Category Archives: Doctors of the Church

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

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-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.

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-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”

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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 super-substantial 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

“Since happiness is nothing other than the enjoyment of the highest good, and since the highest good is above, no one can be happy unless he rises above himself, not by an ascent of the body, but of the heart.” — St. Bonaventure

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

Apr 29 – St Catherine of Siena, OP, (1347-1380), Seraphic Virgin, Doctor of the Church, “Lessons of Love”

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athanasius murphy
-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“‘Love does not stay idle.” – St. Catherine of Siena, Letter T82

Can we really imitate a fourteenth century saint whose life had such great austerity, who fasted with such severity? What lesson can we learn from a Church Doctor whose diet was raw vegetables, whose sleep pattern was non-existent, and whose community was called the “Sisters of Penance”?

Admittedly St. Catherine of Siena’s life was one of penance. Bl. Raymund of Capua’s biography of her makes this clear enough. But I think it’s hard to make sense of St. Catherine’s life of penance unless you’ve made sense of her life of love. Here are a few short teachings from St. Catherine on love:

Love impels us to desire. If love is the reason why we desire, then love is the reason why we live. We can’t live without love because we always want to love something. Love moves us and unites us to the thing we love in order to rest in it. When we love something we don’t just want a superficial understanding of it, but we want what it really is, and nothing keeps us away from it.

St. Catherine knew how to fast because she knew how to love. Penance was admittedly part of her life and letters, but her literature is saturated with descriptions of love. It’s perhaps the single most common word in her letters. There are many goods in this life that we desire, but the supreme good – God, who gives us divine life, beatitude, ultimate happiness – this is the ultimate end that we strive to have in love. St. Catherine knew her need for love.  She often ended her letters with the salutation “Love, love, love one another, sweet Jesus, Jesus, Love.”

Love makes room. In love we forget about ourselves and make room for another. When we fast from little goods we make room for perfect love that comes from Love himself. In doing this we can see where we have false loves – when we love ourselves or another in a way that doesn’t reflect reality. Removing a false self-love in us, God makes room within us for Himself. But us loving God more means we become more of ourselves; there is more of us present in each act of love. God makes room in the temple of ourselves until he lead us to the Incorruptible Temple of Himself.

 by Agostino Carracci
-“The Ecstasy of St Catherine”, Agostino Carracci, 1590, Baroque, oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy

Only in receiving this Divine Love could St. Catherine care for the sick and the poor and nurse plague victims the way she did. Love, not penance, was the foundation of her life:

“If, then, we made ourselves build on penance as a foundation, it might come to nothing and be so imperfect that we would seem to be deprived of God, and soon [we] would fall into weariness and bitterness…we should strive to give only a finished work to God Who is Infinite Love Who demands from us only infinite desire.” – Letter to Daniella of Orvieto

This divine love was the source of her own love towards those she cared for:

“God has loved us without being loved, but we love Him because we are loved…we cannot profit Him, nor love Him with this first love…In what way can we do this, then, since he demands it and we cannot give it to Him? I tell you…we can be useful, not to Him, which is impossible, but to our neighbor…love is gained in love by raising the eye of our mind to behold how much we are loved by God. Seeing ourselves loved, we cannot otherwise than love.” – Letter to Brother Bartolomeo Dominici

Love transforms. St. Catherine states that “love transforms one into what one loves” (Dialogue 60). In loving God, we become like the One we love. When two things are joined together, there can’t be anything between them, otherwise there wouldn’t be a complete union of them together. This is how God wants us to be with Him in love. Once we are removed from selfish love we can love God with the love with which He has first loved us. St. Catherine takes this transformative love to the highest level:

“The eternal Father said [to me], ‘If you should ask me what this soul is, I would say: she is another me, made so by the union of love.” (Dialogue 96)

By God’s love we become kneaded and knit into our Creator Who redeems us and lets us participate in His divine love.

Ultimately, St. Catherine’s love led her to a life of penance and service to her neighbor. There’s no saying it wasn’t a harsh life – she died at age 33 – but it was certainly a life lived in love. She saw all of her actions and penances tied up in the cross of Christ: a tree not of unnecessary torture and grief but a tree of love. St. Catherine wished to graft herself into that tree and so be joined to the fiery love that comes from Christ.

St. Catherine certainly had her share of penance, but I think the primary lessons she teaches us are in love. If you want a reason for St. Catherine’s penitential life, look to Christ who loved her with an infinite love. Cling to Christ as the One Who lives and Who wants to live in you.”

“Let the eye of understanding rest on the Cross always. Here you’ll discover true virtue and fall in love with it.”
–St. Catherine of Siena

“Start being brave about everything. Drive out darkness and spread light. Don’ look at your weaknesses. Realize instead that in Christ crucified you can do everything.”
-St. Catherine of Siena

“He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God. As often as I look upon the Cross, so often will I forgive with all my heart (Diary, 390).”

“No greater joy is to be found than that of loving God. Already here on earth we can taste the happiness of those in heaven by an intimate union with God, a union that is extraordinary and often quite incomprehensible to us. One can attain this very grace through simple faithfulness of soul (Diary, 507).”

“I am not counting on my own strength, but on His omnipotence for, as He gave me the grace of knowing His holy will, He will also grant me the grace of fulfilling it (Diary, 615).”

“An extraordinary peace entered my soul when I reflected on the fact that, despite great difficulties, I had always faithfully followed God’s will as I knew it. O Jesus, grant me the grace to put Your will into practice as I have come to know it, O God (Diary, 666).”

st_catherine_siena

My Nature Is Fire

In your nature, eternal Godhead,
I shall come to know my nature.
And what is my nature, boundless love?
It is fire,
because you are nothing but a fire of love.
And you have given humankind
a share in this Nature,
for by the fire of love You created us.
And so with all other people
and every created thing;
you made them out of love.
O ungrateful people!
What nature has your God given you?
His very own nature!
Are you not ashamed to cut yourself off from such a noble thing
through the guilt of deadly sin?
O eternal Trinity, my sweet love!
You, Light, give us light.
You, Wisdom, give us wisdom.
You, Supreme Strength, strengthen us.
Today, eternal God,
let our cloud be dissipated
so that we may perfectly know and follow your Truth in truth,
with a free and simple heart.
God, come to our assistance!
Lord, make haste to help us!
Amen.
-St Catherine of Siena

Love,
Matthew

Apr 4 – St Isidore of Seville, (560-636 AD), Patron of the Internet, Father & Doctor of the Church

Isidor_von_Sevilla

Even saints run away, at first.  Peter, all of them, ran away, at first.  Isidore ran away, too.  Isidore served as Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades as the classical world was fading away and the Dark Ages loomed on every side.  He is considered, “The last scholar of the ancient world”.

Once, when Isidore was a boy, he ran away from home and from school. His brother Leander, some twenty years older than he, was his teacher, and a very strict and demanding one. Isidore despaired of ever pleasing his brother in his studies.  While Isidore sat by himself out in the woods, loafing and feeling sorry for himself, he watched some drops of water falling on a rock. Then he noticed that the dripping water had worn a hole in the hard rock! The thought came to him that he could do what the little drops of water did. Little by little, by sticking to it, he could learn all his brother demanded, and maybe even more.

Isidore realized that if he kept working at his studies, his seemingly small efforts would eventually pay off in great learning. He also may have hoped that his efforts would also wear down the rock of his brother’s heart.  When he returned home, however, his brother in exasperation confined him to a cell (probably in a monastery) to complete his studies, not believing that he wouldn’t run away again.  Either there must have been a loving side to this relationship or Isidore was remarkably forgiving, even for a saint, because later he would work side by side with his brother and after Leander’s death, Isidore would complete many of the projects he began including a missal and breviary.

In a time where it’s fashionable to blame the past for our present and future problems, Isidore was able to separate the abusive way he was taught from the joy of learning. He didn’t run from learning after he left his brother but embraced education and made it his life’s work. Isidore rose above his past to become known as the greatest teacher in Spain.  His love of learning made him promote the establishment of a seminary in every diocese of Spain. He didn’t limit his own studies and didn’t want others to as well. In a unique move, he made sure that all branches of knowledge including the arts and medicine were taught in the seminaries.

His encyclopedia of knowledge, the Etymologies, was a popular textbook for nine centuries. He also wrote books on grammar, astronomy, geography, history, and biography as well as theology. When the Arabs brought study of Aristotle back to Europe, this was nothing new to Spain because Isidore’s open mind had already reintroduced the philosopher to students there.

Still trying to wear away rock with water, he helped convert the barbarian Visigoths from Arianism, which denies the divinity of Christ, to Catholicism.  By the time of his death, the light of his learning caught fire in Spanish minds and held back the Dark Ages of barbarism from Spain. But even greater than his outstanding mind must have been the genius of his heart that allowed him to see beyond rejection and discouragement to joy and possibility.  Many of his remains are interred in the cathedral of Murcia, Spain.

Estatua de SAN ISIDORO DE SEVILLA (c. 560-636) en la escalinata de acceso a la Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid). Esculpida en piedra por José Alcoverro y Amorós (1835–1910) en 1892.

-by José Alcoverro, 1892, outside the Biblioteca Nacional de España, in Madrid.

“Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading. If a man wants to be always in God’s company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us. All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned. Reading the holy Scriptures confers two benefits. It trains the mind to understand them; it turns man’s attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God. The conscientious reader will be more concerned to carry out what he has read than merely to acquire knowledge of it. In reading we aim at knowing, but we must put into practice what we have learned in our course of study. The more you devote yourself to study of the sacred utterances, the richer will be your understanding of them, just as the more the soil is tilled, the richer the harvest. The man who is slow to grasp things but who really tries hard is rewarded, equally he who does not cultivate his God-given intellectual ability is condemned for despising his gifts and sinning by sloth. Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. But when God’s grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, His word which has been received by the ear sinks deep into the heart.” – from Book of Maxims by Saint Isidore

“Heresy is from the Greek word meaning ‘choice’…. But we are not permitted to believe whatever we choose, nor to choose whatever someone else has believed. We have the Apostles of God as authorities, who did not…choose what they would believe but faithfully transmitted the teachings of Christ. So, even if an angel from heaven should preach otherwise, he shall be called anathema.” – Saint Isidore

“Indeed, just as we must love God in contemplation, so we must love our neighbor with action,” he declared. “It is therefore impossible to live without the presence of both the one and the other form of life, nor can we live without experiencing both the one and the other.” – Saint Isidore

“In confession there is mercy. Believe it firmly, do not doubt, do not hesitate, never despair of the mercy of God.” -St. Isidore of Seville

Almighty and eternal God, who created us in Thy image and bade us to seek after all that is good, true and beautiful, especially in the divine person of Thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that, through the intercession of Saint Isidore, bishop and doctor, during our journeys through the internet we will direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to Thee and treat with charity and patience all those souls whom we encounter. Through Christ our Lord. Amen

Blessed Lent!

Love,
Matthew

Mar 25 – Solemnity of the Annunciation

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“You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a Son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.


-Annunciation Triptych Merode Altarpiece, workshop of Robert Campin (Netherlandish, Tournai), 1427–32, Oil on oak, overall (open): 25 3/8 x 46 3/8 in. (64.5 x 117.8 cm), central panel: 25 1/4 x 24 7/8 in. (64.1 x 63.2 cm), each wing: 25 3/8 x 10 3/4 in. (64.5 x 27.3 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. (Please click on the image for greater detail.)

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the Desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If He should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek Him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

St Bernard of Clairveaux

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Love,
Matthew

Jan 2 – St Basil the Great, (329-379 AD), Archbishop, Father & Doctor of the Church, St Gregory Nazianzus, (330-390 AD), Bishop, Doctor of the Church, …& the Holy Spirit!!!!

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“The Mass of Saint Basil” by Pierre Subleyras (1699–1749). An altarpiece painted in 1743, and originally destined for Saint Peter’s in Rome, it is now in The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.


-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“Both St. Basil and St. Gregory were friends, both were born in the early fourth century, and both were schooled at Athens in rhetoric—a skill they taught for pay until they sold everything and entered monastic life in Pontus, Asia Minor. Both became bishops of important sees in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Basil (the Great) was the ecclesial speaker and administrator, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Theologian) was the poet and rhetorical mastermind, writing forty-five orations and over seventeen thousand lines of poetry. Along with many other theological works, both are known for their early and compelling arguments that the Holy Spirit is in fact God.

Fourth-century views on the Holy Spirit were varied. Some pagans aware of Christian doctrine called the Spirit an external mind or activity that ordered the cosmos. Some who professed Christ’s divinity still contended with the Spirit’s divinity, thinking of him as a creature, lesser in honor than the Father and Son, but still worthy of respect. These latter Basil and Gregory called the Spirit-Fighters (pneumatomachoi), against whom they dedicated the weight of their talent by defending and explaining the Church’s teaching on the Holy Spirit’s divinity.

In On the Holy Spirit, Basil argues, from the tradition of the Church and the baptismal formulation in Matthew’s Gospel, that the Holy Spirit is rightly counted with the Father and Son as God.

“What makes us Christians? “Our faith,” everyone would answer. How are we saved? Obviously through the regenerating grace of baptism. How else could we be? We are confirmed in our understanding that salvation comes through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . If we now reject what we accepted at baptism, we will be found further away from our salvation than when we first believed.” – On the Holy Spirit, 10

Basil’s point is clear: we are saved by the regenerating waters of baptism, whereby we receive grace from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a tradition that comes from Christ himself in his commission to the apostles to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).

Gregory of Nazianzus, in his fifth Theological Oration, reinforces Basil’s conclusion. Calling the Holy Spirit anything less than God only leaves us with further questions about our salvation. Man is called to worship the One who elevates and saves him, and this belongs to God alone. Since it is the Spirit in whom we worship and are baptized, failing to call the Spirit divine along with the Father and Son would detract from what belongs to God.

“Were the Spirit not to be worshipped, how could He deify me through baptism? If He is to be worshipped, why not adored? And if to be adored, how can He fail to be God?” – Oration 31.28

Basil and Gregory realized that our worship of the Holy Spirit is tied to His role in creating and saving us. Something can only act from the way it exists. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit acts in our lives as God would do (namely, by creating and saving us), that is because He is God. In fact, any significant function belonging to God is also performed by the Holy Spirit. Scripture calls the Spirit the Sanctifier Who makes us holy, the Comforter Who widens our hearts, and the Advocate sent by the Son from the Father to teach us all things. He is called the “Spirit of God,” the “Spirit of Christ,” the “Spirit of the Lord,” and just simply “Lord,” to name a few titles. These are deeds and names that correspond to a divine Person, that is, one acting according to the same divine nature as that instantiated by the Father and the Son.

To show this, Gregory of Nazianzus refers us to John’s Gospel, which recounts Christ’s telling of the Holy Spirit’s work and mission in the world: “But when the Counselor comes, Whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, Who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness to Me” (Jn 15:26).

Prior to His death and rising, Christ promised to send us the Spirit of truth from the Father. Proceeding from the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ’s saving work, just as Christ’s own divinity and earthly mission are grounded in His being begotten of the Father. Because of His place among the divine Persons of the Trinity, the Spirit is One with the Father and the Son in that same divinity. Following the words of Gregory and Basil, may we, in our worship of God, give thanks for our rebirth and re-creation in the Spirit, and may our recognition of this work of the Spirit in our lives cause us rightly to call Him divine.”

Sts Basil, John Gregory

-“The Three Holy Hierarchs” -St Basil, St John Chrysostom, & St Gregory Nazianzus, an icon of 17th cent. from Lipie, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland

“God accepts our desires as though they were of great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love Him. He accepts our petitions for benefits as though we were doing  Him a favor. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving. So let us not be apathetic in our asking, nor set too narrow bounds to our requests; nor ask for frivolous things unworthy of God’s greatness.” – Saint Gregory Nazianzen

“Let us not esteem worldly prosperity or adversity as things real or of any moment, but let us live elsewhere, and raise all our attention to Heaven; esteeming sin as the only true evil, and nothing truly good, but virtue which unites us to God.” – Saint Gregory Nazianzen

“Basil and I were both in Athens. We had come, like streams of a river, from the same source in our native land, had separated from each other in pursuit of learning, and were now united again as if by plan, for God so arranged it. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other; we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper. The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong. Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.” – from a sermon by Saint Gregory Nazianzen

“Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received – though not in its fullness – a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.” – from a sermon by Saint Gregory Nazianzen on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

“He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned water into wine, the destroyer of the bitter taste Who is sweetness and altogether desire.” -St Gregory of Nazianzus

“O sinner, be not discouraged, but have recourse to Mary in all you necessities. Call her to your assistance, for such is the divine Will that she should help in every kind of necessity.” – Saint Basil the Great

“The Lord does not say that the proof of His disciples’ faithfulness will be the working of wondrous miracles…what does He tell them? ‘You shall be known as my disciples if you love one another.'” -St. Basil the Great

“Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could.” -St. Gregory Nazianzen

“The same Lord who divided the islands from the continent by the sea bound the island Christians to the continental by love.” -St. Basil the Great

“By the command of Your only-begotten Son we communicate with the memory of your saints…by whose prayers and supplications have mercy upon us all, and deliver us for the sake of Your holy name.” – Liturgy of Saint Basil, 373AD

“The bread which you use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.” – Saint Basil

“Let us raise ourselves from our fall and not give up hope as long as we are free from sin. Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners. ‘Come, let us adore and prostrate ourselves and weep before him’ (Psalm 95:6). The Word calls us to repentance, crying out: ‘Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will refresh you’ (Matthew 11:28). There is, then, a way to salvation if we are willing to follow it” – from a letter by Saint Basil the Great

“Envy is a gnawing pain which springs from the success and prosperity of another; and this is the reason why the envious are never exempt from trouble and vexation. If an abundant harvest fills the granaries of a neighbor, if success crowns his efforts, the envious man is chagrined and sad. If one man can boast of prudence, talent, and eloquence; if another is rich, and is very liberal to the poor, if good works are praised by all around, the envious man is shocked and grieved. The envious, however, dare not speak; although envy makes them counterfeit gladness, their hearts are sore within. If you ask him what vexes him, he dare not tell the reason. It is not really the happiness of his friend that annoys him, neither is it his gaiety that makes him sad, nor is he sorry to see his friend prosper; but it is that he is persuaded that the prosperity of others is the cause of his misery. This is what the envious would be forced to acknowledge, if they spoke the truth sincerely; but because they dare not confess so shameful a sin, they, in secret, feed a sore which tortures them and eats away their rest. As the shadow ever accompanies the pedestrian when walking in the sun, so envy throws its shadow on those who are successful in the world.” – Saint Basil, from “De Individia”

“Thy fame has gone forth into all the earth, which has received thy word. Thereby thou hast taught the Faith; thou hast revealed the nature of created things; thou hast made a royal priesthood of the ordered life of men. Righteous Father Basil intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.” – troparion of Saint Basil the Great

“Thou wast an unshaken foundation of the Church and didst give to all mortals an inviolate lordship which thou didst seal with thy doctrine, O righteous Basil, revealer of the mysteries of heaven.” – kontakion of Saint Basil the Great

“O All-Transcendent God (and what other name could describe You?), what words can hymn Your praises? No word does You justice. What mind can probe Your secret? No mind can encompass You. You are alone beyond the power of speech, yet all that we speak stems from You. You are alone beyond the power of thought, yet all that we can conceive springs from You. All things proclaim You, those endowed with reason and those bereft of it. All the expectation and pain of the world coalesces in You. All things utter a prayer to You, a silent hymn composed by You. You sustain everything that exists, and all things move together to Your orders. You are the goal of all that exists. You are one and You are all, yet You are none of the things that exist – neither a part nor the whole. You can avail yourself of any name; how shall I call You, the only unnameable? All-transcendent God!” –St Gregory Nazianzus

“O God and Lord of the Powers, and Maker of all creation, Who, because of Your clemency and incomparable mercy, did send Your Only-Begotten Son and our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind, and with His venerable Cross did tear asunder the record of our sins, and thereby did conquer the rulers and powers of darkness; receive from us sinful people, O merciful Master, these prayers of gratitude and supplication, and deliver us from every destructive and gloomy transgression, and from all visible and invisible enemies who seek to injure us. Nail down our flesh with fear of You, and let not our hearts be inclined to words or thoughts of evil, but pierce our souls with Your love, that ever contemplating You, being enlightened by You, and discerning You, the unapproachable and everlasting Light, we may unceasingly render confession and gratitude to You: The eternal Father, with Thine Only-Begotten Son, and with Thine All-Holy, Gracious, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” –St Basil the Great

Love,
Matthew