Category Archives: Doctors of the Church

Nov 15 – Albertus Magnus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew

Dark Night of the Soul & Senses

Dr. Benedict Nguyen is the new Diocese of Venice Director of Communications and Office of Worship. He began his position on June 30 and comes from the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisc.
Dr. Benedict Nguyen is the new Diocese of Venice Director of Communications and Office of Worship. He began his position on June 30 and comes from the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisc.

Dr. BENEDICT NGUYEN
B.A., M.T.S., J.D./J.C.L., D.Min (ABD)

Benedict Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam and grew up in Wichita, Kansas. He earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Liturgical Musicology from the University of Kansas; a Master of Theological Studies from the University of Dallas-Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies; and a Pontifical Licentiate degree in Canon Law from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He began his legal studies at the Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. and completed his law degree at the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was a three-time recipient of the CALI Award for academic excellence in corporate law, non-profit law and critical studies in law and region. He is currently completing a Doctorate in Ministry in Biblical Exposition at the Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Delafield, Wisconsin.

For eight years he served as the Chancellor for the Diocese of La Crosse where he was a canon lawyer for the Diocese, the Diocesan Director of Communications & Media Relations, the Diocesan Director of Catholic Cemeteries, a Defender of the Bond in the Matrimonial Tribunal, and was a five-term Chairman of the Board for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse. He has also held the positions of Director of Communications and Director of the Office of Sacred Worship for the Diocese of Venice in Florida.

In academics, he served as an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Institute for Pastoral Theology of Ave Maria University where he taught courses in canon law, liturgy, morality, ecclesiology, social ethics, and pastoral theology. For several years, he was the Upper School Dean at Providence Classical Academy in La Crosse, WI, where he was also as an instructor in religion, music, Latin, Greek, classical Aristotelian logic, and rhetoric. He has also taught as a Visiting Lecturer and instructor for the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.

Currently, he is the Canonical Counsel & Theological Advisor for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, TX. He continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor for the Avila Institute For Spiritual Formation.

As a licensed attorney with the Wisconsin Bar Association and an active canon lawyer, he continues to practice as a legal and canonical consultant to various dioceses, religious institutions, apostolates, non-profit organizations, schools and individuals across the country.

He is a national lecturer and has published in several publications including Catholic World Report, the National Catholic Register, Xaire, The Catholic Education Resource Center, Regina Magazine, The Catholic Herald in London, as well as numerous diocesan newspapers and magazines.

He and his wife Beth have five children.

http://dioceseofvenice.org/new-director-of-communications-and-office-of-worship/

http://soul-candy.info/2012/11/dec-14-st-john-of-the-cross-1541-1591-doctor-of-the-church-doctor-of-mystical-theology/

http://soul-candy.info/2015/01/dec-14-st-john-of-the-cross-the-darkness-of-unknowing/

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Love,
Matthew

Oct 15 – Let nothing disturb you….

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-confessional regularly used by St Teresa of Avila at the Dominican priory in Salamanca.

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-by Br Toby Lees, OP, English Province

“St Teresa was born in Avila, in 1515. The 16th century was a time of turmoil in many areas of life, not least in the Church, but also, thanks to women like Teresa, a time of reform and renewal. Her mother died when she was 13, and despite her father’s protestations, she entered the Carmelites, aged 20. However, she soon became very ill and had to be sent home to recover at home for a number of years. Undeterred, when well enough, she returned to the Carmel and through a life of continual striving to love God more and more, she received extraordinary spiritual experiences and wonderful insights into the life of prayer. These insights are still a great gift to the Church thanks to her engaging writings.

She was granted the realization that God alone is changeless and permanent, and that when we seek solace in anything other than God, we are really placing our hopes in the ephemeral where we will never find peace. What helped make Teresa a saint though was that this insight did not remain at the level of mere insight. Instead it became recognition of a reality which she allowed to transform her life. One way in which she aided herself in this task of continual dedication to love God above all things is beautifully reflected in some of her words which she recorded on a bookmark, which she then used to keep her focussed on what truly matters:

Let nothing disturb you,

Let nothing frighten you,

All things are passing away:

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things

Whoever has God lacks nothing;

God alone suffices.

You may enjoy listening to this beautiful setting of these words sung by a virtual choir of 93 Carmelite nuns from 24 countries to celebrate the 500th anniversary of her birth.

Another of Teresa’s great lessons to us – at time when we hear many arguments about power within the Church – is that holiness has its own authority. Always born out of humility, holiness is more powerful that any title, status or position. Who would have believed that this frail lady, who suffered with poor health, would reform her Order; found many new houses of Carmel throughout Spain; and be at the forefront of a great renewal of spirituality within the Church? Despite little formal education, her receptivity to God means that 500 years on she still has much to teach us, and she is rightly recognized as one of the Doctors of the Church. It is one of the beautiful paradoxes often found in the lives of the saints, that one who spent so much of her life in the cloister has so much to teach those who live outside of it. Her reflection on the Church as the body of Christ is as challenging and as relevant to us as the day she wrote it:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours,

no feet but yours,

yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion

is to look out to the earth,

yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good

and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 3 – GREAT!!!!

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GREAT
ɡrāt/
adjective
of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average.

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-by Br Nicholas Schneider, OP

“A few other saints have received the title, including St. Albert the Great and St. Gertrude the Great. St. Albert received the title during his lifetime for the extreme breadth of writings, which covered everything from Aristotle, astrology, and biology, to friendship, phrenology, theology, and zoology. St. Gertrude received the title from Pope Benedict XIV because of her spiritual and theological work, especially the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and to differentiate her from another Benedictine saint of the same name.

We recognize civil leaders with the same title for grand accomplishments, often uniting military victories with advancements in culture and the arts. Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world in ten short years. Alfred the Great and Cnut the Great were given the title for their unification of England. Similarly, Frederick the Great of Prussia united the country with stunning military victories and was also a great patron of the arts. In Russia, Ivan the Great (III), Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great all added substantive territory to Muscovy and the Russian Empire, and they also promoted the sciences and arts. Ivan IV could not receive the title because his grandfather already had it. Instead, he received “The Terrible,” a term which has a similar meaning—though with quite different moral overtones—to that of the power and awesomeness of God that we see in Psalm 66.

Heirs of great rulers often fall short of their fathers. Selim “the Sot” (the drunkard) was the heir to Suleiman the Magnificent in the Ottoman Empire. Louis the Pius, the son of Charlemagne, basically lost his father’s empire, but was spared a negative title because he supported the Church and the chroniclers writing the histories were monks.

Most of us are more like the heirs of great rulers than we are the “Great”s. We will not accomplish great things, build monuments, or write great works that will be revisited and remembered here on earth for centuries. Indeed, we may even destroy some of what the great rulers built. As Mother Teresa reminds us, most of us are not called to great things, but we can all do small things with great love. Doing great things may not lead us to fulfillment. Doing the task we are given by God well and with great love, no matter how small, will lead us to that happiness we so desire. In the end, the only title that ultimately matters is the one that we hope will precede our name: Saint.

Pope St. Gregory the Great, ora pro nobis.”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 28 – Son of Tears

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-“The Conversion of St Augustine”, Bl John of Friesole, OP, aka Fra Angelico, 1430-1435, tempera on wood, 21.8 × 34.2 cm (8.6 × 13.5 in), please click on the image to view more detail.

“If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother!”  -Mary D. McCormick, oft repeated to her children.


-by Br Augustine Marogi, OP

“Fra Angelico’s painting, The Conversion of St. Augustine, offers a great insight into the spirituality of the Doctor of Grace. At the forefront of the painting, commanding the immediate attention of the viewer, is the figure of St. Augustine sitting and weeping. The painting portrays the moment of St. Augustine’s conversion as it is described in his Confessions (book VIII, chapter 12).

In the garden of his friend’s house in Milan, after long struggles with “old attachments” that kept him from embracing the life of continence, Augustine gave way to the “storm” of tears that had been welling up inside of him, expressing his great remorse for his sinfulness, which proved to be invincible to his own strength. He wept because he felt he was the “captive” of his “sins,” and while crying, he kept repeating, “How long shall I go on saying ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?”

Augustine’s tears signify a moment of recognition as well as an articulation of “inexpressible groanings,” of sentiments that are too profound to be expressed in human words (Rm 8:26). He recognizes his ineptitude and powerlessness when dealing with the consequences of his wounded nature. This recognition makes him look for a different source of strength through which he can overcome his weaknesses. He lifts his gaze to God and discovers the mystery of grace, which alone has the power to change the hardest of hearts and heal the most festering of wounds. Tears are the beginning of the road to holiness for this hopeless sinner.

These “inexpressible groanings” communicate to God the soul’s deepest yearnings for salvation. On the one hand, these yearnings are mysterious and difficult for us to put into words. They are often tucked away or covered with the meaningless noise and clamour of our transient and worldly cares. On the other hand, the Father hears these yearnings from afar. He catches “sight” of them while they are “still a long way off” and sends the Holy Spirit, Who “comes to the aid of our weakness” by translating them into a prayer consisting of “inexpressible groanings,” which communicate to the Father our deep-seated longing for heaven (Lk 15:20, Rm 8:26). The visible sign of this communication is torrential tears, tears of repentance that wash away our past and urge us on to a new beginning.

St. Augustine’s tears were not without important parallels. To the left of Fra Angelico’s painting stands the figure of a man whose posture also denotes an emotional moment that is related to the one experienced by the main character. This figure is Alypius. At the same time of Augustine’s conversion, Alypius also experiences the voice of God in his life through a scriptural passage that he reads in the Letter to the Romans. When they both disclose to each other their desire to commit their lives to God and take up the life of celibacy, they go to Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, and inform her of their decision. In turn, Monica is overjoyed at this news because she sees her son’s commitment to the celibate life as God’s generous response to her many “prayerful tears and plaintive lamentations.”

St. Monica is very closely connected to her son’s conversion. She spent 17 years shedding tears over his waywardness, begging God for his soul. When her son embraced the Manichean heresy, she asked a Catholic bishop to speak to him and refute his errors. The bishop told her it was unwise to have that conversation with her son because he was “unripe for instructions,” and that, in time, he would discover the truth simply by reading the Manicheans’ books. This answer would not pacify the mother. She was relentless in her visits to the bishop, incessant with her tears for her son’s conversion. Finally, losing his patience, the bishop said to her, “Leave me and go in peace. It cannot be that the son of these tears should be lost.” He was correct; the son of tears discovered the Truth and offered his life to Him.

Love,
Matthew

Let your heart be an altar

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Knight_with_Son

O LORD MY GOD,
help me to be obedient without reserve,
poor without servility,
chaste without compromise,
humble without pretense,
joyful without depravity,
serious without affectation,
active without frivolity,
submissive without bitterness,
truthful without duplicity,
fruitful in good works without presumption,
quick to revive my neighbor without haughtiness,
and quick to edify others by word and example without simulation.

Grant me, O Lord,
an ever-watchful heart
that no alien thought can lure away from You;
a noble heart that no base love can sully;
an upright heart that no perverse intention can lead astray;
an invincible heart that no distress can overcome;
an unfettered heart that no impetuous desires can enchain.

O Lord my God,
also bestow upon me understanding to know You,
zeal to seek You,
wisdom to find You,
a life that is pleasing to You,
unshakable perseverance,
and a hope that will one day take hold of You.

May I do penance here below and patiently bear Your chastisements.
May I also receive the benefits of Your grace,
in order to taste Your heavenly joys and contemplate Your glory. AMEN.
St Thomas Aquinas, OP

Love,
Matthew

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).

TurnerChalk
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