Category Archives: Doctors of the Church

Apr 29 – “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on (spiritual) fire!”

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Lk 12:49

“Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on (spiritual) fire!” -St Catherine of Siena, OP

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-by Br Jordan Zajac, OP

“…Catherine offered this advice over six hundred years ago, it seems perfectly suited for modern sensibilities. That is to say, our dulled spiritual sensibilities. …

to consider any aspect of ourselves or our actions outside of our connection to God is the first and most fundamental misstep. Only the Incarnate Lord can supply the heat needed to start the kind of fire for which He, and St. Catherine along with Him, yearn.

Like other mystics and saints, St. Catherine returns again and again to the image of the Divine Fire—a symbol for the experience of God’s presence in contemplative prayer. But St. Catherine is unique among the saints for the way she uses this image to build a simple, yet profound kind of pyromaniacal pedagogy—a system for spiritual development rooted in a deeper union with God. It is in the context of this spiritual teaching that we can best appreciate both halves of Catherine’s most famous quote.

Expressed in another way, “be who God meant you to be” means “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). How can we, so weak and limited, possibly strive for a perfection that mirrors God’s? As with all His teachings, Christ would not ask it of us unless He knew we were capable, and that it would contribute to our ultimate happiness. Here the Fire becomes crucial. St. Catherine identifies the Divine Fire as nothing other than charity—God’s “inestimable Fire” of love for us, His creatures. As St. Thomas explains, man’s spiritual life consists principally in charity, and the person that is perfect in charity is said to be perfect in the spiritual life. This is the kind of perfection to which Christ calls us.

The process can only begin, as it did for Catherine, by experiencing that Fire. More often we feel simply burned out, not burning with God’s love. Physical sensations, as well as emotions, however, are unsteady guides. When relying on them, we’ll sputter out like firecrackers, whereas a persevering will and simple faith will keep us going even when we don’t feel like we are getting anywhere. The Fire may be gone in feeling, but not in grace. “Lord, set me on fire with Your love,” we can ask with humble directness. Or we can thoughtfully pray the Magnificat, the prayer of Mary when she literally had the Divine Fire within her, to reignite us. Then there are the sparks provided in the sacraments. Receiving absolution in Confession is like a molotov cocktail for the soul. St. Catherine says that man comes to Mass like an unlit candle, and when Communion is received worthily his candle is lit.

Elsewhere Catherine uses the image of coals. Coals, we could say, are happiest when they’re on fire, because that is what they are meant to be. The more thoroughly they are heated, the more they take on the very fire they’re in. The same goes for the soul enflamed by the Fire. Just as love transforms a person into what he loves, Catherine explains, so our soul’s inflamed love of God (Who is Charity Itself) produces a more intense, sincere love of neighbor. It is by this charity that we begin to truly set the world on fire.

“We are the Easter people,” Pope St. John Paul II declared. But there can be no Easter without fire. The Easter season begins and ends in flames: the Vigil commences with a blazing fire, and Pentecost is signaled by tongues of flame. This year, the feast of the patron saint of holy pyromania falls halfway between, bridging the two solemnities in a meaningful way. Through her incandescent intercession, may we not burn out or burn down, but rather burn within—and without, to the world.

Love & Happy Easter People! Let us blaze with His love!
Matthew

Dec 14 – St John of the Cross, “The Darkness of Unknowing”

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-by Br Brent Bowen, OP

In darkness and secure
By the secret ladder, disguised,
– Ah, the sheer grace! –
In darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled;

We know a lot about God, both through the natural faculty of reason that God gifts to humanity, and through Divine Revelation. However there is a vast difference between knowing about God, and knowing God. The content of theology allows us to know more about God, but all of this knowledge is pointless unless it leads us into deeper intimate communion with the One Who Himself is knowledge.
Saint John of the Cross, vis-à-vis Aristotle, offers us advice in this endeavor:

Let it be recalled that according to a philosophical axiom all means must be proportionate to their end. That is, they must manifest a certain accord with and likeness to the end so that through them the desired end may be attained. For example: those who want to reach a city must necessarily take the road, the means, that leads to the city (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk 2, #2).

How can I come to know a God who, in many ways, is so unlike me? Is there a means through which I can truly know God? Saint John seems to answer these questions:

It is noteworthy that among all creatures both superior and inferior, none bears a likeness to God’s being or unites proximately with Him […] Consequently, intellectual comprehension of God through heavenly or earthly creatures is impossible; there is no proportion of likeness (Ascent, Bk 2, #3).

Thus, we can know a lot about God through our study of theology, but we will never exhaust the fullness of God’s being through our study of God. Likewise in the spiritual life we eventually come to the realization that our yearning for God’s presence is never going to be satisfied through any natural means. When we reach this point we certainly should not abandon our quest for union with God, but we need to change tactics. Instead of trying to use our intellectual faculties as the primary means toward union, we must humbly submit to God’s action in prayer.  The mystical tradition often refers to this submission as “darkness.” By entering into the darkness of unknowing, we dispose ourselves to freely receiving God’s presence:

In order to draw nearer the divine ray the intellect must advance by unknowing rather than by the desire to know, and by blinding itself and remaining in darkness rather than by opening its eyes (Ascent, Bk 2, #5).

Although it can be scary, and one can feel downright alone in the darkness, we must cling to our faith and allow ourselves to be purified by the One Who is Light Itself. Occasionally we may see brief glimpses of this light, and these give us the strength and hope to continue trudging along the dark way. The good news is: the darkness does not last forever – it is only a preparation for something infinitely greater! Enter into the darkness! You will not regret it!”

With Saint Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross was called to the exceedingly difficult task to reform a decadent, declining and worldly state of affairs in the Religious life—specifically the Carmelite Order. Neither the men nor the women took a liking to someone rocking their comfortable boat of complacency! God chose these two saints to disrupt their comfortable status quo!

The anger which led to fury leveled against Saint John of the Cross was so intense that violent persecutions descended upon the saint like an unending tempest! John was kidnapped, locked in a small cell in a Carmelite convent. He was scourged, deprived of saying Holy Mass, barely given enough food to eat so as to survive, nor even a bath to take for hygiene purposes. Through Our Lady’s intercession St John escaped.

After all of this unjust abuse both verbal, physical, mental and spiritual, the great mystical doctor of the Church Saint John of the Cross, never uttered an unkind word against any of those who plotted and carried out against his person such unjust and uncharitable actions!

At the end of his life he was asked where he would like to end his days— in a convent where he would be loved and appreciated to end his days or in the convent of a Superior that detested him. St John of the Cross preferred the latter so as to conform his life more and more to the passion, suffering and humiliations of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ.

In conclusion Principle and Foundation teaches us who God is, where we come from, where we are heading and how to get there. An essential component of Principle and Foundation is “Ignatian Holy Indifference”. A key means to attaining Holy Indifference is a constant and dynamic prayer life, which leads to a total confidence in God, which is translated and manifested in a total willingness to give one’s whole self to God as a sacrifice, offering and oblation.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 2 – Sts Basil & Gregory, An Appeal to Protestants

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Talk about FAITH!!!!!  RCIA participants have INFINITELY MORE FAITH, holiness, and humility than I EVER could dream to have.  Do you realize what those who convert to Catholicism sacrifice???  Go through???  May we always be a Church worthy of such living saints!!!!  They humble me by their witness, constantly.  I tremble before the strength & the power & the witness of such FAITH!!!!  I doubt, sincerely, I would ever have the courage to consider their courage and the price they have paid.  Deo Gratias!!!


-by A. David Anders, PhD

A reflection on the importance of friendship in ecumenical dialogue in honor of the feast day of St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory Nazianzus, two early Church Fathers with a deep and life-long friendship.

St. Gregory Nazianzus and St. Basil of Caesarea

The Catholic Church on 2 January celebrates the feast day of St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory Nazianzus, two fourth century Church Fathers known for their deep theological reflections and devoted adherence to Orthodoxy as bishops in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, is considered an early important influence in the development of monasticism, the liturgy, and the doctrine of the Trinity. St. Gregory Nazianzus, called “The Theologian” by the Orthodox Church, was the Bishop of Constantinople, and is known for his strong opposition to the Arian heresy, and his “prodigious” scholarly output, in the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. 1 The two men’s lives crossed several times, including while studying in Caesarea in Cappadocia (also present-day Turkey), and later in Athens. They enjoyed an intimate life-long friendship, so much so that Gregory wrote of Basil,

Then not only did I feel full veneration for my great Basil because of the seriousness of his morals and the maturity and wisdom of his speeches, but he induced others who did not yet know him to be like him… The same eagerness for knowledge motivated us…. This was our competition: not who was first but who allowed the other to be first. It seemed as if we had one soul in two bodies.“2

Their mutual love of Christ, and mutual passion for seeking the truth, provided them the substance of this profoundly important friendship. In 371, Basil even urged Gregory to work with him, side-by-side, as Bishop of Sasima, a position the contemplative Gregory was disinclined to take. Reflecting not only on the theological significance of their lives but also their mutual relationship is an occasion to consider how friendship and the pursuit of truth can be connected, sometimes in mutual harmony, other times with deep and difficult disagreement and division. It is in light of Basil and Gregory that I wish to share a story from my own life that exemplifies how friendship and the pursuit of truth can present great challenges to a friendship, but ultimately can be an occasion for sanctification and deeper relational intimacy, as, ideally, it should.3

Five years ago I spent three cold, long, hard months in Afghanistan for work. A little over a month after arriving, several of my co-workers were killed in a terrorist attack. Also unnerving were the Taliban fighters who had snuck into Kabul to launch frequent rocket attacks towards the downtown area where most Westerners lived and worked, several landing within 100 meters of my living quarters. Compounding the ever-present uncertainty of when the next 107mm would strike, the Taliban stormed a nearby building and engaged in a day-long firefight with Afghan police while we waited it out in a bunker; stray bullets from the battle even hit buildings on my compound. To add insult to injury, in my personal life, my long-distance relationship with a girlfriend of the time was falling apart.

In the midst of all this, I clung hard to my Reformed faith, listening to the sermons of my PCA pastor back in the States. I found time for the White Horse Inn podcast while I did laundry on Saturdays. I even gave out old copies of Modern Reformation to military chaplains and evangelical coworkers. I suppose in a way I thought my peculiar form of Christianity was being tested in the refiner’s fire. Sure, Reformed theology sounded Biblically and intellectually compelling, but would it hold up in the foxhole? I was anxious to prove that it did.

One day during that interminably long winter I called my best friend, Barrett Turner, a student in his last year at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. We joked and caught up on the latest news. Then, his mood turned a bit serious, as if he knew that what he was going to tell me would probably hurt or upset me. He said that he and his wife, after long and prayerful reflection, had decided to enter the Catholic Church at the upcoming Easter vigil. ”Just great”, I thought, ”with all the other crap in my life, now this!” Not that this was a total shock; we had been engaged in a lengthy theological back-and-forth on many of his frustrations and dilemmas with the Reformed faith and subsequent interest in Catholicism. Some of these conversations had even involved the pastors at my PCA church, whom I consulted with a variety of my friend’s questions and concerns.

All the same, to hear that my worst fears had come to fruition was deeply painful and discouraging. This was my best friend. We had both explored and ultimately accepted Reformed Christianity while in college. We had lived together, studied together, sought to evangelize together. We had dressed up as ninjas and raided a Christian girls’ sorority party together, pilfering a number of their desserts (I fell down the stairs and sprained my ankle on our way out the door; but it was worth it). I was the best man at his wedding, where the presiding minister was our favorite PCA pastor. We had both gone off to seminary after college, he to Covenant and I to Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Yet his studies had been for a prospective career as a pastor or professor, mine were part-time with the objective of deepening my own theological knowledge and keeping my options open for possible later ministry or service in the PCA. Now this man that I had admired so much had seemingly gone of the theological deep-end, which, I was concerned, might have grave implications for his soul and those of his wife and son.

I confess there was a lot of rationalizations and psychologizing in the weeks and months that followed as I tried to make sense of my friend’s decision. Why didn’t he consult me before deciding to swim the Tiber? Isn’t our friendship worth that much?, I thought. I know he said he was doing this for sincere theological, philosophical, and historical reasons, but I figured there must be some other explanation. I mean, he was wrong, wasn’t he? All of my explanations were less than charitable and quite stupid (I’m not afraid to say “stupid,” since they were my own). It’s probably because he went to Covenant instead of a better, more intellectually serious and faithfully-Reformed seminary, like Westminster, I thought. He needed better theological training and answers to his questions, and he didn’t get them. Or maybe he was under the undue influence of his wife Beth, who I had always suspected was a little too sympathetic to Catholicism. She always used to talk about that “Female Saints” class she took at UVA. (Holla!!!  Wahoo-wa!!!!) Why should I care what St. Teresa of such-and-such thinks about God? Isn’t the Bible enough? They probably didn’t even understand Catholicism, anyway. I grew up Catholic and had left the Church as a child with my parents. I had grown up spending hours and hours hearing and talking about the problems with Catholicism, especially given much of my extended family was still Catholic. My friends don’t know the first thing about being Catholic, I remember thinking; they didn’t grow up in it like I did. They don’t really understand.

In retrospect I see how deeply prideful and unsympathetic these thoughts were. So often my desire was not so much to see God glorified, but to prove myself right. Presupposing not that I needed to humbly listen and learn, but that I already had the answers. Looking so hard for the supposed “thorn” in the Catholic converts’ eye, yet so oblivious to my own. Yet couldn’t anyone have said the same thing about me and my Protestantism, that I had become an evangelical or Reformed not for motives of truth and God’s glory, but for any number of deep-seated psychological or emotional needs? In truth, Christ calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, a calling that requires us to exemplify a love that is eager not so much to prove ourselves right, or win an argument, but that seeks to presuppose the best, rather than the worst motives in others. We, like Christ, must be long-suffering with others, (Ed. as I pray they will be, and obviously NEED, to have long-suffering patience with me!  🙂 ) especially with those we are keen to unfairly caricature. Alas, like St. Paul, I needed the film removed from my self-righteous eyes, a process that would take time and require the work of the Holy Spirit, and the patient, prayerful companionship of those who loved me.

I came home to Virginia, and not too long after, got word from my friend that he would be moving to Virginia with his family to pursue a graduate degree at Catholic University. I confess I had mixed emotions – it would be good to see them more often, but now there was this great obstacle to our friendship. Maybe this will be my opportunity to straighten him and his wife out, I thought. They arrived that summer and immediately started developing friendships with people in the Catholic community in Washington, D.C., but they certainly didn’t ignore me. I’d see them for meals, and Barrett and I spent time together bike riding, grabbing a beer, and the like. It was a bit unnerving though, having to spend all this time around Catholics just to be with my friend and his family. Even little things really bothered me. Once at their house Beth told some anecdote that involved her going to confession. Oh brother, I thought. Can’t they just tone down the Catholic stuff while I’m here? Don’t even get me started on how praying before meals now involved crossing themselves at the dinner table.  (Mara was a little Orthodox there for a while at the beginning, still have to watch for that, but I think we have proper Latin rite established now.  Deo Gratias.  🙂 )

I suppose what surprised me was how deeply my friend and his wife still loved me and valued our friendship. They knew something now stood between us, but they tried so hard to make me welcome in their lives. I was also surprised at how they seemed to be growing in holiness and virtue. I thought that since they were embracing a false faith with dangerous beliefs that they’d start regressing, especially with all the less emphasis on the Bible and Jesus (so I thought). The opposite seemed true, the more I spent time with them. It wasn’t long before we started having the theological conversations. I asked for the explanations behind why all of this had happened, the extended version. I started pressing with questions, particularly those as a Reformed Christian that had been most compelling to me in contemplating the problems with Catholicism. Hasn’t the Church modified it’s supposed inerrant teaching, especially with the changing moods and cultures of the times? Doesn’t all this emphasis on the saints and Mary detract from the glory of God? What about all the corruption, the immorality, the wickedness done in the name of the Catholic Church? Aren’t so many of the Catholic Church’s teachings not founded on the Bible? And so on.

Yet my friends asked the same questions when they were contemplating Catholicism, and their answers, though not always immediately compelling, were at least reasonable and worthy of further reflection. They countered with questions of their own, going after some of the most fundamental tenets of Reformed Christianity, and even general Protestant principles: the premise of the “Bible alone” or sola scriptura, the formulation and contents of the Biblical canon, Luther’s call for “faith alone” or sola fide. Was the “Bible alone” even a Biblical idea? (2 Tim 3:16, calls it good.  It is.  Luther insisted on the ALONE in each of his principles.  ALONE is unscriptural.  Read Romans correctly, in context, it was written to a JEWISH community, for whom the Law was all.  Of course, Paul would write what he wrote to a JEWISH community.  Were they Gentiles, would he have written similarly?  Not happenin’.  🙂 )On what authority do we even accept the contents of the Biblical canon as truly from God?  (“I would not believed in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not influence me to do so.”-St Augustine of Hippo, Bishop, “Against the letter of Mani, 5,6,” 397 A.D.)  Was “faith alone,” and Luther’s rejection of what he styled a “salvation by works” truly faithful to Jesus and the Apostle Paul? I had heard criticisms of these beliefs before, but never so sophisticatedly presented or deeply troubling for my evangelical faith. I realized I was a bit in over my head. My friend had graduated with the highest honors at seminary, and had a strong command of Greek, Hebrew, Biblical exegesis, and Christian history. I was starting to feel, much to my annoyance, like a bit of a theological novice. Wasn’t I the one in college who knew more than him about history and religion?

But more than all this, I still deeply valued my friendship with both of them. At that time, we had been friends for almost ten years, and had been through a lot together. I loved them. If they had made a terrible decision by becoming Catholic, it was a duty, an obligation of our friendship, that I urge them to get out before they did real damage to their lives or souls. As Proverbs 18:24 observers, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (ESV). Through our conversations, I realized I really hadn’t taken the time to listen, to understand, to appreciate my friends’ perspectives. I needed to start thinking at a much more sophisticated level, praying with a deeper earnestness and urgency. I had pridefully thought myself an expert on Protestantism and Catholicism. I wasn’t sure now I was proficient in either. It was time to eat some humble pie, hit the books, and consult all my mentors in the Reformed faith. Like St. Gregory’s observation of St. Basil, Barrett and his wife Beth’s pursuit of wisdom and truth proved infectious. Thus proceeded a Summer and Fall of intense reading, praying, reflecting, and conversing, both with Protestants and Catholics. I don’t need to re-tell all the details, many of which can be found here. Needless to say, the Protestant position was becoming less and less compelling, and more and more problematic as I studied the centuries-old debates.

Friendship was what initiated this opportunity for a deeper and more honest examination of Truth. Once I was able to stop the polemics, the psychologizing, the uncharitable and prideful ways of thinking and communicating that had so often defined my interactions with Catholics, I was able to start listening to my friends. Indeed, this is what is required of all of us if we want to get to the Truth, which is so often communicated not just through books and articles, but in personal and intimate interactions between people who care about one another. Indeed Truth, according to our Christian faith, is much more than an abstract concept; it is a person, Jesus Christ, who is Truth incarnate (John 14:6). As John writes in his Gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, ESV).

Theological, historical, and logical arguments are all important, and in many ways drive and provoke the necessary reflections and conversations for ecumenical dialogue. But just as important is a willingness to see our interlocutors not solely as “sparring partners,” but as real people, (Ed. SINCERE!!!) with real convictions, and real stories that need to be heard and appreciated. This is equally true of Protestants and Catholics. Yet if we believe those people whom we deeply love and care about have made decisions that will endanger their lives, their futures, and possibly their souls, we have an obligation to reach out, in love, and mutually pursue Truth together. Furthermore, it is often through friendship that the most difficult and painful truths are often communicated – things we do not want to hear, that challenge us, that complicate what we thought to be simple and straightforward, that frustrate our plans or intentions. (Ed. It is the people who LOVE US that will make the effort, take the risk of truth, the least of which is theological, the most of which is about our unchallenged, damaging behaviors/habits.)  Yet when (Ed. dangerous, dangerous) truth is involved, wouldn’t we rather hear it than not, especially from those whom we know truly love us and have our interests at heart, who are willing to risk even friendship to communicate hard truths? As Christ himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13, ESV).

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The Turner and Chalk families at Turner boy #4’s baptism, officiated by Fr. Matthew Zuberbueler (center back)

I hope that this feast day commemorating a wonderful deep friendship in Christian history – that of St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory Nazianzus — would be an occasion for renewed attempts at understanding and contemplating, at a truly thoughtful and charitable level, why so many of us have turned to the Catholic Church. We of course, in turn, will need to try our best to listen to and appreciate our Protestant brothers and sisters, who have many questions, as well as many sincere and valuable insights and beliefs of their own. May God spur a renewed desire for ecumenical dialogue amongst friends, and may we pursue the Truth, as it leads to God, no matter what sacrifices it requires, all for the glory of God.

St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, who exemplified true Christian friendship in your mutual love of Christ and pursuit of truth, pray for us!

  1. Pope Benedict XVI, The Fathers, (Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Indiana) p. 73-90.
  2. St. Basil, Orationes 43: 16, 20; SC 384: 154-156, 164.
  3. This is not to suggest that any of my friendships bear more than a very weak and vague resemblance to Basil and Gregory’s in either depth of relational intimacy or theological or spiritual sophistication!”

Love,
Matthew

Aquinas on Prayer

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-by Rev John Sica, OP

“Prayer, St. John Damascene says, is the unveiling of the mind before God. When we pray we ask Him for what we need, confess our faults, thank Him for His gifts, and adore His immense majesty. Here are five tips for praying better– with the help of St. Thomas Aquinas.

5. Be humble.

Many people falsely think of humility as a virtue of a low self-esteem. St. Thomas teaches us that humility is a virtue of acknowledging the truth about reality. Since prayer, at its root, is an “asking” directed at God, humility is crucially important. Through humility we recognize our neediness before God. We are totally and entirely dependent on God for everything and at every moment: our existence, life, breath, every thought and action. As we become more humble, we recognize more profoundly our need to pray more.

4. Have faith.

It’s not enough to know that we’re needy. To pray, we also have to ask someone, and not just anyone, but someone who can and will answer our petition. Children intuit this when they ask mom instead of dad (or vice versa!) for permission or a gift. It is with the eyes of faith that we see God is both powerful and willing to help us in prayer. St. Thomas says that “faith is necessary… that is, we need to believe that we can obtain from Him what we seek.” It is faith which teaches us “of God’s omnipotence and mercy,” the basis of our hope. In this, St. Thomas reflects the Scriptures. The Epistle to the Hebrews underlines the necessity of faith, saying, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). Try praying an Act of Faith.

“O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them you can neither deceive nor be deceived.”

or, something close to that, so long as not heretical. Check w/your favorite, friendly, faithful, trained Catholic wonk.

3. Pray before praying.

In old breviaries you can find a small prayer that begins, “Open, O Lord, my mouth to bless your Holy Name. Cleanse, too, my heart from all vain, perverse and extraneous thoughts…” I remember finding this slightly amusing– there were prescribed prayers before prescribed prayers! When I reconsidered it, I realized that although it might seem paradoxical, it gives a lesson. Prayer is utterly supernatural, and so it is far beyond our reach. St. Thomas himself notes that God “wishes to bestow certain things on us at our asking.” The prayer above continues by asking God: “Illumine my mind, inflame my heart, that I may worthily, attentively and devoutly recite this Office and merit to be heard in the sight of Your divine Majesty.” The attentiveness and purity of heart needed to attain to God in prayer is itself received as a gift– and we will only receive if we ask.

2. Be intentional.

Merit in prayer– that is to say, whether it brings us closer to heaven– flows from the virtue of charity. And this flows from our will. So to pray meritoriously, we need to make our prayer an object of choice. St. Thomas explains that our merit rests primarily on our original intention in praying. It isn’t broken by accidental distraction, which no human being can avoid, but only by intentional and willing distraction. This also should give us some relief. We need not worry too much about distractions, as long as we don’t encourage them. We realize something of what the Psalmist says, namely, that God “pours gifts on His beloved while they slumber” (Ps 127:2).

1. Be attentive.

Although, strictly, we need only be intentional and not also perfectly attentive to merit by our prayer, it is nevertheless true that our attention is important. When our minds are filled with actual attention to God, our hearts too are inflamed with desire for Him. St. Thomas explains that spiritual refreshment of the soul comes chiefly from being attentive to God in prayer. The Psalmist cries out, “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek!” (Ps 27:8). In prayer, let us never cease to search for His Face.”

Love,
Matthew

Nov 10 – Pope St Leo the Great, (400-461 AD), Doctor of the Church, “Christian, remember your dignity!”

Priest_celebrating_Mass_at_Altar_of_Leo_I_in_St._Peter's_Basilica

-priest celebrating Mass at the altar of St Leo the Great, St Peter’s basilica

“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember Who is your head and of Whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” -CCC 1691, St. Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

Pope Saint Leo I, known as “St. Leo the Great,” was involved in the fourth ecumenical council, which helped prevent the spread of error and heresy on Christ’s divine and human natures.

St. Leo intervened for the safety of the Church in the West as well, persuading Attila the Hun to turn back from Rome.

Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians also maintain a devotion to the memory of Pope St. Leo the Great. Churches of the Byzantine tradition celebrate his feast day on Feb. 18.

“As the nickname soon attributed to him by tradition suggests,” Pope Benedict XVI said in a 2008 general audience on the saint, “he was truly one of the greatest pontiffs to have honored the Roman See and made a very important contribution to strengthening its authority and prestige.”

Leo’s origins are obscure and his date of birth unknown. His ancestors are said to have come from Tuscany, though the future pope may have been born in that region or in Rome itself. He became a deacon in Rome in approximately 430, during the pontificate of Pope Celestine I.

During this time, central authority was beginning to decline in the Western portion of the Roman Empire. At some point between 432 and 440, during the reign of Pope St. Celestine’s successor Pope Sixtus III, the Roman Emperor Valentinian III commissioned Leo to travel to the region of Gaul and settle a dispute between military and civil officials.

Pope Sixtus III died in 440 and, like his predecessor Celestine, was canonized as a saint. Leo, away on his diplomatic mission at the time of the Pope’s death, was chosen to be the next Bishop of Rome. Reigning for over two decades, he sought to preserve the unity of the Church in its profession of faith, and to ensure the safety of his people against frequent barbarian invasions.

Leo used his authority, in both doctrinal and disciplinary matters, against a number of heresies troubling the Western church – including Pelagianism (involving the denial of Original Sin) and Manichaeanism (a gnostic system that saw matter as evil). In this same period, many Eastern Christians had begun arguing about the relationship between Jesus’ humanity and divinity.

As early as 445 AD, Leo had intervened in this dispute in the East, which threatened to split the churches of Alexandria and Constantinople. Its eventual resolution was, in fact, rejected in some quarters – leading to the present-day split between Eastern Orthodoxy and the so-called “non-Chalcedonian churches” which accept only three ecumenical councils.

As the fifth-century Christological controversy continued, the Pope urged the gathering of an ecumenical council to resolve the matter. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the Pope’s teaching was received as authoritative by the Eastern bishops, who proclaimed: “Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo.”

Leo’s teaching confirmed that Christ’s eternal divine personhood and nature did not absorb or negate the human nature that he assumed in time through the Incarnation. Instead, “the proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person.”

“So without leaving his Father’s glory behind, the Son of God comes down from His heavenly throne and enters the depths of our world,” the Pope taught. “While remaining pre-existent, He begins to exist in time. The Lord of the universe veiled His measureless majesty and took on a servant’s form. The God who knew no suffering did not despise becoming a suffering man, and, deathless as He is, to be subject to the laws of death.” (Ed: …by His own choice, out of love for us.)

In 452 AD, one year after the Council of Chalcedon, Pope Leo led a delegation which successfully negotiated with the barbarian king Attila to prevent an invasion of Rome. When the Vandal leader Genseric occupied Rome in 455, the Pope confronted him, unarmed, and obtained a guarantee of safety for many of the city’s inhabitants and the churches to which they had fled.

Pope St. Leo the Great died on Nov. 10, 461. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XIV in 1754. A large collection of his writings and sermons survives, and can be read in translation today.

Leoattila-Raphael

-Raphael’s The Meeting between Leo the Great and Attila depicts Leo, escorted by Saint Peter and Saint Paul, meeting with the Hun king outside Rome, 1514, fresco, 500 cm × 750 cm (200 in × 300 in), Apostolic Palace, Vatican City, Rome.  It is reported that when Attila met Leo, he saw Peter and Paul accompanying Leo, when no one else could, and it was for this reason he spared the city. (Please click on the image for greater detail.)

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Saint Leo Magnus by Francisco Herrera the Younger, in the Prado Museum, Madrid

“Peter has spoken by the mouth of Leo.” – Council of Chalcedon

“Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife.” – Pope Saint Leo the Great

“Although the universal Church of God is constituted of distinct orders of members, still, in spite of the many parts of its holy body, the Church subsists as an integral whole, just as the Apostle says: “We are all one in Christ,” nor is anyone separated from the office of another in such a way that a lower group has no connection with the head.

In the unity of faith and baptism, our community is then undivided. There is a common dignity as the apostle Peter says in these words: “And you are built up as living stones into spiritual houses, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And again: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of election.” For all, regenerated in Christ, as made kings by the sign of the cross. They are consecrated priests by the oil of the Holy Spirit, so that beyond the special service of our ministry as priests, all spiritual and mature Christians know that they are a royal race and are sharers in the office of the priesthood. For what is more king-like than to find yourself ruler over your body after having surrendered your soul to God? And what is more priestly than to promise the Lord a pure conscience and to offer him in love unblemished victims on the altar of one’s heart?” – from a sermon by Pope Saint Leo the Great

“God decreed that all nations should be saved in Christ. Dear friends, now that we have received instruction in this revelation of God‘s grace, let us celebrate with spiritual joy the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the merciful God, “who has made us worthy,” in the words of the Apostle, “to share the position of the saints in light; who has rescued us from the power of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of this beloved Son.” This came to be fulfilled, as we know, from the time when the star beckoned the three wise men out of their distant country and led them to recognize and adore the King of heaven and earth. The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.” – from a sermon by Pope Saint Leo the Great

Hymn

Troparion (Tone 3)

You were the Church’s instrument
in strengthening the teaching of true doctrine;
you shone forth from the West like a sun dispelling the errors of the heretics.
Righteous Leo, entreat Christ God to grant us His great mercy.

Troparion (Tone 8)

O Champion of Orthodoxy, and teacher of holiness,
The enlightenment of the universe and the inspired glory of true believers.
O most wise Father Leo, your teachings are as music of the Holy Spirit for us!
Pray that Christ our God may save our souls!

Kontakion (Tone 3)

Seated upon the throne of the priesthood, glorious Leo,
you shut the mouths of the spiritual lions.
With divinely inspired teachings of the honored Trinity,
you shed the light of the knowledge of God upon your flock.
Therefore, you are glorified as a divine initiate of the grace of God.

“The way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death” -Pope St. Leo the Great

Love,
Matthew

Oct 15 – Logical Ecstasy

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-by Br Alan Piper, OP

“I saw in [the angel’s] hands a large golden dart and at the end of the iron tip there appeared to be a little fire. [The] angel plunged the dart several times into my heart . . . . When he drew it out, I thought he was carrying off with him the deepest part of me; and he left me all on fire with great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan, and the sweetness this greatest pain caused me was so superabundant that there is no desire capable of taking it away” -Teresa of Ávila, Autobiography

In 1976, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and U.S. Poet Laureate (’87-’88) Richard Wilbur published a short poem entitled “Teresa.” The first stanza describes the famous mystical encounter between St. Teresa and an angel with a spear:

After the sun’s eclipse,
The brighter angel and the spear which drew
A bridal outcry from her open lips,
She could not prove it true,
Nor think at first of any means to test
By what she had been wedded or possessed.

Though now we can see that Teresa was “wedded” to God, at the time even she who enjoyed such divine intimacy did not rule out the possibility that she had been “possessed” by some lower power. In case of supposed mystical experiences, St. Teresa writes, “The safest thing, as the Lord told me, is to make known to my confessor the whole state of my soul and the favors God grants me, that he be learned, and that I obey him. The Lord has often told me this.”

The second stanza of Wilbur’s poem contrasts the ecstasy of St. Teresa with the experience of Odysseus’ comrades on the island of Aeaea. In Homer’s Odyssey, the witch-goddess Circe gave the men a drugged draft and changed them into swine: “She struck with her wand, drove them into her pigsties . . . with grunts, snouts . . . off they went to their pens, sobbing, squealing . . . (X, 260-70).” The first line of the stanza understates the contrast with Teresa’s “outcry”:

Not all cries were the same;
There was an island in mythology
Called by the very vowels of her name
Where vagrants of the sea,
Changed by a wand, were made to squeal and cry
As heavy captives in a witch’s sty.

So the poem distinguishes two kinds of ecstasy. The swine in Circe’s sty symbolize the irrational fits and shouts of human animality in revolt. When reason loses control to the emotions and sensuality, the rational animal turns wild. Man becomes a pig.

The second kind of ecstasy results from a knowledge of God. Catholics use the phrase “faith and reason,” but it would be a mistake to infer that some things are reasonable and that faith is not one of them. By faith, we transcend human reason and come to share in the knowledge of God, who is Wisdom Itself. When St. John calls Jesus the Word, the Greek word is Logos (from which we derive “logic” and all those names of knowledge ending in “-ology”). If faith is experienced as darkness, it is not because faith is irrational but because it is supra-rational. What Teresa saw was beyond her, but still her encounter with the Word was a real illumination.

A consummate wordsmith, Wilbur develops the theme by noting the similarity between “Teresa” and “Aeaea” (“the very vowels of her name”: e-e-a). Aristotle once remarked that among the animals only man possesses speech (logos), while the others have only the mere voice (phonē). Think of the cow’s “moooo” or the sheep’s “baaaahh,” or even the less reflective of human utterances: “ooooh,” “aaaah,” or “uuuuh.” By using consonants to shape the voice in numerous and various ways, the logical animal (the human being) turns a handful of vowels into a language of hundreds of thousands of words (to say nothing of poems). Likewise, inspired by the Logos, Teresa went on to write profound and detailed books on prayer. The Grecian vagrants, struck by the witch, could only grunt and squeal.

In fact, the wisdom of her teaching and the greatness of her deeds give eloquent witness to the authenticity of her visions. The last stanza of Wilbur’s poem gives voice to that witness.

The proof came soon and plain:
Visions were true which quickened her to run
God’s barefoot errands in the rocks of Spain
Beneath its beating sun,
And lock the O of ecstasy within
The tempered consonants of discipline.

The bulk of those “barefoot errands in the rocks of Spain” went toward the reform of the Carmelites—work that called for extraordinary discipline and uncommon vision. For Teresa, there was ultimately no contradiction between mysticism and intense concentration on the business of daily life, between the delights of prayer and the labors of reviving a late-medieval religious order. In fact, it was her mysticism, or better, her deep friendship with Jesus the Logos, that sharpened her mind and inspired her self-possession.

Nor did Teresa make “spirituality” a pretense for despising “organized religion.” She knew that the Logos had become flesh and established a visible, tangible Church, and that he had wedded the Church to Himself and so become one flesh with her. Teresa understood herself as both organized in that body and commissioned to organize the religion of a part of that body, the Carmelite Order. And it is in and through that organized body that the Logos recommends her sanctity to us today.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 30 – St Jerome, Not Pulling Any Punches

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Christians don’t always have to be nice.  Catholic teaching allows for the defense of self.  And the Lord excoriated the hypocritical and the self-righteous.  It is a false-piety, a deception, and a danger, a heresy, really, to believe only in Jesus-The-Warm-Fuzzy.  In the matter of Scripture, the wider availability of Scripture from the Greek and Hebrew may not have happened until MUCH later, if it were not for St Jerome!  St Jerome was not a warm fuzzy.  To accomplish what he did when he did, he couldn’t afford to be.  It wouldn’t have worked.  He didn’t worship a God Who was either.  Let’s be careful out there where our politics dictates our God, rather than the other way around.  St Jerome was never confused in this way.  He was born Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius, around the year 342 AD.

athanasius murphy
-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“St. Jerome was a fighter.

Popes, soldiers, widows, monks, archdeacons – it didn’t matter – none were safe from the sharp and nimble pen of this 4th-century resident of Bethlehem. He wrote against many who had distanced themselves from the Church by error or faulty preaching, and so he got a name for not pulling punches. His letters link phrases together like opposing storms and unshaken faith, errors and eternal bondage, heretics and doomed to perish. Granted he was fighting to defend the Faith, but did he have to be so combative?

St. Jerome was such a fighter because he believed there was something worth fighting for: brotherhood.

If you read some of his letters, you’ll notice that St. Jerome covers a variety of themes (Scripture, schism, vows of virginity, poetry, bathing habits), but in all of these he always finds a way to mention brotherhood. He is constantly mentioning his brothers, sisters, and spiritual sons and daughters as he critiques this bishop’s preaching or consoles that widow’s mourning; counsels this Roman soldier, or teases that prelate’s hygiene. Whether he spoke in jest, irritation, or anger, all he did was for the sake of fraternity.

Brotherhood for Jerome was a teaching of Christ, Who called His disciples brothers (Mt 23:8). A helpful way to look at how St. Jerome thought of brotherhood is to view it in light of another teaching of Christ: chastity, poverty, and obedience.

St. Jerome thought that brotherhood is chaste, because it’s about an undivided love. Chastity is a virtue that keeps the heart set on a real and authentic love, and real love is undeterred by false forms of friendship that lack depth in the love of God. St. Jerome spoke of brotherhood as a kind of chastity because his authentic love for others was rooted in a love for God. Chastity unites us to God with an undivided heart. So too we undividedly love our brothers by this love we have for God:

The links which bind spirit to spirit are stronger than any physical bond. For you, my reverend friend, cling to me with all your soul, and I am united to you by the love of Christ (Letter 62).

St. Jerome was the first to recognize a real love between himself and another. But if that love was lacking, he was quick to call his brother back into friendship. Even in harsh words Jerome pursued the friendship of his brother by being close to Christ: “Our only gain is that we are thus knit together in the love of Christ” (Letter 60).

Brotherhood for Jerome is also poor because it gives up everything for another. In emptying himself Christ gave everything to become our brother, and we, in our poverty, give up everything for the sake of our brothers in Christ. St. Jerome cared not a thing for his reputation or position in the world, provided that his words and gestures had the chance of calling a brother back from a straying path. Such a friendship that divests itself of all extras is a true friendship, and this is why it is priceless:

Love is not to be purchased, and affection has no price. The friendship which can cease has never been real (Letter 3).

True brotherhood is also obedient. To be obedient is to delight in another’s will, and so have a true and lasting unity with that person. Christ gives us the grace and example to be obedient to our heavenly Father. Brothers who dwell in unity first have an obedience to God that then outpours into a harmony in the Church. It’s in the heart of the Church that we strive to live in Christ with one heart and soul (Acts 4:32).

But such harmony is only possible when there is openness to truth between friends. St. Jerome held to this standard of truth when relating to others. “True friendship ought never to conceal what it thinks, and real brotherhood will leave enough room to hear the truth, even when it is difficult (Letter 81).”

While his words were at times harsh, nothing St. Jerome said was without a further purpose of drawing others close to Christ in real brotherhood. Jerome’s life gives us the example of how to knock at the door of others and offer them friendship – even to those who would consider us enemies. Christ has knocked at the door of our hearts and by grace we have consented to a divine friendship with Him. He now uses us to knock on the hearts of others to offer that same friendship:

“I have now knocked at the door of friendship: if you open it to me you will find me a frequent visitor (Letter 145).”

Love,
Matthew

Jul 30 – St Peter Chrysologus, (380-450 AD), Bishop & Doctor of the Church, Doctor Homiliis/Doctor of Homilies, “Golden Speech”

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On July 30, the Catholic Church celebrates Saint Peter Chrysologus, a fifth-century Italian bishop known for testifying courageously to Christ’s full humanity and divinity during a period of doctrinal confusion in the Church.

The saint’s title, Chrysologus, signifies “golden speech” in Greek. Named as a Doctor of the Church in 1729, he is distinguished as the “Doctor of Homilies” for the concise but theologically rich reflections he delivered during his time as the Bishop of Ravenna.

His surviving works offer eloquent testimony to the Church’s traditional beliefs about Mary’s perpetual virginity, the penitential value of Lent, Christ’s Eucharistic presence, and the primacy of St. Peter and his successors in the Church.

Few details of St. Peter Chrysologus’ biography are known. He was born in the Italian town of Imola in either the late fourth or early fifth century, but sources differ as to whether this occurred around 380 or as late as 406.

Following his study of theology, Peter was ordained to the diaconate by Imola’s local bishop Cornelius, whom he greatly admired and regarded as his spiritual father. Cornelius not only ordained Peter, but taught him the value of humility and self-denial.

The lessons of his mentor inspired Peter to live as a monk for many years, embracing a lifestyle of asceticism, simplicity, and prayer. His simple monastic life came to an end, however, after the death of Archbishop John of Ravenna in 430.

After John’s death, the clergy and people of Ravenna chose a successor and asked Cornelius, still the Bishop of Imola, to journey to Rome and obtain papal approval for the candidate. Cornelius brought Peter, then still a deacon, along with him on the visit to Pope Sixtus III.

Tradition relates that the Pope had experienced a vision from God on the night before the meeting, commanding him to overrule Ravenna’s choice of a new archbishop. The Pope declared that Peter, instead, was to be ordained as John’s successor.

In Ravenna, Peter was received warmly by the Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III, and his mother Galla Placidia. She is said to have given him the title of “Chrysologus” because of his preaching skills.

Throughout the archdiocese, however, he encountered the surviving remnants of paganism along with various abuses and distortions of the Catholic faith. Peter exercised zeal and pastoral care in curbing abuses and evangelizing non-Christians during his leadership of the Church in Ravenna.

One of the major heresies of his age, monophysitism, held that Christ did not possess a distinct human nature in union with his eternal divine nature. Peter labored to prevent the westward spread of this error, promoted from Constantinople by the monk Eutyches.

The Archbishop of Ravenna also made improvements to the city’s cathedral and built several new churches. Near the end of his life he addressed a significant letter to Eutyches, stressing the Pope’s authority in the monophysite controversy.

Having returned to Imola in anticipation of his death, St. Peter Chrysologus died in 450, one year before the Church’s official condemnation of monophysitism. He is credited as the author of around 176 surviving homilies, which contributed to his later proclamation as a Doctor of the Church.

A man who vigorously pursues a goal may produce results far beyond his expectations and his intentions. Thus it was with Peter of the Golden Words, as he was called, who as a young man became bishop of Ravenna, the capital of the empire in the West.

At the time there were abuses and vestiges of paganism evident in his diocese, and these he was determined to battle and overcome. His principal weapon was the short sermon, and many of them have come down to us. They do not contain great originality of thought. They are, however, full of moral applications, sound in doctrine and historically significant in that they reveal Christian life in fifth-century Ravenna.

So authentic were the contents of his sermons that, some 13 centuries later, he was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XIII. He who had earnestly sought to teach and motivate his own flock was recognized as a teacher of the universal Church.

In addition to his zeal in the exercise of his office, Peter Chrysologus was distinguished by a fierce loyalty to the Church, not only in its teaching, but in its authority as well. He looked upon learning not as a mere opportunity but as an obligation for all, both as a development of God-given faculties and as a solid support for the worship of God.

Quite likely, it was St. Peter Chrysologus’s attitude toward learning that gave substance to his exhortations. Next to virtue, learning, in his view, was the greatest improver of the human mind and the support of true religion. Ignorance is not a virtue, nor is anti-intellectualism. Knowledge is neither more nor less a source of pride than physical, administrative or financial prowess. To be fully human is to expand our knowledge—whether sacred or secular—according to our talent and opportunity.

“A gentle maiden having lodged a God in her womb, asks as its price, peace for the world, salvation for those who are lost, and life for the dead.” – Saint Peter Chrysologus

“Anyone who wishes to frolic with the devil cannot rejoice with Christ.” – Saint Peter Chrysologus

“Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself.” -St. Peter Chrysologus 

“We exhort you in every respect, honorable brother, to heed obediently what has been written by the Most Blessed Pope of the City of Rome; for Blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own see, provides the truth of faith to those who seek it.” – Saint Peter Chrysologus, from a letter to Eutyches, 449

“I appeal to you by the mercy of God. This appeal is made by Paul, or rather, it is made by God through Paul, because of God’s desire to be loved rather than feared, to be a Father rather than a Lord. God appeals to us in His mercy to avoid having to punish us in His severity.

Listen to the Lord’s appeal: In me, I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is Divine, but why not love what is human?

You may run away from Me as the Lord, but why not run to Me as your Father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing My bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on Me, but on death. These nails no longer pain Me, but only deepen your love for Me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into My heart.

My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, not of how much I suffered, but of My all-embracing love. I count it no less to shed My blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to Me and learn to know Me as your Father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.

Listen now to what the Apostle urges us to do. I appeal to you, he says, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. By this exhortation of his, Paul has raised all men to priestly status.

How marvelous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on is own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself.

The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same. Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill. Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed.

The Apostle says: I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Brethren, this sacrifice follows the pattern of Christ’s sacrifice by which He gave His body as a living immolation for the life of the world. He really made His body a living sacrifice, because, though slain, He continues to live.

In such a victim death receives its ransom, but the victim remains alive. Death itself suffers the punishment. This is why death for the martyrs is actually a birth, and their end a beginning. Their execution is the door to life, and those who were thought to have been blotted out from the earth shine brilliantly in heaven.

Paul says: I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living and holy. The prophet said the same thing: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me. Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest.

Do not forfeit what Divine authority confers on you. Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity. Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on your forehead be your unfailing protection. Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that He Himself has given you. Keep burning continually the sweet smelling incense of prayer. Take up the sword of the Spirit. Let your heart be an altar. Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice. God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will.” – from a sermon by Saint Peter Chrysologus

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“The Magi are filled with awe by what they see; heaven on earth and earth in heaven; man in God and God in man; they see enclosed in a tiny body the One whom the entire world cannot contain.” -St. Peter Chrysologus 

Put on the garment of holiness,
gird yourself with the belt of chastity.
Let Christ be your helmet,
let the on your forehead be your unfailing protection.
Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that He Himself has given you.
Keep burning continually the sweet smelling incense of prayer.
Take up the sword of the Spirit.
Let your heart be an altar.
-St Peter Chrysologous

Prayer of St Peter Chrysologus

Loving Father,
Clothe me with the garment of sanctity.
Gird me with the cincture of chastity.
Let Christ be the covering of my head,
the cross of Christ, the protection of my face;
instill in me the sacrament of Divine wisdom,
and let the odor of my prayers
always ascend on high. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 21 – St Lawrence of Brindisi, OFM Cap, (1559-1619), Doctor of the Church, “Doctor Apostolic”, The Love of Scripture

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At first glance perhaps the most remarkable quality of Lawrence of Brindisi is his outstanding gift of languages. In addition to a thorough knowledge of his native Italian, he had complete reading and speaking ability in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German, Bohemian, Spanish and French.

He was born on July 22, 1559, and died exactly 60 years later on his birthday in 1619. His parents William and Elizabeth Russo gave him the name of Julius Caesar, Caesare in Italian. After the early death of his parents, he was educated by his uncle at the College of St. Mark in Venice.

When he was just 16 he entered the Capuchin Franciscan Order in Venice and received the name of Lawrence. He completed his studies of philosophy and theology at the University of Padua and was ordained a priest at 23.

With his facility for languages he was able to study the Bible in its original texts. At the request of Pope Clement VIII, he spent much time preaching to the Jews in Italy. So excellent was his knowledge of Hebrew, the rabbis felt sure he was a Jew who had become a Christian.

In 1956 the Capuchins completed a 15-volume edition of his writings. Eleven of these 15 contain his sermons, each of which relies chiefly on scriptural quotations to illustrate his teaching.

Lawrence’s sensitivity to the needs of people—a character trait perhaps unexpected in such a talented scholar—began to surface. He was elected major superior of the Capuchin Franciscan province of Tuscany at the age of 31. He had the combination of brilliance, human compassion and administrative skill needed to carry out his duties. In rapid succession he was promoted by his fellow Capuchins and was elected minister general of the Capuchins in 1602. In this position he was responsible for great growth and geographical expansion of the Order.

Lawrence was appointed papal emissary and peacemaker, a job which took him to a number of foreign countries. An effort to achieve peace in his native kingdom of Naples took him on a journey to Lisbon to visit the king of Spain. Serious illness in Lisbon took his life in 1619. His constant devotion to Scripture, coupled with great sensitivity to the needs of people, present a lifestyle which appeals to Christians today. Lawrence had a balance in his life that blended self-discipline with a keen appreciation for the needs of those whom he was called to serve.

VATICAN CITY, 23 MAR 2011 – In his general audience this morning, Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis to St. Lawrence of Brindisi (born Giulio Cesare Rossi, 1559-1619), a Doctor of the Church.

As a theologian and expert in Sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers, Lawrence of Brindisi was an exemplary teacher of Catholic doctrine among those Christians who, especially in Germany, had adhered to the Reformation.

“With his clear and tranquil explanations he demonstrated the biblical and patristic foundation of all the articles of faith called into question by Martin Luther, among them the primacy of St. Peter and his Successors, the divine origin of the episcopate, justification as interior transformation of man, and the necessity of good works for salvation. The success enjoyed by St. Lawrence helps us to understand that even today, as the hope-filled journey of ecumenical dialogue continues, the reference to Sacred Scripture, read in the Tradition of the Church, is an indispensable element of fundamental importance”.

“Even the lowliest members of the faithful who did not possess vast culture drew advantage from the convincing words of St. Lawrence, who addressed the humble in order to call everyone to live a life coherent with the faith they professed”, said the Holy Father. “This was a great merit of the Capuchins and of the other religious orders which, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, contributed to the renewal of Christian life. … Even today, the new evangelization needs well-trained, zealous and courageous apostles, so that the light and beauty of the Gospel may prevail over the cultural trends of ethical relativism and religious indifference, transforming the various ways people think and act in an authentic Christian humanism”.

Lawrence was a professor of theology, master of novices, minister provincial and minister general of the Capuchin Order, but amidst all these tasks “he also cultivated an exceptionally active spiritual life”, the Pope said. In this context he noted how all priests “can avoid the danger of activism – that is, of acting while forgetting the profound motivations of their ministry – only if they pay heed to their own inner lives”.

The Holy Father then turned his attention to another aspect of the saint’s activities: his work in favour of peace. “Supreme Pontiffs and Catholic princes repeatedly entrusted him with important diplomatic missions to placate controversies and favour harmony between European States, which at the time were threatened by the Ottoman Empire. Today, as in St. Lawrence’s time, the world has great need of peace, it needs peace-loving and peace-building men and women. Everyone who believes in God must always be a source of peace and work for peace”, he said.

Lawrence of Brindisi was canonised in 1881 and declared a Doctor of the Church by Blessed John XXIII in 1959 in recognition of his many works of biblical exegesis and Mariology. In his writings, Lawrence “also highlighted the action of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers”, the Pope said.

“St. Lawrence of Brindisi”, he concluded, “teaches us to love Sacred Scripture, to become increasingly familiar with it, daily to cultivate our relationship with the Lord in prayer, so that our every action, our every activity, finds its beginning and its fulfillment in Him”.

Saint Lawrence of Brindisi

“God is love, and all His operations proceed from love. Once He wills to manifest that goodness by sharing His love outside Himself, then the Incarnation becomes the supreme manifestation of His goodness and love and glory. So, Christ was intended before all other creatures and for His own sake. For Him all things were created and to Him all things must be subject, and God loves all creatures in and because of Christ. Christ is the first-born of every creature, and the whole of humanity as well as the created world finds its foundation and meaning in Him. Moreover, this would have been the case even if Adam had not sinned” –St. Lawrence of Brindisi

“The Holy Spirit”, St Lawrence wrote, “sweetens the yoke of the divine law and lightens its weight, so that we may observe God’s commandments with the greatest of ease and even with pleasure”.

“The word of the Lord”, he said, “is a light for the mind and a fire for the will, so that man may know and love God. For the inner man, who lives through the living grace of God’s Spirit, it is bread and water, but bread sweeter than honey and water better than wine or milk…. It is a weapon against a heart stubbornly entrenched in vice. It is a sword against the flesh, the world and the devil, to destroy every sin”.

“My dear souls, let us recognize, I pray you, Christ’s infinite charity towards us in the institution of this Sacrament of the Eucharist. In order that our love be a spiritual love, He wills a new heart, a new love, a new spirit for us. It is not with a carnal heart, but with a spiritual one, that Christ has loved us with a gratuitous love, a supreme and most ardent love, by way of pure grace and charity. Ah! One needs to love him back with one’s whole, whole, whole, living, living, living and true, true, true heart!!” – Saint Lawrence of Brindisi

Love,
Matthew

Jul 15 – St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, OFM, (1221-1274 AD), Franciscan Minister-General, Cardinal, Doctor of the Church, “The Seraphic Doctor”

st-bonaventure

Given the name John at birth, the future saint received the name of Bonaventure in consequence of an exclamation of St. Francis of Assisi, when, in response to the pleading of the child’s mother, the saint prayed for John’s recovery from a dangerous illness, and, foreseeing the future greatness of the little John, cried out “O Buona ventura”-O good fortune!

The man the world came to know as Bonaventure was born in Bagnoregio, a small town about sixty miles north of Rome. He was baptized John di Fidensa, named after his father. His father was a man of some means and was the local physician. Of course, the practice of medicine in those days was nothing like we have today. There were no vaccinations, no serum, no x-rays. His mother was Maria di Ritello. Both his parents were devout, his mother especially so.

Young John had the usual childhood and was growing into a healthy young man, when, at the age of eleven, in the year 1228 he was struck by a terrible illness. In those days, there was little that parents could do but watch and pray as their child slowly weakened and died.

Maria must have met Francis when he visited in her area some years before. Francis had died in 1226 and word of his great holiness and favor with God had spread widely.

Maria made a vow to Saint Francis. We do not know what that vow was. She vowed to do something special if Francis would intercede with God to spare her son’s life. Her prayers were answered. Young John was cured. Later John would write: “I was saved from the jaws of death by Francis’ intercession.”

John then continued to grow into a healthy teenager. He attended school at the local Franciscan friary where it soon became evident that he had a very brilliant mind. Then at the age of seventeen, the time came for him to pursue higher studies. His father sent him to study at the University of Paris.

John settled into his new surroundings without delay. His fellow students and teachers quickly become aware of his brilliance. This was a teenager who knew he did not know all the answers, who always wanted to learn more. And his classmates and teachers began to notice something else about John – here was a very humble person.

Honors of any kind were not for him. And as John continued his studies, the Franciscan Order continued to grow, now numbering in the thousands. Then, not too long after John’s arrival in Paris, the most renowned professor at the University, the famous Englishman Alexander of Hales, joined the Franciscan Order.

This was very important for the Order, for it established them officially as part of the university. As a side effect, it also gave further impetus to a growing rift within the Order itself between those who wanted to follow the simplicity of Francis and those who wanted to add intellectual efforts. In later years, this rift between the two sides would play an important role in John’s life.

Then, in 1243, John himself joined the Franciscan Order. He took the name Bonaventure, from the Italian expression “Bona Ventura” or Happy Voyage/Good Fortune. By this name, he was known for the rest of his life, and now down through the ages.

He continued his studies at the University and five years later was licensed to teach there. At this time, the first of his writing began to appear. He would continue to produce these writings for the rest of his life. His great writings were important, analyzing as they did great theological questions.

For example, he wrote about the role of Christ in God’s overall plan for the world. It is hard for us to grasp the magnitude of his mind. His writings filled nine volumes, each page with double column. His writings are still studied and treasured today.

But Bonaventure did not live in a cloud. He went about his daily tasks as always with his deep sense of humility. Still another side of Bonaventure’s character was becoming evident to all, especially the Pope. Because of his great personal holiness and the great respect he commanded, plus his ability to see both sides of an issue, more and more often he was called upon to arbitrate whenever arguments arose.

For the next six years he continued his teaching and writing and personal study. Then, in 1254, he was made a Master of Theology and took over the leadership of the Franciscan School in Paris. In 1256, a serious dispute broke out at the University over the role of religious orders including the Franciscans, who wanted strick simplicity as a way of life.

Although he presented a stirring defense of their ideal. One year later, in 1257, the long simmering dispute within the Order was getting out of hand. Pope Alexander IV stepped in. He secretly ordered the then Minister General of the Order to resign. This General, John of Palma, recommended Bonaventure as his successor… the Pope agreed. Bonaventure was officially confirmed as Minister General at a General Chapter meeting held in Rome. He would have been just 40 years old.

As Minister General, Bonaventure was a very busy man. He wanted to make Paris the center of the Order, but he travelled to Rome every year in support of those in the Order who preferred the simple ideal of poverty and missionary work among the people. While in Rome, he would confer with the Pope on matters of interest to Bonaventure and on matters of interest to the Pope. We do not know if, during any of these visits, he was able to see his parents. It is doubtful since at least 23 years had passed since he left them as a teenager of seventeen.

When he took over leadership of the Franciscans, one of the first things he wanted to do was to reunite this great Order. This he did. In 1260, the Order adopted a new constitution written by Bonaventure.

A new biography of Francis, also written by Bonaventure, was adopted as the official biography, and all other versions were destroyed. To some, Bonaventure became known as the second founder of the Order. During these years, while administering an order which spread all over Europe and beyond, numbering in the many thousands, he somehow found the time to continue his writing.

He also produced an extended series of sermons and, of course, continued his annual trips to Rome. In 1273, in recognition of his accomplishments, Pope Gregory X, appointed him a Cardinal. We do not know what his reaction was to this high honor.

The following year, Bonaventure assisted the Pope in the preparations for the Second Council of Lyons. He also played a major role in the Council, especially in its various reforms and reconciliation movements. Then, while the Council was still in session, God called Bonaventure home. Bonaventure died suddenly on July 15, 1274. He was buried the same day in the presence of the Pope, the Cardinals and Prelates of the Council. The scene has been described as follows… “Greeks and Latins, clergy and laity, followed his bier lamenting with bitter tears over the loss of so great a person.”

Zurbaran_Death_of_St_Bonaventure

-The Death of St. Bonaventure (in the presence of Pope Gregory X and James I of Aragon), Francisco Zurbaran, 1649, oil on canvas, 250 x 225 cm, Musee du Louvre, Paris

“A man of eminent learning and eloquence, and of outstanding holiness, he was known for his kindness, approachableness, gentleness and compassion.”- Pope Gregory X on hearing of the death of Bonaventure

“Mary seeks for those who approach her devoutly and with reverence, for such she loves, nourishes, and adopts as her children.”- Saint Bonaventure

“Men do not fear a powerful hostile army as the powers of hell fear the name and protection of Mary.” –St. Bonaventure 

“When we pray, the voice of the heart must be heard more than that proceeding from the mouth.” – Saint Bonaventure

“Pierce, O most Sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of Thy love, with true, serene, and most holy apostolic charity, that my soul may ever languish and melt with love and longing for Thee, that it may yearn for Thee and faint for Thy courts, and long to be dissolved and to be with Thee. 

Grant that my soul may hunger after Thee, the bread of angels, the refreshment of holy souls, our daily and supersubstantial bread, having all sweetness and savor and every delight of taste; let my heart ever hunger after and feed upon Thee, upon whom the angels desire to look, and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of Thy savor; may it ever thirst after Thee, the fountain of life, the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the richness of the house of God. 

May it ever compass Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee, attain Thee, meditate upon Thee, speak of Thee, and do all things to the praise and glory of Thy name, with humility and discretion, with love and delight, with ease and affection, and with perseverance unto the end. 

May Thou alone be ever my hope, my entire assurance, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my fragrance, my sweet savor, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession and my treasure, in whom may my mind and my heart be fixed and firmly rooted immovably henceforth and for ever. Amen. ” -St Bonaventure

“Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the “throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant,” and “the mystery hidden from the ages.” A man should turn his full attention to this Throne of Mercy, and should gaze at Him hanging on the Cross, full of faith, hope, and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation.

Then such a man will make with Christ a “pasch,” that is, a passing-over. Through the branches of the Cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulcher, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone.  This is a sacred mystical experience.  It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, Whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul.  Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the sou to God with intense fervor and glowing love.  The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardor of His loving passion.  Only he understood this Who said:  My Soul chose hanging and My Bones death.  Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that:  No man can look upon Me and live.

Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination.  Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown Himself to us, we can say with Philip:  It is enough.  We may hear with Paul:  My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my heritage for ever.  Blessed by the Lord for ever, and let all the people say:  Amen, Amen!  -from Journey of the Mind to God by Saint Bonaventure, & Office of Readings for the Day

Lord, Jesus, as God’s Spirit came down and rested upon You.
May the same Spirit rest on us,
Bestowing His seven fold gifts.
First, grant us the gift of Understanding,
By which Your precepts may enlighten our minds.
Second, grant us Counsel, by which we may follow
In Your footsteps on the path of righteousness.
Third, grant us Courage,
By which we may ward off the enemy’s attacks.
Fourth, grant us Knowledge,
By which we can distinguish good from evil.
Fifth, grant us Piety,
By which we may acquire compassionate hearts.
Sixth, grant us Fear,
By which we may draw back from evil
And submit to what is good,
Seventh, grant us Wisdom,
That we may taste fully the life-giving sweetness of Your Love.
-Prayer of St Bonaventure to the Holy Spirit

Love,
Matthew