Category Archives: Order of Preachers

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

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-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

“Man, are you guys Jedis or what?”

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-by Br. Humbert Kilanowski, O.P.

“Man, are you guys Jedis or what?” That’s what a surprised inner-city schoolboy said when he first encountered some of my fellow Dominican friars. And the question is not completely without basis. Our white habits and dark leather belts do give us an appearance similar to the legendary guardians of peace and justice in the Star Wars galaxy. We carry rosaries instead of lightsabers, but we are entrusted, like the Jedi Knights, with the task of safeguarding the Truth. Yet we differ from the Jedi—as does any Christian—on several points.

The story of Star Wars is set “a long time ago,” before the birth of Christ, and the Jedi philosophy—recognized as a real-world religion in some places <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jediism>—draws from several pre-Christian strains of thought, such as Zen Buddhist mysticism and Taoist dualism. The most striking parallel, however, is with the Stoicism of ancient Greece and Rome. The Stoic philosophers were pantheists who believed that God was a “world-soul” existing within all matter, very much like “the Force,” which Obi-Wan Kenobi describes as “an energy field created by all living things.” This idea is very much opposed to the transcendent God of Christian monotheism, who is totally other than the created universe.

But there is another way in which both Stoics and Jedi find themselves at odds with Christianity—in their idea that bodily emotions, or passions, are disturbances of the soul, and thus always evil. While the Stoics typically restricted this term to passions unchecked by reason, the Jedi go further and claim that all emotions are to be avoided.

This view is expressed succinctly, thought not very clearly, by the diminutive Jedi Master, Yoda: “Anger, fear, aggression—the Dark Side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight.” The Jedi’s ideal state of mind is what Zeno and his followers called apatheia, which is not quite the same as what we call “apathy,” but is rather a total avoidance of all emotions, such as love and hate, joy and sorrow.

This last passion, sorrow, is the worst of all human experiences for Yoda: “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.” By placing the feeling of pain at the very bottom of this downward spiral, the Jedi Master not only denigrates all emotions, but asserts that suffering, an inevitable part of human experience (or, as some would say, our “lot in life”), is meaningless, and that no good can come out of it.

The life and work of Jesus Christ, therefore, is a scandal to the Jedi’s moral philosophy. Our Lord committed no sin and did no evil, yet He often experienced emotions: fear in the garden of Gethsemane, anger at the money-changers in the Temple, sorrow at the death of Lazarus, and love for all His people in the world. Moreover, His agony on the Cross accomplished the greatest possible good for the human race, namely, redemption for our sins. It even imbues our own sufferings with salvific meaning. Finally, Heaven is the cause of our greatest delight, and satisfies our most profound desires, which are even greater than our cravings for worldly adventure and excitement.

Thus, for the Christian, the emotions of the body are fundamentally good, even though they are not the highest good. They are not, as the Utilitarians claim (at the opposite extreme), the basic barometer of morality. In the section on morals in the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas, OP, demonstrates how the passions can be good:

“The passions of the soul, insofar as they are contrary to the order of reason, incline us to sin: but insofar as they are controlled by reason, they pertain to virtue.” (I-II, 24, 2, ad 3)

Since we are more than our physical bodies and have the power to think and reason, we must not let our emotions dominate our actions, but always let our free will and knowledge harness and direct them toward the good. For example, anger can be good when it motivates a charitable act, such as correcting a neighbor’s fault or rectifying a previous act of injustice. Sorrow for sin leads to conversion and avoidance of future wrongdoing. And while irrational fear of creatures may set us on a path to darkness, a reverential “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prv 1:7).

St. Thomas uncovers the errors in Yoda’s causal chain: fear does not lead to anger (both are responses to a present evil or deprivation); anger does not lead to hate (but vice versa); yet hate does lead to suffering when it involves willing evil toward others.

We friars may look like Jedi Knights, but our theology and our moral theory are radically different. We believe that human nature is fulfilled, not by suppressing emotion, but by directing it toward the joys of contemplation and virtuous action. The fear of God, for us children of a loving Father, is the path to eternal life.

Love,
Matthew

Jan 28 – St Thomas Aquinas, O.P., (1225-1274) – Doctor of the Church, Doctor Communis, Doctor Angelicus, “The Dumb Ox!”

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Also known as the “Common Doctor/Doctor Communis”, which is high praise, meaning his opine is universal, something for everyone, relevant in every situation.

Probably, for me, the highlight, liturgically, of the year is Holy Thursday, after communion has been distributed and the priest is enwrapped in cope, incense is lit, the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the monstrance, the procession to the place of reservation begins and Pange Lingua, attributed to St Thomas Aquinas, and not just because I am his wonk, is sung beautifully and reverently, nearly as chant…

“Sing, my tongue, the Saviour’s glory,
of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our Immortal King…

Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail…”

It is very moving for me.  My mother always taught me to genuflect on both knees when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.  The altar is then stripped and ornamentation in the sanctuary is removed in anticipation of the events remembered the following day.  There is such a peace, solemnity, silence, and profound meaning beyond words I look forward to each year.

I tried reading the Summa on my own, once, and only once.  Emphasis on the word “tried” and “once”.  I quickly gave up.  Calculus is easier, more self-evident.

There are a great number of erudite tomes way over my head which are best introduced to the novice, literally, with a well seasoned, compassionate guide to whom the bewildered, overwhelmed student can revert with great frequency, great frequency, receiving tender mercies of experienced instruction and wisdom, presuming these qualities are present in the teacher.  Thank God for merciful instructors.  We would never graduate without their encouragement and support.  I try to imitate that with my own students, who, too, are deeply grateful, usually, but there are some… 🙁  For those students, I have to pray even harder!!! 🙂

Don’t try the Summa on your own, boys and girls.  Fair warning.  Many of the original works of the Church Fathers fall into this category as well.  You have been fairly warned!  I have the intellectual scars from those “knowledge bombs”, a term one of my students recently introduced me to, to prove it!  Wanna see?  🙂

St. Thomas Aquinas was born January 28, 1225, in Aquino, a town in southern Italy from which he takes his surname. In his masterwork, Summa Theologica, he represents the pinnacle of Scholasticism, the philosophical and theological school that reconciles faith with reason and the works of Aristotle with the scriptures.

At the time Thomas lived, the works of Aristotle were being rediscovered in the West and great Christian thinkers of the day spent a good deal of attention and effort trying to unify Divine revelation with human philosophy.  In the East, intellectual life flourished.  The West was still recovering from the inertia of the “Dark Ages”, where little intellectual innovation occurred.  It is said St Thomas was the spark who prepared the the West for the Renaissance.  Aristotle had been preserved in Arabic, and Islam was producing great Aristotelian thinkers.  Western Christians needed to respond in kind.

The family of Thomas Aquinas was a noble one, his parents, the Count of Aquino and Countess of Teano, were related to Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, as well as to the Kings of Aragon, Castile, and France.  He was the youngest of eight children.

During his early education, Thomas exhibited great acumen in the medieval trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Described as “a witty child”, who “had received a good soul”, even as a child student, he posed the question to his instructors, “What is God?”

Because of his high birth, Thomas’ entry into the Dominican order in the early 1240s was very surprising, and especially disturbing to his family. They especially opposed entry into “mendicant”, or begging orders, who beg for their sustenance, thinking it far below their family status.

Thomas’ family employed various means to dissuade him from his vocation, including kidnapping him and imprisoning him for two years.  Thomas spent his time tutoring his sisters, and communicating with other Dominicans.  His resolve was strong.  Family members became desperate to dissuade Thomas, who remained determined to join the Dominicans. At one point, two of his brothers resorted to the measure of hiring a prostitute to seduce him. Thomas drove her away wielding a fire iron. That night two angels appeared to him as he slept and strengthened his determination to remain celibate giving him a mystical belt of chastity.  He never faced sexual temptation again. (????!!!! Really? Wow? :< I guess. Mixed feelings on that one…. 🙂 [I DO like my sin, unfortunately. 🙁 Give me strength, Lord! :] Concupiscence.

Upon his escape, which was arranged by his mother, Theodora, as a face saving measure, rather than all out surrender to a religious order, Thomas returned to the Dominicans and his studies.  Since, “still waters run deep”, Thomas was a thoughtful, and hence, quiet student.  His taciturn nature was deceiving.  So much so, his classmates thought him dim-witted.  Possessing hefty stature, his classmates nick-named him “The Dumb Ox!”

After a stint as a student in Paris, Thomas made his way to Cologne to teach, receiving ordination to the priesthood in 1250. Soon after this, he was assigned to teach at Paris, where he also worked toward his degree of Doctor of Theology, which he received in 1257, with his friend St. Bonaventure, after some intramural political difficulty.

The remainder of his life was spent in prayer, study, and writing his great Summa Theologica, a systematic attempt to present the findings of scholasticism. Although Thomas is sometimes perceived simply as an analytical and methodical writer, he was, especially in his later years, given to periods of mystical ecstasy. During one such experience, on December 6, 1273, he resigned from his writing project, indicating that he had perceived such wonders that his previous work seemed worthless.  During the Feast of St. Nicolas in 1273, St. Thomas Aquinas had a mystical vision that made writing seem unimportant to him. At Mass, he heard a voice coming from a crucifix tell him, “Thou hast written well of Me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?” to which St. Thomas Aquinas replied, “None other than Thyself, Lord.”

When St. Thomas Aquinas’ confessor, Father Reginald of Piperno, urged him to keep writing, Aquinas replied, “I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value, as so much straw.” St. Thomas Aquinas never wrote again.

The Summa Theologica was left unfinished, proceeding only as far as the ninetieth question of the third part. St. Thomas Aquinas died a few months later, on March 7, 1274. Today, Thomist theology stands at the center of the Roman Catholic tradition.

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-The Temptation of St Thomas Aquinas, by Diego Velazquez, 1631-2, oil on canvas, Orihuela Cathedral Museum

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– artist anonymous, Cusco School, (1690 – 1695), “Saint Thomas Aquinas, Protector of the University of Cusco”, oil on canvas, H:1,610 mm (63.39 in), W:1,170 mm (46.06 in), Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru.

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“Joy is the noblest human act.” -St Thomas Aquinas

“Charity is the form, mover, mother and root of all the virtues.” – Saint Thomas Aquinas

“To love God is something greater than to know Him.” -St. Thomas Aquinas

“Almighty and ever-living God, I approach the sacrament of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.  Lord, in your great generosity, heal my sickness, wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness.  Amen.”  -St Thomas Aquinas

“May I receive the bread of angels, the King of kings and Lord of lords, with humble reverence, with the purity and faith, the repentance and love, and the determined purpose that will help to bring me to salvation.  May I receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood, and its reality and power.  Amen.”  -St Thomas Aquinas

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Wonderful Theologian and Doctor of the Church, you learned more from the Crucifix than from books. Combining both sources, you left us the marvelous “Summa” of theology, broadcasting most glorious enlightenment to all.  You always sought for true light and studied for God’s honor and glory.  Help us all to study our religion as well as all other subjects needed for life, without ambition and pride in imitation of you. Amen.

Prayer

Father of wisdom, You inspired Saint Thomas Aquinas with an ardent desire for holiness and study of sacred doctrine. Help us, we pray, to understand what he taught, and to imitate what he lived.   Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 28 – Sts Lawrence Ruiz & Companions, (1600?-1637), Husband, Father, Catechist, Martyr

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At St Matthias, the church nearest where Kelly and I and Mara currently live, there is a shrine to St Lawrence Ruiz.  I really didn’t know who he was.  There are some Filipino grandmothers at Mass there regularly whom I would never want to “mess with”.  The would take me out.  I am convinced.  They wear their veils and the biggest scapulars I have ever seen.  I don’t mess with Filipino grandmothers who wear over-sized scapulars and are always at Mass.  They scare me to my soul.  I don’t mess.  There is a Filipino grandmother curse with my name on it if I do, I am convinced.  “The fear of the Lord and of Filipino grandmothers who wear big scapulars and are always in church is the beginning of Wisdom.”  I am sure I have seen these exact words in Scripture.  🙂

Lawrence (Lorenzo) was born in Manila of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, both Christians. Thus he learned Chinese and Tagalog from them and Spanish from the Dominicans whom he served as altar boy and sacristan. He became a professional calligrapher, transcribing documents in beautiful penmanship. He was a full member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary under Dominican auspices. He married and had two sons and a daughter.

His life took an abrupt turn when he was accused of murder. Nothing further is known except the statement of two Dominicans that “he was sought by the authorities on account of a homicide to which he was present or which was attributed to him.”

At that time three Dominican priests, Antonio Gonzalez, Guillermo Courtet and Miguel de Aozaraza, were about to sail to Japan in spite of a violent persecution there. With them was a Japanese priest, Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz, and a layman named Lazaro, a leper. Lorenzo, having taken asylum with them, was allowed to accompany them. But only when they were at sea did he learn that they were going to Japan.

They landed at Okinawa. Lorenzo could have gone on to Formosa, but, he reported, “I decided to stay with the Fathers, because the Spaniards would hang me there.” In Japan they were soon found out, arrested and taken to Nagasaki. The site of wholesale bloodshed when the atomic bomb was dropped had known tragedy before. The 50,000 Catholics who once lived there were dispersed or killed by persecution.

They were subjected to an unspeakable kind of torture: After huge quantities of water were forced down their throats, they were made to lie down. Long boards were placed on their stomachs and guards then stepped on the ends of the boards, forcing the water to spurt violently from mouth, nose and ears.

The superior, Antonio, died after some days. Both the Japanese priest and Lazaro broke under torture, which included the insertion of bamboo needles under their fingernails. But both were brought back to courage by their companions.

In Lorenzo’s moment of crisis, he asked the interpreter, “I would like to know if, by apostatizing, they will spare my life.” The interpreter was noncommittal, but Lorenzo, in the ensuing hours, felt his faith grow strong. He became bold, even audacious, with his interrogators.

When government officials asked, “If we grant you life, will you renounce your faith?,” Lorenzo responded: “That I will never do, because I am a Catholic, and I shall die for God, and for Him I will give many thousands of lives if I had them. And so, do with me as you please.”

The five were put to death by being hanged upside down in pits. Boards fitted with semicircular holes were fitted around their waists and stones put on top to increase the pressure. They were tightly bound, to slow circulation and prevent a speedy death. They were allowed to hang for three days. By that time Lorenzo and Lazaro were dead. The three Dominican priests, still alive, were beheaded.

Beatified in 1981, Pope John Paul II canonized these six and 10 others, Asians and Europeans, men and women, who spread the faith in the Philippines, Formosa and Japan in 1987. Lorenzo Ruiz is the first canonized Filipino martyr.

O most merciful and almighty God,
You bestowed as gift to Lorenzo Ruiz
The strength to withstand
The overpowering forces of death
For the sake of his faith in You.

Through his prayers,
Help us to follow his example
By overcoming all life’s trials
And eventually, increase
Our hope and love in You.

O St. Lorenzo Ruiz,
You brought honor to your country,
Having been a level-headed
And prudent father of the family,
A witness of Christ in your life
Until your death.

We present all our petitions
To God through your help
So that by our actions,
We may know more and love more
Jesus our Lord and Savior.

We humbly implore
Your intercession O dear St. Lorenzo,
For the infinite glory of God
And in honor of your triumph
As a martyr of Christ
And defender of Christianity.

Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Nov 5 – Servant of God Giorgio La Pira (1904-1977), The Godly Mayor – a job, a house, & music…

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What can one person do?  Certainly little in the modern world?  Right?  Certainly?  This excuse is regularly used to avoid challenging questions one’s conscience may pose.  The cost is one’s mental health and, possibly, one’s soul.

Giorgio La Pira was a charismatic and popular politician – the type of big city civic character who might seem familiar to Americans. What distinguishes La Pira is that this three-time mayor of Florence may well have been a saint. Governing in the 1950’s and 60’s he had an overriding concern for the poor, was a defender of the rights of workers and, later on, became an international apostle of peace.

On April 26, 2004, Italy celebrated the centenary of Giorgio La Pira. On that occasion, in a meeting with representatives from the National Association of Italian Municipalities, Pope John Paul II praised the former mayor of Florence as a man who “set forth with firmness his ideas as a believer and as a man who loved peace, inviting his interlocutors to a common effort to promote this basic good in various spheres: in society, politics, the economy, cultures and among religions.” Eighteen years earlier, in 1986, the formal process for the cause of the beatification of Giorgio La Pira began.

Even before his death, Giorgio La Pira was already considered a living saint by some in Italy.  His clothes were alleged to have miraculous healing powers. Amintore Fanfani, La Pira’s friend and fellow Christian Democrat, was reported to have used an old hat of La Pira’s to cure minor illnesses suffered by his children. Who was this man?

Giorgio La Pira was born on January 09, 1904 in Pozzallo, a town in the province of Ragusa in Sicily. Born the eldest of six children, La Pira’s family was not wealthy. His father, Gaetano, worked in a packing house. However, like many Italian children, La Pira was brought up in a Catholic household that valued education. After moving to Messina to live with an uncle, La Pira received both a traditional education in the Classics as well as a business education, receiving a degree in accounting. Law school was the next step in an academic career that would eventually see the cheerful Sicilian awarded the Chair of Roman Law at the University of Florence in 1933.

While beloved by his students, La Pira eventually ran afoul of Italy’s Fascist regime. Having helped found the anti-fascist magazine Principles in 1939, La Pira became a target of Mussolini’s police, prompting La Pira to seek refuge in the Vatican City where he worked for L’Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See. After the end of World War II, La Pira played an important role in shaping the future of the Italian Republic. As part of the Constituent Assembly, La Pira helped craft the new Italian constitution, standing firmly in favor of the legal indissolubility of the family and championing the authority of fathers within the family. In 1948, La Pira went to work for the government of Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi as Undersecretary of Labor in the Ministry of Employment and Social Insurance.

During his period in the national government, La Pira became associated with the left-wing of the Christian Democratic Party, along with Giuseppe Dossetti, Amintore Fanfani, and Giuseppe Lazzati. Known as the “Little Professors” because of their impressive academic credentials and Christian idealism, the friends founded the journal Cronache Sociali, a left-leaning journal of Christian social thinking. La Pira’s writings on economics were heavily influenced by John Maynard Keynes and other British sources including Stafford Cripps and the Labour Party in general. For La Pira and many of his allies on the left-wing of the Christian Democratic Party, Clement Attlee’s Labour government in Great Britain was the model that post-war Italy ought to follow on questions of economics.

When La Pira became Mayor of Florence in 1951, he brought with him many of the economic ideas he developed while writing for the Cronache Sociali and working in the national government on problems of unemployment and other socio-economic issues. These ideas would be put to the test in a concrete fashion when La Pira was faced with a city suffering from high unemployment and a housing shortage. Wasting little time, La Pira’s administration burst into action, developing a number of public works projects designed to alleviate the city’s unemployment problem. Under La Pira’s watch, bridges destroyed during the war were rebuilt, water works and public transportation systems were repaired or built, low-cost public housing was constructed for the homeless residents of the city, and various artistic and cultural programs were developed. La Pira’s vision for Florence was a city of self-sufficient neighbourhoods with a vibrant cultural life.

Of course, La Pira’s administration is probably most famous for its extensive policy of municipalisation that earned him the love of workers and the hatred of many industrialists. In 1955, La Pira’s city government took over a failed foundry and turned over its operation to the workers, allowing them to elect their bosses from among their own ranks. In response to changes in national government policy that allowed evictions from rent-controlled apartments, La Pira requisitioned old Fascist buildings and even the villas of wealthy Florentines for the purpose of rehousing evicted tenants.

In perhaps his most famous action as Mayor of Florence, La Pira saved hundreds of jobs at the Pignone industrial plant, which at that time was making cotton-spinning machines for the textile industry. Due to a slump in demand in the textile business, Pignone was being closed down by its private owners. However, the workers refused to leave, sleeping and taking meals in the factory and continuing to work the machines. La Pira joined the workers in attending Mass and worked with the union leadership to find a resolution to the problem of the plant’s closure. Eventually, La Pira was able to convince Enrico Mattei, the head of ENI, Italy’s powerful state-run energy corporation, to take over the factory and place it under public ownership, thus saving more than one thousand jobs.

La Pira’s generosity with the public treasury was only matched by his own personal attitude toward those in need. It was not unusual to find the Mayor of Florence walking about with no shoes, no coat, and no umbrella, because he had given away his clothing to the poor. La Pira, who was a Dominican tertiary, lived in an unheated monastery cell in the Basilica of San Marco, although he sometimes lodged with a doctor friend when it was especially cold outside.  His behavior caused him to be dubbed “the Saint” by the people of Florence. Indeed, despite the fact that he was hated by many businessmen in Italy, their allies in the Christian Democratic Party could not afford to replace La Pira with another candidate as he was seen as the only person who could defeat the Communists in left-wing Florence.

After La Pira served his final year as Mayor of Florence in 1964, he largely devoted himself to the cause of international peace, working to bring an end to conflicts in Vietnam and the Middle East in particular. His work in favor of disarmament and Third World development also merit mention, and the bespectacled Sicilian even travelled to Chile to try to prevent the coup d’état against President Salvador Allende.

In 1976, Giorgio La Pira returned to active politics at the request of the Christian Democratic Party. Despite ill-health, La Pira stood for election and won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies. La Pira’s last actions as a politician reflect the changing problems of the world he lived in. La Pira was a vehement opponent of abortion and fought against its legalization, with L’Osservatore Romano running his article “Confronting Abortion” on its front page on March 19, 1976. La Pira also spoke out against the increasing violence and materialism of modern society, connecting his opposition to abortion to his support for disarmament and world peace.

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On November 05, 1977, Giorgio La Pira passed away. His funeral was unsurprisingly well attended, and the attendees included the thousands of workers whose jobs he saved at the Pignone factory and elsewhere.

Perhaps more than any other member of the Christian Democratic Left, La Pira actively embodied the ideals of a Christian version of social democracy. La Pira put into action his statement that every person was entitled to “a job, a house, and music,” even if it caused many people within his own Christian Democratic Party to accuse him of statism or “spurious Marxism,” as the venerable Don Luigi Sturzo, one of the founders of Italian Christian Democracy, put it.

La Pira responded to Don Sturzo by describing the dire unemployment situation in Florence, particularly among the young, and asking him what he would do if he were mayor. In our own age, when so many people are left out of work, when so many young people cannot start families because the market cannot provide enough work to form the economic basis of family life, Christians cannot shrink in fear from accusations of statism or Marxism. Giorgio La Pira provides us with a bold example of political action in favor of peace, family life, and social justice (including justice for the unborn) with real meaning, not just words.

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In Cardinal Benelli’s sermon preached in the Duomo at La Pira’s funeral, he asserted that “everything about La Pira can be understood through faith, without faith nothing about him can be understood”. Nor is there any doubt that this is the sole key to understanding “the Professor’s” life.

His fundamental working hypothesis, expressed in every sort of circumstance and in every place, was always based on the certainty of the resurrection of Christ: “if Christ be risen, as He is risen…” he used to say, going on to affirm that the entire history of all peoples is conditioned by this event.

“The holiness of our century will have this characteristic. It will be a holiness of laypeople. We encounter on the streets those who within 50 years may be on the altars–along the streets, in factories, in parliament and in university classrooms.” -Giorgio La Pira

O God, You have given to Your servant Giorgio La Pira
the grace to testify admirably in the cultural, social and political life of our time.

Grant us the grace, we ask, that the Church may recognize his heroic virtues and is revered by the Christian people as inspirer of charity, justice, peace. Amen.

“There is no doubt that the Lord had placed in my soul the desire for priestly grace; only, however, that He wished that I remain in my lay garb to labor with more fecundity in the secular world far from Him. But the goal of my life is clearly marked out: to be the Lord’s missionary in the world; and this apostolate will be carried out!”
-April 1931  Giorgio La Pira (from the letter to his aunt, Settimia Occhipinti)

“One last thing: I am not a priest, as you have supposed: Jesus did not want that of me! I am just a young man to whom Jesus has given a great grace: the desire to love Him without limits and to have Him be loved without limits.”
-Easter 1933 (16 April)  Giorgio La Pira (from the letter to the Mother Prioress of Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi)

“Then the LORD asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
-Gen 4:9

Love,
Matthew

Jul 4 – Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, OP, (1901-1925) – The Joy & Gift of Christian Youth

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is a saint for the modern world, and especially for the young people of our time. Born in 1901 in Turin, Italy, to a rich and politically influential family; his mother was the painter Adelaide Ametis; his father was an agnostic, the founder and editor of the liberal newspaper La Stampa, which opposed many Catholic positions, and became the Italian ambassador to Germany.

Pier Giorgio’s time on earth was short-only 24 years-but he filled it passionately with holy living. He was a model of virtue, a “man of the beatitudes,” as Pope John Paul II called him at the saint’s beatification ceremony in Rome on May 20, 1990.  A pious youth, average student, outstanding athlete and mountain climber, he was extremely popular with his peers.  He was described by friends as “an explosion of joy.” His nickname was “Terror”, due to his incessant practical jokes!  As Pier Giorgio’s sister, Luciana, says of her brother in her biography of him, “He represented the finest in Christian youth: pure, happy, enthusiastic about everything that is good and beautiful.”

To our modern world which is often burdened by cynicism and angst, Pier Giorgio’s life offers a brilliant contrast, a life rich in meaning, purpose, and peace derived from faith in God. From the earliest age, and despite two unreligious parents who misunderstood and disapproved of his piety and intense interest in Catholicism, Pier Giorgio placed Christ first in all that he did. These parental misunderstandings, which were very painful to him, persisted until the day of his sudden death of polio. However, he bore this treatment patiently, silently, and with great love.  He was especially devoted to St Catherine of Siena and St Thomas Aquinas.

Pier Giorgio prayed daily, offering, among other prayers, a daily rosary on his knees by his bedside. Often his agnostic father would find him asleep in this position. “He gave his whole self, both in prayer and in action, in service to Christ,” Luciana Frassati writes. After Pier Giorgio began to attend Jesuit school as a boy, he received a rare permission in those days to take communion daily. “Sometimes he passed whole nights in Eucharistic adoration.” For Pier Giorgio, Christ was the answer. Therefore, all of his action was oriented toward Christ and began first in contemplation of Him. With this interest in the balance of contemplation and action, it is no wonder why Pier Giorgio was drawn in 1922 at the age of 21 to the Fraternities of St. Dominic. In becoming a tertiary, Pier Giorgio chose the name “Girolamo” (Jerome) after his personal hero, Girolamo Savonarola, the fiery Dominican preacher and reformer during the Renaissance in Florence. Pier Giorgio once wrote to a friend, “I am a fervent admirer of this friar (Savonarola), who died as a saint at the stake.”

Pier Giorgio was handsome, vibrant, and natural. These attractive characteristics drew people to him. He had many good friends and he shared his faith with them with ease and openness. He engaged himself in many different apostolates. Pier Giorgio also loved sports. He was an avid outdoorsman and loved hiking, riding horses, skiing, and mountain climbing. He was never one to pass on playing a practical joke, either. He relished laughter and good humor.

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As Luciana points out, “Catholic social teaching could never remain simply a theory with [Pier Giorgio].” He set his faith concretely into action through spirited political activism during the Fascist period in World War I Italy. He lived his faith, too, through discipline with his school work, which was a tremendous cross for him as he was a poor student.  He studied mineralogy in an engineering program.  Most notably, however, Pier Giorgio (like the Dominican St. Martin de Porres) lived his faith through his constant, humble, mostly hidden service to the poorest of Turin. Although Pier Giorgio grew up in a privileged environment, he never lorded over anyone the wealth and prestige of his family. Instead, he lived simply and gave away food, money, or anything that anyone asked of him. It is suspected that he contracted from the very people to whom he was ministering in the slums the polio that would kill him.

Even as Pier Giorgio lay dying, his final week of rapid physical deterioration was an exercise in heroic virtue. His attention was turned outward toward the needs of others and he never drew attention to his anguish, especially since his own grandmother was dying at the same time he was. Pier Giorgio’s heart was surrendered completely to God’s will for him. His last concern was for the poor. On the eve of his death, with a paralyzed hand, he scribbled a message to a friend, reminding the friend not to forget the injections for Converso, a poor man Pier Giorgio had been assisting.

When news of Pier Giorgio’s death on July 4, 1925 reached the neighborhood and city, the Frassati parents, who had no idea about the generous self-donation of their young son, were astonished by the sight of thousands of people crowded outside their mansion on the day of their son’s funeral Mass and burial. The poor, the lonely, and those who had been touched by Pier Giorgio’s love and faithful example had come to pay homage to this luminous model of Christian living.

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Pier Giorgio’s mortal remains were found incorrupt in 1981 and were transferred from the family tomb in the cemetery of Pollone to the Cathedral of Turin.

Frassati Societies exist throughout the world for young people interested in the Catholic faith, often centered around high schools and colleges.  The mission of the societies is to help young people live out the Beatitudes through prayer, service, and fun.

Pier-Giorgio-Portrait

“I would like for us to pledge a pact which knows no earthly boundaries nor temporal limits:  union in prayer.” – in a letter to his friend, Isidoro Bonini, Jan 15, 1925.

“To live without a Faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for the Truth, is not living but existing.” – Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati

“Sadness ought to be banished from Catholic souls.” -Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati 

“In God’s marvelous plan, Divine Providence often uses the tiniest twigs to do good works.” -Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

“The faith given to me in baptism suggests to me surely: by yourself you will do nothing, but if you have God as the center of all your action, then you will reach the goal.” -Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

“We were quietly eating when we heard Marischa’s screams. At first I thought it was thieves, but on reaching the hall and seeing one of them about to cut the telephone wires, I immediately realized that they were the Fascists. My blood raced in my veins. I threw myself at that scoundrel shouting “rascals, cowards, assassins,” and delivered a punch.” — Excerpt from PGF’s letter to his friend Antonio Villani on June 23, 1924, describing his defense of the family home a day earlier. The incident was recounted in papers as far away as the United States.

“We went to the mountains together… There were more than twenty of us, and every time we stopped, Pier Giorgio gave us his little speeches very enthusiastically, comparing our climb in the mountains to our spiritual ascent in our faith in Christ. Even Father Bonino was amazed. He said that he, a priest, hadn’t thought of saying such sublime things to us. Pier Giorgio said, ‘Let’s climb higher and we’ll hear the voice of Christ even better!’” – Testimony of Antonio Valetto

“Pier Giorgio didn’t flee from intimacy; on the contrary, he loved, and thus he overcame the typical Biellese resistance to speaking about love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, something that is central to the Christian life. He left me with an unforgettable impression, so much so that I consider Pier Giorgio to be one of the strongest and most solid souls ever to live in Christ Jesus.” – Testimony of Lorenzo Berra, engineer

“We teased him a bit. He had trouble organizing mountain hikes that didn’t involve missing Sunday Mass, which for him was more important than anything else. This seemed a bother to those who were not so faithful to the Sunday Mass precept, but Pier Giorgio could not give in. He wasn’t a fanatic, but he would not compromise on this.” – Testimony of Carlo Enrico Galimberti, engineer

“I must say that when he prayed, it was something extraordinary. I saw him quite a few times during night-time adoration at San Secondo Church. He was enchanted with the liturgy, and it seemed that the ritual lifted him up to another world. In fact, I never saw anyone else like that boy, who was humility personified.” – Testimony of Emilio Zanzi, journalist

“I watched him in the house of God. Frassati seemed like someone else, someone unrecognizable. I would never have suspected that that young rabble-rouser who was quick to crack a joke was capable of such a radical change. He prayed with exemplary composure. He was never distracted, he remained motionless, with his arms folded, with a posture that was devout and manly at the same time. He was prayer personified, in soul and body.” – Testimony of Maria Tasca, Ph.D.

Happy Fourth of July!
Love,
Matthew

Apr 29 – St Peter of Verona, OP, (1206-1252), Martyr – Credo in unum Deum

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– St Peter Martyr, OP, reminding/encouraging living Dominican religious to maintain holy silence, by Fra Angelico, OP, 1441-1442, fresco, Convento di San Marco, Florence, Italy

I am always, at least a little, scandalized when during Mass, very casually, very nonchalantly, an alternative, “hip”, creed or profession of faith is substituted, is injected as if it were no big deal, even with the best intentions.  I am regularly interrogated by my more orthodox friends where this happens, they are so scandalized, but I don’t name names.

This truly, really shows the ignorance, at best, of those planning and leading the liturgy. Besides being against Church law, and they know better, people have died in wars over one tittle, one, literally, iota, in a word of the Apostles’ Creed.  Every iota, too, is literally packed with meaning, reason, and history.  Take away the iota and, at least in Greek, you change the entire meaning, dramatically – and east cleaves from west, literally, creating schism.  One word becomes another in Greek, with an entirely different meaning.  With all our “diversity and relativism”, it is hard to imagine riots in the streets of Alexandria in Egypt over such things, but common they were.

Growing up Catholic, repetition causes “conditioned response” – occupational hazard.  It’s one of the ways you can tell if someone is Catholic without directly asking them…”The angel of the Lord…and she conceived…”, I suppose even self-proclaimed Catholics might miss that one today, too, tragically.  (As my Latin teacher ALWAYS proclaims, “It’s ALWAYS better in Latin!”)  So much conditioned response, we neglect to really unpack each of those words, each iota, and ask, “Why is that there?  Where did it come from?  Why is it sooooooo important?”  And, there ARE reasons!  REALLY good ones!  So, to chuck the whole thing with, “we’re bored”, or self-anointing – SOMEHOW in 2012, we finally just had the Holy Spirit impart to US what to do?, or just plain ignorance, does take my breath away.

When they make these too, too casual substitutions, I pray to St Watermelon. Let me explain. My dear friend, Julia, who went through RCIA at Old St Pat’s taught me about St Watermelon. Let me explain. Not being able to remember all the prayers, Julia knew that the word “watermelon” forms all the lip movements and mouth movements and gestures, according to Julia, one would be expected to show if actually speaking intelligible words in front of others. Since Julia could not remember all the prayers, she moved her mouth saying, quietly, “watermelon” over and over, try it sometime when you need to look like you’re participating but don’t know how or don’t want to.

So, when random, strange sequences, no matter how beautiful or well intentioned to some beholders, are offered, I either say the word “watermelon”, or remain silent, the “silent Irish” is my most favorite new expression, to expressly demonstrate, in my heart and to God, my disunity with what is being offered at that time, in what is supposed to be a prayer of unity. You’ll see what I mean below. “St Watermelon”, were you real, pray for us!

P.S. And the new translation of the Mass?  Pee-yoo!  I am not a fan.  The Four Liturgists of the Apocalypse.  It’s just bad English.  Exactly what we don’t need now, or ever.  Silly.  Stupid.  I haven’t responded at Mass since November.  So much for “full & active participation”.  The words won’t come out.  Not those words.  I will be the “silent Irish” for the rest of my life at Mass, assuming continued attendance.  Forty-six years and you really start to think, maybe I need a break.  Maybe I need something new?  A religion with a hierarchy primarily necessitates faith, hope, and love as a requirement.  I’m tired.  Jesus, and the ghosts of my parents, prod me.  I keep going.

Such a magnificent Church with such a magnificent patrimony; truly the People of God, and leadership which makes my eyes cross.  They’re just as human as atheists, I realize.  Just like the Keystone Apostles who are one minute in Scripture swearing to die to defend Jesus, and the next…crickets chirping.  All have taken a powder.  Peter going as far as “Oh, Hell no!”  There are too many saint stories where they had to put up with the all too human nature and shortcomings of their leaders/superiors.  “I came to serve, not to be served.”  The washing of the feet – humility is the most important virtue of the Christian cleric.  How true.

I just need something a little more inspiring if I am going to believe.  The hierarchy make me wonder often if they’ve ever actually read the Gospels.  They give me a headache.  Only the Keystone Apostles give me hope, in this regard…and my saint friends.  They sustain me.  To have faith is to have doubts.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be faith, would it?  To have faith is to struggle.  How does the old joke go?  If you want to lose your faith, go to work for the Church?

1280px-Attributed_to_Bernardino_da_Asola_-_The_Death_of_Saint_Peter_Martyr_-_Google_Art_Project
-The Death of Saint Peter Martyr, OP, attributed to Bernardino da Asola (1490-1535), oil on canvas, height: 101.5 cm (40 in). width: 144.8 cm (57 in), National Gallery, Central Hall – Northern Italy 1500-1580, Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, in Central London.

-The following article was written by Fr. Darren Pierre, O.P., Promoter for the Lay and Priestly Fraternities of St. Dominic, Province of St. Joseph.

“I heard a story about a young boy named Peter whose parents were fallen away Catholics. Peter’s parents had traded their Catholic faith for fad beliefs that were more convenient and fit in better with their family and friends. Catharism, or Cathars, Albigensians, Manicheaism, etc., held all material reality was created by an evil god, and all spiritual reality, which was the work of a good god – Dualism.  Heresy, untruth in light of the orthodox, universal Christian faith handed on by the Apostles.  However, like many fallen away Catholics, they didn’t take their new beliefs very seriously either.

In fact, they reasoned that all these little details really didn’t matter—one religion was just as good as another. Because they felt this way, they decided to send Peter to a Catholic school as it was regarded as the best school in the area, even though they didn’t follow the Catholic faith anymore.

However, Peter’s uncle, who had also left the Catholic faith, took his rejection of the Faith much more seriously. One day he asked Peter what he was learning in school, and Peter responding by reciting the Apostle’s Creed. Peter’s uncle was outraged and didn’t want his nephew learning any of this Catholic nonsense. He tried to convince Peter’s parents to take him out of that school. Yet, despite his protests, Peter’s parents didn’t see it as a big deal. To them it was an unimportant argument about words—prayers that children memorized. In the end they figured it was all the same and didn’t really matter, so they let Peter stay in that school.

Every means was used to persuade Peter, and even to oblige him to say, that all material things are the work of the devil, or the evil principle. “No,” replied the youthful disciple of Christ; “there is but one first principle, the supreme God, omnipotent, and the sole Creator of heaven and earth – Credo in unum Deum. Whoever does not believe this truth can not be saved.” The heretical uncle, confused by his defeat, and foreseeing what might come to pass, spoke sharply to his brother, and told him that the best thing he could do would be to take the boy out of the hands of Catholics as soon as possible. “For,” he added, “I fear lest, when he becomes older and better instructed, he may destroy our religion, should he pass over to the prostitute” -– the name by which he designated the Catholic Church.

Peter’s Uncle was correct about one important thing: words do matter. The words of the Creed have always been precious to us Christians. The early Christians called them the Symbol of Faith. It was a symbol or mark that outwardly showed what was invisibly believed. Of course, the ultimate object of our faith is God Himself. Our faith is in the Word, not in mere words no matter how true or precious that might be. Yet, the words do matter. The words of the Creed are called secondary objects of faith because they connect us with God, the primary object of faith, Whom we cannot see. If the details of the secondary objects are wrong, we are not able to be as connected to God. Ultimately, if our secondary objects are wrong enough they will connect us not with God, Who created us and loves us, but with an imaginary god that is not real and loves us no more than an ancient pagan idol.

The Creed tells us who God is. When you love someone, you want to know about them. You can’t have a relationship without this kind of knowledge, for in relationships all these little details matter. Imagine forgetting a spouse’s birthday or anniversary and saying, “Oh, we’ll celebrate it next week. It’s all the same, we shouldn’t fight about details.” Knowing these details is crucial for maintaining a relationship with someone. Little children want to know your favorite color or favorite food. As we get older, hopefully we want to know more important and deeper things about each other. In a relationship with God just as in a relationship with another human being, we would never conclude that the details don’t matter and it’s all the same…

The precise details of the creeds have led countless Christians to God, including the young boy named Peter whom I mentioned in the beginning. Although Peter’s story sounds very modern, it actually took place back in the 1200’s in the city of Verona in what is modern day Italy. The truths of the Faith that Peter learned in the Apostles’ Creed became so important to him that he became a Dominican in order to preach that truth.

He was received into the Order of Friars Preachers by St. Dominic himself in those very first days of the Order. He spent the rest of his life preaching about the truth of God to people who had fallen away from Faith like his own family and guiding many of them back to the Church.

He was so successful that the leaders of those who opposed him conspired to assassinate him. On April 6th, 1252, they ambushed Peter and a traveling companion on a lonely road outside of Milan. The assassins grievously wounded Peter’s traveling companion and struck Peter on the head with an axe-like implement. As he was being attacked, Peter began to recite the Creed, the Symbol of Faith for which he would give his life.

When he collapsed under the blows and lay dying in the road, Peter dipped his finger in his own blood and wrote on the ground the beginning of the Creed: Credo in unum Deum. The words of a Creed brought him the Faith when he was a child. They guided his preaching as he sought to serve God throughout his life, and they expressed his love of God as he lay dying. The young boy from Verona became St. Peter of Verona, often called simply St. Peter Martyr.”

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-The Death of St. Peter Martyr, 1530/35, Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo, Italian, active 1506–48, oil on canvas, 45 5/16 x 55 1/2 in. (115.3 x 141 cm), Art Institute of Chicago

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Born in the city of Verona into a family perhaps sympathetic to the Cathar heresy. Peter went to a Catholic school, and later to the University of Bologna, where he is said to have maintained his orthodoxy and at the age of fifteen, met Saint Dominic. Peter joined the Order of the Friars Preachers (Dominicans) and became a celebrated preacher throughout northern and central Italy.

From the 1230s on, Peter preached against heresy, and especially Catharism, which had many adherents in thirteenth-century Northern Italy. Catharism was a form of dualism, also called Manichaeism, and rejected the authority of the Pope and many Christian teachings. Pope Gregory IX appointed him General Inquisitor for northern Italy in 1234. and Peter evangelized nearly the whole of Italy, preaching in Rome, Florence, Bologna, Genoa, and Como.

In 1251, Pope Innocent IV recognized Peter’s virtues, and appointed him Inquisitor in Lombardy. He spent about six months in that office and it is unclear whether he was ever involved in any trials. His one recorded act was a declaration of clemency for those confessing heresy or sympathy to heresy.

In his sermons he denounced heresy and also those Catholics who professed the Faith by words, but acted contrary to it in deeds. Crowds came to meet him and followed him; conversions were numerous, including many Cathars who returned to orthodoxy.

Because of this, a group of Milanese Cathars conspired to kill him. They hired an assassin, one Carino of Balsamo. Carino’s accomplice was Manfredo Clitoro of Giussano. On April 6, 1252, when Peter was returning from Como to Milan, the two assassins followed Peter to a lonely spot near Barlassina, and there killed him and mortally wounded his companion, a fellow friar named Dominic.

Carino struck Peter’s head with an axe and then attacked Domenico. Peter rose to his knees, and recited the first article of the Symbol of the Apostles (the Apostle’s Creed). Offering his blood as a sacrifice to God, he dipped his fingers in it and wrote on the ground: “Credo in Unum Deum”. The blow that killed him cut off the top of his head, but the testimony given at the inquest into his death confirms that he began reciting the Creed when he was attacked.

Carino, the assassin, later repented and confessed his crime. He converted to orthodoxy and eventually became a lay brother in the Dominican convent of Forlì. He is the subject of a local cult as Blessed Carino of Balsamo.

Bellini, Murder of St Peter Martyr 1509.jpg
-Assassination of St Peter Martyr, O.P., Bellini, 1509, oil on panel, 67.3 x 100.4 cm, Courtald Institute, London, on the left St Peter the Martyr is represented as being murdered by Pietro da Balsamo, a heretic. On the right another monk, Fra Domenico, tries in vain to escape.

Here silent is Christ’s Herald;
Here quenched, the People’s Light;
Here lies the martyred Champion
Who fought Faith’s holy fight.

The Voice the sheep heard gladly,
The light they loved to see
He fell beneath the weapons
Of graceless Cathari.

The Saviour crowns His Soldier;
His praise the people psalm.
The Faith he kept adorns him
With martyr’s fadeless palm.

His praise new marvels utter,
New light he spreads abroad
And now the whole wide city
Knows well the path to God.

– Saint Thomas Aquinas, OP, in eulogy of Saint Peter of Verona, OP

Love,
Matthew