Category Archives: September

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

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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

Sep 15 – Our Lady of Sorrows

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“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.”   -Lk 2:34-35

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-by Br Justin Mary Bolger, OP

“An old man’s cold prediction of a sword thrust through her heart; a rough journey to Egypt with her newborn; losing her boy on the road from Jerusalem to Nazareth; meeting her bloodied son on the road to Calvary; watching him die; a gratuitous lance in his side; the laying of his lifeless body in a tomb: Mary’s sorrows – at least the seven ones traditionally associated with her which the Church remembers today as the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. There were – no doubt – other sorrows. From the moment Simeon prophesied the sword, it must have lingered in her imagination. Sometimes she felt the blade pierce her, which is why these sorrows are often portrayed as seven daggers in her heart. Other times her eye caught its flash, reminding her that she would not escape unscathed from her son’s destiny. She was playing a part. This sense of looming danger must have been a source of distress for Mary.

In his book called The Lord, Romano Guardini has a chapter called “The Mother” in which he explores another sorrow: that chasm which began to yawn between mother and son upon Jesus responding to his worried parents in the temple: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). We read that Mary does not understand this response, and with good reason. A typical twelve-year-old child would run to his parents’ arms upon being lost for three days. Jesus, even at that age, is already setting out on the path his Father has for him. Despite their closeness, there is a growing gap between Mary and her son. This too must have been a source of sorrow for Mary.

But what does Mary do with these sorrows? How does she respond to pain? She does not lash out at circumstances. Nor does she run away from hardship. The encounter in the Temple is one of the occasions for Mary to ponder in her heart some experience she has. She contemplates the sorrow, just as she ponders joy in other moments in her life (Luke 2:19).

But above all Mary responds to her sorrows as a faithful disciple. She is a disciple of her Son regardless of the circumstances. In fact, Mary is the model disciple. Throughout her life she is with Christ. And she is not merely journeying with Christ because she is his natural mother. Jesus preaches that those who hear and do the word of God are blessed (Luke 8:21). No doubt Jesus had natural affection for his mother and relatives. But to be a true disciple is another order of blessedness. And Mary becomes the exemplar disciple, for, hearing and doing the Word of God, she bears the Word within her. The temporal scope of the seven sorrows reveals this fidelity. The sorrows begin with Jesus as an infant, and end with his burial. And the sorrows are always related to Jesus. They are not disconnected from his mission. They are uniquely caught up with it. And they serve to show a response to sorrow – one of fidelity and discipleship.

We also see that Mary went through human emotions just like anyone. Some pretty heavy emotions too. “Emotional rollercoaster” comes to mind. We can see this by looking at Mary’s sorrows in the context of the Rosary. One of the Joyful Mysteries is the Presentation. This liturgical dedication of Jesus must have been a joy to Mary, and we meditate on it as such. But this joy is tinged with sorrow, for it is here Mary also hears Simeon’s prophecy that she too will suffer. Another joyful mystery is the finding of the Christ child in the temple. But directly before finding Jesus, Mary was in sorrow because she had lost him. And then as Guardini proposes, there was also sorrow in Jesus’ response to Mary. So Mary experienced the full range of emotions. Of course this range exceeds the typical experience: Mary had the joy of bearing Christ and the sorrow of burying him. It’s hard to imagine greater extremes. But still, we have a model in Mary not only for saying yes to God, but in how we respond to sorrow and pain.

No one is exempt from sorrow. By faith and following Christ as a disciple our pain can be redemptive for ourselves and for others. We follow Christ through sorrow just like Mary did because we know ultimately how the story ends. That’s why we can definitively sing at Easter: “Be joyful Mary!” And that’s why we can pray to her in this vale of tears. She has known sorrow like us. And now she knows the joy that comes with Christ’s redemption. She accepted God’s plan for her life, followed Christ on earth, and now lives with him among the Blessed. So then, Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 11 – St Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, CM, (1802-1840), Priest & Martyr

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It is said we mock Christ again by the timidity of our witness.  Mine and me most so.

St. Jean-Gabriel was born in Puech, France, on January 6th, 1802, to a pious family of eight children. Including Jean Gabriel, five of the Perboyer children became consecrated religious – three priests and two nuns.

Accompanying his younger brother Louis while he was entering the seminary, Jean-Gabriel discovered his calling and entered the Congregation of the Mission, founded by St. Vincent de Paul, at the age of 16

He was ordained at age 23 and taught theology at the seminary before being appointed rector, and later master of novices in Paris – on account of the sanctity his superiors saw in him.

His younger brother, Louis, died on his way to preach in China at the age of 24 and Jean-Gabriel asked to carry out the mission that had been entrusted to his brother. He arrived on the island of Macao on August 29, 1835 and set out for the mainland later that year.

He carried out his evangelical labors in Ho-Nan for three years before being transferred to Hou-Pé. His missions bore much fruit in the short time he spent there.

In 1839 the viceroy of the province began a persecution and used the local mandarins to obtain the names of priests and catechists in their areas. In September 1839, the Mandarin of Hubei, where there was a Vincentian mission center, sent soldiers to arrest the missionaries. Perboyre was meeting informally with some other priests of the region when the soldiers arrived to seize them. The priests scattered and hid, but one catechist, under torture, gave away where Peboyre was hiding.

A series of trials began. The first was held at Kou-Ching-Hien. The replies of the martyr were heroic:
“Are you a Christian priest?”
“Yes, I am a priest and I preach this religion.”
“Do you wish to renounce your faith?”
“No, I will never renounce the faith of Christ.”

They asked him to reveal his companions in the faith and the reasons for which he had transgressed the laws of China. They wanted, in short, to make the victim the culprit. But a witness to Christ is not an informer. Therefore, he remained silent.

The prisoner was then transferred to Siang-Yang. The cross examinations were made close together. He was held for a number of hours kneeling on rusty iron chains, was hung by his thumbs and hair from a rafter (the hangtze torture), was beaten several times with bamboo canes. Greater than the physical violence, however, remained the wound of the fact that the values in which he believed were put to ridicule: the hope in eternal life, the sacraments, the faith.

The third trial was held in Wuchang. He was brought before four different tribunals and subjected to 20 interrogations. To the questioning were united tortures and the most cruel mockery. They prosecuted the missionary and abused the man. They obliged Christians to abjure, and one of them even to spit on and strike the missionary who had brought him to the faith. For not trampling on the crucifix, John Gabriel received 110 strokes of pantse.

The saints suffer EVERY kind of calumny for the name of Jesus Christ.  Among the various accusations, the most terrible was the accusation that he had had immoral relations with a Chinese girl, Anna Kao, who had made a vow of virginity. The martyr defended himself. She was neither his lover nor his servant.  Jean-Gabriel  remained upset because they made innocents suffer for him.

During one interrogation he was obliged to put on Mass vestments. They wanted to accuse him of using the privilege of the priesthood for private interests. But the missionary, clothed in the priestly garments, impressed the bystanders, and two Christians drew near to him to ask for absolution.

The cruelest judge was the Viceroy. The missionary was by this time a shadow. The rage of this unscrupulous magistrate was vented on a ghost of a man. Blinded by his omnipotence the Viceroy wanted confessions, admissions, and accusations against others. But if the body was weak, the soul was reinforced. His hope by now rested in his meeting God, which he felt nearer each day.

“Trample on your God, and I will free you!” the local government official demanded.

“Oh!” the holy martyr replied, “how could I so insult my Savior?” And seizing a crucifix, he pressed it to his lips.

When John Gabriel told him for the last time: “I would sooner die than deny my faith!,” the judge pronounced his sentence.

On September 11, 1839 Jean-Gabriel became one of the first victims of the persecutions against Christians, dying in a manner which had a striking resemblance to the passion of our Lord. He was betrayed for a sum of silver, stripped of his garments and dragged from tribunal to tribunal, beaten and tortured continuously until he was sentenced to death with seven criminals. He was crucified, strangled, and died on a cross.

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Before his death St. Jean Gabriel wrote this prayer:

“O my Divine Saviour,
Transform me into Yourself.
May my hands be the hands of Jesus.
Grant that every faculty of my body
May serve only to glorify You.
Above all,
Transform my soul and all its powers
So that my memory, will and affection
May be the memory, will and affections
Of Jesus.
I pray You
To destroy in me
All that is not of You.
Grant that I may live
But in You, by You and for You,
So that I may truly say,
With St. Paul,
“I live – now not I –
But Christ lives in me”.
-St Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, CM

His body was retrieved and buried in the mission cemetery by a catechist. Eventually, his remains were returned from China to France, where they were entombed for veneration in the chapel of the Vincentian Motherhouse in Paris.

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“If we have to suffer martyrdom it would be a great grace given to us by God; it’s something to be desired, not feared.” -Saint Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, in a letter from China to his uncle

“Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, priest of the Congregation of the Mission, he wanted to follow Christ evangelizing the poor, the example of St. Vincent de Paul.

After exercising the ministry of the clergy as a trainer in France, went to China. Here earnestly bore witness of Christ’s love for the Chinese people.

“I do not know what awaits me in the journey that lies ahead of me, without a doubt the cross, which is the daily bread of the missionary. What we can hope for better, going to preach a crucified God?” (Letter No. 70), wrote at the gateway to China.

Along the streets where he had been sent found the Cross of Christ. Daily through imitation of his Lord, with humility and gentleness, fully identified with him.

By following step by step in his Passion, caught forever in his glory. “One thing is needful: Jesus Christ,” he liked to say.

His martyrdom is the culmination of his commitment to following Christ, the missionary. After being tortured and condemned, reproducing the Passion of Jesus with remarkable similarity, as he came to death, even death on a cross.

Jean-Gabriel had one passion: Christ and the proclamation of his Gospel. That’s loyalty to this passion that he has been equated with the lowly and the condemned, and that the Church can now solemnly proclaim his glory in the choir of the saints in heaven.”
-Pope St John Paul II, Homily of Canonization, 2 June 1996, Vatican City, Rome

Love,
Matthew, MSCS, ’05
GO BLUE DEMONS!!!!

Sep 2 – The September Massacres & The Authority of Jesus Christ

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-by Br Joachim Kenney, OP

“For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out” (Luke 4:36). Jesus stupefies the people of Capernaum in the Gospel today by the authority with which He speaks, an authority that even drives out demons by a simple command. It’s interesting to consider that the response of the people to Jesus’ authority was one of wonder and respect. It’s questionable whether He would get the same response today.

Our reaction to authority is often one of opposition. The reluctance to accept authority has long been embedded deep in man’s soul.

However, in the last few hundred years with the advent of liberalism and its stress on individual autonomy, this reluctance has come to be embraced by society at large as something good.

A cruel and bloody manifestation of this occurred on this day in 1792 in Paris when over 200 Catholic priests were executed in the course of the September Massacres of the French Revolution.

While there are not any executions of clergy going on in the West today, people, even many of those professing to be Catholic, still ignore the authority of the teachings of Christ’s Church.

When they think of the Church, they often think of an institution seeking to control the lives of its members by imposing lots of arbitrary rules on them. “Why doesn’t the Church mind its own business?” they ask. Docility can be fostered, I think, by getting an accurate understanding of the nature of authority.  (Ed. note:  it is this editor’s oh so humble opinion, the crowds recognized the Lord’s authority due to His holiness of life, not merely to his powers over demons, or other objects.  We are all aware of those who possess great power and wealth.  However, our obeisance, not withstanding sycophants, is given only to those who blow us away with their holiness of life.)

The basis of God’s authority – and hence of the Church to whom He has delegated this authority – is that He created the universe and sustains it in existence at every moment.  (If God stopped thinking about creation, it would vanish, classical catechesis goes.)

All things participate in His existence. He is the source of all and has made each thing, including human nature, according to some plan or idea that He has of that thing. “In wisdom you have made them all,” the Psalm 104:24 says.

God has instilled a marvelous order in creation, and He knows every one of His creatures better and more intimately than we know ourselves.

Just as an ENGINEER 🙂 can explain how to use a design of his in a way that will achieve the purpose for which he made it, so in a far more magnificent way, God explains to man through the teaching of the Church how to achieve the purpose for which man is made – everlasting happiness with God in heaven.

It is out of concern for the flourishing of her children that the Church teaches us to avoid sin and grow in virtue. The power of Christ’s grace, dispensed through the sacraments that He instituted, makes this possible. Christ vested the Church with His authority. It is only by entrusting ourselves to her care that our struggles with our own demons can be won.”

AMEN!!!!!!

Love,
Matthew

Sep 30 – St Jerome, (347-420 AD) – Priest, Author, Translator of the Bible, Doctor of the Church

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-“Saint Jerome in his Study”, by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1480, Church of Ognissanti, Florence

Most of the saints are remembered for some outstanding virtue or devotion which they practiced, but Jerome is frequently remembered for his bad temper! It is true that he had a very bad temper and could use a vitriolic pen, but his love for God and his Son Jesus Christ was extraordinarily intense; anyone who taught error was an enemy of God and truth, and St. Jerome went after him or her with his mighty and sometimes sarcastic pen.

He was above all a Scripture scholar, translating most of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. He also wrote commentaries which are a great source of scriptural inspiration for us today. He was an avid student, a thorough scholar, a prodigious letter-writer and a consultant to monk, bishop and pope. St. Augustine (August 28) said of him, “What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known.”

St. Jerome is particularly important for having made a translation of the Bible which came to be called the Vulgate. It is not the most critical edition of the Bible, but its acceptance by the Church was fortunate. As a modern scholar says, “No man before Jerome or among his contemporaries and very few men for many centuries afterwards were so well qualified to do the work.” The Council of Trent called for a new and corrected edition of the Vulgate, and declared it the authentic text to be used in the Church.

In order to be able to do such work, Jerome prepared himself well. He was a master of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Chaldaic. He began his studies at his birthplace, Stridon in Dalmatia (in the former Yugoslavia). After his preliminary education he went to Rome, the center of learning at that time, and thence to Trier, Germany, where the scholar was very much in evidence. He spent several years in each place, always trying to find the very best teachers. He once served as private secretary of Pope Damasus (December 11).

As a student in Rome, he engaged in the superficial escapades and wanton behaviour of students there, which he indulged in quite casually but for which he suffered terrible bouts of repentance afterwards. To appease his conscience, he would visit on Sundays the sepulchers of the martyrs and the Apostles in the catacombs. This experience would remind him of the terrors of hell:

“Often I would find myself entering those crypts, deep dug in the earth, with their walls on either side lined with the bodies of the dead, where everything was so dark that almost it seemed as though the Psalmist’s words were fulfilled, “Let them go down quick into Hell.”(Ps 55:15)  Here and there the light, not entering in through windows, but filtering down from above through shafts, relieved the horror of the darkness. But again, as soon as you found yourself cautiously moving forward, the black night closed around and there came to my mind the line of Vergil, “Horror unique animus, simul ipsa silentia terrent'”.   Jerome used a quote from Vergil — “On all sides round horror spread wide; the very silence breathed a terror on my soul.” — to describe the horror of hell. Jerome initially used classical authors to describe Christian concepts such as hell that indicated both his classical education and his deep shame of their associated practices, such as pederasty which was found in ancient Rome. Although initially skeptical of Christianity, he was eventually converted.

After these preparatory studies he traveled extensively in Palestine, marking each spot of Christ’s life with an outpouring of devotion. Mystic that he was, he spent five years in the desert of Chalcis so that he might give himself up to prayer, penance and study. Finally he settled in Bethlehem, where he lived in the cave believed to have been the birthplace of Christ. On September 30 in the year 420, Jerome died in Bethlehem. The remains of his body now lie buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.

Jerome was a strong, outspoken man. He had the virtues and the unpleasant fruits of being a fearless critic and all the usual moral problems of a man. He was, as someone has said, no admirer of moderation whether in virtue or against evil. He was swift to anger, but also swift to feel remorse, even more severe on his own shortcomings than on those of others. A pope is said to have remarked, on seeing a picture of Jerome striking his breast with a stone, “You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints).

“In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the scorching sun so that it frightens even the monks that inhabit it, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome. In this exile and prison to which for the fear of hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, I many times imagined myself witnessing the dancing of the Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them: In my cold body and in my parched-up flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was able to live. Alone with this enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and I tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, but I grieve that I am not now what I then was” (“Letter to St. Eustochium”).

“You say in your book that while we live we are able to pray for each other, but afterwards when we have died, the prayer of no person for another can be heard…. But if the apostles and martyrs while still in the body can pray for others, at a time when they ought still be solicitous about themselves, how much more will they do so after their crowns, victories, and triumphs?” – Saint Jerome from Against Vigilantius, 406

“I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: “Search the Scriptures,” and “Seek and you shall find.” For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. No one should think that I mean to explain the entire subject matter of this great book of the prophet Isaiah in one brief sermon, since it contains all the mysteries of the lord. It prophesies that Emmanuel is to be born of a virgin and accomplish marvelous works and signs. It predicts his death, burial and resurrection from the dead as the Savior of all men. Whatever is proper to holy Scripture, whatever can be expressed in human language and understood by the human mind, is contained in the book of Isaiah.” -Jerome: from a commentary on Isaiah

“The person who is dedicated to Christ is equally earnest in small things as in great.” -St. Jerome

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-“St Jerome Reading in the Countryside”, by Giovanni Bellini, 1505

Prayer for Christ’s Mercy

“O Lord, show Your mercy to me and gladden my heart. I am like the man on the way to Jericho who was overtaken by robbers, wounded and left for dead. O Good Samaritan, come to my aid, I am like the sheep that went astray. O Good Shepherd, seek me out and bring me home in accord with your will. Let me dwell in Your house all the days of my life and praise You for ever and ever with those who are there.  Amen.”  -St Jerome

Love,
Matthew

Sep 21 – St Matthew

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-Caravaggio, The Call of Matthew, ~1600, Oil on canvas, 322 cm × 340 cm (127 in × 130 in), Contarelli Chapel, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

from: www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview

“…but the best summary, the one that comes more from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” And he repeats: “I ​​am one who is looked upon by the Lord. I always felt my motto, Miserando atque Eligendo [By Having Mercy and by Choosing Him], was very true for me.”

The motto is taken from the Homilies of Bede the Venerable, who writes in his comments on the Gospel story of the calling of Matthew: “Jesus saw a publican, and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” The pope adds: “I think the Latin gerund miserando is impossible to translate in both Italian and Spanish. I like to translate it with another gerund that does not exist: misericordiando [“mercy-ing”].

Pope Francis continues his reflection and says, jumping to another topic: “I do not know Rome well. I know a few things. These include the Basilica of St. Mary Major; I always used to go there. I know St. Mary Major, St. Peter’s…but when I had to come to Rome, I always stayed in [the neighborhood of] Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of ‘The Calling of St. Matthew,’ by Caravaggio.

That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.””

Love,
Matthew

Sep 7 – Bls John Duckett & Ralph Corby, SJ, (d. 1644), Priests & Martyrs

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John Duckett was an Englishman, who may have been the grandson of the martyr Bl James Duckett. Father John studied at the English college of Douay in France and became a priest in 1639. He studied for three more years in Paris, spending several hours each day in prayer.  He spent two months with the Cistercian monks, offering that time to God in prayer and retreat before he was sent back to his persecuted England.

The young priest worked hard for a year teaching people about the Catholic faith in England, but one day when he was on his way to baptize two children, he was caught with the holy oils and book of rites.  When his captors threatened harm to his family and friends if he did not tell them who he was, he admitted that he was a priest. He was immediately taken to prison in London.

There he met a Jesuit priest, Ralph Corby. Father Corby had worked in England for twelve years before they caught him celebrating Mass one day.  The Jesuit order tried hard to save Father Corby. When the Jesuits finally obtained his pardon, he insisted that Father John Duckett, who was younger, be set free instead of him. But Father John refused to leave without his friend.

“Assuredly this man dies for a good cause.” – Blessed John’s jailers as they saw the way he dealt with his sentence.

“I fear not death, nor do I condemn not life.  If life were my lot, I would endure it patiently; but if death, I shall receive it joyfully, for that Christ is my life, and death is my gain.  Never since my receiving of Holy Orders did I so much fear death as I did life, and now, when it approacheth, can I faint?”
-from Bl John Duckett’s final letter, written the night before his execution.

At his execution, Father Duckett told a Protestant minister who stood ready to lecture him, “Sir, I come not hither to be taught my faith, but to die for the profession of it.”

Then on September 7, 1644, at ten o’clock, the two priests were taken to Tyburn, to be executed. Their heads were shaved and they wore their cassocks. Each made a short speech, then embraced each other. Their next meeting would be before the King of Kings and Judge of Judges; their shared, same Master.

Bl John’s hand and some of his clothing were recovered as relics, but they had to be hidden, and their hiding place has been lost.

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-Bl John Duckett’s Cross, marking the spot where he was arrested

Love,
Matthew

Sep 2 – Bl John Francis Burte’ & Companions, (d. 1792-1794), Franciscan Priests & Martyrs of the French Revolution

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-massacre at the Salpetriere , September 3, 1792.

Practically every page in the history of the French Revolution is stained with blood. What is known in history as the Carmelite Massacre of 1792, added nearly 200 victims to this noble company of martyrs. They were all priests, secular and religious, who refused to take the schismatic oath, and had been imprisoned in the church attached to the Carmelite monastery in Paris. Among these priests were a Conventual, a Capuchin, and a member of the Third Order Regular.  These priests were victims of the French Revolution.

Though their martyrdom spans a period of several years, they stand together in the Church’s memory because they all gave their lives for the same principle. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1791) required all priests to take an oath which amounted to a denial of the faith. Each of these men refused and was executed.

John Francis Burte was born in the town of Rambervillers in Lorraine. At the age of 16 he joined the Franciscans at Nancy and there he also pronounced his solemn vows. In due time he was ordained a priest and for some time taught theology to the younger members of the order. He was at one time also superior of his convent.

After Pope Clement XIV, formerly a Conventual friar, had ordered the merging of the province of the Franciscans, to which John Francis belonged, with the Conventuals, Father John Francis was placed in charge of the large convent in Paris and encouraged his brethren to practice strict observance of the rule. His zeal for souls was outstanding, and he zealously guarded the rights of the Church in this troubled period of history.

When the French Revolution broke out, he was reported for permitting his priests to exercise their functions after they refused to take the infamous oath required by the government, and which was a virtual denial of their Faith. He was arrested and held captive with other priests in the convent of the Carmelites. His constancy in refusing to take the sacrilegious oath won for him a cruel martyrdom on September 2, 1792.

Acquiring a reputation as an excellent preacher, confessor and instructor of clerics, Apollinaris of Posat was preparing to go East as a missionary.  He was in Paris studying Oriental languages when the French Revolution began. Refusing the oath, he was swiftly arrested and detained in the Carmelite convent. Born John James Morel before his entrance into religion, he was born near Friboug in Switzerland in 1739, and received his education from the Jesuits. In 1762 he joined the Capuchins in Zug and before long became a prominent preacher, a much-sought confessor, and an eminent instructor of the young clerics of the order.  He impressed on their minds the truth that piety and learning are the two eyes of a priest, and humility was a dominating virtue in his life.  He suffered a cruel martyrdom on September 2, 1792.

Severin Girault, a member of the Third Order Regular, was a chaplain for a group of sisters in Paris. Imprisoned with the others, he was the first to die in the slaughter at the convent, a priest of the Third Order Regular, formerly George Girault, his undaunted courage merited the grace to be numbered among these martyrs of Christ. He was born at Rouen in Normandy, and early in life joined the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. Because of his eminent mental gifts he was chosen a superior of his order. In the exercise of his priestly duties he displayed marked zeal for souls, and as chaplain of the convent of St. Elizabeth in Paris he was a prudent director in the ways of religious perfection.

He was also summoned to take the civil oath, and upon his refusal to do this he was seized and confined in the Carmelite convent where so many other confessors of Christ were being detained. On September 2, while he was saying his Office in the convent garden, the raving assassins made him the first victim of their cruel slaughter.

These three members of the Franciscan Order, together with 182 other servants of God who suffered martyrdom at this time, were solemnly beatified by Pope Pius XI, and the Franciscan Order was granted permission to celebrate their feast annually with an Office and special Mass.

These three plus 182 others—including several bishops and many religious and diocesan priests—were massacred at the Carmelite house in Paris on September 2, 1792. They were beatified in 1926.John Baptist Triquerie, born in 1737, entered the Conventual Franciscans. He was chaplain and confessor of Poor Clare monasteries in three cities before he was arrested for refusing to take the oath. He and 13 diocesan priests were guillotined in Laval on January 21, 1794. He was beatified in 1955.

“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” was the motto of the French Revolution. If individuals have “inalienable rights,” as the Declaration of Independence states, these must come not from the agreement of society (which can be very fragile/mutable/mercurial/fickle/ephemeral/illusory) but directly from God, which the Declaration also declares with certitude and religious conviction to be the case for the United States.  At least we started out that way.

“The upheaval which occurred in France toward the close of the 18th century wrought havoc in all things sacred and profane and vented its fury against the Church and her ministers. Unscrupulous men came to power who concealed their hatred for the Church under the deceptive guise of philosophy…. It seemed that the times of the early persecutions had returned. The Church, spotless bride of Christ, became resplendent with bright new crowns of martyrdom” (Acts of Martyrdom).

Love,
Matthew

Sep 3 – St Gregory the Great, (540?-604 AD), Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Tears, & First Great Catholic Reformer

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Gregory had to hurry.  He packed quickly.  He suspected the news even before receiving it in writing.  Justinian had confirmed Gregory’s election as Bishop of Rome.  Gregory had to flee the city before he could be ordained.  Gregory knew Justinian when Gregory was papal representative in Constantinople, and had therefore interceded with him, asking Justinian to withhold his consent from the election.  News travels fast in Rome, even in the sixth century.  The people of Rome intercepted Gregory before he could make his escape and carried him off to the Basilica of St Peter to be consecrated pope.

If you have ever heard the term or actually heard “Gregorian chant”, you have heard the echo and felt the effect, a millennia and a half later, of the life and papacy of St Gregory the Great.  The old empire in the West had collapsed, Italy had been invaded and Rome sacked once again, this time by the Lombards in 568.  It had taken Justinian twenty years to drive the Ostrogoths from Italy in the 5th century, his Byzantine army looting and pillaging their way as they pushed their enemy back, bringing plague and famine along with them.  And then the Lombards came.  By the end of Gregory’s papacy, one third of Italy had succumbed to the plague, and still more had died as a result of famine and war.  It must have seemed like the end of the world.

Even though legalized in 313 by Edict of Milan, Christianity still existed in a largely pagan, brutally repressive, and unjust world.  There was essentially no help for the poor.  Desperately poor parents either abandoned their children or sold them in to slavery.  Child prostitution was legal and accepted.  Criminals, political dissenters, slaves, military captives, and members of banned religious sects were routinely tortured for public amusement in the gladiatorial games.  Don’t feel like going out?  Torture one of your slaves to death at home.  It’s fun? And, it’s legal.

After Constantine’s conversion, some of these aspects of Roman culture began to be outlawed.  In the spring of 315, Constantine legislated that aid would be provided for hungry children, although their parents were still left to fend for themselves.  That summer, Constantine made child prostitution and pederasty illegal and punishable by death in the gladiatorial arena.  Constantine forbade the immoderate torture and murder of slaves in 319, but moderate torture was still allowed.  Slaves who denounced their masters, however, were subject to crucifixion according to a law passed in 320.  In 343, it became illegal to use Christian slave women for prostitution, but non-Christian slave women could still be used in that manner.  Although the Church began having a reforming effect on Roman society, progress was painfully slow.

Even the Church’s own moral teachings led emperors to legislate laws that were unjust.  On August 6, 390, Emperor Theodosius passed a law stipulating that men who committed homosexual acts were to be burned at the stake.  This is the world Gregory was taking responsibility for as Successor of St Peter.  We can clearly appreciate his hesitance, anxiety, and desire to get out of town.

When Gregory heard the bishops of Arles and Marseilles were forcibly converting Jews, Gregory demanded they stop.  The only true way to conversion, Gregory declared, was through the sweetness of preaching.  Tragically, not all of Gregory’s successors nor the Church herself always heeded Gregory’s sage advice in succeeding generations.

The legalization and adoption of Christianity in the Roman Empire was both a blessing and a curse.  It was a blessing in the sense a flood of wealth, including state money, poured into the Church allowing it to build institutions that would survive the collapse of the Latin West.  However, that same effect immediately drew to the Church those seeking office or position not necessarily for the holiest of reasons.  As a response to this ill effect, the first major reform movement, monasticism, developed in the Church.  It came from those seeking a greater purity in their pursuit of Gospel living.  It was from this nascent monasticism Gregory came.

We should recall the emperors had given the Church a near monopoly on social welfare in the Empire.  By the fifth century, the church in Antioch provided clothing, maintained hospitals and dispensaries, and fed three thousand people a day.  Naturally, this implied major sees in large cities were receiving and distributing immense amounts of wealth.

Gregory was direct and firm. He removed unworthy priests from office, forbade taking money for many services, emptied the papal treasury to ransom prisoners of the Lombards and to care for persecuted Jews and the victims of plague and famine. He was very concerned about the conversion of England, sending 40 monks from his own monastery. He is known for his reform of the liturgy, for strengthening respect for doctrine.

An Anglican historian wrote, “It is impossible to conceive what would have been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the Middle Ages without the medieval papacy; and of the medieval papacy, the real father is Gregory the Great.”

Gregory’s book, “Pastoral Care”, on the duties and qualities of a bishop, was read for centuries after his death. He described bishops mainly as physicians whose main duties were preaching and the enforcement of discipline. In his own down-to-earth preaching, Gregory was skilled at applying the daily gospel to the needs of his listeners. Called “the Great,” Gregory has been given a place with Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome as one of the four key doctors of the Western Church.

Gregory developed what can be called a spirituality of reform that balances the need to reform with the need to maintain the unity of the faith, which he called “the bond of love”.  The essential virtue for maintaining unity, according to Gregory, is patience.  Gregory insisted that people should not expect to bring the Church to perfection, because the reality is that the Church brings us to perfection by stirring us to reform ourselves, our communities, our leaders, and our world.

The imperfect and wounded nature of the pilgrim Church is not, for Gregory, a sign that the Holy Spirit has lost His way guiding the Church toward sanctification.  Nor did he believe it was the role of the reformer to separate wheat from chaff or sheep from goats.  Only the Son of Man has this right.

Largely due to the influence of Irish and Spanish clergy and missionaries, Gregory’s ideas gradually spread throughout Christian Europe.  By the end of the 9th century, Charlemagne had made the study of Gregory’s “Pastoral Care” obligatory for all bishops in his empire.

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-by Jacopo Vignali, Pope St Gregory the Great, ca. 1630, oil on canvas, the ceiling of the library in the Dominican convent of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

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-tomb of St Gregory the Great, St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

“Perhaps it is not after all so difficult for a man to part with his possessions, but it is certainly most difficult for him to part with himself. To renounce what one has is a minor thing; but to renounce what one is, that is asking a lot” -St. Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Gospels

“Though our lips can only stammer, still we chant the greatness of God.” -St. Gregory the Great

Prayer of St Gregory the Great

“O Lord, You received affronts
without number from Your blasphemers,
yet each day You free captive souls
from the grip of the ancient enemy.

You did not avert Your face
from the spittle of perfidy,
yet You wash souls in saving waters.

You accepted Your scourging without murmur,
yet through Your meditation
You deliver us from endless chastisements.

You endured ill-treatment of all kinds,
yet You want to give us a share
in the choirs of angels in glory everlasting.

You did not refuse to be crowned with thorns,
yet You save us from the wounds of sin.

In Your thirst You accepted the bitterness of gall,
yet You prepare Yourself to fill us with eternal delights.

You kept silence under the derisive homage
rendered You by Your executioners,
yet You petition the Father for us
although You are His equal in Divinity.

You came to taste death,
yet You are The Life
and came to bring Life to us,
who are dead through sin.

Amen.”

The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist. – Saint Gregory the Great

If we knew at what time we were to depart from this world, we would be able to select a season for pleasure and another for repentance. But God, Who has promised pardon to every repentant sinner, has not promised us tomorrow. Therefore we must always dread the final day, which we can never foresee. This very day is a day of truce, a day for conversion. And yet we refuse to cry over the evil we have done! Not only do we not weep for the sins we have committed, we even add to them…. If we are, in fact, now occupied in good deeds, we should not attribute the strength with which we are doing them to ourselves. We must not count on ourselves, because even if we know what kind of person we are today, we do not know what we will be tomorrow. Nobody must rejoice in the security of their own good deeds. As long as we are still experiencing the uncertainties of this life, we do not know what end may follow…we must not trust in our own virtues. – Saint Gregory the Great, from Be Friends of God

“Scripture is read in public to feed even children, and in secret to suspend even sublime minds in admiration. It is like a river, both shallow and deep, in which a lamb may walk and an elephant may swim.” (Gregory the Great, Commentary on Job).

Love,
Matthew