Category Archives: November

Nov 9 – Solemnity of the Dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran, 325 AD

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-baptistry of St John Lateran

The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome. It was built during Constantine’s reign and was consecrated by Pope Saint Sylvester I in 324 AD. That church and the adjoining palace were destroyed during the “Babylonian Captivity”, or Avignon Papacy.  The current structure Pope Innocent X commissioned in 1646.

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One of Rome¹s most imposing churches, the Lateran¹s towering facade is crowned with 15 colossal statues of Christ, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and 12 doctors of the Church. Beneath its high altar rest the remains of the small wooden table on which tradition holds St. Peter himself celebrated Mass.  As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, containing the papal throne (Cathedra Romana), it ranks above all other churches in the Roman Catholic Church, even above St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

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The basilica itself stands over the remains of the Castra Nova equitum singularium, the ‘new fort’ of the imperial cavalry bodyguard. The fort had been established by Septimius Severus in AD 193, but following the victory over Maxentius (whom the Equites singulares augusti had fought for) at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge by Constantine I the guard were abolished and the fort demolished. Substantial remains of the fort lie directly beneath the basilica nave. The rest of the Basilica site was occupied during the early Roman Empire by the palace of the gens Laterani. The Laterani served as administrators for several emperors; Sextius Lateranus was the first plebeian to attain the rank of consul. One of the Laterani, Consul-designate Plautius Lateranus, became famous for being accused by Nero of conspiracy against the emperor. The accusation resulted in the confiscation and redistribution of his properties.

The Lateran Palace fell into the hands of the emperor when Constantine I married his second wife Fausta, sister of Maxentius. Known by that time as the “Domus Faustae” or “House of Fausta,” the Lateran Palace was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine. The actual date of the gift is unknown but scholars believe it had to have been during the pontificate of Pope Miltiades, in time to host a synod of bishops in 313 that was convened to challenge the Donatist schism, declaring Donatism as heresy. The palace basilica was converted and extended, eventually becoming the cathedral of Rome, the seat of the popes as bishops of Rome.

Every pope from Miltiades occupied the Lateran Palace until the reign of the French Pope Clement V, who in 1309 decided to transfer the official seat of the Catholic Church to Avignon, a papal fief that was an enclave within France.  How and why that happened is a, some say very, long story I will spare you at the moment.

During the Avignon papacy, the Lateran Palace and the basilica began to decline. Two destructive fires ravaged the Lateran Palace and the basilica, in 1307 and again in 1361. In both cases, the Avignon papacy sent money to their bishops in Rome to cover the costs of reconstruction and maintenance. Despite the action, the Lateran Palace and the basilica lost their former splendor.

When the Avignon papacy formally ended and the Bishop of Rome again resided in Rome, the Lateran Palace and the basilica were deemed inadequate considering the accumulated damage. The popes took up residency at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and later at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Eventually, the Palace of the Vatican was built (adjacent to the Basilica of St. Peter, that already existed at the Vatican since the time of Constantine), and the papacy moved in; the papacy remains there today.

This feast was later made a universal celebration in honor of the basilica in reflection of the basilica’s primacy in the world as mother church.  The words: “Sacrosancta Lateranensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput” are incised in the main door, meaning “Most Holy Lateran Church, of all the churches in the city and the world, the mother and head.”. This feast was established as a sign of love for and union with the See of Saint Peter for the entire Universal Church.

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The square in front of the Lateran Palace has a red-granite obelisk, the largest in the world, commissioned by Pharaoh Thuthmose III and completed by his grandson Thutmose IV in Karnak, and placed in the Circus Maximus before being re-erected in its current place.  Truly, suggestive of, to me, King of Kings.

Love,
Matthew

Nov 1 – Solemnity of All Saints

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I realize, as a Catholic, not all Christians, perhaps not all Catholics, and certainly not most non-Christians subscribe with enthusiasm to “I believe in…the communion of saints,…”( –Apostle’s Creed, the ancient baptismal creed of the Church).  Yet, a wise priest I know once said to me, “Get over it!  It’s a Christian Hall of Fame!”

Football has a hall of fame; baseball has a hall of fame; nations have halls of fame, why not Christianity?  Critics of the saints contend they have the potential to deflect worship from God directly; with respect, I firmly believe they amplify our worship of God directly.  By showing us how the Gospel might actually be lived in this life they, in fact, not only amplify our worship of God directly, they echo it so loudly and so clearly that the Glory of God resonates back into our “real world”; applied Christianity.

It is most encouraging to a weak and back-sliding sinner like me to read of the Apostles stumbling and fumbling around.  (I sometimes picture Jesus like Moe Howard of the Three Stooges wanting to knock their heads together like Larry and Curly because they just don’t get it, saying “OK, you numbskulls!” with that perfect, unique, hollow coconut sound effect in the background.  I know, I know, not very Jesus-like. J  Love my enemies?  Pray for my persecutors?  Bless those who curse me?  Forgive and forgive and forgive? C’mon what are you smokin’?)

Eventually, no pun intended, they did get it.  Tradition holds only John died a natural death.

These men and women, whom we call saints, many deeply and profoundly flawed often for the majority of their lives, finally got it and often in glorious and earth shaking ways.  It gives me hope for myself that there is hope I might “get it” even just a little more before I meet the Lord face-to-face, God willing.

I also take great solace when reading the Lives of the Saints when I come across a challenge or a crisis of faith similar to what I have experienced or what I know others have experienced and how the saints, real men and women, suffered under similar circumstances or even much more dramatic ones, and what their non-intuitive, non-instinctual, but rather Christ-like response ultimately was.

I am an engineer I know because I can never be satisfied with pure theory, knowledge for the sake of knowledge; but, rather, I have an internal need to solve practical, “real world” problems, applied knowledge for the sake of a practical benefit.  Scientists = pure science, knowledge simply for the sake of having new or more knowledge; engineers = applied science, knowledge for the sake of obtaining a practical benefit.  And so, I have a deep affection, resonance, and amazement at the lives of the saints and their applied Christianity.  Who needs Hollywood or soap operas, these stories are great!

If, at times, you could use a little encouragement in your struggles and on your faith journey, as I regularly do, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself more fully with lives of some of the Christian saints.  I would be amazed if you could not take great courage and solace from them as I have often been able to do.

“No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.”
-St Ignatius of Antioch, 107 AD, third bishop of Antioch, Syria (St Peter, tradition holds, was the first bishop of Antioch, before becoming bishop of Rome), in his last letter to the Roman Christian community, on his way to execution by exposure to wild beasts in the Flavian amphitheater in Rome.  He was also the first Christian writer to use the term “catholic” = universal and apply it to the Church.

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-“The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs”, by Fra Angelico, (about 1423-24) Tempera on wood, 31,9 x 63,5 cm cm National Gallery, London, please click on the image for greater detail.

Prayer to All the Saints

Lord, Your Beloved now live in eternal happiness and in the fullness of Your glory.  Because of their love of You, they also care about me and my family, my friends, my church, and my neighbors, everyone.  Thank you for the gift of their holy lives and their witness of their love for You.  I ask them to intercede for me and my intentions and for those whom I love.  I ask them to help us journey safely to You.  Lord, give us their protection, so we too may come to enjoy the joy You have promised those who remain faithful to You.

Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Nov 7 – Blessed John Duns Scotus, OFM, (1265-1308), Defender of the Immaculate Conception

You may have heard of the Knights Templar in scandal-invecting modern fiction such as The DaVinci Code, et al.  Blessed John was a contemporary and was affected by the intrigues of King Phillip the Fair of France.  We fear, through superstition, whenever the 13th of a month falls on a Friday thanks and due to Phillip’s persecution, unjustified, of the Knights Templar on Friday, October 13, 1307.

His most famous victim, Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, cried out from the flames as he was burning March 18, 1314 about Pope Clement, who had acquiesced to Philip’s avaricious and power-seeking threats and demands, and Philip, who owed the Templars A LOT of money!  Why pay them if you can just kill them and seize their property? The Templar Grand Master cried out from the flames that Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before God:  “Dieu sait qui a tort et a pëché. Il va bientot arriver malheur à ceux qui nous ont condamnés à mort” = “God knows who is wrong and has sinned. Soon a calamity will occur to those who have condemned us to death.”  Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died in a hunting accident before the end of the year.

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-King Phillip IV (the Fair = pretty, not just), 1268-1314

Blessed John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan priest and theologian of the 13th century, next to St. Bonaventure, is perhaps the most important and influential theologian in the history of the Franciscan Order. He was the founder of the Scotistic School in Theology, and until the time of the French Revolution his thought dominated the Roman Catholic faculties of theology in nearly all the major universities of Europe. He is chiefly known for his theology on the Absolute Kingship of Jesus Christ, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his philosophic refutation of the evolution of morality.  The doctrines for which he is best known are the “univocity of being,” that existence is the most abstract concept we have, applicable to everything that exists; the formal distinction, a way of distinguishing between different aspects of the same thing; and the idea of haecceity, the property supposed to be in each individual thing that makes it an individual. Scotus also developed a complex argument for the existence of God.

Bl. John Duns Scotus was born in Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland, around 1265. He was immediately baptized after birth and was named after St. John the Evangelist. He received a solid Christian formation from home and from the parish priest. He frequented the Cistercian Abbey of Melrose for his catechism lessons. There, he absorbed the ardent love for the Mother of God which St. Bernard had left as a patrimony to the Cistercians.

As a little boy, Bl. John suffered very much from the obtuseness of his intellect. He wanted to read, to write and to study the profundity of the truths of the Faith, but his mind just could not manage to learn or understand anything. By means of with prayers and sighs, he had recourse to Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, asking her to heal his dullness so that he could advance in his studies. Mary appeared to him and granted his request. Going back to school, the “pea-brained” could only astonish his classmates and teachers. Bl. John resolved to make use of the heavenly gift of sublime intelligence, above all, to glorify the sweet and glorious Virgin Mary, treasurer of every good.

In Roman Catholicism, the epithet (in its positive sense, as in a title) “the Seat of Wisdom” or “Throne of Wisdom” (Sedes Sapientiae) is identified with one of many devotional titles for the Mother of God. In ancient times, authority “sat” and everyone else stood.  That is why thrones were important.  The only one(s) who sat were the most important ones in the room.  We still carry this concept in our language as in “chairman”.  In church or in Roman court, the judge sat, i.e. “all rise!”, and celebrants in church sat, parishioners stood.  Universal pews in church are a recent Protestant invention.  Thank you!  You can still see evidence of this in the great cathedrals of Europe where impermanent wooden benches occupy the space previously for the standing congregation.

The phrase, “Seat of Wisdom”, which was characterized in the 11th and 12th centuries, by St Peter Damian and Guibert de Nogent as likening Mary to the Throne of Solomon, refers to her status as a vessel of the Incarnation, carrying the Holy Child. As the phrase associates the Blessed Virgin with glory and with teaching, Madonna-images in this tradition are especially popular in Catholic imagery.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom

In Christian iconography, Sedes Sapientiae (“The Throne of Wisdom”) is an icon of the Mother of God in majesty. When the Virgin is depicted in sedes sapientiae icons and sculptural representations, she is seated on a throne, with the Christ Child on her lap.  This type of madonna-image, appeared in a wide range of sculptural and, later, painted images in Western Europe, especially about 1200.

In these representations, some structural elements of the throne invariably appear, even if only handholds and front legs. For hieratic purposes, the Virgin’s feet often rest on a low stool. Later, Gothic sculptures of the type are more explicitly identifiable with the Throne of Solomon, where:  “…two lions stood, one at each hand. And twelve little lions stood upon the six steps on the one side and on the other.” (I Kings 10: 18–20, repeated at II Chronicles 9: 17–19)  The Sedes Sapientiae icon also appeared in illuminated manuscripts, and Romanesque frescoes and mosaics, and was represented on seals.

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-Madonna as Seat of Wisdom, January, 1199, poplar wood, from the Camaldolese abbey in Borgo San Sepolcro near Arezzo, Italy.  The inscription reads, in part, “On the mother’s bosom shines the wisdom of the Father.”

At the age of 15, Bl. John entered the novititate of the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans) at Dumfries, in the Kingdom of Scotland. There he made praiseworthy progress day by day in piety and in seraphic virtue. After a year he consecrated himself to God by the religious profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He was then sent for his studies in various theological schools of the Order. He was ordained a priest by Msgr. Oliver Sutton, Bishop of Lincoln, England, on March 17, 1291, at the church of St. Andrew of the Monks of Cluny. After his ordination, he began a series of travels between England and France to pursue advanced philosophical and theological studies.

The Blessed Virgin Appears to Bl. John

During the night of Christmas, 1299 at the Oxford Convent, Bl. John, immersed in his contemplation of the adorable mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, was rapt in ecstasy. The Blessed Mother appeared to him and placed on his arms the Child Jesus who kissed and embraced him fondly. This was perhaps the occasion which inspired Bl. John to write so profoundly and fluently on the absolute primacy of Christ and the reason for the Incarnation. Christ’s Incarnation, which is decreed from all eternity even apart from the Redemption, is the supreme created manifestation of God’s love.

Bl. John at the University of Oxford, England

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-plaque, University Church, Oxford University, honoring Bl John Duns Scotus, OFM

After about four years of teaching at Oxford and Cambridge, at the end of 1301, Bl. John returned to Paris. He was granted his bachelor’s degree in theology. Later, on the vigil of receiving his doctorate, he had to leave France suddenly, to return to England. Philip, the Fair, in a disgraceful quarrel with Pope Boniface VIII demanded all clerics, nobles religious, bishops and the University of Paris to appeal to the Council against the Pope. Bl. John Duns Scotus, among the few members of the faculty, refused to accede to the wishes of the King, who wanted to tax the Church to finance his war with England, and chose the way of exile, sometime between the 25th and 28th of June 1308.

After a year, the situation abated and Bl. John was back again at the University of Paris where he received the doctorate in theology and thus inaugurated his official professorship which was to lead him to singular glory among the great medieval scholastics. Soon the fame of his genius and learning spread abroad and students came in great numbers to attend the lectures of the new master. On account of his habit of making refined distinctions during theologic argumentation, the title “Subtle Doctor”(Doctor Subtilis) was conferred on him by his contemporaries.

Rodulphus wrote of him: “There was nothing so recondite, nothing so abstruse that his keen mind could not fathom and clarify; nothing so knotty, that he like another Oedupus, could not unravel, nothing so fraught with difficulty or enveloped in darkness that his genius could not expound.” Another author wrote: “He described the Divine Nature as if he had seen God; the celestial spirits as if he had been an angel; the happiness of the future state as if he had enjoyed them; and the ways of Providence as if he had penetrated into its secrets.”

Bl. John’s Defense of the Immaculate Conception

It was also in Paris that Bl. John came to be called as the “Marian Doctor” after he championed the privilege of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. In England, Bl. John taught the truth of this Marian privilege without any opposition. But at Paris the situation was reversed. The academic body of the University admitted only the purification of Mary in the womb of Her mother St. Anne, like St. John the Baptist.

Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Parisian Masters, were not able to solve the problem of the universality of original sin and of the efficacy of Christ’s Redemption. They thought that even the Blessed Virgin Mary was included in this universality, and therefore subject to contract the original stain even if only for an instant, so that she may also be redeemed.

Scotus in his attempt to introduce and teach a theological position different from that upheld by the university, had to appear in a public dispute before the whole academic body, at the risk of expulsion from the university if he failed to defend his doctrine. Bl. John Scotus prepared himself for the event in prayer and recollection and in total confidence to the Immaculate Virgin, the Seat of Wisdom.

When the fixed day of the dispute arrived, on leaving the convent, he passed before a statue of Our Lady as we might pass before the photo of a loved one and recall them to mind, and with suppliant voice entreated her: “Allow me to praise You, O Most Holy Virgin; give me strength against your enemies.” Our Lady responded with a prodigious visible sign: the head of the statue moved and bowed slightly before him. It was as if to say: “Yes I will give you all the strength you need.”

Two Papal legates presided over the dispute. Then with powerful dialectic and with deep and subtle reasoning, Bl. Scotus refuted all the objections of the learned men in attendance, undermining the foundation of every argument contrary to Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Bl. John Scotus pointed out: “The Perfect Redeemer, must in some case, have done the work of redemption most perfectly, which would not be, unless there is some person, at least, in whose regard, the wrath of God was anticipated and not merely appeased.” Bl. John triumphed. From that day the University of Paris took up the same cause to defend this privilege of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The following hymn is a Christian hymn from the 4th century AD.  It is one of the five antiphons for the psalms of Second Vespers for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec 8, nine months before the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, or the day Mary’s birthday is celebrated in the Church, Sep 8.  It takes some text from the deutero-canonical book of Judith, and other text from Song of Songs (Solomon), specifically 4:7.

Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu laetitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Tota pulchra es, Maria.

You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
Your clothing is white as snow, and your face is like the sun.
You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you give honor to our people.
You are all beautiful, Mary.

Bl. John’s Death and Beatification

Bl. John Duns Scotus had to leave the university at Paris one more time, partly for some political reasons and partly because some doubts had been cast on his theology by opponents. The Franciscan Minister General sent Scotus to Cologne, Germany, where he lectured for some time in the Franciscan house of studies until his untimely death on 8th November, 1308, barely 43 years of age. He was called “blessed” almost immediately after his death.

Bl John Duns Scotus is buried in the Church of the Franciscans in Cologne, Germany. His sarcophagus bears the Latin inscription: “Scotia me genuit. Anglia me suscepit. Gallia me docuit. Colonia me tenet. = “Scotland brought me forth. England sustained me. France taught me. Cologne holds me.”  According to an old tradition, Scotus was believed eventually to have been buried alive following his lapse into a coma, a common hazard until modern times, i.e. Edgar Allen Poe.

Through the centuries his tomb has been visited by large numbers of the faithful and public veneration has been offered to him in the dioceses of Edinburgh, Scotland, Nola, Italy, and Cologne, Germany, as well as throughout the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans).

The Dunce Cap

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The word “dunce” comes from the name of John Duns Scotus, a Scholastic, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism ,whose followers were called “duns” or “dunsmen”. Duns Scotus wrote treatises on grammar, logic, and metaphysics which were widely used as textbooks in the medieval British universities. As the English Renaissance began and the new learning superseded Duns Scotus’ theories, his adherents remained loyal. The word “dunce” then began to be used by humanists to ridicule the Scholastics, gradually acquiring its modern meaning.

Frequently the ‘dunce’ was made to stand in the corner (I remember having to do this, sans the cap), facing the wall as the result of some bad behavior, usually rudeness or mean threatening actions. Depending on the teacher, they might have to stand for as long as half an hour and throwers of spitballs or pulling on a girl’s hair (Heaven!:)  could prompt the measure.   Class clowns were frequently admonished with the dunce cap.  Who?  Me?  C’est moi.

Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception & Beatification of John Duns Scotus

In 1854, Pope Pius IX solemnly declared that the Marian doctrine of Bl. John , was a correct expression of the faith of the Apostles: “at the first moment of Her conception, Mary was preserved free from the stain of original sin, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ.”  The seal of the Church’s approval was also placed on Bl. John’s doctrine on the universal primacy of Christ when the feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925. On March 20, 1992 Bl. John Duns Scotus was beatified by Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Bl. John Duns Scotus, “The minstrel of the Word Incarnate” and “Defender of Mary’s Immaculate Conception” is presented by Pope John Paul II to our age “wealthy of human, scientific and technological resources, but in which many have lost the sense of faith and lead lives distant from Christ and His Gospel,” as “a Teacher of thought and life.” For the Church, Bl John is “an example of fidelity to the revealed truth, of effective, priestly, and serious dialogue in search for unity.” It was also the Holy Father’s hope that “Bl John’s spirit and memory enlighten with the very light of Christ the trials and hope of our society.”

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-Bl John Duns Scotus

Intercession of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, is often wisely sought out by students.  You know of my particular sympathy/affection for students, especially the ones who have to work a little, or a lot, harder for satisfactory results.  God does work miracles!  Deo gratias!  It’s a miracle! (With a little help from humane professors!)

Prayer of Students to Mary, Seat of Wisdom

Under your patronage, dear Mother, and calling on the mystery of your Immaculate Conception, I desire to pursue my studies and my literary works: I hereby solemnly declare that I am giving myself to these studies chiefly with the following goal: that I may the better contribute to the glory of God and to the promotion of your veneration among men. I ask you, therefore, most loving Mother, who are the Seat of Wisdom, to bless my work in your loving-kindness. I also promise with true affection and a willing spirit, as it is right that I should do, to ascribe all the good that shall come to me from my studies, wholly to your intercession for me in God’s holy presence.

Amen.

Consecration of Students to Mary, Seat of Wisdom

O Mary, Seat of Wisdom, so many persons of common intellect have made, through your intercession, admirable progress in their studies.
I hereby choose you as guardian and patron of my studies. I humbly ask you to obtain for me the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that from now on I could understand more quickly, retain more readily, and express myself more fluently.  May the example of my life serve to honor you and your Son, Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving for the wisdom Blessed John Duns Scotus

Heavenly Father, you filled Bl. John Duns Scotus with wisdom, and through his life and teaching gave us a witness of Your Incarnate love. May we come to understand more deeply what he taught so that we may live in ever growing charity.  Amen.

Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed John Duns Scotus

O Most High, Almightily and gracious Lord, Who exalts the humble and confounds the proud of heart, grant us the great joy of seeing Blessed John Duns Scotus canonized. He honored Your Son with the most sublime praises; he was the first to successfully defend the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary; he lived in heroic obedience to the Holy Father, to the Church and to the Seraphic Order. O most holy Father, God of Infinite Love, hear, we beseech You, our humble prayer, thorough the merits of Your Only-Begotten Son and His Mother, the Gate of Heaven, Seat of Wisdom, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“The learned will shine like the brilliance of the firmament,
and those who train many in the way of justice
will sparkle like the stars for all eternity.”
-Daniel 12:3

Love,
Matthew

Nov 28 – St James of the Marche, OFM (1394-1476) – The Virtue of Fortitude

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-St James of the Marche,~1625 AD, by Francisco Zuraban, oil on canvas, Height: 291 cm (114.6 in). Width: 165 cm (65 in), Prado Museum

The self-inflicted wound is always the dearest (most costly).  I am well acquainted.  Well acquainted.

I LOOOOOOOOVE BEING A CATECHIST!!!!!!  So far, I want my epitaph, very fashionable to write your own, to read:  engineer, entrepreneur (still working on that one), CATECHIST!!!!!!!!, & Mt 25:20.  JPII posited, and I agree, unleash an army of dedicated catechists on the world and it will be converted.  The message is the power, we are only messengers.  But, they still shoot messengers, don’t they.  Regardless of how profoundly imperfect the messenger (me), the Message IS PERFECT!!!!!

When preparing the confirmandi for the sacrament of Christian adulthood, it is required they know the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit they are about to receive through supernatural grace:  wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (courage), knowledge, piety, and holy fear of the Lord – which is the beginning of wisdom.

I have come to a much deeper, more personal knowledge of fortitude, and what that gift of the Holy Spirit means, of late, as I am sure have most Catholics who continue to practice the Faith and are not in denial or willful ignorance.

For the past ten years, going to Mass I have felt and still feel distinctly like Alice in Wonderland and the Queen of Hearts is having a bad day.  No apologies to Lewis Carroll (Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) who was a pedophile.  Why do you think he wrote the book?  I learned this from former Cook County detective, and now international consultant on child trafficking, Robert Hugh Farley.  See all the wonderful things I get to learn?  Sleep like the dead?  References to Carroll are used in chat rooms and in person by the depraved as a sort of code their fellow felons will comprehend.

For ten years I have gone to Mass as internationally billions were paid, priests were defrocked, arrested, sentenced to prison for the rest of their short natural lives, a bishop was indicted, international criminal court charges of crimes against humanity were filed at the Hague, multiple international government reports issued and never once have I heard this Truth addressed in any meaningful way from the pulpit.  Not a blip.  Not a burp.  Not a wiggle from the pulpit, save Old St Pat’s, to their credit and courage.  Silence.  I realize there have been exceptions, and I have not attended every homily, yet, still, in general, a profoundly disconcerting level of silence given the magnitude of “the situation”.  Disturbing, disturbing.

I realize the ears  of many of my fellow Catholics would bleed should a celebrant have the courage to speak such truth to power during Mass, but, the Truth is a b****, ain’t she?  Apologies, ladies.  Cultural milieu, and all that jazz, you know.   No offense intended.

We can pray for the repose of the soul of Moammar Ghadafi or some other nonsense I regularly hear in the Prayers of the Faithful together as a community in our worship space, a horrible Muslim dictator, but not deal with our own s***?  Knave of Hearts, pray tell, where are the Queen’s tarts?  As if nothing was going on?  As if we would not notice?  Yet, we play with the words of the Mass?  Nero, where’s that violin?  Maddening.  Absolutely maddening.  We applaud positive financial status updates from the pulpit, but never sermons?  That assumes there would be, are, were sermons worth applauding?  The celebrant gets up to the pulpit and says, “Be nice!” 🙁   St John Chrysostom, pray for us!  Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable?

Each time another shoe would drop, and those shoes are GIANTS, I thought to myself every Sunday, “OK, now they HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING!!!!!”  Nope.  But, nothing stopped the big, important collections.  Those HAD to go on without a hitch.  God help us all.  He will have to.  Not the soul murder of children, the ripping away of their innocence, not the utter destruction, literally, of lives, of families, not the obfuscation, not the dissembling, not the obstruction of justice, not the bs, not the payouts, not the abounding stupidity & insanity. Nothing.  Where is the virtue of fortitude?  Holy Spirit gift #4!!!!!????  Mt 23:3

I must give credit to Old St Pat’s though for at least having the courage to speak of the issue, if not to it.  One-third of the country still cannot accept the current President was born in the US, so sanity and rational behavior I am not expecting.  (Pssssst…let you in on a little secret…non-white people have, actually, been born in this country, and, according to the Constitution, are legally eligible to be President of the USA.  Shocker.  The Union won!  Ad victorem spolias!  Your mileage may vary.)

I really start to wonder if Jesus had any doubts?  Regrets?  How tormenting they must have been.  I cannot, dare not attempt to imagine.  The Agony in the Garden has always been one of my most favorite meditations.  How could it not be?  For anyone?  Who is human and has a pulse?

The observant viewer of Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, will note that in the garden scene, one manifestation of the agony of Jesus was the tiny blotches of blood that surfaced on His facial skin. This feature of Christ’s suffering is alluded to by Luke, the author of the New Testament books of Luke and Acts, who himself, by profession, was a physician. His writings manifest an intimate acquaintance with the technical language of the Greek medical schools of Asia Minor.

Of the four gospel writers, only Dr. Luke referred to Jesus’ ordeal as “agony” (agonia). It is because of this agony over things to come that we learn during His prayer “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Only Luke referred to Jesus’ sweat (idros)—a much-used term in medical language. And only Luke referred to Jesus’ sweat as consisting of great drops of blood (thromboi haimatos).

A thorough search of the medical literature demonstrates that such a condition, while admittedly rare, does occur in humans. Commonly referred to as hematidrosis or hemohidrosis (Allen, 1967, pp. 745-747), this condition results in the excretion of blood or blood pigment in the sweat. Under conditions of great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can rupture (Lumpkin, 1978), thus mixing blood with perspiration. This condition has been reported in extreme instances of stress (see Sutton, 1956, pp. 1393-1394).

During the waning years of the twentieth century, 76 cases of hematidrosis were studied and classified into categories according to causative factors: “Acute fear and intense mental contemplation were found to be the most frequent inciting causes” (Holoubek and Holoubek, 1996). While the extent of blood loss generally is minimal, hematidrosis also results in the skin becoming extremely tender and fragile (Barbet, 1953, pp. 74-75; Lumpkin, 1978), which would have made Christ’s pending physical insults even more painful.

From these factors, it is evident that even before Jesus endured the torture of the cross, He suffered far beyond what most of us will ever suffer. His penetrating awareness of the heinous nature of sin, its destructive and deadly effects, the sorrow and heartache that it inflicts, and the extreme measure necessary to deal with it, make the passion of Christ beyond all comprehension.

Age and experience have only added/continue to add to the profundity of the Agony’s contemplation for me.  I have to do what?  For whom?  Father, U R NUTS!!!!!!  I AM outta here!  Amen.

I am told from those who have been to the Gethsemane, there is a little path with which one can slip out unseen, unnoticed and anyone in a situation like the Lord’s, knowing they were about to be betrayed and fully comprehending what that meant and what “justice” they were likely to receive could have been long gone, quickly & easily.   See what Love can do?  For the profoundly unworthy?  Like me.

dys·func·tion [dis-fuhngk-shuhn]
noun Sociology. a consequence of a social practice or behavior pattern that undermines the stability of a social system.  I n s a n i t y.

WWJD?  Jesus would say, “WTF?”  Kyrie eleison.  Kyrie eleison.

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Tragically, in these times of economic hardship, it seems perversely appropriate, ironic, to introduce ourselves ourselves to St James of the Marche, one of the fathers of the modern pawnshop.

James Gangala was born in the Marche of Ancona, in central Italy along the Adriatic Sea. After earning doctorates in canon and civil law at the University of Perugia, he joined the Friars Minor (Conventuals) and began a very austere life. He fasted nine months of the year; he slept three hours a night. St. Bernardine of Siena told him to moderate his penances.

James studied theology with St. John of Capistrano. Ordained in 1420, James began a preaching career that took him all over Italy and through 13 Central and Eastern European countries. James preached penance and conversion and combated heresy.

The Fraticelli

The Fraticelli/Zelanti/Spirituals were medieval Roman Catholic groups that could trace their origins to the Franciscans, but which came into being as a separate entity. The Fraticelli were declared heretical by the Church in 1296 by Boniface VIII.

The Fraticelli (“Little Brethren”) were extreme proponents of the rule of Saint Francis of Assisi, especially with regard to poverty, and regarded the wealth of the Church as scandalous, and that of individual churchmen as invalidating their status. They were thus forced into open revolt against the whole authority of the Church.  Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose is set against the persecution of Fraticelli.

In 1394, Pope Martin V nominated St. John Capistran (27 May) and St. James of the March (11 October) as inquisitors general to take action against the Fraticelli. These promoters of order among the Franciscans fulfilled the duties of their office strictly and energetically and succeeded in striking at the very vitals of the sect. In 1415, the city of Florence had formally banished the “Fraticelli of the poor life, the followers of Michelino of Cesena of infamous memory”, and in Lucca five Fraticelli, on trial, had solemnly abjured their error (1411).

Preaching

Friar James was an extremely popular preacher and converted many people (250,000 at one estimate) and helped spread devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. His sermons prompted numerous Catholics to reform their lives and many men joined the Franciscans under his influence.

With John of Capistrano, Albert of Sarteano and Bernardine of Siena, James is considered one of the “four pillars” of the Observant movement among the Franciscans. These friars became known especially for their preaching.

Pawn Star

To combat extremely high interest rates, James established montes pietatis (literally, mountains of charity) — nonprofit credit organizations that lent money at very low rates on pawned objects.

Enemies & assassination attempts

Not everyone was happy with the work James did. King Tvrtko II of Bosnia and particularly Queen Dorothea tried to poison him. Twice assassins lost their nerve when they came face to face with him.  He is generally represented holding in his right hand a chalice, out of which a snake is escaping – an allusion to some endeavors of heretics to poison him, using the chalice with which he would celebrate Mass.  James was buried in Naples in the Franciscan church of St. Maria la Nuova, where his body is still to be seen.

James wanted the word of God to take root in the hearts of his listeners. His preaching was directed to preparing the soil, so to speak, by removing any rocks and softening up lives hardened by sin. God’s intention is that his word take root in our lives, but for that we need both prayerful preachers and cooperative listeners.

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“Beloved and most holy word of God! You enlighten the hearts of the faithful, you satisfy the hungry, console the afflicted; you make the souls of all productive of good and cause all virtues to blossom; you snatch souls from the devil’s jaw; you make the wretched holy, and men of earth citizens of heaven” -sermon of St. James of the Marche

On the feast of Saint James of the Marches, we pray for the fortitude, steadfastness, and endurance that this holy man displayed each day of his life in defense of the Faith and of Holy Mother Church. Saint James of the Marche, pray for us!  2 Tim 4:7,  “Keep the Faith!” -Mary D. McCormick.  “Young man, get your ass to Mass!” – (Pfc) Robert L. McCormick (USMC, 1942-1946, Ret), when as a college student I had temporarily stopped attending Mass.

A Prayer for Fortitude

O Holy Spirit, who descended upon the twelve as they stood in anxiety, come unto me in my endeavors. Banish from my heart all timidity and false pride; strengthen my soul to avoid all sin, to practice virtue, and to prefer ridicule to the denial of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let not the goodness of purity, obedience and charity be obscured in the face of adversity. Instill in me the virtue of Fortitude so that I may courageously profess and practice my holy Catholic faith. Open my eyes, O Holy Spirit, that I may recognize my state in life. Give me the confidence to embrace it and the strength to live it as a son of God. I pray that Your guidance, protection and consolation may be with me now and throughout my life. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Nov 16 – St Gertrude the Great, (1256?-1302)

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On August 14, 1988, nearly three months after I had graduated from college, in a simple, private ceremony with no family present, I received my white, Dominican habit at St Gertrude’s priory where the novitiate of the Eastern Province of the Dominicans in the US is hosted.

Parishioners were always giving the novices small gifts.  One artistic, mature, female parishioner who used to come all the time for vespers, gave each of us a small, oval wooden magnet on which she had created a lovely hand-painted picture of St Gertrude’s and our religious name.  Mine says “Br. Matthew”.  I still have it on our fridge here at home.  It is a keepsake.

Gertrude, a Benedictine nun in Helfta (Saxony), was one of the great mystics of the 13th century. Together with her friend and teacher St. Mechtild, she practiced a spirituality called “nuptial mysticism,” that is, she came to see herself as the bride of Christ. Her spiritual life was a deeply personal union with Jesus and his Sacred Heart, leading her into the very life of the Trinity.

We don’t know who her parents were or what became of them, and she may been an orphan. Gertrude was raised in the Benedictine abbey of Saint Mary of Helfta, Eisleben, Saxony from age five. An extremely bright and dedicated student, she excelled in literature and philosophy, and when she was old enough, became a Benedictine nun.

At age 26, when she had become too enamored of philosophy, she received a vision of Christ who reproached her; from then on she studied the Bible and the works of the Church Fathers. Gertrude received other visions and mystical instruction, which formed the basis of her writings. She helped spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  She had various mystical experiences, including a vision of Jesus, who invited her to rest her head on his breast to hear the beating of his heart. Her writings have been greatly praised by Saint Teresa and Saint Francis de Sales, and continue in print today.

But hers was no individualistic piety. Gertrude lived the rhythm of the liturgy, where she found Christ. In the liturgy and Scripture, she found the themes and images to enrich and express her piety. There was no clash between her personal prayer life and the liturgy.

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“Lord, you have granted me your secret friendship by opening the sacred ark of your divinity, your deified heart, to me in so many ways as to be the source of all my happiness; sometimes imparting it freely, sometimes as a special mark of our mutual friendship. You have so often melted my soul with your loving caresses that, if I did not know the abyss of your overflowing condescensions ( voluntary assumption by the deity of equality with a creature regarded as inferior out of love), I should be amazed were I told that even your Blessed Mother had been chosen to receive such extraordinary marks of tenderness and affection” (Adapted from The Life and Revelations of Saint Gertrude).

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St Gertrude’s Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

“O Sacred Heart of Jesus, fountain of eternal life, Your Heart is a glowing furnace of Love. You are my refuge and my sanctuary. O my adorable and loving Savior, consume my heart with the burning fire with which Yours is aflamed. Pour down on my soul those graces which flow from Your love. Let my heart be united with Yours. Let my will be conformed to Yours in all things. May Your Will be the rule of all my desires and actions. Amen.”

St Gertrude showed “tender sympathy towards the souls in purgatory” and urged prayers for them. She is therefore invoked for souls in purgatory.  Perhaps for that reason, to her name has been attached a prayer that, according to a legend of uncertain origin and date (neither are found in the Revelations of Saint Gertrude the Great), Our Lord promised to release a thousand souls from purgatory each time it was said. The prayer was extended to include living sinners as well.

“Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the Universal Church, for those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”

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-St Gertrude, by Miguel Cabrera, 1763

In the above iconography of St Gertrude, you can see the Infant Jesus expressing the words “In corde Gertrudis inueunictis me” = “In the heart of Gertrude, you will find Me”.

Love,
Matthew

Nov 4 – St Charles Borromeo, (1538-1584), Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Patron of Catechists, Great Catholic Reformer

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Growing up in NJ, now so adversely challenged thanks to Sandy, a young person realizes there are really two societies within one entity.  Northern NJ is more closely aligned with NYC; Southern NJ, Philadelphia.  In Philadelphia, St Charles Borromeo Seminary looms large.  As impressive inside as out, I know, having been a visitor on several occasions seeking the path of life.

Son of Gilberto II Borromeo, conte (count) of Arona, and Margherita de’ Medici (sister of Pope Pius IV), Carlo Borromeo was born on October the 2nd, 1538 at the castle of Arona on the shores of Lago Maggiore in northern Italy. The aristocratic Borromeo family’s coat of arms included the Borromean rings, sometimes taken to symbolize the Holy Trinity.

When Borromeo was about twelve years old, his uncle Giulio Cesare Borromeo, resigned to him an abbacy (the office and dignity of an abbot). Borromeo applied the revenue from this position in charity to the poor. He studied civil and canon law at Pavia. In 1554 his father died, and although he had an elder brother, Count Federigo, he was requested by the family to take the management of their domestic affairs. After a time, he resumed his studies, and in 1559 he took his doctoral degree. In 1560 his uncle, Cardinal Angelo de’ Medici, was raised to the pontificate as Pope Pius IV.

Pius IV named Borromeo as protonotary apostolic (secretary of state), entrusted with both the public and the privy seal of the ecclesiastical state. He then named Borromeo to the post of Cardinal of Romagna and the March of Ancona, and supervisor of the Franciscans, Carmelites and Knights of Malta.   Like other wealthy young men, he went to the University of Pavia. Unlike many of them, however, he would have nothing to do with sinful activities. He seemed to be a slow student because he was not a good speaker, but he made good progress.

At age twenty-two, Borromeo was highly trusted at the papal court. Soon afterwards Pius IV raised him to the archbishop of Milan. In compliance with the pope’s desire, Borromeo lived in splendor to represent the glory of the church. He established an academy of learned persons, the Academy of the Vatican Nights, and published their memoirs as the Noctes Vaticanae.

He was always afraid that he might stray from God because of the many temptations around him. For this reason, he was careful to focus his attention on prayer and his duties and to make the effort to be humble and patient.

About the same time, Borromeo founded and endowed a college at Pavia, today known as Almo Collegio Borromeo, which he dedicated to Saint Justina of Padua. On the death of his elder brother Federigo, his family urged Borromeo to quit the church to marry and have children, so that the family name would not become extinct.

Borromeo declined the proposal. He worked even harder for the welfare of the church. Owing to his influence over Pius IV, he facilitated the final deliberations of the Council of Trent. He took a large share in the creation of the Tridentine Catechism (Catechismus Romanus).

After the death of his uncle, Pius IV (1566), Borromeo contributed materially to suppressing the cabals of the conclave. Subsequently he devoted himself wholly to the reformation of his diocese. It had deteriorated in practice owing to the 80-year absence of previous archbishops.  Borromeo made numerous pastoral visits, and restored dignity to divine service.

In conformity with the decrees of the Council of Trent, which suggested simplifying church interiors, Borromeo cleared the cathedral of ornate tombs, rich ornaments, banners, and arms. He did not even spare the monuments of his own relatives. He divided the nave of the church into two compartments to separate the sexes at worship.

He extended his reforms to the collegiate churches, monasteries and even to the Confraternities of Penitents, particularly that of St. John the Baptist. This group was to attend to prisoners and those condemned to death, to give them help and support.

Borromeo believed that abuses in the church arose from ignorant clergy. Among his most important actions, he established seminaries, colleges and communities for the education of candidates for holy orders. His emphasis on Catholic learning greatly increased the preparation of men for priesthood and benefited their congregations.

In addition, Borromeo founded the fraternity of Oblates of St. Ambrose, a society of secular men who did not take orders, but devoted themselves to the church and followed a discipline of monastic prayers and study. They provided assistance to parishes where ordered by the church.

Though the Diet of Ilanz of 1524 and 1526 had proclaimed freedom of worship in the Republic of the Three Leagues, Saint Charles repressed Protestantism in the Swiss valleys. The Catholic Encyclopedia relates: “In November [1583] he began a visitation as Apostolic visitor of all the cantons of Switzerland and the Grisons, leaving the affairs of his diocese in the hands of Monsignor Owen Lewis, his vicar-general. He began in the Mesoleina Valley; here not only was there heresy to be fought, but also witchcraft and sorcery, and at Roveredo it was discovered that the provost, or rector, was the foremost in sorceries.” During his pastoral visit to the region, the Cardinal had about a hundred people arrested for practicing witchcraft. Ten women and the provost were condemned to “the flaming death”. They were put to death by being placed head-first in the fire.

Reacting to the pressure of the Protestant Reformation, Borromeo encouraged the Golden League formed in 1586 by Ludwig Pfyffer in Switzerland. Based in Lucerne, the organization (also called the Borromean League) linked activities of several Swiss Catholic cantons of Switzerland, which became the centre of Catholic Counter-Reformation efforts. This Inquisition-type organization was determined to expel heretics and burned some people at the stake. It created severe strains in the civil administration of the confederation, and it caused the break-up of Appenzell canton along religious lines.

In 1576, when Milan suffered an epidemic of the bubonic plague, Borromeo led efforts to accommodate the sick and bury the dead. He avoided no danger and spared no expense. He visited all the parishes where the contagion raged, distributing money, providing accommodation for the sick, and punishing those, especially the clergy, who were remiss in discharging their duties.

Borromeo met with much opposition to his reforms. The governor of the province, and many of the senators, addressed complaints to the courts of Rome and Madrid. They were apprehensive that the cardinal’s ordinances would encroach upon the civil jurisdiction.

Borromeo also faced staunch opposition of several religious orders, particularly that of the Humiliati (Brothers of Humility). Some members of that society formed a conspiracy against his life, and a shot was fired at him in the archiepiscopal chapel. His survival was considered miraculous.

He successfully attacked his Jesuit confessor, Giovanni Battista Ribera who, with other members of the college of Milan, was found to be guilty of unnatural offenses. This action increased Borromeo’s enemies within the church.

Borromeo’s manifold labors and austerities appear to have shortened his life. He was seized with an intermittent fever, and died at Milan, November 3rd, 1584.  His last words were, “Behold, I come!”  The city and the county of St Charles, Missouri, are named for him.

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St Charles Borromeo, ca 1767-1770, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), oil on canvas

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DSCN6492-Duomo-SCarloB.

-the tomb crypt of St Charles Borromeo, Duomo di Milano

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-The Colosso di San Borromeo, May 1698,  (the giant statue of Saint Charles Borromeo), was for over two hundred years the largest statue in the world.  Locals call him Carlone, (big Carlo, pronounced Car-low-nayh), and for over 200 years his statue, on a hilltop in Arona, Piemonte, was the tallest statue in the world, Including its base, it is over 114 feet high. One can climb a series of steep and scary stairs to reach the windows at the eyes and ears of St. Charles Borromeo statue, with a superb panoramic view awaiting!

This enormous statue made of copper and granite was built much earlier than the Statue of Liberty, designed by Giovanni Crespi Batiste called the Cerano and built by Siro Pianella and Bernardo Falcon. The work was completed in 1698 and on 19th May of that year Cardinal Federico Caccia, archbishop of Milan, solemnly blessed the monument dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo (who was born in Arona in 1538 and elected archbishop of Milan in 1565).

The statue is open to the public, who can climb up it via a spiral staircase, then a ladder going up into the head of San Carlo, which is possible to admire the beautiful sorroundings of Arona and Lake Maggiore. A few metres away is the Shrine of San Carlo, a great, austere, baroque style building dating from the seventeenth century, designed by the architect Francesco Richini.

A reconstruction of San Carlo’s original room, obtained by assembling furniture that had been saved from the Napoleonic destruction of the nearby Rocca Borromeo, is located inside (behind the altar). The saint’s relics are conserved in special, carved, wooden showcases beside the altar.

“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

“I admit that we are all weak, but if we want help, the Lord God has given us the means to find it easily. Would you like me to teach you how to grow from virtue to virtue and how, if you are already recollected at prayer, you can be even more attentive next time, and so give God more pleasing worship? Listen, and I will tell you. If a tiny spark of God’s love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.

If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.

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 other men.”
– Saint Charles Borromeo

Prayer to St Charles Borromeo

O saintly reformer, animator of spiritual renewal of priests and religious, you organized true seminaries and wrote a standard catechism. Inspire all religious teachers and authors of catechetical books. Move them to love and transmit only that which can form true followers of the Teacher Who is Divine. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Nov 5 – Servant of God Giorgio La Pira (1904-1977), The Godly Mayor – a job, a house, & music…

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What can one person do?  Certainly little in the modern world?  Right?  Certainly?  This excuse is regularly used to avoid challenging questions one’s conscience may pose.  The cost is one’s mental health and, possibly, one’s soul.

Giorgio La Pira was a charismatic and popular politician – the type of big city civic character who might seem familiar to Americans. What distinguishes La Pira is that this three-time mayor of Florence may well have been a saint. Governing in the 1950’s and 60’s he had an overriding concern for the poor, was a defender of the rights of workers and, later on, became an international apostle of peace.

On April 26, 2004, Italy celebrated the centenary of Giorgio La Pira. On that occasion, in a meeting with representatives from the National Association of Italian Municipalities, Pope John Paul II praised the former mayor of Florence as a man who “set forth with firmness his ideas as a believer and as a man who loved peace, inviting his interlocutors to a common effort to promote this basic good in various spheres: in society, politics, the economy, cultures and among religions.” Eighteen years earlier, in 1986, the formal process for the cause of the beatification of Giorgio La Pira began.

Even before his death, Giorgio La Pira was already considered a living saint by some in Italy.  His clothes were alleged to have miraculous healing powers. Amintore Fanfani, La Pira’s friend and fellow Christian Democrat, was reported to have used an old hat of La Pira’s to cure minor illnesses suffered by his children. Who was this man?

Giorgio La Pira was born on January 09, 1904 in Pozzallo, a town in the province of Ragusa in Sicily. Born the eldest of six children, La Pira’s family was not wealthy. His father, Gaetano, worked in a packing house. However, like many Italian children, La Pira was brought up in a Catholic household that valued education. After moving to Messina to live with an uncle, La Pira received both a traditional education in the Classics as well as a business education, receiving a degree in accounting. Law school was the next step in an academic career that would eventually see the cheerful Sicilian awarded the Chair of Roman Law at the University of Florence in 1933.

While beloved by his students, La Pira eventually ran afoul of Italy’s Fascist regime. Having helped found the anti-fascist magazine Principles in 1939, La Pira became a target of Mussolini’s police, prompting La Pira to seek refuge in the Vatican City where he worked for L’Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See. After the end of World War II, La Pira played an important role in shaping the future of the Italian Republic. As part of the Constituent Assembly, La Pira helped craft the new Italian constitution, standing firmly in favor of the legal indissolubility of the family and championing the authority of fathers within the family. In 1948, La Pira went to work for the government of Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi as Undersecretary of Labor in the Ministry of Employment and Social Insurance.

During his period in the national government, La Pira became associated with the left-wing of the Christian Democratic Party, along with Giuseppe Dossetti, Amintore Fanfani, and Giuseppe Lazzati. Known as the “Little Professors” because of their impressive academic credentials and Christian idealism, the friends founded the journal Cronache Sociali, a left-leaning journal of Christian social thinking. La Pira’s writings on economics were heavily influenced by John Maynard Keynes and other British sources including Stafford Cripps and the Labour Party in general. For La Pira and many of his allies on the left-wing of the Christian Democratic Party, Clement Attlee’s Labour government in Great Britain was the model that post-war Italy ought to follow on questions of economics.

When La Pira became Mayor of Florence in 1951, he brought with him many of the economic ideas he developed while writing for the Cronache Sociali and working in the national government on problems of unemployment and other socio-economic issues. These ideas would be put to the test in a concrete fashion when La Pira was faced with a city suffering from high unemployment and a housing shortage. Wasting little time, La Pira’s administration burst into action, developing a number of public works projects designed to alleviate the city’s unemployment problem. Under La Pira’s watch, bridges destroyed during the war were rebuilt, water works and public transportation systems were repaired or built, low-cost public housing was constructed for the homeless residents of the city, and various artistic and cultural programs were developed. La Pira’s vision for Florence was a city of self-sufficient neighbourhoods with a vibrant cultural life.

Of course, La Pira’s administration is probably most famous for its extensive policy of municipalisation that earned him the love of workers and the hatred of many industrialists. In 1955, La Pira’s city government took over a failed foundry and turned over its operation to the workers, allowing them to elect their bosses from among their own ranks. In response to changes in national government policy that allowed evictions from rent-controlled apartments, La Pira requisitioned old Fascist buildings and even the villas of wealthy Florentines for the purpose of rehousing evicted tenants.

In perhaps his most famous action as Mayor of Florence, La Pira saved hundreds of jobs at the Pignone industrial plant, which at that time was making cotton-spinning machines for the textile industry. Due to a slump in demand in the textile business, Pignone was being closed down by its private owners. However, the workers refused to leave, sleeping and taking meals in the factory and continuing to work the machines. La Pira joined the workers in attending Mass and worked with the union leadership to find a resolution to the problem of the plant’s closure. Eventually, La Pira was able to convince Enrico Mattei, the head of ENI, Italy’s powerful state-run energy corporation, to take over the factory and place it under public ownership, thus saving more than one thousand jobs.

La Pira’s generosity with the public treasury was only matched by his own personal attitude toward those in need. It was not unusual to find the Mayor of Florence walking about with no shoes, no coat, and no umbrella, because he had given away his clothing to the poor. La Pira, who was a Dominican tertiary, lived in an unheated monastery cell in the Basilica of San Marco, although he sometimes lodged with a doctor friend when it was especially cold outside.  His behavior caused him to be dubbed “the Saint” by the people of Florence. Indeed, despite the fact that he was hated by many businessmen in Italy, their allies in the Christian Democratic Party could not afford to replace La Pira with another candidate as he was seen as the only person who could defeat the Communists in left-wing Florence.

After La Pira served his final year as Mayor of Florence in 1964, he largely devoted himself to the cause of international peace, working to bring an end to conflicts in Vietnam and the Middle East in particular. His work in favor of disarmament and Third World development also merit mention, and the bespectacled Sicilian even travelled to Chile to try to prevent the coup d’état against President Salvador Allende.

In 1976, Giorgio La Pira returned to active politics at the request of the Christian Democratic Party. Despite ill-health, La Pira stood for election and won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies. La Pira’s last actions as a politician reflect the changing problems of the world he lived in. La Pira was a vehement opponent of abortion and fought against its legalization, with L’Osservatore Romano running his article “Confronting Abortion” on its front page on March 19, 1976. La Pira also spoke out against the increasing violence and materialism of modern society, connecting his opposition to abortion to his support for disarmament and world peace.

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On November 05, 1977, Giorgio La Pira passed away. His funeral was unsurprisingly well attended, and the attendees included the thousands of workers whose jobs he saved at the Pignone factory and elsewhere.

Perhaps more than any other member of the Christian Democratic Left, La Pira actively embodied the ideals of a Christian version of social democracy. La Pira put into action his statement that every person was entitled to “a job, a house, and music,” even if it caused many people within his own Christian Democratic Party to accuse him of statism or “spurious Marxism,” as the venerable Don Luigi Sturzo, one of the founders of Italian Christian Democracy, put it.

La Pira responded to Don Sturzo by describing the dire unemployment situation in Florence, particularly among the young, and asking him what he would do if he were mayor. In our own age, when so many people are left out of work, when so many young people cannot start families because the market cannot provide enough work to form the economic basis of family life, Christians cannot shrink in fear from accusations of statism or Marxism. Giorgio La Pira provides us with a bold example of political action in favor of peace, family life, and social justice (including justice for the unborn) with real meaning, not just words.

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In Cardinal Benelli’s sermon preached in the Duomo at La Pira’s funeral, he asserted that “everything about La Pira can be understood through faith, without faith nothing about him can be understood”. Nor is there any doubt that this is the sole key to understanding “the Professor’s” life.

His fundamental working hypothesis, expressed in every sort of circumstance and in every place, was always based on the certainty of the resurrection of Christ: “if Christ be risen, as He is risen…” he used to say, going on to affirm that the entire history of all peoples is conditioned by this event.

“The holiness of our century will have this characteristic. It will be a holiness of laypeople. We encounter on the streets those who within 50 years may be on the altars–along the streets, in factories, in parliament and in university classrooms.” -Giorgio La Pira

O God, You have given to Your servant Giorgio La Pira
the grace to testify admirably in the cultural, social and political life of our time.

Grant us the grace, we ask, that the Church may recognize his heroic virtues and is revered by the Christian people as inspirer of charity, justice, peace. Amen.

“There is no doubt that the Lord had placed in my soul the desire for priestly grace; only, however, that He wished that I remain in my lay garb to labor with more fecundity in the secular world far from Him. But the goal of my life is clearly marked out: to be the Lord’s missionary in the world; and this apostolate will be carried out!”
-April 1931  Giorgio La Pira (from the letter to his aunt, Settimia Occhipinti)

“One last thing: I am not a priest, as you have supposed: Jesus did not want that of me! I am just a young man to whom Jesus has given a great grace: the desire to love Him without limits and to have Him be loved without limits.”
-Easter 1933 (16 April)  Giorgio La Pira (from the letter to the Mother Prioress of Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi)

“Then the LORD asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
-Gen 4:9

Love,
Matthew

Nov 25 – St Catherine of Alexandria, (282-305 AD), Virgin & Martyr, Co-patroness of the Order of Preachers & “The Sopranos”

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-Gaudenzio Ferrari, “The Martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria”, c. 1500~1550, oil on panel, 334 cm (131.5 in) x 210 cm (82.7 in).

Christians have always venerated the saints and martyrs since the inception of the Church.  We have evidence of this from 1st century scratchings on the walls of the catacombs.  “Vincent, you are in Christ, pray for Phoebe.  Paul and Peter, pray for Victor.  Sentianus, in your prayers, pray for us, for we know you are in Christ.”

This Summer (2007), Kelly and I, in honor, or mourning, if you prefer, of the ending of the HBO series “The Sopranos”, watched the entire series from beginning to end in the vacuum of Summer television programming.

In addition to being entertaining, I felt there might be therapeutic, for my wife, and practical, to me, benefits in helping my Midwestern born and raised wife understand that not all of her new husband’s volatile (relative to the Midwest) personality traits were his fault alone, but that some were certainly environmental and cultural and “from the water”, as they say, of his youth as a waif growing up in “Joisey”.

The plot of the series and the actions of its characters made perfect practical sense to me.  Tony Soprano is my hero, along with Jesus Christ; a study in contrasts, I realize.  I mean, really, how else or otherwise are you efficiently supposed get your point across? Negotiate?  🙂

While Kelly did gain an appreciation of her husband’s native State and its people, culture, and ways, as we watched the series, she still confessed there are many things she does not understand about me.  Join the club.  The mystery is the joy.  To know is to love.  You gotta’ problem with ‘dat?

We now regularly greet each other at home with “how you doin’?”  Or, “fuggettaboutit”.

I must confess, seasons 1-3 are my favorites.  I think success altered the tone of the plot after that.

In season three, episode twelve, Carmela and Meadow are touring the Met in NY, and stand before the painting “The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria” by Giuseppe (alt, Jose’ de) Ribera, 1648.  Carmela begins to weep and the plot moves on.

I love the story of St Catherine of Alexandria. See…and you wondered how I was going to tie in “The Sopranos” to St Catherine of Alexandria, didn’t you?  Oh, ye of little faith. 🙂

Alexandria, the historically great Egyptian city (a rival to Rome itself in nearly all aspects in the ancient world, and exceeding it in some) at the mouth of the Nile was founded by Alexander the Great.  In the ancient world, Alexandria was traditionally a center of great learning, both pagan and Christian. The “Library of Alexandria”, before it burned, was sibling to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  Its Christian activities centered around the great church founded, according to tradition, by the Apostle Mark, with its catechetical school, the first of its kind in Christendom.

Saint Catherine lived at the end of the third century A.D. and the beginning of the fourth.  Catherine was born of a patrician family of Alexandria. She was the daughter of Constus, Governor of Alexandria, Egypt.  From childhood Catherine had devoted herself to study and through her reading she had learned much intellectually of Christianity.  She declared to her parents that she would only enter into marriage with someone who surpassed her in reputation, wealth, beauty and wisdom.

Catherine’s mother, a secret Christian, sent her for advice to her own spiritual advisor – a monk who lived in solitude in a cave not far from the city. Having listened to Catherine, the monk said that he knew of a Youth who surpassed her in everything, such that “His beauty is more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, His riches were spread throughout all the world—this however did not diminish but rather added to the inexpressible loftiness of his lineage.”

At this point, Catherine had not yet been baptized, but prayed all night and was granted a vision the Blessed Mother holding the infant Jesus. But the Child turned His face away from her saying that He was not able to look at her because she was ugly, of shabby lineage, beggarly and mindless like every person—not washed with the waters of holy Baptism and not sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

Catherine returned again to the monk deeply saddened. The monk lovingly instructed her in the faith of Christ, admonished her to preserve her purity and integrity and to pray unceasingly; he then performed over her the mystery and sacrament of holy baptism.  Again, Catherine had a vision of the Mother of God with her Child. Now the Lord looked tenderly at her and gave her a ring—a wondrous gift of the heavenly Bridegroom – a mystical marriage.

The account of Catherine’s life continues that shortly afterwards, at the age of eighteen, Catherine presented herself to the Roman Emperor Maximinus Daia who was in Alexandria celebrating a pagan feast day, but who also was carrying out a persecution of the Christians. She admonished him for his cruelty and demanded that he cease the persecutions.

Astounded and insulted at the young woman’s audacity, but lacking the training and intellectual skills necessary to debate with her, Maximinus detained her in his palace and called for fifty of his best scholars to try to trip her up in her beliefs, either to make her apostatize against Christianity or commit a heresy against the Roman pagan religion so that she could be put to death. Contrary to what Maximinus expected, she managed to convert his scholars with her eloquence and knowledge of both religion and science.  Maximinus was so outraged he had all fifty of them burned alive and Catherine scourged and put in prison.

The empress, Faustina, however, heard of the extraordinary young woman and stole secretly into the prison in the company of the Roman general Porphyry.  They listened to Catherine, were converted and baptized, but were both executed by Maximinus when he discovered what had happened.

The beauty of the maiden captivated the emperor.  Maximinus, no longer hoping to convince the saint, tried to entice her with the promise of riches and fame by becoming his wife. Catherine gave him an angry refusal.  Infuriated, Maximinus ordered Catherine to be broken on a spiked wheel. Yet at her touch, the instrument of torture was miraculously destroyed.

Seeing no alternative, Maximinus ordered her beheaded. She died in the year 305 A.D.

Her final words are recorded as:  “O Jesus, good King, I await the sword for Thy sake; do Thou deign to receive my spirit, and to show mercy to those who honor my memory.  Come, My chosen one, come; enter into the bridal chamber of thy Spouse.  Thou hast obtained the grant of thy petition, and it shall be well with them that praise Thee.”

Her body was carried to Mount Sinai where a monastery and church were later built by the order of the Emperor Justinian. Interestingly enough, the site where Catherine’s body was found is also believed to be the site of the burning bush seen by Moses.

Eleven centuries later, when Jeanne d’Arc, a twelve year old illiterate French farm girl claimed to hear three voices telling her to drive out the English from France and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation and did, Joan, at her trial for heresy after being captured by the English, claimed Catherine’s voice was one of those she heard.

In the Eastern Church, the following hymns (troparion) are used as part of the Liturgy of the Feast of St Catherine of Alexandria:

Greek usage (Tone 5)

Let us praise the all-lauded and noble bride of Christ,
the godly Catherine, the guardian of Sinai and its defense,
who is also our support and succour and our help;
for with the Holy Spirit’s sword
she hath silenced brilliantly the clever among the godless;
and being crowned as a martyr, she now doth ask great mercy for us all.

Slavic usage (Tone 4)

Thy lamb Catherine, O Jesus,
Calls out to Thee in a loud voice:
I love Thee, O my Bridegroom,
And in seeking Thee, I endure suffering.
In baptism I was crucified so that I might reign in Thee,
And died so that I might live with Thee.
Accept me as a pure sacrifice,
For I have offered myself in love.
By her prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.

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-Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Caravaggio, c. 1598, oil on canvas, H: 173 cm (68.1 in). W: 133 cm (52.4 in).

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-The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Giuseppe Ribera, 1648. Catherine kisses an infant Jesus, who is held by the Virgin Mary. In the background are Saint Anne and Saint Joseph.

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-ring of St Catherine given to pilgrims who visit Mount Sinai

Tradition has it that Catherine appeared three times in visions during the early days of the Order of Preachers.  She was one of the Virgins (along with St. Cecilia) who accompanied the Blessed Virgin Mary when she gave Bl. Reginald the scapular.  She also accompanied the Blessed Virgin in the vision in which St. Dominic saw the Virgin Mary sprinkling the brethren while they slept.

Lastly, she again accompanied the Blessed Virgin, along with St. Mary Magdalene (co-patroness of the Order of Preachers), during the transitus of the miraculous image of St. Dominic to Soriano.  It might seem that not only has the Dominican Order chosen her as patroness, but you might even be able to say that she herself has chosen to watch over the Friars Preachers in a special way.

O God, you gave the law to Moses on the summit of Mount Sinai, and through your holy angels, wonderfully put in that same place the body of the blessed Catherine, your virgin and martyr; grant, we beseech you, that by her merits and intercession, we may reach that mountain which is Christ.  Through Christ our Lord.

Love,
Matthew

De Profundis

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Dominicans, after vespers each evening, line the hallways of their priories facing each other and sing the De Profundis (Psalm 130), remembering all the members of their order who have received their eternal reward.  Dominicans traditionally would bury their dead underneath the hallways of their priories.

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam.
Fiant aures tuæ intendentes in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication:
If you, O Lord, mark our iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
I trust in the Lord;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the Lord,
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the Lord;
For with the Lord is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

V.         Eternal rest grant unto him/her, O Lord,
R.         And let the perpetual light shine upon him/her,
V.         From the gates of Hell,
R.         Deliver his/her soul, O Lord,
V.         May he/she rest in peace,
R.         Amen.
V.         O Lord, hear my prayer,
R.         And let my cry come unto You.

Oremus:
O God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind,
Grant unto the souls of the departed
The remission of all their sins:
That through our prayers
They may obtain the pardon
They have always desired.

V.         Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created,
R.         And You shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

“For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my dissolution is at hand.
I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the Faith.
From now on a crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, just judge that He is, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for His appearance.”
-2 Timothy 4:6-8

Bonum certamen certavi,
Cursum consumavi,
Fidem servavi!

I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the Faith!

“The world is tired,
The year is old,
The faded leaves are glad to die…”
-Sara Teasdale, “November” 

Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”  -Isaiah 35:10

Love,
Matthew