunished here.

O what shall I, so guilty plead?
and who for me will intercede?
when even Saints shall comfort need?

O King of dreadful majesty!
grace and mercy You grant free;
as Fount of Kindness, save me!

Recall, dear Jesus, for my sake
you did our suffering nature take
then do not now my soul forsake!

In weariness You sought for me,
and suffering upon the tree!
let not in vain such labor be.

O Judge of justice, hear, I pray,
for pity take my sins away
before the dreadful reckoning day.

Your gracious face, O Lord, I seek;
deep shame and grief are on my cheek;
in sighs and tears my sorrows speak.

You Who did Mary’s guilt unbind,
and mercy for the robber find,
have filled with hope my anxious mind.

How worthless are my prayers I know,
yet, Lord forbid that I should go
into the fires of endless woe.

Divorced from the accursed band,
o make me with Your sheep to stand,
as child of grace, at Your right Hand.

When the doomed can no more flee
from the fires of misery
with the chosen call me.

Before You, humbled, Lord, I lie,
my heart like ashes, crushed and dry,
assist me when I die.

Full of tears and full of dread
is that day that wakes the dead,
calling all, with solemn blast
to be judged for all their past.

Lord, have mercy, Jesus blest,
grant them all Your Light and Rest. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

The Octave of Easter – Victimae Paschali Laudes

The first eight days of the Easter season form the Easter octave and are celebrated as solemnities of the Lord. Each day is another little Easter.  While Alleluias (=Hallal Yahweh/Praise the Lord!) were nowhere to be found in Lent, now they resound in multitude.

Victimae paschali laudes
immolent Christiani.

Agnus redemit oves:
Christus innocens Patri
reconciliavit peccatores.

Mors et vita duello
conflixere mirando:
dux vitae mortuus,
regnat vivus.

Dic nobis Maria,
quid vidisti in via?

Sepulcrum Christi viventis,
et gloriam vidi resurgentis:

Angelicos testes,
sudarium, et vestes.

Surrexit Christus spes mea:
praecedet suos [vos] in Galilaeam.

[Credendum est magis soli
Mariae veraci
Quam Judaeorum Turbae fallaci.]

Scimus Christum surrexisse
a mortuis vere:
tu nobis, victor Rex, miserere.
[Amen.] [Alleluia.]

Let Christians offer sacrificial
praises to the passover victim.

The Lamb has redeemed the sheep:
The Innocent Christ has reconciled
sinners to the Father.

Death and life contended
in a spectacular battle:
the Prince of Life, Who died,
reigns alive.

Tell us, Mary, what did
you see on the road?

“I saw the tomb of the living Christ
and the glory of His rising,

The angelic witnesses, the
clothes and the shroud.”

“Christ my hope is arisen;
into Galilee, He will go before His own.”

We know Christ is truly risen from the dead!
To us, victorious King, have mercy!
Amen. [Alleluia.]

Love,
Matthew

Holy Saturday – Silence, Fear, & Doubt

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of His glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

(Therefore, dearest friends,
standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,
invoke with me, I ask you,
the mercy of God almighty,
that He, Who has been pleased to number me,
though unworthy, among the Levites,
may pour into me His light unshadowed,
that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises).

(Deacon: The Lord be with you.
People: And with your spirit.)
Deacon: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Deacon: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right and just.

It is truly right and just,
with ardent love of mind and heart
and with devoted service of our voice,
to acclaim our God invisible, the Almighty Father,
and Jesus Christ, our Lord, His Son, His Only Begotten.

Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father,
and, pouring out His own dear Blood,
wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.

These, then, are the feasts of Passover,
in which is slain the Lamb, the One True Lamb,
Whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.

This is the night,
when once You led our forebears, Israel’s children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night,
that with a pillar of fire,
You banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night
that even now throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to His holy ones.

This is the night
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.

Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave You gave away Your Son!

O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

O happy fault
that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!

This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.

The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar,
a flame divided but undimmed,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honour,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.

O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.

Therefore, O Lord,
we pray You that this candle,
hallowed to the honor of Your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.
May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star Who never sets,
Christ Your Son,
Who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed His peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Holy Thursday – “If it’s a symbol, then the hell with it.” – Flannery O’Connor

Monstrance

I, exquisitely, as a life-long Catholic have the privilege, too, of struggling with the literality of the Lord’s words, “This IS my body.  This IS my blood.”  Imho, I don’t think Jesus meant these specific words to be a “no-brainer”.  I believe He wanted humanity to spend the rest of its existence intently contemplating them, more than anything else He ever said, the centrality of it is such.  Recall the Catholic definition of mystery, infinitely knowable.

One of the most important and soothing, palliative things a Catholic can receive just before death is viaticum in the last rites.  For as much critique as the Church may unjustly endure for not taking the Scriptures more literally, this she takes exquisitely literally.

-by Jennifer Fulwiler is a host on the Catholic Channel on SiriusXM, and the author of Something Other than God, a memoir about her journey from atheism to Catholicism. Her website is ConversionDiary.com.

“How could a reasonable person living in the 21st century actually believe that at the Catholic Mass, bread and wine are truly (like, not symbolically) changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ?

This was one of my biggest stumbling blocks when considering Catholicism. When I first heard that the Church still believes that the Mass makes Christ’s one sacrifice at Calvary present here and now, that on Holy Thursday the Lord made it possible that bread and wine could be turned into the flesh and blood of God himself, I prayerfully thought: “Are you kidding me?” I’d never heard a bolder, more audacious claim made by a modern religion.

There was a part of me that kept hoping I’d find that it was all a misunderstanding, that Catholics were only required to believe that the consecration of the Eucharist was a really, really, really important symbolic event. I was a lifelong atheist, after all. It was enough of a feat that I even came to believe in God in the first place. It was enough of a leap of faith for me to believe that some miracles might have happened a few times throughout history. But to ask a former militant atheist to believe that a miracle happens at every single Catholic Mass, that bread and wine are actually changed into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ despite the fact that they look exactly the same… it seemed too much to ask.

It is surprising, then, that when I consider how much my life has changed since my husband and I both became Catholic at Easter Vigil in 2007, I find that there is really only one thing to talk about: the Eucharist.

I could try to pen a great ode proclaiming my joy at having come to know God on a level I never imagined possible for someone like me. I could write about the challenges we’ve faced, and the oasis that our newfound faith provided for us when we felt cast out into the desert. I could talk about the freeing power of Confession. I could say something about how my life is unrecognizable from what it was a decade ago. But when I started to write on each of those topics, I realized that each one of them — everything, really — comes back to the Eucharist.

By the time I received my first Communion I had come to accept that the teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is true. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was willing to accept on faith that it was not false. I was undoubtedly being led to the Catholic Church, and found its defense of this teaching to be compelling, so I trusted that it was true in some mysterious way, even though I didn’t really get it. That was the best I could do, and I never expected to understand it any more than that.

Even as the years have rolled by, after receiving Communion week after week, I still don’t know how it works. I don’t often have a visceral reaction when I first see the consecrated host held above the altar, and don’t think I ever felt the Holy Spirit hit me like a ton of bricks the moment the consecrated host was placed on my tongue. Yet, despite the lack of immediate emotions, despite the fact that I can’t tell you exactly how it all works, I now believe with all my heart that it is true. I know that I eat the flesh and drink the blood of God at the Mass, and that it is the source of my strength.

I know it for the same reason a baby knows that its mother’s milk is the source of its nourishment: the baby can’t tell you how the milk is created by the release of prolactin and the cells in the alveoli. He can’t tell you about the importance of immunoglobulin IgA and fat-to-water ratios. He couldn’t even begin to understand how and why the milk nourishes him if you tried to explain it. He just knows how very much he needs it. He knows that the mysterious substance that his mother gives him is the source of his strength as much as he knows anything at all in his little life. And so it is with the Eucharist and me.

This belief in and love of the Eucharist is one of the most surprising things that’s ever happened to me. Never in my dreams would I have thought that I could believe such an outlandish claim. In the first months after my conversion, I would sometimes ask myself if this was all in my head, if perhaps I am eating bread and drinking wine at the Mass, but that its great symbolic value has led me to put myself in a different state of mind. And all I could come up with is this:

If this is a symbol, then I am insane.

It’s not a particularly eloquent defense of the Eucharist, but that’s about the best I can do. The way this Sacrament has slowly transformed my soul and given me a connection to God that I never knew before, the way I could easily move myself to tears at the thought of not being able to receive it, the strength I have drawn from having this direct communion with God – if these things are not real, then nothing is.

As I reflect back on my journey from atheism to Catholicism, the whole story of my life comes together in a very simple way: I realize now that my entire conversion process — really, my entire life — was one long search for the Eucharist.”

Love & Blessed Triduum,
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

The Virtues of Justice & Righteousness

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-by Br Joachim Kenney, OP

“The Gospel describes both justice and the interior dispositions that go even further in making one righteous. The cardinal virtue of justice, as St. Thomas Aquinas defines it, is the “habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will.”

From this, we can draw out two of the chief characteristics of justice. The first is that it is concerned with other persons. It’s about giving to one distinct from oneself what he or she deserves. Secondly, justice is objective. It is primarily about the thing that is owed. It is not about what the other wants to receive or what you want to give.

The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” regards justice, then, in its most proper form. It is a matter of showing due respect for the life God has given to the other man. Jesus gives other examples of unjust behavior to avoid. One owes respect not just to the life of the other but to his dignity as man as well, and so one ought not to disdain him by slandering or committing detraction against him. Christ goes even further than justice properly speaking (i.e., our outward actions) and addresses what can be called justice analogously. That is, He describes how to “be right” with oneself, and this is by overcoming one’s passions, such as anger.

If the Gospel passage talks about establishing a just relation with our brother, what about our relationship with God? We might be tempted to think that Lent is about merely establishing a just relationship between ourselves and Him. Perhaps, for example, we think of the penances we undertake simply as a way of “repaying” God for dying on the Cross for us. It does indeed fall within the scope of justice to offer prayers and sacrifices to God, since we owe all we have and even our very existence to Him. We can never really repay God fully, though, either for that existence or for the redemption He worked for us. So we can never have a truly just relationship with Him in that sense.

Lent is not about evening things out with God. Since our prayers and sacrifices add nothing to God’s greatness or happiness, they are not primarily for His benefit, but rather for our own. Lent helps us recognize what we owe God, but even beyond that it is about preparing for the celebration of Christ’s supreme act of charity in suffering His Passion and death for our salvation. The prayer and penances are a means to our growth in charity, which is achieved when obstacles between ourselves and God are removed.

As Jesus notes in the Gospel, one of those obstacles often is a lack of peace with our brother. For, “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20). This Lent, may the charity of the Just Man fill us with longing for the kingdom of heaven and inspire us to imitate Him.”

Love,
Matthew

Protestant Objections to Ash Wednesday

AshWednesday

-by Fred Noltie, author “The Accidental Catholic

“Some Protestants suggest that Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:17 are an unconditional prohibition of the use of ashes in association with fasting (and presumably that their use at the beginning of Lent is therefore unwarranted):

But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face. (Matthew 6:17)

For them it seems pretty clear that any use of ashes in association with fasting contradicts what Jesus says here and therefore constitutes disobedience to Him. This conclusion is unwarranted.

The quotation is taken from the Sermon on the Mount. Elsewhere in the same sermon the Lord Jesus says this:

So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 5:16]

Jesus says that one of the proper effects of our good works is to serve as a witness to others, so that they will come to glorify God as we do ourselves. This being the case it is likewise clear that to hide one’s good works at all times and in every case amounts to a direct contradiction of what He says here. We may reasonably conclude that our good works are good not just for our own souls but also for the souls of others.

The next thought to consider is whether fasting qualifies as a “good work.” I believe that this goes without saying. It is unquestionably a good work when done for the right reason: namely, as a sign of our penitence before God. I ask, then, whether there is any reason to suppose that fasting is a good work that we should let other men see? In light of Matthew 5:16 is it reasonable for others to see our penitence? Yes. There is good reason to suppose that fasting should at least sometimes be seen by others. Why? Because it is a sign of penitence, and it is absurd to suppose that men would always and only be harmed by seeing our penitence. Indeed, the fact of our repentance could very reasonably be understood by others as a reason that they too should be sorry before God for their own sins.

So fasting is a good work, and it is perfectly reasonable to hold that others may benefit from seeing us fast, and thereby come to glorify our Father who is in heaven (as Matthew 5:16 says). But fasting is something that isn’t immediately obvious. We can’t look at a man and thereby know that he is fasting. Hence the value of the sign of ashes, which are a visible sign of the inward realities of penitence and fasting. Contrary to being an evil thing, an external sign of penitence is a good thing precisely because it shows to other men that we are penitent—something that is a good work, and which therefore (in keeping with the Lord’s command in Matthew 5:16) we ought (at least sometimes) to let men see so that they too may glorify God with us.

What shall we say, then, about Matthew 6:17? Does this view of penitence as something that should at least occasionally be seen contradict what the Lord says there? No it does not. To see this we need only look at its context:

“Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven. Therefore when you do an alms-deed, sound not a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honoured by men. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does. That your alms may be in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But you when you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your father who sees in secret will repay you. … And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face; that you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father who is in secret: and your Father who sees in secret, will repay you.”                      –[Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18; emphasis added]

In context the Lord’s point is clear: when we do good, and when we give alms, and when we pray, and when we fast, our goal must not be to gain the approval of men, and we must not be hypocritical: that is, our good deeds, alms, prayers, and fasting must be genuine. In this light there is no conflict at all between the Lord’s prior command (in Matthew 5:16) to let men see our good works and these commands. We do good not for the sake of the praise of others and not as hypocrites but out of love for God, and in the hope that if men do see them, they will be moved to glorify God with us. So the point with regard to fasting (in Matthew 6:17) is not that ashes are simply out of bounds, but that we must be truly penitent.

The alternatives are ridiculous. It is absurd to think that public prayer is always hypocritical. It is absurd to think that hypocrisy is always present if a man makes known his penitence by means of ashes. Furthermore the Lord at least tacitly commends the use of ashes as a sign of penitence when He said this:

Woe to you, Corozain, woe to you, Bethsaida: for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes. [Matthew 11:21]

Jesus says here that sackcloth and ashes are signs of the genuine repentance that would have been found in Tyre and Sidon. Consequently it is clear that He considered the use of ashes as a sign of genuine penitence to be a good thing and not evil. So the use of ashes by Catholics on Ash Wednesday is not a violation of what the Lord says in Matthew 6:17 unless a particular Catholic or other is hypocritical in receiving them. If he is not genuinely penitent, or if he receives the ashes merely for the sake of being seen to receive them, then he would indeed be violating what the Lord has said.”

Love,
Matthew

Carry the fire…

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“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you…” 2 Tim 1:6


-by Br Michael Mary Weibley, OP

“‘You have to carry the fire.”

“I don’t know how to.”

“Yes you do.”

“Is it real? The fire?”

“Yes it is.”

“Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”

“Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.”

This conversation between a father and son in Cormac McCarthy’s (Pulitzer Prize winning) novel The Road reveals an essential truth about perseverance and survival: there has to be something within us that moves us onward, something beyond sheer willpower and effort. This conversation comes near the end of the story where the father and son have crossed an ash-covered post-apocalyptic world, in search of shelter, food, and security from the perils of darkened nature all around them, both of man and earth. The father’s dying words are meant to encourage his son who must continue down the road on his own, carrying only the fire.

Ash Wednesday issues in a rather darkened sentiment to the Lenten season. No other liturgical season focuses on penitential practices and the journey motif as much as Lent does. Drawing us back to the Israelites’ forty-year journey through the desert toward the Promised Land, Lent brings us down the road of our own journey to our own Promised Land. Cast into the world of ash, we are to travel our own road, facing the perils of our own selves—sin, ignorance, weakness—searching in hope and looking down the road for the Resurrection of the Lord.

Like the son in the story, we don’t always see the fire and what it does for us. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize how God is working in us and guiding our lives. Often times it is only when the wind kicks up and the ash is thrown in our face do we recognize whether we are carrying the fire or not. When suffering occurs in our lives, we are able to test whether we can move onward or whether we will stall languidly in the road. Suffering makes us stop in the road and forces us to look ahead. “Where is my God amidst this ashen world?” This is the question Ash Wednesday asks us.

God does not send us down any road without His grace. No matter whatever road He chooses for us, and no matter the turns we take, as long as we remain with Him we trust that His grace is with us. The fire is with us. Covered in ash, we set out during Lent to find God again, to turn toward Him more fully, and to open ourselves more perfectly to His work in our lives. None of this is accomplished by our own efforts, but He gives us the fire to carry it out along the way.

Looking down the road can be dark. We don’t always see the end or even the next step in front of us. That is why God gives us the fire to carry. When we hold it up we can see the road illumined in a new way. We can see Christ suffering. We can see His Passion. We can see His Cross. We can see all these things, and we can look through them and see at the end of the ash-covered road, the Resurrection of the Lord.”

Love,
Matthew

Feb 4 – St Catharine de Ricci, OSD(OP) & Lent approacheth…

Sr Mary of the Compassion, OP

Given the brutality we have witnessed of late on the news, I turned off the sound so Mara wouldn’t hear.  Her reading is not to a discomforting level yet for her parents.  I can’t help but feel human suffering is more palpable now, than perhaps I have felt before?  We NEED to pray!  I NEED to pray!  It gets me through the day.  It really does.  Lord, keep us ever mindful of Your Passion.  Ever Mindful.

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– by Br Irenaeus Dunleavy, OP

Today the Dominican Order celebrates the feast of St. Catherine de Ricci. She’s known for her mysticism and her devotion, as found in her Canticum de Passione Domini. The studentate has translated and recorded the chant for you.

Watch the video above, sung by the student brothers in Ireland, of the canticle of the Passion of Our Lord. It was revealed to Catherine immediately after her first great ecstasy of the Passion. Our Lady desired Catherine to spread it as a form of prayer and contemplation for the salvation of souls. Below is the text from the canticle which is traditionally chanted by Dominicans on Good Friday.

My friends and loved ones
draw near to me and stand aloof

I am shut up and I cannot come forth
mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction

and my sweat became
like drops of blood falling down on the ground

For dogs have compassed me
the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me

I gave my back to the smiters
and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair

I hid not my face from shame
and from those who spit on me

I am feeble and sore broken
I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart

The soldiers platted a crown of thorns
and put it on my head

They pierced my hands and my feet
I may tell all my bones

They gave me poison to eat
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink

All they that see me laugh me to scorn
they shoot out the lip, they shake the head

They look and stare upon me
they part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture

into your hands I command my spirit
redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

Remember your servant, O Lord.
when you come into your kingdom

Jesus cried with a loud voice
yielded up the ghost

The Mercy of the Lord
I will sing for ever

Surely he hath borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows

He was wounded for our transgressions
he was bruised for our iniquities

All we like sheep gave gone astray
we have turned every one to his own way

And the Lord hath laid on him
the iniquities of us all

Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?
arise, and do not cast us off for ever

Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?
arise, and do not cast us off for ever

Behold, God is my Savior
I will trust, and not be afraid

We ask you, come to help your servants
whom you have redeemed by your perilous blood.

V. Have mercy on us, O benign Jesus. R. Who in Thy clemency didst suffer for us.

Look down, we beseech Thee, O Lord, on this Thy family for which Our Lord Jesus Christ did not hesitate to be delivered into the hands of the wicked, and suffer the torments of the Cross. Amen.

The Canticum de Passione Domini consists of two-line verses from Scripture, both from the Old and New Testaments, which a solo cantor chants in Gregorian mode II (2) while kneeling before the crucifix. The solemn, sorrowful melody pulses like the heavy breathing of the dying Christ, and the silence between verses hangs with the gravity of Calvary. The span of time that passes between the verses communicates the reality that God inspired the words of David, always knowing that Christ’s crucifixion would fulfill them. As God was granting the Israelites their kingdom and building the temple, He was also announcing that He, the true King and Temple, would be torn down.

Yet, Christians know that what was torn down was rebuilt in three days. Friday is perfected by Sunday. Those who die with Christ also rise with Him. From the moment of Baptism we are taken up into the Body of Christ. We begin to live like St. Paul who says, “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me” (Gal 2:20).

Christ’s presence within St. Paul was so profound that Paul bear[s] the marks of the Lord Jesus in [his] body (Gal 6:17). He is possibly the first saint of the Church to bear the stigmata. Another popular account of the stigmata is that of the Dominican St. Catherine of Siena, but less known are the wounds of her religious sister St. Catherine de Ricci.

There’s an interesting relationship between the two Dominican saints. They share the same name, the same mystical visions, and the same wounds. Look for a painting of St. Catherine de Ricci and try to distinguish her from St. Catherine of Siena. They almost seem to be the same person. This is because both women had a devotion to Christ crucified. Just as Christ was joined to the cross with His wounds, so too these saintly women were joined to Jesus by His wounds. It was de Ricci’s love and union with Christ Crucified that led her to compose the devotion we shared above.

The divine favors that both Catherines received announce the presence of Christ, suffering in His Body the Church. While you or I will likely never encounter such miracles, the reality of Christ’s presence within His faithful people should not be overlooked. It should be seen through the eyes of faith. The baptized are taken up into Christ and adjured to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. By this, the sufferings of this world are no longer meaningless. God has taken on our sufferings and transformed them into the bridge that connects man to God.

Those who mocked Christ on the Cross, beckoning Him to come down, were ignorant of what was being accomplished – His life was not being taken, but He was laying it down for His friends. What kept Jesus on the Cross was not the nails, but His love. No one else possesses the power to choose his or her own afflictions; we are passive in suffering. Yet, the baptized can join St. Catherine’s example. She meditated on the Passion of Our Lord not because it was something that happened in the past, but it was an event that pervaded time, up to her present and up to our present. Christ continues to suffer in His members. Those in the Church, who unite their sufferings to His wounds, are brought up into something greater than themselves.

Pope Benedict explains,

This liberation of our “I”… means finding oneself within the vastness of God and being drawn into a life. . . . [By the Resurrection] we are associated with a new dimension of life into which, amid the tribulations of our day, we are already in some way introduced. . . . This is the meaning of being baptized, of being Christian.

St. Paul’s own words, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me,” were taken up again by St. Catherine of Siena and St. Catherine de Ricci, marking their own lives. Their similarity of life, their union in the wounds of Christ, bear great witness to the living reality of Jesus in His mystical Body, the Church. They also beckon us all to look to the Passion in prayer. Then, seeing what Christ did two thousand years ago, we can see what Jesus continues to do within us.

Love,
Matthew