Category Archives: March

Mar 19 – Silence & St Joseph, Terror of Demons

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-Guido Reni, 1635, “St Joseph and the Infant Jesus”

As a husband and father, I have a very special devotion to St Joseph, especially in terms of my obligations in married and family life. Universal Patron of the Church, pray for us!

“We can have recourse to many saints as our intercessors, but go especially to Joseph…”   St. Teresa of Avila

To you, O blessed Joseph,
do we come in our tribulation,
and having implored the help of your most holy spouse,
we confidently invoke your patronage also.

Through that charity which bound you
to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God
and through the paternal love
with which you embraced the Child Jesus,
we humbly beg you graciously to regard the inheritance
which Jesus Christ has purchased by His Blood,
and with your power and strength to aid us in our necessities.

O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family,
defend the chosen children of Jesus Christ;
O most loving father, ward off from us
every contagion of error and corrupting influence;
O our most mighty protector, be kind to us
and from heaven assist us in our struggle
with the power of darkness.

As once you rescued the Child Jesus from deadly peril,
so now protect God’s Holy Church
from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity;
shield, too, each one of us by your constant protection,
so that, supported by your example and your aid,
we may be able to live piously, to die in holiness,
and to obtain eternal happiness in heaven.

Amen.

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-by Rev Gerard Skinner, priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster, UK
L’Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 March 2011, page 14

“We hear not a word from the lips of St Joseph in the Gospels and yet his sanctity shines through his silence. His total fidelity to God can be seen in his actions as he accompanies the Blessed Virgin Mary to Bethlehem and becomes the first man to see the Christ-child; as he leads his family to safety into exile and ultimately brings them home to Nazareth; as he searches with Mary for his young charge and finds him in the temple after which, Scripture tells us, Jesus lived under his parent’s authority.

It is because of the grace given him by God as a member of the Holy Family and the virtues that he exercised that St Joseph holds an understandably high place in the affections of the faithful. The Sacred Liturgy praises St Joseph in thanksgiving to the heavenly Father as “that just man, that wise and loyal servant, whom You placed at the head of Your family. With a husband’s love he cherished Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. With fatherly care he watched over Jesus Christ Your Son, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

Pope Paul VI once said, “St Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies … he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need for great things — it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic” (19 March 1969).

Bl. John Henry Newman‘s devotion to St Joseph encapsulates the thoughts and words of many when he wrote, “He was the true and worthy Spouse of Mary, supplying in a visible manner the place of Mary’s Invisible Spouse, the Holy Ghost…. He was the Cherub, placed to guard the new terrestrial Paradise from the intrusion of every foe…. He is Holy Joseph, because his office, of being spouse and protector of Mary, specially demanded sanctity. He is Holy Joseph, because no other Saint but he lived in such and so long intimacy and familiarity with the source of all holiness, Jesus, God Incarnate, and Mary, the holiest of creatures”.

St Bernardine of Siena reflected that St Joseph “is verily the key which unlocked the treasures of the Church of the Old Testament, for in his person all the excellence of Patriarchs and Prophets comes to the completion of achievement, seeing that he alone enjoyed in this life the full fruition of what God had been pleased to promise aforetime to them. It is therefore with good reason that we see a type of him in that Patriarch Joseph who stored up corn for the people. But the second Joseph has a more excellent dignity than the first, seeing that the first gave to the Egyptians bread only for the body, but the second was, on behalf of all the elect, the watchful guardian of that Living Bread which came down from Heaven, of which whosoever eats will never die” (Sermon on St Joseph).

In our own day, Pope Benedict XVI has reflected a number of times on the virtues of the very saint’s name given to him at Baptism —Joseph. In the year of our Holy Father’s election, 2005, he wrote that “St Joseph’s silence does not express an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he bears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action.

“It is a silence thanks to which Joseph, in unison with Mary, watches over the Word of God, known through the Sacred Scriptures, continuously comparing it with the events of the life of Jesus; a silence woven of constant prayer, a prayer of blessing of the Lord, of the adoration of His holy will and of unreserved entrustment to His providence….

“It is no exaggeration to think that it was precisely from His ‘father’ Joseph that Jesus learned — at the human level — that steadfast interiority which is a presupposition of authentic justice, the ‘superior justice’ which He was one day to teach His disciples (cf. Mt 5: 20).

“Let us allow ourselves to be ‘filled’ with St Joseph’s silence! In a world that is often too noisy, that encourages neither recollection nor listening to God’s voice, we are in such deep need of it”.

This reflection of Pope Benedict XVI is particularly pertinent during Lent. Perhaps the example of St Joseph might lead us to add to fasting from forms of food and drink a form of fasting with regards our sense of hearing. So many of us surround ourselves so often with so many types of sounds, be they musical or spoken. It is always striking that this is the season of the year when our, Holy Father goes into his annual silent retreat — a week of Spiritual Exercises to refresh his soul.

While we may not be able to do the same, the example of St Joseph encourages us to ponder with him in silence the life — the grace — of Christ as He seeks to grow in our minds and hearts through this holy season of Lent.”

Love,
Matthew

Mar 3 – St Katharine Drexel, SBS, (1858-1955) – “I am disgusted with the world.”

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“The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth.  What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” -Mt 19:20-22

I grew up in the shadow of Philadelphia. I still miss my cheesesteaks and hoagies!!! 🙂 There is no substitute!! The Drexel name looms large in Philly, and so it is very familiar to me.

“I am disgusted with the world. God in His mercy has opened my eyes to the fact of vanitas vanitatis, and as He has made me see the vile emptiness of this earth, I look to Him — the God of Love — in hope. He will not leave me to despair because of the dreariness of all the joys that cannot satisfy my heart. He is the God of Love, and pitying me, He will open my eyes still more and discover to me the joyful, true depths of all the things invisible. “Show Thy face and we shall be saved; let Thy voice sound in my ears. For Thy voice is sweet, and show Thy face exceedingly beautiful” -Missal for the Laity, Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, 1846….All, all, all (there is no exception) is passing away and will pass away. European travel brings vividly before the mind how cities have risen and fallen, and risen and fallen; and the same of empires and kingdoms and nations. And the billions who lived their common every day life in these nations and kingdoms and empires and cities, where are they? The ashes of the kings and the mighty of this earth are mingled with the dust of the meanest slave….How long will the sun and moon, the stars continue to give forth light? Who can tell? Of one thing alone we are sure. In God’s own time — then shall come the Son of Man in great power and majesty to render to each according to his works….The reward and punishment for these will not pass away, nor does the Day, Eternity, then opening before us. An eternity of happiness infinite, or an eternity of misery infinite.” -St Katharine Drexel

-12/9/1999, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-it-takes-to-be-a-saint/

“Thirty-nine-year-old Robert Gutherman is absolutely convinced that what happened to him as a 14-year-old was in fact a miracle.

In 1974, he developed a severe ear infection, and his parents took him to a top doctor.

“Two of the bones were destroyed, the muscles in my ear, around my ear, were pretty badly damaged,” Gutherman remembers. He recalls the doctor’s comments: “He said,…’Bones are gone, they’re gone. You’re just going to be deaf in that ear.'”

With no possible medical cure, they tried the only thing left: praying to Katherine Drexel.

“We were asking that the pain would subside,” Gutherman says.

For Robert Gutherman, praying to Katherine Drexel miraculously cured his ear infection.

But what he got was much more than that. Suddenly Gutherman could hear again, and what the doctor then found astonished him: The bones in his ear were actually growing back.

The doctor said his body’s healing itself, according to Gutherman. “So when my parents said to the doctor, ‘You know this is a miracle that we think through Katherine Drexel,’ he said, ‘Well it’s got to be, because I have no other explanation to it.'”

-1/28/2000, from http://articles.philly.com/2000-01-28/news/25597578_1_second-miracle-miracle-girl-mother-katharine-drexel

“When doctors first diagnosed 1-year-old Amy Wall with incurable nerve deafness several years ago, her parents prayed that their baby might someday learn sign language.

But Amy’s 7-year-old brother, Jack, believed in miracles. He wanted Amy to hear. And he demanded they pray for a cure.

Constance Wall began to suspect deafness soon after Amy’s birth in 1992, but her husband, John, a real estate developer, refused at first to acknowledge it.

Then, one day, “without Amy looking at me, I came up behind her high chair and clapped my hands,” John Wall recalled. “She did not startle. That’s what made me believe.”

Hospital examinations in September 1993 concluded she suffered from congenital and permanent failure of the auditory nerves.

“The doctors said, ‘Get used to it,’ ” Constance Wall recalled tearfully. “So we just prayed for communication – that she got sign language. If she could sign for her bottle, we thought we would have everything.”

That’s when Jack – who had learned about miracles and prayer in parochial school – announced, “That’s not enough. I’m going to pray for a cure,” his mother said.

After seeing a PBS television special about young Robert Gutherman, who was born deaf but spontaneously grew a missing bone in his ear after his family prayed to Mother Drexel, the Walls asked the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for a relic of Katharine’s, which they laid on her ear.

John Wall, then a Baptist, admitted in an interview yesterday he was skeptical of the Catholic veneration of relics and saints, “but I was watching.”

Then, in March 1994, Amy’s preschool teacher noticed Amy was being startled by loud sounds. Hospital tests that month showed her hearing was inexplicably normal – “perfect,” her mother said.

“When it happened, I wasn’t even sure I knew what I was seeing happen,” her mother recalled. John Wall was so convinced he converted to Catholicism in 1998.

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-Katharine Drexel at 16

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St. Katharine Drexel staffed many schools In inner cities with Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The Sisters came to teach and give religious instructions in Beaumont, Texas, in 1917. St. Katharine periodically visited each school.
St. Katharine Drexel staffed many schools In inner cities with Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The Sisters came to teach and give religious instructions in Beaumont, Texas, in 1917. St. Katharine periodically visited each school.

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Mother Katharine had a dream. She later wrote: "I looked up in wonder at God's wonderful ways and thought how little we imagine what may be the result of listening and acting on a desire He puts into the heart. If He puts it into the heart, He will bless it; if we try to act upon it, great will be the effect before God."
Mother Katharine had a dream. She later wrote: “I looked up in wonder at God’s wonderful ways and thought how little we imagine what may be the result of listening and acting on a desire He puts into the heart. If He puts it into the heart, He will bless it; if we try to act upon it, great will be the effect before God.”

The actual amount donated by St. Katharine is differently reported. Mary Oates (1993) gives a figure over $40 million, while the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament report over $20 million (2003).

As a wealthy American heiress, obtaining a private audience with the Holy Father in Rome was possible for Katharine. Interested in the condition of Native Americans, during an audience in 1887, Katharine asked Pope Leo XIII to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend, Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?”

She visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux chief, and began her systematic aid to Indian missions, eventually spending millions of the family fortune. Founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in 1891.

By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, 40 mission centers, 23 rural schools, 50 Indian missions, and Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana, the first United States university for blacks. Segregationists harassed her work. Following a heart attack, she spent her last twenty years in prayer and meditation.

“The patient and humble endurance of the cross whatever nature it may be is the highest work we have to do.” – Mother Katharine Drexel

“Oh, how far I am at 84 years of age from being an image of Jesus in His sacred life on earth!” – Mother Katharine Drexel

Ever loving God, you called Saint Katharine Drexel
to teach the message of the Gospel and
to bring the life of the Eucharist to
the Black and Native American peoples.
By her prayers and example,
enable us to work for justice
among the poor and oppressed.
Draw us all into the Eucharistic community
of your Church, that we may be one in You.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
your Son, who lives and reigns with You and
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St Katharine Drexel, Patroness of Racial Justice, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

Mar 25 – Solemnity of the Annunciation

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“You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a Son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.


-Annunciation Triptych Merode Altarpiece, workshop of Robert Campin (Netherlandish, Tournai), 1427–32, Oil on oak, overall (open): 25 3/8 x 46 3/8 in. (64.5 x 117.8 cm), central panel: 25 1/4 x 24 7/8 in. (64.1 x 63.2 cm), each wing: 25 3/8 x 10 3/4 in. (64.5 x 27.3 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. (Please click on the image for greater detail.)

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the Desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If He should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek Him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

St Bernard of Clairveaux

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Love,
Matthew

Mar 20 – St Jozef Bilczewski, (1860-1923), Archbishop of Leopoli, Lviv/Ukraine, “Good & Faithful Servant of the Lord”

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-Latin Cathedral, Lvov, Ukraine

Archbishop St JOSEPH BILCZEWSKI was born April 26, 1860 in Wilamowice near Kęty, in the present day Diocese of Bielsko Żywiec, then part of the Diocese of Krakow. Having finished elementary school at Wilamowic and Kęty, he attended high school at Wadowice receiving his diploma in 1880. On July 6, 1884 he was ordained a priest in Krakow by Cardinal Albino Dunajewski. In 1886 he received a Doctorate in Theology from the University of Vienna. Following advanced studies in Rome and Paris he passed the qualifying exam at the Jaghellonic University of Krakow.

The following year he became professor of Dogmatic Theology at the John Casimir University of Leopoli. He also served as Dean of Theology for a period of time prior to becoming Rector of the University. During his tenure at the University, he was appreciated as a professor by his students and also enjoyed the friendship and respect of his colleagues. He arduously dedicated himself to scientific work and, despite his young age, acquired notoriety as a learned man. His extraordinary intellectual and relational abilities were recognized by Francis Joseph, the Emperor of Austria, who presented Monsignor Joseph to the Holy Father as a candidate for the vacant Metropolitan See of Leopoli. The Holy Father, Leo XIII responded positively to the Emperor’s proposal and on December 17, 1900 he named the forty year old Monsignor Joseph Bilczewski, Archbishop of Leopoli of the Latin Rite.

Given the complex social, economic, ethnic and religious situation, care for the large diocese required of the Bishop a deep commitment and called for great moral effort, strong confidence in God, and a faith enlivened by a continual contact with God.

Archbishop Joseph Bilczewski became known for his abundant goodness of heart, understanding, humility, piety, commitment to hard work and pastoral zeal which sprung from his immense love for God and neighbor.

Upon taking possession of the Archdiocese of Leopoli he spelled out very clearly his pastoral plan which can be summed up in the words “totally sacrifice oneself for the Holy Church”. Among other things he pointed out the need for the development of devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament and frequent reception of Holy Communion.

A particular form of pastoral action of Archbishop Bilczewski were the pastoral letters and appeals addressed to the priests and the faithful of the Archdiocese. In them he spoke of the problems of faith and morals of the time as well as of the most pressing issues of the social sphere. He also explained devotion to the Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart in them and the importance of religious and moral formation of children and youth in the family and in school. He taught for the Church and for the Holy Father. Above all, he took great care to cultivate many holy priestly vocations. He saw the priest as first and foremost a teacher of faith and an instrument of Christ, a father for the rich as well as for the poor. Taking the place of Christ on Earth, the priest was to be the minister of the Sacraments and for this reason his whole heart had to be dedicated to the celebration of the Eucharist, in order to be able to nourish the people of God with the body of Christ.

He often exhorted the priests to adoration of the most Blessed Sacrament. In his pastoral letter devoted to the Eucharist he invited the priests to participate in the priestly associations: The Association for Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament and the Association of Aid to Poor Catholic Churches whose goal was to rejuvenate the zeal of the priests themselves. He also dedicated a great deal of care to the preparation of children and to full participation in the Mass, desiring that every Catechesis would lead children and youth to the Eucharist.

Archbishop Joseph Bilczewski promoted the construction of churches and chapels, schools and day-care centers. He developed teaching to help enable the growth in the instruction of the faithful. He materially and spiritually helped the more important works which were springing up in his Archdiocese. His holy life, filled with prayer, work and works of mercy led to his meriting great appreciation and respect on the part of those of various faiths, rites and nationalities present in the Archdiocese. No religious or nationalistic conflicts arose during the tenure of his pastoral work. He was a proponent of unity, harmony and peace.

On social issues he always stood on the side of the people and of the poor. He taught that the base of social life had to be justice made perfect by Christian love. During the First World War, when souls were overtaken with hate and a lack of appreciation of the other, he pointed out to the people the infinite love of God, capable of forgiving every type of sin and offense. He reminded them of the need to observe the commandments of God and particularly that of brotherly love. Sensitive to the social questions regarding the family and youth, he courageously proposed solutions to problems based on the love of God and of neighbor. During his 23 years of pastoral service he changed the face of the Archdiocese of Leopoli. Only his death on the 20th of March 1923 could end his vast and far-sighted pastoral action.

He was prepared for death and accepted it with peace and submission as a sign of God’s will, which he always considered sacred.

He left this world having enjoyed a universal recognition of holiness. Wanting to rest among those for whom he was always father and protector, in accord with his desires, he was buried in Leopoli in the cemetery of Janów, known as the cemetery of the poor. Thanks to the efforts of the Archdiocese of Leopoli the process for his beatification and canonization was initiated. The first step was concluded on December 17, 1997 with the declaration of the life of heroic virtue of Archbishop Joseph Bilczewski by The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. In June 2001, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints recognized as miraculous the fact of the rapid lasting and unexplainable “quo ad modum” healing through the intercession of Archbishop Bilczewski of the third degree burns of Marcin Gawlik, a nine year old boy, thus opening the way for his beatification. The beatification took place in the Diocese of Leopoli on the 26th of June 2001 during Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Visit to the Ukraine.  Canonized Oct 23, 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI.

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-statue of St Jozef Bilczewski displayed in Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Lviv, Ukraine

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– Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Lviv, Ukraine, founded 1360 AD by Casimir III the Great

St Jozef Bilczewski!  Pray for your people!  Pray for us!

Blessed Lent.

Love,
Matthew

Mar 17 – St Jan Sarkander, (1576-1620) – Priest, Widower, Martyr for the Seal of the Confessional

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-chapel of St John Sarkander

‘Tis the Season, as they say, for one’s Easter Duty.  Including everyone’s least favorite sacrament.

The Neo-baroque chapel of St. John Sarkander is a two-storeyed building crowned with a dome with a lantern opening. In the middle of the chapel, there is a circular opening into the basement, where a torture rack from Sarkander’s time has been situated. The interior of the chapel is impressively illuminated. Daylight from the lantern opening penetrates through the circular hole in the floor down to the basement.

The immediate surroundings of the chapel are one of the most picturesque corners of Olomouc, Moravia, Czech Republic. The adjoining double staircase is graced by a statue of St. John of Nepomuk, in a corner niche there is a statue of St. Jan Sarkander.

In the past, the city prison where John Sarkander was interrogated and tortured to death in 1620 was located on the site of the Chapel. John Sarkander was accused by Protestants of having helped to arrange the invasion of the army of the Polish Catholic King into Moravia. However, he did not violate the Seal of Confession during the torture.

Son of Georg Mathias Sarkander and Helene Kornicz Sarkander. Born in a time and place in the midst of the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation. His father died when Jan was still young, and the family moved to Pribor. He married, but his wife died when they were young, and they had no children.

Educated by Jesuits at Prague, receiving a master of philosophy degree in 1603.  In Olmutz, he became the center of a struggle for the hearts and souls of the local people; he was supported by Baron von Labkowitz of Moravia, but bitterly opposed by the wealthy anti-Catholic landowner Bitowsky von Bystritz.

The year 1618 saw the start of the Thirty Years War between Catholic and Protestant armies. When Protestant forces occupied Hollenschau, Jan was briefly exiled to Poland, but returned to minister to his oppressed parish flock. Polish forces moved into the area in 1620, and battle seemed imminent. Jan visited the field commander, carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance as a shield and chastisement. No battles were fought in the area of Hollenshau.

Seizing the opportunity to brand him a spy, and thus explain the lack of attack by the Polish troops, his enemy von Bystritz denounced Father Jan as a traitor. Jan was arrested, taken to Olmütz, and tortured for a confession, for revenge, and to get him to break the seal of the confessional and supply damaging information about his patron and parishioner Baron von Labkowitz. Sarkander was racked, beaten and murdered, but he clung to his faith and gave his tormentors nothing. He was racked on February 13, 17, and 18th.  His tendons burst.  His bones dislocated.  On each of the days mentioned, the torture lasted for two and three hours, lighted candles and feathers soaked in oil, pitch, and sulphur were strewn over his body and ignited.

The sacramental seal is inviolable. Quoting Canon 983.1 of the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism states, “…It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason” (No. 2490). A priest, therefore, cannot break the seal to save his own life, to protect his good name, to refute a false accusation, to save the life of another, to aid the course of justice (like reporting a crime), or to avert a public calamity. He cannot be compelled by law to disclose a person’s confession or be bound by any oath he takes, e.g. as a witness in a court trial. A priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession either directly, by repeating the substance of what has been said, or indirectly, by some sign, suggestion, or action. A Decree from the Holy Office (Nov. 18, 1682) mandated that confessors are forbidden, even where there would be no revelation direct or indirect, to make any use of the knowledge obtained in the confession that would “displease” the penitent or reveal his identity.

What happens if a priest violates the seal of confession? The Catechism (No. 1467) cites the Code of Canon Law (No. 1388.1) in addressing this issue, which states, “A confessor who directly violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if he does so only indirectly, he is to be punished in accord with the seriousness of the offense.” From the severity of the punishment, we can clearly see how sacred the sacramental seal of confession is in the eyes of the Church.

In my own personal experience, rarely, but it has occurred, I have initiated, it has NEVER been initiated to me, a comment with my confessor outside the sacramental seal, referring to some innocuous anecdote, reflecting upon a recent confession; the confessor suddenly develops memory loss, not recalling anything about the sacrament.  I suspect/firmly believe this is intentional.  Triggered as a reflex, as a protective measure confessors have developed from wisdom and practice.  I know to drop it, quickly.  I get the message.  Gratefully.  Thankfully, for the mercy and compassion of these ordained.  This has happened more than once, with more than one confessor.  Consistently.  Such is the seriousness of the matter.

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-relief of torturing of John Sarkander on torturing rack at Sarkander’s gravestone


-reliquary of St Jan Sarkander, Olomouc Cathedral, Czech Republic.

O Mother Mary,
through the memory of your martyred Son
and His servant Jan Sarkander,
we ask you for support for those
whose unfortunate fate is to live
under the rule of violence and hatred.
We ask you to pray for the strength
for them to endure in their faith despite tortures,
plagues and prison. Amen.

Blessed Lent.

Love,
Matthew

Mar 10 – 40 Martyrs of Armenia, (d. 320 AD) – Soldiers of Christ

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-Forty Martyrs, ivory relief, 10th century, Constantinople

The phrase “Soldier of Christ (2 Tim 2:3)”, Ecclesia Militans, Church Militant, “The Fighting Church”, are all a bit dated, some may say.  Others, not so.  But here is a story of real ones.  We know their names. At Confirmation, Catholics become adults in the Church, and, traditionally, “Soldiers of Christ”.  At Confirmation, when the confirmandi are anointed with sacred chrism, they, by allowing this act say, “I am willing to die for the faith.  Never to deny my Lord and Savior.  No matter what.”  No exceptions.  “…more strictly obliged to spread and defend the Faith, by word and deed.”

Heralded in the sermons of St Basil, only fifty or sixty years after their deaths, we know they belonged to the Twelfth Legion, Legio XII, the Fulminata Legion, or “Armed with Lightning” Legion, or “Thunderbolt” Legion.  The Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, Licinius, who was eventually defeated and executed by Emperor Constantine the Great, was persecuting Christians.  The Emperor ordered all in his armies to sacrifice, to perform their pagan religio.  These forty legionnaires refused.

The military judge in charge of their case first tried persuasion.  He instructed them on the dishonor they would incur for refusing to worship the pagan gods.  Then, he made them large promises of preferment and high favor with the Emperor.  These were refused.  He recoursed to threats, most terrifying.  All in vain.  They were torn with whips.  Their sides rent with iron hooks.  Thrown in jail and chained.

Lysias, their general, returned.  They spoke freely and bravely of their love of the Lord.  A slow and severe death was devised especially for them.  They were stripped naked, marched onto a frozen pond and made to lie exposed to the cold.  On the shore were made warm baths and hot soup, within their sight.

Finally, one of their number fell, and ran to the warm baths.  As in battle, when one falls, another takes his place, a guard attending the baths on the shore was so moved by the courage of the remaining thirty-nine, embraced Christ, stripped, and took the place of the apostate, in formation, on the ice.

In the morning, the judge ordered the dead with cold and those nearly so, all of them, to be thrown into the fire, to be cremated.  As the bodies were being thrown into a wagon to be transported to the pyre, Melito, the youngest among them, was found to still be alive.  His tormentors hoped still to turn him.  So, they left him on the ice.

Melito’s mother, also a Christian, found her son in this condition.  Quite frozen, not able to move, and scarcely breathing.  He looked at her, and she encouraged him to persevere.  Reproaching his executioners, she picked him up and placed him in the wagon herself.  Their bodies were burned, but the ashes and remains collected by other Christians as relics, spread throughout many cities, around which many churches were built.

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-relics of the 40 Martyrs, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

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-Church of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, Bitola, Macedonia

“We beseech you, O most holy martyrs, who cheerfully suffered torments and death for His love, and are now more familiarly united to Him, that you intercede with God for us slothful and wretched sinners, that He bestow on us the grace of Christ, by which we may be enlightened and enabled to love Him.” – St Ephrim

“If we die with Him,
we will also live with Him.
If we endure hardship,
we will reign with Him.
If we deny Him,
He will deny us.
If we are unfaithful,
He remains faithful,
for he cannot deny Who He is.”

-2 Tim 2:11-14

Blessed Lent.

Love,
Matthew

St Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

Cuzco School St Joseph

-Cuzco School, Peru, “Saint Joseph and the Christ Child”, late 17th-18th century. Oil on canvas, 43 x 32 1/8in. (109.2 x 81.6cm), Brooklyn Museum

In the Litany of St Joseph, one the titles of honor given to him is Terror of Demons.  Due to his unshakeable faith, his assiduous perseverance, his admirable purity and his exceptional humility, and given the nobility and grandeur of his vocation – the protection, sustenance and care of the Blessed Mother and Our Lord Jesus Christ, as head of the Holy Family – we can expect that God also endowed him with an equally proportional grace to carry out such a lofty mission in life. And certainly we can picture him as a sublime icon of manliness and a pillar of strength that would sow terrible fear among the powers of darkness given his noble task.  Would God allow/accept anything less for the earthly foster-father of His Son?

In Catholic iconography, St Joseph is pictured holding a staff from which a white lily grows.  This is due to Catholic hagiography which states from reliable, albeit non-scriptural, sources near to the period, when the holy priest Simeon gathered all the young men of Jerusalem from the house of David at the temple to choose who would be the rightful spouse of Our Lady, he was inspired by God to give each man a dry rod. After a period of prayer asking for the manifestation of the Divine Will, pure white lilies – the symbol of purity – blossomed from St. Joseph’s staff and a white dove, most pure and brilliant, hovered over his head giving Simeon the sign that he was the chosen one.

Hence, St. Joseph is the epitome of a pure man: pure in thought, pure in heart; pure in body and soul – destined to be the most chaste spouse of Mary Most Holy conceived without sin. In face of such sublime purity and holiness, it would not be farfetched to believe that the ugly, filthy infernal spirits would cower in petrified fear in his presence.

I have a special intention I am entrusting to St Joseph, in addition to so much I have already entrusted to him.  Pray for me!  St Joseph, Terror of Demons, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

Mar 25 – Solemnity of the Annunciation

V. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.

R. Ecce Ancilla Domini. Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum.

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– “The Annunciation”, by Henry Ossawa Tanner

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-by Br. Raymund Snyder, O.P.

“Pope John Paul II chose to conclude his 1998 encyclical, Fides et Ratio, by comparing the discipline of philosophy to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He says that “between the vocation of the Blessed Virgin and the vocation of true philosophy there is a deep harmony.” At first glance this seems like a stretch. Why, in a document addressing the relationship between faith and reason, would he conclude with the Blessed Virgin Mary? Is this just a pious invocation?

In fact, John Paul’s comparison is not only well founded, but deeply fitting. He grounds it on two fundamental similarities, the first of which has to do with the notion of offering:

Just as the Virgin was called to offer herself entirely as human being and as woman that God’s Word might take flesh and come among us, so too philosophy is called to offer its rational and critical resources that theology, as the understanding of faith, may be fruitful and creative.

Mary offered herself up completely by embracing her divine maternity. In a similar way, philosophy is called to make a complete offering of all that it is. As the systematic investigation of truth by the use of human reason, it surrenders itself to theology, a discipline greater than itself. Using the language of the Annunciation, John Paul draws out the traditional analogy between Mary as the “handmaid of the Lord” and philosophy as the “handmaid of theology.” To reach its true goal, philosophy must make its own “fiat.”

Secondly, just as Mary is exalted as the result of her surrender, so too philosophy is elevated:

Just as in giving her assent to Gabriel’s word, Mary lost nothing of her true humanity and freedom, so too when philosophy heeds the summons of the Gospel’s truth its autonomy is in no way impaired. Indeed, it is then that philosophy sees all its enquiries rise to their highest expression.

Mary’s surrender to God did not diminish her in any way; rather, it allowed God to ennoble her. In an analogous way, the truth of the faith does not constrain or inhibit rational inquiry, but elevates it. This is an important point since there are many who think that faith threatens the project of philosophy, or of scientific inquiry in general. In reality, however, faith does not hinder the pursuit of philosophy any more than God hindered the life of Mary. Far from “tainting” human knowledge, “faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds,” as the First Vatican Council affirmed.

To speak about the discipline of philosophy as such is to speak about individual persons engaged in a search for answers to the perennial questions of life. This search extends to all human beings insofar as they ask questions such as “Why do I exist?” and “What makes me happy?” As a model in our philosophical search, John Paul presents us with Mary, someone we may not have expected. To imitate her is to surrender our minds to God—and to do so with the confidence that they will be raised up.”

Blessed Annunciation!
Love,
Matthew

Resurrection

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Every Christian must, by necessity, struggle with the belief in Resurrection:  His, our own.  St Gregory replies to the objections of his time…which sound a lot like the ones we imagine, too.

“Because human reason is so weak, there are some who – judging divine power by the limits of our own – insist that what is beyond our capacity is impossible even for God.  They point to the fact that the dead of past ages have disappeared, and to the ashes of those who have been cremated.  They bring up the idea of carnivorous animals, and the fish that consumes the body of the shipwrecked sailor – the fish then becoming food for people, and passing by digestion into the mass of the one who eats it.  They bring up many similarly trivial things to overthrow the doctrine of the Resurrection – as though God could not restore man the way he made him in the first place.

But we make quick work of their convoluted logical foolishness by acknowledging that the body does indeed dissolve into the parts it was made of.  Not only does the earth return to the earth, as God’s word says, but air and water also revert to the like element.  Each of our parts returns to the elements it was made from.

But although the human body may be scattered among vultures, or the most savage beasts, by becoming their food; and although it may pass through the teeth of fish; and although it may be changed by fire into smoke and dust – wherever you may suppose, for the sake of argument, the man has been removed, he certainly remains in the world.  And the world, as the voice of inspiration tells us, is held by the hand of God.

If you, then, know what is in your hand, do you suppose that God’s knowledge is weaker than your own power?  Do you suppose that it would fail to discover the smallest things that are in the palm of God’s hand?”

-On the Making of Man, 26; St Gregory of Nyssa, (335-394 AD), Bishop, Confessor, Doctor & Father of the Church

Love,
Matthew

Good Friday

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“…Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and all Your Saints: we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by Your protecting help.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”
-Eucharistic Prayer I, Communicantes

Early Christian persecution had recently spared northern Africa.  But, in 250 AD, the Emperor Decius, began a furious persecution of Christians.  St  Cyprian tells a group of Christian prisoners that their sufferings are earning them greater honors than the proud officials who confine them there will ever have.  They have missed a whole year of changing seasons in the outside world, but their suffering brings them far better rewards in Heaven.

“Forget the judges and governors.  Let them puff themselves up with the symbols of their dignity, which lasts for only a year.  The heavenly dignity in you is already sealed by the brightness of a year’s honor, and its victorious glory continues into another year.

The changing months have passed, and Winter is gone; but you, shut up in prison, suffered the winter of persecution instead of the inclement weather outside.  After Winter came the mildness of Spring, rejoicing with roses and crowned with flowers; but you had roses and flowers from the gardens of paradise, and heavenly garlands wreathed your brows.

Now the Summer bears its fruitful harvest, and the threshing-floor is full of grain; but you sowed glory, and are reaping the fruit of glory.  On the Lord’s threshing-floor, you are seeing the chaff burned with unquenchable fire.  Like grains of wheat, winnowed and precious, purged of chaff and gathered in, you see prison as your granary.

Nor  does Autumn lack spiritual graces for the tasks of the season.  The vintage is pressed outside, and the grape that will soon flow into the cups is pressed.  You, rich bunches from the Lord’s vineyard,  branches with fruit already ripe, pressed by worldly troubles, fill your wine vat in the torments of prison, and shed your blood instead of wine.  Standing up bravely to your suffering, you willingly drink the cup of martyrdom.

So the year rolls on for the Lord’s servants.  Thus we celebrate the changing seasons with spiritual honors and heavenly rewards.”

-Letter 15, St Cyrprian of Carthage, (200-258 AD), Bishop, Martyr, Father & Doctor of the Church

Blessed Good Friday!

Love,
Matthew