Category Archives: Order of Preachers

Jan 23 – Bl Henry Suso, OP, (1295-1366), Priest, Mystic, Poet, “Servant of the Eternal Wisdom”

TRIVIA CHALLENGE!!!! QUICK!!!! Who wrote the lyrics to “Good Christian Men, Rejoice!/In dulci jubilo“?  ….Answer = Bl Henry Suso, OP!!!  Now you know.

One night in 1328, the German mystic and Dominican monk Henrich Suso (or Seuse) had a vision in which he joined angels dancing as the angels sang to him Nun singet und seid froh or In Dulci Jubilo.

“Now this same angel came up to the Servant [Suso] brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew the Servant by the hand into the dance, and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus, which runs thus: ‘In dulci jubilo…'(-from Bl Suso’s auto/biography)

Famed German Dominican mystic whose work, The Book of Eternal Wisdom, is considered a classic. Born Heinrich von Berg in Constance, Swabia, he entered the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans, at an early age.

Undergoing a conversion, he developed an abiding spiritual life and studied under Meister Eckhart in Cologne from 1322-1325. He then returned to Constance to teach, subsequently authoring numerous books on spirituality: Das Buchlein der Wahrheit (The Little Book of Truth, 1327) and Das Buchlein der Ewigen Weisheit (The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, 1328), a book of practical meditations that became the most popular work on mysticism until the Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis; Horologium Sapientiae (Clock of Wisdom); sermons; and a life of the Dominican nun Elsbeth Stägel (d. 1360).

As he supported Meister Eckhart — who was then the source of some controversy and had been condemned by Pope John XXII (r. 1316-1334) in 1329 — Henry was censured by his superiors and stripped of his teaching position. He subsequently became a preacher in Switzerland and the Upper Rhine and was a brilliant spiritual adviser among the Dominicans and the spiritual community of the Gottesfreunde. He endured persecution right up until his death at Ulm. Pope Gregory XVI (r. 1831-1846) beatified him in 1831.

Konstanz_Bodensee_Inselhotel

-Konstanz Bodensee Inselhotel, click image for larger image, Dominican Island on the left, with Steigenberger island hotel; the Old Rhine Bridge is visible in the centre of the image


— by Fr. Ezra Sullivan, OP

“Once a Dominican friar in Konstanz, Germany would have been a familiar sight. Now, however, the habit garners side-long glances and blatant stares as visitors and residents try to grasp the meaning of the uncommon clothing. In this way, the habit is somewhat like an island.

An island is a land of adventure, a little world of its own surrounded by watery boundary that separates it from the mainland. To cross that boundary, whether by boat or by bridge, and to fathom its significance is to enter a frontier of exploration. It can even be a portal to the past.

Archeological evidence shows that since the Stone Age humans have inhabited what is now called “Dominican Island” in Lake Bodensee, just off the shore from Constance (Konstanz), Germany. The left bank of the Rhine river and the lake make it a beautiful location. It was occupied by the Romans and enjoyed by Charlemagne. It became sacred ground soon after the Dominicans were given the land in 1220. Within fourteen years, the Friars Preachers had erected a sizeable convent there with the aid of the local prince bishop. Additionally, in 1257 the friars helped Dominican contemplative nuns establish a convent in Konstanz known as Kloster Zoffingen.

Bl. Henry Suso is likely the most celebrated Dominican to have lived in the island-convent. There, around the year 1324, he was clothed with the habit. For some time, his literal separation from the mainland made little difference to his spiritual life, for he was still chained to the world in his heart. Through grace, however, he underwent a conversion and afterwards devoted himself entirely to the Eternal Wisdom of God. Along with the Dominicans Meister Eckhart and John Tauler, Suso became known as a “Rhineland Mystic” whose spiritual writings bore enormous fruit in the late medieval Church.

Dominican Island was also the sometime residence of more controversial characters. Jan Hus, for example, was imprisoned there during the Council of Constance in 1414. Condemned by political enemies during the Council, Hus was burnt at the stake in the city. Protestants claim Hus as their own, a John the Baptist who prefigured the coming of Martin Luther. However, not all Catholics burnt at the stake were heretics, as St. Joan of Arc well knows. A more careful analysis suggests that Jan Hus was “a Catholic by his personal profession of faith, but he was of Protestant significance in the fabric of history.”

Life was generally more tranquil on Dominican Island for the next hundred years or so, until 1528. At that time, Protestant governmental forces expelled the friars and converted the convent into a “temporary” hospital. It lasted for twenty one years. When the Catholic Hapsburgs regained control of the town 1549, the Dominicans were finally able to return to their home.

Over two hundred years later, just as a new union of States was being formed across the Atlantic, the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II, made his mark on the island. Though baptized a Catholic and trained in part by a Jesuit, the Hapsburg Emperor embraced what came to be called “Josephinism.” His was a practical doctrine that subordinated the Church to the State and aimed at eliminating contemplative life, musical litanies, novenas, processions, vespers, and other devotions. The Catholic ruler achieved what Protestants could not: about five hundred monasteries were closed, their property was stolen, and an ecclesiastical order of services was mandated. Under this regime, too, the Dominicans were once again driven from the island that had been their home for five hundred years. This time their departure was permanent. On July 26, 1785, the last mass was celebrated in the Dominican chapel. The convent closed the following day.

With the definitive departure of the friars from the island, the property entered the hands of various businessmen. For over a century it housed a dye manufacturing plant. When political turmoil disturbed Switzerland, some bankers fled to the former Dominican grounds. They changed the name of their new home to “Geneva Island.” A census in 1868 counted Geneva Island as an autonomous district with a population of eighteen.

After a railway was built in Konstanz, a hotel entrepreneur gained control of the island. His name was Eberhard von Zeppelin, the brother of the better-known Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, inventor of the infamously flammable air vehicle. Soon the former Dominican chapel was adapted into a ballroom and concert hall, the cells of the friars expanded into guest rooms, and the entire building was renovated.

Biblical frescoes once illuminated the cloister walls of the original Dominican convent, but centuries of change had gradually damaged them. Therefore, to commemorate the wonderful history of that little world, the artist Carl von Häberlin was commissioned to create a series of murals. He worked from 1878 to 1894, producing a series of twenty six extraordinary images that display in chronological order the island’s entire known history. It is considered to be an artistic masterpiece.

Many visitors to the island now hurry past the murals, on their way to comfy rooms with mini-bars, but Häberlin’s murals elegantly testify that the Dominican influence there may still be felt. The friars preachers lived, prayed, studied, and preached on that small piece of land surrounded by water for half of a millennium, making it their own for longer than any other individual or institution in known history. Although it requires effort to grasp the significance of a man in a white habit, much may still be learned in that place that is once again called “Dominican Island.”

Bl Henry Suso, OP

-Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg, Inkunabel K. 7


-by Br Henry Stephan, OP, a graduate of Princeton, where he studied Politics.

“If I were on the sun-kissed beaches of Italy today rather than in the frigid swamps of Washington, then I would be enjoying the Italian celebration of my onomastico, or name-day in honor of one’s patron saint. Today the Dominican Order celebrates Blessed Henry Suso, O.P., the great Rhineland mystic and poet, who also does duty as my heavenly patron. Truth be told, if I weren’t confident that Henry presently enjoys the fullness of the beatific vision and communion with the Trinity, then I would wonder if he might not be entirely pleased to have me as a namesake.

After all, we don’t have very much in common aside from our common profession as Dominicans. He was a sensitive man of great interiority who endured the most fearsome of medieval penances for the sake of his love for God, which poured out in lyrical verses and mystical spiritual writings. I am a garrulous spiritual dilettante who finds the ‘fresh catch of the day’ on Fridays about as much penance as I can bear. If Bl. Henry and I had somehow met on this side of paradise, then I likely would have exhorted him to shower more frequently and keep away from sharp objects. (Editor’s note: A mystic that practiced extreme asceticism, Henry wore a tight-fitting undergarment as a nightshirt. This shirt was outfitted with 150 brass nails fitted facing into his skin. He was also inspired to carve Christ’s name into his chest. After 16 years, an angel appeared to him, asking that he end these severe practices. He listened.) I rather shudder to think what he might have told me.

I didn’t know much about Bl. Henry when he became my patron. When I was in the process of applying to the Province, an older friar mentioned that he received his middle name as a religious name, as it coincided with the name of an under-appreciated Dominican blessed. The idea stuck with me, and when the time came to discuss potential religious names with the novice master (in the process outlined by Br. Innocent in his post last month), we settled on Henry without much debate. The novice master maintains to this day that I asked for the name in order to keep my monogrammed bath towels (which don’t exist except in his literary imagination).

In some respects, Henry Suso remains enigmatic to us moderns—his incredible penances and mortifications seem so distantly medieval that we lose sight of the man. He is, in the words of another great Dominican Henry—Henri-Dominique Lacordaire—“that lovable man from Swabia.” Even in its more bizarre episodes, his biography depicts an eminently human fellow, prone to misunderstandings with unintentionally tragic-comic results—whether in the form of a confused mob of pitchforked peasants, a murderous stalker, or his runaway sister. Still, Henry kept on praying and preaching, even when angry townspeople put a price on his head. Many of the particulars might belong to another age, but the love that drove Henry transcends time and place, and draws us to him even today. Henry Suso was a man entirely swept up by the ineffable mystery of God’s mercy, and he put his whole life at the service of that Eternal Wisdom.

Having Bl. Henry as a patron has forced me to expand my horizons of what it means to be a Dominican. All the great Dominican saints and blesseds are, in one way or another, in the image of St. Dominic himself. They reflect some particular extension of his charism. Having a mystical eccentric like Bl. Henry for a namesake works against the tendency to redefine the Order in one’s own image at the expense of the expansive vision of our holy founder. It is sometimes heard in the Order that, when you meet a Dominican, you’ve met exactly one Dominican, rather than them all. Considering what a varied lot must be huddled together under Mary’s mantle in heaven, this seems about right.

So on this feast of Henry Suso, I thank God for this eccentric patron who challenges me to draw ever closer to Christ, not by slavishly imitating his example, but by following the path the Lord has laid out for this modern, very different Henry. Blessed Henry Suso, pray for us!”

Bl Henry Suso t-shirt

Suso

“Lord, I can see plainly that you are the only and the true source of wisdom, since you alone can restore faith and hope to a doubting and despairing soul. In your Son, Jesus, you have shown me that even the most terrible suffering can be beautiful, if it is in obedience to Your will. And so the knowledge of your Son has enabled me to find joy in my own suffering.

Lord, my dear Father, I kneel before You this day, and praise You fervently for my present sufferings, and give thanks for the measureless sufferings of the past. I now realize that all these sufferings are part of Your paternal love, in which You chastise and purify me. And through that discipline I now look at You without shame and terror, because I know that you are preparing me for your eternal kingdom.” -Bl Henry Suso, OP

Love,
Matthew

Jan 15 – St Francis Ferdinand de Capillas, OP, (1607-1648), Priest, Protomartyr of China

franciscodecapillas

The 17th century was a period of great missionary activity. Many martyrs shed their blood on distant shores. Dominicans and Jesuits contributed a great share to the blood of martyrs. Among this glorious company, the Dominican Francis de Capillas has become the type and exemplar of them.

De Capillas was born in Baquerín de Campos, Palencia, Spain, on August 14, 1607. At the age of 17 he entered the Order of Preachers, receiving the religious habit in the Dominican Priory of St. Paul in Valladolid. While still a deacon he was sent by his Order to do missionary work in the Philippines, landing in Manila during February 1631. Shortly after his arrival he was ordained as a priest.

The Spain of his youth was still ringing with the missionary zeal of Saints Louis Bertrand, Philip de las Casas, and Francis Xavier; the report of the martyrdom of Alphonsus Navarette (June 1), in Japan, was news at the time. Perhaps the bravery of these men helped to fire the young Francis with apostolic longing, for he volunteered for the Philippine mission while he was a deacon. At age 23 (1631) he left Spain and was ordained in Manila. Here, at the gateway to the Orient, the Dominicans had founded a university in 1611, and the city teemed with missionaries traveling throughout the Orient.

De Capillas remained there for the next decade, working hard alongside his fellow friars. His own field of labor was the district of Tuao, Cagayan Valley, on the island of Luzon, where he was able to inspire a great flourishing of conversions. An apostolic soul and at the same very ascetic, he was able to join zeal to an extraordinary spirit of penance. He would take his short rest stretched out over a wooden cross and willingly not defending himself from the bites of the many insects infesting the region.

De Capillas considered that time spent in the Philippines as a period of preparation for a mission to China. The young priest labored for 10 years in the province of Cagayan, the Philippines, where heat, insects, disease, and paganism leagued against the foreigner to make life very hard.

But it was not hard enough for Francis. He begged for a mission field that was really difficult; perhaps, like many of the eager young apostles of that time, he was hoping for an assignment in Japan, where the great persecution was raging.

At the Provincial Chapter held by the friars of the Order in Manila in 1641, he was given permission to transfer, soon transferring to Taiwan, along with a friend, Friar Francisco Díez, O.P. He was one of the last Spanish missionaries in Taiwan before they were ousted from the island by the Dutch later that same year.

The two friars arrived in the Province of Fujian/Fukien, on mainland China, in March 1642, where they joined a fellow Dominican who had survived an earlier period of persecution.

They then embarked upon a fruitful period of evangelization among the Chinese people of the region, especially in the cities of Fu’an, Fogan and Ting-Moyang Ten. They were so successful that they were able to establish a community of the Third Order of Saint Dominic.

On November 4, 1647, there was a huge change of fortune for the mission. That day, Díez died of natural causes. Later that same day, Manchurian forces, in their conquest of the Ming dynasty, invaded the region and seized the city of Fu’an, where the missionaries were based. They were hostile to Christianity and immediately began to persecute the Christians.  On November 13, 1647, De Capillas was captured while returning from Fogan, where he had gone to administer the sacraments to a sick person.

Francis, like his Master, was subjected to a mock trial. Civil, military, and religious officials questioned him, and they accused him of everything from political intrigue to witchcraft. He was charged with disregarding ancestor worship and being a spy, and, finally, since they could “find no cause in him,” he was turned over to the torturers.

He endured the cruel treatment of these men with great courage. Seeing his calmness, the magistrates became curious about his doctrines. They offered him wealth, power, and freedom, if he would renounce his faith, but he amazed and annoyed them by choosing to suffer instead. They varied the tortures with imprisonment, and he profitably used the time to convert his jailor and fellow prisoners. Even the mandarin visited him in prison, asking Francis if he would renounce his faith or would he prefer to suffer more. Being told that he was glad to suffer for Christ, the mandarin furiously ordered that he be scourged again “so he would have even more to be glad about.”

Enduring many insults, he was taken to the worst local prison, where he suffered the torture of having his ankles crushed while being dragged. He was scourged, repeatedly bloodied, but he endured the tortures without cries of pain, so that judges and torturers were surprised at the end. He was moved, almost dying, to a prison where they locked up those criminals condemned to death. His conduct was uplifting, and aroused the admiration of others sentenced to death and even the prison guards themselves, who allowed food to be brought to him, that he not die of hunger.

While in prison, he wrote:

“I am here with other prisoners and we have developed a fellowship. They ask me about the Gospel of the Lord. I am not concerned about getting out of here because here I know I am doing the will of God. They do not let me stay up at night to pray, so I pray in bed before dawn. I live here in great JOY (Ed. emphasis added) without any worry, knowing that I am here because of Jesus Christ. The pearls I have found here these days are not always easy to find.”

Francis was finally condemned, as it says in the breviary, as “the leader of the traitors,” these being (presumably) the rebel army that was besieging the city. The official condemnation is stated in those words: “After long suffering, he was finally beheaded and so entered into the presence of the Master, who likewise suffered and died under a civil sentence”.

On January 15, 1648, De Capillas was sentenced to death on charges of disseminating false doctrines and inciting the people against new Emperor. His death sentence, by decapitation, was carried out at Fogan the same day. He thus became the first martyr within the vast Chinese empire.

On January 15, 1648, the judge came and ordered that he be flogged again and put into the sentry box of the city wall. He was ordered to step down from the box, and as he did so, the executioner beheaded him, separating his head from his body with a heavy blow of the sword. His body was thrown outside the city wall and found two months later. It was preserved incorruptible for two months, and was left untouched by a fire that reduced to ashes the house where his coffin was kept. Of the many relics of St. Francisco de Capillas which have been preserved, the most important remains his head, which is found in the convent of St. Paul of Valladolid, where began his religious life.

Let us Pray : O God, who didst strengthen with wonderful constancy the faith of Thy Blessed martyr, Francis, grant propitiously to Thy church, that aided by his prayer it may deserve to celebrate in all places new triumphs of faith. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

First Vespers:
Ant. This is a martyr indeed, who for the name of Christ shed his blood; who neither feared the threats of judges, nor sought the glory of earthly dignity, but has joyously come to the the heavenly kingdom.
V. Pray for us, Blessed Francis.
R. That we may be worthy of the promises of Christ.

Lauds:
Ant. Let him that would come after Me de deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.
V. A crown of gold is on his head.
R. Signed with the sign of sanctity.

Second Vespers:
Ant. This is he whom for the law of his God delivered himself to death. He did not hesitate to die; he was slain by the wicked and lives forever with Christ: he followed the Lamb and has received the palm.
V. Pray for us, Blessed Francis
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

When Blesseds Peter Sanz, OP, Francis Serrano, OP, John Alcober, OP, Joachim Royo, OP, and Francis Diaz, OP, were asked if they could feel the pain from their torture, Bl. Peter Sanz, O.P. responded, “Indeed I do, but I think of my Savior’s sufferings.”  The guards didn’t understand them because they continued to evangelize even amidst the grueling conditions of their imprisonment.  The viceroy of Peking wrote about them,

“What are we to do with these men? Their lives are certainly irreproachable; even in prison they convert men to their opinions, and their doctrines so seize upon the heart that their adepts fear neither torments nor captivity. They themselves are joyous in their chains. The jailors and their families become their disciples, and those condemned to death embrace their religion. To prolong this state is only to give them the opportunity of increasing the number of Christians.”

Bl. Peter Sanz, OP, said at his execution, “Rejoice with me, my friend; I am going to Heaven!”

O God, You gave us an outstanding example of faith and fortitude in the glorious martyrdom of Blessed Francis and his companions; grant, we beseech You, that, through their prayers and example we may strongly resist the adversities of this world and be found persevering in the confession of the true faith. This we ask through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 7 – St Raymond of Penafort, OP, (1175-1275), Priest, Evangelist, Father of Canon Law, Master General of the Order of Preachers

“Love is the fulfillment of the law.” -Rm 13:10

Saint Raymond of Penafort, OP, a Dominican priest who worked to aid Christian captives during the era of the Crusades and also helped organize the Church’s legal code, is celebrated liturgically on Jan. 7.

A contemporary of Saint Thomas Aquinas, he inspired the theologian to write the “Summa Contra Gentiles” for the conversion of non-Catholics. At least 10,000 Muslims reportedly converted as a result of St. Raymond’s evangelistic labors.

Descended from a noble family with ties to the royal house of Aragon, Raymond of Penafort was born during 1175 in the Catalonian region of modern-day Spain.

He advanced quickly in his studies, showing such a gift for philosophy that he was appointed to teach the subject in Barcelona by age 20. As a teacher, the young man worked to harmonize reason with the profession and practice of Catholic faith and morals. This included a notable concern for the poor and suffering.

Around age 30 the Spanish scholar went to study secular and Church law at Bologna in Italy. He earned his doctorate and taught there until 1219, when the Bishop of Barcelona gave him an official position in the diocese. During 1222, the 47-year-old Raymond joined the Dominican order, in which he would spend the next 53 years of his remarkably long life.

As a penance for the intellectual pride he had once demonstrated, the former professor was asked to write a manual of moral theology for use by confessors. The resulting “Summa Casuum” was the first of his pioneering contributions to the Church. This work is especially noted because it gives guidance as to how the sacrament of Penance may be administered justly and with benefit to the penitent. Meanwhile, in keeping with his order’s dedication to preaching, the Dominican priest strove to spread the faith and bring back lapsed and lost members of the Church.

During his time in Barcelona, Raymond helped Saint Peter Nolasco and King James of Aragon to establish the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, whose members sought to ransom those taken captive in Muslim territory. During this same period Raymond promoted the Crusades through preaching, encouraging the faithful to defend their civilization from foreign threats.

Pope Gregory IX called the Dominican priest to Rome in 1230, asking him to compile the Church’s various decisions and decrees into one systematic and uniform collection, which, when he started, was nothing better than a chaotic accumulation of isolated decrees.  The fruit of his work was the papal bull Rex Pacificus (1234) and the papal declaration that only Raymond’s collection should be considered authoritative within the whole Church.  The resulting five books served for centuries as a basis of the Church’s internal legal system. Raymond was the Pope’s personal confessor and close adviser during this time, and nearly became the Archbishop of Tarragona in 1235. But the Dominican did not want to lead the archdiocese, and is said to have turned down the appointment.

Later in the decade, Raymond was chosen to lead the Dominicans, though he did so for only two years due to his advancing age. Ironically, however, he would live on for more than three decades after resigning from this post. During this time he was able to focus on the fundamentals of his vocation: praising God in prayer, making him known through preaching, and making his blessings manifest in the world. Raymond’s later achievements included the establishment of language schools to aid in the evangelization of non-Christians.

St. Raymond of Penafort’s long pilgrimage of faith ended on Jan. 6, 1275, approximately 100 years after his birth. Pope Clement VIII canonized him in 1601. His patronage extends toward lawyers in general, and canon lawyers in particular.

Tomb_of_Saint_Raymond_of_Penyafort

-tomb of St Raymond of Penafort, OP

Legalism can suck the life out of genuine religion if it becomes too great a preoccupation with the letter of the law to the neglect of the spirit and purpose of the law. The law can become an end in itself, so that the value the law was intended to promote is overlooked.

But, we must guard against going to the opposite extreme and seeing law as useless or something to be lightly regarded. Laws ideally state those things that are for the best interests of everyone and make sure the rights of all are safeguarded. From Raymond, we can learn a respect for law as a means of serving the common good.

“Look then on Jesus, the Author and Preserver of faith: in complete sinlessness He suffered, and at the hands of those who were His own, and was numbered among the wicked. As you drink the cup of the Lord Jesus (how glorious it is!), give thanks to the Lord, the giver of all blessings. May the God of love and peace set your hearts at rest and speed you on your journey; may He meanwhile shelter you from disturbance by others in the hidden recesses of His love, until He brings you at last into that place of complete plenitude where you will repose for ever in the vision of peace, in the security of trust, and in the restful enjoyment of His riches.” – from a letter by Saint Raymond

St.-Raymond

Prayer

Prelates, Kings, and people of the earth!!!! Celebrate the glorious name of Raymond, to whom the salvation of all mankind was an object of loving care.
His pure and spotless life reflected all the marvels of the mystic life; and the light of every virtue shines brightly forth in him.
With admirable study and research, he collects together the scattered Decrees of the Sovereign Pontiffs, and all the sacred maxims of the ancient Canons, so worthy to be handed down to all ages.
He bids the treacherous sea be firm, and on her open waters carry him to land; he spreads his mantle, and his staff the mast, he rides upon the waves.  Amen.

O redeemer of captive slaves,
those enslaved to sin
and those enslaved
by the clutches of the world –
preach to us this day
the freedom found
under the Cross of Christ
and in the repentance of heart
blessed by the grace
upon the Church.
Teach us well
the path to Heaven,
which is wrought not in comfort and peace
but in struggle against sin,
in the laying down of our lives
before our persecutors.
Ransom us from wayward
thoughts and actions,
and from the snares
of the adversary
who waits for our misstep.
In Christ alone
may we find our rest.  Amen.

O most holy and lovable St. Raymond, you were born into a wealthy and noble family, and acknowledged patron of those who seek for enlightenment. We come to you to seek your help in the name of our Blessed Mother, for you have been endowed with a brilliant mind and magnificent wisdom.

Many people are torn into confusion between knowledge and spirit. They seek your help, now that you are with the heavenly Father. We, too, seek your assistance for our confusion in mind and spirit. We ask especially for enlightenment for this/these particular intention/s (mention your request here). O Lord, we humbly ask to grant our prayers during this novena so that we may be worthy to imitate the virtues of St. Raymond and inspire sinners to return to you. Amen.

O God, Who didst choose blessed Raymond to be eminent as a minister of the Sacrament of Penance and didst lead him in wondrous wise upon the waves of the sea: grant that by his intercession we may be able to bring forth worthy fruits of penance, and to reach the port of everlasting salvation. Through our Lord.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Nov 6 – Bl Alphonsus Navarrete, OP, (1571-1617), Priest, Martyr & Companions

Dominicans were the first missionaries to Japan, and 1530 is given as the date of their martyrdom. However, no conclusive proof exists regarding their names or number, and Saint Francis Xavier rightly holds the title of apostle to this island kingdom.

Following in Xavier’s footsteps came other missionaries, and, for about 40 years, they worked with great results among the people. Then, in the closing years of the century, persecution flared, and the blood of martyrs cried out with a louder voice than that of the preachers.

The first Dominican to die in the great persecution was Alphonsus Navarrete. When Alphonsus was very young, he gave up his inheritance to enter the Dominican Order in Valladolid and, after he had completed his studies, was sent to the Philippine missions. The great persecution had just begun in Japan. The year before Alphonsus left Spain, a group of 26 Christians, including many Franciscans and three Japanese Jesuits, were crucified in Nagasaki.

Despite the dangers, the Dominicans, who had been excluded from Japan for several years, yearned to go into the perilous mission field. Alphonsus in particular, after a trip to Europe to recruit missionaries in 1610, begged to be allowed to go to Japan. In the following year his offer was accepted and he was sent as superior of the missionary band. During the short interval of peace, they began their work, and, during six years of growing danger, they instructed the people and prepared them for the dreadful days to come.

The missionary career of Alphonsus was brief, and it was always overshadowed by the threat of death that beset the Christians in that unhappy country. However, in the few years of his apostolate, his accomplishment was immeasurable. Like his Divine Master, he went about teaching and baptizing the people. He is called the “Vincent de Paul of Japan,” because it was he who first began the tremendous task of caring for the abandoned babies there. He anticipated the work of the Holy Childhood Society by gathering up the homeless waifs and providing for their support from money he begged of wealthy Spaniards.

The warning bell of the great persecution was sounded with the martyrdom in Omura of two priests, a Franciscan and a Jesuit. Alphonus Navarrete and his Augustinian companion Ferdinand went to Omura with the intention of rescuing the relics of the martyrs and consoling the Christians. They were captured on the way, and with a young native catechist, were beheaded. Their bodies were thrown into the sea.

Five years later, on the hill of the holy martyrs of Nagasaki, more than 50 Christians sealed their faith with their blood. Some of the martyrs were beheaded, some were burned at the stake. In the group were nine Jesuits, including the famous Father Charles Spinola, SJ, nine Franciscans, and nine Dominicans, among whom were the Blesseds Alphonsus de Mena, Angelo Orsucci, and Hyacinth Orphanel. Louis Bertrand, a nephew of the saint of that same name, perished in the same persecution.

Thousands of Japanese Christians, from tiny children to old grandparents, died amid terrible torments in the profession of their faith. The anger of the persecutors was turned against all priests, brothers, and catechists, tertiaries, and Rosarians, and they made fearful attempts to stamp out all traces of the hated religion in the country. Pope Pius IX, in 1867, solemnly beatified 205 of the martyrs, among whom were 59 Dominicans of the first and third orders and 58 members of the Rosary Confraternity. Although all did not die at the same time nor place, they are listed under the name of Alphonsus Navarrete, who was the first to die.

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Prayer

O God, in the triumph of blessed Alphonsus and his companions You give us joy. We pray You, to grant us through their merits and intercession, a like steadfastness in faith and fruitfulness in work. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who lives and reigns forever!

Love,
Matthew

Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare

Jun 10 – Bl John Dominic, OP, (1356-1419) & Our Irrelevance

giovanni dominici convent of san marco

Blessed John Dominic

dominicbouckop
-by Br John Dominic Bouck, OP

“My guess is that this morning when you woke up, you probably turned off the alarm and thanked God for the feast of Bl. John Dominic. Wait … you didn’t? You mean, you’ve never even heard of him?

John Dominic met St. Catherine of Siena, OP, when he was young, entered the Order of Preachers, and was an integral part of a major reform movement. This reform helped to revitalize the Order after its decimation by the plague and general laxity of observance. Not only was he a major force in the Dominican Order, but he became a cardinal in the Church, and an official legate for the Pope. Most importantly, he worked to resolve the Great Western Schism. He also brought Fra Angelico, the world famous painter, and St. Antoninus, a brilliant theologian and reformer, into the Order.

So if he was such a major player in the world and in the Church, then it seems like we would hear more about him today. On the other hand, I think our collective ignorance of an important figure like Bl. John Dominic is not necessarily a tragedy, but rather is typical to all but a small group of people. We are not remembered for very long after our death. And even for those select few who are remembered, the details that we “know” about their lives are limited.

With the fact of our transience so clearly evident, what then should we make of the common cry these days for being on the right side of history? How can we ensure our historical justification before men and women who have not yet been born and who are likely never to hear our names?

Historical scholarship can be a fickle thing. Winston Churchill was to have said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it!” Real events happen in history, but our historical recording of those events can be less than fully accurate. The project of historical research is a human endeavor to reach into the past, and as such, it is subject to the contingencies and finitude that humans must confront. We don’t have access to a great deal of evidence. We can know certain historical truths of black and white, but in between there is often a lot of gray. Persons of the past can get lost in the proverbial historical fog. What’s more, even the very choice of what persons and events to research and write about can signify some sort of bias. The historian must always seek to be objective and impartial, removing himself from any motive of propaganda.

The desire to be on the “right side of history” can presume the myth that history just keeps getting better every day. According to this view, creation is on a constant upward trajectory. The reality has been quite different. A simple survey of the horrors of the 20th century overwhelms the soul. Technological mastery in the hands of adolescent spirits has just allowed greater acts of destruction. This was the greatest age of technological progress and simultaneously the age of the most sinister manifestation of “man’s inhumanity to man.”

Why should we worry what future generations think of us? That seems pretty insecure, to worry about what others who don’t even exist yet think. It seems much better to worry about whether or not we are doing the right thing. That’s not easy in our culture, because there is not widespread agreement on precisely what that right thing is.

Most of us will fade into the past without much comment by future generations. That shouldn’t frighten us; it should motivate us. Doing the right thing for people of faith–acting according to the demands of our human nature and according to the commands of God–should be the primary motivation: not some imagined stamp of approval down the road, but the approval of our loving Maker. For people who don’t believe in God or an afterlife, it is even more critical to do what is right, because it doesn’t seem like being on the right side of history matters much if you’re not going to exist.

Historical hindsight can be 20/20, but too often our rearview mirror gives a picture that is not so clear. Bl. John Dominic knew not to worry about the vicissitudes of human chroniclers, agonizing about his place in the historical annals. Instead, he acted according to his well-formed conscience and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. That is why he is a great saint. He was a world-famous celebrity, now mostly forgotten, except by the One Who truly matters.”

Is 49:15

First Vespers:
Ant. Strengthen by holy intercession, O John, Confessor of the Lord, those here present, that we who are burdened with the weight of our offenses may be relieved by the glory of thy blessedness, and may by thy guidance attain eternal rewards.
V. Pray for us, Blessed John.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Lauds:
Ant. Well done, good and faithful servant, because Thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will set thee over many, sayeth the Lord.
V. The just man shall blossom like the lily.
R. And shall flourish forever before the Lord.

Second Vespers:
Ant. I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock..
V. Pray for us. Blessed John.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Prayer:
Let us Pray: O God, the giver of charity, who dist strengthen Blessed John, Confessor and Bishop, in the work of preserving the unity of the Church and establishing regular discipline, grant, through his intercession, that we may be of one mind and perform our actions in Christ Jesus our Lord, who with Thee liveth and reigneth world without end. Amen.

Pascal Time
First Vespers:
Ant. Come, O daughters of Jerusalem, and behold a Martyr with a crown wherewith the Lord crowned him on the day of solemnity and rejoicing, alleluia, alleluia
V. Pray for us, Blessed John with thy companions, alleluia
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ, alleluia.

Lauds:
Ant. Perpetual light will shine upon Thy Saints, O Lord, alleluia, and an eternity of ages, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia
V. The just man shall blossom like the lily, alleluia.
R. And shall flourish forever before the Lord, alleluia

Second Vespers:
Ant. In the city of the Lord the music of the Saints incessantly resounds: there the angels and archangels sing a canticle before the throne of God, alleluia.
V. Pray for us, Blessed John with thy companions, alleluia
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. alleluia

Prayer:
Let us Pray: O God, the giver of charity, who dist strengthen Blessed John, Confessor and Bishop, in the work of preserving the unity of the Church and establishing regular discipline, grant, through his intercession, that we may be of one mind and perform our actions in Christ Jesus our Lord, who with Thee liveth and reigneth world without end. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Apr 29 – St Catherine of Siena, OP, (1347-1380), Seraphic Virgin, Doctor of the Church, “Lessons of Love”

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athanasius murphy
-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“‘Love does not stay idle.” – St. Catherine of Siena, Letter T82

Can we really imitate a fourteenth century saint whose life had such great austerity, who fasted with such severity? What lesson can we learn from a Church Doctor whose diet was raw vegetables, whose sleep pattern was non-existent, and whose community was called the “Sisters of Penance”?

Admittedly St. Catherine of Siena’s life was one of penance. Bl. Raymund of Capua’s biography of her makes this clear enough. But I think it’s hard to make sense of St. Catherine’s life of penance unless you’ve made sense of her life of love. Here are a few short teachings from St. Catherine on love:

Love impels us to desire. If love is the reason why we desire, then love is the reason why we live. We can’t live without love because we always want to love something. Love moves us and unites us to the thing we love in order to rest in it. When we love something we don’t just want a superficial understanding of it, but we want what it really is, and nothing keeps us away from it.

St. Catherine knew how to fast because she knew how to love. Penance was admittedly part of her life and letters, but her literature is saturated with descriptions of love. It’s perhaps the single most common word in her letters. There are many goods in this life that we desire, but the supreme good – God, who gives us divine life, beatitude, ultimate happiness – this is the ultimate end that we strive to have in love. St. Catherine knew her need for love.  She often ended her letters with the salutation “Love, love, love one another, sweet Jesus, Jesus, Love.”

Love makes room. In love we forget about ourselves and make room for another. When we fast from little goods we make room for perfect love that comes from Love himself. In doing this we can see where we have false loves – when we love ourselves or another in a way that doesn’t reflect reality. Removing a false self-love in us, God makes room within us for Himself. But us loving God more means we become more of ourselves; there is more of us present in each act of love. God makes room in the temple of ourselves until he lead us to the Incorruptible Temple of Himself.

 by Agostino Carracci
-“The Ecstasy of St Catherine”, Agostino Carracci, 1590, Baroque, oil on canvas, Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy

Only in receiving this Divine Love could St. Catherine care for the sick and the poor and nurse plague victims the way she did. Love, not penance, was the foundation of her life:

“If, then, we made ourselves build on penance as a foundation, it might come to nothing and be so imperfect that we would seem to be deprived of God, and soon [we] would fall into weariness and bitterness…we should strive to give only a finished work to God Who is Infinite Love Who demands from us only infinite desire.” – Letter to Daniella of Orvieto

This divine love was the source of her own love towards those she cared for:

“God has loved us without being loved, but we love Him because we are loved…we cannot profit Him, nor love Him with this first love…In what way can we do this, then, since he demands it and we cannot give it to Him? I tell you…we can be useful, not to Him, which is impossible, but to our neighbor…love is gained in love by raising the eye of our mind to behold how much we are loved by God. Seeing ourselves loved, we cannot otherwise than love.” – Letter to Brother Bartolomeo Dominici

Love transforms. St. Catherine states that “love transforms one into what one loves” (Dialogue 60). In loving God, we become like the One we love. When two things are joined together, there can’t be anything between them, otherwise there wouldn’t be a complete union of them together. This is how God wants us to be with Him in love. Once we are removed from selfish love we can love God with the love with which He has first loved us. St. Catherine takes this transformative love to the highest level:

“The eternal Father said [to me], ‘If you should ask me what this soul is, I would say: she is another me, made so by the union of love.” (Dialogue 96)

By God’s love we become kneaded and knit into our Creator Who redeems us and lets us participate in His divine love.

Ultimately, St. Catherine’s love led her to a life of penance and service to her neighbor. There’s no saying it wasn’t a harsh life – she died at age 33 – but it was certainly a life lived in love. She saw all of her actions and penances tied up in the cross of Christ: a tree not of unnecessary torture and grief but a tree of love. St. Catherine wished to graft herself into that tree and so be joined to the fiery love that comes from Christ.

St. Catherine certainly had her share of penance, but I think the primary lessons she teaches us are in love. If you want a reason for St. Catherine’s penitential life, look to Christ who loved her with an infinite love. Cling to Christ as the One Who lives and Who wants to live in you.”

“Let the eye of understanding rest on the Cross always. Here you’ll discover true virtue and fall in love with it.”
–St. Catherine of Siena

“Start being brave about everything. Drive out darkness and spread light. Don’ look at your weaknesses. Realize instead that in Christ crucified you can do everything.”
-St. Catherine of Siena

“He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God. As often as I look upon the Cross, so often will I forgive with all my heart (Diary, 390).”

“No greater joy is to be found than that of loving God. Already here on earth we can taste the happiness of those in heaven by an intimate union with God, a union that is extraordinary and often quite incomprehensible to us. One can attain this very grace through simple faithfulness of soul (Diary, 507).”

“I am not counting on my own strength, but on His omnipotence for, as He gave me the grace of knowing His holy will, He will also grant me the grace of fulfilling it (Diary, 615).”

“An extraordinary peace entered my soul when I reflected on the fact that, despite great difficulties, I had always faithfully followed God’s will as I knew it. O Jesus, grant me the grace to put Your will into practice as I have come to know it, O God (Diary, 666).”

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My Nature Is Fire

In your nature, eternal Godhead,
I shall come to know my nature.
And what is my nature, boundless love?
It is fire,
because you are nothing but a fire of love.
And you have given humankind
a share in this Nature,
for by the fire of love You created us.
And so with all other people
and every created thing;
you made them out of love.
O ungrateful people!
What nature has your God given you?
His very own nature!
Are you not ashamed to cut yourself off from such a noble thing
through the guilt of deadly sin?
O eternal Trinity, my sweet love!
You, Light, give us light.
You, Wisdom, give us wisdom.
You, Supreme Strength, strengthen us.
Today, eternal God,
let our cloud be dissipated
so that we may perfectly know and follow your Truth in truth,
with a free and simple heart.
God, come to our assistance!
Lord, make haste to help us!
Amen.
-St Catherine of Siena

Love,
Matthew

Apr 1 – Dachau, & Bl Giuseppe Girotti, OP, (1905-1945), Priest & Martyr

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-by Br Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP

“On Good Friday 1940, the Nazi SS Guards of Dachau Concentration Camp found pretext to punish sixty-some priest-prisoners with an hour on “the tree.” One former Dachau prisoner describes the torture saying, “They tie a man’s hands together behind his back, palms facing out and fingers pointing backward. Then they turn his hands inwards, tie a chain around his wrists and hoist him up by it. His own weight twists his joints and pulls them apart.” The barbaric aptitude of the guards of Dachau incarnated the demonic for the some 2500 priests condemned to incarceration in the camp during the years 1933–1945. Priests were crowned with crowns of barbed wire while groups of Jewish prisoners were forced to hail them as kings. Guards mocked, spat upon, and forced priests to carry railroad ties, all in imitation of the crucified Lord.

Every passing day in that camp must have made all-too-real the wickedness and cruelty of Good Friday for those seemingly forsaken prisoners. Good Friday is the only calendar day during which priests do not offer the sacrifice of the Mass. Intermittently denied the ability to celebrate the sacraments, the priest-prisoners found themselves scrounging for scraps of bread to consecrate in clandestine Masses, often going long periods without the sacraments. The few luxuries they were allowed (extra helpings of food, permission to gather for prayer, etc.) evoke the comforts offered Christ during his passion, such as Veronica wiping his face or Simon helping to carry his cross. Even these comforts though were used against the priests, as the rest of the camp’s prisoners envied the liberties occasionally accorded them, making the priests despised even by the other prisoners: not unlike the rejection Christ endured from the angry mob.

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-Bl Giuseppe Girotti, OP

To be sure, not all of the priest-prisoners of Dachau were saintly men—some were actually notorious criminals—but some of Dachau’s resident clergy have been held up as model Christians by the Church, worthy of public veneration. One such priest is the relatively obscure Italian Dominican friar Giuseppe Girotti.

Fr. Giuseppe—a former student of the Servant of God Père Marie-Joseph Lagrange, OP—taught scripture and theology at the Dominican school of theology in Turin (S. Maria della Rose). He was universally beloved by his students. Fr. Giuseppe’s chef d’oeuvre, on the book of Isaiah, includes a detailed study of the beautiful passages on the Suffering Servant, passages applied in the New Testament to Christ in order to interpret his suffering and death on the Cross.  After Italy changed course to collaborate with the Allies in 1943, Fr. Giuseppe dedicated himself to aiding the Jews of Italy. Having studied in Jerusalem, he had a great respect for the Jewish people, whom he fondly called “elder brothers” and “carriers of the word.” When asked once about his work, he candidly said, “Everything I do is for charity.” He would arrange escape and hideouts for Jews.  Nevertheless, his illegal work on behalf of the persecuted Jews was eventually discovered. Fr. Giuseppe’s own via crucis (way of the cross) began on August 29, 1944, when he was betrayed, like his Master, and handed over to the police.

From the prison in Turin, Fr. Giuseppe was transferred to Milan, then to Gries, finally arriving at Dachau. As Isaiah says, “Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth. Seized and condemned, he was taken away. Who would have thought any more of his destiny?” (Isa. 53:7-8). In the midst of the horrific conditions of the camp, during the cold of the winter of 1944–1945 Fr. Giuseppe often said, “We have to prepare to die, but peacefully, with lighted lamps and the happiness of the saints.” On Christmas he gave two lectures on the theological virtues, and was known for regularly teaching his fellow inmates about Sacred Scripture. Fr. Giuseppe fell ill from the camp’s inhumane state, and was transferred to the infirmary.  He died there on Easter Sunday, 1945. It is assumed his life was extinguished by a lethal injection of gasoline, as was the common practice of the Nazi prison camps. “Because of his anguish he shall see the light; because of his knowledge he shall be content” (Isa. 53:11). When word spread through the camp that he had died, a fellow prisoner carved into his empty bed the words, “Here slept Saint Giuseppe Girotti.”

Fr. Giuseppe will be formally beatified on April 26, the day before Bl. John XIII and Bl. John Paul II will be canonized saints. Fr. Giuseppe’s remarkable, humble witness of charity stands in stark contrast to the forces of evil which tormented him. This is the self-effacing embrace of the passion we memorialize on Good Friday, the day of the death of Christ, the Suffering Servant. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured. We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed” (Isa. 53:4-5). Through his own passion, Fr. Giuseppe participated in Christ’s redemptive suffering for the sake of the Church (see Col 1:24). His entrance into eternal life on the glorious day of the Resurrection sheds a ray of hope in a dark world that one day will be transformed through the saving promise of Christ’s sacred Paschal Mystery.”

Love,
Matthew

Feb 4 – St Catherine de Ricci, OSD(OP), (1522-1590) – Mystic, Stigmatist of Our Lord’s Passion

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(Feast Day:  Dominican calendar, Feb 4.  General Roman Calendar, Feb, 13.)

The Ricci are an ancient family, which still subsists in a flourishing condition in Tuscany. Peter de Ricci, the father of our saint, was married to Catherine Bonza, a lady of suitable birth. The saint was born at Florence in 1522, and called at her baptism Alexandrina, but she took the name of Catherine at her religious profession, in honor of St Catherine of Siena, OP.

Having lost her mother in her infancy, she was formed to virtue by a very pious godmother, and whenever she was missing she was always to be found on her knees in some secret part of the house. When she was between six and seven years old, her father placed her in the Convent of Monticelli, near the gates of Florence, where her aunt, Louisa de Ricci, was a nun.

This place was to her a paradise: at a distance from the noise and tumult of the world, she served God without impediment or distraction. After some years her father took her home. She continued her usual exercises in the world as much as she was able; but the interruptions and dissipation, inseparable from her station, gave her so much uneasiness that, with the consent of her father, which she obtained, though with great difficulty, in the year 1535, the fourteenth of her age, she received the religious veil in the convent of Dominican sisters at Prat, in Tuscany, to which her uncle, Fr Timothy de Ricci, OP, was director.

For two years she suffered inexpressible pains under a complication of violent distempers, which remedies only seemed to increase. These sufferings she sanctified by the interior disposition with which she bore them, and which she nourished by assiduous meditation on the passion of Christ. The victory over herself, and purgation of her affections was completed by a perfect spirit of prayer; for by the union of her soul with God, and the establishment of the absolute reign of His love in her heart, she was dead to and disengaged from all earthly things.

The saint was chosen, when very young, first as mistress of the novices, then sub-prioress, and, in the twenty-fifth year of her age, was appointed as perpetual prioress. The reputation of her extraordinary sanctity and prudence drew her many visits from a great number of bishops, princes, and cardinals-among them, the Cardinals Cervini, Alexander of Medicis, and Aldobrandini, who all three were afterwards raised to St. Peter’s chair, under the names of Marcellus II, Clement VIII, and Leo XI. They were among the thousands who sought her prayers while she lived, and even more after her passing.

Most wonderful were the raptures of St. Catherine in meditating on the passion of Christ. She received visions and had ecstasies, but these caused some problems and doubts among her sisters – outwardly she seemed asleep during community prayer, or dropping plates, or food, or dully stupid when the visions were upon her. Her sisters feared for her competence, even her sanity. Catherine thought everyone received these visions as part of their lives with God. She was stricken with a series of painful ailments that permanently damaged her health. Catherine met Philip Neri in a vision while he was alive in Rome; they had corresponded, so they knew each other. She could bi-locate. Neri confirmed during her beatification he spoke with her in person, when she was known to be in prayer in the convent and could not have physically made the trip to Rome to speak with him, a distance of nearly 200 miles. Said to have received a ring from the Lord as a sign of her espousal to Him; to her it appeared as gold set with a diamond; everyone else saw a red lozenge and a circlet around her finger.

At age 20 she began a 12-year cycle of weekly ecstasies of the Passion from noon Thursday until 4:00pm Friday, often accompanied by serious wounds. Her sisters could follow the course of the Passion, as the wounds appeared in order from the scourging and crowning with thorns. At the end she was covered with wounds and her shoulder was indented from the Cross. The first time, during Lent 1542, she meditated so completely on the crucifixion of Jesus that she became ill, and was healed by a vision of the Risen Lord talking with Mary Magdalene. Crowds came to see her, skeptics and sinners being converted by the sight. The crowds became too numerous and constant that the sisters prayed that the wounds become less visible; He made them so in 1554.

After a long illness she passed from this mortal life to everlasting bliss and possession of the object of all her desires on the feast of the Purification of our Lady, on the 2nd of February, in 1589, the sixty-seventh year of her age.

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-St Catherine de Ricci & her brothers, by Fiammetta da Diacceto

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-Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine de Ricci, by Pierre Subleyras, 1745.

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-St Catherine de Ricci receiving the wounded Christ from the Cross in a mystical vision.

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-tomb of St Catherine de Ricci, OSD

Love,
Matthew

Aug 8 – The Most Difficult Saint to Love

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“How good and how pleasant it is,
when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.

It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.”

-Psalm 133

patrick_mary_briscoe_op
-by Br Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP

“For non-Catholics, Francis is the easiest saint to understand and love, while Dominic is the most difficult, once remarked Chesterton.  If the abundance of Francis-emblazoned garden decorations and the world’s new-found devotion to Pope Francis—whose namesake is the beggar friar of Assisi—are a reliable indication, the statement is undoubtedly true.  The endearing vagabond stigmatist of Alverna, known for his love of creation and his sympathy for the poor, easily captures the hearts of multitudes, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In contrast, many written or artistic depictions portray Dominic as the black-and-white clad, crusade-preaching, stern-faced Spaniard of the un-holy Inquisition.  Even today it seems this unfortunate caricature of Dominic abides, as many find Saint Dominic difficult to love and to others he is completely unknown.

Perhaps some would feel drawn to Saint Dominic if his great sympathy for the poor was spoken of more frequently.  As the records of his canonization recall, when he was a student of theology he sold his books to feed the poor of Palencia.  But the great saint lived this solidarity with the poor his entire life, even dying in the bed of another friar—since he had no cell of his own.  To witness to the authenticity of his preaching, Dominic crossed the countryside walking barefoot (in great contrast to the official papal preachers of his day, travelling as they did in luxurious caravans).  A further glimpse of his absolute dedication to poverty is offered by contemporaries of Saint Dominic who attest they only ever saw him wearing the same one habit, covered in patches.

Could it not also be hard to admire Saint Dominic because of the hidden nature of his life of prayer and study?  With a reputation for sincerity and dedication to his work of learning, the young saint was known to spend many long nights poring over his books.  Later in life these sleepless vigils became nights given over to the work of prayer for the conversion of souls.  The fruits of these kinds of efforts though are all-so-often veiled from our prying eyes.

Maybe affection for Dominic is foreign to some hearts because of how little is said of the intensity of his labors.  Saint Dominic’s idea to found the Order was original and highly innovative.  To establish the unprecedented group the Order of Preachers required him to be a master of efficiency and organization. Consider the fact that Dominic only worked for five years after papal approval of the Order before his death and in that time managed to bequeath to it a lasting legacy of governance, traditions and ideals.  Accordingly, these earliest days of the Order leave behind a vivid image of the extraordinary abilities and intuition of its founder.

Is it not also possible that some struggle to be devoted to Saint Dominic because they find the idea of the work of “preaching” aloof or disconnected?  We have said Dominic was a man of study, a true intellectual, but Saint Dominic himself ordered these efforts towards his preaching.  He was a man of learning so that he could reach people with the truth, not be distanced from them! We have only to think of the night Dominic, the preacher of grace, spent speaking until dawn with an innkeeper to convert him in order to see the saint’s acquired knowledge at work, a powerful tool put to use for the salvation of souls.

The extraordinary devotion and charity marked by provision and preparation of Dominic laud not only this man, but his master, Our Lord. Orestes Brownson says of Saint Dominic, “The fact, however, is, that there never was a man more emphatically a man of peace, and a herald of the Gospel of peace, than the blessed St. Dominic. His name is never mentioned […] except as a teacher of the ignorant, a consoler of the afflicted, and a model of sanctity for all.” When a person sees the life of Saint Dominic in its grandeur and glory, humility and simplicity, Dominic can be known as he truly is: an icon of Christ. So let us draw back the curtain then and allow the image of Saint Dominic to emerge from behind the shadows of our time, that by his example and intercession multitudes of men and women may be drawn to the Light of Christ!”

Love,
Matthew

Witnesses to Christ in the World – Most Rev Anthony Fisher, OP, Bishop of Parrammatta, Australia, WYD 2011, Madrid

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“There is nothing else in the world that could bring together young people from Africa, from the Americas, from Europe, from Asia and from the greatest continent of all, Australia, nothing else.  The Olympics brings them to the same place but at the Olympics, these Aussies and Americans in the sanctuary at the moment would be fighting each other for medals.  Here, we’re all on the same team.  We’re all on Jesus Christ’s team.  Hold on to that thought in the days ahead.  Nothing else can bring the world together like Jesus Christ can bring the world together.

As you just heard, I was coordinator of the last World Youth Day held in Sydney, Australia in 2008.  Thousands of young people say that they encountered God very personally there.  Faith and idealism was deepened.   That it was the best week of their lives so far.  And amidst the massive crowds that had to be gathered and transported and fed and accommodated and toileted and the rest –  and I had to learn about all those things – amidst the complexity of those huge events, there were so many individual personal stories about God and me.  Let me tell you just a few.

Philip, a young atheist from New Zealand was persuaded by his mother to come to World Youth Day.  He told a young nun, “You have this life, this flame about you.  You’re so full of joy and I want that for myself.”  It was the beginning of a profound conversion for him.  Two other sisters told me how they met some young people in the street from communist China.  They were in Sydney for university not for World Youth Day.  They knew practically nothing about Christianity.  But the sisters talked them into coming to the opening mass with them and they gave them a crash catechism course along the way.  By the time of the consecration at the mass, these Chinese young people were crying.  They had got it.

The visiting bishop from Canada – and we see those wonderful maple flags over there – wrote about the number of ordinary Australians that he met on the street, the railway or in pubs.  I don’t know how many pubs that bishop visited.  Canadians do have a name for it.  And he wrote, “For not people of faith, these people I met were filled with wonder and curiosity and joy at how well the young people behaved and their enthusiasm for Jesus Christ.  A few of them said it really raised deep questions for them for they knew they would have to reflect upon once World Youth Day was over.  This is a great working of the Holy Spirit” he said.  It raised deep questions for them.

From very early, young children ask questions.  What is it?  Is it me or not me?  What does it taste like?  How do I manipulate it?  Why Mommy, why Daddy?  Why universe?

At first, babies think they are the universe or that the whole purpose of the universe is to satisfy their wants.  In due course, they discover rivals for the attention of the universe like their brothers and sisters – if they’re lucky enough to have them – and the complexity of negotiating with these rivals.

As they become increasingly reflective, children discover not only that the universe is not them and not even for them, but that the universe doesn’t need them.  They don’t even have to exist.  They come to understand that there was a time when they didn’t exist, that they were brought into existence and constantly sustained by others.  And that their continued existence is rather tenuous.  Eventually, as I said, they learn that the universe too comes and goes, depends each part on other parts for its beginning and its existence.

This is natural science, the study of the what and how of things which we learn at school or by reading or by our own exploring.  But behind those explorations, there’s a deeper awe before the mystery of existence itself.  And those deep questions that even guys in pubs starting asking themselves when they see World Youth Day happening.

Why is there anything at all rather than nothing at all?  Does the universe have to exist?  How can that be given its comings and goings, its causes and effects, its wholes and its parts?  Is there something necessary that grounds our unnecessary world?  Is there something unchanging that sustains our changing world?  I know I don’t have to be.  I know you don’t have to be.

There was a time when I didn’t exist and a time will come when I’ll be dead.  In the meantime, why this me and this universe?  What am I for?  Is there more for me when this life is over?  Does that something, that someone behind the universe care about me, have a plan for me?  Our deep wonder and awe at the beauty, the complexity, the resilience, the vulnerability of the universe and of ourselves is the beginning of the adventure of science but also of the adventure of religion.

Science helps explain the what and the how of things but not the ultimate why.  Our inner child keeps asking, “But Daddy, why?”  We’re left wondering not just how the world is but that the world is.

As a physicist, Stephen Hawking, once remarked, “What is it that breathes fire into these equations and makes there a world for them to describe?  Wise men and women through the ages have concluded that there are only two possible answers.  Either there is not reason, it just is, the way it is but there’s no ultimate cause, no ultimate sense to make of it all.  Or there is some cause and sustainer of things, of all life and being and meaning.  Some necessary being that gives the world its existence and sustains it without which or whom the world would not exist.

Some things are mysteries.  I don’t mean theological Sudoku puzzles that are hard to solve.  I don’t mean gobblety-gook that no one can understand.  By mysteries I mean things that are so profound yet intelligible that we can explore them and learn about them and come to understand them more and more and more and still never exhaust them.

Take the mystery of evil especially of innocent suffering. Or the sometimes more stunning mystery of good, such as the hard loving that some people do in the face of exhaustion, in gratitude or persecution.  Or the mystery of human life that parents experience when awe struck at the baby that came from them and yet they’re sure can’t just have come from them; or the mystery of a spider’s web or the Milky Way or our own minds or hearts or so much else in the natural world.

It’s not just big or small or intricate or simple but truly wonderful, full of wonders.  All these things we can explore from different perspectives.  Natural science, social science, the arts, the trades but still there is more to know.  God is the first and greatest mystery and before Him we gape uncomprehending, God.

Our minds glimpse but never fully comprehend the mystery of God.  We see and know things God has made and can point to Him as the source of being – creativity, life, knowledge, love.  For this is very partial because for every similarity between the creature and the creator, there are big differences, too.  That’s why the postures of the ancients towards God was to bow or kneel, to cover their eyes.  God is transcendent and He is tremendous.  That is, God is something that makes us tremble with terror and delight.  To have faith in God is not to identify and comprehend yet one more object in the universe.  God is not a thing.  To know God is not to know something like our dad, writ large, or a kryptonite immune Superman or a kind of super computer with Wikipedia on it only more reliable.  No, God is not in or of our universe.

But to believe in God is to believe the whole universe has a source and direction and meaning.  It’s to ask the big questions and to be ready for some unexpected answers.

Now it’s risky saying God is not a creature but the source of creatures.  That God is not a thing, but the reason for things.  That God is the big “B” being behind all beings.  It’s risky saying that because it can make God sound rather remote and hypothetical like a math theorem or an alien got the universe going and then zipped away into hyper-space.

But to believe firmly in God is to believe there is a meaning to the universe, a meaning that includes not only the big bang and the laws of nature but each individual human being and every life, our lives, every day.  It’s to believe that there is a beauty, a wisdom, a guiding hand, a universal law, an ultimate Truth, a Purpose behind the story of everything.  To grasp and hold on to this big idea, to have it planted firmly in our hearts is called faith.

There are three more things about faith that I’d like to say and I’ll say them much more quickly, because it’s hot.  Hot because of the Holy Spirit whose Mass we’ll celebrate later.  Hot because the Holy Spirit is breathing into and out of every one of you, and you’re hot; not just temperature-wise but hot with God.  So, three more quick things about faith.

I’ve said that faith is the ability to grasp and hold on to.  That big idea to have that planted firmly in our hearts; the big idea that there is a Beauty, a Wisdom, a guiding hand, a universal law, an ultimate Truth, a Purpose behind everything including me.  But my three more thoughts are first that the awe at the heart of faith, at the beauty and truth and goodness of things, at the inexhaustible mystery of things, at the impossibility of ever grasping the awesomeness of things is something worth exploring all the way to the grave and beyond.

It’s not just little kids who ask, “Why Mommy, why Daddy?  What’s that?”  We are all at heart explorers.  And at your age, there’s a very special kind of exploring to be done, exploring the big questions of the universe of God and of me, exploring the big question about what I’m for, what I will do with my life.

Secondly, that beauty and truth and goodness that we grasp for all our limitations is something we can come to know something of and know with certainty.  Appreciate with wisdom and live with passion.

And thirdly, that sort of seeking and finding requires commitment.  Be awake to all dangers says Saint Paul.  Stay firm in your faith.  Be brave and strong to everything in love.  That’s brave faith, adult faith.  After saying this, “what can we add” says Paul.  “With God on our side, who can be against us?”  Sadly, some people never grow up spiritually.  They may be very knowledgeable and sophisticated in their particular profession or art or science.  Yet on the level of faith they remain five-year-olds.  They never go on pilgrimage beyond their own little world that they know.  They never read or study or reflect on the big questions as adults.  They leave their faith stunted at the level of Santa Claus, a vague memory or sentiment from their childhood.

And then as young adults, unable to reconcile this new adult knowledge and experience with the childish faith, they either live with a kind of split personality, religious children on Sundays and sophisticated adults every other day or else they throw away their childhood religion and think themselves very sophisticated and grown up because they don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore.  They call themselves, then, agnostic or atheist which sounds more adult.

But that, frankly, is intellectual and spiritual laziness.  “Brothers and sisters,” says Saint Paul, “Don’t be childish in your outlook.  Grow up in Christ.”  If people are going to abandon their Catholic faith as adults they should at least know what or who they are abandoning understood in an adult way.

Tomorrow’s catechesis is going to focus on that question, the Who question.  Faith is all very well but faith in what, in Whom?  Tomorrow we’ll consider what the encounter with Jesus Christ does for our outlook and identity.  To say my Lord and my God is to change everything, deepen everything, find a new joy in everything.

And so on Friday, we’ll consider what it means for who and what we are in the world and for the world.

But let me conclude today’s talk with one last thought.  The world needs you to ask the big questions and not be satisfied with the glib answers.  Secularism with is amnesia about God is pushing faith and mystery to the margins.  Sells you short by saying your questions are meaningless or too hard or to profitable and that you should be satisfied with just accumulating wealth and gadgets or with the physical and emotional roller coaster ride of endless experiences and partners but with no firm faith for commitments, no self sacrifice, no possibility of transcendence.

Secularism sells you short because by God’s grace you really are capable of so much more than this.  You have the power and passion within you to do great things.  That power and passion is faith and humanity in which God and humanity are revealed in all their possibilities.

Secularism sells you short because without reference to God, without relationship with Him, we quickly lose sense with our own dignity and purpose.  But if I can declare that I believe in God who creates and sustains this wonderful world visible and invisible, that I believe in his communication to me through the natural world and my own reason informed by faith and by the scriptures and by the sacraments. That I believe in Jesus Christ is the word for my mind and in the Holy Spirit, who is inspiration for my heart.  If I can say I believe, then my life is built on rock, firm and secure.

If I can say I believe these things, then I must say also we believe.  We, that church that is big enough for all the world.  The only thing big enough for all the world drawn together by Jesus Christ, I believe.  In my diocese, we have a movement called Theology On Tap.  It’s only one of about 80 active youth groups and movements that we have.

A group of us go to a local pub each month to discuss a theological topic, so it’s not just Canadian bishops that can be found in pubs.  We get a good speaker and a good topic and have plenty of discussion.  Five, six, sometimes seven hundred young people join us there at the pub.  They’re ordinary, exuberant, diverse young people.  They come from every cultural background like a mini World Youth Day.

They’re not religious fanatics, just young people with hearts and heads big enough to wonder, believe and commit.  It’s great fun and great support for young people to be surrounded by other young people asking the same big questions as them who believe the things they do, who can encourage and strengthen them.  And with whom they can have a good time.

The church and the world right now needs young people with those sorts of questions and answers.  Firm in faith, firm in the faith not lazy about it or angry about it, not against things so much as for things, not against anyone but for someone in particular, for Jesus Christ.  And because of that, for every other human person from Africa and Asia and the Americas and Europe and Australia.

I believe, we believe, the Church needs you.  Thank you.”

Love,
Matthew