Category Archives: The Professed

Optional celibacy for the Catholic ordained?

Catholic positions are very often easily and quickly misunderstood and misinterpreted by the media, by society at large, and even loyal, well-educated, faithful people.  It is difficult to synthesize down 2k years of divine revelation + 2k years lived experience of the Faith, known by Catholics as Tradition, into a thirty second sound bite.  

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” aka, “Einstein’s razor” correlating to “Occam’s razor”.  Used when oversimplification leads to false conclusion.
-“On the Method of Theoretical Physics” The Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford (10 June 1933); also published in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1, No. 2 (April 1934), pp. 163-169., p. 165.

And, the Church, does a LOUSY job of explaining itself in a sound-bite world, as if it was truly concerned about that.  Maybe it should be concerned
“a little” bit more.  It would make it easier for everyone.  Exceedingly few are going to achieve the academic credentials necessary to understand the Church the way the Vatican naturally expresses itself.  Hence, the critical need for Catechist/Apologists.  Of which, yours truly, makes his poor, amateurish attempts!  I am, however, a certified Catechist of the Archdiocese of Chicago!  I have papers to prove it!  Bless the Lord, O my soul!  

Thus, there are truly greater and lesser “truths” and doctrinal assets/assents in Catholicism.  Ask a VERY well trained and normatively orthodox priest where your particular truth in question does fall.  (You know the joke…”Line up 100 priests and keep asking until you get the answer you want!”  The downer of the joke is the number necessary keeps shrinking.  Obviously, the closer it gets to one, the more we are in trouble!  It’s been trending downward of late.)  

Celibacy among the clergy is one of those “lesser” truths.  It is a “discipline”, not a doctrine.  Because the rule of celibacy is an ecclesiastical law and not a doctrine, it can, in principle, be changed at any time by the Pope.  Nonetheless, both the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and his predecessors, have spoken clearly of their understanding that the traditional practice was not likely to change.

The earliest textual evidence of the forbidding of marriage to clerics and the duty of those already married to abstain from sexual contact with their wives is in the fourth-century decrees of the Council of Elvira and the later Council of Carthage. According to some writers, this presumed a previous norm, which was being flouted in practice.

Council of Elvira (c. 305 AD)
(Canon 33): It is decided that marriage be altogether prohibited to bishops, priests, and deacons, or to all clerics placed in the ministry, and that they keep away from their wives and not beget children; whoever does this, shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical office.

Council of Carthage (390 AD)
(Canon 3): It is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e. those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the Apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavour to keep… It pleases us all that bishop, priest and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from conjugal intercourse with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.

http://votf.org/Speech/2011_Detroit_celibacy_Ron.pdf

“In a 2010 study commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate compared the increase of Catholics in the U.S. with the decline in the number of priests from 1965 until 2025. In 1965, the report noted, there was one priest for approximately every 780 Catholics. By 2010, there was one priest for every 1,640 Catholics. If the CARA projection remains consistent, in 2025—less than 15 years from now— there will be one priest for every 6,150 Catholics.

The declining number of priests and the burgeoning growth of the Catholic population, coupled with the closing and combining of parishes, ensures that fewer and fewer Catholics will have regular access to the Eucharist in coming years.

Lack of access to the Eucharist is not just a crisis, it is a disaster. Thus far, the only solution that the American bishops have offered for this disaster is to close and combine parishes and convert aging and already stressed priests into circuit riders.

Is there any way to turn this disaster around within the context of current canon law (the law of the Church)?

The answer is “yes” if the American bishops have the will and the courage to ask the Vatican for the right to ordain married Catholic men. They could do so using the same “Pastoral Provision” procedures that have allowed the ordination in the Catholic Church of married former Anglican, Lutheran and Episcopalian clergy.

Canon 1042 states that it is a simple impediment to ordination if a man has a wife. But Canon 1047 states that the Apostolic See can grant dispensations from this simple impediment on a case-by- case basis. Indeed, the See has used this latter canon to ordain married formerly Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran clergy as priests in the Latin Rite.

In addition, several American Bishops have successfully appealed to the Vatican for rescripts to ordain married clergy formerly from other denominations such as Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists and Presbyterians.

These actions demonstrate clearly that the existence of ordained married men in the priesthood is acceptable to the Vatican, at least for those originally approved as ministers of other Christian denominations. Surely Catholic married men are no less deserving of such consideration. ”

“Studies show that half of the 19,302 active diocesan priests plan to retire by 2019. We are ordaining about 380 new diocesan priests each year. If the rate of ordinations remains constant, as it has for more than a decade, we will have only 13,500 active diocesan priests to serve our 18,000 parishes in just eight years.”

Shall we game the system?  Commit heresy/schism.  Become married/ordained.  You pick the order.  Reunification?  Is this what the US Catholic bishops are encouraging?  Technically possible.  Still recognized as “gaming the system” by all.

Let us pray, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus! – Come, Holy Spirit!” give us the wisdom as Your Church to know what to do.

Love,
Matthew

Episcopal/ordained/professed penance

Firstly, let me say I am loathe to put forward the recommendations another makes for a fellow Christian’s penance, let alone propose such myself, especially for the ordained and especially even more so for the Successors to the Apostles.  Never in my life prior could I have but imagined this turn of events or wanted to.  Yet, it having been more than a little embarrassing to be a Catholic of late, I am sanguine to do so in this case.

I think of all the Irish who suffered degradation, injustice, poverty, death, discrimination and starvation rather than renounce their faith, and then I think of the betrayal of clerical pedophilia and its cover up, and it makes me more than angry, more than sick to my stomach.  My Christian commitment/obligation toward forgiveness is sorely tested.  I am sure, though, not more than I have tested the Lord in His love of me, so I maintain.  To think, it would not be our enemies who could break us or most severely test us, but our spiritual parents/leaders?  Judas lives.  He continues to kiss.  The Passion plays itself out over and over again in OUR lives!!  Does it not?  Tragic, no question.  Spooky, too.

Anyone familiar with Church history will know early Christian penance, once the indelible seal of baptism had been imprinted on the soul of the person, was severe – including sackcloth (no, really, literally, just like it sounds) as the only clothing, the prohibition against bathing, the wearing of dirt or ashes as a sign of remorse, the refraining from marital relations, exclusion from public celebration, refraining from alcohol or other intoxicant, the eating of simplest of sustaining food and drink, its blandness intentional as a form of suffering and remorse, and general exclusion from the community and social relationships.  This could go on for years, depending upon the sin committed and hence penance imposed!  (It was the Irish monks who later developed the Christian practice of frequent confession in place of such severe penances which the universal church adopted, gratefully.)

At the Easter vigil, the bishop would literally “take the penitents by the hand”, they having been excluded, as part of their penance, from regular liturgical celebration with the community, from the vestibule of the Church and lead them back into the community and normal life, the salvific work of the Resurrection literally restoring the penitents to life.  So severe was penance that many early potential Christians, Emperor Constantine himself included, hesitated being baptized for this reason, so grave were the consequences of sinning, in this life at that time, preferring to live as before and be baptized just before death, ostensibly when it was more convenient to forego the pleasures of life and less likely to fall into sin.

The penalty for ordained pedophilia was clearly described in church law.  St Peter Damian, Doctor of the Church & one of the Great Catholic Reformers, urged Leo IX to enforce the law of the Church.  Church law clearly described the following penance:  “Any cleric who seduces young men (adolescentium) or boys (parvulorum), or who is apprehended in kissing or in any shameful situation, shall be publicly flogged and shall lose his clerical tonsure…”  

(Roman tonsure, the form we are most likely most familiar with, is intentional cutting of the crown of the head of hair as a public notice of the renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem.  Up until medieval times, it clearly indicated those in religious life.  Even today in the profession ceremonies of vowed communities, hair is cut as vestigial reminder of this ancient ceremony.  The Pope and the bishops wear skull caps, or “zuchetto”, of the appropriate color given their rank, today as clerical decoration, but originally to warm and cover exposed scalp, recall no central heating, which the Roman tonsure exposed.  The losing of one’s tonsure being a humiliation, a loss of status & position – akin to being perceived as a slave.  Freemen had hair of all kinds.  Slaves were shorn at their master’s pleasure.)

Continuing “…Thus shorn, he shall be disgraced by spitting into his face, bound in iron chains, wasted by six months of close confinement, and for three days each week put on barley bread given him toward evening.  Following this period, he shall spend a further six months living in a small segregated courtyard in the custody of spiritual elder, kept busy with manual labor and prayer, subjected to vigils and prayers, forced to walk at all times in the company of two spiritual brothers, never again allowed to associate with…” juveniles.  (p 41, “The Great Catholic Reformers” by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL.)

In the July 10 edition of the National Catholic Reporter, probably “The” standard of Catholic journalism and news on the Church in the US, Paul Wilkes, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Wilkes, writes a fine article on proposed episcopal penance.  Please see below.

Many lay Catholics are taking his suggestions seriously.  If you don’t believe me, read what my friend Susan Vogt wrote below.  As my friend Susan points out, this would be the innocent doing penance for their culpable Christian brothers and sisters.  I say, how very Christian.  Isn’t that the very premise for the Incarnation?  If VOTF decides to move forward with this initiative, as a member, I will eagerly join them and do my share.

The idea that the laity should demand better behavior from the ordained is not novel.  In Milan, after hearing the preaching of a deacon named Ariald, the laity rose up on May 10, 1057.  Ariald and his followers became known as “Patarines” who opposed clerical concubinage.  “For two years, the Patarines terrorized the unreformed clergy.  They would enter priests’ homes, drag them out of their beds and away from their concubines, and force them to sign pledges that they would be both celibate and chaste…The popes in this period encouraged such resistance on the part of the laity against unreformed clergymen.”(p 47, “The Great Catholic Reformers” by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL.)

“Miserere mei, Deus… Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me…”
“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy… Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin…”
-Psalm 51, Miserere

The words of the Miserere form easily on my lips, I have prayed them so many times before and need no notes or text any longer.

Act of Contrition
(taught to Catholic youth, or at least it used to be, and said after confession, before absolution, heartfelt contrition and a sincere determination to not repeat the moral errors of one’s past required for absolution of sin by the confessor.)

O my God,
I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all my sins
because I dread the loss of heaven
and the pains of hell,
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace
to confess my sins, to do penance,
and to amend my life.
Amen.

Love,
Matthew

—————————————



A VOTF Year of Penance?

By Susan Vogt


Many of you probably saw last week’s NCR
article (July 10, 2009) by Paul Wilkes, “A modest proposal to (finally) put
abuse crisis behind us.” The proposal is that the US bishops should embark upon
a Year of Penance in personal and public reparation for the clergy sexual abuse
scandal.

This is not a new idea. I remember it
being floated about five years ago. I thought it was a good idea then but no
bishops seemed to bite. I suggested to several lay ministry groups that I was
part of that perhaps even if the bishops didn’t undertake some form of public
penance, maybe we should – not because we personally sexually abused or abetted
the abuse of anyone, but rather because the Church is a community and there is
such a thing as “social sin.” 

I floated the idea of lay people going to
a public place (in Cincinnati it would be Fountain Square, in DC it might be on
the mall or in front of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, etc.) We would
have signs announcing our purpose and we would kneel in prayer and penance at
noon every Friday (or every first Friday, or whatever). Several people
countered that WE were not the ones who should do penance but rather the
bishops and didn’t want to get involved. I decided not to push it further.
 Now
Paul Wilkes reopens the idea and has added 7 points that the bishops could do
to publically show their penance:

·      Bishops
would wear penitential clothing, the modern counterpart to sackcloth and ashes.

·      They
would refrain from wearing their miters and, when in public, only be marked by
the simplest of crosses.

·      They
would spend at least one day a week working alongside the people of their
diocese, doing real labor, working in restaurants, on construction sites, in
offices. Or, as a pastoral associate – not clergy – doing real parish work.

·      They
would spend another day in solitary prayer, part of it in their home cathedral,
where we Catholics might join them, in silent affirmation of their bravery.

·      They
would have monthly dinners with the victims of abuse and their parents, so that
they might know even more deeply of their pain. Without lawyers or the filter
of staff, alone with those violated by our arrogance.

·      They
would refrain from public appearances, other than those proper to their office,
confirmation and such, and avoid banquets and events at which they are esteemed
guests. No public approbation, no honorary degrees.

·      At
such religious events, they would wear the usual garb of a priest and some
somber marking to signify they are doing penance.

Again, it would be wonderful if bishops
would decide to do this voluntarily and collectively. I, however, am tired of
waiting and put the call out to VOTF members: Would we be willing to take this
on as an organization? Most of Wilkes’ 7 points would not apply to most lay
people but we could do public prayer vigils in front of cathedrals or on public
squares…

It is an action that local affiliates
could do to both express their personal sorrow and to raise awareness. (Perhaps
the bishops might even be shamed into action as a result.) Do you think
instituting a VOTF Year of Penance has any traction? It aligns us more closely
with survivors, is non-confrontational, draws upon communal prayer, and could
activate the local affiliates. Besides, it doesn’t cost any money.

————————————————–

A modest proposal to put abuse crisis behind us

by Paul Wilkes, National Catholic Reporter, July 10, 2009

I spend a lot of time in Catholic parishes and rectories these days, talking about the components of local church excellence–the subject of a Lilly Endowment study and a couple books of mine–and speaking on behalf of a poor Indian orphanage my wife and I are trying to help.

And, so from Seattle to Boston, Birmingham to Green Bay, I have the opportunity to hear from a lot of Catholic pastors and parishioners. I sit in their kitchens and living rooms, ride to and from airports, and as we talk about the state of our church and its declining numbers and influence on lives–especially on the lives of our young people–the subject inevitably returns to the clergy abuse scandal of the past decade.

What I hear and feel is a sense of terrible unease that the leadership of my church has not yet fully and squarely dealt with the horrible fallout. Yes, there have been billions of dollars in payouts and a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. But somehow money and policing have not been enough.

I covered the historic meeting of Catholic bishops in Dallas in 2002 when, in a moment of panic and public outcry, the charter was adopted. It mandated that any priest, with even the whiff of an allegation, would be removed. There was nothing to similarly punish or even sanction bishops for their culpability in transferring or sheltering known abusers.

Priests across the country felt betrayed; they noticeably retreated from youth work. Some even stopped wearing their Roman collars in public. They felt doubly betrayed because none of the men voting on that charter–the assembled bishops of America–took a hit. I have not yet found a Catholic priest who felt fairly treated by the Dallas decision. They felt betrayed, sacrificed, sold out.

Looking at this from the bishops’ side, I am sure many are saying: “What else can we do? We have paid and paid dearly. We have sold buildings; some of us have been forced into bankruptcy. We have tried to put a system in place where this will not happen again. We have apologized again and again. What more?”

I have a simple answer, one, I think, would put this horrible chapter in American Catholic life behind us.

A Year of Penance by the bishops of America. A true sign of contrition.

The Year of Penance would include both those who have unduly protected abusing priests and fought the charter–claiming their ecclesiastical rights were being violated–and those who have been the most generous with settlements and open, with their records on suspected abusers. All would stand together, collectively, asking forgiveness. We have had a year of St. Paul, now a year dedicated to the priest: hood, why not a year of penance in this still unsettled time?

Public penance is hardly new to the Catholic church. It has a rich and fruitful history. The hierarchy and popes demanded it of secular rulers for centuries. Many a king and prince have waited in the rain or knelt in the snow, humbly as any common sinner. There was a felt need to make public restitution for especially heinous public offenses against the moral order. There was no better way to make this point than to see royalty shed of their raiment, eyes cast down, outside church or papal chamber, awaiting a sign they are forgiven and can go on with their lives.

Today, the need to rectify is reversed by the clergy abuse scandal. It is the hierarchy who need to take on a penitent’s mantle for it is they who abdicated their shepherd’s trust as they protected their own, some of them cowardly jeopardizing our children while boldly protecting the institution.

Here is how the Year of Penance might look:

* Bishops would wear penitential clothing, the modern counterpart to sackcloth and ashes.

* They would refrain from wearing their miters and, when in public, only be marked by the simplest of crosses.

* They would spend at least one day a week working alongside the people of their diocese, doing real labor, working in restaurants, on construction sites, in offices. Or, as a pastoral associate–not clergy–doing real parish work.

* They would spend another day in solitary prayer, part of it in their home cathedral, where we Catholics might join them, in silent affirmation of their bravery.

* They would have monthly dinners with the victims of abuse and their parents, so that they might know even more deeply of their pain. Without lawyers or the filter of staff, alone with those violated by our arrogance.

* They would refrain from public appearances, other than those proper to their office, confirmation and such, and avoid banquets and events at which they are esteemed guests. No public approbation, no honorary degrees.

* At such religious events, they would wear the usual garb of a priest, with some somber marking to signify they are doing penance.

Such a collective penance, lumping the forthright and the reluctant among them, would acknowledge that they are all culpable for the sins of the few. That they are continually unworthy of the high office to which they have been called, and that they are, after all, priests at their heart, with compassion for their people. Such a collective penance would demonstrate to American Catholics and non-Catholics alike that our bishops realize the hangover of this horrid chapter is still very much with us…


-The reproaches of the Prophet Nathan to King David and the penance of King David, 10th century AD, Paris psaulter (BnF MS Grec 139), folio 136v Reproches de Nathân à David

Apr 29 – St Catherine of Siena, O.P., (1347-1380), Doctor of the Church, Great Catholic Reformer & Mystic

st_catherine__san_domenico

-fresco of St. Catherine of Siena – done by a family member who knew her, showing her true likeness

St Catherine of Siena, OP, one of the Great Reformers of the Catholic Church, publicly excoriated priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes.  She called them “wretches”, “idiots”, “blind hirelings”, and “devils incarnate”.  Catherine sought to shame the clergy into reform; her methods and her inspiration for reform were direct and challenging.

Catherine claimed that her reform rhetoric was revealed to her in a series of visions.  The legitimacy of these visions was reinforced by Catherine’s miracles.  From early in her career, she was known for her miraculous ability to subsist solely on the Eucharist, and was given the grace of the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, during her life, among other supernatural phenomena.

Born Catherine Benin in Siena, Italy, to Giacomo di Benincasa, a clothdyer, and Lapa Piagenti, possibly daughter of a local poet, in 1347, she was the last of 25 children.  A year after she was born, the Black Death, or bubonic plague, came to Siena for the first time.  Sometime around 1353, at the age of seven or eight, Catherine experienced a vision of Christ that led her to make a vow of virginity.

In about 1366, Catherine experienced what she described in her letters as a “Mystical Marriage” with Jesus. Her biographer also records that she was told by Christ to leave her withdrawn life and enter the public life of the world. Catherine dedicated much of her life to helping the ill and the poor, where she took care of them in hospitals or homes.

Her early pious activities in Siena attracted a group of followers, both women and men, while they also brought her to the attention of the Dominican Order, who had primary responsibility for the Inquisition in many regions.  Catherine was summoned by the Inquisition to Florence in 1374 to interrogate her for possible heresy.  After this visit, in which she was deemed sufficiently orthodox, she began travelling with her followers throughout northern and central Italy advocating reform of the clergy and the launch of a new crusade and advising people that repentance and renewal could be done through “the total love for God.”

Just as Catherine was not repulsed by the filth of her neighbors’ diseased bodies, she was also not repulsed by the corruption manifested in the body of Christ.  For most of her career, she tended to the sick, the hungry, and the dying, much like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has done in our own day.  She wrote many letters to religious leaders and secular officials of her day encouraging and demanding, under penalty of perdition, reform, peace, order, atonement, repentance, reconciliation, and adherence to the Gospel.

Her other work, “The Dialogue of Divine Providence”, is one of the most well known works in Catholic mystical writing, referred to simply as St Catherine’s “Dialogue”, or “The Dialogue”.  Its premise is a dialogue between a soul who “rises up” to God and God, and was recorded by her followers between 1377 and 1378.  She opens with a description of sin and the need for penance.  She synthesizes both the apologetics of love and of humility under the rubric of the atonement for sin.

St Catherine died of an apparent stroke in Rome, in the spring of 1380, at the age of thirty-three.  She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970, one of only three women and thirty men to hold this title in the history of Christianity.

“Charity is the sweet and holy bond which links the soul with its Creator: it binds God with man and man with God.” – Saint Catherine of Siena

“Lord, take me from myself and give me to Yourself.” -St. Catherine of Siena

“Oh, inestimable Charity, sweet above all sweetness!… It seems, oh, Abyss of Charity, as if thou wert mad with love of Thy creature, as if Thou couldest not live without him, and yet Thou art our God who has no need of us.” – St Catherine of Siena

“Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, You could give me no greater gift than the gift of Yourself. For You are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light, and causes me to know Your truth. And I know that You are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, You gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.”  -from “The Dialogue”

Wga_Pompeo_Batoni_Ecstasy_of_St_Catherine_of_Siena
-“The Ecstasy of St Catherine of Siena”, Pompeo Batoni, 1743, Museo di Villa Guinigi, Lucca, Italy

catherine of siena2

-the mystical marriage of St Catherine of Siena, O.P., Clemente de Torres, ~1715, oil on canvas, H: 175 cm (68.9 in). W: 332 cm (130.7 in), private collection

catherine of siena2

-mummified head of St Catherine of Siena, O.P., Church of San Dominico, Siena

Love,
Matthew

Apr 5 – St Vincent Ferrer, O.P., (1350-1419), “Angel of the Last Judgment”, Great Catholic Reformer, Patron of Reconciliation

st_vincent_ferrer

vincent-ferrer-preaching1
-St Vincent preaching

The polarization in the Church today is a mild breeze compared with the tornado that ripped the Church apart during the lifetime of this saint. If any saint is a patron of reconciliation, St. Vincent Ferrer, OP, is.  Born in Valencia, Spain, January 23, 1350, the fourth child and second son of William Ferrer and Constantia Miguel, and named in honor of St Vincent Martyr, patron of Valencia, whom we considered back in January of this year.

Vincent’s birth was anything but a quiet affair! It is said that his mother, who was accustomed to difficult pregnancies, experienced only an indescribable goodness and joy at the birth of her son. This experience was accompanied by Vincent’s father’s dream in which a Dominican friar announced to him that his son would one day enter the Order of Preachers and his fame would spread throughout the world. A poor blind woman, when giving thanks to the mother of the saint for alms, astounded her by prophesying, “O happy mother, it is an angel that you bear, and one day he will give me my sight!” It is recorded that the woman did receive her sight.

Despite parental opposition, Vincent Ferrer entered the Dominican Order in his native Spain at 19. After brilliant studies, he was ordained a priest by Cardinal Peter de Luna—who would figure tragically in his life.

Contemporary evidence pictures St. Vincent Ferrer to have been a man of medium height, with a lofty forehead and very distinct features that seemed to inspire a sense of reverence and awe in all who knew him. His hair was fair in color and shaven in the form of a monastic tonsure, which is said to have resembled an areola of glory around his head. His eyes were very dark, very expressive, and full of fire, which were tempered, however, by his ever gentle manner. Pale as was his ordinary color, it is said that he became slightly ruddy when preaching. Although his handsomeness faded in later years as a result of his arduous labors and the austerities that he practiced, it became changed rather than vanished. His countenance took on a transparent peacefulness or glow that seemed to be the reflection of the inward beauty of his great spirit that was aflame with the love of God and of his neighbor. His voice was strong and powerful, at times gentle, resonant, and vibrant as it seemed to search deeply the heart and to inspire fear when fear was needed and to soothe with exquisite tenderness when comfort was needed.

Of a very ardent nature, Vincent practiced the austerities of his Order with great energy. He was chosen prior of the Dominican house in Valencia shortly after his ordination.  During a severe fever in 1398, Vincent had a vision of Christ, Saint Dominic de Guzman and Saint Francis of Assisi. It was a life changing experience – Vincent received supernatural gifts and he believed that he was instructed in his vision to be a messenger of penance, an “angel of the apocalypse” sent to prepare humankind for the Judgment of Christ.

St. Vincent Ferrer was a great preacher who converted thousands in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was invited to preach in Muslim Granada.  He slept on the floor, had the gift of tongues (he spoke only Spanish, but all listeners understood him), lived in an endless fast, celebrated Mass daily, and was known as a miracle worker – reported to have brought a murdered man back to life to prove the power of Christianity to the onlookers, and he would heal people throughout a hospital just by praying in front of it. He worked so hard to build up the Church that he became the patron of people in building trades.

The Great Western Schism (1378-1417) divided Christianity first between two, then three, popes. Clement VII lived at Avignon in France, Urban VI in Rome. Vincent was convinced the election of Urban was invalid (though St. Catherine of Siena was just as devoted a supporter of the Roman pope). In the service of Cardinal de Luna, he worked to persuade Spaniards to follow Clement. When Clement died, Cardinal de Luna was elected at Avignon and became Benedict XIII.

At the beginning of the 14th century, following a disagreement between Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip the Fair(handsome) of France, who was immorally ambitious, a French pope, Clement V, was elected. Within four years, civil unrest in Rome and riots between rival factions drove Clement V to take shelter with the Dominican order in Avignon.  The move was intended to be temporary, but a number of factors combined to make it a longer sojourn.  Known as the “Babylonian Captivity” of the papacy, the schism was eventually resolved by the Council of Constance (1414-1418).  Cardinals from both sides had previously met at Pisa in 1409, and trying to end the schism, elected a third pope. The rift was not healed until the Council of Constance vacated all three seats and elected Martin V as pope in 1417.

Vincent worked for his friend, Benedict XIII, as apostolic penitentiary and Master of the Sacred Palace in Avignon. But the new pope did not resign as all candidates in the conclave had sworn to do. Benedict XIII remained stubborn despite being deserted by the French king and nearly all of the cardinals.

Vincent became disillusioned with his friend and church politics in general, and also very ill, but finally took up the work of simply “going through the world preaching Christ,” though he felt that any renewal in the Church depended on healing the schism. An eloquent and fiery preacher, he spent the last 20 years of his life spreading the Good News in Spain, France, Switzerland, the Low Countries and Lombardy, stressing the need of repentance and the fear of coming judgment. (He became known as the “Angel of the Judgment.”)

He tried, again, unsuccessfully, in 1408 and 1415, to persuade his former friend to resign. He finally concluded that Benedict was not the true pope. Though very ill, he mounted the pulpit before an assembly over which Benedict himself was presiding and thundered his denunciation of the man who had ordained him a priest. Benedict fled for his life, abandoned by those who had formerly supported him. Strangely, Vincent had no part in the Council of Constance, which ended the schism.

The split in the Church at the time of St Vincent Ferrer, OP, should have been fatal—36 long years of having two “heads.” We cannot imagine what condition the Church today would be in if, for that length of time, half the world had followed a succession of popes in Rome, and half, an equally “official” number of popes in, say, Rio de Janeiro. It is an ongoing miracle that the Church has not long since been shipwrecked on the rocks of pride and ignorance, greed and ambition. Contrary to Lowell’s words, “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne,” we believe that “truth is mighty, and it shall prevail”—but it sometimes takes a long time.

“Precious stone of virginity…
Flaming torch of charity…
Mirror of penance…
Trumpet of eternal salvation…
Flower of heavenly wisdom…
Vanquisher of demons.”

(-from the litanies of St. Vincent Ferrer, O.P.)

Saint_Vincent_Ferrer_01790

saint-vincent-ferrer-01
-Polytptych Vicente Ferrer, by Giovanni Bellini, 1465, Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice

Juanes_Juan_de-St_Vincent_Ferrer
-by Juan de Juanes in 1550-55

“Timete Deum Et Date Illi Honorem” – “Fear God and give Him honor!” – Rev. 14:7

Prayer

O my protector, St. Vincent Ferrer, as the eternal God has deposited in you an inexhaustible treasurer of grace and of supernatural virtues, hear my earnest petition, and help me with your intercession, more powerful now even than when you were on earth. Hence with blind confidence do I cast myself at your feet, there to place my requests for all those in whom I am concerned but more particularly for (special favor). O glorious saint, let not my confidence in you be deceived. Present for me, to the Divine Majesty, your suppliant prayers and watch over my soul. Should sorrow and trials increase, so also will my rejoicing increase, and may my patience grow with each day, that I may thus save my soul. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Feb 18 – Blessed John of Fiesole, OP, (aka “Fra Angelico”) (1395-1455)

Annunciation
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-Annunciazione, Madrid, Museo del Prado, 1430-1432

Having been a Dominican novice directly after college, I was introduced to Fra Angelico (“Brother of the Angels”) at an early age. He is one of my most favorite artists, as you may imagine. I asked for and received for my birthday one year a large coffee table book of his works. It is a treasured possession in my library.

The patron saint of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master. He joined the Dominicans at about age 20, taking the name Fra Giovanni. He eventually came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities or maybe the devotional tone of his works.

He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, vivid colors and generous, lifelike figures. Michelangelo once said of Fra Angelico: “One has to believe that this good monk has visited paradise and been allowed to choose his models there.” Whatever his subject matter, Fra Angelico sought to generate feelings of religious devotion in response to his paintings. Among his most famous works are the Annunciation and Descent from the Cross as well as frescoes in the monastery of San Marco in Florence.

He also served in leadership positions within the Dominican Order. At one point Pope Eugenius approached him about serving as archbishop of Florence. Fra Angelico declined, preferring a simpler life. He died in 1455.

Fra Angelico is one of the few candidates for beatification and canonization who have had their artwork examined for orthodoxy and sanctity by Vatican committees charged with verifying such things, as opposed to their writings. It is averred Fra Angelico never handled a brush without fervent prayer and wept when he painted the Crucifixion.

Pope John Paul II beatified Fra Angelico on October 3, 1982 and in 1984 declared him patron of Catholic artists. Angelico
was reported to say “He who does Christ’s work must stay with Christ always”. This motto earned him the epithet “Blessed Angelico”, because of the perfect integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of the images he painted, to a superlative extent those of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Fra_Angelico_Final_Judgement

please click image for a larger view

The Day of Judgment – (n.b. notice the saved on Christ’s right, your left, seated as Final Judge in Glory – His angels and saints surrounding Him, right dancing with angels, and the New Jerusalem (Heaven) on the hilltop in the background; and the damned on His left being taken into Hell.  Notice the opened and empty graves down the middle of the scene.)

Worldwide press coverage reported in November 2006 that two missing masterpieces by Fra Angelico had turned up, having hung in the spare room of the late Jean Preston, in her “modest terrace house” in Oxford, England. Her father had bought them for £100 each in 1965 then bequeathed them to her when he died in
1974.

Jean had been consulted by their then owner in her capacity as an expert medievalist. She recognized them as being high quality Florentine Renaissance, but it never occurred to anyone, even all the dealers she approached on behalf of the owner, that they could possibly be by Fra Angelico. They were finally identified in 2005 by Michael Liversidge of Bristol University.

There was almost no demand at all for medieval art during the 1960s and no dealers showed any interest, so her father bought them almost as an afterthought along with some manuscripts. The paintings are two of eight side panels of a large altarpiece painted in 1439 for Fra Angelico’s monastery at San Marco, but split up by Napoleon’s army 200 years ago. While the centre section is still at the monastery, the other six small panels are in German and US museums. These two panels were presumed lost forever. The Italian Government had hoped to purchase them but they were outbid at auction on 20 April 2007 by a private collector for £1.7M.

Even if we were illiterate and lived in the Middle Ages, as most people of that time were, we would know the tradition about praying to the Virgin before her image, so the good (Beato) Fra has still helped us raise our mind to God through his favorite subject of the Annunciation.

Medieval devotion (even late medieval and early Renaissance–circa Fra Angelico) to the Virgin was extreme. It really was “to Jesus, through Mary” and often “only through Mary.” God fills us with awe to such an extent that we cannot but tremble in His presence, but the Virgin was a simple peasant woman – comprehensible, appealing and approachable to a wider audience of the time. She was and is the door to salvation for the bad, the stupid, the concupiscent, the ignorant, and the unworthy. Popular literature of the Middle Ages is replete with stories of how the Virgin saves everyone who asks, leading them to her Son. Fra Angelico’s Annunciations are a real reminder of that: not just a reminder to ask, but an opportunity to do so.

Medieval art tends to be performative—it is intended to be actually efficacious for the obtaining of grace. Attempting to appreciate Medieval merely passively or as a simple visual aesthetic would be to underestimate it and misunderstand, under-appreciate it in the extreme.  It is not just a picture or a reminder to pray—it is a prayer, and you pray it by looking and participating in it. The intent of medieval artists and their expectation of their audience was the art, whether a painting, a sculpture or a medieval morality play, is a sacramental, and it really does help save your soul.

Fra_Angelico_Deposition_of_Christ

please click on the image for a larger view

Deposition from the Cross, Fra Angelico, 1432–1434, Tempera on panel, 176 cm × 185 cm (69 in × 73 in), National Museum of San Marco, Florence.

Love,
Matthew