Category Archives: November

Nov 3 – Bl Simon Ballachi, OP, (1250-1319) – Swords? Plowshares? WTF?

Bl Simon Ballachi

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares,

   and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4)

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-by Br Martin Davis, OP, Br Martin was born in Georgia, attended college in Michigan, and there converted to the Catholic faith.

“The prophet Isaiah predicts that the coming of Jesus Christ will usher in a time when the tools of war will be turned into tools for fruitful harvests. But when exactly will the coming of Christ that leads to this disarmament take place?

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of three comings of Christ: the incarnation, the coming of Christ at the end of the world, and the coming of Christ into the hearts of believers in the time in between. During the first coming of Christ, Jesus told us that to live by the sword would mean to die by the sword, and he told Peter to put away his sword in the garden of Gethsemane. At the end of the world, there indeed will be an end to warfare altogether. In the meantime, the coming of Christ into our hearts can help us to put away the sword of sin, guile, and malice.

An example of this that is both literal and spiritual is found in Blessed Simon Ballachi. Blessed Simon was born into nobility in 1250 in Rimini, a city on the Adriatic Sea in what is now Italy. His homeland was filled with fruitful farmland and orchards, benefited from a strategic trade position, and often experienced warfare involving mercenary armies. His family expected him to assume, upon an appropriate age and maturity, administrative responsibility for his family’s estates. From an early age, Blessed Simon was trained to serve in the military, and he would become a mercenary as a young man. But at the age of 27, he put away the sword and joined the Order of Preachers as a cooperator brother.

After joining the Order, Simon’s superiors gave him the task of tending to the garden. Simon spent long hours working in the garden, doing penance, and praying. After many years of humble service to his fellow friars, he had to retire from his physical work after losing his sight at the age of 57.

Although his physical eyesight failed, he received many spiritual visions late in life. Jesus, Mary, Dominic, Peter of Verona, and Catherine of Alexandria all came to speak with him directly. Blessed Simon peacefully passed on to his heavenly reward on November 3, 1319.

Blessed Simon literally put away the sword and took up the tools of the garden, but he also hammered the sword in his heart into a plowshare of charity. The tools of war, malice, and anger were turned into tools of peace and spiritual fruitfulness. Blessed Simon was known for praying fervently in the garden while working. He also wore the chains with which he used to bind prisoners as a penance for the sins he had committed as a mercenary. (I recently visited Sinsinawa, WI where I saw the penitential chain worn by Ven Samuel Mazuchelli, OP, the cause of a modern miracle in the cure of lung cancer in Robert Uselmann of Monona, WI in 2001, when he traveled the 75 miles to Sinsinawa to pray with Ven Fr Mazuchelli’s penitential chain, found on his body immediately after death.) From all of this he grew deeply in charity. Blessed Simon invited Jesus Christ to reshape the sword in his heart after he had given up the sword in his hand.

While most of us do not need to put the physical sword away to avoid the sins of pillaging and unjust war, we do have a need for Jesus to come into our hearts to replace the evils and malice there with charity. Blessed Simon is an eschatological sign in that he was transformed by the spiritual coming of Jesus into his heart ahead of the coming of Jesus at the end of the world.

Consecrated religious, such as the cooperator brothers of the Dominican Order, embrace God’s call to become an eschatological sign on earth in order to fulfill now, in a limited and spiritual way, what will be brought to complete perfection at the end of the world.”

First Vespers:

Ant. Strengthen by holy intercession, O Simon , confessor of the Lord, those here present, have we who are burdened with the weight of our offenses may be relieved by the glory of thy blessedness, and may by thy guidance attain eternal rewards.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Simon

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Lauds:

Ant. Well done, good and faithful servant, because Thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will set thee over many, sayeth the Lord.

V. The just man shall blossom like the lily.

R. And shall flourish forever before the Lord.

Second Vespers:

Ant. I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock..

V. Pray for us. Blessed Simon

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Prayer:

Let us Pray: O God, Who, among his other virtues, didst adorn Blessed Simon Thy Confessor, with constant diligence in prayer and a singular prerogative of humility, grant us so to imitate him that, despising all the things of the world, we may here seek Thee alone, and hereafter attain the rewards in heaven promised to the humble. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Love,and His peace, which surpasses all human understanding and expression,
Matthew

Nov 12 – Bl Br Oderic of Normandy, OP, (d. early 13th cent.) – 1st Cooperater Brother

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-by Br Thomas Martin Miller, OP (Br. Thomas Martin Miller was raised as a Lutheran in York County, PA by his parents Charles and Patricia and discovered the Catholic Church while attending Boston College.)

“It is fitting that this week of blog posts dedicated to the cooperator brother saints of the Order of Preachers (those not ordained priests) should begin on the feast of St. Mark, frequently considered the evangelist with the most workmanlike prose.

As St. Mark is oft-reputed the first of the evangelists and closely connected with Peter, it is further fitting that we should begin with the tale of Bl. Oderic of Normandy, the first cooperator brother of the Order and a man chosen by St. Dominic himself.

What we know of his life is brief: He probably met Dominic while on the armed crusade against the Albigensians parallel to St. Dominic’s spiritual mission. Dominic, perhaps inspired by the Cistercians who had been his preaching companions, decided to adopt their custom of sending lay brothers as prudent companions for traveling preachers. Oderic, inspired by the small band of men gathering around Dominic, but lacking the education needed for the priesthood, was chosen to be the first of these cooperators in the mission of the new Order.

In the summer of 1217, when Dominic dispersed the brethren to the great university cities of Europe, Bl. Oderic was sent to Paris with Matthew and Dominic’s own brother Mannes. Together they founded the convent of St. Jacques, where St. Thomas Aquinas would later study and teach, and on account of which the Order of Preachers is today known as “Jacobins” in French (not to be confused with the revolutionary radicals of 1789, who were so named because they met in the shadow of that famous convent).

Oderic’s task was to care for the material needs of the convent so that the clerical brothers could concentrate on study. Oderic performed his task with humble faithfulness. The brothers are called cooperators because they are integral parts of the preaching which is truly the work of the whole community, and they witness to the value of that preaching with their lives of obedience.

Dominic was frustrated in his plan to give all temporal cares of the Order to the lay brothers, but they nonetheless undertook most such necessities: there were many skilled tradesmen among them. Like the priests of the Order, the brothers could be dispensed from communal prayer when it was necessary to carry out these tasks. The primitive constitutions of the Order make clear that while priests and lay brothers were equally bound to prayer and penance after their own capacities and furthermore shared the vow of obedience, their distinctive gifts were to be respected: the priests were not to undertake any task that would unnecessarily remove them from preparation for preaching, while the brothers were not to engage in any activity that would distract them from the temporal tasks that made preaching concretely possible.

The care of the lay brothers was reciprocated by the clerics: St. Dominic found a loaf of bread for a famished brother in an act of miraculous mendicancy (Vitae Fratrum 2.8), and on the vigil of the first feast of St. Dominic after his beatification, a brother was healed by his intercession (VF 2.43).

The cooperator brothers have thus been full beneficiaries from the beginning of Dominic’s promise to be even more useful to the brethren after his death than he was in life. Bl. Oderic himself apparently profited in full by his apprenticeship to the Preacher of Grace and shouldered his burdens virtuously—not only with the ease of a journeyman and the joy befitting a preacher of the Good News, but also with a promptness that would please St. Mark, whose Gospel uses the word “immediately” over forty times.”

Love & cooperation,
Matthew

Nov 15 – Albertus Magnus

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-by Br Oliver James Keenan O.P., English Province

“St Albert is said to have been one of the last people to have known everything that was known in his day. That might be an exaggeration, but it’s certain that his interests and publications spanned every discipline of his time: from a best-selling work on rocks (de mineralibus), through to geometry, astronomy, friendship, law, love, language, not to mention extensive commentaries on the scriptures, it’s certainly fair to say Albert was universally learned.

Albert was one of the first to comment on virtually all of Aristotle’s works — then ’new learning’, freshly mediated in Latin translation — an endeavour that drew him into intellectual dialogue with Muslim scholars such as Avicenna and Averroes, as well as the Christian tradition in which he was firmly rooted. And whilst it was Albert’s student Thomas Aquinas that most successfully integrated Aristotle — navigating the challenges that Aristotelian thought posed to the Christian — with the traditional theology of Augustine, Albert’s efforts are by no means feeble, and Aquinas holds his teacher in evident esteem. Aquinas pre-deceased Albert in 1274. Albert, who was first to recognise Aquinas’s great gift to the Church, was moved to tears. Although we can’t be certain, he may well have travelled to Paris to defend his student’s teachings against charges of heresy (thankfully those allegations have long since been refuted).

Albert, however, was no mere commentator. He was a speculative thinker who predicted the contents of several of Aristotle’s lost (and now re-discovered) works with some accuracy. He corrected some of Aristotle’s thought and strengthened his arguments where he thought appropriated. Nor was he simply an ‘Aristotelian’: he rejected Aristotle’s thought when it seemed ludicrous, because Albert was, first and foremost, a Christian, a believer in the gospel. And it was not in-spite of his faith that Albert was a philosopher-scientist, but because of it: Albert somebody who sought to make sense of the world in faith, and as such he stands as an example of how scientific enquiry can be sanctified by the life of grace and virtue.

But as impressive as the breadth and depth of Albert’s voluminous intellectual works are, the most remarkable thing as far as I’m concerned is that he found time to write them at all. His life was neither dull nor quiet; he certainly cannot be accused of being an ivory tower academic. German born, he had already begun his university education in the so-called liberal arts at an Italian school, where he met the Blessed Jordan of Saxony, successor to St Dominic as Master of the Order. Although some (relatively late) sources recount a meeting between the Blessed Virgin Mary and Albert, it’s clear that Jordan’s example and preaching played a key role in attracting Albert the Order. And once he had joined, Albert’s life was notably busy: years of formation and study were followed by heavy burdens of pastoral care and teaching (he was 43 when appointed to a Professorship at Paris), as well as administrative duties and, eventually, appointment as a Bishop in his native land. As Bishop, a role he seems never to have particularly relished, he was nicknamed the “tied-shoe” because he maintained the Friars’ practice of travelling everywhere on foot, refusing the use of a horse. He was, by all accounts, assiduous in his duties as bishop, particularly noted for his austere lifestyle and attentiveness to the needs of the poor, he radically curbed spending in the diocese and committed himself, as any good Dominican, to preaching the gospel. Though he retained some episcopal priveliges for life (he was particularly keen to keep his personal library, something I have no trouble identifying with), it was with some relief that Albert put aside the duties of his Bishopric and returned to the life of a brother.

But it was on the long journeys of his apostolic life as an itinerant friar and bishop that Albert’s research interests as a natural scientist seem to have flourished. He trudged around with an enquiring mind. He thought that the earth must be spherical, since he observed that the first thing of a ship to emerge over the horizon of the ocean is the tip of its mast. Safely on dry land, he collected specimens of wildlife that he encountered, becoming one of the first in the West to categorise the natural order according to a taxonomy of species and genus. Having heard (and disbelieved) the rumour, from Aristotle’s work on animals, that ostriches ate metals and were particularly fond of the precious varieties, he carried a lump of iron with him to test out the theory. Eventually his suspicion was proved correct: the ostriches he encountered refused the metal and seemed confused by the bishop’s actions. One may have tried to bite him. But this was no reductive experimental science. For Albert the whole world could be seen as one unity under the creator God, and the quest to penetrate its mysteries more deeply was not an indulgence of curiositas, but a loving communion with the God who bestows on us the faculty of intellect and the desire for truth. All things, then, were, for Albert, subordinate to God’s knowledge, revealed in Christ, as is evident from his great works of mystical theology, in which he ascends beyond the knowledge of all created things to be encountered by the creator, to know God and love him, who has first known and loved us into existence.

The centuries may not have been kind to Albert’s intellectual legacy: although widely respected, he is undeservedly neglected by many undergraduate philosophical curricula today. But unlike many of his medieval contemporaries, we retain a good sense of his personality and the brothers still smile fondly at the memory of his holy eccentricities. We only once read of a Prior having to curtail Albert’s experimental practices. In Cologne he was exploring the effects of alcohol on cold-blooded creatures and fed some of the brothers’ beer to a snake. Unfortunately, although amusingly, the snake escaped as was found disorientated and fractious in the cloister, much to the consternation of the graver fathers. Albert having already observed man’s apparently natural aversion to serpents — and I think I can sense a wry smile at this point — notes that the snake went floppy when under the influence. Perhaps wisely, the Prior of the day intervened to the keep the peace, and it seems Albert was advised not to allow anything else to escape from his growing menagerie.

With God’s help and some prayers, I hope I can imitate Albert’s cheerful fidelity to the Lord and his faithful unrelenting obedience to his superiors, though I feel no need to repeat this particular experiment, nor do I feel my vocation lies in experimental science. (Albert wouldn’t mind this — in his more abstract philosophy he argued it was reasonable to believe such things on testimony). But it is a joy to be one of Albert’s brothers, to belong an Order that, in 800 years of grace, has seen so many characters, not to mention drunken snakes and more. Somehow, in the mystery of providence, we are each of us called to write our own line, to make our own unique contribution, but when in God’s good time the story of the Order of Preachers comes to be concluded, few lines will be as sparkling and fondly remembered as Albert’s.”

Love,
Matthew

Nov 4 – “Conversion, community, & solidarity…”

Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by the Virgin Mary - Detail Rottmayr Fresco 1714 - Karlskirche - Vienna
Intercession of Charles Borromeo supported by the Virgin Mary – Detail Rottmayr Fresco 1714 – Karlskirche – Vienna

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-Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap.
Archbishop of Denver (1997-2011); Archbishop of Philadelphia (2011- )
Intervention at the Synod of Bishops for America
Vatican City
November 1997

“If we truly seek conversion, community and solidarity, we need to be completely frank with one another. But in doing so, we should also take heart from the fact that people will continue to have a deep hunger for God. With good teaching and good pastors, they will continue to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, and they will respond.

The nature of being a “good pastor” is what I want to focus on today. We preach best, and teach best, by our personal example. Anything which enables us to do that is good. Anything which prevents us from doing that, is not. Each one of us wants to minister to God’s people more fruitfully in the new millennium. But I believe this requires us to change — as individuals and as bishops.

We need, first of all, to become simple again. By that I mean, Gospel simple. Jesus loved simplicity because it allowed Him to immerse Himself in the essential things of His Father’s business. I believe we are in danger of losing that Christ-like focus as bishops.

Our hemisphere has become a culture of noise, confusion and complication. We are a distracted people, both North and South, and we are now also a distracted Church. We have plans and committees and projects and staffs. All these things are important in their proper place. But at the end of the day, are we apostles. . . or are we executives? And what do our people really need: managers. . . or pastors?

My concern is that the structures of today’s diocesan life too frequently prevent the very thing they were meant to help: a bishop’s direct contact with his people. Obviously, good stewardship requires skilled management of our resources. But it is too easy today for a bishop to abdicate his missionary zeal to others, and become a captive of his own administrative machinery. This runs exactly counter to the example of Jesus and the first apostles.

We bishops need to be much more radical in our own Christian vocation. By “radical,” I mean oriented toward the root. Charles Borromeo once said to his priests, “Be sure you first preach by the way you live.” The synod’s instrumentum laboris is, in some ways, too gentle toward all of us. Many of the problems we face as shepherds are not programmatic or resource-driven. They are problems of faith. Too often, those of us in the Church—and even we bishops—simply do not believe deeply and zealously enough.

Today, throughout our hemisphere, many of our people have found consumer capitalism to be much more appealing than the Gospel. Capitalism is a machine that works. It gets results. This is important, because as our economies and cultures interlock, consumerism and the practical atheism it breeds are now common problems throughout our hemisphere.

Yet the hunger for God persists in every human heart, even when it’s buried under consumer goods. And too often, we are not feeding that hunger as effectively as the fundamentalists and other evangelical Christians. I understand the frustration of my Latin American brothers very well when they talk about the invasion of aggressive religious sects into their countries. I face many of the same pastoral problems in northern Colorado. Hundreds of my own people leave the Catholic faith every year to join these fundamentalist groups.

The Church throughout our hemisphere needs to recover her original spiritual fire, which these groups now so successfully copy. We need to lead people back to the fullness of Jesus Christ, which can only be found in sacramental community and especially in the Eucharist. But how can we accomplish that? If we really want conversion, community and solidarity for the Church, we need to seek those things first within and among ourselves as brothers.

I have a great devotion to Charles Borromeo because he is very much a saint for our time. Like St. Toribio of Lima, he was a force for authentic reform in an era of tremendous change. We need to be the same.

You will recall that the printing press changed the nature of our discourse about God 500 years ago and became the engine of the Protestant Reformation. That was the terrain of Charles Borromeo’s life. In exactly the same way, the new information revolution will fundamentally affect our language of faith and truth.

These new media tools are the building blocks of a new global mentality and culture. They are a new way of knowing and expressing things, which we misunderstand at our peril. They are also creating new issues of justice — the information “haves” and “have nots” — which the Church urgently needs to speak to.

This is the terrain of our lives. Today, we have an opportunity to serve as witnesses of Jesus Christ in the midst of this “new reformation.”

That is the test of this millennial moment for all of us here. That is the fabric of the New Evangelization.”

Love,
Matthew

Nov 4 – New eagerness…

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“If we wish to make any progress in the service of God we must begin every day of our life with new eagerness. We must keep ourselves in the presence of God as much as possible and have no other view or end in all our actions but the divine honor.”
– Saint Charles Borromeo

“We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: “I will pray, and then I will understand.” This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work. In meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others.”
– Saint Charles Borromeo

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-by Br Reginald Hoeffer, OP

“St. Charles Borromeo is an eminent example of the blessed man spoken of in the readings for today’s Mass who, at the Lord’s command, renounced his own life and possessions to carry the cross of Christ. St. Charles strove to imitate Christ and so brought others to him. He accomplished this in particular through his tireless concern for the doctrinal, liturgical, and spiritual formation of both priests and laity, as well as by his constant care for the spiritual and material needs of all people. It is these qualities which make him the very portrait of a saintly pastor, a model after whom every bishop would want to follow.

St. Charles was born near Milan, Italy, in 1538 to the Count Gilberto Borromeo and the Countess Margherita de’ Medici. At age twenty-two, Charles (who was not yet even in holy orders) was made a cardinal by his uncle, Pope Pius IV. Charles was entrusted with the administration of the Archdiocese of Milan, which had been without a bishop for 80 years and was thus in a state of corruption and spiritual decay. Because of his role in organizing the final session of the Council of Trent, however, he did not assume control of his diocese for another six years.

When he at last arrived in Milan, he began to put into practice a plan of reform that, above all else, would teach his clergy and people how to be true disciples of Christ, renouncing all possessions and picking up their crosses daily (Mt. 14:25-33). He knew, though, that to get everyone on board he himself had to be the first to exhibit a life radically oriented to Christ. To show his uncompromising opposition to all ostentation and luxury, he sold what today would be equivalent to $3 million of his personal treasures and gave the entire sum to relieve families in distress. In private, he wore a simple cassock all year round to identify with the poor, and he put on his cardinal’s robes only when the situation demanded it. Whenever famine struck, he would personally feed upwards of 3,000 people daily for months on end.

But the greatest proof of his Christ-like simplicity comes from his actions in 1575 when a great plague broke out in Milan. The hospitals were “overflowing with dead, dying, [and] sick … having nobody to care for them” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints [1956 edition], 4:261). This sight moved St. Charles to tears and he “literally exhausted all his resources in relief and incurred large debts on behalf of the sufferers.” In a style that today would be hailed as classic Pope Francis, he even took the colored fabrics that were used to decorate processional routes and had them “made into clothes for the needy. But the archbishop was not content with prayer and penance, organization and distribution; he personally ministered to the dying, waited on the sick and helped those in want.” This is exactly the love which St. Paul reminds us today that we owe to our neighbors (Rom. 13:8-10).

But St. Charles realized that preaching the Gospel to the poor and suffering didn’t just mean material help; he knew that the highest form of charity would be to remedy the spiritual ills that afflicted his people. When he first arrived in Milan, Charles quickly found that “the Sacraments were neglected, for many of the clergy scarcely knew how to administer them and were lazy, ignorant, and debauched” (258). Clearly, the first thing to be done was to reform the clergy, providing both spiritual and doctrinal formation so that they could be effective pastors. So “he preached and catechized everywhere, displacing the unworthy clergy, and put in their stead others who were capable of restoring the faith and morals of the people” (259). He also demonstrated the importance for priests of caring for their own souls first so that the flock could benefit from their holy preaching. Charles set this example by going on retreat twice a year and making confession every morning before celebrating Mass.

Perhaps most importantly, St. Charles taught his priests the value of praying in the context of the Sacred Liturgy, knowing that if they did not fully enter into it, the people would never learn how to make use of the primary means of encountering Christ. He had a “great regard for the Church’s Liturgy, and never said any prayer or carried out any religious rite with haste, however much he was pressed for time or however long the rite continued” (258). This was to prove to his people the ancient adage that “the way you pray becomes the way you believe, which in turn becomes the way you live.”

St. Charles Borromeo is a model bishop for our own day particularly insofar as he is a bishop similar to the hearts of both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict. He seems to have united in his own character the major themes for which each papacy is known: simple living and service to the poor, on the one hand, and the promotion of doctrinal soundness and liturgical dignity from a charitable heart, on the other. The example of today’s saint allows us to see the harmony in the styles of these two popes, demonstrating to all that the service we owe to God in the Liturgy and the service we owe to our neighbor always go hand in hand.”

Love,
Matthew

“May the souls of the faithful departed…”

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The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and the torment of death shall not touch them.
In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die;
but they are in peace.

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-by Br Aquinas Beale, OP, is a fellow WAHOO!!!!  LIKE ME!!!  GO HOOS!!!!!

Justorum animae in manu Dei sunt. In 1605, English composer William Byrd published his motet based on this text from the Book of Wisdom. The souls of the just are in the hand of God, the sacred author asserts, and the torment of death does not touch them. Pointing to the privileged position the saints enjoy, in the hand of God, this antiphon would have been sung at the Offertory of the Mass celebrating the Solemnity of All the Saints.

Et non tanget illos tormentum mortis. God protects the souls of His saints, and the torment of death shall not touch them. Yet, the ethereal harmonies of Byrd’s setting are interrupted at this point by some jarring dissonance; the text tormentum mortis is repeated three times, each iteration bringing more dissonance into the piece and reminding the hearers of the reality of their earthly existence in which the torment of death still looms large.

Though we are told that the souls of the saints enjoy peace and security in the hand of God, how can we be certain? Ordinary experience seems to point only to the fleetingness of life and the certainty of death. Where is the hand of God in all of this?

At the time Byrd composed his setting of Justorum animae, his country was still reeling from the upheaval of the English Reformation. Henry VIII had broken with Rome and executed many dissonants; his daughter tried to restore union with Rome, acquiring the moniker “Bloody Mary” along the way; her sister sought a compromise, albeit with the sword. Even after the nearly half-century reign of Elizabeth, the religious and social unrest remained.

Two years after her death (and the same year Byrd published Justorum animae) anti-Catholic sentiment was once again aroused by the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Considering this environment of perpetual religious warfare, there is little cause for wonder at the ominous turn of Byrd’s motet. Indeed, the confident hope in avoiding the pains of warfare and the torments of death must have appeared more like folly than wisdom to at least some of Byrd’s more enlightened contemporaries. The hand of God seemed to have slipped away from the affairs of men, allowing them to sink into the mire of war and strife.

Visi sunt oculis insipientium mori. The souls of the just are in the hand of God. Yet, to the eyes of the foolish, they appear to be dead. Dead is dead, and it would seem that there are no two ways about it.

In the decades following the Crucifixion, the early Christians were no strangers to the scoffing and ridicule of the faithless. To the eyes of many, Christ appeared to be dead, and faith in Him seemed to be foolishness (1 Cor 1:22). The author of the Book of Wisdom, however, asserts that it is the eyes of the foolish that see death as the final end.Through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, the final enemy—death—had been defeated, once and for all. And so, those who now place their trust in God shall shine like stars in the night for all eternity (Dan 12:3).

Illi autem sunt in pace. Those who persevered in their faith in Christ no longer walk the face of this earth, but—we firmly hope—they are in peace. And if they do not yet enjoy the peace of Christ, we trust and pray that they will one day see Him in glory.

In the new form of the Mass, this same passage of Wisdom is read as the First Reading during today’s liturgical celebration, the Commemoration of All Souls. It provides a fitting reflection for the living, prompting them to recall the snares of death in this earthly life and to pray that the departed may experience the peace and rest of being in the hand of God.

We have a confident hope that is full of immortality (Wis 3:4), but the suffering we experience in our lives is a daily reminder of our human frailty. The death of the body remains, despite the triumph of the Cross. Therefore, if our hope is founded on our own strength and merit, we are bound to fall into the snares of death. Rather, we throw ourselves and our loved ones upon the mercy and love of God, in Whom we place all our trust. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

Holding you and all your departed loved ones in prayer on this day of remembrance. Kindly remember me and mine. May God bless you for your faithfulness.

Love,
Matthew

1 Cor 1:25

foolishness

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

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-by Joe Simmmons, SJ

“‘Smee’ would not appreciate being called a fool, holy or otherwise.

Sister Marie Estelle (special ops codename: “Smee”) was the principal of our Catholic grade school in Milwaukee for many years. Like so many great religious women, Sr. Marie Estelle ran an incredible school on a shoestring budget. Each morning she would greet us at the door with a smile, a pat on the back, and a word of encouragement.

I remember one Mardi Gras celebration in particular. Sister was running the piñata-hitting station. After spinning a blind-folded seventh grader into dizziness, Sister didn’t manage to retreat to a safe distance in time. Whack! She took a whiffle bat to the head that would’ve stunned Jose Canseco, let alone a thin, kindly religious sister. And yet, like the near-invincible T-1000 from Terminator, she lifted her head, smiled to assure us she was all right, and handed the bat to the next batter. No harm, no foul.

* * *

I never was in a class taught by Sr. Marie Estelle. But some twenty years later, I am still inspired by this holy woman who left such an impression on my young soul. No doubt each of us has similar stories of those who’ve taught us about life, inside the classroom or out.

We can call to mind those people from life who are quiet and strong; deferential and courteous; joyful and easy-going; people who don’t take themselves too seriously; people who are unaffected by slights and inconveniences. It seems like these holy ones walk through life untouched by the slings and arrows that so easily discourage the rest of us. I wonder, how did these people get like this? When did the pixie dust rain down on them? Have they always been blissfully unaware of others’ eye-splinters, ‘holy fools’ untroubled by the reality around them?

And more importantly, What must they think of the rest of us, who fall far short of unconditional love?

Maybe Sr. Marie Estelle was so unflappable because she had no idea what was going on around her. (Maybe she thought getting hit with a whiffle bat was a sign of adolescent affection?) Maybe life was just simpler for the respectable, kindly figures who inhabit these stories. Maybe everybody was just less cynical, less unloving, ‘back in the day’.

“Not so fast, there, Simmons” you might say. And you’d be right.

Though Sr. Marie Estelle was old as the hills in the eyes of an eight year old, we knew from the look on her face that she didn’t miss anything. AN.Y.THING. To my young mind, Sister was everywhere at once – leading morning announcements, prefecting the cafeteria during lunch time, picking up trash as she strolled the hallways. When I was in third grade, she once caught wind of one of my smart-alecky remarks about a teacher. Her face appeared in Ms. Schwab’s door-window that afternoon, staring right at me. Sister called me into the hallway with a slender, beckoning finger. It was time for Joey to have a come-to-Jesus chat about kindness. How did she KNOW??

* * *

When I’ve actually sat and talked with the “holy fools” in my life, I find something in them other than blissful aloofness. They too have had unkind thoughts fill their heads, and strong feelings slink through their hearts. They too know pettiness, jealousy, competitiveness, pride, and sloth. They too have walked with, talked with, and wrestled with the types demons that the rest of us have. They too have failed in the past to live up to their own aspirations, yes; but they get back up and keep trying, one day at a time.

A few years ago, our resident Thinker of Luminous Thoughts Tim O’Brien, SJ turned me on to a quotation which stopped me cold. Author Marilynne Robinson writes,

“The tragic mystery of human nature has by no means played itself out. Wisdom, which is almost always another name for humility, lies in accepting one’s own inevitable share of human fallibility.”

Maybe that’s what holiness looks like for us in a somewhat cynical age: Accepting one’s one fallibility. The wisdom of our “holy fools” lies not in their ability to ignore reality, but to be fully attuned to it. Yet wisdom is more than an ability to sniff out and name shortcomings. Holy wisdom comes from a learnéd, cultivated love of others, a love which would sooner pardon than pin down. Why? Because these “holy fools” know that they have their own demons, and they turn to God for help to keep them tamed. They have experienced – and in turn embody – the forgiving love that God has for each of us, in spite of ourselves. The God who knows all of our resistances and limitations, and like a parent — or a kindly grade school principal — wants only the best for us.

These are the wise teachers, the saintly heroes of the stories we tell. Often enough, they see the limitations we work so hard to cover, and yet they refrain from rendering judgment. Perhaps it is their loving restraint — rather than aloofness — that give them an aura of saintliness. Thank God for these living saints, who remain so resolutely uninterested in others’ imperfections.

The Smiling Pope

If Marilynne Robinson is right, then wisdom and humility are not magic. They do not hit us all at once like a whiffle bat — at least they haven’t for me. Whatever patience and love I’ve summoned for others has come only from recognizing the slow, patient love I’ve already received. Love and support from the the unheralded saints — the holy fools — that God has seen fit to place in our lives.

Saint John XXIII wrote, “See everything. Overlook a lot. Make a little progress.” If this is how saints are forged, then sign me up.

+May all God’s holy fools pray for us today, and every day.+”

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

Nov 24 – “Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and all the saints…”

Michele_Giambono_San_Crisógono_a_caballo_San_Trovaso_Venecia

– by Michele Giambono, ca. 1450, San Crisógono a caballo, San Trovaso, Venecia, 199 cm (78.3 in). Width: 134 cm (52.8 in).

-by Br Isaac Augustine Morales, OP (Br Isaac earned a PhD in New Testament from Duke University and taught for four years in the Theology Department of Marquette University prior to joining the Order.)

“Today is the feast day of St. Chrysogonus. You may think you know nothing about him, but if you go to Mass regularly, chances are you’ve at least heard his name: “With Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and all the saints.” Thus runs one part of the Roman Canon, one of the Eucharistic prayers of the Roman liturgy. Today is also the feast day of St. Colman of Cloyne, St. Andrew Dung Lac, St. Columbanus, St. Alexander, and St. Anthony Nam-Quynh. In fact, according to one calendar, it is the feast day of over thirty saints and blesseds, and one would find similar numbers for practically every day of the year.

Most of these saints are unfamiliar to us. So why does the Church recognize and celebrate so many saints? Isn’t it a bit much? I suggest three reasons that the Church puts these men and women forward for our veneration (dulia vs latria): their numbers inspire hope, they manifest the infinite variety of God’s goodness, and they remind us that holiness is ultimately ordered to the glory of God.

Considering the vast number of saints recognized by the Church gives us hope, because the saints remind us of how effective God’s grace is. Not a single one of the saints became holy purely by his own efforts. (Ed. even their own nature’s, whatever they might have been, cooperating with grace, were God’s gift.) The grace of God transformed them, fixing their broken nature so that they might become the images of God he created them to be (Gen 1:26-28), conformed to Christ, the perfect “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). If God has worked such a transformation in so many men and women throughout history – men and women who were just as broken as we are – then we can be confident that he can do the same for you and me. (Ed.: I believe in grace.)

The saints also manifest the inexhaustible richness of God’s goodness. God calls people from all cultures, times, and places, and from all walks of life. The same God who knocked a first-century Jewish tentmaker to the ground, irrevocably changing the course of his life, also invited a small Albanian Sister of Loreto to found a new order and set the world on fire. Doctors, priests, monks, scholars, virgins, mothers, Europeans, Americans, Africans, Asians – no state in life, no culture is beyond the transformative power of God’s holiness. The Church gives us saints from every age and from every region of the world to teach us that no situation is outside the immeasurable grace and mercy of God.

Finally, the saints remind us that all our striving after holiness is ultimately for the glory of God. With so many saints on the Church’s calendar, some of them are bound to be forgotten or at least neglected – and they’re okay with that! Holiness is not about attracting the praise of others to yourself, but about drawing others to praise God, who is wonderful in his saints. With the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints sing, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!” In imitation of their Lord, who humbled himself to the point of death, death on a cross, they, too, humble themselves for the glory of God. Through the intercession of St. Chrysogonus – and of St. Colman of Cloyne, St. Andrew Dung Lac, St. Columbanus, St. Alexander, and St. Anthony Nam-Quynh, indeed of all the saints – may we be strengthened to do the same.”

(Ed.: today is also the feast of Sts Flora & Mary, Martyrs of Cordoba, Spain.)

All you holy men and women, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

Nov 22 – Bl George Haydock, Priest & Martyr, (1556-1584) & the 85 Martyrs of England, Scotland, & Wales

st-_andrews_and_blessed_george_haydocks_catholic_church_cottam_lancashire_uk
-St. Andrew’s & Blessed_George_Haydock’s Catholic Church, Cottam, Lancashire, UK

A group of Catholic male martyrs, aged between 24 and 80 years old, including George Haydock and sixty-two laypeople and religious.   Sixty-three of these martyrs were ordained Catholic priests.  Twenty-two were laypeople from various social ranks and walks of life.

These martyrs were arrested, tried, and executed particularly during the reign of Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) and Oliver Cromwell (r. 1653-1658), the Lord Protector, because they refused to accept statutes from these monarch/dictator that denied the Catholic Church’s role in their homeland.

George Haydock, singularly praised in this beatification, was born in 1556 at Cotton Hall, England, the son of Evan and Helen Haydock. He was sent to Douai, France, and then Rome, Italy, to be educated.

George was ordained a priest on December 21, 1581, probably at Reims, France. He returned to England to begin a missionary apostolate but was arrested soon after and placed in the Tower of London.He spent a year and three months in confinement in the Tower of London, suffering from a malarial fever he first contracted in the early summer of 1581 when visiting the seven churches of Rome.

About May, 1583, though he remained in the Tower, his imprisonment was relaxed to “free custody”, and he was able to administer the Sacraments to his fellow-prisoners. During the first period of his captivity he was accustomed to decorate his cell with the name and arms of the pope scratched or drawn in charcoal on the door or walls, and through his career his devotion to the papacy amounted to a passion.  On 16 January 1584, he and other priests imprisoned in the Tower were examined at the Guildhall by the recorder touching their beliefs.

He frankly confessed, with reluctance, that he was eventually obliged to declare that the queen was a heretic, and so seal his fate. On 5 February 1584, he was indicted with James Fenn, a Somersetshire man, formerly fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, William Deane who had been ordained priest the same day as himself, and six other priests, for having conspired against the queen at Reims, 23 September 1581, agreeing to come to England, 1 October, and setting out for England, 1 November. In point of fact he arrived at Reims on 1 November 1581.

On the same 5 February two further indictments were brought, the one against Thomas Hemerford, a Dorsetshire man, sometime scholar of St John’s College, Oxford, the other against John Munden, a Dorsetshire man, sometime fellow of New College, Oxford, John Nutter, a Lancashire man, sometime scholar of St John’s College, Cambridge, and two other priests. The next day, St Dorothy’s Day, Haydock, Fenn, Hemerford, Munden, and Nutter were brought to the bar and pleaded not guilty.

Haydock had for a long time shown a great devotion to St Dorothy, and was accustomed to commit himself and his actions to her daily protection. It may be that he first entered the college at Douai on that day in 1574-5, but this is uncertain. The Concertatio Ecclesiae says he was arrested on this day in 1581-2, but the Tower bills state that he was committed to the Tower on the 5th, in which case he was arrested on the 4th.

On Friday the 7th all five were found guilty, and sentenced to death. The other four were committed in shackles to “the pit” in the Tower. Haydock, perhaps in case he should die by a natural death, was sent back to his old quarters. Early on Wednesday the 12th he said Mass, and later the five priests were drawn to Tyburn on hurdles; Haydock, being probably the youngest and certainly the weakest in health, was the first to suffer. An eyewitness gave an account of their execution, which John Hungerford Pollen printed in the fifth volume of the Catholic Record Society.

Haydock was twenty-eight, Munden about forty, Fenn, a widower, with two children, was probably also about forty, Hemerford was probably about Haydock’s age; Nutter’s age is unknown.

Some of the better known martyred companions of George Haydock and the year they died are as follows:

William Carter (1584)
Hugh Grant (1585)
Marmaduke Bowes (1585)
Alexander Crow (1586 or 1587)
Nicholas Woodfen (1586)
William Pichard (1587)
Edmund Duke and Companions (1590)
Roger Thorpe (1591),
Thomas Watkinson (1591)
George Errington (1596)
William Gibson (1596)
Peter Snow (1598)
Ralph Grimstow (1598)
Christopher Wharton (1600)
Francis Ingleby (1586)
John Fingley (1586)
Robert Bickerdike (1586)
William Thomson (1586)
John Sandys (1586)
Richard Sargeant (1586)
John Lowe (1586)
Robert Dibdale (1586)
John Adams (1586)
Edmund Sykes (1587)
Stephen Rowsham (1587)
John Hambley (1587)
George Douglas (1587)
Richard Simpson (1588)
Edward Burden (1588)
Henry Webley (1588)
William Lampley (1588)
Nicholas Garlick (1588)
Robert Ludlam (1588)
Robert Sutton (1588)
Richard (Lloyd) Flower (1588)
William Spenser (1589)
Robert Hardesty (1589)
Thomas Belson (1589)
Richard Yaxley (1589)
George Nichols (1589)
Humphrey Pritchard (1589)
Nicholas Horner (1590)
Alexander Blake (1590)
George Beesley (1591)
William Pike (1591)
Mountford Scott (1591)
Joseph Lambton (1592)
Thomas Pormort (1592)
William Davies (1593)
Anthony Page (1593)
Christopher Robinson (1597)
John Bretton (1598)
Edward Thwing (1600)
Thomas Palaser (1600)
John Talbot (1600)
Robert Nutter (1600)
John Norton (1600)
Roger Filcock (1600)
Thomas Hunt (1600)
Thomas Sprott (1600)
Robert Middleton (1601)
Thurston Hunt (1601)
Robert Grissold (1604)
John Sugar (1604)
Robert Drury (1607)
Matthew Flathers (1608)
Roger Cadwallador (1610)
Thomas Atkinson (1616)
Roger Wrenno (1616)
John Thules (1616)
William Southerne (1618)
Thomas Bullaker (1642)
Henry Heath (1643)
Arthur Bell (1643)
Edward Bamber (1646)
John Woodcock (1646)
Thomas Whittaker (1646)
Nicholas Postage (1679)
and Charles Meeham (1679)

Pope St John Paul II beatified George Haydock and the other martyrs on November 22, 1987, The Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe.

“This feast of Christ the King proclaims that all earthly power is ultimately from God, that His Kingdom is our first and lasting concern and that obedience to His laws is more important than any other obligation or loyalty.

Thomas More, that most English of saints, declared on the scaffold: “I die the King’s good servant but God’s servant first”. In this way he witnessed to the primacy of the Kingdom.

Today we have declared Blessed another eighty-five martyrs: from England, Scotland and Wales, and one from Ireland. Each of them chose to be “God’s servant First”. They consciously and willingly embraced death for love of Christ and the Church. They too chose the Kingdom above all else. If the price had to be death they would pay it with courage and joy.

Blessed Nicholas Postgate welcomed his execution “as a short cut to heaven”. Blessed Joseph Lambton encouraged those who were to die with him with the words “Let us be merry, for tomorrow I hope we shall have a heavenly breakfast”. Blessed Hugh Taylor, not knowing the day of his death, said: “How happy I should be if on this Friday, on which Christ died for me, I might encounter death for Him”. He was executed on that very day, Friday 6 November 1585. Blessed Henry Heath, who died in 1643, thanked the court for condemning him and giving him the “singular honour to die with Christ”.

Among these eighty-five martyrs we find priests and laymen, scholars and craftsmen. The oldest was in his eighties, and the youngest no more than twenty-four. There were among them a printer, a bartender, a stable-hand, a tailor. What unites them all is the sacrifice of their lives in the service of Christ their Lord.

The priests among them wished only to feed their people with the Bread of Life and with the Word of the Gospel. To do so meant risking their lives. But for them this price was small compared to the riches they could bring to their people in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The twenty-two laymen in this group of martyrs shared to the full the same love of the Eucharist. They, too, repeatedly risked their lives, working together with their priests, assisting, protecting and sheltering them. Laymen and priests worked together; together they stood on the scaffold and together welcomed death. Many women, too, not included today in this group of martyrs, suffered for their faith and died in prison. They have earned our undying admiration and remembrance.

These martyrs gave their lives for their loyalty to the authority of the Successor of Peter, who alone is Pastor of the whole flock. They also gave their lives for the unity of the Church, since they shared the Church’s faith, unaltered down the ages, that the Successor of Peter has been given the task of serving and ensuring “the unity of the flock of Christ”. He has been given by Christ the particular role of confirming the faith of his brethren.

The martyrs grasped the importance of that Petrine ministry. They gave their lives rather than deny this truth of their faith. Over the centuries the Church in England, Wales and Scotland has drawn inspiration from these martyrs and continues in love of the Mass and in faithful adherence to the Bishop of Rome. The same loyalty and faithfulness to the Pope is demonstrated today whenever the work of renewal in the Church is carried out in accordance with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and in communion with the universal Church.

Central to this renewal, to which the Holy Spirit calls the Church, is work for that unity among Christians for which Christ Himself prayed. We must all rejoice that the hostilities between Christians, which so shaped the age of these martyrs, are over, replaced by fraternal love and mutual esteem.

Seventeen years ago [1970] forty of the glorious company of martyrs were canonized. It was the prayer of the Church on that day that the blood of those martyrs would be a source of healing for the divisions between Christians. Today we may fittingly give thanks for the progress made in the intervening years towards fuller communion between Anglicans and Catholics. We rejoice in the deeper understanding, broader collaboration and common witness that have taken place through the power of God.

In the days of the martyrs whom we honor today, there were other Christians who died for their beliefs. We can all now appreciate and respect their sacrifice. Let us respond together to the great challenge which confronts those who would preach the Gospel in our age. Let us be bold and united in our profession of our common Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.”

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-plaque honoring Blessed George Haydock in St. Andrew’s & Blessed George Haydock’s Catholic Church, Cottam, Lancashire, UK.

“I pray God that my blood may increase the Catholic faith in England.” – Blessed George Haydock, speaking from the gallows

Blessed Martyrs of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew