Category Archives: Doctors of the Church

Dec 21 – St Peter Canisius, SJ, (1521-1597), Doctor of the Church & the Catechism

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St Peter Canisius, SJ, is my patron saint and my hero of catechesis. When I am frustrated, I paraphrase him in a one line prayer: “Why don’t you try explaining it to them?” It REALLY helps ME understand it, too, first of all. 🙂

The Roman Catholic Church sees the divisions among Christians as scandalous.  It believes the Lord views these divisions similarly.  The Church seeks to heal these divisions.  Jn 17:21-23.  Divisions in Christianity are a disincentive to non-Christians to consider Jesus Christ and an impediment to Christian agape among Christians.

It is reported Gandhi read the New Testament every day.  Upon seeing this, a British reporter asked if The Mahatma, Great Soul, intended to become Christian.  Gandhi responded he would if he ever met one.  “You’re Christ I like” he said.

The energetic life of Peter Canisius should demolish any stereotypes we may have of the life of a saint as dull or routine. Peter lived his 76 years at a pace which must be considered heroic, even in our time of rapid change. A man blessed with many talents, Peter is an excellent example of the scriptural man who develops his talents for the sake of the Lord’s work. The restoration of the Catholic Church in Germany after the Reformation is attributed to his work.  He was one of the most important figures in the Catholic Reformation in Germany. His was such a key role that he has often been called the “second apostle of Germany” in that his life parallels the earlier work of St Boniface (June 5).

Both Holland and Germany claim him as their son, for Nijmegen, then in the Duchy of Guelders (until 1549 part of the Spanish Netherlands within the Holy Roman Empire) where he was born, Peter Kanis, May 8th, 1521, though a Dutch town today, was at that time in the ecclesiastical province of Cologne and had the rights of a German city.

“In an account known as his Confessions (c. 1570) and his Testament (c.1596), St. Peter Canisius accuses himself as a boy of contentiousness, fits of anger, jealousies, secret hatreds, arrogance, inconsiderate expressing of opinions on weighty matters, “like a blind man discoursing of colors,” and carelessness in resisting temptations against purity arising from thought, desire and the conversation of the boys he associated with. His intense humility can be expected to underscore his faults, but his words tells us that he did have a nature that needed to be tamed and controlled. In early youth he also had the inclination occasionally to be deeply stirred spiritually and to give signs of his future vocation by playing priest, acting out the Mass, preaching, singing and praying, all this sometimes before a group of playmates. He also liked to serve Mass. (Confessions, p. 12 of Braunsberger, Vol.1)”
-St Peter Canisius, SJ, as edited by Fr. Christopher Rengers, O.F.M. Cap., The 33 Doctors of the Church, (Tan Books: 2000)

Peter’s mother, Ægidia van Houweningen, died shortly after Peter’s birth.  His father, Jacob Kanis, a Catholic and nine times burgomaster of Nijmegen, sent him at the age of fifteen to the University of Cologne, where he met the saintly young priest, Nicolaus van Esch. It was he who drew Canisius into the orbit of the loyal Catholic party of Cologne, which had been formed in opposition to the archbishop, Hermann von Wied, who had secretly gone over to the Lutherans.  Canisius was chosen by the group to approach the emperor, and the deposition of the archbishop which followed averted a calamity from the Catholic Rhineland.

St Peter Canisius exerted a strong influence on Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I; he ceaselessly reminded Ferdinand of the imminent danger to his soul should he concede more rights to Protestants in return for their military support. When Peter Canisius sensed a very real danger of Ferdinand’s son and heir, King Maximilian, openly declaring himself a Protestant, he convinced Emperor Ferdinand to threaten disinheritance should Maximilian desert the Catholic Faith.

Although Peter once accused himself of idleness in his youth, he could not have been idle too long, for at the age of 19 he received a master’s degree from the university at Cologne. Soon afterwards he met Blessed Peter Faber, SJ, the first disciple of Ignatius Loyola, and underwent the Spiritual Exercises under his direction.  Faber influenced Peter so much that he joined the recently formed Society of Jesus.

At this early age Peter had already taken up a practice he continued throughout his life—a process of study, reflection, prayer and writing. After his ordination in 1546, he became widely known for his editions of the writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Leo the Great. Besides this reflective literary bent, Peter had a zeal for the apostolate. He could often be found visiting the sick or prisoners, even when his assigned duties in other areas were more than enough to keep most people fully occupied.

His obedience was tested when he was sent by St Ignatius to teach rhetoric in the comparative obscurity of the new Jesuit college at Messina, but this interlude in his public work for the church was but a brief one. In 1547 Peter attended several sessions of the Council of Trent, whose decrees he was later assigned to implement, as procurator for the bishop of Augsburg.  (I was the novice “procurator”.  I LIKED that job.  Tell you about it sometime.)

Recalled to Rome in 1549 to make his final profession in the presence of St Ignatius of Loyola himself who was his spiritual director and traveling companion and the founder of the Society of Jesus, he was entrusted with what was to become his life’s work: the mission to Germany.

At the request of the duke of Bavaria, Canisius was chosen with two other Jesuits to profess theology in the University of Ingolstadt. Soon he was appointed rector of the University, and then, through the intervention of King Ferdinand of the Romans, he was sent to do the same kind of work in the University of Vienna.

Called to Vienna to reform their university, he couldn’t win the people with preaching or fancy words spoken in his German accent. He won their hearts by ministering to the sick and dying during a plague. His success was such that the king tried to have him appointed to the archbishopric. Though he refused this dignity, he was compelled to administer the diocese for the space of a year.  During Mass one day he received a vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus , and ever after offered his work to the Sacred Heart.  Winning! (in the good, healthy sense) 🙂

It was at this period, 1555, that he issued his famous Catechism, one of his greatest services to the Church. With its clear and popular exposition of Catholic doctrine it met the need of the day, and was to counter the devastating effect of Luther’s Catechism. In its enlarged form it went into more than four hundred editions by the end of the seventeenth century and was translated into fifteen languages.

For many years during the Protestant Reformation, Peter saw the students in his universities swayed by the flashy speeches and the well-written arguments of the Protestants. Peter was not alone in wishing for a Catholic catechism that would present true Catholic beliefs undistorted by fanatics. Finally King Ferdinand himself ordered Peter and his companions to write a catechism. This hot potato got tossed from person to person until Peter and his friend Fr. Lejay were assigned to write it. Lejay was obviously the logical choice, being a better writer than Peter. So Peter relaxed and sat back to offer any help he could. When Father Lejay died, King Ferdinand would wait no longer. Peter said of writing: “I have never learned to be elegant as a writer, but I cannot remain dumb on that account.” The first issue of the Catechism appeared in 1555 and was an immediate success. Peter approached Christian doctrine in two parts: wisdom — including faith, hope, and charity — and justice — avoiding evil and doing good, linked by a section on sacraments.

Because of the success and the need, Peter quickly produced two more versions: a Shorter Catechism for middle school students which concentrated on helping this age group choose good over evil by concentrating on a different virtue each day of the week; and a Shortest Catechism for young children which included prayers for morning and evening, for mealtimes, and so forth to get them used to praying.

As intent as Peter was on keeping people true to the Catholic faith, he followed the Jesuit policy that harsh words should not be used, that those listening would see an example of charity in the way Catholics acted and preached. However, his companions were not always as willing. He showed great patience and insight with one man, Father Couvillon. Couvillon was so sharp and hostile that he was alienating his companions and students. Anyone who confronted him became the subject of abuse. It became obvious that Couvillon suffered from emotional illness. But Peter did not let that knowledge blind him to the fact that Couvillon was still a brilliant and talented man. Instead of asking Couvillon to resign he begged him to stay on as a teacher and then appointed him as his secretary. Peter thought that Couvillon needed to worry less about himself and pray more and work harder. He didn’t coddle him but gave Couvillon blunt advice about his pride. Coming from Peter this seemed to help Couvillon. Peter consulted Couvillon often on the business of the Province and asked him to translate Jesuit letters from India. Thanks to Peter , even though Couvillon continued to suffer depression for years, he also accomplished much good.

In his fight with German Protestantism, Canisius requested much more flexibility from Rome. “If you treat them right, the Germans will give you everything. Many err in matters of faith, but without arrogance. They err the German way, mostly honest, a bit simple-minded, but very open for everything Lutheran. An honest explanation of the faith would be much more effective than a polemical attack against reformers.” He rejected Catholic attacks against Calvin and Melanchton by saying, “With words like these, we don’t cure patients, we make them incurable.”

From Vienna, Canisius passed on to Bohemia, where the condition of the church was desperate. In the face of determined opposition he established a college at Prague which was to develop into a university. Named Provincial of southern Germany in 1556, he established colleges for boys in six cities, and set himself to the task of providing Germany with a supply of well-trained priests. This he did by his work for the establishment of seminaries, and by sending regular reinforcements of young men to be trained in Rome.

On his many journeys in Germany St Peter Canisius, SJ never ceased from preaching the word of God. He often encountered apathy or hostility at first, but as his zeal and learning were so manifest great crowds soon thronged the churches to listen. For seven years he was official preacher in the cathedral of Augsburg, and is regarded in a special way as the apostle of that city. Whenever he came across a country church deprived of its pastor, he would halt there to preach and to administer the sacraments. It seemed impossible to exhaust him: ‘If you have too much to do, with God’s help you will find time to do it all,’ he said, when someone accused him of overworking himself.

Another form of his apostolate was letter writing, and the printed volumes of his correspondence cover more than eight thousand pages. Like St Bernard of Clairvaux he used this means of comforting, rebuking and counseling all ranks of society. As the needs of the church or the individual required, he wrote to pope and emperor, to bishops and princes, to ordinary priest and laymen. Where letters would not suffice he brought to bear his great powers of personal influence. Thus at the conference between Catholics and Protestants held at Worms in 1556, it was due to his influence that the Catholics were able to present a united front and resist Protestant invitations to compromise on points of principle. In Poland in 1558 he checked an incipient threat to the traditional faith of the country; and in the same year, he earned the thanks of Pope Pius IV for his diplomatic skill in healing a breach between the pope and the emperor. This gift of dealing with men led to his being entrusted in 1561 with the promulgation in Germany of the decrees of the council of Trent.

Shortly afterwards he was called on to answer the Centuries of Magdeburg. This work, ‘the first and worst of all Protestant church histories,’ was a large-scale attack on the Catholic church, and its enormous distortions of history would have required more than one mar to produce an adequate answer. Yet Peter Canisius showed the way by his two works,  The History of John the Baptist, and, also theologically defended Catholic Mariology in, The Incomparable Virgin Mary/Opus Marianum, or “De Maria Virgine Incomparabili et Dei Genitrice Sacrosancta Libri Quinque”, receiving high praise from St John Eudes as a Marian teacher.

Canisius taught that while there are many roads leading to Jesus Christ, Marian veneration is the best way to him.  His sermons and letters document a clear preoccupation with Marian veneration.  Under the heading “prayer” he explains the Ave Maria, Hail Mary, as the basis for Catholic Marian piety.  Less known are his Marian books, in which he published prayers and contemplative texts. He is credited with adding to the Hail Mary the sentence “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.”  Eleven years later it was included in the Catechism of the Council of Trent of 1566.

In 1565, the Vatican was looking for a nuncio to deliver the decrees of the Council of Trent to the loyal bishops of Germany. What would be a simple errand in our day, was a dangerous assignment in the sixteenth century. The first envoy who tried to carry the decrees through territory of hostile Protestants and vicious thieves was robbed of the precious documents. Rome needed someone courageous but also someone above suspicion. They chose Peter Canisius, who had reformed German universities from heresy. At 43 he was a well-known Jesuit who had founded colleges that even Protestants respected. They gave him a cover as official “visitor” of Jesuit foundations. But Peter couldn’t hide the decrees like our modern fictional spies with their microfilmed messages in collar buttons or cans of shaving cream. Peter traveled from Rome and crisscrossed Germany successfully loaded down with the Tridentine tomes — 250 pages each — not to mention the three sacks of books he took along for his own university!

Renowned as a popular preacher, Peter packed churches with those eager to hear his eloquent proclamation of the gospel. He had great diplomatic ability, often serving as a reconciler between disputing factions. In his letters (filling eight volumes) one finds words of wisdom and counsel to people in all walks of life. At times he wrote unprecedented letters of criticism to leaders of the Church—yet always in the context of a loving, sympathetic concern.

At 70 Peter suffered a paralytic seizure, but he continued to preach and write with the aid of a secretary until his death in his hometown (Nijmegen, Netherlands) on December 21, 1597.  His body was interred before the high altar of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Fribourg.  His relics were translated to the Church of Saint Michael at the Jesuit College in Fribourg in 1625.

From 1580 until his death in 1597 he labored and suffered much in Switzerland. His last six years were spent in patient endurance and long hours of prayer in the college of Fribourg, now that broken health had made further active work impossible. Soon after his death, December 21st, 1597, his tomb began to be venerated, and numerous miracles were attributed to his intercession. He had the unique honor of being canonized and declared a doctor of the church on the same day, June 21st, 1925.

Peter’s untiring efforts are an apt example for those involved in the renewal of the Church or the growth of moral consciousness in business or government. He is regarded as one of the creators of the Catholic press, and can easily be a model for the Christian author or journalist. Teachers can see in his life a passion for the transmission of truth. Whether we have much to give, as Peter Canisius did, or whether we have only a little to give, as did the poor widow in the Gospel (see Luke 21:1–4), the important thing is to give our all. It is in this way that Peter is so exemplary for Christians in an age of rapid change when we are called to be in the world but not of the world.

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-by Franz Xavier Zettler, 1911, in Munich

“It was as if You opened to me the Heart in Your most Sacred Body; I seemed to see it directly before my eyes. You told me to drink from this fountain, inviting me, that is, to draw the waters of my salvation from Your wellsprings, my Savior. I was most eager that streams of faith, hope and love should flow into me from that Source. I was thirsting for poverty, chastity, obedience. I asked to be made wholly clean by You, to be clothed by You, to be made resplendent by You…So, after daring to approach Your most loving Heart, and to plunge my thirst into it, I received a promise from You of a garment made of three parts: these were to cover my soul in its nakedness, and to belong especially to my religious profession. They were peace, love, and perseverance. Protected by this garment of salvation, I was confident that I would lack nothing but all would succeed and give You glory.””
–St. Peter Canisius, SJ, before he set out for Germany, having received the apostolic blessing, describing the profound spiritual experience he underwent

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With sincere Marian devotion, St. Peter wrote the following words to his step-Mother:
“Dear Mother,
I am sending you a picture of Our Lady as a pledge of affectionate remembrance. May it serve you as a mirror and bring you comfort when sorrow floods into your soul. All her life long holy Mother Mary endured a thousand sorrows and anxieties on account of her dear Son, because even while He was still a child she saw clearly in the light of her heavenly meditations all the sufferings that awaited His tender limbs. Her tears used to fall on the little hands and feet that one day great nails would violently pierce, and she used to kiss the holy brow destined for its crown of thorns. So, dearest Mother, offer up all your affliction in union with the sorrows of the holy Mother of God. Place all your troubles and anxieties in the stricken heart of the Queen of Heaven, for she can protect you better than could all mankind put together. Do not take so much to heart what cannot now be changed.”
-St Peter Canisius, SJ, as edited by Fr. James Brodrick, SJ,  (Jesuit Way  — an imprint of Loyola Press) 62.

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Resolution:
St. Peter sent his mother an image of Our Lady and counseled her to turn all her troubles and anxieties over to the stricken heart of the Queen of Heaven. Today, when I see my image of Our Lady, I will follow the advice of St. Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church, and turn my troubles over to Our Lady.

Marian Vow:
Consecration to the Immaculate is a daily process. St. Peter Canisius reminds us in his commentary on the Hail Mary that our Lady already watches over us in a daily way:

“To be sure, walking in the footsteps of the Holy Fathers, we not only salute the praiseworthy and admirable Virgin, who is as a lily among thorns, but we also believe and profess her to be endowed with such great power that she can listen to, assist and favor poor mortals as long as they especially commend themselves and their desires to her and suppliantly expect daily grace through her motherly intercession.”

-St Peter Canisius, SJ, as edited by Fr. Christopher Rengers, O.F.M. Cap., The 33 Doctors of the Church, (Tan Books: 2000), p. 473.

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Prayer

Saint Peter Canisius, you saw the good in even the most troublesome of people. You found their talents and used them. Help me to see beyond the behavior of others that may bother me to the gifts God has given them. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 3 – St Gregory the Great, (540?-604 AD), Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Tears, & First Great Catholic Reformer

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Gregory had to hurry.  He packed quickly.  He suspected the news even before receiving it in writing.  Justinian had confirmed Gregory’s election as Bishop of Rome.  Gregory had to flee the city before he could be ordained.  Gregory knew Justinian when Gregory was papal representative in Constantinople, and had therefore interceded with him, asking Justinian to withhold his consent from the election.  News travels fast in Rome, even in the sixth century.  The people of Rome intercepted Gregory before he could make his escape and carried him off to the Basilica of St Peter to be consecrated pope.

If you have ever heard the term or actually heard “Gregorian chant”, you have heard the echo and felt the effect, a millennia and a half later, of the life and papacy of St Gregory the Great.  The old empire in the West had collapsed, Italy had been invaded and Rome sacked once again, this time by the Lombards in 568.  It had taken Justinian twenty years to drive the Ostrogoths from Italy in the 5th century, his Byzantine army looting and pillaging their way as they pushed their enemy back, bringing plague and famine along with them.  And then the Lombards came.  By the end of Gregory’s papacy, one third of Italy had succumbed to the plague, and still more had died as a result of famine and war.  It must have seemed like the end of the world.

Even though legalized in 313 by Edict of Milan, Christianity still existed in a largely pagan, brutally repressive, and unjust world.  There was essentially no help for the poor.  Desperately poor parents either abandoned their children or sold them in to slavery.  Child prostitution was legal and accepted.  Criminals, political dissenters, slaves, military captives, and members of banned religious sects were routinely tortured for public amusement in the gladiatorial games.  Don’t feel like going out?  Torture one of your slaves to death at home.  It’s fun? And, it’s legal.

After Constantine’s conversion, some of these aspects of Roman culture began to be outlawed.  In the spring of 315, Constantine legislated that aid would be provided for hungry children, although their parents were still left to fend for themselves.  That summer, Constantine made child prostitution and pederasty illegal and punishable by death in the gladiatorial arena.  Constantine forbade the immoderate torture and murder of slaves in 319, but moderate torture was still allowed.  Slaves who denounced their masters, however, were subject to crucifixion according to a law passed in 320.  In 343, it became illegal to use Christian slave women for prostitution, but non-Christian slave women could still be used in that manner.  Although the Church began having a reforming effect on Roman society, progress was painfully slow.

Even the Church’s own moral teachings led emperors to legislate laws that were unjust.  On August 6, 390, Emperor Theodosius passed a law stipulating that men who committed homosexual acts were to be burned at the stake.  This is the world Gregory was taking responsibility for as Successor of St Peter.  We can clearly appreciate his hesitance, anxiety, and desire to get out of town.

When Gregory heard the bishops of Arles and Marseilles were forcibly converting Jews, Gregory demanded they stop.  The only true way to conversion, Gregory declared, was through the sweetness of preaching.  Tragically, not all of Gregory’s successors nor the Church herself always heeded Gregory’s sage advice in succeeding generations.

The legalization and adoption of Christianity in the Roman Empire was both a blessing and a curse.  It was a blessing in the sense a flood of wealth, including state money, poured into the Church allowing it to build institutions that would survive the collapse of the Latin West.  However, that same effect immediately drew to the Church those seeking office or position not necessarily for the holiest of reasons.  As a response to this ill effect, the first major reform movement, monasticism, developed in the Church.  It came from those seeking a greater purity in their pursuit of Gospel living.  It was from this nascent monasticism Gregory came.

We should recall the emperors had given the Church a near monopoly on social welfare in the Empire.  By the fifth century, the church in Antioch provided clothing, maintained hospitals and dispensaries, and fed three thousand people a day.  Naturally, this implied major sees in large cities were receiving and distributing immense amounts of wealth.

Gregory was direct and firm. He removed unworthy priests from office, forbade taking money for many services, emptied the papal treasury to ransom prisoners of the Lombards and to care for persecuted Jews and the victims of plague and famine. He was very concerned about the conversion of England, sending 40 monks from his own monastery. He is known for his reform of the liturgy, for strengthening respect for doctrine.

An Anglican historian wrote, “It is impossible to conceive what would have been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the Middle Ages without the medieval papacy; and of the medieval papacy, the real father is Gregory the Great.”

Gregory’s book, “Pastoral Care”, on the duties and qualities of a bishop, was read for centuries after his death. He described bishops mainly as physicians whose main duties were preaching and the enforcement of discipline. In his own down-to-earth preaching, Gregory was skilled at applying the daily gospel to the needs of his listeners. Called “the Great,” Gregory has been given a place with Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome as one of the four key doctors of the Western Church.

Gregory developed what can be called a spirituality of reform that balances the need to reform with the need to maintain the unity of the faith, which he called “the bond of love”.  The essential virtue for maintaining unity, according to Gregory, is patience.  Gregory insisted that people should not expect to bring the Church to perfection, because the reality is that the Church brings us to perfection by stirring us to reform ourselves, our communities, our leaders, and our world.

The imperfect and wounded nature of the pilgrim Church is not, for Gregory, a sign that the Holy Spirit has lost His way guiding the Church toward sanctification.  Nor did he believe it was the role of the reformer to separate wheat from chaff or sheep from goats.  Only the Son of Man has this right.

Largely due to the influence of Irish and Spanish clergy and missionaries, Gregory’s ideas gradually spread throughout Christian Europe.  By the end of the 9th century, Charlemagne had made the study of Gregory’s “Pastoral Care” obligatory for all bishops in his empire.

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-by Jacopo Vignali, Pope St Gregory the Great, ca. 1630, oil on canvas, the ceiling of the library in the Dominican convent of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

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-tomb of St Gregory the Great, St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

“Perhaps it is not after all so difficult for a man to part with his possessions, but it is certainly most difficult for him to part with himself. To renounce what one has is a minor thing; but to renounce what one is, that is asking a lot” -St. Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Gospels

“Though our lips can only stammer, still we chant the greatness of God.” -St. Gregory the Great

Prayer of St Gregory the Great

“O Lord, You received affronts
without number from Your blasphemers,
yet each day You free captive souls
from the grip of the ancient enemy.

You did not avert Your face
from the spittle of perfidy,
yet You wash souls in saving waters.

You accepted Your scourging without murmur,
yet through Your meditation
You deliver us from endless chastisements.

You endured ill-treatment of all kinds,
yet You want to give us a share
in the choirs of angels in glory everlasting.

You did not refuse to be crowned with thorns,
yet You save us from the wounds of sin.

In Your thirst You accepted the bitterness of gall,
yet You prepare Yourself to fill us with eternal delights.

You kept silence under the derisive homage
rendered You by Your executioners,
yet You petition the Father for us
although You are His equal in Divinity.

You came to taste death,
yet You are The Life
and came to bring Life to us,
who are dead through sin.

Amen.”

The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist. – Saint Gregory the Great

If we knew at what time we were to depart from this world, we would be able to select a season for pleasure and another for repentance. But God, Who has promised pardon to every repentant sinner, has not promised us tomorrow. Therefore we must always dread the final day, which we can never foresee. This very day is a day of truce, a day for conversion. And yet we refuse to cry over the evil we have done! Not only do we not weep for the sins we have committed, we even add to them…. If we are, in fact, now occupied in good deeds, we should not attribute the strength with which we are doing them to ourselves. We must not count on ourselves, because even if we know what kind of person we are today, we do not know what we will be tomorrow. Nobody must rejoice in the security of their own good deeds. As long as we are still experiencing the uncertainties of this life, we do not know what end may follow…we must not trust in our own virtues. – Saint Gregory the Great, from Be Friends of God

“Scripture is read in public to feed even children, and in secret to suspend even sublime minds in admiration. It is like a river, both shallow and deep, in which a lamb may walk and an elephant may swim.” (Gregory the Great, Commentary on Job).

Love,
Matthew

Sep 17 – St Robert Bellarmine, SJ, (1542-1621): Doctor of the Church, Patron of Catechists & Catechumens

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When Robert Bellarmine was ordained in 1570, having entered the Society of Jesus ten years earlier, the study of Church history and the fathers of the Church was in a sad state of neglect. A promising scholar from his youth in Tuscany, he devoted his energy to these two subjects, as well as to Scripture, in order to systematize Church doctrine against the attacks of the Protestant Reformers. He was the first Jesuit to become a professor at Louvain.

His most famous work is his three-volume Disputations on the Controversies of the Christian faith. Particularly noteworthy are the sections on the temporal power of the pope and the role of the laity. Bellarmine took a fundamentally democratic tone, insisting power originated in God, was invested in people, and was entrusted to fit rulers.  In so doing, he incurred the anger of monarchists in England and France by showing the divine-right-of-kings theory untenable. He developed the theory of the indirect power of the pope in temporal affairs; although he was defending the pope against the Scottish philosopher Barclay, he also incurred the ire of Pope Sixtus V.

Bellarmine was made a cardinal by Pope Clement VIII on the grounds that “he had not his equal for learning.” While he occupied apartments in the Vatican, Bellarmine relaxed none of his former austerities. He limited his household expenses to what was barely essential, eating only the food available to the poor. He was known to have ransomed a soldier who had deserted from the army and he used the hangings of his rooms to clothe poor people, remarking, “The walls won’t catch cold.”

Among many activities, he became theologian to Pope Clement VIII, preparing two catechisms which have had great influence in the Church.

The last major controversy of Bellarmine’s life came in 1616 when he had to admonish his friend Galileo, whom he admired. Bellarmine delivered the admonition on behalf of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which had decided that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus (the sun as stationary) was contrary to Scripture. The admonition amounted to a caution against putting forward—other than as a hypothesis—theories not yet fully proved. This shows that saints are not infallible.

Technically, all the Church told Galileo was not to teach his theories as fact, nor to publish them as so, which Galileo quickly and immediately flaunted the instructions from the Holy Office.  The only reason the Church instructed Galileo so was there was no practical way to prove them in a meaningful way to the illiterate masses, and the Church feared the social disruption this heliocentric new understanding, which on the surface, appears a literal contradiction of Scripture, would immediately cause.  A more nuanced understanding of Scripture, and there is no conflict or concern.  Galileo, however, was not, as the video below explains, was NOT the smoothest political operative ever, hardly, very badly so.  His hard headedness, his arrogance, his lack of political savvy, all make this NOT a scientific disagreement, but one of conflicting personalities and terribly mishandled politics, like ALL wars.

Trial of Galileo Galilei before the Inquisition, 1633. The scientist and astronomer proved Copernicus' and Kepler's theories of a sun-centered system, a theory the Catholic Church had declared erroneous.
Trial of Galileo Galilei before the Inquisition, 1633. The scientist and astronomer proved Copernicus’ and Kepler’s theories of a sun-centered system, a theory the Catholic Church had declared erroneous.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

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Bellarmine died on September 17, 1621. The process for his canonization was begun in 1627 but was delayed until 1930 for political reasons, stemming from his writings. In 1930, Pius XI canonized him and the next year declared him a doctor of the Church.

“Sweet Lord, you are meek and merciful.” Who would not give himself wholeheartedly to Your service, if he began to taste even a little of Your fatherly rule? What command, Lord, do You give Your servants? “Take My yoke upon you,” you say. And what is this yoke of Yours like? “My yoke,” you say, “is easy and my burden light.” Who would not be glad to bear a yoke that does no press hard but caresses? Who would not be glad for a burden that does not weigh heavy but refreshes? And so you were right to add: “And you will find rest for your souls.” And what is this yoke of Yours that does not weary, but gives rest? It is, of course, that first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” What is easier, sweeter, more pleasant, than to love goodness, beauty, and love, the fullness of which You are, O Lord, my God?” Is it not true that You promise those who keep Your commandments a reward more desirable than great wealth and sweeter than honey? You promise a most abundant reward, for as your apostle James says: “The Lord has prepared a crown of life for those who love Him.” What is this crown of life? It is surely a greater good than we can conceive of or desire, as Saint Paul says, quoting Isaiah: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
– from “On the Ascent of the Mind to God”, by Saint Robert Bellarmine, SJ

O God, in order to defend the faith, You endowed St. Robert, Your Bishop, with wondrous erudition and virtues. Through his intercession, grant that Your people may ever rejoice in the integrity of that faith. Amen.

God our Father, You gave Robert Bellarmine wisdom and goodness to defend the faith of Your Church. By his prayers may we always rejoice in the profession of our faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Oct 15 – St Teresa of Avila, OCD, (1515-1582) – Mystic, Doctor of the Church

st__teresa_of_avila_icon_by_theophilia-d6qmnnn

Kelly & I, ESPECIALLY Kelly, are learning A LOT about children, having a daughter of our own.  It used to be people would utter the number of children they have, and it would be a number.  And I would think or say, “Isn’t that nice!”, or pay some other innocuous compliment.  From the experience of one, now, my eyes ever widen wider and my jaw drops ever further given the same number!  And, I stop breathing. What a gift!  What a commitment!

With Mara, for me, one was easy, two was a breeze, THREE IS STILL GOING ON!!!! Whatever I say about my experience as a father multiply by a million, or more, for Kelly!  It is and always will be MUCH harder for her, as a mother!  Praise her! Praise YOU, Kelly!

My own respect for my own parents has reached unimaginably profound levels I never could have conceived of or fantasized about before.  Six! w/twins!  Life has many realities you have to actually experience to begin to appreciate.  Parenthood and marriage are some of those.

One child, alone, certainly MAKES an impression!  We can always immediately tell the waiters or waitresses who DO NOT have children!  They place the food immediately in front of Mara!  Yikes!  We HAVE TO create an area, a “buffer zone” around her, clearing away any possible projectile from within her reach!  Having children is a joyful, Divine gift and vocation!  Praise Him!  I love being a father and hope to be again, if I play my cards right! 🙂

At seven, Teresa and her brother Rodrigo loved to read the lives of the saints and martyrs. It seemed to them that the martyrs got to heaven an easy way. The two children set out secretly to go to a faraway land, where they hoped they would die for Christ, being beheaded by the Moors. But, fortunately, they had not gotten far when they met an uncle! He took them back to their worried mother at once. Next the children decided to be hermits in their garden. This didn’t work out either. They could not get enough stones together to build their huts!  Foiled, again!

Born 28 March 1515 at Avila, Castile, Spain as Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada, Teresa herself wrote down these amusing stories of her childhood.  She was born to Spanish nobility, the daughter of Don Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda and Doña Beatriz.

In 1528, when Teresa was 15, her mother died, leaving behind 10 children. Teresa was the “most beloved of them all.” She was of medium height, large rather than small, and generally well proportioned. In her youth she had the reputation of being quite beautiful, and she retained her fine appearance until her last years. Her personality was extroverted, her manner affectionately buoyant, and she had the ability to adapt herself easily to all kinds of persons and circumstances. She was skillful in the use of the pen, in needlework, and in household duties. Her courage and enthusiasm were readily kindled, as exemplified by her and Rodrigo’s adventures.  Seeing his daughter’s need of prudent guidance, her father entrusted her to the Augustinian nuns at Santa Maria de Gracia in 1531.

The fact is that when she became a teenager she changed. Teresa read so many novels and foolish romances that she lost much of her love for prayer. She began to think more of dressing up to look pretty. She gave some thought to marriage.  But after she recovered from a bad illness, Teresa read a book about the great St. Jerome. Then and there, she made up her mind to become a bride of Christ.  She entered the Carmelite Order in 1536.  Her father opposed this, but Teresa prevailed.

As a nun, Teresa often found it very hard to pray. Besides that, she had poor health. Teresa wasted time every day in long, foolish conversations. But one day, in front of a picture of Jesus, “the sorely wounded Christ”, she felt great sorrow that she did not love God more. She started then to live for Jesus alone, no matter what sacrifice had to be made. In return for her love, the Lord gave St. Teresa the privilege of hearing Him speak to her. She learned to pray in a marvelous way, too.  These mystical experiences caused much controversy.  Teresa’s conduct was more relaxed than the common ascetical practices of the time.  Many of her acquaintances and friends accused her visions of being occasioned by the devil.

One confessor was so sure that the visions were from the devil that he told her to make an obscene gesture called the “fig” every time she had a vision of Jesus. She cringed but did as she was ordered, all the time apologizing to Jesus. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t seem upset but told her that she was right to obey her confessor. In her autobiography she would say, “I am more afraid of those who are terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself.”

I love Church technical terms:  exegesis, hermeneutical arch, etc.  One of Teresa’s most famous mystical experiences was the transverberation of her heart, immortalized by Bernini in marble in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.” –Chapter XXIX; Part 17, Teresa’s Autobiography

Teresa felt that the best evidence that her delights came from God was that the experiences gave her peace, inspiration, and encouragement. “If these effects are not present I would greatly doubt that the raptures come from God; on the contrary I would fear lest they be caused by rabies.”

Sometimes, however, she couldn’t avoid complaining to her closest Friend about the hostility and gossip that surrounded her. When Jesus told her, “Teresa, that’s how I treat my friends” Teresa responded, “No wonder You have so few friends.”

St. Teresa of Avila is well known as a great reformer of the Carmelite order and for having opened sixteen new Carmelite convents. When plans leaked out about her first convent, St. Joseph’s, she was denounced from the pulpit, told by her sisters she should raise money for the convent she was already in, and threatened with the Inquisition. The town started legal proceedings against her.

She was called “a restless, disobedient gadabout who has gone about teaching as though she were a professor” by the papal nuncio. When her former convent voted her in as prioress, the leader of the Carmelite order excommunicated the nuns. A vicar general stationed an officer of the law outside the door to keep her out. The other religious orders opposed her wherever she went. She often had to enter a town secretly in the middle of the night to avoid causing a riot.

And the help she received was sometimes worse than the hostility. A princess ordered Teresa to found a convent and then showed up at the door with luggage and maids. When Teresa refused to order her nuns to wait on the princess on their knees, the princess denounced Teresa to the Inquisition.

To Teresa, spiritual life was an attitude of love, not a rule. Although she proclaimed poverty, she believed in work, not in begging. She believed in obedience to God more than penance. If you do something wrong, don’t punish yourself — change. When someone felt depressed, her advice was that she go some place where she could see the sky and take a walk. When someone was shocked that Teresa was going to eat well, she answered, “There’s a time for partridge and a time for penance.” To her brother’s wish to meditate on hell, she answered, “Don’t.”

In another town, they arrived at their new house in the middle of the night, only to wake up the next morning to find that one wall of the building was missing.

Why was everyone so upset? Teresa said, “Truly it seems that now there are no more of those considered mad for being true lovers of Christ.” No one in religious orders or in the world wanted Teresa reminding them of the way God said they should live.

Teresa looked on these difficulties as good publicity. Soon she had postulants clamoring to get into her reform convents. Many people thought about what she said and wanted to learn about prayer from her. Soon her ideas about prayer swept not only through Spain but all of Europe.  She also left a significant legacy of writings, which represent important benchmarks in the history of Christian mysticism. These works include the “Way of Perfection” and the “Interior Castle”.
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“God, deliver me from sullen saints”. – Saint Teresa of Avila

“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” -St. Teresa of Avila

“To be humble is to walk in truth.” -St. Teresa of Avila

“Oh my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for You is paid in
troubles! And what a precious price to those who love You if we understand its value.” – Saint Teresa of Avila

“There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” – Saint Teresa of Avila

“We need no wings to go in search of Him, but have only to look upon Him present within us.” – Saint Teresa of Avila

“Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. All things pass
away. God never changes. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough.” – Saint Teresa of Avila

“Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.” -Saint Teresa of Avila

“Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one.” – Saint Teresa of Avila

“Truth suffers, but never dies.” -St. Teresa of Avila

“Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.” -St. Teresa of Avila 

“The important thing is not to think much but to love much; do, then, whatever most stirs you to love.” -St. Teresa of Avila

“Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.” -St. Teresa of Avila

“If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that as we expect to please Him and receive an abundance of His graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through His most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight. All blessings come to us through our Lord. He will teach us, for in beholding His life we find that He is the best example.

What more do we desire from such a good Friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, He will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves Him and always keeps Him near. Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led Him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of His love; for Love calls for love in return.

Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love Him. For soon the Lord will grant us the grace of impressing His love on our hearts, and all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.” – Saint Teresa of Avila

“While in a state like this the soul will find profit in nothing, and hence, being as it is in mortal sin, none of the good works it may do will be of any avail to win it glory; for they will not have their origin in that First Principle, which is God, through Whom alone our virtue is true virtue. -St Teresa of Avila, “Interior Castle”, about when the soul is in mortal sin.

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-Ecstasy of St Teresa, (1647-1652), Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

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Teresa of Ávila, 1827, by François Gérard (1770−1837)

Prayer to Saint Teresa of Avila

Dear wonderful saint, model of fidelity to your vows, you gladly carried a heavy cross following in the steps of Christ, Who chose to be crucified for us. You realized that God, like a merciful Father, chastises those whom He loves – which to those who love this world seems silly indeed.  Grant to those who suffer like you relief from their affliction, if this be the will and the plan of God.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 17- St Hildegard von Bingen, OSB, (1098-1179), Doctor of the Church

Museum - Hildegard von Bingen

Saint Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B. (German: Hildegard von Bingen; Latin: Hildegardis Bingensis) (1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Saint Hildegard, and “Sibyl of the Rhine”, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play.  She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, while supervising brilliant miniature Illuminations.

On 10 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI extended the liturgical cult of St. Hildegard to the universal Church, in a process known as “equivalent canonization”.  On 27 May 2012, the Pope announced that, on 7 October 2012, he will declare St. Hildegard to be the 35th Doctor of the Church.

Hildegard’s date of birth is uncertain. It has been concluded that she may have been born in the year 1098. Hildegard was raised in a family of free nobles. She was her parents’ tenth child, sickly from birth. In her “Vita”, or brief biography often written for saints, Hildegard explains that from a very young age she had experienced visions.

Perhaps due to Hildegard’s visions, or as a method of political positioning, Hildegard’s parents, Hildebert and Mechthilde, offered her as an oblate to the church; their “tithe” to the Church. The date of Hildegard’s enclosure in the church is contentious. Her Vita tells us she was enclosed with an older nun, Jutta, at the age of eight. However, Jutta’s enclosure date is known to be in 1112, at which time Hildegard would have been fourteen. Some scholars speculate that Hildegard was placed in the care of Jutta, the daughter of Count Stephan II of Sponheim, at the age of eight, before the two women were enclosed together six years later.  There is no written record of the twenty-four years of Hildegard’s life that she was in the convent together with Jutta. It is possible that Hildegard could have been a chantress and a worker in the herbarium and infirmary.

In any case, Hildegard and Jutta were enclosed at Disibodenberg in the Palatinate Forest in what is now Germany. Jutta was also a visionary and thus attracted many followers who came to visit her at the enclosure. Hildegard also tells us that Jutta taught her to read and write, but that she was unlearned and therefore incapable of teaching Hildegard Biblical interpretation.  Hildegard and Jutta most likely prayed, meditated, read scriptures such as the psalter, and did some sort of handwork during the hours of the Divine Office. This also might have been a time when Hildegard learned how to play the ten-stringed psaltery. Volmar, a frequent visitor, may have taught Hildegard simple psalm notation. The time she studied music could also have been the beginning of the compositions she would later create.  Upon Jutta’s death in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously elected as “magistra” of the community by her fellow nuns.

With regard to her visions, Hildegard says that she first saw “The Shade of the Living Light” at the age of three, and by the age of five she began to understand that she was experiencing visions. She used the term ‘visio’ to this feature of her experience, and recognized that it was a gift that she could not explain to others. Hildegard explained that she saw all things in the light of God through the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.  Hildegard was hesitant to share her visions, confiding only to Jutta, who in turn told Volmar, Hildegard’s tutor and, later, secretary.

Throughout her life, she continued to have many visions, and in 1141, at the age of 42, Hildegard received a vision she believed to be an instruction from God, to “write down that which you see and hear.” Still hesitant to record her visions, Hildegard became physically ill. The illustrations recorded in the book of “Scivias” were visions that Hildegard experienced, causing her great suffering and tribulations. In her first theological text, “Scivias” (“Know the Ways”), Hildegard describes her struggle within:

“But I, though I saw and heard these things, refused to write for a long time through doubt and bad opinion and the diversity of human words, not with stubbornness but in the exercise of humility, until, laid low by the scourge of God, I fell upon a bed of sickness; then, compelled at last by many illnesses, and by the witness of a certain noble maiden of good conduct [the nun Richardis von Stade] and of that man whom I had secretly sought and found, as mentioned above, I set my hand to the writing. While I was doing it, I sensed, as I mentioned before, the deep profundity of scriptural exposition; and, raising myself from illness by the strength I received, I brought this work to a close – though just barely – in ten years…And I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God I heard and received them in the heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, ‘Cry out therefore, and write thus’

Hildegard’s Vita was begun by Godfrey of Disibodenberg under Hildegard’s supervision. It was between November 1147 and February 1148 at the synod in Trier that Pope Eugenus heard about Hildegard’s writings. It was from this that she received Papal approval to document her visions as revelations from the Holy Spirit giving her instant credence.

Before Hildegard’s death, a problem arose with the clergy of Mainz. A man buried at the convent in Rupertsburg had died after excommunication from the Church.  Hildegard saw to it the man had received the last rites. But, the clergy wanted to remove his body from the sacred ground. Hildegard did not accept this idea, replying that it was a sin and that the man had been reconciled to the Church at the time of his death.  She claimed she’d received word from God allowing the burial. But her ecclesiastical superiors intervened, and ordered the body exhumed. Hildegard defied the authorities by hiding the grave, and the authorities excommunicated the entire convent community. Most insultingly to Hildegard, the interdict prohibited the community from singing. She complied with the interdict, avoiding singing and communion, but did not comply with the command to exhume the corpse. Hildegard appealed the decision to yet higher Church authorities, and finally had the interdict lifted.

On 17 September 1179, when Hildegard died, her sisters claimed they saw two streams of light appear in the skies and cross over the room where she was dying.

Hildegard’s musical, literary, and scientific writings are housed primarily in two manuscripts: the Dendermonde manuscript and the Riesenkodex. The Dendermonde manuscript was copied under Hildegard’s supervision at Rupertsberg, while the Riesencodex was copied in the century after Hildegard’s death.

Attention in recent decades to women of the medieval Church has led to a great deal of popular interest in Hildegard, particularly her music. In addition to the Ordo Virtutum, sixty-nine musical compositions, each with its own original poetic text, survive, and at least four other texts are known, though their musical notation has been lost.  This is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers. Hildegard also wrote nearly 400 letters to correspondents ranging from Popes to Emperors to abbots and abbesses; two volumes of material on natural medicine and cures; an invented language called the Lingua ignota; various minor works, including a gospel commentary and two works of hagiography; and three great volumes of visionary theology: Scivias, Liber vitae meritorum (“Book of Life’s Merits” or “Book of the Rewards of Life”), and Liber divinorum operum (“Book of Divine Works”).

In December 2010, BXVI quoted a long passage from one of Hildegard’s visions to assess the damage done to the church by the sex abuse scandal, and to invite the Vatican hierarchy to accept this “humiliation” as an “an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal”.

“In the vision of St. Hildegard, the face of the church is stained with dust. … Her garment is torn — by the sins of priests. The way she saw and expressed it is the way we have experienced it this year,” the Pope said.

A few months earlier, he had referred to Hildegard to address calls for reform inside the Church, sparked by the “abuses of the clergy.” Benedict recalled how the saint had “harshly reprimanded” those who in her lifetime wanted “radical reform,” reminding them that “true renewal” comes from “repentance” and “conversion, rather than with a change of structures.”

In Hildegard’s lifetime, Pope Eugenius III, who needed help fending off the Cathar heresy that rejected the Church’s worldly power, recognized the authenticity of her visions and authorized her to preach in public — something that Church doctrine had officially forbidden until that time and that nonetheless remains controversial in Catholicism.  Hildegard used her unprecedented role to publicly rebuke the emperor and to call on the Pope and bishops to reform the Church’s ills.

In 2006, Benedict XVI himself drew on Hildegard to expound his thinking on women’s role in the Church: not as priests but as bearers of a “spiritual power” that enables them to, yes, even “criticize the bishops.”

In space, she is commemorated by the asteroid 898 Hildegard.

“Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.” – St Hildegard of Bingen

O leafy branch,
standing in your nobility
as the dawn breaks forth:
now rejoice and be glad
and deign to set us frail ones
free from evil habits
and stretch forth your hand
and lift us up.

-St Hildegard von Bingen

O ruby blood
which flowed from on high
where divinity touched.

You are a flower
that the winter
of the serpent’s breath
can never injure.

-St Hildegard von Bingen

O Shepherd of souls
and o first voice
through whom all creation was summoned,
now to you,
to you may it give pleasure and dignity
to liberate us
from our miseries and languishing.

-St Hildegard von Bingen

O eternal Lord,
it is pleasing to you
to burn in that same fire of love,
like that from which our bodies are born,
and from which you begot your Son
in the first dawn before all of Creation.

So consider this need which falls upon us,
and relieve us of it for the sake of your Son
and lead us in joyous prosperity

-St Hildegard von Bingen

O Great Father we are in great need;
Now therefore we implore, we implore you
Through your Word, by which you have
Filled us with [those things] we need;
Now it may please you Father for it befits you
To consider us with your help,
So that we might not fail and lest your name
Might be blackened in us
And through your name, deign to help us.

-St Hildegard von Bingen

“You are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.” -St. Hildegard of Bingen

Prayer for the intercession of St Hildegard von Bingen:

O God, by Whose grace Thy servant Hildegard, enkindled with the fire of Thy love, became a burning and shining light in Thy Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before Thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

In 2009, Zeigeist Films released “Vision”, a film on the life of St Hildegard von Bingen:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0995850/

Love,
Matthew

Sep 13 – St John Chrysostom, (347-407 AD), Archbishop of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Preachers, The Real Presence


-please click on the image for greater detail

Quick! Name your favorite top ten living great Catholic preachers! Five? One? I trust I make my point. St John Chrysostom was one. Called “Golden-mouthed=Chrysostom”.

For the unlettered and the lettered, one can always recognize holy persons in artwork by universally known symbols in the artwork associated with that personage – iconography. For instance, the artist may have no or there is no universally accepted knowledge of what a person looked like and even among artists across time and distance you will not get a consistent image of the likeness. But, a symbol, such as a honey bee, clearly indicates honey. Right? And when you see a honey bee associated with the image of a man in Catholic art you know they were most likely not canonized for their holy bee keeping skills, but rather the “sweetness of their preaching”, which St Gregory the Great would admonish us is the only proper way of winning hearts and minds for the Lord. One of St John Chrysostom’s identifiable symbols is being depicted in art with honey bees, such was the “sweetness of his preaching”.

The legion of saints of the Church is comprised of people of extraordinary ability whose talents may have been dissimilar but many of whom seem to have shared a common genius for oratory. Yet out of this vast assembly of eloquent speakers, whose reputation might have rested on their gift of expression alone, the one for whom the title “Chrysostom”, or “golden-mouthed” was reserved, was John of Antioch, known as St. John Chrysostom, a great distinction in view of the qualifications of so many others.

Endeared as one of the great doctors of the Church, St. John Chrysostom was born in 347 in Antioch, Syria and was prepared for a career in law under the renowned Libanius, who marveled at his pupil’s eloquence and foresaw a brilliant career for his pupil as statesman and lawgiver. But John decided, after he had been baptised at the age of 23, to abandon the law in favour of service to the Savior. He entered a monastery which served to educate him in preparation for his ordination as a priest in 386 AD. From the pulpit there emerged John, a preacher whose oratorical excellence gained him a reputation throughout the Christian world, a recognition which spurred him to even greater expression that found favour with everyone but the Empress Eudoxia, whom he saw fit to examine in some of his sermons.

When St. John was forty-nine years old, his immense popularity earned him election to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, a prestigious post from which he launched a crusade against excessiveness and extreme wealth which the Empress construed as a personal affront to her and her royal court. This also gave rise to sinister forces that envied his tremendous influence. His enemies found an instrument for his indictment when they discovered that he had harbored some pious monks who had been excommunicated by his archrival Theophilos, Bishop of Alexandria, who falsely accused John of treason and surreptitiously plotted his exile.

When it was discovered that the great St. John had been exiled by the puppets of the state, there arose such a clamour of protest, promising a real threat of civil disobedience, that not even the royal court dared to confront the angry multitudes and St John was restored to his post. At about this time he put a stop to a practice which was offensive to him, although none of his predecessors outwardly considered it disrespectful; this practice was applauding in church the absence of which some feel adds to the solemnity of Church services.

St. John delivered a sermon in which he deplored the adulation of a frenzied crowd at the unveiling of a public statue of the Empress Eudoxia. His sermon was grossly exaggerated by his enemies, and by the time it reached the ears of the Empress it resulted in his permanent exile from his beloved city of Constantinople. The humiliation of banishment did not deter the gallant, golden-mouthed St. John, who continued to communicate with the Church and wrote his precious prose until he died in the lonely reaches of Pontus on September 14, 407.

The slight, five-foot St. John stood tall in his defiance of state authority, bowing only to God and never yielding the high principles of Christianity to expediency or personal welfare. In the words of his pupil, Cassia of Marseilles, “It would be a great thing to attain his stature, but it would be difficult. Nevertheless, a following of him is lovely and magnificent.”

john-chrysostom

john_chrysostom

“When you perceive that God is chastening you, fly not to his enemies…but to his friends, the martyrs, the saints, those who were pleasing to Him, and who have great power in God.” – Saint John Chrysostom, Orations, 396.

“When you are before the altar where Christ reposes, you ought no longer to think that you are amongst men; but believe that there are troops of angels and archangels standing by you, and trembling with respect before the sovereign Master of Heaven and earth. Therefore, when you are in church, be there in silence, fear, and veneration.” – Saint John Chrysostom

“If the Lord should give you power to raise the dead, He would give much less than He does when he bestows suffering. By miracles you would make yourself debtor to Him, while by suffering He may become debtor to you. And even if sufferings had no other reward than being able to bear something for that God who loves you, is not this a great reward and a sufficient remuneration? Whoever loves, understands what I say.” – Saint John Chrysostom

“It is clear through unlearned men that the cross was persuasive; in fact, it persuaded the whole world. Paul had this in mind when he said, “The weakness of God is stronger than men.” That the preaching of these men was indeed divine is brought home to us in the same way. For how otherwise could twelve uneducated men, who lived on lakes and rivers and wastelands, get the idea for such an immense enterprise? How could men who perhaps had never been in a city or public square think of setting out to do battle with the whole world? That they were fearful, timid men, the evangelist makes clear; he did not reject the fact or try to hide their weaknesses. Indeed he turned these into a proof of the truth. What did he say of them? That when Christ was arrested, the others fled, despite all the miracles they had seen, while he who was leader of the others denied him! How then account for the fact that these men, who in Christ’s lifetime did not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, set forth to do battle with the whole world once Christ was dead – if, as you claim, Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much.” – from a homily by Saint John Chrysostom on the first letter to the Corinthians.

“O envious one, you injure yourself more than he whom you would injure, and the sword with which you wound will recoil and wound yourself. What harm did Cain do to Abel? Contrary to his intention he did him the greatest good, for he caused him to pass to a better and a blessed life, and he himself was plunged into an abyss of woe. In what did Esau injure Jacob? Did not his envy prevent him from being enriched in the place in which he lived; and, losing the inheritance and the blessing of his father, did he not die a miserable death? What harm did the brothers of Joseph do to Joseph, whose envy went so far as to wish to shed his blood? Were they not driven to the last extremity, and well-nigh perishing with hunger, whilst their brother reigned all through Egypt? It is ever thus; the more you envy your brother, the greater good you confer upon him. God, who sees all, takes the cause of the innocent in hand, and, irritated by the injury you inflict, deigns to raise up him whom you wish to lower, and will punish you to the full extent of your crime. If God usually punishes those who rejoice at the misfortunes of their enemies, how much more will He punish those who, excited by envy, seek to do an injury to those who have never injured them?” – Saint John Chrysostom.

“To commit a murder, besides the not having the person in your power, there are many measures and precautions to take. A favorable opportunity must be waited for, and a place must be selected before we can put so damnable a design into execution. More than this, the pistols may miss fire, blows may not be sufficient, and all wounds are not mortal. But to deprive a man of his reputation and honor, one word is sufficient. By finding out the most sensitive part of his honor, you may tarnish his reputation by telling it to all who know him, and easily take away his character for honor and integrity. To do this, however, no time is required, for scarcely have you complacently cherished the wish to calumniate him, than the sin is effected.” – Saint John Chrysostom.

“I beseech you, my brothers, to be ever on your guard against the habit of swearing and blaspheming. If a slave dare to pronounce the name of his master, he does it but seldom, and then only with respect; therefore is it not a shocking impiety to speak with contempt and irreverence of the name of the Master of angels and seraphim? People handle the book of the Gospel with a religious fear, and then only with clean hands, and yet your rash tongue would inconsiderately profane the name of the Divine Author of the Gospel. Would you wish to know with what respect, fear, and wonder the choirs of the angels pronounce the adorable name? Listen to the prophet Isaiah: ” I saw,” says Isaiah, “the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated; upon it stood the seraphim, who cried one to another and said, Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of His glory.” See with what terror they are seized, even while they praise and glorify Him. As for you, my brethren, you know how cold and indifferent are the prayers you say, and you know how frequently you blaspheme a name so majestic, so sacred, and how you try to make excuses for the bad habit you have contracted. It is easy, yes, I say, it is easy, with a little care, attention, and reflection, to leave off this vicious habit. Since we have fallen, my brethren, into this sin of blasphemy, I conjure you, in the name of our Lord, to rebuke openly these blasphemers. When you meet with such who publicly sin in this respect, correct them by word of mouth, and, if necessary, by your strong arm. Let these shameless swearers be covered with confusion. You could not employ your hand to a holier work. And if you are given into custody, go boldly before the magistrate, and say in your defense that you have avenged a blasphemy. For if a person is punished for speaking contemptuously of a prince, is it not reasonable to suppose that a person who speaks irreverently of God should be sentenced to a severer punishment? It is a public crime, a common injury which all the world ought to condemn. Let the Jews and infidels see that our magistrates are Christians, and that they will not allow those to go unpunished who insult and outrage their Master. Do you remember that it was a false oath that overturned the houses, temples, and walls of Jerusalem, and from a superb city it became a mass of ruins? Neither the sacred vessels nor the sanctuary could stay the vengeance of a God justly angered against a violater of His word. Sedecias did not receive a more favored treatment than Jerusalem. Flight did not save him from his enemies. This prince, escaping secretly, was pursued and taken by the Assyrians, who led him to their king. The king, after asking him the reason of his perfidy, not only caused his children to be killed, but deprived him of his sight, and sent him back to Babylon, loaded with iron chains. Would you know the reason why? It was that the barbarians and Jews who inhabited the country adjoining Persia should know, by this terrible example, that the breach of an oath is punishable.” – Saint John Chrysostom, from the Seventh Homily.

“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefor. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.” -The Paschal (Easter) Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

O my all-merciful God and Lord, Jesus Christ, full of pity:
Through Your great love You came down
and became incarnate in order to save everyone.
O Savior, I ask You to save me by Your grace!
If You save anyone because of their works,
that would not be grace but only reward of duty,
but You are compassionate and full of mercy!
You said, O my Christ,
“Whoever believes in Me shall live and never die.”
If then, faith in You saves the lost, then save me,
O my God and Creator, for I believe.
Let faith and not my unworthy works be counted to me, O my God,
for You will find no works which could account me righteous.
O Lord, from now on let me love You as intensely as I have loved sin,
and work for You as hard as I once worked for the evil one.
I promise that I will work to do Your will,
my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life and forever more. -St John Chrysostom

Troparion to St. John (Tone 8)

“Grace like a flame shining forth from thy mouth has illumined the universe, and disclosed to the world treasures of poverty and shown us the height of humility. And as by thine own words thou teachest us, Father John Chrysostom, so intercede with the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls.”

“Prayer is the place of refuge for every worry, a foundation for cheerfulness, a source of constant happiness, a protection against sadness.” -St. John Chrysostom 

“All seek joy, but it is not found on earth.” -St. John Chrysostom

“Mercy imitates God and disappoints Satan.” -St. John Chrysostom

“God asks little, but He gives much.” –St. John Chrysostom

“What the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world.” -St. John Chrysostom

“And though every day a man lives may rightly be a day of repentance, yet is it in these days more becoming, more appropriate, to confess our sins, to fast, and to give alms to the poor; since in these days you may wash clean the sins of the whole year.” -St. John Chrysostom

Prayer to Saint John Chrysostom

Dear Saint John, your oratorical gifts inspired thousands and earned you the name “golden-mouthed.” Continue to inspire Christians through your writings and grant us a rebirth of Christian preaching for the spiritual renewal of the Church. Obtain from God preachers like yourself who, animated by the Holy Spirit, deserve to be called other Christs and forcefully preach the Good News. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 28 – St Augustine, (354-430 AD), Bishop, Doctor of the Church, Doctor Gratiae, Doctor of Grace, “Tolle, Lege!”

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica
– Sts Augustine & Monica, 1846

“This very moment I may, if I desire, become the friend of God.” -St Augustine

Bishops have had a tough decade, as have all the ordained.  Some would say, of the guilty, deservedly so, by their or their predecessors own action/inaction.  We are ALL sinners, most especially, yours truly!  Sins of commission and omission.  The Catholic understanding of sin is that it is never a private affair.  All sin, even unknown sin, is a social offense.

The first tragedy, the victims of clergy sexual abuse, and, a second, I dare suggest, are the innocent ordained, who have dedicated their lives in service and love, try as they may with the aid of grace, in service to the Lord and His People.  God bless them!  Their reward will surely be great in Heaven for having lived, and served, and loved in this time.  Bless them!  And, thank you!  How much harder it must be to live out the life of service and love in these days!  Rejoice!  I say again, rejoice!  You shine as examples of Christian fortitude, fidelity, the power of grace and commitment!  True servants of the Lord!  I know I am inspired by your example!  Thank you!  God bless you!  Thank you for your service and your love, for your fidelity and example which inspires us all in, of, and for Love!

St. Augustine of Hippo is the patron of brewers because of his conversion from a former life of loose living, which included parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions. His complete turnaround and conversion has been an inspiration to many who struggle with a particular vice or habit they long to break.

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Accepted by most scholars to be the most important figure in the ancient Western church, St. Augustine was born in Tagaste, Numidia in North Africa. His mother, St Monica, was a Christian, but his father remained a pagan until late in life. After a rather unremarkable childhood, marred only by a case of stealing pears, Augustine drifted through several philosophical systems before converting to Christianity at the age of thirty-one. At the age of nineteen, Augustine read Cicero’s Hortensius (now lost), an experience that led him into the fascination with philosophical questions and methods that would remain with him throughout his life. After a few years as a Manichean, he became attracted to the more skeptical positions of the Academic philosophers. Although tempted in the direction of Christianity upon his arrival at Milan in 383, he turned first to neoplatonism. During this time, Augustine fathered a child by a mistress. This period of exploration, including its youthful excesses (perhaps somewhat exaggerated) are recorded in Augustine’s most widely read work, the Confessions.

This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. At age 17, through the generosity of fellow citizen Romanianus, Augustine went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. Although raised as a Christian, Augustine left the church to follow the Manichaean religion, much to the despair of his mother, Monica.  As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits with women and urged the inexperienced boys, like Augustine, to seek out experiences or to make up stories about experiences in order to gain acceptance and avoid ridicule.  It was during this period that he uttered his famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet!” – “da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.” At a young age, he began an affair with a young woman in Carthage. She was his lover for over thirteen years and gave birth to his son Adeodatus, who was said to have been extremely intelligent.

Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been brought up a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride darkened his mind so much, that he could not see or understand the Divine Truth anymore. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine finally became convinced that Christianity was the one true religion. Yet he did not become a Christian then, because he thought he could never live a pure life. One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted on reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terrible, ashamed of himself. “What are we doing?” he cried to his friend Alipius. “Unlearned people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!”

Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine flung himself out into the garden and cried out to God, “How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?” Just then he heard a child singing, “Tolle, lege! = Take up and read!” Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage his gaze fell on. “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts'”[Rom 13:13-15]. “I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.” — The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book VIII, Paragraph 29.

During his youth, Augustine had studied rhetoric at Carthage, a discipline that he used to gain employment teaching in Carthage and then in Rome and Milan, where he met Ambrose who is credited with effecting Augustine’s conversion and who baptized Augustine in 387. Returning to his homeland soon after his conversion, he was ordained a presbyter in 391, taking the position as bishop of Hippo in 396, a position which he held until his death.

Besides the Confessions, Augustine’s most celebrated work is his De Civitate Dei (On the City of God), a study of the relationship between Christianity and secular society, which was inspired by the fall of Rome to the Visigoths in 410. Among his other works, many are polemical attacks on various heresies: Against Faustus, the Manichean; On Baptism; Against the Donatists;and many attacks on Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Other works include treatises On the Trinity; On Faith, Hope, and Love; On Christian Doctrine; and some early dialogues.

St. Augustine stands as a powerful advocate for orthodoxy and of the episcopacy as the sole means for the dispensing of saving grace. In the light of later scholarship, Augustine can be seen to serve as a bridge between the ancient and medieval worlds. A review of his life and work, however, shows him as an active mind engaging the practical concerns of the churches he served.

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“The honors of this world, what are they but puff, and emptiness and peril of falling?” – Saint Augustine

“In my deepest wound I saw Your glory and it astounded me.”-St. Augustine 

“One loving heart sets another on fire.” -St. Augustine

“What is more fragrant, more delightful, than the gentle breath of truth?” -St. Augustine

“Daily advance, then, in this love, both by praying and by well doing, that through the help of Him who enjoined it on you, and whose gift it is, it may be nourished and increased, until, being perfected, it render you perfect.”– Saint Augustine

“What do you possess if you possess not God?” – Saint Augustine

“The Holy Spirit has come to abide in you; do not make Him withdraw; do not exclude Him from your heart in any way.” -St. Augustine

“Unhappy is the soul enslaved by the love of anything that is mortal.” -Saint Augustine

“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” -St. Augustine

“The world is a book and he who does not travel reads only one page.” -St Augustine

“Love, and He will draw near; love, and He will dwell within you. The Lord is at hand; have no anxiety. Are you puzzled to know how it is that He will be with you if you love? God is love.” -St. Augustine

“You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones.” -St. Augustine

“If a vessel is to be filled, it must first be empty. So cast all evil away from you, that you may be filled to the brim.” -St. Augustine

“He willed not that any one should glory in the exalted position of any city of earth. He, too, Whose are all things and by Whom all things were created, was made poor, in order that no one, while believing in Him, might venture to boast himself in earthly riches. He refused to be made by men a king, because He displayed the pathway of humility to those unhappy ones whom pride had separated from Him; and yet universal creation attests the fact of His everlasting kingdom.” -St Augustine

“I will suggest a means whereby you can praise God all day long, if you wish. Whatever you do, do it well, and you have praised God.” – Saint Augustine

“Love has hands to help others. It has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. This is what love looks like.” -St. Augustine 

“This is the business of our life. By labor and prayer to advance in the grace of God, till we come to that height of perfection in which, with clean hearts, we may behold God.” -Saint Augustine

“God in his omnipotence could not give more, in His wisdom He knew not how to give more, in His riches He had not more to give, than the Eucharist.” – Saint Augustine

“God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes you do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and aids you that you may be able.” – Saint Augustine

“Conquer yourself and the world lies at your feet.” – Saint Augustine

“God himself will be the goal of our desires; we shall contemplate him without end, love him without surfeit, praise him without weariness.”-St Augustine (on St Paul writing: “So that God may be all in all.”)

“O eternal truth, true love and beloved eternity. You are my God. To you do I sigh day and night. When I first came to know you, you drew me to yourself so that I might see that there were things for me to see, but that I myself was not yet ready to see them. Meanwhile you overcame the weakness of my vision, sending forth most strongly the beams of your light, and I trembled at once with love and dread. I sought a way to gain the strength which I needed to enjoy you. But I did not find it until I embraced “the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who is above all, God blessed for ever.” He was calling me and saying: “I am the way of truth, I am the life.” Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with You. Created things kept me from You; yet if they had not been in You they would have not been at all. You called, You shouted, and You broke through my deafness. You flashed, You shone, and You dispelled my blindness. You breathed Your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for You. I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.” – from the Confessions of Saint Augustine

Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ. – from The City of God by Saint Augustine

A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers. – from Against Faustus the Manichean, by Saint Augustine

There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for the dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended. – from Sermons by Saint Augustine

“At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.” – from Homilies on John by Saint Augustine

“Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.” – Saint Augustine

“O Sacrament of Love! O sign of Unity! O bond of Charity! He who would have Life finds here indeed a Life to live in and a Life to live by. – Saint Augustine

“And He departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here.” -St. Augustine

If you see that you have not yet suffered tribulations, consider it certain that you have not begun to be a true servant of God; for Saint Paul says plainly that all who chose to live piously in Christ, shall suffer persecutions – Saint Augustine

I speak to you who have just been reborn in baptism, my little children in Christ, you who are the new offspring of the Church, gift of the Father, proof of Mother Church’s fruitfulness. All of you who stand fast in the Lord are a holy seed, a new colony of bees, the very flower of our ministry and fruit of our toil, my joy and my crown. It is the words of the Apostle that I address to you: Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its desires, so that you may be clothed with the life of Him whom you have put on in this sacrament. You have all been clothed with Christ by your baptism in Him. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus. Such is the power of this sacrament: it is a sacrament of new life which begins here and now with the forgiveness of all past sins, and will be brought to completion in the resurrection of the dead. You have been buried with Christ by baptism into death in order that, as Christ has risen from the dead, you also may walk in newness of life. You are walking now by faith, still on pilgrimage in a mortal body away from the Lord; but He to Whom your steps are directed is Himself the sure and certain way for you: Jesus Christ, who for our sake became man. For all who fear Him He has stored up abundant happiness, which He will reveal to those who hope in Him, bringing it to completion when we have attained the reality which even now we possess in hope. This is the octave day of your new birth. Today is fulfilled in you the sign of faith that was prefigured in the Old Testament by the circumcision of the flesh on the eighth day after birth. When the Lord rose from the dead, He put off the mortality of the flesh; His risen body was still the same body, but it was no longer subject to death. By His resurrection He consecrated Sunday, or the Lord’s day. Though the third after his passion, this day is the eighth after the Sabbath, and thus also the first day of the week. And so your own hope of resurrection, though not yet realized, is sure and certain, because you have received the sacrament or sign of this reality, and have been given the pledge of the Spirit. If, then, you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your hearts on heavenly things, not the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. – from a sermon by Saint Augustine

Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne-Saint Augustin, by Phillippe de Champaigne, (1602-1674), completed 1645-1650, oil on canvas, 78.7 × 62.2 cm (31 × 24.5 in), Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Jaume_Huguet_-_Consecration_of_Saint_Augustine_-_Google_Art_Project-The Consecration of St Augustine, by Jaume Huguet, (1412-1492), completed 1466~1475, tempera on panel, H: 272 cm (107.1 in). W: 200 cm (78.7 in), Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy. Amen.
-St Augustine’s prayer to the Holy Spirit

Give me yourself, O my God, give yourself to me.
Behold I love you, and if my love is too weak a thing,
grant me to love you more strongly.
I cannot measure my love
to know how much it falls short of being sufficient,
but let my soul hasten to your embrace
and never be turned away until it is hidden
in the secret shelter of your presence.
This only do I know,
that it is not good for me when you are not with me,
when you are only outside me.
I want you in my very self.
the plenty in the world
which is not my God is utter want. Amen.
– St Augustine

Holy Spirit, powerful Consoler,
sacred Bond of the Father and the Son,
Hope of the afflicted,
descend into my heart
and establish in it
your loving dominion.
Enkindle in my tepid soul
the fire of your Love
so that I may be wholly subject to you.
We believe that when you dwell in us,
you also prepare a dwelling for the Father and the Son.
Deign, therefore, to come to me,
Consoler of abandoned souls,
and Protector of the needy.
Help the afflicted,
strengthen the weak,
and support the wavering.
Come and purify me.
Let no evil desire take possession of me.
You love the humble and resist the proud.
Come to me, glory of the living, and hope of the dying.
Lead me by your grace
that I may always be pleasing to you. Amen.
-St Augustine

Love,
Matthew

Aug 27 – St Monica, (322?-387 AD) – “When in Rome, do as the Romans do…”

I personally hold the two most powerful and awesome forces in the universe are:  1)  God, and 2) a mother’s love.

I often, from experience, have to question my ordering of these two dramatic forces.  Something happens when a woman, even modern day women, have children.

I don’t know if it’s chemical or nature or what, but something so subtle, yet so powerful emerges.  If you haven’t witnessed as an adult, as a husband, it is difficult to explain.

Please don’t even try and tell me men and women are the same.  I’ll try not to laugh in your face.  I have benefited from it as a child, as a youth, as an adult, as a father, tremendously.  I fear it.  I respect it, wholly/holy?  I stay out of it’s way.  I watch my tongue.  I obey its commands.  I cooperate with it, and hopefully, grace.  I do as I am told.  “I came to serve, and not to be served.” -Mt 20:28/Mk 10:45, I repeat to myself when my marital and parental obligations become, rarely, inconvenient.  If the Son of the Living God can do this, I certainly, and all of us, can.

Given these two forces, Augustine and his father, Patricius, were finished from the beginning.  So much for male dominance, as if even one would wish for such a thing.  Women make, have always made, my world infinitely better.  Thank you.  My practical advice to Augustine & Patricius, and to all men?  Surrender, quickly, and get on with it.

The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Our knowledge of Monica comes almost entirely from the writings of her much-loved son, the great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo. His relationship with his mother was a close one, especially during Monica’s last years. In Book IX of St. Augustine’s “Confessions”, he gives us many details of her life, and expresses his gratitude for her devotion in moving terms. She was born of a well-off Christian family in Tagaste in Nortern Africa, also known as the Numidian city of Thagaste, on whose ruins modern Souk Ahras, along the Mediterranean in the modern day northeastern corner of Algeria, exist.  Souk is an Arabic word meaning “marketplace”.  I have visited souks in the Middle East.  Much fun.

We are given one episode of her childhood which suggests a possible origin for her firmness of will. She was sometimes sent down to the cellar to draw wine for the family, and fell into the habit of taking secret sips. She developed such a passion for wine that before long she was drinking great draughts of it whenever opportunity offered. One day a family slave who had been spying on the little girl denounced her as a wine-bibber, and Monica, covered with shame, gave up the habit. Soon afterwards she was baptized, and thenceforth seems to have led a life of irreproachable virtue.  She is patroness of alcoholics, among other causes.

Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism.

Monica and Patricius had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine, is the most famous. Navigius, who seems to have been an exemplary son, Augustine, and Perpetua, a daughter, who became a religious. Augustine, the more brilliant of the sons, was sent to Carthage, so that he might develop his talents and become a man of culture. He took to learning naturally but he also spent time in youthful carousing. This caused his mother great anguish, and when he returned to Tagaste, she disapproved so strongly both of his loose living and of his espousal of the popular heresy of Manichaeism that she refused at first to allow him to live at home. She relented only after having seen a vision. One day as she was weeping over his behavior, a figure appeared and asked her the cause of her grief. She answered, and a voice issued from the mysterious figure, telling her to dry her tears; then she heard the words, “Your son is with you.” Monica related this story to Augustine, and he replied that they might easily be together if she gave up her faith, for that was the main obstacle keeping them apart. Quickly she retorted, “He did not say I was with you: he said that you were with me.” Augustine was impressed by the quick answer and never forgot it. Although his conversion was not to take place for nine long years, Monica did not lose faith. She continually fasted, prayed, and wept on his behalf. She implored the local bishop for help in winning him over, and he counseled her to be patient, saying, “God’s time will come.” Monica persisted in importuning him, and the bishop uttered the words which have often been quoted: “Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.”

When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric, and bring along his mistress and their son, Adeodatus. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan.

In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her. Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.

She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end.

“The day was now approaching when my mother Monica would depart from this life; you know that day, Lord, though we did not. She and I happened to be standing by ourselves at a window that overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house. At the time we were in Ostia on the Tiber. And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, “forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead..” We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth – for you are the Truth – what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man.” We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life. That was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. But you know, O Lord, that in the course of our conversation that day, the world and its pleasures lost all their attraction for us. My mother said, “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be His servant. So what am I doing here?” I do not really remember how I answered her. Shortly, within five days or thereabouts, she fell sick with a fever. Then one day during the course of her illness she became unconscious and for a while she was unaware of her surroundings. My brother and I rushed to her side, but she regained consciousness quickly. She looked at us as we stood there and asked in a puzzled voice: “Where was I?” We were overwhelmed with grief, but she held her gaze steadily upon us, and spoke further: “Here you shall bury your mother.” I remained silent as I held back my tears. However, my brother haltingly expressed his hope that she might not die in a strange country but in her own land, since her end would be happier there. When she heard this, her face was filled with anxiety, and she reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts. Then she looked at me and spoke: “Look what he is saying.” Thereupon she said to both of us, “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” Once our mother had expressed this desire as best she could, she fell silent as the pain of her illness increased.” – from the Confessions of Saint Augustine

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Today, with Internet searches, e-mail shopping and instant credit, we have little patience for things that take time. Likewise, we want instant answers to our prayers. Monica is a model of patience. Her long years of prayer, coupled with a strong, well-disciplined character, finally led to the conversion of her hot-tempered husband, her cantankerous mother-in-law and her brilliant but wayward son, Augustine.

When Monica moved from North Africa to Milan, she found religious practices new to her and also that some of her former customs, such as a Saturday fast, were not common there. She asked St. Ambrose which customs she should follow. His classic reply was: “When I am here, I do not fast on Saturday, but I fast when I am in Rome; do the same and always follow the custom and discipline of the Church as it is observed in the particular locality in which you find yourself.”

“Nothing is far from God.” – Saint Monica

Exemplary Mother of the great Augustine,
you perseveringly pursued your wayward son
not with wild threats but with prayerful cries to heaven.
Intercede for all mothers
in our day so that they may learn
to draw their children to God.
Teach them how to remain close
to their children,
even the prodigal sons and daughters
who have sadly gone astray. Amen.

Dear St. Monica,
troubled wife and mother,
many sorrows pierced your heart during your lifetime.
Yet, you never despaired or lost faith.
With confidence, persistence, and profound faith,
you prayed daily for the conversion
of your beloved husband, Patricius,
and your beloved son, Augustine;
your prayers were answered.
Grant me that same fortitude, patience,
and trust in the Lord.
Intercede for me, dear St. Monica,
that God may favorably hear my plea for

(Mention your intention here.)

and grant me the grace to accept His Will in all things,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Feb 21 – St Peter Damian, OSB, (1007-1072), Doctor of the Church, Great Catholic Reformer

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St Peter Damian was one of the forerunners of the Gregorian Revolution/reformation in the Church of the late 11th century, a revolution marked by the effort to centralize Church governance, establish a distinction between lay and clerical states, and proper revulsion against sexual vice, especially within the clergy and the general reform of the clergy.  Dante placed St Peter Damian in one of the highest circles of his Divine Comedy’s Paradiso.

St. Peter Damian must be numbered among the greatest of the Church’s reformers in the Middle Ages, yes, even among the truly extraordinary persons of all times. In Damian the scholar, we admire wealth of wisdom: in Damian the preacher of God’s word, apostolic zeal; in Damian the monk, austerity and self-denial; in Damian the priest, piety and zeal for souls; in Damian the cardinal, loyalty and submission to the Holy See together with generous enthusiasm and devotion for the good of Mother Church. He was a personal friend of Pope St Gregory VII.  In his lifetime, he served seven Popes, there were sixteen during his lifetime.

St Peter Damian was a monk, a lover of solitude, and at the same time a fearless man of the Church, committed personally to the task of reform, initiated by the Popes of the time. He was born in Ravenna in 1007, into a noble family but in impoverished circumstances.  The family was large, Peter was the youngest, and it was reported Peter’s mother was overwhelmed by the care of so many children such that she was not an affectionate or dutiful mother.

Peter had a difficult childhood, he lost both parents at an early age, as well. Put in the care of a brother who mistreated him, Peter’s brother used him more as a slave than loved him as a sibling.  Peter never forgot his poverty and was always kind to the poor he encountered throughout his life thereafter.  Another brother, Damian, the eldest, was a priest in the city of Ravenna and took pity on his younger sibling and took him in.  Damian could see Peter’s intellectual gifts and sent him to be educated at Parma and Faenza.  Peter was so grateful he took his brother Damian’s name.

The Cross was the Christian mystery that was to fascinate Peter Damian more than all the others. “Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ”, he said (Sermo XVIII, 11, p. 117); and he described himself as “Petrus crucis Christi servorum famulus Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ” (Ep, 9, 1). Peter Damian addressed the most beautiful prayers to the Cross in which he reveals a vision of this mystery which has cosmic dimensions for it embraces the entire history of salvation: “O Blessed Cross”, he exclaimed, “You are venerated, preached and honored by the faith of the Patriarchs, the predictions of the Prophets, the senate that judges the Apostles, the victorious army of Martyrs and the throngs of all the Saints” (Sermo XLVII, 14, p. 304). The example of St Peter Damian should always spur us, too, always to look to the Cross as to the supreme act of God’s love for humankind.  St Peter Damian also had a very special devotion to the Blessed Mother.

However, the ideal image of “Holy Church” illustrated by Peter Damian does not correspond as he knew well to the reality of his time. The eleventh century was rife with corruption within the Church, especially among its clergy.  Peter wrote Liber Gomorrhianus (Book of Gomorrah), which described the vices of priests, including sexual sins, offenses against their vows of celibacy including sodomy, and mainly in their concern with worldly matters, with money, and the evil of simony, the buying and selling of church offices.

For this reason he did not fear to denounce the state of corruption that existed in the monasteries and among the clergy.  The practice of the conferral by the lay authorities of ecclesiastical offices was common, such that various Bishops and Abbots were behaving as the rulers of their subjects rather than as pastors of souls. Their moral life frequently left much to be desired. For this reason, in 1057 Peter Damian left his monastery with great reluctance and sorrow and accepted, if unwillingly, his appointment as Cardinal Bishop of Ostia. So it was that he entered fully into collaboration with the Popes in the difficult task of Church reform. He saw that to make his own contribution of helping in the work of the Church’s renewal contemplation did not suffice. He thus relinquished the beauty of the hermitage and courageously undertook numerous journeys and missions.

Because of his love for monastic life, 10 years later, in 1067, he obtained permission to return to Fonte Avellana and resigned from the Diocese of Ostia. However, the tranquility he had longed for did not last long: two years later, he was sent to Frankfurt in an endeavor to prevent the divorce of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV from his wife Bertha.

Henry IV was eventually excommunicated for other offenses, entanglements, and interferences in Church affairs, including conspiring and executing a plot to the kidnap and imprison the Pope.  He famously stood in the snow at Canossa for three days, 25-27 January 1077, wearing no shoes, taking no food or drink, wearing a hair shirt, The Walk of Canossa as it is called, as penance imploring that his excommunication by Pope St Gregory VII be lifted.  While meant as remedy to make clear the error of ways, excommunication absolves, it gets technical, the Christian community from Gospel obligations towards the excommunicated, including fealty to a sovereign.  Once having known the love of Christ in the bosom of the Church and having rejected it, Christian duty no longer applies towards the excommunicated.  Repent or lose your crown was the message.  The expression “going to Canossa/nach Canossa gehen”, as in doing penance of some type for some wrong, is still contemporary in Europe.

After another mission, on the journey home to his hermitage, an unexpected illness obliged St Peter Damian to stop at the Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria Vecchia Fuori Porta in Faenza, where he died in the night between 22 and 23 February 1072.

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-Saint Peter Damian (far right), depicted with Saints Augustine, Anne, and Elizabeth, by Ercole de’ Roberti (ca 1451–1496)

“Therefore, my brother, scorned as you are by men, lashed as it were by God, do not despair. Do not be depressed. Do not let your weakness make you impatient. Instead, let the serenity of your spirit shine through your face. Let the joy of your mind burst forth. Let words of thanks break from your lips.”
— St. Peter Damian

Prayer of St Peter Damian:

“Have mercy, Lord, on all my friends and relatives, on all my benefactors, on all who pray to You for me, and on all who have asked me to pray for them. Give them the spirit of fruitful penance; mortify them in all vices, and make them flower in all your virtues.  Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Jan 24 – St Francis de Sales, CO, OM, OFM Cap, (1567-1622), Doctor of the Church, “Gentleman Saint”

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You may have heard the expression:  “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.”  You can thank St Francis de Sales for that one.  He also lived it.

“It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman…. It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world. ” -St Francis de Sales

“Because some have committed spiritual homicide, we should not commit spiritual suicide.” -St Francis De Sales, 1621

Francis de Sales (French: Saint François de Sales) (August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622) was Bishop of Geneva. He is known also for his writings on the topic of spiritual direction and spiritual formation, particularly the Introduction to the Devout Life, along with his Treatise on the Love of God. His writings on the perfections of the Heart of Mary as the model of love for God influenced St Jean Eudes to develop the devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

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Born in France in 1567, Francis was a patient man. Francis de Sales took seriously the words of Christ, “Learn of Me for I am meek and humble of heart.” As he said himself, it took him 20 years to conquer his quick temper, but no one ever suspected he had such a problem, so overflowing with good nature and kindness was his usual manner of acting. His perennial meekness and sunny disposition won for him the title of “Gentleman Saint.”

Born in the castle of Château de Thorens to a well-placed Savoyard family, the eldest of twelve children born to François de Boisy and Françoise de Sionnz. His parents intended that Francis become a soldier, then a lawyer, enter politics, and carry on the family line and power. He studied at La Roche and Annecy in France, taught by Jesuits. Attended the Collège de Clermont in Paris, France at age 12.

Francis knew for thirteen years that he had a vocation to the priesthood before he mentioned it to his family. When his father said that he wanted Francis to be a soldier and sent him to Paris to study, Francis said nothing. Then when he went to Padua to get a doctorate in law, he still kept quiet, but he studied theology and practiced mental prayer while getting into swordfights and going to parties.

In his early teens, Francis began to believe in pre-destination, a heresy, and was so afraid that he was preemptorily condemned to Hell that he became ill and eventually was confined to bed. However, in January 1587 at the Church of Saint Stephen, he overcame the crisis.

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Francis came to the conclusion that whatever God had in store for him was good, because “God is love”, as Scripture attests. This faithful devotion to the God of love not only expelled his doubts, but also influenced the rest of his life and his teachings. His way of teaching Catholic spirituality is often referred to as the Way of Divine Love, or the Devout Life, taken from a book he wrote of a similar name: Introduction to the Devout Life.

Studied law and theology at the University of Padua, Italy, and earned a doctorate in both fields. He returned home, and found a position as Senate advocate.  Even when his bishop told him if he wanted to be a priest that he thought that he would have a miter waiting for him someday, Francis uttered not a word. Why did Francis wait so long? Throughout his life he waited for God’s will to be clear. He never wanted to push his wishes on God.

God finally made God’s will clear to Francis while he was riding. Francis fell from his horse three times. Every time he fell the sword came out of the scabbard. Every time it came out the sword and scabbard came to rest on the ground in the shape of the cross. And then, Francis, without knowing about it, was appointed provost of his diocese, second in rank to the bishop.

It was at this point that he received a message telling him to “Leave all and follow Me.” He took this as a call to the priesthood, a move his family fiercely opposed, especially when he refused a marriage that had been arranged for him. However, he pursued a devoted prayer life, and his gentle ways won over the family.

Perhaps he was wise to wait, for he wasn’t a natural pastor. His biggest concern on being ordained that he had to have his lovely curly gold hair cut off. And his preaching left the listeners thinking he was making fun of him. Others reported to the bishop that this noble-turned- priest was conceited and controlling.

Then Francis had a bad idea — at least that’s what everyone else thought. This was during the time of the Protestant reformation and just over the mountains from where Francis lived was Switzerland — Calvinist territory. Francis decided that he should lead an expedition to convert the 60,000 Calvinists back to Catholicism. But by the time he left his expedition consisted of himself and his cousin. His father refused to give him any aid for this crazy plan and the diocese was too poor to support him.

For three years, he trudged through the countryside, had doors slammed in his face and rocks thrown at him. In the bitter winters, his feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. He slept in haylofts if he could, but once he slept in a tree to avoid wolves. He tied himself to a branch to keep from falling out and was so frozen the next morning he had to be cut down. And after three years, his cousin had left him alone and he had not made one convert.

Francis’ unusual patience kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. So Francis found a way to get under the door. He wrote out his sermons, copied them by hand, and slipped them under the doors. This is the first record we have of religious tracts being used to communicate with people.

The parents wouldn’t come to him out of fear. So Francis went to the children. When the parents saw how kind he was as he played with the children, they began to talk to him.

By the time, Francis left to go home he is said to have converted 40,000-72,000, by some accounts, people back to Catholicism.

In 1593 he was appointed provost of the diocese of Geneva, Switzerland. Preacher, writer and spiritual director in the district of Chablais. His simple, clear explanations of Catholic doctrine, and his gentle way with everyone, brought many back to the Roman Church. He even used sign language in order to bring the message to the deaf, leading to his patronage of deaf people.

In 1602 he was made bishop of the diocese of Geneva, in Calvinist territory. He only set foot in the city of Geneva twice — once when the Pope sent him to try to convert Calvin’s successor, Beza, and another when he traveled through it.

It was in 1604 that Francis took one of the most important steps in his life, the step toward holiness and mystical union with God.

In Dijon that year Francis saw a widow listening closely to his sermon — a woman he had seen already in a dream. Jane de Chantal was a person on her own, as Francis was, but it was only when they became friends that they began to become saints. Jane wanted him to take over her spiritual direction, but, not surprisingly, Francis wanted to wait. “I had to know fully what God Himself wanted. I had to be sure that everything in this should be done as though His hand had done it.” Jane was on a path to mystical union with God and, in directing her, Francis was compelled to follow her and become a mystic himself.

Three years after working with Jane, he finally made up his mind to form a new religious order. But where would they get a convent for their contemplative Visitation nuns? A man came to Francis without knowing of his plans and told him he was thinking of donating a place for use by pious women. In his typical way of not pushing God, Francis said nothing. When the man brought it up again, Francis still kept quiet, telling Jane, “God will be with us if He approves.” Finally the man offered Francis the convent.

Francis was overworked and often ill because of his constant load of preaching, visiting, and instruction — even catechizing a deaf man so he could take first Communion. He believed the first duty of a bishop was spiritual direction and wrote to Jane, “So many have come to me that I might serve them, leaving me no time to think of myself. However, I assure you that I do feel deep-down- within-me, God be praised. For the truth is that this kind of work is infinitely profitable to me.” For him active work did not weaken his spiritual inner peace but strengthened it. He directed most people through letters, which tested his remarkable patience. “I have more than fifty letters to answer. If I tried to hurry over it all, I would be lost. So I intend neither to hurry or to worry. This evening, I shall answer as many as I can. Tomorrow I shall do the same and so I shall go on until I have finished.”

At that time, the way of holiness was only for monks and nuns — not for ordinary people. Francis changed all that by giving spiritual direction to lay people living ordinary lives in the world. But he had proven with his own life that people could grow in holiness while involved in a very active occupation. Why couldn’t others do the same? His most famous book, Introduction to the Devout Life, was written for these ordinary people in 1608. Written originally as letters, it became an instant success all over Europe — though some preachers tore it up because he tolerated dancing and jokes!

For Francis, the love of God was like romantic love. He said, “The thoughts of those moved by natural human love are almost completely fastened on the beloved, their hearts are filled with passion for it, and their mouths full of its praises. When it is gone they express their feelings in letters, and can’t pass by a tree without carving the name of their beloved in its bark. Thus too those who love God can never stop thinking about Him, longing for Him, aspiring to Him, and speaking about Him. If they could, they would engrave the name of Jesus on the hearts of all humankind.”

The key to love of God was prayer. “By turning your eyes on God in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with God. Begin all your prayers in the presence of God.”

For busy people of the world, he advised “Retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart, even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others and talk to God.”

The test of prayer was a person’s actions: “To be an angel in prayer and a beast in one’s relations with people is to go lame on both legs.”

He believed the worst sin was to judge someone or to gossip about them. Even if we say we do it out of love we’re still doing it to look better ourselves. But we should be as gentle and forgiving with ourselves as we should be with others.  Francis de Sales tells us: “The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: he is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.”

Friend of Saint Vincent de Paul, he turned down a wealthy French bishopric to continue working where God had placed him. As he became older and more ill he said, “I have to drive myself but the more I try the slower I go.” He wanted to be a hermit but he was more in demand than ever. The Pope needed him, then a princess, then Louis XIII. “Now I really feel that I am only attached to the earth by one foot…” He died on December 28, 1622, after giving a nun his last word of advice: “Humility.”

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Prayers & reflections by St Francis de Sales

“O love eternal,
my soul needs and chooses you eternally!
Ah, come Holy Spirit,
and inflame our hearts with your love!
To love — or to die!
To die — and to love!
To die to all other love
in order to live in Jesus’ love,
so that we may not die eternally.
But that we may live in your eternal love,
O Savior of our souls,
we eternally sing,
“Live, Jesus!
Jesus, I love!
Live, Jesus, whom I love!
Jesus, I love,
Jesus who lives and reigns
forever and ever.
Amen.”

-from Treatise on the Love of God

“Lord, I am Yours,
and I must belong to no one but You.
My soul is Yours,
and must live only by You.
My will is Yours,
and must love only for You.
I must love You as my first cause,
since I am from You.
I must love You as my end and rest,
since I am for You.
I must love You more than my own being,
since my being subsists by You.
I must love You more than myself,
since I am all Yours and all in You.
Amen.”

-from Treatise on the Love of God

“Oh what remorse we shall feel at the end of our lives, when we look back upon the great number of instructions and examples afforded by God and the Saints for our perfection, and so carelessly received by us! If this end were to come to you today, how would you be pleased with the life you have led?”

“We must fear God out of love, not love Him out of fear.”

“To be pleased at correction and reproofs shows that one loves the virtues which are contrary to those faults for which he is corrected and reproved. And, therefore, it is a great sign of advancement in perfection.”

“Two mistakes I find common among spiritual persons. One is that they ordinarily measure their devotion by the consolations and satisfactions which they experience in the way of God, so that if these happen to be wanting, they think they have lost all devotion. No, this is no more than a sensible devotion. True and substantial devotion does not consist in these things, but in having a will resolute, active, ready and constant not to offend God, and to perform all that belongs to His service. The other mistake is that if it ever happens to them to do anything with repugnance and weariness, they believe they have no merit in it. On the other hand, there is then far greater merit; so that a single ounce of good done thus by a sheer spiritual effort, amidst darkness and dullness and without interest, is worth more than a hundred pounds done with great facility and sweetness, since the former requires a stronger and purer love. And how great so ever may be the aridities and repugnance of the sensible part of our soul, we ought never to lose courage, but pursue our way as travelers treat the barking of dogs.”


-please click on the image for a larger view and easier reading

“Our greatest fault is that we wish to serve God in our way, not in His way- according to our will, not according to His will. When He wishes us to be sick, we wish to be well; when He desires us to serve Him by sufferings, we desire to serve Him by works; when He wishes us to exercise charity, we wish to exercise humility; when He seeks from us resignation, we wish for devotion, a spirit of prayer or some other virtue. And this is not because the things we desire may be more pleasing to Him, but because they are more to our taste. This is certainly the greatest obstacle we can raise to our own perfection, for it is beyond doubt that if we were to wish to be Saints according to our own will, we shall never be so at all. To be truly a Saint, it is necessary to be one according to the will of God.”

“All the science of the Saints is included in these two things: To do, and to suffer. And whoever had done these two things best, has made himself most saintly.”

“The greatest fault among those who have a good will is that they wish to be something they cannot be, and do not wish to be what they necessarily must be. They conceive desires to do great things for which, perhaps, no opportunity may ever come to them, and meantime neglect the small which the Lord puts into their hands. There are a thousand little acts of virtue, such as bearing with the importunities and imperfections of our neighbors, not resenting an unpleasant word or a trifling injury, restraining an emotion of anger, mortifying some little affection, some ill-regulated desire to speak or listen, excusing indiscretion, or yielding to another in trifles. These things are to be done by all; why not practice them. The occasions for great gains come but rarely, but of little gains many can be made each day; and by managing these little gains with judgment, there are some who grow rich. Oh, how holy and rich in merits we should make ourselves, if we but knew how to profit by the opportunities which our vocation supplies to us! Yes, yes, let us apply ourselves to follow well the path which is close before us, and to do well on the first opportunity, without occupying ourselves with thoughts of the last, and thus we shall make good progress. “

“To be perfect in one’s vocation is nothing else than to perform the duties and offices to which one is obliged, solely for the honor and love of God, referring to His glory. Whoever works in this manner may be called perfect in his state, a man according to the heart and will of God.”

“A servant of God signifies one who has a great charity towards his neighbor and an inviolable resolution to follow in everything the Divine Will; who bears with his own deficiencies, and patiently supports the imperfections of others.”

“Temptation to a certain sin, to any sin whatsoever, might last throughout our whole life, yet it can never make us displeasing to God’s Majesty provided we do not take pleasure in it and give consent to it. You must have great courage in the midst of temptation. Never think yourself overcome as long as they are displeasing to you, keeping clearly in mind the difference between feeling temptation and consenting to it.”
— St. Francis de Sales

“The person who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone: He is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others; the goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light.”

“Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them.”

“Consider all the past as nothing, and say, like David: Now I begin to love my God.”

“It should be our principal business to conquer ourselves and, from day to day, to go on increasing in strength and perfection. Above all, however, it is necessary for us to strive to conquer our little temptations, such as fits of anger, suspicions, jealousies, envy, deceitfulness, vanity, attachments, and evil thoughts. For in this way we shall acquire strength to subdue greater ones.”

“There is nothing which edifies others so much as charity and kindness, by which, as by the oil in our lamp, the flame of good example is kept alive.”

“As often as you can during the day, recall your mind to the presence of God…Remember frequently to retire into the solitude of your heart, even while you are externally occupied in business or society. This mental solitude need not be hindered even though many people may be around you, for they surround your body not your heart, which should remain alone in the presence of God. As David said, “My eyes are ever looking at the Lord.” We are rarely so taken up in our exchanges with others as to be unable from time to time to move our hearts into solitude with God.”

“As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you. The most malicious of them will slander your conversion as hypocrisy, bigotry, and trickery. They will say that the world has turned against you and being rebuffed by it you have turned to God. Your friends will raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and charitable. They will tell you that you will become depressed, lose your reputation in the world, be unbearable, and grow old before your time, and that your affairs at home will suffer. You must live in the world like one in the world. They will say that you can save your soul without going to such extremes, and a thousand similar trivialities. Philothea, all this is mere foolish, empty babbling. These people aren’t interested in your health or welfare. “If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you,” says the Savior. We have seen gentlemen and ladies spend the whole night, even many nights one after another, playing chess or cards. Is there any concentration more absurd, gloomy, or depressing than this last? Yet worldly people don’t say a word and the players’ friends don’t bother their heads about it. If we spend an hour in meditation or get up a little earlier than usual in the morning to prepare for Holy Communion, everyone runs for a doctor to cure us of hypochondria and jaundice. People can pass thirty nights in dancing and no one complains about it, but if they watch through a single Christmas night they cough and claim their stomach is upset the next morning. Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well disposed to its own children but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God? We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it. It is so demanding that it can’t be satisfied. “John came neither eating nor drinking,” says the Savior, and you say, “He has a devil.” “The Son of man came eating and drinking” and you say that he is “a Samaritan.” It is true, Philothea, that if we are ready to laugh, play cards, or dance with the world in order to please it, it will be scandalized at us, and if we don’t, it will accuse us of hypocrisy or melancholy. If we dress well, it will attribute it to some plan we have, and if we neglect our dress, it will accuse of us of being cheap and stingy. Good humor will be called frivolity and mortification sullenness. Thus the world looks at us with an evil eye and we can never please it. It exaggerates our imperfections and claims they are sins, turns our venial sins into mortal sins and changes our sins of weakness into sins of malice. “Charity is kind,” says Saint Paul, but the world on the contrary is evil. “Charity thinks no evil,” but the world always thinks evil and when it can’t condemn our acts it will condemn our intentions. Whether the sheep have horns or not and whether they are white or black, the wolf doesn’t hesitate to eat them if he can. Whatever we do, the world will wage war on us. If we stay a long time in the confessional, it will wonder how we can have so much to say; if we stay only a short time, it will say we haven’t told everything. It will watch all our actions and at a single little angry word it will protest that we can’t get along with anyone. To take care of our own interests will look like avarice, while meekness will look like folly. As for the children of the world, their anger is called being blunt, their avarice economy, their intimate conversations lawful discussions. Spiders always spoil the good work of the bees. Let us give up this blind world, Philothea. Let it cry out at us as long as it pleases, like a cat that cries out to frighten birds in the daytime. Let us be firm in our purposes and unswerving in our resolutions. Perseverance will prove whether we have sincerely sacrificed ourselves to God and dedicated ourselves to a devout life. Comets and planets seem to have just about the same light, but comets are merely fiery masses that pass by and after a while disappear, while planets remain perpetually bright. So also hypocrisy and true virtue have a close resemblance in outward appearance but they can be easily distinguished from one another. Hypocrisy cannot last long but is quickly dissipated like rising smoke, whereas true virtue is always firm and constant. It is no little assistance for a sure start in devotion if we first suffer criticism and calumny because of it. In this way we escape the danger of pride and vanity, which are comparable to the Egyptian midwives whom a cruel Pharaoh had ordered to kill the Israelites’ male children on the very day of their birth. We are crucified to the world and the world must be crucified to us. The world holds us to be fools; let us hold it to be mad.” – Saint Francis de Sales, from Introduction to the Divine Life

“O Lord God, was it not enough to permit us to love You without its being necessary to invite us to do so by exhortations, even obliging us to do so by commanding it? Yes, O divine Goodness, in order that neither Your greatness nor our lowliness, nor any other pretext could prevent us from loving You, You have commanded us to do so. O my God, if we could only comprehend the happiness and honor of being able to love You, how indebted we should feel to You, who not only permit but command us to love You! O my God, I do not know whether I should love more Your infinite beauty which Your divine goodness commands me to love or this goodness of Yours which commands me to love such infinite beauty! O beauty of my God, how lovable you are, being revealed to me by Your immense goodness! O goodness, how lovable you are, communicating to me such eminent beauty!

O Lord, how sweet is this commandment. If it were given to the damned, they would be instantly freed from their sufferings and supreme misfortune, for the blessed enjoy beatitude only by complying with it. O, celestial Love! how amiable You are to our souls! O divine Goodness, may You be blessed eternally, You who so urgently command us to love You, although Your love is so desirable and necessary for our happiness that, without it, we could only be unhappy!

O Lord, in heaven we shall need no commandment to love You, for our hearts, attracted and ravished by the vision of Your sovereign beauty and goodness, will necessarily love You eternally. There our hearts will be wholly free of passions, our souls will be completely delivered from distractions, our minds will have no anxieties, our powers will have no repugnances, and therefore we shall love You with a perpetual, uninterrupted love. But in this mortal life, we cannot achieve such a perfect degree of love, because, as yet, we do not have the heart, the soul, the mind, or the powers of the blessed. Nevertheless, You desire us to do in this life everything that depends on ourselves to love You with all our heart and all the strength we have; this is not only possible but very easy, for to love You, O God, is a sovereignly lovable thing” (cf. St. Francis de Sales).

“Let us submit ourselves to His guidance and Sovereign direction; let us come to Him that He may forgive us, cleanse us, change us, guide us, and save us. This is the true life of the saints!” -St Francis de Sales

“Go to prayer in faith. Remain there in hope. Go out only by love.” -St Francis de Sales

“See this great Architect of Mercy: He converts our miseries into grace and makes salutary medicine for our souls from the venom of our iniquities.” -St. Francis DeSales

“Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” -St. Francis de Sales

“Calvary is the mountain on which sacred lovers are formed.” – St. Francis de Sales
“It is wonderful how attractive a gentle, pleasant manner is, and how much it wins hearts.” -St. Francis de Sales

“In prayer we must not seek the consolations of God, but the God of consolations.” -St. Francis de Sales

http://www.stfparish.com/Media/Images/Marratta.jpg

-The Virgin Appears to St Francis de Sales, by Carlo Marratta, 1691, oil on canvas,

“O Glorious St. Francis de Sales, model of the interior life, and full of zeal for the salvation of souls!  Obtain for me the grace to employ all my faculties, not for my own sanctification alone, but for that of my neighbor also; that continually spreading abroad the sweet odor of Jesus Christ by my words and works, I may attain with you the blessedness promised to the merciful: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy;” and that I may one day have a share in the glory which you do enjoy in paradise with the angels and saints, where those who edify and instruct to justice shall shine as stars for all eternity (Dan. xii. 3).  Amen.”

“Be at peace.

Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life;
rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are,
will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will carry you in His arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same understanding Father who cares for
you today will take care of you then and every day.

He will either shield you from suffering
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.

Collect:  O God, who for the salvation of souls
willed that the Bishop Saint Francis de Sales
become all things to all,
graciously grant that, following his example,
we may always display the gentleness of your charity
in the service of our neighbor.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Love,
Matthew