Category Archives: Doctors of the Church

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.”

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-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

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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

Dec 7 – St Ambrose, (340-397 AD) – Governor of Milan, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor, & Father of the Church, “The Honey-tongued Doctor”

St. Ambrose

Saint Ambrose’s life testifies to the fact that everything can change in a moment’s notice, and that God has greater plans for us than we could ever fathom for ourselves. Aurelius Ambrosius was born into Roman nobility and proceeded to receive an excellent education. By the age of 33 Ambrose was living the life every Roman dreamed of.  He was a successful lawyer and the governor of Milan. Suddenly and without warning everything would change.

In about 374 A.D. the bishop of Milan, Auxentius, died. This was a major problem because at this time Milan was full of Catholics and Arians.  Arianism was a terrible heresy which swept the early Church.  Arius (250-336 AD) was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt. He developed an exegesis of Proverbs 8:22-31 et seq, the passage beginning “The Lord created me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of old.” The passage is referring to Wisdom. Arius derived from this the notion that Christ, who is often identified as Wisdom in Proverbs, is a created creature. This is the same belief held by modern Arians, whom we know as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Arius was apparently quite a charismatic character, although his description does not quite match up to the trouble that he caused. He was born in Libya, but raised in Antioch. A contemporary, Epyphonius, described him as tall and grave, with a winning personality. He always walked about barefoot, and led an ascetic life. Despite what appears to be an unassuming personality, Arius fervently marketed his teaching. Throughout the controversy, the world was treated to Arians singing popular ditties relating their theology. One writer of the period complained that it was impossible to go to the market without having to listen to such songs, and engaging in theological dispute with the butcher, the fruit vendor and the bath attendant.  St Jerome, of prior note, lamented “The whole world woke and groaned to find itself Arian.”

The dispute tore the Christian world apart, especially in the East. In reaction, the Emperor Constantine the Great (who was born in England by the way) in 325 AD convened a great council of bishops to address the controversy. Meeting in Nicaea, 318 bishops deliberated and debated the issue. Among them was the bishop of Alexandria, named Alexander, and his young deacon, Athanasius (St Athanasius, of prior note). This council would later be recognized as the first Ecumenical Council, one of seven which would produce the dogmatic statements that are so important in Holy Tradition. The bishops produced what we now know as the Nicene Creed.

From this simple, albeit misguided, exegesis, the entire world was thrown into upheaval, which lasted for most of the fourth century.  If, as the logic goes, Christ is a creature, then He is not Divine.  Careful what you misinterpret in Scripture.  Therefore, the Incarnation did not happen and we are NOT saved.  Arians believed that Christ was not divine, and the former bishop of Milan was an Arian.

After the bishop’s death, a huge riot proceeded in the cathedral of Milan and it seemed that bloodshed was imminent. Ambrose came on the scene and gave a powerful speech for peace which resulted in the crowd’s decision that Ambrose, a catechumen who was yet to be baptized, ought to be the new bishop. St. Amborse resisted as much as he could, but he eventually gave up because he knew that he had to accept in order to keep the peace. St. Ambrose was then baptized and ordained all in the same day.

St. Ambrose then began his career as a bishop, preacher, and negotiator. Saint Ambrose sold all of his possessions and gave them to the poor and the church. He preached passionately against the Arian heresy and was educated in theology by St. Simplician. When the emperor died, the Empress Justina, an Arian, became regent for her four year old son. Maximus, a former Roman soldier, realized the emperor’s death might weaken the empire enough for his army to conquer it. Justina begged Ambrose to negotiate with him. In spite of the fact that she was his enemy, Ambrose went on a diplomatic mission that convinced Maximus not to invade.  Ambrose convinced Maximus and his armies not to invade on numerous occasions.

Here is a favorite St. Ambrose quote which certainly points to the kind of man he was:  “It is a better thing to save souls for the Lord than to save treasures. He Who sent forth His apostles without gold had not need of gold to form His Church. The Church possesses gold, not to hoard, but to scatter abroad and come to the aid of the unfortunate.”  “That which cannot be bought with gold, does not take its value from gold.”

In thanks?, Empress Justina demanded Ambrose to surrender one of the Churches of Milan to the Arians, Ambrose declared, “If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death, I will not resist; but I will never betray the church of Christ. I will not call upon the people to succour me; I will die at the foot of the altar rather than desert it. The tumult of the people I will not encourage: but God alone can appease it.”  Imperial soldiers surrounded the basilica.  In the face of arms and soldiers, Ambrose said, “My only arms are my tears. I will never depart willingly but I won’t resist by force.”

In order to calm the frightened people, Ambrose taught them to sing hymns he had composed. He split the congregation in two in order to alternate verses of the hymns. This is our first record of communal singing in church.  The music of praise and prayer seeped out through the walls of the basilica and into the hearts of the soldiers. Soon the soldiers outside joined in the singing. They did enter the church, but to pray.  The siege ended.  Ambrose’s preaching also brought eastern Emperor Theodosius to do public penance for his sins.

Ambrose was careful never to say or do anything to start violence. When Catholics seized an Arian priest and were going to put him to death, Ambrose intervened in the name of peace and prayed God suffer no blood to be shed. He sent out priests and deacons to rescue his Arian enemy.

Saint Ambrose was unsurprisingly famous for selling gold vessels of the Church in order to tend to the poor and free captives of neighboring barbarians. St. Ambrose also baptized and preached to Saint Augustine of Hippo, of prior note.

The title “Honey-tongued Doctor” was initially bestowed on Ambrose because of his speaking and preaching ability; this led to the use of a beehive and bees in his iconography, symbols which also indicate wisdom. This led to his association with bees, beekeepers, chandlers, wax refiners, etc.

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-the remains of St Ambrose (in white vestments), Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan, Italy.

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-detail from the painting ‘Emperor Theodosius Forbidden by Saint Ambrose To Enter Milan Cathedral’, Sir Anthony van Dyck, 1619-20, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London, England, 149 cm x 113 cm

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-painting of Saint Ambrose of Milan, Vatican Museum

“No one heals himself by wounding another.” – Saint Ambrose

“Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies.” – Saint Ambrose

“Know, O beautiful soul, that you are the image of God. Know that you are the glory of God.” -St. Ambrose of Milan

“But if these beings, angels, guard you, they do so because they have been summoned by your prayers.” – Saint Ambrose

“The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church’s foundation is unshakable and firm against assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress.

There is a stream which flows down on God’s saints like a torrent. There is also a rushing river giving joy to the heart that is at peace and makes for peace.

He who reads much and understands much, receives his fill. He who is full, refreshes others. So Scripture says: “If the clouds are full, they will pour rain upon the earth.”

Therefore, let your words be rivers, clean and limpid, so that you may charm the ears of people. And by the grace of your words win them over to follow your leadership. Solomon says: “The weapons of the understanding are the lips of the wise”; and in another place he says: “Let your lips be bound with wisdom.” That is, let the meaning of your words shine forth, let understanding blaze out. Let no word escape your lips in vain or be uttered without depth of meaning.” – from a letter by Saint Ambrose

“To avoid dissensions we should be ever on our guard, more especially with those who drive us to argue with them, with those who vex and irritate us, and who say things likely to excite us to anger. When we find ourselves in company with quarrelsome, eccentric individuals, people who openly and unblushingly say the most shocking things, difficult to put up with, we should take refuge in silence, and the wisest plan is not to reply to people whose behavior is so preposterous. Those who insult us and treat us contumeliously are anxious for a spiteful and sarcastic reply: the silence we then affect disheartens them, and they cannot avoid showing their vexation; they do all they can to provoke us and to elicit a reply, but the best way to baffle them is to say nothing, refuse to argue with them, and to leave them to chew the cud of their hasty anger. This method of bringing down their pride disarms them, and shows them plainly that we slight and despise them.” – Saint Ambrose, Offices

“O God, I who presume to invoke Thy Holy Name, stand in the presence of Thy Divine Majesty: have mercy upon me, a man: a sinner smeared by the foulness of inherent impurity; forgive the unworthy priest in whose hand this oblation is seen offered: Spare O Lord one polluted by sins: in faults the foremost, in comparison to all others, and do not enter into judgment with Thy servant, for no one living is justified in Thy sight. It is true that we are weighed down in the faults and desires of our flesh: remember, O Lord, that we are flesh and there is no other source of help than Thee. Yeah, in Thy sight not even those in Heaven are much more cleansed than we earthly humans, of whom, as the Prophet said of all our righteous acts: we are in comparison as unworthy as a menstrual rag. O Jesus Christ, let us live. O Thou Who dost not will the death of a sinner: grant forgiveness unto us whom Thou hast established in flesh, so that by penitential acts we may come to enjoy eternal life in the Heavens, through our Lord Jesus Christ Who reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit throughout all ages of ages. Amen. ”
-From the Lorrha (“Stowe”) Missal used by Churches of Ireland, Scotland, Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy.  Translated and Rubricated by Priest Kristopher Dowling, S.S.B.

“Lord, teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me when I seek You. For I cannot seek You unless You first teach me, nor find You unless You first reveal Yourself to me. Let me seek You in longing and long for You in seeking. Let me find You in love, and love You in finding.”
-St Ambrose of Milan, Bishop, Writer, Doctor of the Church

“Lord Jesus Christ, I approach Your banquet table in fear and trembling, for I am a sinner, and dare not rely on my own worth but only on Your goodness and mercy. I am defiled by many sins in body and soul, and by my unguarded thoughts and words.

Gracious God of majesty and awe, I seek Your protection, I look for Your healing. Poor troubled sinner that I am, I appeal to You, the fountain of all mercy. I cannot bear Your judgment, but I trust in Your salvation. Lord, I show my wounds to You and uncover my shame before You. I know my sins are many and great, and they fill me with fear, but I hope in Your mercies, for they cannot be numbered.

Lord Jesus Christ, eternal king, God and man, crucified for mankind, look upon me with mercy and hear my prayer, for I trust in You. Have mercy on me, full of sorrow and sin, for the depth of Your compassion never ends.

Praise to You, saving sacrifice, offered on the wood of the cross for me and for all mankind. Praise to the noble and precious blood, flowing from the wounds of my crucified Lord Jesus Christ and washing away the sins of the whole world. Remember, Lord, Your creature, whom You have redeemed with Your blood. I repent my sins, and I long to put right what I have done. Merciful Father, take away all my offenses and sins; purify me in body and soul, and make me worthy to taste the holy of holies.

May Your body and blood, which I intend to receive, although I am unworthy, be for me the remission of my sins, the washing away of my guilt, the end of my evil thoughts, and the rebirth of my better instincts. May it incite me to do the works pleasing to You and profitable to my health in body and soul, and be a firm defense against the wiles of my enemies.”
-Saint Ambrose of Milan, Prayer before Holy Communion

In “On the Mysteries” (De Mysteriis) [English], Chapter 2, St. Ambrose wrote,

“After this the Holy of holies was opened to you, you entered the sanctuary of regeneration; recall what you were asked, and remember what you answered. You renounced the devil and his works, the world with its luxury and pleasures. That utterance of yours is preserved not in the tombs of the dead, but in the book of the living.”

“Post haec reserata tibi sunt sancta sanctorum, ingressus es regenerationis sacrarium: repete quid interrogatus sis, recognosce quid responderis. Renuntiasti diabolo et operibus ejus, mundo et luxuriae ejus ac voluptatibus. Tenetur vox tua, non in tumulo mortuorum, sed in libro viventium.”

Love,
Matthew

Nov 15 – St Albert the Great, OP – Doctor of the Church, Doctor Universalis, “The Teacher of Everything”

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– by Br Humbert Kilanowski, OP, (Br. Humbert Kilanowski entered the Order of Preachers in 2010. He earned a doctorate in mathematics from The Ohio State University and did his undergraduate studies at Case Western Reserve University.)

“Before I entered the Dominican Order, I taught an introductory statistics class at a small college founded by Dominican Sisters in my hometown. Since the school was too small to have distinct departments for each scientific field, all of them, including mathematics, were housed in St. Albert Hall, a building named for today’s patron saint. A fitting attribution—for the thirteenth-century German Dominican friar was an expert not only in philosophy and theology, but also in several natural sciences: constructing an early greenhouse, discovering the chemical element arsenic, and developing experimental methods that would later become standard in modern science. For his integration of scientific domains and the newly-rediscovered philosophy of Aristotle with the study of divine revelation in theology, Saint Albert the Great is fittingly honored as the Doctor Universalis, the “teacher of everything.”

In today’s academic climate, however, a “teacher of everything” is hard to find. Departments and disciplines have become so specialized that lectures given on one topic are often barely understood by others in the same department, and whole conferences and journals are devoted to the narrowest of subfields. In learning to be an expert in one area, other fields are ignored, to the point that scholars in the sciences can deem theological claims to be either over their heads or not worth their attention. Without a unifying vision of all knowledge, one may even reach the conclusion that science and theology contradict each other, as seen in the debates between random evolution and intelligent design, for example. How can a seeker of truth resolve this dilemma?

One scholar, the evolutionary biologist and agnostic Stephen Jay Gould (d. 2002), proposed a solution: that of “non-overlapping magisteria.” In this model, which he described in a 1997 article, both science and religion have separate domains over which each has competency, and neither one impinges on the other. As he writes:

The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch clichés, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.

The separation of domains of teaching authority, or “magisteria” as Gould appropriates the word, seems attractive; Christians believe that God created the human race directly in His image and likeness on theological grounds, for example, and biologists hold that humanity came to be through a long evolutionary process of many random mutations on scientific grounds. The dignity of the human race as being in the image of God is primarily a moral statement, while the origin of the species is a theory based on empirical data, and the two explanations seem to fall into disparate domains.

Yet, the various magisteria do, in fact, inevitably overlap. Another evolutionary biologist, the outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, replies:

It is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science’s turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims.

In other words, if God is held to be the Creator of the universe, then He has a direct effect on all that exists (namely, He bestows existence on it), and everything studied in science, or art, or history, can be considered in relation to God. While Dawkins’ analysis limps in asserting that claims of existence are scientific, for many things exist that are not subject to natural science, he properly identifies that theology does exert an influence on science.

To investigate how these bodies of knowledge overlap and interact with each other, it helps to examine the work of St. Albert’s most prominent student, St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. He explains that theology “has no concern to prove the principles of other sciences, but only to judge of them” (ST, I, 1, 6, ad 1), and that it “can in a sense depend upon the philosophical sciences, not as though it stood in need of them, but only in order to make its teaching clearer” (ST, I, 1, 5, ad 2). To continue with the example, theology tells biology that it cannot exclude divine activity in forming the human race (especially with regard to the immaterial soul by which we reason and choose freely), while biology provides the details of how the human body was formed from the earth. Both fields, taken together, give a fuller and more robust understanding of what is to be known. By considering the relationship of theology to the other sciences, we can see how each field of study aims at the same truth according to its own method.

In this, we should follow the example of St. Albert the Great, who saw in everything that he studied the God who made it and to whom it is ultimately ordered. Surely, as Pope Leo XIII remarked, “Truth cannot contradict truth”; hence, let us join the “teacher of everything” by allowing everything we study to lead us to the contemplation of God, the Supreme Truth.”

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“I adore You, O Precious Blood of Jesus, flower of creation, fruit of virginity, ineffable instrument of the Holy Spirit, and I rejoice at the thought that You came from the drop of virginal blood on which eternal Love impressed its movement; You were assumed by the Word and deified in His person.

I am overcome with emotion when I think of Your passing from the Blessed Virgin’s heart into the heart of the Word, and, being vivified by the breath of the Divinity, becoming adorable because You became the Blood of God.

I adore You enclosed in the veins of Jesus, preserved in His humanity like the manna in the golden urn, the memorial of the eternal Redemption which He accomplished during the days of His earthly life.

I adore You, Blood of the new, eternal Testament, flowing from the veins of Jesus in Gethsemane, from the flesh torn by scourges in the Praetorium, from His pierced hands and feet and from His opened side on Golgotha. I adore You in the Sacraments, in the Eucharist, where I know You are substantially present….

I place my trust in You, O adorable Blood, our Redemption, our regeneration. Fall, drop by drop, into the hearts that have wandered from You and soften their hardness.

O adorable Blood of Jesus, wash our stains, save us from the anger of the avenging angel. Irrigate the Church; make her fruitful with Apostles and miracle-workers, enrich her with souls that are holy, pure and radiant with divine beauty.  Amen.”
-St Albert the Great, OP

Love,
Matthew