Category Archives: Saints

Mar 22 – St Nicholas Owen, SJ, (d. 1606) – Martyr, Artist, Builder of Hiding Places for Priests

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Nicholas, familiarly known as “Little John,” was small in stature but big in the esteem of his fellow Jesuits.  Born at Oxford, this humble artisan saved the lives of many priests and laypersons in England during the penal times (1559-1829), when a series of statutes punished Catholics for the practice of their faith.

Over a period of about 20 years he used his skills to build secret hiding places for priests throughout the country. His work, which he did completely by himself as both architect and builder, was so good that time and time again priests in hiding were undetected by raiding parties. He was a genius at finding, and creating, places of safety: subterranean passages, small spaces between walls, impenetrable recesses. At one point he was even able to mastermind the escape of two Jesuits from the Tower of London. Whenever Nicholas set out to design such hiding places, he began by receiving the Holy Eucharist, and he would turn to God in prayer throughout the long, dangerous construction process.

Nicholas enrolled as an apprentice to the Oxford joiner William Conway on the feast of the Purification of Blessed Mary, February 2nd, 1577. He was bound in indenture and as an apprentice for a period of eight years and the papers of indenture state that he was the son of Walter Owen, citizen of Oxford, carpenter. Oxford at the time was strongly Catholic. The Statute of artificers determined that sons should follow the profession into which they were born. If he completed his apprenticeship it would have been in 1585. We know from Fr. John Gerard, SJ, a biographer of Nicholas’, that he began building hides in 1588 and continued over a period of eighteen years when he could have been earning good money satisfying the contemporary demand for well-made solid furniture.

St Henry Garnet, SJ, Jesuit Superior in England at the time, in a letter dated 1596 writes of a carpenter of singular faithfulness and skill who has traveled through almost the entire kingdom and, without charge, has made for Catholic priests hiding places where they might shelter the fury of heretical searchers. If money is offered him by way of payment he gives it to his two brothers; one of them is a priest, the other a layman in prison for his faith.

Owen was only slightly taller than a dwarf, and suffered from a hernia caused by a horse falling on him some years earlier. Nevertheless, his work often involved breaking through thick stonework; and to minimize the likelihood of betrayal he often worked at night, and always alone. The number of hiding-places he constructed will never be known. Due to the ingenuity of his craftsmanship, some may still be undiscovered.

After many years at his unusual task, he entered the Society of Jesus and served as a lay brother, although—for very good reasons—his connection with the Jesuits was kept secret. After a number of narrow escapes, he himself was finally caught in 1594. Despite protracted torture, he refused to disclose the names of other Catholics. After being released following the payment of a ransom, “Little John” went back to his work. He was arrested again in 1606. This time he was subjected to horrible tortures, suffering an agonizing death. The jailers tried suggesting that he had confessed and committed suicide, but his heroism and sufferings soon were widely known.

Why should priests need hiding places? From 1585 it was considered treason, punishable by a traitor’s death, to be found in England if a priest had been ordained abroad. Of Owen, the modern edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints says: “Perhaps no single person contributed more to the preservation of Catholic religion in England in penal times”.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in earlier centuries often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby.  The last hope for the Catholics collapsed when peace was made with Spain. They had hoped that Catholic Spain, as part of the bargain, would have secured freedom for them to practice their religion. Relief of Catholics was discussed, but James said that his Protestant subjects wouldn’t stand for it.  So there was to be no relief. In fact the screw was tightened again.

Anglican bishops were ordered to excommunicate Catholics who would not attend Anglican services – this meant that no sale or purchase by them was valid, no property  could be passed on by deed or by will.  The level of persecution was higher than ever it had been under Elizabeth.

In the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, 1605, the result of the frustration of a group of young Catholics when, after dropping hints of toleration, James I made it clear that there would be no relaxation of anti – Catholic legislation, the hunt for priests accused of complicity centered on Hindlip House. This had been provided with hiding places by Nicholas Owen which proved undetectable. He himself was there and when he emerged after four days of hiding he was arrested.

At daybreak on Monday, 20th November, 1605, Hindlip House was surrounded by 100 men. They began to rip the house to pieces.  In the dark, early on Thursday morning, two men, Owen and Bl Ralph Ashley, SJ, another lay-brother and cook, were spotted stealing along a gallery.  They said they were no longer able to conceal themselves, having had but one apple between them for four days. They would not give their names.

It was hardly likely that Nicholas Owen, of all people, would not have been better provided.  They had twice been tipped off during the previous week that a search was imminent. Possibly they hoped that in giving themselves up they would distract attention from the two priests still in hiding, Fr Garnet, SJ, and Fr Oldcorne, SJ, still hiding in Hindlip House, even to being mistaken for them.  It was a ruse that had worked before. It didn’t work now.  The search was intensified.  The priests were in a hide which had been supplied with a feeding tube from an adjoining bedroom, but the hiding place had not been designed to be lived in for a week. After 8 days they emerged, were arrested and identified. All four were taken to London.

Nicholas Owen, SJ, had been in prison before; he had been tortured before.  He was now taken to the torture room, for the first time, on the 26th of February 1606. His identity as a hide-builder seemed to have been betrayed. “We will try to get from him by coaxing, if he is willing to contract for his life, an excellent booty of priests”.  Realizing just whom they had caught, and his value, Secretary of State, Robert Cecil exulted: “It is incredible, how great was the joy caused by his arrest… knowing the great skill of Owen in constructing hiding places, and the innumerable quantity of dark holes which he had schemed for hiding priests all through England.”

On March 2nd it was announced that Nicholas Owen had committed suicide.  People were simply incredulous. It would have been impossible for one who had been tortured as he had.  The Venetian Ambassador reported home:  “Public opinion holds that Owen died of the tortures inflicted on him, which were so severe that they deprived him not only of his strength but of the power to move any part of his body”.

It seems certain that the suicide story was a fiction concocted by a Government deeply embarrassed to find itself with a corpse in its custody as a result of torture.

For those few grim days in February, writes a historian, as the Government tried to break him, the fate of almost every English Catholic lay in Owen’s hands.

In life he had saved them, in death he would too: not a single name escaped him.

In opposition to English law, which forbade the torture of a man suffering from a hernia, as he was, he was racked day after day, six hours at a time. He died under torture without betraying any secret – and he knew enough to bring down the entire network of covert Catholics in England.

“Most brutal of all was the treatment given to Nicholas Owen, better known to the recusants as Little John. Since he had a hernia caused by the strain of his work, as well as a crippled leg, he should not have been physically tortured in the first place. But Little John, unlike many of those interrogated, did have valuable information about the hiding places he had constructed; if he had talked, all too many priests would have been snared ‘like partridges in a net’. In this good cause the government was prepared to ignore the dictates of the law and the demands of common humanity. A leading Councillor, on hearing his name, was said to have exclaimed: “Is he taken that knows all the secret places? I am very glad of that. We will have a trick for him.”

The trick was the prolonged use of the manacles, an exquisitely horrible torture for one of Owen’s ruptured state. He was originally held in the milder prison of the Marshalsea, where it was hoped that other priests would try to contact him, but Little John was ‘too wise to give any advantage’ and spent his time safely and silently at prayer. In the Tower he was brought to make two confessions on 26 February and 1 March.

In the first one, he denied more or less everything. By the time of the second confession, long and ghastly sessions in the manacles produced some results (his physical condition may be judged by the fact that his stomach had to be bound together with an iron plate, and even that was not very effective for long). Little John admitted to attending Father Garnet at White Webbs and elsewhere, that he had been at Coughton during All Saints visit, and other details of his service and itinerary.  However, all of this was known already. Little John never gave up one single detail of the hiding places he had spent his adult life constructing for the safety of his co-religionists.

The lay brother died early in the morning of 2 March. He died directly as a result of his ordeal and in horrible, lingering circumstances. By popular standards of his day, this was a stage of cruelty too far. The government acknowledged this in its own way by putting out the story that Owen had ripped himself open with the knife given him to eat his meat – while his keeper was conveniently looking elsewhere – rather than face renewed bouts of torture. Yet Owen’s keeper had told a relative who wanted Owen to make a list of his needs that his prisoner’s hands were so useless that he could not even feed himself, let alone write.

The story of the suicide was so improbable that neither Owen’s enemies nor his friends, so well acquainted with his character over so many years, believed it. Suicide was a mortal sin in the Catholic Church, inviting damnation, and it was unthinkable that a convinced Catholic like Nicholas Owen should have imperiled his immortal soul in this manner.”

Father Gerard wrote of him:  “I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular.”  -Autobiography of an Elizabethan

http://www.marysdowryproductions.org/Saint_Nicholas_Owen.html
http://www.medieval-castle.com/architecture_design/medieval_priest_hole.htm

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-statue of St Nicholas Owen, SJ

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-St Nicholas Owen, SJ, being tortured in the Tower of London, 1606. Engraver Melchior Kusell“Societas Jesu ad sanguinis et vitae profusionem militans”

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-engraving, “Torture of Blessed Edward Oldcorne, SJ & St Nicholas Owen, SJ, by Gaspar Bouttats, National Portrait Gallery, London.  The Jesuit hanging from his wrists with weights tied to his feet is suffering the “Topcliffe rack”.  This method of torture was ultimately what killed Nicholas  Owen, as due to his hernia, “his bowels gushed out with his life”.

Catholic stage magicians who practice Gospel Magic, a performance type promoting Christian values and morals, consider St. Nicholas Owen the Patron of Illusionists and Escapologists due to his facility at using “trompe l’oeil”, “to deceive the eye”, when creating his hideouts and the fact that he engineered an escape from the Tower of London.  Many Catholic builders, if they are familiar with him, may say a prayer of intercession to St Nicholas Owen prior to beginning a new project.

“May the blood of these Martyrs be able to heal the great wound inflicted upon God’s Church by reason of the separation of the Anglican Church from the Catholic Church. Is it not one — these Martyrs say to us — the Church founded by Christ? Is not this their witness? Their devotion to their nation gives us the assurance that on the day when — God willing — the unity of the faith and of Christian life is restored, no offence will be inflicted on the honour and sovereignty of a great country such as England.”

–from the Homily of Pope Paul VI at the canonization of Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, including St. Nicholas Owen, SJ, 25 October 1970.

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-Saint Nicholas Owen, SJ, Felt Softie by SaintlySilver on Etsy, $19.00

Love,
Matthew

Mar 10 – St John Ogilvie, SJ, (1579-1615) – Priest, Martyr of Scotland

John Ogilvie’s noble Scottish family was partly Catholic and partly Presbyterian. His father raised him as a Calvinist, sending him to the continent to be educated. There John became interested in the popular debates going on between Catholic and Calvinist scholars.

Confused by the arguments of Catholic scholars whom he sought out, he turned to Scripture. Two texts particularly struck him: “God wills all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth,” 1 Tim 2:4, and “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you” Mt 11:28.

Slowly, rejecting Calvinist predestination, John came to see that the Catholic Church could embrace all kinds of people. Among these, he noted, he was particularly impressed with the faith of many Catholic martyrs. He decided to become Catholic and was received into the Church at Louvain, Belgium, in 1596 at the age of 17.

John continued his studies, first with the Benedictines, then as a student at the Jesuit College at Olmutz. He joined the Jesuits and for the next 10 years underwent their rigorous intellectual and spiritual training.

Ordained a priest in France in 1610, he met two Jesuits who had just returned from Scotland after suffering arrest and imprisonment. They saw little hope for any successful work there in view of the tightening of the penal laws. But a fire had been lit within John. For the next two and a half years he pleaded to be missioned there.

It was a time of great persecution of Catholicism in Scotland. “Send only those,” wrote the Earl of Angus to the Jesuit General, “who wish for this mission and are strong enough to bear the heat of the day, for they will be in exceeding danger.”

Wholesale massacres of Catholics had taken place in the past, but by this point the hunters concentrated on priests and those who attended Mass. The Jesuits were determined to minister to the oppressed Catholic laity, but when captured, they were tortured for information, then hanged, drawn, and quartered.

Having grown a beard, learned a little about horse breeding, John was sent by his superiors, and secretly entered Scotland posing as a horse trader or a soldier, named ‘John Watson’, returning from the wars in Europe.

Unable to do significant work among the relatively few Catholics in Scotland, John made his way back to Paris to consult his superiors. Rebuked for having left his assignment in Scotland, he was sent back.

He warmed to the task before him and had some success in making converts and in secretly serving Scottish Catholics. But he was soon betrayed by a false Catholic, arrested and brought before the court.

His trial dragged on until he had been without food for 26 hours. He was imprisoned and deprived of sleep for eight days and nights. For eight days and nights he was dragged around, kept awake being prodded with sharp sticks and having his hair pulled out. His legs were crushed.  His finger nails were pulled out with pliers.  Still, he refused to reveal the names of Catholics or to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the king in spiritual affairs. He underwent a second and third trial but held firm.

At his final trial he assured his judges: “In all that concerns the king, I will be slavishly obedient; if any attack his temporal power, I will shed my last drop of blood for him. But in the things of spiritual jurisdiction which a king unjustly seizes I cannot and must not obey.”  “Your threats cheer me; I mind them no more than the cackling of geese,” he told his captors. Asked if he feared to die Father John replied, “No more than you do to dine.”

After three trials he was convicted of treason for being loyal to the Pope, and denying the king’s supremacy in spiritual matters. Finally taken to the scaffold, Fr. John’s last words were “If there be here any hidden Roman Catholics, let them pray for me but the prayers of heretics I will not have”.  His final prayers were a litany of the saints in Latin and then in English.

Condemned to death as a traitor, he was faithful to the end, even when on the scaffold he was offered his freedom and a fine living if he would deny his faith. After he was pushed from the stairs and began to hang, he threw his concealed rosary beads out into the crowd. The tale is told that one of his enemies caught them and subsequently became a lifelong devout Roman Catholic.  St John Ogilvie, SJ, was hanged and disemboweled 10 March 1615 at the age of 36.

The customary beheading and quartering were omitted owing to undisguised popular sympathy, and his body was hurriedly buried in the churchyard of Glasgow cathedral, in a place reserved for criminals.  No relic of his body has survived.  His courage in prison and in his martyrdom were reported throughout Scotland.

John Ogilvie was canonized in 1976, becoming the first Scottish saint since 1250.

John came of age when neither Catholics nor Protestants were willing to tolerate one another. Turning to Scripture, he found words that enlarged his vision.

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Prayer to St John Ogilvie, SJ

God our Father, Fountain of all blessing, we thank You for the countless graces that come to us in answer to the prayers of Your saints.  With great confidence we ask You in the name of Your Son and through the prayers of St John Ogilvie, SJ to help us in all our needs.

Lord Jesus, You chose Your servant St John Ogilvie, SJ to be Your faithful witness to the spiritual authority of the chief shepherd of your flock.  Keep Your people always one in mind and heart, in communion with Benedict our Pope, and all the bishops of your Church.  May Your ordained ministers always be exemplars of Your virtue, humility, service, self-sacrifice and love as they tend Your flock.

Holy Spirit, You gave St John Ogilvie light to know Your truth,  wisdom to defend it, and courage to die for it.  Through his prayers and example bring our country into the unity and peace of Christ’s kingdom.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Feb 27 – St Anne Line (1567-1601), Wife, Mother, Martyr, Protector of Priests

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Anne Heigham was born at Dunmow (Essex), England, around 1565, the second daughter.  Her father was a strict and wealthy Calvinist.  In her teens she and her brother, William, became Catholics and were disinherited and disowned by their family.  In 1585 she married another disinherited convert, Roger Line. Her husband  and her brother were both arrested and imprisoned while attending Mass together.  They were fined and eventually banished.  This left Anne destitute.  Roger Line went to Flanders, where he received a small allowance from the King of Spain, part of which he sent regularly to his wife until his death around 1594.  To support herself, Anne taught, embroidered, made vestments and kept house for priests.

Around the same time, Father John Gerard, S.J. opened a house of refuge for hiding priests, and put the newly-widowed Anne Line in charge of it, despite her ill health. By 1597, this house had become insecure, so another was opened, and Anne Line was, again, placed in charge. On 2 February 1601, Fr. Francis Page, SJ, was saying Mass in the house managed by Anne Line, when men arrived to arrest him, having seen a large number of people congregating at the house (for Mass). The priest managed to slip into a special hiding place, prepared by her and afterwards to escape, but she was arrested, along with two other laypeople.

She was tried at the Old Bailey on 26 February 1601. She was so weak that she was carried to the trial in a chair. She told the court that she was so far from regretting having concealed a priest, she only grieved that she “could not receive a thousand more.” Sir John Popham, the judge, sentenced her to hang  the next day at Tyburn.

Anne Line was hanged on 27 February 1601. She was executed immediately before two priests, Fr. Roger Filcock, nSJ , her confessor, and Fr. Mark Barkworth, OSB, , though, as a woman, she was spared the disemboweling  that they endured. At the scaffold she repeated what she had said at her trial, declaring loudly to the bystanders: “I am sentenced to die for harbouring a Catholic priest, and so far I am from repenting for having so done, that I wish, with all my soul, that where I have entertained one, I could have entertained a thousand.”

It has been argued (by John Finnis and others) that Shakespeare’s poem The Phoenix and the Turtle (Dove) was written shortly after her death to commemorate Anne and Roger Line and that it allegorically takes the form of a Catholic requiem for the couple.  The poem is secretly a Catholic eulogy. This argument is linked to claims that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic sympathizer.  Like Shakespeare’s couple the Lines had no children.

The Phoenix and the Turtle (Dove) -by William Shakespeare

Let the bird of loudest lay,
On the sole Arabian tree,
Herald sad and trumpet be,
To whose sound chaste wings obey.

But thou, shriking harbinger,
Foul pre-currer of the fiend,
Augur of the fever’s end,
To this troop come thou not near.

From this session interdict
Every fowl of tyrant wing,
Save the eagle, feather’d king:
Keep the obsequy so strict.

Let the priest in surplice white,
That defunctive music can,
Be the death-divining swan,
Lest the requiem lack his right.

And thou, treble-dated crow,
That thy sable gender mak’st
With the breath thou giv’st and tak’st,
‘Mongst our mourners shalt thou go.

Here the anthem doth commence:
Love and constancy is dead;
Phoenix and the turtle (dove) fled
In a mutual flame from hence.

So they lov’d, as love in twain
Had the essence but in one;
Two distincts, division none:
Number there in love was slain.

Hearts remote, yet not asunder;
Distance, and no space was seen
‘Twixt the turtle (dove) and his queen;
But in them it were a wonder.

So between them love did shine,
That the turtle saw his right
Flaming in the phoenix’ sight:
Either was the other’s mine.

Property was thus appall’d,
That the self was not the same;
Single nature’s double name
Neither two nor one was call’d.

Reason, in itself confounded,
Saw division grow together;
To themselves yet either-neither,
Simple were so well compounded

That it cried how true a twain
Seemeth this concordant one!
Love hath reason, reason none
If what parts can so remain.

Whereupon it made this threne
To the phoenix and the dove,
Co-supreme and stars of love;
As chorus to their tragic scene.

THRENOS.

Beauty, truth, and rarity.
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclos’d in cinders lie.

Death is now the phoenix’ nest;
And the turtle’s loyal breast
To eternity doth rest,

Leaving no posterity:–
‘Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.

Truth may seem, but cannot be:
Beauty brag, but ’tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.

To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair;
For these dead birds sigh a prayer.

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St Anne Line Societies are being formed in parishes around the globe for both men and women to assist, support, and pray for our priests.
St Anne Line, pray for married couples.  St Anne Line, pray for c
hildless couples.  St Anne Line, Protector of Priests, pray for us!

When condemned for harboring a priest, St Anne retorted to the judge, “Pity it wasn’t a thousand!”

Love,
Matthew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Do not let your weakness make you impatient.” -St. Peter Damian

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

Prayer of St Peter Damian:

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

Love,
Matthew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prayers & reflections by St Francis de Sales

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

-from Treatise on the Love of God

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

-from Treatise on the Love of God

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be at peace.

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew

Baptism of the Lord – St John the Baptist

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“He is the lamp in the presence of the Sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the Firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of Him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of Him Who has already come and is to come again. “I ought to be baptized by you…”; we should also add: “…and for you”, for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.”

-from a Sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop

Love,
Matthew

Aug 1 – St Alphonsus Mary de Liguori, CSsR, (1696-1787), Bishop & Doctor of the Church, “Doctor Zelantissimus”, Doctor Most Zealous

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Born to the nobility, Alphonsus Liguori was a child prodigy, was extremely well-educated, and received his doctorate in law from the University of Naples at age 16. He had his own practice by age 21, and was soon one of the leading lawyers in Naples, though he never attended court without having attended Mass first.

He loved music, could play the harpsichord, and often attended the opera, though he frequently listened without bothering to watch the over-done staging. As he matured and learned more and more of the world, he liked it less and less, and finally felt a call to religious life.

As a Neapolitan lawyer, he lost a court case in a spectacular fashion, when it turned out that a key document in his case had been misinterpreted by him and in fact proved his opponent’s case instead.

He declined an arranged marriage, studied theology, and was ordained at age 29. Preacher and home missioner around Naples. Noted for his simple, clear, direct style of preaching, and his gentle, understanding way in the confessional. Writer on asceticism, theology, and history; master theologian, he was often opposed by Church officials for a perceived laxity toward sinners, and by government officials who opposed anything religious.

He founded the Redemptoristines women’s order in Scala in 1730, and founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Liguorians; Redemptorists) at Scala, Italy in 1732. The Redemptorists proved to be a quarrelsome congregation: their formal establishment had been delayed by more than a decade because of internal dissension.

Appointed bishop of Saint Agata dei Gotti by Pope Clement XIII in 1762, Liguori worked to reform the clergy and revitalize the faithful in a diocese with a bad reputation. He was afflicted with severe rheumatism, and often could barely move or raise his chin from his chest. In 1775 he resigned his see due to his health, and went into what he thought was a prayerful retirement.

In 1777 the royal government threatened to disband his Redemptorists, claiming that they were covertly carrying on the work of the Jesuits, who had been suppressed in 1773.

Calling on his knowledge of the Congregation, his background in thelogy, and his skills as a lawyer, Alphonsus defended the Redemptorists so well that they obtained the king’s approval. However, by this point Alphonsus was nearly blind, and was tricked into giving his approval to a revised Rule for the Congregation, one that suited the king and the anti-clerical government.

When Pope Pius VI saw the changes, he condemned it, and removed Alphonsus from his position as leader of the Order. The Redemptorists split into two congregations, both of whom rejected him. This caused Alphonsus a crisis in confidence and faith that took years to overcome. However, by the time of his death he had returned to faith and peace.

Alphonsus vowed early to never to waste a moment of his life, and lived that way for over 90 years. Declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1871.

When he was bishop, one of Alphonsus’s priests led a worldly life, and resisted all attempts to change. He was summoned to Alphonsus, and at the entrance to the bishop’s study he found a large crucifix laid on the threshold. When the priest hesitated to step in, Alphonsus quietly said, “Come along, and be sure to trample it underfoot. It would not be the first time you have placed Our Lord beneath your feet.”

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Novena Prayer to Saint Alphonsus Liguori

GLORIOUS Saint Alphonsus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, devoted servant of our Lord and loving child of Mary, I invoke you as a Saint in heaven. I give myself to your protection that you may always be my father, my protector, and my guide in the way of holiness and salvation. Aid me in observing the duties of my state of life. Obtain for me great purity of heart and a fervent love of the interior life after your own example.  Great lover of the Blessed Sacrament and the Passion of Jesus Christ, teach me to love Holy Mass and Holy Communion as the source of grace and holiness.  Give me a tender devotion to the Passion of my Redeemer.

Promoter of the truth of Christ in your preaching and writing, give me a greater knowledge and appreciation of the Divine truths.

Gentle father of the poor and sinners, help me to imitate your charity toward others in word and deed.

Consoler of the suffering, help me to bear my daily cross patiently in imitation of your own patience in your long and painful illness and to resign myself to the Will of God.

Good Shepherd of the flock of Christ, obtain for me the grace of being a true child of Holy Mother Church.

Saint Alphonsus, I humbly implore your powerful intercession for obtaining from the Heart of Jesus all the graces necessary for my spiritual and temporal welfare. I recommend to you in particular this favor: (Mention your request).

I have great confidence in your prayers. I earnestly trust that if it is God’s holy Will, my petition will be granted through your intercession for me at the throne of God.

Saint Alphonsus, pray for me and for those I love. I beg of you, by your love for Jesus and Mary, do not abandon us in our needs. May we experience the peace and joy of your holy death. Amen.

Prayer

HEAVENLY Father, You continually build up Your Church by the lives of Your Saints. Give us grace to follow Saint Alphonsus in his loving concern for the salvation of people and so come to share his reward in heaven. Walking in the footsteps of this devoted servant of Yours, may we be consumed with zeal for souls and attain the reward he enjoys in Your Kingdom. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Prayer of Saint Alphonsus Liguori to the Blessed Virgin

Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin! O my Mother! Thou who art the Mother of my Lord, the Queen of the world, the advocate, hope, and refuge of sinners! I, the most wretched among them, now come to thee. I worship thee, great Queen, and give thee thanks for the many favors thou hast bestowed on me in the past; most of all do I thank thee for having saved me from hell, which I had so often deserved. I love thee, Lady most worthy of all love, and, by the love which I bear thee, I promise ever in the future to serve thee, and to do what in me lies to win others to thy love. In thee I put all my trust, all my hope of salvation. Receive me as thy servant, and cover me with the mantle of thy protection, thou who art the Mother of mercy! And since thou hast so much power with God, deliver me from all temptations, or at least obtain for me the grace ever to overcome them. From thee I ask a true love of Jesus Christ, and the grace of a happy death. O my Mother! By thy love for God I beseech thee to be at all times my helper, but above all at the last moment of my life. Leave me not until thou seest me safe in heaven, there for endless ages to bless thee and sing thy praises. Such is my hope. Amen.  -Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

“When the devil wishes to make himself master of a soul, he seeks to make it give up devotion to Mary.” -St Alphonsus Maria de Liguouri

“Let us will always and ever only what God wills; for in so doing, He will press us to His heart.” -St. Alphonsus Liguori

“Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends.” -St. Alphonsus Liguori

“My beloved Jesus, Your face was beautiful before You began this journey; but, now, it no longer appears beautiful and is disfigured with wounds and blood. Alas, my soul also was once beautiful when it received Your grace in Baptism; but I have since disfigured it with my sins. You alone, My Redeemer, can restore it to its former beauty. Do this by the merits of Your Passion; and then do with me as You will.” -St. Alphonsus Liguori 

“He who trusts himself is lost. He who trusts in God can do all things.” -St. Alphonsus Liguori

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Love,
Matthew

Aug 7 – Pope St Sixtus II, d. 258 AD, Martyr


-Pope Sixte II, Sandro Botticelli, ~1480, fresco, Sistine Chapel, Vatican

Adult convert to Catholic Christianity and Pope from Aug 30, 257 to Aug 6, 258, Sixtus, who was Greek by birth, is shared with you primarily because he points to another saint, Lawrence, whom, much to your dismay :), I am sure, I will share with you in three days time.

Sixtus dealt with the controversy concerning Baptism by heretics. He believed that anyone who was baptized with a desire to be a Christian, even if the Baptism was performed by a heretic, was truly baptized into the Faith, and that the validity of that faith was based on the person’s own desire and actions to be a Christian, not the errors of the person who performed the sacrament.

While celebrating Mass at the tomb of Saint Callistus, he was arrested as part of the persecutions of Valerian. He was beheaded with six deacons and sub-deacons, and was buried in the same catacomb where he had been celebrating Mass when he was arrested.

“Where are you going, my dear father, without your son? Where are you hurrying off to, holy priest, without your deacon? Before you never mounted the altar of sacrifice without your servant, and now you wish to do it without me?”

St Lawrence, Archdeacon of Rome, to Pope St Sixtus II, 258A D, calling out to the soon to be martyred Successor of St Peter, as the Pope was being led to his execution.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ed/PopesixtusII.jpg

The tomb of Sixtus was enscribed thus, by Pope St Damasus I, whom we shall also hear about again later this month:

“At the time when the sword pierced the bowels of the Mother, I, buried here, taught as Pastor the Word of God; when suddenly the soldiers rushed in and dragged me from the chair. The faithful offered their necks to the sword, but as soon as the Pastor saw the ones who wished to rob him of the palm (of martyrdom) he was the first to offer himself and his own head, not tolerating that the (pagan) frenzy should harm the others. Christ, who gives recompense, made manifest the Pastor’s merit, preserving unharmed the flock.”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 10 – St Lawrence of Rome, 225-258 AD, Deacon & Martyr

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We know very little about his life. He is one of those whose martyrdom made a deep and lasting impression on the early Church. Celebration of his feast day spread rapidly.

He was a Roman deacon under Pope St. Sixtus II, whose demise we learned about a few days ago (Aug 7). Three days after this pope was put to death, Lawrence and four more clerics also suffered martyrdom, during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian.

A well-known legend has persisted from earliest times. As a deacon in Rome, and as you may recall from Sts Timothy & Maura, deacons, in addition to their liturgical role, also typically each were assigned some practical matter to attend to:  the discipline of the assembled congregation, keeping of books/scriptures (Timothy), or acting as treasurer for the local Church, etc..

Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church in Rome, and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, and that the Emperor sought to extort, most likely by means of torture, the wealth of the Church.  While he still had time, Lawrence gathered the wealth, liquidated it and then he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the Church money he could get his hands on, selling even the sacred vessels with which the Mass is said to increase the sum.

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The prefect of Rome imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.”

Lawrence replied that the Church was indeed rich. “I will show you a great treasure. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.” After three days Lawrence gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect of Rome arrived, Lawrence simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”

The prefect was so angry he told Lawrence that he would indeed have his wish to die—but it would be by inches. He had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered in agony for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, “I am well done on this side. Turn me over!”

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-Lawrence before Valerianus, fresco, 1447-1450, Fra Angelico, (1395-1455), Pinacoteca Vaticana

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-The shrine in Rome containing the gridiron said to have been used to grill Saint Lawrence to death

Lawrence’s remains were buried in the cemetery of Saint Cyriaca on the road to Tivoli, Italy; tomb was opened by Pelagius to inter the body of Saint Stephen the Martyr; his mummified head removed to the Quirinal Chapel; the gridiron believed to have been his deathbed is in San Lorenzo in Lucina; garments in Our Lady’s Chapel in the Lateran Palace.

According to Christian legend, the Holy Grail is a relic that was sent by St. Lawrence to his parents in Spain as part of his dispersal of the Church’s treasure. While the Holy Chalice’s exact journey through the centuries is disputed, it is generally accepted by Catholics that the Chalice was sent by his family to a monastery for preservation and veneration. Historical records indicate that this chalice has been venerated and preserved by a number of monks and monasteries through the ages. Today the Holy Grail is venerated in a special chapel in the Catholic Cathedral of Valencia, Spain, in the region of St. Lawrence’s birth and early life.

With the robe of joyfulness, alleluia,
Our Lord has this day clothed His soldier, Lawrence.
May Your faithfuls’ joyous assembly clap their hands
More cheerfully than they have before.
Today the noble martyr offered pleasing sacrifice to God,
Today he, being cruelly tested,
Endured unto the end the torment of fire;
And shrank not from offering his limbs to punishments most cruel.
Before the ruler he is summoned,
And settlement is made upon the Church’s hidden holdings.
But he is unmoved by enticing words, and is unshaken
By the torments of the ruler’s avarice.
Valerian is laughed to scorn,
And the deacon’s liberal hand,
When he is asked for payments,
Gave the gathered poor.
For he was their minister of charity,
Giving them abundance from his means.
Therefore the prefect is enraged,
And a glowing bed made ready.
The torment-bearing instrument,
The gridiron of his suffering,
Roasted his very flesh,
But he laughed it to scorn.
The martyr sweats in his agony,
In hopes of crown and recompense
Which is allotted those with faith,
Who struggle for the sake of Christ.
The court of heaven rejoices
For his warfare-waging,
For he has prevailed this day
Against the lackeys of wickedness.
That we, then, may attain the gift of life,
By this our patron, be glad, O our choir,
Singing in the church upon his feast-day
A joyful alleluia.

from the Mass of Saint Lawrence, Old Sarum Rite Missal, 1998, Saint Hilarion Press

“The fire that burned outside was less keen than that which blazed within.” – Pope St Leo the Great

Love,
Matthew

Aug 15 – St Tarcisius of Rome, Martyr, 3rd century AD, Patron of Catholic Youth & Altar Servers

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Recently, there have been several news stories involving the disrespect and desecration of the Eucharist.  Earlier this year, on July 7, 2008, a student at the University of Central Florida, Webster Cook, a student senator, took a Eucharistic host hostage after receiving communion in the student chapel on campus in protest of student fees used for religious services.  He was confronted by ushers as he attempted to leave the chapel with the Host.  He was finally convinced to return the Host.  He was censured by the entire student senate for his actions.

On July 10, 2008, a professor at the University of Minnesota-Morris, Paul Zachary Myers, pledged to desecrate the Eucharistic and asked online if someone would please send him “a frackin’ cracker!  Can anyone score me some?  I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly…and treat it with profound disrespect and cracker abuse” on his faculty page of the University’s website.

These are both truly ironic, as well as being sad, since it was the Catholic Church which invented the university system.

We speak a lot about and give high praise and regard in this country regarding tolerance of all types of differences among us, as an educated and enlightened view.  Apparently, in reality, we haven’t come that far.  On July 24, 2008, Myers made good on his pledge.  His university blog recorded “I pierced it with a rusty nail and then threw it in the trash.”  He also tore pages from the Koran. He also stated online “Nothing must be held sacred.”

As most of you know and all of you can guess, these acts are most serious and most offensive to Catholic sensibilities.  They incur excommunication “latae sententiae”, or, automatically, w/o the necessity of any judgment by an ecclesiastical court, assuming, of course, the person was Roman Catholic to begin with.  These acts are taken with the same seriousness by the Church as the following:

  • abortion
  • using violent force against the pope
  • committing a sacrilege such as throwing away a consecrated host
  • absolving a person with whom one has committed a sin against the sixth commandment (sins against chastity)
  • consecrating a bishop without a pontifical mandate
  • directly violating the seal of confession, and
  • formal apostasy, heresy or schism

Before the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there were two degrees of excommunication: vitandus (shunned, literally “to be avoided”, where the person had to be avoided by other Catholics, and in some respects the Christian commandment for faithful Catholics to “love one’s enemies, and pray for one’s persecutors” was also transcended in regards to this person, since they had known the mercy of the Lord, and by conscious act of their will, had separated themselves from the Body of Christ, rejecting it, as opposed to one who had never been baptized, never come to accept the Lord’s mercy), and toleratus (tolerated, which permitted Catholics to continue to have business and social relationships with the excommunicant).

This distinction no longer applies today, and excommunicated Catholics are still under obligation to attend Mass, even though they are barred from receiving the Eucharist or even taking active part in the liturgy (reading, bringing the offerings, etc.).  Indeed, the excommunicant is encouraged to retain some relationship with the Church, as the goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.

In the Middle Ages, formal acts of public excommunication were accompanied by a ceremony wherein a bell was tolled (as for the dead), the Book of the Gospels was closed, and a candle snuffed out – hence the idiom “to condemn with bell, book and candle.” Such public ceremonies are never held today, but exactly the same principles apply. Only in cases where a person’s excommunicable offense is very public and likely to confuse people – as in an apostate bishop ordaining new bishops in public defiance of the Church – is a person’s excommunicated status even announced, and that usually by a simple statement from a church official.

These news stories immediately brought to my mind the story of St Tarcisius, which has always been one of my favorites since I was a boy, as would be natural for a young person, given the youth of St Tarcisius.  Kelly and I facilitate pre-cana at St Tarcissus (a spelling variation) Parish here in Chicago.

Pope Damasus I (305-383 AD) wrote the following poem in the 4th century AD in praise of Tarcisius.  During the persecution of the Emporer Valerian,  (253-260 AD), whom we heard about recently as the cause of Sixtus’ & Lawrence’s demise, and whom himself, according to some accounts, met a most inauspicious fate, but that is a story for another time when you buy me a drink; but, suffice to say it became too dangerous for priests during his reign to take the Blessed Sacrament to Christian prisoners in Rome.  So, boys who served the priests during Mass at the altar volunteered for the dangerous duty, it was believed the pagans were less aware of who they were.

Par meritum, quicumque legis, cognosce duorum,
quis Damasus rector titulos post praemia reddit.
Iudaicus populus Stephanum meliora monentem
perculerat saxis, tulerat qui ex hoste tropaeum,
martyrium primus rapuit leuita fidelis.
Tarsicium sanctum Christi sacramenta gerentem
cum male sana manus premeret uulgare profanis,
ipse animam potius uoluit dimittere caesus
prodere quam canibus rabidis caelestia membra.

-Damasi Epigrammata, Maximilian Ihm, 1895, n. 14

“You who read (this), know the equal worth of the two men
For whom the leader Damasus restored the glories after the rewards.
The Jewish people beat down Stephen, teaching better things, with stones,
He who bore the victory away from the enemy first seized martyrdom, a faithful deacon.
When a crowd badly forced holy Tarsicius, carrying the healthful sacraments of Christ,
To spread (them) to  wicked people,
He wished to lose his life, murdered,
Rather than to display heavenly portions to mad dogs.”

“At Rome, on the Appian way, the passion of St. Tarcisius the acolyte,
whom pagans met carrying the sacrament of the Body of Christ
and asked him what it was he was carrying.
He deemed it a shameful thing to cast pearls before the swine,
and so was assaulted by them for a long time with clubs and stones
until he gave up the ghost.
When they turned over his body, the sacrilegious assailants could find no trace
of Christ’s Sacrament either in his hands or in his clothing.
The Christians took up the body of the martyr and buried it with honor in the cemetery of Callistus.”

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-Alexandre Falguière, (1831–1900), Tarcisius, Christian martyr, 1868, Musée d’Orsay, marble

He was originally buried in the Catacombs of San Callisto, but today his relics rest in the San Silvestro in Capite church in Rome. His feast day is celebrated on 15 August, but, since that day is occupied by the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, he is not mentioned in the General Roman Calendar, but only in the Roman Martyrology.

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-St Tarcisius  statue over his tomb.

Love,
Matthew