Category Archives: September

Sep 14 – St Theodore the Studite (759-826 AD) – “Oratio in adorationem crucis”

“How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise but opens the way for our return.

This was the tree on which Christ, like a king on a chariot, destroyed the devil, the lord of death, and freed the human race from his tyranny. This was the tree upon which the Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in his hands, feet, and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature. A tree once caused our death, but now a tree brings life. Once deceived by a tree, we have now repelled the cunning serpent by a tree. What an astonishing transformation! That death should become life, that decay should become immortality, that shame should become glory! Well might the holy Apostle exclaim: Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world! [cf Galatians 6:14] The supreme wisdom that flowered on the cross has shown the folly of worldly wisdom’s pride. The knowledge of all good, which is the fruit of the cross, has cut away the shoots of wickedness.

The wonders accomplished through this tree were foreshadowed clearly even by the mere types and figures that existed in the past. Meditate on these, if you are eager to learn. Was it not the wood of a tree that enabled Noah, at God’s command, to escape the destruction of the flood together with his sons, his wife, his sons’ wives and every kind of animal? And surely the rod of Moses prefigured the cross when it changed water into blood, swallowed up the false serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians, divided the sea at one stroke and then restored the waters to their normal course, drowning the enemy and saving God’s own people? Aaron’s rod, which blossomed in one day in proof of his true priesthood, was another figure of the cross, and did not Abraham foreshadow the cross when he bound his son Isaac and placed him on the pile of wood?

By the cross, death was slain and Adam was restored to life. The cross is the glory of all the apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the sanctification of the saints. By the cross, we put on Christ and cast aside our former self. By the cross, we, the sheep of Christ, have been gathered into one flock, destined for the sheepfolds of heaven.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 8 – Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary


-“The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, by Giotto, in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy (circa 1305 AD)

I was privileged in my volunteer work with hospice to sit vigil this morning with Frederick “Fred” J. from 4am to 8am, my preferred shift. My new friend Fred is 89, an orphan, no family, and one female friend. I said my Lauds/Morning Office for him and with him this morning. I am blessed. This was the hymn for Morning Office today.

Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the Gate, Christ the Heav’nly Way!
Mary the Root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the Wheat-sheaf, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the Rose-Tree, Christ the Rose Blood-red!
Mary the Font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord;
Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son.
Both ever blest while endless ages run.

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Mary, my Mother, teach me to live hidden with you in the shadow of God.

MEDITATION

The liturgy enthusiastically celebrates Mary’s Nativity and makes it one of the most appealing feasts of Marian devotion. We sing in today’s Office: “Thy Nativity, O Virgin Mother of God, brings joy to the whole world, because from you came forth the Sun of Justice, Christ, our God.” Mary’s birth is a prelude to the birth of Jesus because it is the initial point of the realization of the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God for the salvation of mankind. How could the birthday of the Mother of the Redeemer pass unnoticed in the hearts of the redeemed? The Mother proclaims the Son, making it known that He is about to come, that the divine promises, made centuries before, are to be fulfilled. The birth of Mary is the dawn of our redemption; her appearance projects a new light over all the human race: a light of innocence, of purity, of grace, a resplendent presage of the great light which will inundate the world when Christ, “lux mundi,” the Light of the World, appears. Mary, preserved from sin in anticipation of Christ’s merits, not only announces that the Redemption is at hand, but she bears the firstfruits of it within herself; she is the first one redeemed by her divine Son. Through her, all-pure and full of grace, the Blessed Trinity at last fixes on earth a look of complacency, finding in her alone a creature in whom the infinite beauty of the Godhead can be reflected.

The birth of Jesus excepted, no other was so important in God’s eyes or so fruitful for the good of humanity, as was the birth of Mary. Yet it has remained in complete obscurity. There is no mention of it in Sacred Scriptures and when we look for the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel, we find only what refers to Joseph; we find nothing explicit about Mary’s ancestry except the allusion to her descent from David. Our Lady’s origin is wrapped in silence, as was her whole life. Thus, her birth speaks to us of humility. The more we desire to grow in God’s eyes, the more we should hide ourselves from the eyes of creatures. The more we wish to do great things for God, the more we should labor in silence and obscurity.

COLLOQUY

“When I feel myself tossed about in the sea of this world amidst storms and tempests, I keep my eyes fixed on you, O Mary, shining star, lest I be swallowed up by the waves.

“When the winds of temptation arise, when I dash against the reefs of tribulations, I raise my eyes to you and call upon you, O Mary. When I am agitated by the billows of pride, ambition, slander or jealousy, I look to you and I invoke you, O Mary; when anger or avarice or the seductions of the flesh rock the fragile little barque of my soul, I always look to you, O Mary. And if I am troubled by the enormity of my sins, troubled in conscience, frightened at the severity of judgment, and if I should feel myself engulfed in sadness or drawn into the abyss of despair, again I raise my eyes to you, always calling on you, O Mary.

“In dangers, in difficulties, in doubts, I will always think of you, O Mary, I will always call on you. May your name, O Virgin Mary, be always on my lips and never leave my heart; in order that I may obtain the help of your prayers, grant that I may never lose sight of the example of your life. Following you, O Mary, I shall not go astray, thinking of you I shall not err, if you support me I shall not fall, if you protect me I shall have nothing to fear, if you accompany me I shall not grow weary, if you look upon me with favor, I shall reach the port” (cf. St. Bernard).

Love,
Matthew

Sep 14 – Triumph of the Cross

People suffer horrific things in this life. And, as Jim Morris sang, “Nobody gets out of here alive.” I have long held, if you can explain the contradiction of the Cross, not easy, but then you do understand Christianity; counter-intuitive. It takes the worst, and represents the worst-also, this life can offer…and DESTROYS it, forever. Praise Him. Praise Him. Praise Him, Church. Praise Him. There is no Resurrection without the Cross. Horrific and horrifying, yes. Absolutely required? Without question or hesitation. Praise Him. Praise Him.


The Triumph of the Cross, ~1380, Agnolo Gaddi (1350–1396), fresco, Santa Croce, Florence (please click on the image for greater detail)


-by Br Ambrose Arralde, OP

“For many Christians, making the sign of the cross can be as mechanical as brushing one’s teeth or clearing one’s throat. On the one hand, it’s beautiful that such a simple sign can contain such profound meaning. It’s very simplicity, however, makes it easy for us to perform without giving its meaning a second thought. A good meditation on this phenomenon can be found in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter.

“But whenever we make the sign of the cross over ourselves or over anything that we want to protect with the cross, then we must remember how the cross was made sacred and what it means, and remember that with the suffering and death of the Lord, this symbol was given honor and power.”

The cross is not a symbol invented by Christians. At the time of the early Church, the cross was already a well known symbol imbued with meaning. The cross was the symbol of death and humiliation, intended to strike fear into the hearts of would-be malefactors. Every body hanging on a cross carried with it an implicit message for the passerby, “Do not cross the state, or this will be you.” The cross, however, lost its former power when it was used to kill Jesus Christ. His followers were not deterred by the threat of the cross, nor would they deny their Lord as they were being led to die his same death. One can only imagine that this must have been quite frustrating for Roman officials. But the cross no longer meant to the Christians what it still meant to the Romans. The cross had become a symbol of life because it had been defeated and shown to be powerless, similar to how the sign of surrender would later become the handing over of one’s sword.

The impotence of the cross, however, could only be revealed after it had been given free rein to do its worst, and its worst had been found wanting. Christ felt the full weight of suffering and humiliation. But the suffering, instead of breaking his mettle, became an occasion for heroic courage, and the humiliation, instead of causing him shame, became an occasion for him to despise shame itself (cf. Hebrews 12:2). It was only by dying that Christ could rise, and in losing all human glory he was exalted above every mere creature (cf. Philippians 2:8-9). It was only after Christ had emptied the cross of all the power it had once enjoyed that he could fill it with a new and greater power. “We must remember how the cross was made sacred and what it means, and remember that with the suffering and death of the Lord, this symbol was given honor and power.”

The sign of the cross has the power to strengthen us (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2157), and it is good for us to avail ourselves of it often, but it strengthens us precisely to meet the trials of life head on, rather than to keep them at bay. We are called to share in the life and glory of Christ, but only through sharing in his cross. There are still many Christians who suffer death for their faith in Christ, but we who are not so sorely tried can also show our Christian mettle by carrying our daily crosses, strengthened by the knowledge that the cross is the sign that points to the empty tomb.”

Love & glorious, inexpressibly joyful TRIUMPH in Him,
Matthew

Sep 15 – Improperia (The Reproaches), Our Lady of Sorrows

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: “This Child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
-Luke 2:34-35

And with “Woman behold your son.”  And, “Son, behold your Mother.”  cf Jn 19:26-27, Mary became our mother, and the mother of the Church.

Good Friday is a day of mourning, remembering Christ’s death, and so is not typically a day of songs and hymns. During the Veneration of the Cross, the following Antiphon and verses known as “The Reproaches” (Improperia) are sung. Individual parts are indicated by no. 1 (first choir) and no. 2 (second choir); parts sung by both choirs together are indicated by nos. 1 and 2.

The Reproaches (Improperia)

Antiphon 1 and 2:
We worship You, Lord,
we venerate Your cross,
we praise Your resurrection.
1: Through the cross
You brought joy to the world.
1: (Psalm 66:2)
May God be gracious and bless us;
and let His face shed its light upon us.

Repeat Antiphon by 1 and 2:

The Reproaches:

I.

1 and 2: My people, what have I done to you
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you out of Egypt,
from slavery to freedom,
but you led your Savior to the cross.

2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!
1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

1 and 2: For forty years I led you
safely through the desert.
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.

1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

1 and 2: What more could I have done for you.
I planted you as my fairest vine,
but you yielded only bitterness:
when I was thirsty you gave Me vinegar to drink,
and you pierced your Savior with a lance.

1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

II.

1: For your sake I scourged your captors
and their firstborn sons,
but you brought your scourges down on me.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you from slavery to freedom
and drowned your captors in the sea,
but you handed me over to your high priests.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I opened the sea before you,
but you opened my side with a spear.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud,
but you led me to Pilate’s court.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I bore you up with manna in the desert,
but you struck me down and scourged me.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I gave you saving water from the rock,
but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: For you I struck down the kings of Canaan.
but you struck my head with a reed.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I gave you a royal scepter,
but you gave me a crown of thorns.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

Love,
Matthew

Sep 14 – Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Agnolo_Gaddi_-_Discovery_of_the_True_Cross_-_WGA08367
-by Agnolo Gaddi, ca 1380, “Discovery of the True Cross”, fresco, Santa Croce, Florence, Italy, please click on the image for greater detail

albertthomasdempsey

-by Br Albert Thomas Dempsey, OP

“When the people of Israel complained against God during their wandering in the desert, God sent saraph serpents among them. It was not until Moses, at the Lord’s command, raised a serpent on a pole that all who looked upon it were cured (Num 21:6-9). The Church Fathers saw in this a prefigurement of Christ’s mounting on the cross, a promise that future generations would be saved by considering His passion and contemplating its instrument, the cross.

From this belief arose both the practice of concentrating on a crucifix when praying and today’s feast, the Exaltation of the Cross, which honors the cross’ instrumental role in the salvation of the world. Yet, if Christ’s crucifixion occurred during the Feast of Passover in the springtime, why does the Church celebrate His cross on September 14, roughly five months later? To discover the answer, one must look to the earliest centuries of Christianity.

The hostility of Jewish leaders and the persecution of Roman authorities made it difficult for Christians to frequent places associated with the life of Christ. Moreover, the province of Judea was thrust into turmoil by three revolts against Roman authority in the century following Christ’s ascension (Jerusalem was razed in 70 AD and rebuilt as a Roman city in 135 AD). Nevertheless, the Christians of the Holy Land strove to preserve orally their knowledge of the locations associated with Christ’s life. Their efforts would bear fruit two centuries later.

Born of humble parentage in the middle of the third century in Asia Minor, St. Helena married an ambitious Roman soldier named Constantius and bore him a son, Constantine, in 272 AD. Though Constantius, who eventually became emperor, cast aside his wife for a more advantageous match, his son nevertheless remained faithful to her. When Constantine himself became the first Christian emperor of Rome, he honored his mother with the title of ‘Augusta’ and converted her to Christianity. The saint took to her new religion zealously, impressing her contemporaries with her abundant virtue.

When Constantine conquered the eastern half of the Roman Empire in 323 AD, at long last, Christians in the Holy Land could worship openly. In thanksgiving for his successes, the emperor ordered a number of churches be built with public funds at Christian sites throughout the Levant.

Despite being well into her seventies, St. Helena burned with a desire to walk the ground her Savior’s feet had trodden. Shortly after the Council of Nicaea, she set out on a pilgrimage to pray for her son and grandchildren, visiting numerous churches and bishops along the way and generously aiding the needy. However, she found that some holy places had been forgotten, while others were occupied by pagan temples to discourage worship. In Jerusalem, the site of the Lord’s burial had been itself buried under a mound of earth and surmounted by a temple to Venus; St. Helena ordered the temple razed, the earth removed, and a monumental church erected on the site.

The cross, too, had been hidden by the Jews, cast into a ditch or well and covered over. Moved by the Holy Spirit, St. Helena had sought it during her pilgrimage. Upon reaching Jerusalem, she prayed that the cross might not remain hidden and, lo and behold, three crosses were found among the rubble heaped over Holy Sepulchre.

Identifying the True Cross by its inscription, St. Helena rejoiced and sent the nails to her son, one for his crown and another for his bridle, a reminder, according to St. Ambrose, that rulers must be mindful of Christ and, by His grace, curb their appetites. St. Helena and St. Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, confirmed the identity of the cross by laying it alongside the body of a dying man, who miraculously recovered.

St. Helena died shortly after returning to Rome at the age of eighty. The church she ordered constructed over the Holy Sepulchre was completed in 335 AD and dedicated on September 14, when the cross was brought outside for the veneration of the faithful. St. Helena’s discovery of the cross and the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre have been celebrated jointly from the fourth century onward.

Medieval and Renaissance depictions of religious events are often, at first glance, puzzling: Christ is shown teaching not on the shore of Galilee but along the coast of Geneva, with its mountains and gothic spires; the martyrs tormented not by Roman centurions but Italian condottierri. Surely the artists knew better! In fact, most of them did. Yet they wished to impress upon their viewers that sacred history is not mythology: the gospels and the lives of the saints describe real events that happened to real people, as real as the windmills of Holland or the towns of the Rhineland.

Similarly, today’s feast and the life of St. Helena remind us of the fullness of Christ’s Incarnation: the Lord is not merely a tale told to children, nor simply a concept bandied about by theologians. Rather, in partaking of our humanity, He shared in our particularity. He lived not once upon a time, but at that time; not somewhere, but there; and He suffered, not in the abstract, but concretely, upon a cross, the fragments of which the faithful can venerate to this day. St. Helena, pray for us that we may never forget the historicity of Christ.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 3 – GREAT!!!!

gregorythegreat

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

nicholasschneiderop

-by Br Nicholas Schneider, OP

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew

Sep 30 – St Jerome, Not Pulling Any Punches

st-jerome

Christians don’t always have to be nice.  Catholic teaching allows for the defense of self.  And the Lord excoriated the hypocritical and the self-righteous.  It is a false-piety, a deception, and a danger, a heresy, really, to believe only in Jesus-The-Warm-Fuzzy.  In the matter of Scripture, the wider availability of Scripture from the Greek and Hebrew may not have happened until MUCH later, if it were not for St Jerome!  St Jerome was not a warm fuzzy.  To accomplish what he did when he did, he couldn’t afford to be.  It wouldn’t have worked.  He didn’t worship a God Who was either.  Let’s be careful out there where our politics dictates our God, rather than the other way around.  St Jerome was never confused in this way.  He was born Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius, around the year 342 AD.

athanasius murphy
-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“St. Jerome was a fighter.

Popes, soldiers, widows, monks, archdeacons – it didn’t matter – none were safe from the sharp and nimble pen of this 4th-century resident of Bethlehem. He wrote against many who had distanced themselves from the Church by error or faulty preaching, and so he got a name for not pulling punches. His letters link phrases together like opposing storms and unshaken faith, errors and eternal bondage, heretics and doomed to perish. Granted he was fighting to defend the Faith, but did he have to be so combative?

St. Jerome was such a fighter because he believed there was something worth fighting for: brotherhood.

If you read some of his letters, you’ll notice that St. Jerome covers a variety of themes (Scripture, schism, vows of virginity, poetry, bathing habits), but in all of these he always finds a way to mention brotherhood. He is constantly mentioning his brothers, sisters, and spiritual sons and daughters as he critiques this bishop’s preaching or consoles that widow’s mourning; counsels this Roman soldier, or teases that prelate’s hygiene. Whether he spoke in jest, irritation, or anger, all he did was for the sake of fraternity.

Brotherhood for Jerome was a teaching of Christ, Who called His disciples brothers (Mt 23:8). A helpful way to look at how St. Jerome thought of brotherhood is to view it in light of another teaching of Christ: chastity, poverty, and obedience.

St. Jerome thought that brotherhood is chaste, because it’s about an undivided love. Chastity is a virtue that keeps the heart set on a real and authentic love, and real love is undeterred by false forms of friendship that lack depth in the love of God. St. Jerome spoke of brotherhood as a kind of chastity because his authentic love for others was rooted in a love for God. Chastity unites us to God with an undivided heart. So too we undividedly love our brothers by this love we have for God:

The links which bind spirit to spirit are stronger than any physical bond. For you, my reverend friend, cling to me with all your soul, and I am united to you by the love of Christ (Letter 62).

St. Jerome was the first to recognize a real love between himself and another. But if that love was lacking, he was quick to call his brother back into friendship. Even in harsh words Jerome pursued the friendship of his brother by being close to Christ: “Our only gain is that we are thus knit together in the love of Christ” (Letter 60).

Brotherhood for Jerome is also poor because it gives up everything for another. In emptying himself Christ gave everything to become our brother, and we, in our poverty, give up everything for the sake of our brothers in Christ. St. Jerome cared not a thing for his reputation or position in the world, provided that his words and gestures had the chance of calling a brother back from a straying path. Such a friendship that divests itself of all extras is a true friendship, and this is why it is priceless:

Love is not to be purchased, and affection has no price. The friendship which can cease has never been real (Letter 3).

True brotherhood is also obedient. To be obedient is to delight in another’s will, and so have a true and lasting unity with that person. Christ gives us the grace and example to be obedient to our heavenly Father. Brothers who dwell in unity first have an obedience to God that then outpours into a harmony in the Church. It’s in the heart of the Church that we strive to live in Christ with one heart and soul (Acts 4:32).

But such harmony is only possible when there is openness to truth between friends. St. Jerome held to this standard of truth when relating to others. “True friendship ought never to conceal what it thinks, and real brotherhood will leave enough room to hear the truth, even when it is difficult (Letter 81).”

While his words were at times harsh, nothing St. Jerome said was without a further purpose of drawing others close to Christ in real brotherhood. Jerome’s life gives us the example of how to knock at the door of others and offer them friendship – even to those who would consider us enemies. Christ has knocked at the door of our hearts and by grace we have consented to a divine friendship with Him. He now uses us to knock on the hearts of others to offer that same friendship:

“I have now knocked at the door of friendship: if you open it to me you will find me a frequent visitor (Letter 145).”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 29 – St Michael the Archangel, “For whom do you stand?”

Guido_Reni_031

-Guido Reni’s Michael (in Santa Maria della Concezione Church, Rome, 1636). A mosaic of the same painting decorates St. Michael’s Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica.

BrMichaelMaryWeibley-160x160
-by Br Michael Mary Weibley, OP

“St. Michael is an imposing figure. His image throughout history commands strength, power, prestige, and victory. For centuries Christians have turned to his intercession as a direct line – a 9-1-1 call if you will – in their struggles with sin. His angelic person imposes an immediate threat to temptation and all its nastiness. It’s no wonder he’s popular.

But perhaps a more important aspect of St. Michael’s lineage is the question he asks us; it’s enclosed within his very name. Translated from the Hebrew, Michael means “Who is like God?” or “Who can compare with God?” Therefore, every time we utter the name of this Archangel, we ask ourselves, or we ask others, “For whom do you stand?”

In praying to St. Michael we don’t often think in this way. It would be much easier for us in moments of temptation if we could call upon St. Michael and have him immediately fix our issues and problems. It would keep us perfectly safe; we would just rattle off a few prayers to this robust intercessor and sweep the dust under the rug. The angels in heaven would rejoice to see how quickly we become saints! The problem, however, is that this attitude – this false piety – doesn’t actually engage reality. It ignores our real maladies as we hide behind a kind of facade of religiosity. Within this mindset we would actually be dishonest with ourselves and false to what St. Michael wants to do for us.

In the Christian life God gives us many opportunities, which are a sign of His great mercy for us. Our way back to the Father, through our Savior Jesus Christ, is usually a long one, involving many deliberate good decisions along the way. These good decisions begin with the impetus of God’s grace, but they remain truly our free decisions nonetheless.

This is exactly what St. Michael does for us today. At every choice between virtue and vice, between the true good and evil, Michael’s name ought to ring in our spiritual ears. In other words, how does this decision, in this moment, accord with my Christian vocation for holiness?

At every moment St. Michael is there reminding us that no matter what may seem “good” now, it fails in comparison to the love God has in store for His faithful ones.

Think of St. Paul’s use of Isaiah 64:3: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart… God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). We love God not by mere sentimentality, but through our conscious deliberate choices. “Whoever says ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar,” says St. John (1 Jn. 2:4).

Yes, St. Michael asks us a question, and his special intercession helps to remind us of that question in moments of trial. Remember, it is St. Michael, strengthened by God, who casts out Satan, our “accuser” (Rev. 12: 7-12). Satan seeks to accuse us before God, to accuse us of failing to make good decisions. The grace of St. Michael is not only a reminder of God’s greatness, but also a reminder of Satan’s defeat. In the end, it is always God who wins.  Always.  Not us.  God.  Always.

Rather than use St. Michael as a crutch of piety – hiding behind outward religious practice – we can seek his intercession as the one who challenges us to live for God in every moment. That’s what true piety will get for us, and that’s what engages reality. St. Michael asks a question, which calls upon us to make a choice: Whom do you stand for?

Love,
Matthew

Sep 29 – Sts Michael, Gabriel, & Raphael, The Archangels of God

Saint-Michel-Gabriel-Rapha-l

The three Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are the only angels named in Sacred Scripture and all three have important roles in the history of salvation.

Saint Michael is the “Prince of the Heavenly Host,” the leader of all the angels. His name is Hebrew for “Who is like God?” and was the battle cry of the good angels against Lucifer and his followers when they rebelled against God. He is mentioned four times in the Bible, in Daniel 10 and 12, in the letter of Jude, and in Revelation.

Michael, whose forces cast down Lucifer and the evil spirits into Hell, is invoked for protection against Satan and all evil. Pope Leo XIII, in 1899, having had a prophetic vision of the evil that would be inflicted upon the Church and the world in the 20th century, instituted a prayer asking for Saint Michael’s protection to be said at the end of every Mass.

Christian tradition recognizes four offices of Saint Michael: (i) to fight against Satan (ii) to rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death. (iii) to be the champion of God’s people, (iv) to call away from earth and bring men’s souls to judgment.

“I am Gabriel, who stand before God.” (Luke 1, 19)

Saint Gabriel, whose name means “God’s strength,” is mentioned four times in the Bible. Most significant are Gabriel’s two mentions in the New Testament: to announce the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zacharias, and the at Incarnation of the Word in the womb of Mary.

Christian tradition suggests that it is he who appeared to St. Joseph and to the shepherds, and also that it was he who “strengthened” Jesus during his agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

“I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord” (Tob 12:15)

Saint Raphael, whose name means “God has healed” because of his healing of Tobias’ blindness in the Book of Tobit. Tobit is the only book in which he is mentioned. His office is generally accepted by tradition to be that of healing and acts of mercy.

Raphael is also identified with the angel in John 5:1-4 who descended upon the pond and bestowed healing powers upon it so that the first to enter it after it moved would be healed of whatever infirmity he was suffering.

Biblical scholars point to Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 as indicating the casting of Lucifer from Heaven.  God made the angels and archangels as He made man.  They are created beings, without a physical form, but just as with man, with free will.  They can choose or not to follow the commandments of God, and reap the rewards or punishments thereof their free choice.

Lucifer was cast out from heaven primarily due to his pride, my spiritual director, Rev. Robert Flack, SJ, during my eight day retreat this Summer, reminded me of this,(gulp!), and selfish desire to be like God or even surpass God’s powers and might. Lucifer is known to have been the most intelligent, most cunning, most handsome, most favored angel. But, due to pride Lucifer turned against His God and Creator, His rightful and lawful Master, and chose his own will instead, contrary to the will and commandment of God.

“Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host –
by the Divine Power of God –
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.   Amen.”

“O Glorious Prince of the heavenly host, St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle and in the terrible warfare that we are waging against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the evil spirits. Come to the aid of man, whom Almighty God created immortal, made in His own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of Satan.

“Fight this day the battle of the Lord, together with the holy angels, as already thou hast fought the leader of the proud angels, Lucifer, and his apostate host, who were powerless to resist thee, nor was there place for them any longer in Heaven. That cruel, ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with his angels. Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of men has taken courage. Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the name of God and of His Christ, to seize upon, slay and cast into eternal perdition souls destined for the crown of eternal glory. This wicked dragon pours out, as a most impure flood, the venom of his malice on men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.

“These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions. In the Holy Place itself, where the See of Holy Peter and the Chair of Truth has been set up as the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be.

“Arise then, O invincible Prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and give them the victory. They venerate thee as their protector and patron; in thee holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious power of hell; to thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude. Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly find mercy in the sight of the Lord; and vanquishing the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations. Amen.

V. Behold the Cross of the Lord; be scattered ye hostile powers.
R. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered the root of David.
V. Let Thy mercies be upon us, O Lord.
R. As we have hoped in Thee.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee.

Let us pray.
O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we call upon Thy holy Name, and as supplicants, we implore Thy clemency, that by the intercession of Mary, ever Virgin Immaculate and our Mother, and of the glorious St. Michael the Archangel, Thou wouldst deign to help us against Satan and all the other unclean spirits who wander about the world for the injury of the human race and the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 22 – St Maurice & the Martyrs of Theban Legion/Agaunum, (d.286 AD)

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-Saint Gereon of the Theban Legion and soldier companions, by Stefan Lochner, c. 1440

The members of a Roman Legion composed largely of Egyptians and serving in the army of co-Emperor Maximian (r. 286-305 AD), colleague of the famed hater of Christians, Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305 AD).

While serving in France, the legion marched to Agaunum (now St Maurice, Switzerland), where it encamped for pagan rituals. Maurice, a commander — along with Exuperius, Candidus, Innocent, Vitalis, two Victors, and the men of the legion — refused to worship pagan deities, or possibly refused to massacre the local innocent populace.

They were supposed to be pressured to obey by witnessing the beheading of some of their officers, but they refused to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods.

Reportedly, Maximian brought in another legion to slay the sixty-six hundred Christians. A basilica, St.-Maurice-en-Valais, was built from about 369-391 AD to commemorate this remarkable martyrdom.This cult is now confined to local calendars as of 1969 in the reform of the Roman liturgical calendar.  The whole world is no longer obligated to observe their liturgical celebration.

The Theban Legion (also known as the Martyrs of Agaunum) figures in Christian hagiography as an entire Roman legion — of “six thousand six hundred and sixty-six men” — who had converted en masse to Christianity and were martyred together, in 286 AD, according to the hagiographies of Saint Maurice, the chief among the Legion’s saints. Their feast day is held on September 22.

According to Eucherius of Lyon, ca. 443–450, the garrison of the Legion was the city of Thebes, Egypt. There the Legion were quartered in the East until the emperor Maximian ordered them to march to Gaul, to assist him against the rebels of Burgundy. The Theban Legion was commanded in its march by Saint Maurice (Mauritius), Candidus, Innocent, and Exuperius, all of whom are venerated as saints.

At Saint-Maurice, Switzerland, then called Agaunum, the orders were given to make sacrifice and worship the “genius/deity of the Emperor”.  Being Christian, The Theban Legion refused.  Since the Legion had refused to worship a mere man, a sinful mortal, to sacrifice to the Emperor, their punishment was to be “decimated” putting to death a tenth of its men, each time it refused the order until they complied.  Not a single man in the Theban Legion complied. Decimation was repeated until none were left.

According to a letter written about 450 AD by Eucherius, Bishop of Lyon, bodies identified as the martyrs of Agaunum were discovered by Theodore (Theodulus), the first historically identified Bishop of Octudurum, who was present at the Council of Aquileia, 381 AD and died in 391. The basilica he built in their honor attracted the pilgrim trade; its remains can still be seen, part of the abbey begun in the early sixth century on land donated by King Sigismund of Burgundy.

The earliest surviving document describing “the holy Martyrs who have made Aguanum illustrious with their blood” is the letter of Eucherius, which describes the succession of witnesses from the martyrdom to his time, a span of about 150 years. The bishop had made the journey to Agaunum himself, and his report of his visit multiplied a thousandfold the standard formula of the martyrologies:

We often hear, do we not, a particular locality or city is held in high honour because of one single martyr who died there, and quite rightly, because in each case the saint gave his precious soul to the most high God. How much more should this sacred place, Aguanum, be reverenced, where so many thousands of martyrs have been slain, with the sword, for the sake of Christ.

As with many hagiographies, Eucherius’ letter to Bishop Salvius reinforced an existing pilgrimage site. Many of the faithful were coming from diverse provinces of the empire, according to Eucherius, devoutly to honor these saints, and (important for the abbey of Aguanum) to offer presents of gold, silver and other things. He mentions many miracles, such as casting out of devils and other kinds of healing “which the power of the Lord works there every day through the intercession of his saints.”

In the late sixth century, Gregory of Tours was convinced of the miraculous powers of the Theban Legion, though he transferred the event to Cologne, where there was an early cult devoted to Maurice and the Theban Legion:

At Cologne there is a church in which the fifty men from the holy Theban Legion are said to have consummated their martyrdom for the name of Christ. And because the church, with its wonderful construction and mosaics, shines as if somehow gilded, the inhabitants prefer to call it the “Church of the Golden Saints”. Once Eberigisilus, who was at the time bishop of Cologne, was racked with severe pains in half his head. He was then in a villa near a village. Eberigisilus sent his deacon to the church of the saints. Since there was said to be in the middle of the church a pit into which the saints were thrown together after their martyrdom, the deacon collected some dust there and brought it to the bishop. As soon as the dust touched Eberigisilus’ head, immediately all pain was gone.

Saints associated with the Theban Legion include:

  • St Maurice
  • St Alexander of Bergamo
  • St Bessus
  • St Candidus
  • St Cassius and Florentius
  • St Chiaffredo (Theofredus)
  • St Constantius
  • St Defendens
  • St Exuperius (Exupernis)
  • St Felix and Regula, the patron saints of Zürich
  • St Fidelis of Como
  • St Fortunatus of Casei
  • St Gereon
  • St Magnus of Cuneo
  • St Solutor, Octavius, and Adventor
  • St Tegulus
  • St Ursus of Solothurn
  • St Victor of Xanten
  • St Victor of Solothurn
  • St Verena

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-statue of St. Viktor von Xanten

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-The Martyrdom of Maurice and the Theban Legion [c 1580-1582], by El Greco

“Emperor, we are your soldiers but also the soldiers of the true God. We owe you military service and obedience, but we cannot renounce Him who is our Creator and Master, and also yours even though you reject Him.

In all things which are not against His law, we most willingly obey you, as we have done hitherto. We readily oppose your enemies whoever they are, but we cannot stain our hands with the blood of innocent people (Christians).

We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you, you cannot place any confidence in our second oath if we violate the other (the first). You commanded us to execute Christians, behold we are such.

We confess God the Father the creator of all things and His Son Jesus Christ, God. We have seen our comrades slain with the sword, we do not weep for them but rather rejoice at their honor.

Neither this, nor any other provocation have tempted us to revolt. Behold, we have arms in our hands, but we do not resist, because we would rather die innocent than live by any sin.”

Love,
Matthew