Category Archives: Saints

Jul 10 – St Veronica Giuliani (1660-1727)

Veronica’s desire to be like Christ crucified was answered with the stigmata.  Baptized Ursula, she was born in Mercatello in the Duchy of Urbino, Italy, in 1660.  

We would think it sentimental today, but Veronica’s mother, as she lay dying while Veronica was still a child, would have understood it more practically, wanted divine protection for her five children after she was gone.  When dying Benedetta (nee Mancini) Guiliani, Veronica’s mother, she called her five daughters to her bedside and entrusted each of them to one of the five wounds of Jesus. Ursula (Veronica) was entrusted through prayer to the wound below Christ’s heart, created by the Roman soldier testing to see whether the Lord was actually dead yet, from which blood and water flowed.

It is said Ursula showed marvelous signs of sanctity from an early age.  It is recorded when eighteen months old, Ursula chastised a shopkeeper who was serving a false measure of oil, and said, saying distinctly, “Do justice, God sees you!”

Ursula took the religious name Veronica.  (A religious name is a new name those who enter consecrated/religious life often take to signify and symbolize their death, poetically and spiritually, to their former life and now the beginning of their new life dedicated to serving God.)  Ursula took the name Veronica, in honor of the Passion and the woman whom tradition (although not Scripture) holds wiped the face of Jesus as he carried His cross, and an image of the Lord’s face was left on her cloth.  Ursula entered the Poor Clares directed by the Capuchins at Citttidi Castello, Umbria, in 1677. She remained there for the rest of her life and served as novice mistress for thirty-four years.

Her father, Francesco, an official in the local government, had wanted her to marry, but she convinced him to allow her to become a nun. In her first years in the monastery, Veronica worked in the kitchen, infirmary, sacristy and served as portress. At the age of 34, she was made novice mistress, a position she held for 22 years. When she was 37, Veronica received the stigmata, literally, mystically – the wounds of Christ Himself – considered by Catholics a great honor and a sign of personal sanctity given by the Lord Himself to only a very few with whom He has a special relationship. Life was not the same after that.

In our modern times, Padre Pio (1887-1968) and Theresa Neumann (1898-1962) are two examples regularly inspected by modern doctors and theologians.  St Francis of Assisi is another historical example.   Dr. Imbert Gourbeyre, a Paris doctor, researched and compiled a two volume work which says that (up to that date of 1894) there were 321 historically recorded stigmatists. (Stigmata is no fluke or aberration of history.) The Catholic church had at that point only canonized (officially declared as saints) 62 of them.

As a mystic, recipient of a stigmata in 1697, and visions, the accounts of which are quite detailed, Church authorities in Rome wanted to test Veronica’s authenticity and so conducted an investigation.  We get the expression “devil’s advocate” from such investigations of the Church and the proceedings of canonizations.  A skilled and knowledgeable Church official is appointed to be the “prosecutor” in opposition to the claimant or representative (postulator of the cause) of the deceased holy person reputed to have direct Divine experience or heroic Christian virtue. Veronica lost the office of novice mistress temporarily and was not allowed to attend Mass except on Sundays or holy days. She submitted to many medical examinations and treatments of the day and the scorn of her peers.  She never tried to prove the reality of the wounds, merely suffering through their pain.

Through all of this Veronica did not become bitter, and the investigation eventually restored her as novice mistress. She impressed her fellow nuns by remaining remarkably practical despite her numerous ecstatic experiences. Veronica was named abbess of the convent in 1716, remaining in that role until her death.

She is called one of the most extraordinary mystics of her era. Veronica was very devoted to the Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart.   Her ten volume “Diary of the Passion” catalogues her mystical experiences.

St Veronica Giuliani is one of the “Incorruptibles”, those saints who have died but whose bodies have not decayed.

 
 
Love,
Matthew

Jul 13 – St Clelia Barbieri (1847-1870), Patroness of those ridiculed for their piety

Clelia Barbieri was born to Giacinta Nannetti and Giuseppe Barbieri, on February 13th, 1847 in a village called “Budrie” of San Giovanni in Persiceto, in the outskirts of Bologna, Italy.

Her parents were of very different origins: Giuseppe Barbieri came from perhaps the poorest family of “Budrie”, while Giacinta from the most important family in town. Giuseppe worked as servant for Giacinta’s uncle, the district’s medical doctor, while she was the daughter of the well-to-do Pietro Nannetti.

After their much-contested wedding, the wealthy Giacinta accepted the poverty of a laborer’s life and moved from a comfortable home to the humble cottage of her father-in-law. Giacinta taught Clelia to love God early in her life placing in her heart the desire for sanctity. One day Clelia asked her, “Mother, how can I become a saint?”

In 1855, during a cholera epidemic, the then eight-year-old Clelia lost her father and through the generosity of her uncle, the doctor, she, her mother and younger sister Ernestina moved into a more comfortable house near the parish church.

At an early age, Clelia began to spend her time in contemplative prayer.  There existed in the Church at that time a group called “The Christian Catechism Workers” who were mainly men whose aim it was to combat the prevalent religious negligence of the times.

Clelia joined the The Workers of Christian Catechism as an assistant teacher at the age of 14. She became such an inspirational leader in the community that the parish priest, Don Gaetano Guido, entrusted her with teaching and guiding young girls in Christian doctrine. By the time she was 17, she rejected marriage offers, opting instead to lead a pious life.

Clelia eventually founded a separate group, the Suore Minime dell’Addolorata (Congregation of Minims of the Sorrowful Mother) May 1st, 1868 when she was only 21. The Congregation concentrates on ministering in hospitals and elementary schools, to the sick, the aged, the lonely, and a prayer ministry for the poor.

Two years after founding the order, Clelia Barieiri died of tuberculosis on July 13th, 1870.

The religious order of Suore Minime dell’Addolorata continues to operate 35 community houses in Italy, India and Tanzania.

Being only twenty-three at the time of her death, Clelia Barbieri is the youngest founder of a religious community in the history of the Church.

After Clelia’s death, an unusual and unexplained occurrence has often been reported in the various parishes she visited and houses in which her order is located. Her voice is often heard in readings and hymns. The voice never speaks alone but is always heard as part of a group. Throughout the years, people from various backgrounds have reported hearing the voice which is described as “unlike any of this earth”. The first reported occurrence happened one year after her death when sisters of her order were in evening prayer.

Prayer for the intercession of St Clelia Barbieri:

Father, in Clelia Barbieri, You give the world an example of Gospel living, love of You, and the perfection of charity. She celebrated and manifested her love of You in the service of others.  You call us to imitate her and to follow her example.

We ask You for the grace to do so, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns forever and ever.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jun 1 – St Justin Martyr, (100-165 AD)

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All the voices around Justin clamored that they had the truth he sought so desperately. He had listened to them all since he first came to Rome to get his education. They each shouted that they held the one and only answer but he felt no closer to the truth than when he had started his studies. He had left the Stoic master behind but the Stoics valued discipline as truth and thought discussion of God unnecessary. He had rejected the Peripatetic who seemed more interested in money than discussion. The Pythagorean had rejected him because he didn’t know enough music and geometry — the things that would lead him to truth. He had found some joy with the Platonists because the contemplation of ideas gave wings to his mind, but they had promised wisdom would let him see God and so, where was God?

There was one place that Justin always escaped to in order to get away from these shouting, confusing voices and search out the quiet inner voice that led him to truth. This place was a lonely spot, a path that seemed made for him alone in a field by the sea. So sure was he of the isolation of his retreat that he was shocked one day to find an old man following him.

The old man was not searching for truth but for some of his family. Nonetheless they began a discussion in which Justin identified himself as a philologian, a lover of reason. The old man challenged him — why was he not a lover of truth, a lover of deeds. Justin told him that reason led to truth, and philosophy led to happiness. This was certainly an interesting thing for Justin to say since he had not found the truth in the study of reason or happiness in his quest among the philosophers! Perhaps the old man sensed this for he asked for Justin’s definition of philosophy and of happiness.

In the long discussion that followed, Justin spoke eloquently to the old man’s searching questions but even Justin had to admit that philosophers may talk about God but had never seen him, may discuss the soul but didn’t really know it. But if the philosophers whom Justin admired and followed couldn’t, then nobody could, right?

The old man told him about the ancient prophets, the Hebrew prophets, who had talked not of ideas but of what they had seen and heard, what they knew and experienced. And this was God. The old man ended the conversation by telling Justin to pray that the gates of light be opened to him.

Inflamed by this conversation, Justin sought out the Scriptures and came to love them. Christ words “possess a terrible power in themselves, and are sufficient to inspire those who turn aside from the path of rectitude with awe; while the sweetest rest is afforded those who make a diligent practice of them.”

Why hadn’t Justin known about Christianity before with as much as he had studied? He had heard about it, the way other pagans of second century Rome had, by the rumors and accusations that surrounded the persecution of Christians. The fearlessness of their actions made him doubt the gossip, but he had nothing else to go by. Christians at that time kept their beliefs secret. They were so afraid that outsiders would trample on their sacred faith and desecrate their mysteries that they wouldn’t tell anyone about their beliefs — even to counteract outright lies. To be honest, there was good reason for their fears — many actors for example performed obscene parodies of Christian ritual for pagan audiences, for example.

But Justin believed differently. He had been one of those outsiders — not someone looking for trouble, but someone earnestly searching for the truth. The truth had been hidden from him by this fear of theirs. And he believed there were many others like him. He exhorted them that Christians had an obligation to speak of their faith, to witness to others about their faith and their mysteries.

Justin never ended his quest for religious truth even when he converted to Christianity at the age of thirty after years of studying various pagan philosophies.

As a young man, he was principally attracted to the school of Plato. However, he found that the Christian religion answered the great questions about life and existence better than the philosophers.

Upon his conversion he continued to wear the philosopher’s mantle, and became the first Christian philosopher. He combined the Christian religion with the best elements in Greek philosophy. In his view, philosophy was a pedagogue of Christ, an educator that was to lead one to Christ.

Justin is known as an apologist, not someone who apologizes, but rather someone who defends in writing the Christian religion against the attacks and misunderstandings of the pagans. Two of his so-called apologies have come down to us; they are addressed to the Roman emperor and to the Senate.  He also opened a school of debate in Rome.  Naturally, he came to the attention of the Roman authorities.

Justin was arrested during the persecution of Emperor Marcus Aurelius along with four other Christians:  Chariton, Charites, Paeon, and Liberianus.

“The saints were seized and brought before the prefect of Rome, whose name was Rusticus. As they stood before the judgment seat, Rusticus the prefect commanded Justin, “Above all, have faith in the gods and obey the emperors.”

Justin replied, “We cannot be accused or condemned for obeying the commands of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Rusticus said, “What system of teaching do you profess?”

Justin said, “I have tried to learn about every system, but I have accepted the true doctrines of the Christians, though these are not approved by those who are held fast by error.”

The prefect Rusticus said, “Are those doctrines approved by you, wretch that you are?”

Justin said, “Yes, for I follow them with their correct teaching.”

The prefect Rusticus said, “What sort of teaching is that?”

Justin said, “Worship the God of the Christians. We hold him to be from the beginning the one creator and maker of the whole creation, of things seen and things unseen. We worship also the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Rusticus said, “You are a Christian, then?”

Justin said, “Yes, I am a Christian.”

The prefect said to Justin, “You are called a learned man and think you know what is true teaching. Listen: if you were scourged and beheaded, are you convinced that you would go up to heaven?”

Justin said, “I hope that I shall enter God’s house if I suffer in that way. For I know that God’s favor is stored up until the end of the whole world for all who have lived good lives.”

The prefect Rusticus said, “Do you have an idea that you will go up to heaven to receive some suitable rewards?”

Justin said, “It is not an idea that I have; it is something I know well and hold to be most certain.”

The prefect Rusticus said, “Now let us come to the point at issue, which is necessary and urgent. Gather round then and with one accord offer sacrifice to the gods.”

Justin said, “No one who is right-thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.”

The prefect Rusticus said, “If you do not do as you are commanded you will be tortured without mercy.”

Justin said, “We hope to suffer torment for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so be saved.” In the same way the other martyrs also said, “Do what you will. We are Christians; we do not offer sacrifice to idols.”

The prefect Rusticus pronounced sentence, saying, “Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to obey the command of the emperor be scourged and led away to suffer capital punishment according to the ruling of the laws.” Glorifying God, the holy martyrs were beheaded, and so fulfilled their witness of martyrdom in confessing their faith in their Savior.” – from the Acts of the Martyrdom of Saint Justin and his Companions

“We pray for our enemies; we seek to persuade those who hate us without cause to live conformably to the goodly precepts of Christ, that they may become partakers with us of the joyful hope of blessings from God, the Lord of all.”
―St. Justin Martyr

“By examining the tongue of a patient, physicians find out the diseases of the body, and philosophers the diseases of the mind.”
―St. Justin Martyr

“Wherein is it possible for us, wicked and impious creatures, to be justified, except in the only Son of God? O sweet reconciliation! O untraceable ministry! O unlooked-for blessing! that the wickedness of many should be hidden in one godly and righteous man, and the righteousness of one justify a host of sinners!”
―St. Justin Martyr

“No one in his right mind gives up piety for impiety.”
~ Justin Martyr, apologist, Saint; in answer to the Prefect Rusticus who had demanded sacrifice to the Roman gods; from the trial transcript by Tatian (A.D. 165).

Prayer to St Justin Martyr:
Saint Justin Martyr, pray that in our search for the Truth, God will open the gates of light for us the way He did for you and give us the wisdom no human being can give. Amen

Love,
Matthew

Jun 16 – St John Francis Regis, SJ (1597-1640)

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John Francis Regis was born in Fontcouverte, Aude, Languedoc, France, January 31, 1597.  It is reported that upon hearing instruction from his mother on the punishments of hell and the peril of damnation, the five year old John Francis fainted.

Being the son of a wealthy French merchant, he was educated at the Jesuit college at Beziers, and at Cahors, Le Puy, Auch, and Tournon.  Descartes was a contemporary of John’s, and was similarly being educated by the Jesuits in one of their other fifty or so colleges in France at the same time.  John joined the Jesuits at age 18, after briefly considering a conversion to Buddhism.  He is best known for his ability as a preacher.  He was such a good catechist, the children whom he taught brought their parents back to the Church.

He began his life’s work tending to plague victims.  He labored for the conversion of the Huguenots – French Calvinists.  He visited hospitals, sought material assistance for the poor, he created housing and employment as lace-makers for prostitutes wishing to reform their lives.  He endured many hardships.

As we all know, “no good deed goes unpunished”, and so it was with John Francis.  At one point there was a movement against him by some of his fellow Jesuits, who felt his zealous “signs of simplicity and indiscretion (in his charity)” did not best showcase their order nor follow its teachings. The bishop of the diocese where Regis was giving missions resulting in many conversions, however, recognized there was more jealousy than theology in the complaint, and ignored it. Regis asked for transfer to Canada where he could preach without worries about the politics of the Order, but he was ordered to continue his good works in the French countryside.

Another famous French saint, St John Vianney, Cure’ d’Ars & renowned confessor, Patron Saint of Priests, at the age of twenty, went on pilgrimage to the shrine and remains of St John Francis Regis in 1806.  It was the firm belief of this latter saint all his life that his vocation to the priesthood was due to the intercession of St John Francis Regis.

Knowing the end was near in late December, 1640, John Francis’ last words were, “Into Thy hands, I commend my spirit.”

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The portrait of St. John Francis Regis depicts him preaching to the French peasantry. The painting is full of symbolism, including the wampum belt, a tribal record treasured by the Iroquois. St. Regis wanted to preach and minister to the Indians and bring them to Catholicism.

Despite the fact that he never left France, Canadian Catholic Mohawk Indians, members of one of the original Five Nations of the Iroquois, founded a settlement in New York 1755 and named it St. Regis. The settlement, which straddles the St. Lawrence River, the international border between Canada and the United States, later became the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.

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Le Puy-en-Velay, altar and statue of St.Jean-François Régis, Notre-Dame du Collège Church. -Altar of St John Francis Regis

Prayer

St John Francis
You felt a burning love
You could not, nor desired to ignore
Rather you left all things
When you heard the words, “Follow Me!”

You led others
To the One you followed,
Help us to follow
The same Master
All our days.

Amen.

When St John Francis was struck in the face by a sinner whom he was reproving, he replied, “If you only knew me, you would give me much more than that.”

Love,
Matthew

Jun 7, or 19th – Venerable Matt Talbot, OFS, (1856-1925), Intercessor for Addicts

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“Non nobis, Domine!!!” -Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to Your Name give the GLORY!!!” -Ps 115:1

It is more rare to find someone who doubts the existence of Hell; Hell being so much easier to believe in. There are so many practical, real, and terrifying examples here on Earth. Matthew Talbot is an intercessor and exemplar for those who struggle with addiction: to drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, pride, power, gossip/scandal, greed, vanity, envy, wrath, narcissism, doubt, willfulness, ego, cynicism, bad habits/sins, lust, gluttony, even god, in a dark way, where actually, god is ourselves, or far worse, but that’s pretty bad enough.

Jesus resurrects from the dead, from the corruption, darkness, and silence of the tomb; Himself and us, into endless light, freshness, and rejoicing. Seek Him, while He may be found. He invites you, passionately. He does.

Matthew Talbot, “the saint in overalls”, was born on May 2, 1856, the second of 12 siblings,  in Dublin, Ireland. He had three sisters and nine brothers, three  of whom died young. His father Charles was a dockworker and his  mother, Elizabeth, was a housewife. From his early teens until age 28 Matt’s only aim in life was to be liquor. But from that point forward, his only aim was God.

Compulsory school attendance was not in force, and Matt never attended any school regularly.  When Matthew was about 12  years old, he got his first job, at E & J Burke Wine Merchants, and started to drink alcohol. His father was a known alcoholic as well as all his brothers.  Charles tried to dissuade Matthew with severe  punishments but without success.

Matthew, a regular guy if ever there was one, then worked as a messenger boy and then transferred to another messenger job at the same place his father worked. After working there for three years, he became a bricklayer’s laborer. He was a hodman, which meant he fetched mortar and bricks for the bricklayers. He was considered “the best hodman in Dublin.”

As he grew into an adult, he continued to drink excessively,  He continued to work but spent all his wages on heavy drinking.  When he got drunk, he became very hot-tempered, got into fights, and swore. He became so desperate for more drinks that he would buy drinks on credit, sell his boots or possessions, or steal people’s possession so he could exchange it for more drinks. He refused to listen to his mother’s plea to stop drinking. He stole the violin from a blind fiddler and pawned it.  He eventually lost his own self-respect. One day when he was broke, he loitered around a street corner waiting for his “friends”, who  were leaving work after they were paid their wages. He had hoped  that they would invite him for a drink but they ignored him. Dejected, humiliated, and devastated,  he went home and publicly resolved to his mother, “I’m going  to take the pledge.” His mother smiled and responded, “Go, in God’s name, but don’t take it unless you are going to keep  it.” As Matthew was leaving, she continued, “May God give you strength to keep it.”

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Matthew went straight to confession at Clonliffe College and took a pledge not to drink for three months. The next day he went back to Church and received communion for the first time in years.  From that moment on, in 1884 when he was 28 years old, he became  a new man. After he successfully fulfilled his pledge for three months, he made a life long pledge. He even made a pledge to give up his pipe and tobacco. He used to use about seven ounces of tobacco a week. He said to the late Sean T. O’Ceallaigh, former President of Ireland, that it cost him more to give up tobacco than to give up alcohol.

The newly converted Matthew never swore.  A member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Matt made sure he never carried money with him to help himself avoid temptation.   He was good humored and amicable to everyone. He continued to work as a hodman and then as a laborer for T&C Martins Lumberyard.  He used his wages to pay back all his debts. He lived modestly and his home was very spartan.  He developed into a very pious individual who prayed every chance he got. He attended Mass every morning and made devotions like the Stations of the Cross or devotions to the Blessed Mother in the evenings. He fasted, performed acts of mortification, and financially  supported many religious organizations. He read biographies of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Catherine of Siena. He later joined the Third Order of St. Francis on October  18, 1891 even though a young pious girl proposed to marry him.  Physically, he suffered from kidney and heart ailments. During the two times he was hospitalized, he spent much time in Eucharistic adoration in the hospital chapel. Eventually, Matthew died suddenly of heart failure on June 7, 1925 while walking to Mass. He was 69 years old.

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On his body, he was found wearing the cilice.  While penitential practice has fallen out of fashion, even in Catholic circles, in our modern age, these practices are ancient.  Though not popular or fun, penance is the cure for sin.  It must always be reasonably moderated and consultation with a healthy spiritual director is always wise.

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Penance changes us, allows us to reflect on our errant ways, and is a temporal preventative against a permanent disposition.  Even as the athlete trains his body and undergoes physical discomfort for the sake of future performance, so the spiritual athlete does the same.  We are creatures of body, mind, and spirit, and so the thinking goes, our engagement in spiritual reform cannot be purely intellectual.  Physical discomforts, such as fasting or abstaining from certain foods, make us mindful.  As humans, we are all too likely, it is our nature, not to pay attention.  It is hard work.

Piety also has fallen out of fashion in our modern age.  Matt knelt outside the doors of his church for hours every morning.  Once inside, he would prostrate himself on the floor in the form of a cross before entering his pew. Every Sunday, he spent seven hours in Church without moving, “his arms crossed, his elbows not resting on anything, his body from the knees up as rigid and straight as the candles on the altar.”  He did this every Sunday for 40 years.  One of his favorite little prayers, which he sometimes kept written on his hand, was “O blessed Mother, obtain for me from Jesus that I may participate in His folly.”

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-statue in Dublin honoring Venerable Matt Talbot, near Matt Talbot Bridge

“Three things I cannot escape: the eye of God, the voice  of conscience, the stroke of death. In company, guard your tongue.  In your family, guard your temper. When alone guard your thoughts.”

“Never look down on a man, who cannot give up the drink”, he told his sister, “it is easier to get out of hell!”.

“It is constancy that God seeks.”
-Venerable Matt Talbot

Prayer for the intercession of Matt Talbot:

“May Matt Talbot’s triumph over addiction, bring hope to our community and strength to our hearts, may he intercede for …name… who struggles with his/her addiction, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

PRAYER FOR THE ADDICTED

God of mercy, we bless You in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who ministers to all who come to Him. Give Your strength to N., Your servant, bound by the chains of addiction. Enfold himlher in Your love and restore himlher to the freedom of God’s children. Lord, look with compassion on all those who have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of Your unfailing mercy, and strengthen them in the work of recovery. To those who care for them, grant patient understanding and a love that perseveres. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Official Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed Matt Talbot

“Lord, in your servant, Matt Talbot you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence of the Holy Sacrament. May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Father, if it be Your will that Your beloved servant should be glorified by Your Church, make known by Your heavenly favours the power he enjoys in Your sight. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

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-Matt’s current resting place, the coffin was moved in 1972 and the remains now rest in Our Lady of Lourdes Church,
Sean MacDermott St., Dublin.

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-exhumed

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-formal inspection of the remains as official part of the beatification/canonization process

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-Matt’s original marker. He was originally buried in a poorer part of Glasnevin Cemetery.

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-inspection of Matt’s remains upon transfer

On 8 June 1925, the following news item appeared in the Irish Independent:

“Unknown Man’s Death:

An elderly man collapsed in Granby Lane [Dublin] yesterday, and being taken to Jervis Street Hospital he was found to be dead. He was wearing a tweed suit, but there was nothing to indicate who he was.

What was not reported was the unusual discovery when he was taken to hospital. He was wearing heavy chains: some wrapped around his legs, others on his body. Mortuary staff puzzled over not just who he was but, also, the meaning of the chains.

The newspaper report had appeared on a Monday morning. Later that night, police ushered a woman into the mortuary. She identified the body as that of her brother: Matt Talbot. A nursing nun present asked about the chains. The dead man’s sister replied simply that it was something he wore, and with that, they were placed in the coffin and the lid closed.

That was not the whole story though; the chains were part of the mystery of the man who had died. They were as symbolic as they were real. The man’s life having been a ‘crossing over’ from the servitude of vice to the freedom of those in chains for Christ.

Talbot was born in 1856 into a large Catholic family living in semi-poverty in Dublin. His schooling was slight. He was barely literate when he went to work full-time aged just 11 years old. For the rest of his life his occupation was as an unskilled labourer. He was exposed to harsh working conditions, at times harsh bosses and to a social environment that necessitated some form of release from this – this was found by many in the city’s public houses. Matt was no different, so much so that by his teenage years he was hopelessly addicted to alcohol.

Matt had the reputation of being a hard worker. Increasingly, however, that work ethic was simply the means to finance his ‘hard drinking’. As it grips, vice of whatever sort is hard to counter, especially when the will to oppose it diminishes, so it was with Matt Talbot – what had began as an escape soon became a prison of moral and spiritual degradation. And, the more time he spent there the more Matt needed alcohol to shield him from that reality. Those around watched and, shaking their heads, concluded that Talbot was a lost cause. But they were to be proved wrong and in a most unexpected way.

Fittingly, the second phase of Matt’s life began outside a pub. That day he had no money, and, therefore, hoped that some of his drinking fraternity would stand him a drink. As each acquaintance filed past, none offered to buy him anything. On that summer’s day in 1884, something occurred that was to change Matt Talbot forever. Humiliated by the indifference of his erstwhile friends, he turned and walked straight home. His mother was surprised to see him – at that early hour, and sober. He proceeded to clean himself up before announcing he was going to a nearby seminary to ‘take the pledge’ – a promise to abstain from all alcohol. His mother was mystified by this and fearful. She knew that pledges made to God were not something to be taken lightly. She counselled him against doing any such thing unless he was intent on persevering. He listened, and then left.

Matt did take the pledge that day. He also went to Confession. It was as dramatic as it was decisive. It had all the hallmarks of a genuine conversion, one as sincere as it was needed. Nevertheless, a conversion takes but a moment, the work of sanctity a lifetime: after years of drunkenness, still arraigned against Matt was a weakness of character and a world that revolved around alcohol. It looked as if the odds were stacked against him, but this was not solely a human undertaking. Into this ‘land of captivity’, from ‘across the Jordan’, there came invisible armies to fight alongside this now embattled soul, one embarked upon a war of liberation. This was not a new spiritual combat, but rather one that had commenced many years previously when this poor man’s parents brought a child to a parish church and asked for baptism in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

After his conversion, not much changed, outwardly at least: Matt continued with his employment in the docks. He continued to work hard, now respected more than ever by his fellow workers and employers who noticed that he had started to give his wages to his mother rather than straight to a publican. Nevertheless, work alone cannot satisfy the human heart. Previously, when not working his life had been many hours spent in public houses, but, now, he had turned his back on that. He had been ‘born anew’, but like a newborn was vulnerable to the world he inhabited. With no material substance to cling to he turned inward, to the Spirit that dwells within each baptised soul. And, as he did so, he commenced upon an adventure that few could have imagined possible.

From then on, along the Dublin streets, there moved a mystic soul. Each morning at 5AM, dressed in workman’s clothes a man knelt outside a city church waiting for the doors to open and the first Mass to begin. After the Holy Sacrifice, he would pray for a time before going to one of the timber yards near the docks. There, he laboured all day; but there were periods in the day when lulls and breaks would occur. Whilst his fellow workers gossiped or smoked, Matt chose to be alone, knelt in prayer in a hidden part of a workshop until the call came to return to his labors.

***

Each evening, when work was finished, Matt walked home with his fellow workers. They knew their companion’s free time was spent praying in some city church before the Blessed Sacrament. Often he asked them to join him in making a visit to Our Blessed Lord. Some did. After a short while, however, they would leave with Matt still knelt in the gathering twilight. Eventually, when at night he did return home it was to yet more prayer – and mortification. His bed was a plank of wood, a piece of that same material his pillow. Although respected by those he lived amongst and worked alongside, and not unfriendly, he had few visitors. Those who did encounter him felt he was not quite of this world; they were right; he was travelling ever inwards on a mystical journey to a freedom he could never have dreamt of when trapped in an alcoholic stupor.

When his belongings were found after his death, one of the surprises was the number of books he owned. Inquires soon revealed that he had slowly, but determinedly, taught himself to read and, as he did so, effectively began a course of study that included the spiritual classics, the lives of Saints, doctrinal books, and works of mystical and ascetical theology. When asked how he, a poor workman, could read the works of St. Augustine, Newman et al, his reply was as straightforward as it was telling. He said he asked the Holy Spirit to enlighten him. And so, he grew in an intellectual understanding of his faith, which in turn deepened the prayer and penance he undertook. Here was a 20th Century heir to the spiritual traditions of the ancient Irish monks, albeit one now living not on an island monastery but in the slums of Dublin, but, like those earlier contemplatives his life was work, study and prayer with eyes turned ever inward to the Holy Trinity.

Matt never married; held no position of note, was unknown outside his own small circle of family and friends – only one blurred photograph has survived him- and, yet, this was a rare man: one who had taken the Gospel at its word and lived it.

His lifetime ran alongside the then momentous events in Irish history. A time of cultural renaissance and nationalist fervour, of a Great Strike in 1913 and open revolution in 1916, of the Great War and a War for Independence, throughout it all his life remained largely unchanged. Matt knew all too well that kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, but that he had set his face to serve a different Kingdom, one shown him in 1884 when he confessed all and cast himself into the hands of the Living God.

By 1925, Matt was 69. He had been in poor health for some time. Out of necessity he tried to continue working as there was only limited relief for the poor or elderly, but his strength was failing. Nevertheless, he persisted in his prayer and penance. On 7 June 1925, whilst struggling down a Dublin alleyway on his way to Mass, he fell. A small crowd gathered around him. A Dominican priest was called from the nearby church, the one where Matt had been hurrying. The priest came and knelt over the fallen man. Realising what had happened, he lifted his hand in a blessing for the final journey. Little did he realise the dead stranger lying in front of him had already been on that ‘journey’ for over 40 years.

Having lived in the intimacy of the Triune God, it was apt Matt died on Trinity Sunday. Having lived off the Eucharist daily for more than 40 years, it was equally fitting he was buried on the feast of Corpus Christi.

Decades later, a visiting Italian priest went privately to pray at the grave of the Dublin worker he had heard so much about. In 1975, and after the due process had been completed, that same cleric, now Pope Paul VI, bestowed a new title upon that Irish workman: Venerable Matt Talbot.

There is a large trunk in the safe keeping of the Archdiocese of Dublin. It contains the books owned by Venerable Matt Talbot. A veritable treasury of spiritual theology, one of the books contained therein is True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. In its pages it reflects on being a slave to this world or to the Blessed Virgin. For those that choose the latter path it recommends, after due recourse to a spiritual director and the suitable enrolment, that a chain be worn to symbolise that that soul no longer belongs to the powers of darkness but is now a child of the light. On that June day in 1925, when Matt Talbot fell upon a Dublin street, it was dressed as a slave to Mary and as an ambassador of Christ.”

Love,
Matthew

Jun 23 – St Joseph Cafasso, Priest of the Gallows (1811-1860 AD)

St Joseph Cafasso

Born with a deformed spine, and into a wealthy peasant family; he was short in stature and crippled throughout his life.  St. Joseph Cafasso was born on the 15th of January, 1811, at Castelnuovo d’ Asti, in the Province of Piedmont about twenty miles from Turin in the north of Italy.  Even as a young man, Joseph loved to attend Mass and was known for his humility and fervor in prayer.

He was ordained a priest in 1833, at the age of twenty-two. Upon ordination he entered the college at Turin that had been established for the training of young priests. When he completed his studies after three years, he was appointed professor of moral theology in the college and soon became famous for his learning and sanctity. He was then made rector, the position he held for twenty-four years until the time of his death.  There he worked especially against the heresy of Jansenism, an excessive preoccupation with sin and damnation.

Perhaps the most noted part of his public life were the entire days that he spent in the prisons—–preaching, comforting, instructing the unfortunates detained there, and hearing their confessions.

One day he went to a prison in order to prepare the prisoners for the celebration of a feast in honor of Our Lady, and had spent a whole week instructing them and exhorting them. This he did in a large room in which there were forty-five of the most noted criminals. Almost all had promised to go to Confession on the vigil of the feast. But when the day came, none of them could make up his mind to go to Confession. Joseph renewed his invitation, recapitulated what he had said during the week, and reminded them of the promise that they had made. But, now, none of them would to go to Confession.

With a smile on his face he went over to the man who appeared to be the biggest and strongest and most robust among the prisoners, and without saying a word, he caught hold of his luxurious long beard. The man, thinking that Don Cafasso had acted through jest, said to him as courteously as could be expected, “Take anything else from me you like but leave me my beard!”

“I will not let you go until you go to Confession,” replied Don Cafasso.

“But I don’t want to go to Confession,” said the prisoner.

“You may say what you like, but you will not escape from me; I will not let you go until you have made your Confession,” said Cafasso.

“I am not prepared,” said the prisoner.

“I will prepare you,” said Cafasso.

Certainly, if the prisoner had wished, he could have freed himself from Don Cafasso’s hands with the slightest effort; but whether it was respect for the holy man’s person, or rather the fruit of the grace of God, the fact is that the man surrendered and allowed himself to be led to a corner of the room. Don Cafasso sat down on a bundle of straw and prepared his friend for Confession. But In a short time there was commotion; the strong man was so moved by Don Cafasso’s exhortation that his sighs and tears almost prevented him from telling his sins.

This prisoner then went to his companions after it was finished and told them that he had never been so happy in his life. He became so eloquent in exhorting them that he succeeded in persuading them all to go to Confession.

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“A single word from him – a look, a smile, his very presence – sufficed to dispel melancholy, drive away temptation and produce holy resolution in the soul. “
-Saint John Bosco, writing about his friend, Saint Joseph Cafasso

“We are born to love, we live to love, and we will die to love still more.”
-Saint Joseph Cafasso

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“Who is this man who in the world is called an ecclesiastic, a priest? Who is this personage whom some bless and others curse? Who is he whom the whole world talks about and criticizes, and who is the subject of discussion by all pens and all tongues? What is the significance of that name which resounds in every corner of the world? What is a priest? In order to define clearly what he is, I shall avail myself of the distinctions that Saint Bernard made concerning ecclesiastics and shall consider him in his nature, in his person, in his habits. Quid in natura, quis in persona, qualis in moribus! In his nature he is a man like others. In his person, his dignity is above that of all other men in the world. In his conduct and habits, he should be a man totally different from all others as he is by his dignity and office. These are the three points which I propose for your consideration.”
-Saint Joseph Cafasso

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Love,
Matthew

Who is going to save our Church?

“If any man should deny the Divine origin of the Roman Church, let it be known that no mere human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility could have lasted a fortnight.”
-author Hillaire Belloc (1870-1953)
“Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious.  It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church.  Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops, like bishops,  and your religious act like religious.”
-Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, before the Knights of Columbus, June 1972
“I consider all religions equal. And by equal, I mean they’re all tied for second place behind Catholicism.”
– Stephen Colbert

Jun 22 – St Thomas More, (1477-1535 AD), Martyr, Husband & Father

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-by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527

“omnium horarum homo” -a man for all seasons, referring to his wide scholarship and knowledge

Excerpts taken from “Married Saints” by John F. Link, pp 1-3; 6-15.

“…[Thomas] More is known in literary circles as one of the best authors of the Renaissance.  He was widely known as both a poet and an author…The most famous of his works was Utopia, the literary masterpiece he wrote when he was 39 years old.  Its publication opened the doors to other literary figures of his time…More hosted mainly literary figures and educators in his home; one of the things he was known for was his talents as a host.

More was born on February 7, 1477 in London, to John and Agnes More.  His mother died when he was a child and was not an influence on him.  His father, though, was.  Like his son Thomas would become, John More was a lawyer.  He attended very closely to Thomas’ personal and professional development.  Left to his own preferences, Thomas would not have become a lawyer since his preferences in school were for theology and the other liberal arts – literature, history, and philosophy.  Like many scholars of his time, he became fluent in both Latin and Greek.  In fact, he wrote Utopia in Latin for the intelligentsia of Europe.  It was translated into English after his death.

Thomas studied at Oxford from age 14 to 16, was a pre-law student in London from 16 to 18, a law student from 18-23, and admitted to the bar at 23…More also entered politics, being elected a member of Parliament at age 27 by the merchants who were his clients.  His reputation as a lawyer grew, especially his reputation for honesty and integrity.

By the time More reached his 40’s, he had become the most successful lawyer in England.  Because of his reputation for integrity and prudent judgment, both as a lawyer and as a judge, More’s law practice grew enormously and he became quite wealthy.  More’s reported income was 400 pounds sterling per year.  A substantial amount, considering ordinary people in London of that time lived on ten pounds sterling per year.

More’s career continued to spiral upward.  At age 46 he was elected Speaker of the House of Commons. At 52, Henry VIII appointed him Lord Chancellor of England, the highest appointed office in the country.

At 58, More refused to approve Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and remarriage to Anne Boleyn, as the Lord Chancellor, chief judge and legal authority of the nation, was required to do to make the divorce legal and the remarriage possible. Thomas was forced to resign, eventually imprisoned, and on July 6, 1535 was executed for treason by beheading.

More’s last prayer was the Miserere, Psalm 51:

“Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam…Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness…”

“What does it avail to know that there is a God, which you not only believe by Faith, but also know by reason: what does it avail that you know Him if you think little of Him?”
– Saint Thomas More

“Occupy your minds with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied, they cannot be.” -St. Thomas More

“Although I know well, Margaret, that because of my past wickedness I deserve to be abandoned by God, I cannot but trust in His merciful goodness. His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience.

God’s grace has given the king a gracious frame of mind toward me, so that as yet he has taken from me nothing but my liberty. In doing this His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest. I cannot, therefore, mistrust the grace of God.

By the merits of His bitter passion joined to mine and far surpassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, His bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains of purgatory and shall increase my reward in heaven besides.

I will not mistrust Him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to Him for help. And then I trust He shall place His holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.

And finally, Margaret, I know this well: that without my fault He will not let me be lost.

I shall, therefore, with good hope commit myself wholly to Him. And if He permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for His justice. But in good faith, Meg, I trust that His tender pity shall keep my poor soul safe and make me commend His mercy.

And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best. – from a letter written by Saint Thomas More from prison to his daughter Margaret

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Prayer to St Thomas More

St Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients’ tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul.

Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God’s first.

Amen.

Love,
Matthew

May 3 – Sts Timothy & Maura of Antinoe, (d. 286), Husband & Wife, Martyrs

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I love the story of Sts Timothy & Maura.  I hold a special devotion to them for Kelly & I.  Mara’s name is inspired by the story of Sts Timothy & Maura. They provide an example, firstly, of the devotion to duty, despite the circumstances, a love of Scripture, and the ability to love when we would be justified by human reason in anything but.  They provide an example for all Christians and especially those vowed in the heroic vocation of marriage, that love and forgiveness is possible no matter what, with God’s grace.  I hope and trust you will concur.  (If you’re squeamish, take my word.)

Coming from the Eastern Christian tradition, and so not usually included on the American Roman liturgical calendar, Timothy was a deacon, a lector, and a catechist of the Church in Egypt (then called Kemet) in 286 AD, during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian.

As a deacon, it was traditional that each deacon serve some particular practical function, and Timothy’s was to safeguard the scrolls on which the Scriptures were written.  He was betrayed by an enemy to the local Roman authorities as a Christian, and when the Romans learned of his unique function they demanded the Scriptures from Timothy so they could defile them.  Timothy refused saying it would be like giving up one of his children to them.  Timothy had only recently been married to Maura, a fellow Christian, and a fellow catechist in the community at Penapais.  They had only been married twenty days.

The Roman governor said to Timothy: “You see, don’t you, the instruments prepared for torture?” Timothy replied: “But don’t you see the angels of God, which are strengthening me?”

Because of Timothy’s refusal to hand over the scrolls containing the Scriptures, the Romans tortured him by inserting white hot irons into his ears, which also blinded him.  They then hung him upside down and tied a very heavy stone to his head. The cut off his eyelids.  The Romans then brought Maura in.  The Romans had put a piece of wood in Timothy’s mouth so he could not speak.  At Maura’s request, they removed the wood and Timothy incited her to give witness by her suffering.

The Romans believed any harm done to Maura on Timothy’s behalf, and for his refusal, would be far less bearable to Timothy than any pain inflicted on him directly.  Maura never encouraged Timothy to submit, rather, she encouraged him to be strong.

This enraged the Romans and they pulled all the hair from her head.  They chopped off her fingers.  And they lowered her into boiling water, making Timothy aware all the time of what was going on despite his injuries.

Finally, Timothy and Maura were each crucified at Antinoe on opposite walls facing each other.  They both lingered for nine more days, during which they encouraged one another.  They died of shock, blood loss, and dehydration.

It is reported the Roman governor, Arian, who ordered and oversaw the torture of Timothy & Maura later repented, became a Christian, and suffered martyrdom for Christ, as well.  His feast day is December 14.

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Troparion (liturgical hymn) of Sts Timothy & Maura – Tone 4

Your holy martyrs Timothy and Maura, O Lord,
Through their sufferings have received incorruptible crowns from You, our God.
For having Your strength, they laid low their adversaries,
And shattered the powerless boldness of demons.
Through their intercessions, save our souls!

Kontakion (Tone 4)

You accepted many humiliations,
And deserved to be crowned by God.
Great and praiseworthy Timothy and Maura,
Intercede with the Lord for us
That we may celebrate your most pure memory;
That He may grant peace to our land and people,
For He is a powerful stronghold for the faithful!

Love,
Matthew

Jun 3 – St Charles Lwanga, Kizito, & companions, (d. 1886), Martyrs

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-Excerpts from “My Life with the Saints”, Rev. James Martin, SJ, pp 319-323, Loyola Press, © 2006.

“Christian missionaries…arrived in the interior of Africa during the late nineteenth century…The largest and most powerful of the local ethnic groups was the Baganda…(accounts of) the Baganda were that they were among the richest and most advanced tribes in Central Africa…Yet the civilization also had a cruel side…with both rulers and subjects having the reputation of being ‘unnaturally cruel’.

Mutesa, the ruler of the Baganda, exemplified this cruel streak.  When he took the throne in 1860, to ensure his own political survival, he buried his brothers alive – all sixty of them.

Conversion to Christianity among the Baganda meant a rejection of the traditional religions…(but was tolerated under Mutesa).

With the accession of Mutesa’s son, Mwanga, to the throne, the situation altered dramatically.  Mwanga was also a practicing pedophile, and upon discovering the the young men who converted to Christianity were beginning to reject his sexual advances, he grew enraged.

In January of 1885, Mwanga had three Christians, whom he referred to as “those who pray”, dismembered and their bodies burned.  In October of the same year, the newly arrived Anglican bishop…was murdered.  Mukasa, a senior advisor to the king, reproached Mwanga for not allowing the bishop the customary opportunity to defend himself.  In response, Mwanga had Mukasa beheaded.

Mukasa’s successor, Charles Lwanga, now was in danger.  Upon witnessing Mukasa’s death, Charles, went to the Catholic mission and immediately had himself baptized along with the other catechumens.  Among those baptized was Kizito, age fourteen.

The next day Charles, Kizito, and their companions were summoned into the royal court.  Mwanga demanded all the young men confess their allegiance.  All but four of them, including Charles and Kizito, did.  Baffled by this refusal, Mwanga put off their executions until the next day.

A fire forced the royal court to relocate to a lodge on the banks of Lake Victoria. During this time, Charles protected several of the young men from Mwanga’s violent sexual advances.  Mwanga finally sentenced twenty-six Christians to be burned alive.

On June 3, Charles was wrapped tightly in a reed mat and was throne into a pyre.  Eventually, a total of forty-five Christians were burned alive.”

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-photo of Charles Lwanga, #13, please click on the image greater detail.

Prayer in Honor of Sts Charles Lwanga, Kizito, and companions

Father, you have made the blood of the martyrs the seed of Christians. May the witness of Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions and their loyalty to Christ in the face of torture, mistreatment, and cruelty inspire countless men and women to live sincerely and faithfully the Christian life.

“If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love,…if I let them take my body and burn it, but have not love, it will do me no good whatever.”  -1 Cor 13: 1,3

“Perfect love casts out fear.”
-cf 1 John 4:18

Love,
Matthew