Category Archives: Saints

Sermon on the Passion of the Lord – Pope St Leo the Great


-Crucifixion, Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of his many

Pope Saint Leo the Great’s Sermon LV on the Passion of the Lord*

I. The difference between the penitence and blasphemy of the two robbers is a type of the human race.

… In speaking but lately of the LORD’S Passion, we reached the point in the Gospel story, where Pilate is said to have yielded to the…wicked shouts that Jesus should be crucified. And so when all things had been accomplished, which the Godhead veiled in frail flesh permitted, Jesus Christ the Son of GOD was fixed to the cross which He had also been carrying, two robbers being similarly crucified, one on His right hand, and the other on the left: so that even in the incidents of the cross might be displayed that difference which in His judgment must be made in the case of all men; for the believing robber’s faith was a type of those who are to be saved, and the blasphemer’s wickedness prefigured those who are to be damned.

Christ’s Passion, therefore, contains the mystery of our salvation, and of the instrument which the iniquity of the [people] prepared for His punishment, the Redeemer’s power has made for us the stepping-stone to glory: and that Passion the LORD Jesus so underwent for the salvation of all men that, while hanging there nailed to the wood, He entreated the Father’s mercy for His murderers, and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

II. The chief priests showed utter ignorance of Scripture in their taunts.

But the chief priests, for whom the Saviour sought forgiveness, rendered the torture of the cross yet worse by the barbs of [mockery]; and at Him, on Whom they could vent no more fury with their hands, they hurled the weapons of their tongues, saying, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we believe Him.” From what spring of error, from what pool of hatred…do ye drink such poisonous blasphemies? What master informed you, what teaching convinced you that you ought to believe Him to be King of Israel and Son of GOD, who should either not allow Himself to be crucified, or should shake Himself free from the binding nails. The mysteries of the Law, the sacred observances of the Passover, the mouths of the Prophets never told you this: whereas you did find truly and oft-times written that which applies to your abominable wicked-doing and to the LORD’S voluntary suffering. For He Himself says by Isaiah, “I gave My back to the scourges, My cheeks to the palms of the hand, I turned not My face from the shame of spitting.” He Himself says by David, “They gave Me gall for My food, and in My thirst, they supplied Me with vinegar; and again, “Many dogs came about Me, the council of evil-doers beset Me. They pierced My hands and My feet, they counted all My bones. But they themselves watched and gazed on Me, they parted My raiment among them, and for My robe they cast lots.” And lest the course of your own evil doings should seem to have been foretold, and no power in the Crucified predicted, ye read not, indeed, that the LORD descended from the cross, but ye did read, “The LORD reigned on the tree.”

III. The triumph of the Cross is immediate and effective.

The Cross of Christ, therefore, symbolizes the true altar of prophecy, on which the oblation of man’s nature should be celebrated by means of a salvation-bringing Victim. There the blood of the spotless Lamb blotted out the consequences of the ancient trespass: there the whole tyranny of the devil’s hatred was crushed, and humiliation triumphed gloriously over the lifting up of pride: for so swift was the effect of Faith that, of the robbers crucified with Christ, the one who believed in Christ as the Son of GOD entered paradise justified. Who can unfold the mystery of so great a boon? Who can state the power of so wondrous a change? In a moment of time the guilt of long evil-doing is done away; clinging to the cross, amid the cruel tortures of his struggling soul, he passes over to Christ; and to him, on whom his own wickedness had brought punishment, Christ’s grace now gives a crown.

IV. When the last act in the tragedy was over, how must the [people] have felt?

And then, having now tasted the vinegar, the produce of that vineyard which had degenerated in spite of its Divine Planter, and had turned to the sourness of a foreign vine, the LORD says, “it is finished;” that is, the Scriptures are fulfilled: there is no more for Me to abide from the fury of the raging people: I have endured all that I foretold I should suffer. The mysteries of weakness are completed, let the proofs of power be produced. And so He bowed the head and yielded up His Spirit and gave that Body, Which should be raised again on the third day, the rest of peaceful slumber. And when the Author of Life was undergoing this mysterious phase, and at so great a condescension of GOD’S Majesty, the foundations of the whole world were shaken, when all creation condemned their wicked crime by its upheaval, and the very elements of the world delivered a plain verdict against the criminals, what thoughts, what heart-searchings…when the judgment of the universe went against you, and your wickedness could not be recalled, the crime having been done? What confusion covered you? What torment seized your hearts?

V. Chastity and charity are the two things most needful in preparing for Easter communion.

Seeing therefore, dearly-beloved, that GOD’S Mercy is so great, that He has deigned to justify by faith many even from among such a nation, and had adopted into the company of the patriarchs and into the number of the chosen people us who were once perishing in the deep darkness of our old ignorance, let us mount to the summit of our hopes not sluggishly nor in sloth; but prudently and faithfully reflecting from what captivity and from how miserable a bondage, with what ransom we were purchased, by how strong an arm led out, let us glorify GOD in our body: that we may show Him dwelling in us, even by the uprightness of our manner of life. And because no virtues are worthier or more excellent than merciful loving-kindness and unblemished chastity, let us more especially equip ourselves with these weapons, so that, raised from the earth, as it were on the two wings of active charity and shining purity, we may win a place in heaven. And whosoever, aided by GOD’S grace, is filled with this desire and glories not in himself, but in the LORD, over his progress, pays due honour to the Easter mystery. His threshold the angel of destruction does not cross, for it is marked with the Lamb’s blood and the sign of the cross. He fears not the plagues of Egypt, and leaves his foes overwhelmed by the same waters by which he himself was saved. And so, dearly-beloved, with minds and bodies purified let us embrace the wondrous mystery of our salvation, and, cleansed from all “the leaven of our old wickedness, let us keep” the LORD’S Passover with due observance: so that, the Holy Spirit guiding us, we may be “separated” by no temptations “from the love of Christ,” Who bringing peace by His blood to all things, has returned to the loftiness of the Father’s glory, and yet not forsaken the lowliness of those who serve Him to Whom is the honour and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Love, Blessed Good Friday,
Matthew

*Leo the Great. (1895). Sermons. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), C. L. Feltoe (Trans.), Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (Vol. 12a, pp. 167–168). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Sensitivity…

‘Tis true, ’tis true, dear, gentle reader. Your editor has NEVER, in his entire life, been accused of being too sensitive. ‘Tis true. Shocking, even scandalizing, I realize. Faith shaking, yes; hold fast. The truth is a blessing. 🙂 Neither too sensitive to the real fears and needs of others, rational or otherwise, in the humble opinion of this editor, nor ’tis himself, the Irish would say, to the injuries or slights of others. ‘Tis true. But, we are not speaking about rationality here, now are we? No, we have wandered into the realm of human psychology and feelings. Beware!!!

aka, “Awareness of Misery, The Key to the Mercy of God”, from “The Art of Loving God”, by St Francis de Sales

“You ask me if a soul sensible of its own misery can go with great confidence to God. I reply that not only can the soul that knows its misery have great confidence in God, but that unless it has such knowledge, the soul cannot have true confidence in Him; for it is this true knowledge and confession of our misery that brings us to God.
All of the great saints — Job, David, and the rest — began every prayer with the confession of their own misery and unworthiness. And so it is a very good thing to acknowledge ourselves to be poor, vile, abject, and unworthy to appear in the presence of God.

“Know thyself” — that saying so celebrated among the ancients — may be understood as applying to the knowledge of the greatness and excellence of the soul (so that it may not be debased or profaned by things unworthy of its nobility); but it also may be taken to refer to the knowledge of our unworthiness, imperfection, and misery.

Now, the greater our knowledge of our own misery, the more profound will be our confidence in the goodness and mercy of God, for mercy and misery are so closely connected that the one cannot be exercised without the other. If God had not created man, He would still indeed have been perfect in goodness, but He would not have been actually merciful, since mercy can only be exercised toward the miserable.

You see, then, that the more miserable we know ourselves to be, the more occasion we have to confide in God, since we have nothing in ourselves in which we can trust. The mistrust of ourselves proceeds from the knowledge of our imperfections. It is a very good thing to mistrust ourselves, but how will it help us, unless we cast our whole confidence upon God and wait for His mercy? It is right that our daily faults and infidelities should cause us some shame and embarrassment when we appear before our Lord. We read of great souls like St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila, who, when they had fallen into some fault, were overwhelmed with shame.

Again, it is reasonable that, having offended God, we draw back a little in humility and from a feeling of embarrassment, for even if we have offended only a friend, we are ashamed to approach him. But it is quite certain that we must not remain at a distance, for the virtues of humility, abjection, and shame are intermediate virtues by which the soul must ascend to union with God.

There would be no point in accepting our nothingness and stripping ourselves of self (which is done by acts of self-abasement) if the result of this were not the total surrender of ourselves to God. St. Paul teaches us this when he says, “Strip yourselves of the old man, and put on the new”; for we must not remain unclothed, but must clothe ourselves anew with God. The reason for this little withdrawal is only so that we may better press on toward God by an act of love and confidence. We must never allow our shame to be attended with sadness and disquietude. That kind of shame proceeds from self-love, because we are troubled at not being perfect, not so much for the love of God, as for love of ourselves.

And even if you do not feel such confidence, you must still not fail to make acts of confidence, saying to our Lord, “Although, dear Lord, I have no feeling of confidence in Thee, I know all the same that Thou art my God, that I am wholly Thine, and that I have no hope but in Thy goodness; therefore I abandon myself entirely into Thy hands.”

It is always in our power to make these acts; although there may be difficulty, there is never impossibility. It is on these occasions and amid these difficulties that we ought to show fidelity to our Lord. For although we may make these acts without fervor and without satisfaction to ourselves, we must not distress ourselves about that; our Lord loves them better thus.

And do not say that you repeat them indeed but only with your lips; for if the heart did not will it, the lips would not utter a word. Having done this, be at peace, and without dwelling at all upon your trouble, speak to our Lord of other things.

The conclusion of this first point, then, is that it is very good for us to be covered with shame when we know and feel our misery and imperfection; but we must not stop there. Neither must the consciousness of these miseries discourage us; rather it should make us raise our hearts to God by a holy confidence, the foundation of which ought to be in Him and not in ourselves. And this is so inasmuch as we change and He never changes; He is as good and merciful when we are weak and imperfect as when we are strong and perfect. I always say that the throne of God’s mercy is our misery; therefore the greater our misery, the greater should be our confidence.”

Love,
Matthew

Saints are made saints together…

Thanks to the Swiss Dominican sisters at Estavayer-le-Lac, we can now identify the many saints depicted in this Dominican family tree. They graciously contacted the Dominican friars of Rue Saint-Jacques, Paris, who located in their archives a Flemish engraving (by Théodore Gall, d. 1663) of the same painting and containing the names of all but one saint. (From left to right) top row: Benedict XI, Innocent V (Peter of Tarentaise), The Virgin Mary, John of Vercelli, John Dominici, Latino Malabranca; 2nd row: Albert the Great, Christian (Patriarch of Antioch), John of Wildeshausen, James of Venice, James Salomoni, Agnes of Montepulciano, Peter González (St. Elmo), Jerome Cala; 3rd row: Unknown friar, Rose of Lima, Louis Bertrand, James of Ulm, The Head Carriers (Céphalophores) of Toulouse, Vincent of St. Etienne, Francis of Toulouse; 4th row: Vincent Ferrer, Thomas Aquinas, James of Bevagna, Jordan of Saxony, Conrad of Marburg, Ambrose of Siena, Henry Suso; bottom row: Raymond of Penyafort, Antonio (Dominic’s eldest brother, priest in the Order of Santiago), Mannes (Dominic’s second brother), Peter Martyr, Hyacinth of Poland, Catherine of Siena, Antoninus of Florence. (Please click on the image for greater detail.)


-by Br Timothy Danaher, OP

“A new biography of Dominican saints has recently been published, Dr. Kevin Vost’s “Hounds of the Lord” (Sophia Institute Press, 2015)—the title based on an early Latin nickname for the Order, Domini canes, dogs of the Lord. Though educated by Dominicans as a young boy, the idea for his present book came from a bookmark, given him by the Nashville Dominican sisters, announcing the Order’s 800th Jubilee. The fruit of his labor is both fun and intelligent, accessible and informative, full of quaint stories and Thomistic theology woven together.

To begin at the beginning, we can defy cliché warnings and “read the book by its cover.” That’s because it’s a great cover. The image, called “The Genealogical Tree of St. Dominic” (pictured above and, in its entirety, below), is an oil painting on wood, and dates from 1675. It is the work of J. Rolbels and now adorns the Swiss monastery of Dominican sisters at Estavayer-le-Lac.

Here is the first lesson of the book (and painting): saints are made saints together. Not only do their examples inspire us today, but they inspired each other while still living. Many of these Dominicans knew each other personally, all part of one intertwining family tree. Take one branch of the tree, for instance, the early Dominicans:

-Jordan of Saxony, the successor to Dominic, went to confession to him in Paris and asked advice on his vocation.
-Before Jordan died in a shipwreck in Syria, he attracted Albert the Great to the Order by interpreting in his homily the student’s fearful, undisclosed vocation dream of the previous night.
-Sent to teach in Cologne, Albert became the teacher of Thomas Aquinas, who later taught in Paris alongside the young Dominican Peter of Tarentaise, who became Pope Innocent V.

All Dominicans, all on the same tree.

Vost’s biography shows how Dominic’s greatness is not personal achievement. The saint, who died young, was a saint with “faith in the future.” He is like the trunk or rootstock of the family tree, whose own holy desires blossom in the lives of his sons and daughters:

-As Dominic dreamed of preaching missions to the pagan east, Hyacinth, whom he received into the Order in Rome, would return to Poland and travel 25,000 miles on foot as a missionary.
-As Dominic had sent brothers to the universities of Europe, Thomas Aquinas would not only learn the doctrine of the Church, but deepen it for the Church.
-As Dominic remained in Rome, laying the foundation of the Order with papal negotiations, Catherine, a girl in her 20s, would march her way to Avignon and persuade the pope to come back home.

And though we have no records of Dominic’s own preaching, his style and genius (shared by all early Dominicans) is preserved in a long treatise by Humbert of Romans. Vost summarizes this work, listing the many spiritual and practical elements of preaching, and even includes charts of scriptural images that Humbert used to describe preachers as eagles, horses, angels, snow, mountains, and even “a powerful soap”.

After the early years, the charism of Dominic and the theology of Thomas grew into a great tree that has spanned hundreds of years and across many seas to the New World. Rose of Lima and Martin de Porres were contemporaries in Lima, Peru (they were even confirmed by the same bishop). Even there Dominican preaching was well known, and as children, each saint learned the teachings of Catherine of Siena, who herself learned Thomas’s theology and dressed it in her own passionate language. The biography ends with Pier Giorgio Frassati, an athlete and a student, who died with a copy of Catherine’s Dialogues at his bedside table.

Finally, if theology or history aren’t your keenest interest, there are plenty of colorful stories to keep you turning the pages, including but not limited to:
-Which Dominican originally wrote the lyrics for “Day by Day” in the musical Godspell?
-Which Dominican had 24 brothers and sisters, yet still managed to have her own room?
-Which Dominican became pope and saved all of Europe from a Muslim invasion?
-Which friar became famous for a wooden spoon he once gave a convent of nuns?
-How one sister joined the Franciscans—until the Virgin Mary appeared, her arms full of stones, telling her to build a Dominican convent instead?
-How a certain girl chose the Dominicans after being visited by a black-and-white butterfly?
-How one friar escaped pressure to become a bishop so that he could remain an angelic painter?
-How one friar accepted the office of bishop but never took off his hiking boots?
-Which famous American author had a daughter who joined the Order after a failed marriage?
-Which friar started a hospital for dogs and would bi-locate to attend med school in Europe?

So if you’ve heard the name St. Dominic but don’t know much about him or his family, check out Kevin Vost’s biography. There you can begin to learn more of a history 800 years strong and still growing!”

Love,
Matthew

Purifying motives


-by Circle of Giovanni Bellini (circa 1430–1516), “Christ Carrying the Cross”,1505-1510, oil on panel, 49.5 × 38.5 cm (19.5 × 15.2 in)Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA


-by Br Norbert Kelliher, OP

“We carry our cross. We do it to be disciples of Christ, to do His will in our life and not our own. But surrendering our own willfulness means more than a determination to obey. The paradox of discipleship is not that we do the will of another and receive a reward, but that in leaving behind our own will we discover it again in Christ. In the end, we will discover that we desire the same thing that Christ does.

St. John of the Cross, a disciple of Christ known for his asceticism, expresses this paradox in one of his Sayings of Light and Love:

“Deny your desires and you will find what your heart longs for. For how do you know if any desire of yours is according to God?” (Sayings 15)

Desire is our will’s attraction to the good. When we are willful in a disordered way, we seize on something that is good but in a way contrary to God’s will and to our nature. We can also have desires that follow reason and are virtuous. Real virtue includes adapting to our circumstances and purifying our motives, which often have been distorted by past sin. As our desires are educated in discipleship, we should question them and see whether they are good here and now.

This saying of St. John of the Cross can help us in our daily discipleship by making us skeptical about some of our desires. It is always necessary to deny innately disordered desires, as well as selfish ways of satisfying innately good ones. At other times we have to let go of good desires by force of circumstance, even though in another case they would be virtuous.

To deny ourselves out of a desire to please God is a way of taking up our daily cross, as Christ says His disciples must do. Just as the man who wishes to save his life ends up losing it, so the man who does not deny his own disordered desires ends up suffering what he does not desire. Rom 6:23 But if we learn the habit of denying our inappropriate desires, we can find our satisfaction in desiring Christ above all things.

By denying ourselves out of humility, we create more room for the One desire that matters. If we doubt whether we will find what we’re looking for along this road, we can imagine querying the saint:

“Was it worth it, St. John of the Cross, to leave behind so many of your own desires for Christ?”

His unequivocal answer would be, “Yes! Now I possess Christ and have all I ever could have wanted.” The willfulness of a saint is greater than that of a sinner, because he clings tenaciously to Goodness itself.

For those of us who are not saints, we can take comfort that perfect self-denial does not come immediately. We may get there some day, but for now, fulfilling our basic duties in life and our Lenten practices is enough. By taking these up faithfully, with a longing for Christ, we are surrendering our own will little by little. This process is painful, but we know that one day it will lead to our greatest joy.”

[Ed. you will know you are doing this correctly if greater and greater peace comes with an ever more intimate relationship w/Him, resting ever more in His sweet, sweet love.]

Love, joy, and intimacy with Him, His growing peace to you,
Matthew

Mar 19 – Prayer to St Joseph

“Would that I could persuade all men to be devout to this glorious saint,” wrote St. Teresa of Avila in her autobiography, “for I know by long experience what blessings he can obtain for us from God.”

“Men of every rank and country should fly to the trust and guard of the blessed Joseph,” especially fathers of families, Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical on devotion to St. Joseph, Quamquam pluries.

Pope Benedict XVI especially encouraged married couples and parents to turn to St. Joseph, saying: “God alone could grant Joseph the strength to trust the Angel. God alone will give you, dear married couples, the strength to raise your family as he wants. Ask it of him! God loves to be asked for what He wishes to give. Ask Him for the grace of a true and ever more faithful love patterned after His own. As the Psalm magnificently puts it: His ‘love is established for ever, His loyalty will stand as long as the heavens’ (Ps 88:3).

“Ever blessed and glorious Joseph, kind and loving father, and helpful friend of all in sorrow! You are the good father and protector of orphans, the defender of the defenseless, the patron of those in need and sorrow.

Look kindly on my request. My sins have drawn down on me the just displeasure of my God, and so I am surrounded with unhappiness. To you, loving guardian of the Family of Nazareth, do I go for help and protection. Listen, then, I beg you, with fatherly concern, to my earnest prayers, and obtain for me the favors I ask.

I ask it by the infinite mercy of the eternal Son of God, which moved Him to take our nature and to be born into this world of sorrow.

I ask it by the weariness and suffering you endured when you found no shelter at the inn of Bethlehem for the Holy Virgin, nor a house where the Son of God could be born. Then, being everywhere refused, you had to allow the Queen of Heaven to give birth to the world’s Redeemer in a cave.

I ask it by the loveliness and power of that sacred Name, Jesus, which you conferred on the adorable Infant.

I ask it by the painful torture you felt at the prophecy of holy Simeon, which declared the Child Jesus and His holy Mother future victims of our sins and of their great love for us.

I ask it through your sorrow and pain of soul when the angel declared to you that the life of the Child Jesus was sought by His enemies. From their evil plan, you had to flee with Him and His Blessed Mother to Egypt.

I ask it by all the suffering, weariness, and labors of that long and dangerous journey.

I ask it by all your care to protect the Sacred Child and His Immaculate Mother during your second journey, when you were ordered to return to your own country.

I ask it by your peaceful life in Nazareth where you met with so many joys and sorrows. I ask it by your great distress when the adorable Child was lost to you and His mother for three days.

I ask it by your joy at finding Him in the temple, and by the comfort you found at Nazareth, while living in the company of the Child Jesus.

I ask it by the wonderful submission He showed in His obedience to you.

I ask it by the perfect love and conformity you showed in accepting the Divine order to depart from this life, and from the company of Jesus and Mary.

I ask it by the joy which filled your soul, when the Redeemer of the world, triumphant over death and hell, entered into the possession of His kingdom and led you into it with special honors.

I ask it through Mary’s glorious Assumption, and through that endless happiness you have with her in the presence of God. O good father! I beg you, by all your sufferings, sorrows, and joys, to hear me and obtain for me what I ask.

(Here name your petitions or think of them.)

Obtain for all those who have asked my prayers everything that is useful to them in the plan of God. Finally, my dear patron and father, be with me and all who are dear to me in our last moments, that we may eternally sing the praises of: JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH. “A blameless life, St. Joseph, may we lead, by your kind patronage from danger freed.”

My special patron, hear me!!

Love,
Matthew

Mar 19 – Solemnity of St Joseph, Husband & Father, ite ad Joseph

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O glorious St. Joseph, under your patronage, may my interior life grow and develop.

MEDITATION

Today the Church presents St. Joseph, the great Patriarch, to whose care God willed to entrust the most chosen portion of His flock, Mary, and Jesus. Because Joseph was selected by God to be the guardian of the family of Nazareth, the nucleus of the great Christian family, the Church recognizes in him the Guardian and Patron of all Christendom. Herein lies the significance of today’s Feast, which invites us to fix our attention on the mission entrusted to this great Saint in relation to Jesus and to the Church.

Aware of the great mystery of the Incarnation, Joseph’s whole life gravitated about that of the Incarnate Word: for Him, he endured worry, suffering, fatigue, labor. To Him, he consecrated all his solicitude, his energy, his resources, his time. He reserved nothing for himself, but completely oblivious of any personal needs, desires, or views, he devoted himself entirely to the interests and the needs of Jesus. Nothing existed for Joseph except Jesus and Mary, and he felt that his life on earth had no other raison d’être than his care of them. In this way he participated fully, as a humble, hidden collaborator, in the work of the Redemption; if he did not accompany Jesus in His apostolic life and to His death on the Cross–as Mary did–nevertheless, he worked for the same end as the Savior.

Having been the faithful guardian of the Holy Family, it is impossible that from the heights of heaven St. Joseph should not continue to protect the great Christian family, the universal Church, which, confident of his protection, and relying on his assistance, prays thus: “Sustained, O Lord, by the protection of the spouse of Your holy Mother, we beseech Your clemency … that by his merits and intercession You will guide us to eternal glory” (Roman Missal).

COLLOQUY

“O St. Joseph, happy are you to whom it was given not only to see and hear that God Whom so many desired to see and saw not, to hear and heard not, but even to carry Him in your arms, to embrace Him, to clothe Him, to watch over Him…. O St. Joseph, what others have only after death, you had while still living; like the blessed in heaven, you enjoyed God and lived close to Him. You clasped to your heart the Infant Jesus, you accompanied Him in the flight to Egypt, you sheltered Him under your roof” (Roman Breviary).

“Oh, how sweet were the kisses you received from Jesus! With what joy you heard the little one lisp the name of ‘father,’ and how delightful to feel His gentle embrace! With what love did He rest on your knees, when His little body was worn out with fatigue! Love without reserve brought you to Him as to a most dear Son whom the Holy Spirit had given you through the Virgin, your Spouse” (St. Bernardine of Siena).

“O glorious Saint, it is a thing which truly astonishes me, the great favors which God has bestowed on me and the perils from which He has freed me, both in body and in soul, through your intercession. To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succor us in some of our necessities, but you succor us in them all…. If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take you as his master and he will not go astray” (St. Teresa of Jesus, Life, 6).

May the life of the whole Church, as well as the interior life of every Christian, grow and prosper under your patronage, O Joseph, I place my spiritual life under your protection. You, who lived so close to Jesus, bring me to intimacy with Him, so that, following your example, I may serve Him with a heart full of love.”

Love, & the powerful patronage of St Joseph be yours,
Matthew

Mar 17 – St Patrick’s Slavery (5th century AD), from slavery to slavery


-by Br Irenaeus Dunlevy, OP

Similar to the Irish people, St. Patrick moved from slavery to slavery. Looking at the life of today’s celebrated saint, we see three modes of slavery which are emblematic of the people he helped save. St. Patrick and his flock have been slaves to humans, sin, and Christ. The life of Patrick shows us the healing and freeing power of grace which removed the yoke of man and sin and replaced them with the sweet yoke of Christ.

The opening words of St. Patrick’s most famous work, Confessio, read:

“I, Patrick, a sinner, very rustic, and the least of all the faithful, and very contemptible in the estimation of most men, had as father a certain man called Calpornius…who was in the town Bannaventa Berniae…where I conceded capture.”

St. Patrick was the son of a deacon and grandson of a priest—priestly celibacy wasn’t unanimous in the 4th century. Despite his family’s religion, Patrick accused himself of ignorance of God and of committing some grave sin which he never named. He blamed himself for his eventual capture and enslavement as he was shipped off to Ireland. As a slave, Patrick became a figure of solidarity for the Irish people, because the Irish have often suffered human oppression.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, many Irish entered into indentured servitude in order to find passage to America. One should not equate or conflate this type of slavery with the chattel slavery coming from Africa; St. Patrick escaped the latter. In lieu of their status as indentured servants, many Irish (among other poor Europeans) labored under the yoke of another human. Similarly, Irish immigrants during the Industrial Revolution met inhospitable conditions in their apartments and factories. While laboring under harsh demands, many Irish prayed to St. Patrick—a man who spent six years in slavery.

Patrick learned to pray to the Father in secret while he endured injustice. The Father gradually freed him from his sin and ignorance while he endured “hunger and nakedness daily.” Those six years of slavery helped him mature from his rambunctious youth. Patrick grew in love and fear of the Lord while learning Christian humility:

“Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” (Mt 20:26–27)

After learning humility in the midst of oppression, St. Patrick confessed the mercy God showed him:

“The Lord turned His gaze round on my lowliness and took pity on my adolescence and ignorance and kept watch over me before I knew Him…He fortified me and consoled me as a father consoles a son.”

Eventually, the Lord visited Patrick in a mystical way and guided him out of captivity and Ireland. Patrick’s emancipation from slavery and sin encapsulates St. Paul’s words, “So through God you are no longer a slave but a son” (Gal 4:7). He rejoiced in the “glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rm 8:21). The saint praised the Lord for his liberation from man, but he praised God more for the grace that freed him from ignorance and sin. St. Paul’s words describe well Patrick’s conversion:

“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Rm 6:17–18)

Patrick was freed from two forms of slavery in order to become a slave of righteousness. Yet, this slavery is different, because it is tied to sonship and friendship. “No longer do I call you servants…but I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15). It is a paradox that one can be the son of God and a friend of Christ, and find freedom in obedience. Patrick’s life testifies to that truth, as he obeyed the Lord’s call and returned to the land of his captivity.

Patrick records a locution of the Irish people calling to him, “We call you, holy boy, that you come and walk farther among us.” Whereas before the Irish forced Patrick to the yoke of human slavery, here they beckon him to take on the yoke of Christ. The impassioned call helped create one of the greatest evangelizers in Church history and helped produce an emerald isle of the faith.

Today, merrymaking and lamentation seem a fitting response to Ireland’s patronal feast day. It’s a day of Masses, prayers, dancing, and, unfortunately, riotous drinking. The latter debauchery flies in the face of St. Patrick’s sanctity; indeed, the green-clad souls pounding green Guinness manifest the pagan world the saint brazenly entered. St. Patrick, a man freed from a twofold slavery, took on the yoke of Christ to liberate such as these still captive to sin. We can even now learn from his words:

“I had come to Irish gentiles to proclaim the Gospel, and to endure indignities from unbelievers…so that I might give up my freeborn status for the advantage of others…for His name.”

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig dhuit,
Matthew

Imputation?

catholic_gentleman
sam_guzman_wife
-by Sam Guzman, “The Catholic Gentleman”

“Growing up a protestant, I was taught quite young the theological idea of imputation. That is, that Christ died in our place to bear the death sentence that we deserved, and in doing so, transferred His righteousness to us. It was a grand exchange. He takes ours sins and we get credited righteousness. But most importantly, Jesus suffered and died so that we do not have to suffer and die. We escape the cross because Jesus went there in our place.

The Catholic idea of salvation is quite different. Imputation is largely foreign to Catholic theology. Instead, Catholic theology operates on the idea of participation. That is, Christ came to earth and died on the cross, not so that we could avoid death and suffering, but so that He could transform the inevitability of death and suffering from the inside out. By communion with Him, by participation in His cross, we could receive eternal life.

After all, what is the fate of each and every human being? Death. It is the great equalizer. No matter how rich, famous, beautiful, or healthy we are, we will all die sooner or later. Death is the consequence of sin, for sin is a movement away from God Who is Life itself. Sin is therefore by definition non-Life. It is death by its nature. And because our first parents chose sin, death is the fate of every human being.

Our enemy was gleeful at our demise. He meant for our death to be eternal, and for our physical death to be the gateway into eternal doom. But Christ came and changed all that. He embraced death and death could not hold Him. He transformed it from the inside out, changing it from the gateway to eternal death to that of eternal life. In the words of the Byzantine liturgy, “He trampled down death by death.”

Put another way, Christ did not suffer and die so that we do not have to—he suffered and died so that our suffering and death could be transubstantiated into a means of life. He embraced the cross not to keep us from it, but so that our crosses could be changed from instruments of death into healing remedies that bring life.

As baptized Christians, we are members of the body of Christ. We are incorporated into Him and we live in communion with Him. This communion means that we share in His life—not by making some act of intellectual assent, but by living His life after Him. And living His life after Him requires carrying the cross after Him and sharing in His death. The cross is the price of eternal life.

This is the meaning of Jesus when He said, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” -Lk 14:27 Could there be any clearer sign that He did not come to keep us from the cross? No, rather He came to transform our crosses into the means of life.

Having been instructed by Christ himself, St. Paul understood this well. “I die daily.” “I have been crucified with Christ.” “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The cross is foolishness to them that are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God and the Wisdom of God.” The cross was always in his heart and on his lips, for it was to him, as it is for us all, the means of eternal life.

Suffering is inevitable. To varying degrees, we will all suffer. And with a similar certainty, we will all die. It could be said that a cross lies at the heart of human existence. But the cross need not be a fate to be feared. Our Lord trampled down death by death. In the greatest paradox of all, He changed death into a means of life. What was once our doom is now our salvation.

“You must accept your cross,” said the holy St. John Vianney“If you bear it courageously it will carry you to heaven.” This Lent, let us not fear or flee the cross, but carry it with love and with hope, as the means not of death but of eternal life.”

Love,
Matthew

Feb 17 – Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order, OSM: to pray or to do? And/both, not either or…

The priest who did the marriage preparation for Kelly & I, the Rev. Paul Novak, OSM, a wonderful priest, quipped the OSM stood for “Order of Sexy Men!”  🙂  Actually, and less comical, it stands for Ordo Servorum Beatae Mariae Virginis., sometimes simply referred to as “Servants of Mary”, or the Servite Order.


-by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP, received a B.A. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry/Mathematics/Computer Science with a minor in Chemistry from Rutgers prior to joining the Order.

“To pray or do good? This seems to be the dilemma of anyone trying to live a Christian life. On the one hand St. Thomas Aquinas says that “the contemplative life is more excellent than the active,” but on the other hand St. James says that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” This dichotomy is traditionally expressed in terms of Martha and Mary, and Jesus certainly seems to weigh in on Mary’s side. Today the church honors the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order, who illuminate the interaction of the contemplative and the active life.

The Servite Order was founded by a group of seven men, cloth merchants, from Florence. The city was torn with political strife as well as the heresy of the Cathari. They were not the kind of group you would think of to found a religious order: they were well off and highly respected men, and while three of them were celibate, two were widowed and two were married. Thus, the first thing they had to do was provide for their dependents. This being done, they went off to begin a contemplative life. They took up this life in a house just outside Florence called La Carmarzia, but it wasn’t long until they were so distracted by visitors that it was impossible to live the contemplative life. So like good monks they fled from the world into the wilderness and began living on the slopes of Monte Senario. They began under the direction of St. Peter of Verona, OP.

They remained on those slopes for a time, sending visitors quickly on their way—even those who wished to join them—until they were visited by their local bishop and a cardinal. The cardinal was impressed, but commented that “you seem more desirous of dying to time than of living for eternity.” Then the Seven Holy Founders had a vision of Mary, who told them that she wanted them to be her servants (hence their full name, the Order of the Servants of Mary), wear the black habit, and follow the Rule of St. Augustine. This was on April 14, 1240, and from that day on they began to live more like mendicant friars and less like monastics. That is to say, they began to go out from their cloister, travelling extensively to preach the Gospel. To the Servites was entrusted particularly the preaching of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, commemorating the suffering which she endured alongside her son, Jesus Christ. At the same time, they did not abandon their monastic practices but continued to pray the Divine Liturgy in common and to live in community. Their work, however, became that of preaching, and they earned their food by begging. After this transition they began to accept new companions to join them, and they quickly grew and spread throughout Europe.

It’s a pretty amazing story, and it shows how in the mixed life—contemplation paired with action—men can be drawn first to contemplation. After spending time in prayer, they are called out from contemplation into the service of their fellow men. And this should be the model of every Christian life. A man should first seek God and desire to be with Him. By being with God, a man might hear a call from God to go out to other men and draw them to God. Even those living in monasteries should hear this call to draw their brothers in the monastery closer to God by the example of their service. This is the life that St. Thomas Aquinas says surpasses even the contemplative life, although not by abandoning the contemplative life for the active life, but by uniting the two: “And this work is more excellent than simple contemplation. For even as it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so is it better to give to others the fruits of one’s contemplation than merely to contemplate.” Hence, an active life is well lived when it flows out of a contemplative life, and there cannot be a purely active Christian life absent of any contemplation. Every Christian should be both Martha and Mary.

So if you are finding yourself “worried and distracted by many things” (Lk 10:41) while you are helping others and doing good, it might help to turn back to prayer. And if you find that your prayer life seems to be in a rut, maybe there’s an act of mercy you’ve been putting off that God is calling you to do.”


-cupola (ceiling), of the Chapel of St Joseph, Basilica of the Holy Annunciation, Florence, Italy, the Servite mother church.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-“Founders of the Order of Servites”, by Rosselli Matteo, ~1616, fresco?, Basilica of the Holy Annunciation, Florence.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

Office of Readings

From an account of the origin of the Servite Order
-(Monumenta Ord. Serv. B. Mariae Virginis, 1, 3. 5. 6. 9. 11: pp. 71 ss)

“There were seven men worthy of all our praise and veneration, whom our Lady brought into one community to form this order of hers and of her servants. They were like seven stars joined together to form a constellation.

When I entered this order I found only one of the seven still alive, Brother Alexis, whom our Lady was pleased to preserve from death down to our own time so that we might listen to his account of the founding of the order. As I saw myself and observed at first hand, Brother Alexis led so good a life that all who met him were moved by the force of his example. Moreover, he was a living testimony to that special kind of religious perfection characteristic of that first community.

But where did these men stand before they formed their own community? Let us consider this in four respects.

First, as regards the Church. Some of them had never married, having vowed themselves to perpetual celibacy; some were married men at the time; some had lost their wives after marriage and now were widowers.

Second, regarding their status in the city of Florence. They belonged to the merchant class and engaged in buying and selling the goods of this world. But once they found the pearl of great price, our order, they not only gave all they had to the poor but cheerfully offered themselves to God and our Lady in true and loyal service.

Third, concerning their devotion and reverence to our Lady. In Florence there was an ancient guild dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Because of its age and the number and holiness of its members, both men and women, the guild had acquired a title of preeminence and was called the Major Guild of Our Blessed Lady. These seven men were devoted to our Lady and belonged to this guild before they established their own community.

Fourth, as for their spiritual perfection. They loved God above all things and dedicated their whole lives to Him by honoring Him in their every thought, word and deed.

But when by God’s inspiration and the special urging of our Lady they had firmly resolved to form a community together, they set in order everything that concerned their homes and families, left to their families what they needed and gave all the rest to the poor. Then they sought the advice of virtuous men of good judgment, and described their plans to them.

They climbed the heights of Monte Senario and built on its summit a little house that would suit their purpose, and there they lived in common. As time passed, they began to realize that they were called not simply to sanctify themselves but to receive others into their community, and so increase the membership of this new order our Lady had inspired them to found. They recruited new members; some they accepted, and thus established our present order. In the beginning our Lady was the chief architect of this new order which was founded on the humility of its members, built up by their mutual love, and preserved by their poverty.”

O Lord Jesus Christ Who,
in order to renew the memory
of the sorrows of Thy most holy Mother,
hast through the seven blessed fathers
enriched Thy Church with the new Order of Servites;
mercifully grant that we may be so united
in their sorrows as to share in their joys.
Who livest and reignest, world without end.

Amen.

Love & prayers,
Matthew

Dec 4 – St John Damascene (645-749 AD), Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Christian Art, Doctor of the Assumption

What Aquinas is for the Latin or Western Church, John of Damascus is for the Eastern Church.  Saint John of Damascus was born about the year 680 at Damascus, Syria into a Christian family. His father, Sergius Mansur, was a treasurer at the court of the Caliph. John had also a foster brother, the orphaned child Cosmas (October 14), whom Sergius had taken into his own home. When the children were growing up, Sergius saw that they received a good education. At the Damascus slave market he ransomed the learned monk Cosmas of Calabria from captivity and entrusted to him the teaching of his children. The boys displayed uncommon ability and readily mastered their courses of the secular and spiritual sciences. After the death of his father, John occupied ministerial posts at court and became the city prefect.

In Constantinople at that time, the heresy of Iconoclasm had arisen and quickly spread, supported by the emperor Leo III the Isaurian (717-741). Rising up in defense of the veneration of icons [Iconodoulia], Saint John wrote three treatises entitled, “Against Those who Revile the Holy Icons.” The wise and God-inspired writings of Saint John enraged the emperor. But since the author was not a Byzantine subject, the emperor was unable to lock him up in prison, or to execute him. The emperor then resorted to slander. A forged letter to the emperor was produced, supposedly from John, in which the Damascus official was supposed to have offered his help to Leo in conquering the Syrian capital.

This letter and another hypocritically flattering note were sent to the Saracen Caliph by Leo the Isaurian. The Caliph immediately ordered that Saint John be removed from his post, that his right hand be cut off, and that he be led through the city in chains.

That same evening, they returned the severed hand to Saint John. The saint pressed it to his wrist and prayed to the Most Holy Theotokos to heal him so that he could defend the  Faith and write once again in praise of the Most Pure Virgin and Her Son. After a time, he fell asleep before the icon of the Mother of God. He heard Her voice telling him that he had been healed, and commanding him to toil unceasingly with his restored hand. Upon awakening, he found that his hand had been attached to his arm once more. Only a small red mark around his wrist remained as a sign of the miracle.

Later, in thanksgiving for being healed, Saint John had a silver model of his hand attached to the icon, which became known as “Of the Three Hands.” Some unlearned painters have given the Mother of God three hands instead of depicting the silver model of Saint John’s hand. The Icon “Of the Three Hands” is commemorated on June 28 and July 12.

When he learned of the miracle, which demonstrated John’s innocence, the Caliph asked his forgiveness and wanted to restore him to his former office, but the saint refused. He gave away his riches to the poor, and went to Jerusalem with his stepbrother and fellow-student, Cosmas. There he entered the monastery of Saint Sava the Sanctified as a simple novice.

It was not easy for him to find a spiritual guide, because all the monks were daunted by his great learning and by his former rank. Only one very experienced Elder, who had the skill to foster the spirit of obedience and humility in a student, would consent to do this. The Elder forbade John to do anything at all according to his own will. He also instructed him to offer to God all his labors and supplications as a perfect sacrifice, and to shed tears which would wash away the sins of his former life.

Once, he sent the novice to Damascus to sell baskets made at the monastery, and commanded him to sell them at a certain inflated price, far above their actual value. He undertook the long journey under the searing sun, dressed in rags. No one in the city recognized the former official of Damascus, for his appearance had been changed by prolonged fasting and ascetic labors. However, Saint John was recognized by his former house steward, who bought all the baskets at the asking price, showing compassion on him for his apparent poverty.

One of the monks happened to die, and his brother begged Saint John to compose something consoling for the burial service. Saint John refused for a long time, but out of pity he yielded to the petition of the grief-stricken monk, and wrote his renowned funeral troparia (“What earthly delight,” “All human vanity,” and others). For this disobedience the Elder banished him from his cell. John fell at his feet and asked to be forgiven, but the Elder remained unyielding. All the monks began to plead for him to allow John to return, but he refused. Then one of the monks asked the Elder to impose a penance on John, and to forgive him if he fulfilled it. The Elder said, “If John wishes to be forgiven, let him wash out all the chamber pots in the lavra, and clean the monastery latrines with his bare hands.”

John rejoiced and eagerly ran to accomplish his shameful task. After a certain while, the Elder was commanded in a vision by the All-Pure and Most Holy Theotokos to allow Saint John to write again. When the Patriarch of Jerusalem heard of Saint John, he ordained him priest and made him a preacher at his cathedral. But St John soon returned to the Lavra of Saint Sava, where he spent the rest of his life writing spiritual books and church hymns. He left the monastery only to denounce the iconoclasts at the Constantinople Council of 754. They subjected him to imprisonment and torture, but he endured everything, and through the mercy of God he remained alive. He died in about the year 780, more than 100 years old.

Saint John of Damascus was a theologian and a zealous defender of the Faith. His most important book is the Fount of Knowledge. The third section of this work, “On the Orthodox Faith,” is a summary of Christian doctrine and a refutation of heresy. Since he was known as a hymnographer, we pray to Saint John for help in the study of church singing.

“Even though your most holy and blessed soul was separated from your most happy and immaculate body, according to the usual course of nature, and even though it was carried to a proper burial place, nevertheless it did not remain under the dominion of death, nor was it destroyed by corruption. Indeed, just as her virginity remained intact when she gave birth, so her body, even after death, was preserved from decay and transferred to a better and more divine dwelling place. There it is no longer subject to death but abides for all ages.” -St John Damascene, First Homily on the Dormition (of Mary)

Troparion — Tone 8

Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship, / the enlightener of the universe and the adornment of hierarchs: / all-wise father John, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things. / Intercede before Christ God to save our souls.

Kontakion — Tone 4

Let us sing praises to John, worthy of great honor, / the composer of hymns, the star and teacher of the Church, the defender of her doctrines: / through the might of the Lord’s Cross he overcame heretical error / and as a fervent intercessor before God / he entreats that forgiveness of sins may be granted to all.

Prayer Of St. John Damascene

“Having confidence in you, O Mother of God, I shall be saved. Being under you protection, I shall fear nothing. With your help I shall give battle to my enemies and put them to flight for devotion to you is an arm of Salvation. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew