May 2 – St Athanasius (293-373 AD), Bishop, Father & Doctor of the Church, Defender of the orthodox Faith

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-St. Athanasius (1883–84), by Carl Rohl-Smith, Frederik’s Church, Copenhagen, Denmark.

In my study of and training in Christology, I have come to learn and to observe nearly every varied interpretation and manipulation, if you will, throughout history has been attempted, offered, and promulgated by heretics as to whom Jesus was and is.  There is a truth and a saying when one studies Church history:  “there are no new heresies”.  This is so true.  That word, heresy, grates on the modern ear.  We much prefer the calm, soothing, comforting, anesthetizing sounds of relativism – contemplation without thought, without challenge.  Peace at any cost, peace in our time.  Thank you, St Neville Chamberlain (Warning:  NOT a real saint!)  This is so as opposed to a more challenging, sobering truth.

The rational mind with integrity cannot accept mutually exclusive truths and rest easy.  The Church may have to deal with heresies for a time, from time to time, hopefully refute and suppress them successfully, but given the mind of man, general ignorance of and training in the theological sciences, our own willfulness and refusal to learn from our forbears in faith who have climbed Himalayan mountains of faith, thought, and life’s experiences, add in the work of the Enemy, and heresies constantly return over time mutated, altered, changed, but still holding onto the core deception.  Bad thinking leads to bad action.  History is replete with examples.

The most difficult conclusion human beings have had to come to, the hardest to hold, and the most embattled throughout human history, is that He was Whom He said He was:  the Son of the Father, co-equal with the Creator and the Holy Spirit in true Trinitarian theology.  I feel this is the most challenging since it begs of us the most difficult questions and challenges us profoundly.  How would we live differently if His divinity were not an article of faith?  But, rather, a daily, moment-by-moment live experience of fact – as we define fact?  How would we live differently if we knew our appointment with Him were not merely a possibility, but an inevitability?  For this reason, I believe this conclusion is the most difficult to which to come and hold because of the profound challenges and questions it poses – too much to bear many would claim.  Hence, the heresies, both ancient and modern, and the human temptation towards them continue.

Arius (250-336 AD) was a bishop from Alexandria, Egypt.  He taught that Jesus did not always exist, but was created by the Father and was of a different substance than the Father, nearly, or actually, implying Jesus was perhaps divine, but not Divine as God is Divine, but also a creature of God, like us, only better.  At the heart of the Arian heresy, if taken to its logical conclusion, was truly to call into question Jesus’ divinity.  At best, a second rate divinity, really.

It is really helpful at this point if one knows a little Greek and understands how one letter, “i”, one iota, literally, can change the entire meaning of a word and generally cause a big fight.  But, I will spare you that for now.  (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists have sometimes been referred to as Arians or Semi-Arians.  Unitarian Universalists deny the Trinity altogether, as well as several other problems.  Gnosticism, which pre-dates Christianity, has been recreated in the modern age as Freemasonry and Scientology.)

Ok, I lied,

homoiousios/ηομο and homoousios/ηομοουσιος The first, the heretical word if inserted into the Creed, means of a “similar essence/substance”.  The second means of the “same essence/substance”.  BIG FIGHT!!!!!  It caused such a huff, the Emperor Constantine ordered a Church council to meet, the Council of Nicea (325 AD), and work it out for the sake of peace in the empire.  Wars have been fought over the words in the Creed, which is why I am always so scandalized when new, creative, modern, “Oh, what the hell.  Let’s use this one today” type creeds get used rather blithely in Christian, especially Catholic worship.  No wonder people, even the ordained, mea culpa, are often confused.  When I teach young people, consistently they present their brains to me as so much theological mush.  I fancy myself a theological personal trainer for the young – tightening their theological core, as my actual personal physical trainer is teaching me to tighten mine.  Ouch!  I am a certified catechist, you know.  St Athanasius, pray for us!

When we recite the Nicene Creed (325 AD), it is the words,”We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father”, think of and thank St Athanasius, and those who held to the orthodox belief of the Trinity despite profound opposition and difficulty.  We have Arius to thank that we are so emphatic, repeating over and over this truth when we pray the Creed, seventeen centuries later.  Arius had trouble with the Trinity.  Granted, that’s a tough one for any Christian, even the most erudite theologians, to wrap their minds around, let alone explain.  Hence the ascription as mystery.  But, mystery as it may be, most Christians do not slip into heresy and lead others to follow because they don’t like it, most.

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-Athanasius’ Shrine (where a portion of his relics are preserved) under St. Mark’s Cathedral, Cairo

Tomb of Zaccaria and Saint Athanasius
-Tomb of Zaccaria and Saint Athanasius

“You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.”
-St Athanasius

“Jesus, Whom I know as my Redeemer, cannot be less than God.”
-St Athanasius

Love,
Matthew

May 25 – St Mary Magdalen de Pazzi (1556-1607), Carmelite Mystic & Great Catholic Reformer, “To suffer and not to die”

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“Our Lady of Carmel and Saints”, by Pietro Novelli, 1641, Simon Stock (standing), Angelus of Jerusalem (kneeling), Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Teresa of Avila, Museo Diocesano, Palermo

It would be easy to concentrate on the mystical experiences God gave this saint, rather than on her life. In fact, it would be difficult to do differently, so overwhelming were those gifts from God. The temptation for many modern readers (including the author) would be to see little to identify with in these graces and walk away without seeing more. The other temptation would be to become so fascinated with these stories that one would neglect to dig deeper and learn the real lessons of her life.

But Mary Magdalene de Pazzi is not a saint because she received ecstasies and graces from God. Many have received visions, ecstasies, and miracles without becoming holy. She is a saint because of her response to those gifts — a lifelong struggle to show love and gratitude to the God who gave her those graces.

In fact Mary Magdalene saw her ecstasies as evidence of a great fault in her, not a reward for holiness. She told one fellow sister that God did not give this sister the same graces “because you don’t need them in order to serve him.” In her eyes, God gave these gifts to those who were too weak to become holy otherwise. That Mary Magdalene received these gifts proved, in her mind, how unworthy she was.

Born into one of the wealthiest and most distinguished noble families in Florence on April 2, 1566, the normal course would have been for Catherine de Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort.  Baptized Catherine, she was taught mental prayer when she was nine years old at the request of her mother. Her introduction at this age to this form of prayer which involves half an hour of meditation did not seem to be unusual. And yet today we often believe children incapable of all but the simplest rote prayers.  At twelve years old she experienced her first ecstasy while looking at a sunset which left her trembling and speechless.  She received religious training from the Jesuits.

With this foundation in prayer and in mystical experience, it isn’t surprising that she wanted to enter a contemplative monastery of the Carmelite Order. She chose the monastery of St. Mary’s of the Angels because the nuns took daily Communion, unusual at the time.

In 1583 she had her second mystical experience when the other nuns saw her weeping before the crucifix as she said, “O Love, you are neither known nor loved.”

Mary Magdalene’s life is a contradiction of our instinctive thought that joy only comes from avoiding suffering. A month after being refused early religious profession, she fell deathly ill. Fearing for her life the convent had her professed from a stretcher at the altar. After that she experienced forty days of ecstasies that coexisted with her suffering. Joy from the graces God gave were mixed with agony as her illness grew worse. In one of her experiences Jesus took her heart and hid it in his own, telling her he “would not return it until it is wholly pure and filled with pure love.” She didn’t recover from her illness until told to ask for the intercession of Blessed Mary Bagnesi over three months later.

As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. A severe five-year trial would follow. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, “Admonitions”, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious.

What her experiences and prayer had given her was a familiar, personal relationship with Jesus. Her conversations with Jesus often take on a teasing, bantering tone that shocks those who have a formal, fearful image of God. For example, at the end of her forty days of graces, Jesus offered her a crown of flowers or a crown of thorns. No matter how often she chose the crown of thorns, Jesus kept teasingly pushing the crown of flowers to her. When he accused her, “I called and you didn’t care,” she answered back, “You didn’t call loudly enough” and told him to shout his love.

She learned to regret the insistence on the crown of thorns. We might think it is easy to be holy if God is talking to you every day but few of us could remain on the path with the five year trial that followed her first ecstasies. Before this trial, Jesus told her, “I will take away not the grace but the feeling of grace. Though I will seem to leave you I will be closer to you.” This was easy for her to accept in the midst of ecstasy but, as she said later, she hadn’t experienced it yet. At the age of nineteen she started five years of dryness and desolation in which she was repelled by prayer and tempted by everything. She referred to her heart as a pitch-dark room with only a feeble light shining that only made the darkness deeper. She was so depressed she was found twice close to suicide. All she could do to fight back was to hold onto prayer, penance, and serving others even when it appeared to do no good.

Her lifelong devotion to Pentecost can be easily understood because her trial ended in ecstasy in 1590. At this time she could have asked for any gifts but she wanted two in particular: to look on any neighbor as good and holy without judgment and to always have God’s presence before her.  She dedicated herself to the reform and renewal of the Church.  Her great desire for Church reform was born during this time, after witnessing rays of light from on high in the summer of 1586, showing her the true state of the Church in the era after the Council of Trent.  Like Catherine of Siena, she felt ‘compelled’ to write letters to the Pope, cardinals of the Curia, her archbishop and other Church leaders, encouraging them to work for the renewal of the Church.

Far from enjoying the attention her mystical experiences brought her, she was embarrassed by it. For all her days, she wanted a hidden life and tried everything she could to achieve it. When God commanded her to go barefoot as part of her penance and she could not walk with shoes, she simply cut the soles out of her shoes so no one would see her as different from the other nuns. If she felt an ecstasy coming on, she would hurry to finish her work and go back to her room. She learned to see the notoriety as part of God’s will. When teaching a novice to accept God’s will, she told her, “I wanted a hidden life but, see, God wanted something quite different for me.”

Some still might think it was easy for her to be holy with all the help from God. Yet when she was asked once why she was weeping before the cross, she answered that she had to force herself to do something right that she didn’t want to do. It’s true that when a sister criticized her for acting so different, she thanked her, “May God reward you! You have never spoken truer words!” but she told others it hurt her quite a bit to be nice to someone who insulted her.

Mary Magdalene was no pale, shrinking flower. Her wisdom and love led to her appointment to many important positions at the convent including mistress of novices. She did not hesitate to be blunt in guiding the women under her care when their spiritual life was at stake. When one of the novices asked permission to pretend to be impatient so the other novices would not respect her so much, Mary Magdalene’s answer shook this novice out of this false humility: “What you want to pretend to be, you already are in the eyes of the novices. They don’t respect you nearly as much as you like to think.”

Mary Magdalene’s life offers a great challenge to all those who think that the best penance comes from fasting and physical discomfort. Though she fasted and wore old clothes, she chose the most difficult penance of all by pretending to like the things she didn’t like. Not only is this a penance most of us would shrink from but, by her acting like she enjoyed it, no one knew she was doing this great penance!

In 1604, headaches, paralyzation, and tuberculosis confined her to bed. Her nerves were so sensitive that she could not be touched without agonizing pain. Ever humble, she took the fact that her prayers were not granted as a sure sign that God’s will was being done. For three years she suffered, before dying on May 25, 1607 at the age of forty-one.  Even to this day, her body remains with the Carmelite community in which she lived and is incorrupt, and is under the altar of the Church of the Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi in Careggi, Florence.

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-The Ecstasy of Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi” ,1670, by Alessandro Rosi (1627-1707), oil on canvas, 120 x 102 cm. Sold $90,900 (2008, Christie’s), Musée des Beaux-arts, Chambéry, France

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-“The Vision of Santa Maria Maddalena de Pazzi”, 1702,  by Giovanni Sangrestani

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-Carmelite Saints:  Prophet Elijah; Cyril of Constantinople ;Andrew Corsini, Bishop and Peacemaker; Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi; Brocard, the first Superior of Mount Carmel; Thérèse, The Little Flower; Simon Stock; Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Child Jesus; Albert of Sicily; Teresa of Jesus; Berthold, the Second Prior General of the Carmelites; Patriarch Peter Thomas; Angelus of Sicily; John of the Cross; and the Prophet Eliseus.

Prayer ought to be humble, fervent, resigned, persevering, and accompanied with great reverence. One should consider that he stands in the presence of a God, and speaks with a Lord before whom the angels tremble from awe and fear.”
– Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi

“Come, Holy Spirit. Spirit of truth, you are the reward of the saints, the comforter of souls, light in the darkness, riches to the poor, treasure to lovers, food for the hungry, comfort to those who are wandering; to sum up, you are the one in whom all treasures are contained.
Come! As you descended upon Mary that the Word might become flesh, work in us through grace as you worked in her through nature and grace.
Come! Food of every chaste thought, fountain of all mercy, sum of all purity.
Come! Consume in us whatever prevents us from being consumed in You.”
– from the writings of Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

“A little drop of simple obedience is worth a million times more than a whole vase of the choicest contemplation.”
– Saint Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi

“If I thought that by saying a word, however indifferent, for any other end than the love of God, I could become a Seraph, I certainly would not say it.” – Saint Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi

“If I had a voice sufficiently loud and strong to be heard in every part of the world, I would cry out to make this Love known, loved, and honored by all men as the one immeasurable Good.” -St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

“Trials are nothing else but the forge that purifies the soul of all its imperfections.”
-St Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi

“You will be consoled according to the greatness of your sorrow and affliction; the greater the suffering, the greater will be the reward.” –St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

Prayer:
Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, pray that we will make a commitment to seek the presence of God in prayer the way you did. Guide us to see the graces God gives us as gifts not rewards and to respond with gratitude and humility, not pride and selfishness. Amen

“St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi is a symbolic figure of living love that recalls an essential dimension of every Christian life,” said Benedict XVI in 2007. The Pope said this in a letter to the Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of Florence, Italy, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Carmelite mystic’s death.”She did not let herself be conditioned by the world; the world, though Christian, did not satisfy her desire to become ever more similar to her crucified Spouse,” wrote the Holy Father.  “Purified love, which beat so strongly in her heart, opened her to the desire for full conformity with Christ, her Spouse, even unto sharing with him the ‘nudo patire’ [naked suffering] of the cross,” the Pope continued. “The last three years of her life were a true Calvary of sufferings for her.”  Benedict XVI added: “During her life she would ring the bells and exhort her fellow sisters saying: ‘Come to love Love!’  The great mystic from Florence, from her convent and from the Carmelite monasteries that aspire to her, we pray that we may still hear her voice in the entire Church, spreading the proclamation of God’s love for every human creature.”

“In order to understand the greatness of Your divinity, O Lord, I need faith; and in order to accomplish anything, I need hope, for if I did not have hope of possessing You some day, I would not have the strength to labor here below. I no longer desire the things of earth, although I have never hoped in them. I do have a lively hope of obtaining, not the things of earth upon which worldly people usually set their hopes, but only You, my God.

O God, give me a firm hope, for I cannot be saved unless this virtue is firmly rooted in my soul. I need it in order to implore pardon for my sins and to attain my end. What delight hope gives to my soul, making it hope for what it will one day enjoy in heaven, and by permitting it a partial taste here on earth of what it will savor, understand, and possess eternally, which is You, my God” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).

Love,
Matthew

May 25 – St Bede the Venerable, (673-735 AD), Doctor of the Church, Father of English History

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He was known as the most learned man of his day, and his writings started the idea of dating this era from the incarnation of Christ. The central theme of Bede’s “Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People)” is of the Church using the power of its spiritual, doctrinal, and cultural unity to stamp out violence and barbarism. Our knowledge of England before the 8th century is mainly the result of Bede’s writing.

It was as a teacher that Bede was supreme. He had no interest in speculation and no desire to be original; his genius was that of one who, with infinite pains, educates himself and transmits not only what he has learned but a deep sense of the value of such knowledge. Of his oral teaching–to which he attached great importance–of course we cannot speak, but his books became standard works of reference in his own lifetime.

His carefulness and sobriety of approach, his pains to be accurate, his obvious orthodoxy, gave to them a unique authority. Bede’s works fall into three well-defined classes. His theological writings consist mainly of a teacher’s commentaries on the Bible, based very largely on the western Fathers and written for the most part in the allegorical manner of Christian tradition. Bede used his knowledge of Greek and displayed what we may think was an innocent vanity in making the most of such Hebrew as he had learned. Yet, despite the lack of originality in his approach, the commentaries of Bede remain even today one of the best means to arrive at the thought of the early Fathers.

His scientific writings consist partly of traditional explanations of natural phenomena, in which the poetic approach of St. Ambrose is sometimes reflected, and partly of treatises on the calendar and the calculation of Easter–a matter of moment, as the Paschal controversy between Saxons and Celts had by no means entirely died down. It was Bede’s popularization of the method of calculating calendar years from the supposed date of our Lord’s birth which more than anything else ensured its universal acceptance in western Christendom.

At the time Bede wrote the Historia Ecclesiastica, there were two common ways of referring to dates. One was to use indictions, which were 15-year cycles, counting from 312 AD. There were three different varieties of indiction, each starting on a different day of the year. The other approach was to use regnal years—the reigning Roman emperor, for example, or the ruler of whichever kingdom was under discussion. This meant that in discussing conflicts between kingdoms, the date would have to be given in the regnal years of all the kings involved. Bede used both these approaches on occasion, but adopted a third method as his main approach to dating: the anno domini method invented by Dionysius Exiguus. Although Bede did not invent this method, his adoption of it, and his promulgation of it in De Temporum Ratione, his work on chronology, is the main reason why it is now so widely used.

His death was as sober and undeterred as was his life. In the early summer of 735, when he was sixty-three, his health began to fail, and he suffered much from asthma. He was, however, at work until the very end. On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he summoned the priests of the monastery, made them little gifts of pepper and incense and begged their prayers. At intervals during the next forty-eight hours, propped up in bed, he dictated to the very last sentence an English rendering of the Gospel of St. John upon which he was engaged at the onset of his illness. Finally, asking to be laid on the floor, he sang the anthem ‘O King of Glory’ from the Office of Ascension Day and so died. It was May 27th, 735.

Prayer to St Bede:

“Careful Historian and Doctor of the Church, lover of God and of truth, you are a natural model for all readers of God’s inspired Word. Move lectors to prepare for public reading by prayerfully pondering the sacred texts and invoking the Holy Spirit. Help them to read in such a way that those who hear may attain learning and edification. Amen.”

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-“St Bede Dictates the Translation of the Gospel of John on his deathbed”, one of four scenes on triptych by David Hewson, 2003, St Bede Catholic Church, Williamsburg, VA

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-St Bede’s tomb, Durham Cathedral

The Last Chapter
-The Last Chapter, by J.D. Penrose, 1902

Love,
Matthew

Regina Coeli

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An ancient hymn, from some say as early as the 6th century AD, or as late as the 12th, the Regina Coeli replaces the Angelus during the Easter season.  It is also said immediately after the last prayer of the day in the Liturgy of the Hours, either Vespers or Compline, for that day:

Regina coeli, laetare, alleluia:
Quia quem meruisti portare. alleluia,
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia,
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.
Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.

Oremus. Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi, mundum laetificare dignatus es: praesta, quaesumus; ut per eius Genetricem Virginem Mariam, perpetuae capiamus gaudia vitae. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia:
The Son whom you merited to bear, alleluia,
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.

For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

Regina Caeli (1)

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Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech You, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Happy Easter!

Love,
Matthew

May 12 – Sts Nereus, Achilleus, & Domitilla, (d. 98 AD), Martyrs

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-by Peter Paul Rubens, 1607

Christian devotion to Nereus & Achilleus goes back to the earliest years of the Church, though almost nothing is known of their lives. They were praetorian soldiers of the Roman army, possibly ordered to persecute Christians, they became Christians and were banished to the island of Terracina, where they were martyred by beheading in 98 AD by order of the Emperor Domitian.  Beheading was befitting Roman citizens, similar to St Paul, as opposed to crucifixion – a much longer suffering death reserved for non-Roman citizens. The bodies of Nereus & Achilleus were buried in a family vault, later known as the cemetery of Domitilla. Excavations by De Rossi in 1896 resulted in the discovery of their empty tomb in the underground church built by Pope Siricius in 390 AD.

Everyday, especially twenty-first century, Christians would first be introduced to Nereus by reading St Paul’s Letter to the Romans 16:15, “Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the holy ones who are with them…”.  It is believed Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla, along with other early Christians in Rome were all baptized by St Peter before his crucifixion in ~64 AD.

Domitilla was a Roman noble woman. Grand-daughter of Emperor Vespasian; niece of Emperors Titus and Domitian. Married to Titus Flavius Clemens, a Roman consul, nephew of Emperor Vespasian, and first cousin of Emperors Titus and Domitian. Banished to the island of Pandataria in the Tyrrhenian Sea, her husband was martyred in 96 AD.

For Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla, they were all martyred together.  Their empty tombs were located and identified in the catacomb of Domitilla, part of her former estate near the Via Ardeatina.

Andrea_di_Bonaiuto._St._Agnes_and_St._Domitilla._1365._Galleria_dell'Accademia,_Florence.
-by Andrea_di_Bonaiuto, “St._Agnes_and_St._Domitilla”,_1365, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, Italy.

Two hundred years after their death, Pope Gregory the Great delivered his 28th homily on the occasion of their feast. “These saints, before whom we are assembled, despised the world and trampled it under their feet when peace, riches and health gave it charms.”

Pope Damasus wrote an epitaph for Nereus and Achilleus in the fourth century. The text is known from travelers who read it while the slab was still entire, but the broken fragments found by De Rossi are sufficient to identify it: “The martyrs Nereus and Achilleus had enrolled themselves in the army and exercised the cruel office of carrying out the orders of the tyrant, being ever ready, through the constraint of fear, to obey his will. O miracle of faith! Suddenly they cease from their fury, they become converted, they fly from the camp of their wicked leader; they throw away their shields, their armor and their blood-stained javelins. Confessing the faith of Christ, they rejoice to bear testimony to its triumph. Learn now from the words of Damasus what great things the glory of Christ can accomplish.”

Basilica of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, an underground altar where the Catacomb Pact was signed at a Mass on Nov. 16, 1965. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho
Basilica of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, an underground altar 

-(please click on the image for greater detail), Basilica Catacombs of St Domitilla, part of her former estate, on the outskirts of Rome, the Eternal City.

The church marks the spot where tradition says Sts Nereus & Achilleus were executed for converting to Christianity. And beneath the altar, and extending through more than 10 miles of tunnels, were the tombs of more than 100,000 Christians from the earliest centuries of the church.

A view inside the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho
A view inside the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho

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-(please click on the image for greater detail) Santi Nereo e Achilleo is an ancient church dedicated to St Nereus and St Achilleus, 4th century soldier martyrs.

The present church is the result of a restoration by Cesare Cardinal Baronio – historian and titular priest of the church – in 1596-1597/8. The work was done carefully in order to preserve as much as possible of the ancient church and to restore ancient elements that had been lost. Some of the decorations that were added were taken from San Paolo fuori le mura. Sts Nereus and Achilleus are buried beneath the high altar, together with St Flavia Domitilla. Their remains were brought here from the Catacombi di Domitilla, where they had been placed in the underground basilica. The floor in the choir was raised by Baronio in the late 16th century, to create a proper confessio beneath the high altar. The baldachino is from the 16th century, and has columns of African marble.

Cardinal Baronio asked Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) to entrust the church to his order, the Oratorians. They still serve the church.

Love,
Matthew

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus #1

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The McCormick family has a very special devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Prayer of Trust in the Sacred Heart

In all my temptations, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In all my weaknesses, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In all my difficulties, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In all my trials, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In all my sorrows, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In all my work, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In every failure, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In every discouragement, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In life and in death, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In time and in eternity, I place my trust in you, O Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Prayer for Perseverance

O, Sacred Heart of Jesus, living and life-giving fountain of eternal life, infinite treasure of the Divinity, and glowing furnace of love, You are my refuge and my sanctuary.

O adorable and glorious Savior, consume my heart with that burning fire that ever inflames Your Heart. Pour down on my soul those graces which flow from Your love.

Let my heart be so united with Yours that our wills may be one, and mine may in all things be conformed to Yours. May Your Will be the rule both of my desires and my actions.
-St. Alphonsus Liguori

“At the end of this life, only love will matter.”
-St. Sharbel

Love,
Matthew

De Profundis

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Dominicans, after vespers each evening, line the hallways of their priories facing each other and sing the De Profundis (Psalm 130), remembering all the members of their order who have received their eternal reward.  Dominicans traditionally would bury their dead underneath the hallways of their priories.

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam.
Fiant aures tuæ intendentes in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication:
If you, O Lord, mark our iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
I trust in the Lord;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the Lord,
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn,
let Israel wait for the Lord;
For with the Lord is kindness
and with him is plenteous redemption;
And he will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.

V.         Eternal rest grant unto him/her, O Lord,
R.         And let the perpetual light shine upon him/her,
V.         From the gates of Hell,
R.         Deliver his/her soul, O Lord,
V.         May he/she rest in peace,
R.         Amen.
V.         O Lord, hear my prayer,
R.         And let my cry come unto You.

Oremus:
O God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind,
Grant unto the souls of the departed
The remission of all their sins:
That through our prayers
They may obtain the pardon
They have always desired.

V.         Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created,
R.         And You shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

“For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my dissolution is at hand.
I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the Faith.
From now on a crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, just judge that He is, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for His appearance.”
-2 Timothy 4:6-8

Bonum certamen certavi,
Cursum consumavi,
Fidem servavi!

I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the Faith!

“The world is tired,
The year is old,
The faded leaves are glad to die…”
-Sara Teasdale, “November” 

Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; They will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”  -Isaiah 35:10

Love,
Matthew

Litany for the Healing of the Church

Litany for the Healing of the Church

Sorrowful Mother, pray for us.
Lover of Justice, obedient to the Father’s will, pray for us.
Intercessor of Cana, compassionate toward the unfortunate, pray for us.
Immaculate Heart, pierced by a sword, pray for us.
Patient Mother, doer of God’s will despite atrocity, pray for us.
Faithful Mother, at the foot of the cross, pray for us.
Faithful Mother, unashamed of your Son, pray for us.
Faithful Mother, faithful to the innocent, pray for us.
Healing Mother, guardian and nurse of the Body of Christ, pray for us.
Loving Mother, fierce lover of the Body of Christ, pray for us.
Loving Mother, unvengeful despite disaster, pray for us.
Trusting Mother, helping us to do whatever He tells us, pray for us.
Prayerful Mother, believing despite corruption, pray for us.
Faithful Mother, unwilling to abandon your Son, pray for us.
Faithful Mother, peaceful in the face of calumny heaped upon your Son, pray for us.
Peaceful Mother, faithful in the face of scandal, injustice, and humiliation, pray for us.
Model of Fidelity, caressing your Son’s tortured and bloodied body, pray for us.
Rewarded Mother, witness to the Resurrection, keep us faithful to the end that we too may receive our reward.
Christ, warner of Pharisees and scribes, hear our prayer.
Christ, bringer of the sword, hear our prayer.
Christ, unbelieved though truthful, hear our prayer.
Christ. betrayed with a kiss, hear our prayer.
Christ, tried though innocent, hear our prayer.
Christ, found guilty though innocent, hear our prayer.
Christ, condemned though innocent, hear our prayer.
Christ Reviled, hear our prayer.
Christ Scourged, hear our prayer.
Christ Wounded, hear our prayer.
Christ Mocked & Humiliated, hear our prayer.
Christ Spat Upon, hear our prayer.
Christ Crowned with Thorns, hear our prayer.
Body of Christ Suffering, hear our prayer.
Christ Carrying Your Cross, hear our prayer.
Christ Fallen Three Times, hear our prayer.
Christ Crucified, hear our prayer.
Christ Abandoned, hear our prayer.
Christ, forgiving from the cross, help us to love and forgive one another as you love and forgive us.
Christ Expired, hear our prayer.
Christ in the tomb, hear our prayer.
Christ Risen, turn our mourning into joy, for all things are possible with You and You make all things new.
Christ Risen, make us one, as You and the Father and the Paraclete are One.
Christ Risen, heal our wounds and call us to new life.
Christ Triumphant, Alpha & Omega, Beginning & End, First & Last, resolve all things according to Your Holy Will.
Christ Final Judge, have mercy on us, and welcome us into the Heavenly Banquet.
Christ True High Priest, keep us faithful to our baptismal promises.
Amen.

© 2009, Matthew P. McCormick.  All rights reserved.

Let us pray for the Church.  Let us pray for each other.

Love,
Matthew

Apr 23 – Saint George, (d. 304 AD), Martyr

Saint-George

In Christian hagiography, Saint George – The Saint who killed the Dragon (ca. 275-281?-April 23, 303) was a soldier of the Roman Empire, from Anatolia, now modern day Turkey, who is venerated as a Christian martyr.

George was born to a Christian family during the late 3rd century. His father, Geronzio, was from Cappadocia and served as an officer of the Roman army, but was killed in battle. His mother, Policronia, was from Lydda, Iudaea (now Lod, Israel). She returned to her native city as a widow along with her young son, where she provided him with an education.

The youth followed his father’s example by joining the army soon after coming of age. He proved to be a good soldier and consequently rose through the military ranks of the time.  By his late twenties he had gained the title of Tribunus (Tribune) and then Comes (Count), at which time George was stationed in Nicomedia as a member of the personal guard attached to Roman Emperor Diocletian, who embraced him, having known and regarded his father as one of his finest soldiers.

In 303 Diocletian, influenced by Galerius, issued an edict authorizing the systematic persecution of Christians across the Empire. The emperor Galerius would continue the persecution during his own reign (305-311).

George was ordered to take part in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticized the imperial decision.  Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose his best Tribune and the son of his former best official. George loudly denounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and Tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus Christ. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the pagan gods. The Emperor made many offers, but George never accepted.  An enraged Diocletian ordered the torture of this apparent traitor, and his execution.

Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself.

After various tortures, beginning with being lacerated on a wheel of swords in which he was revived three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s defensive wall on April 23, 303. The witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom.  His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honor him as a martyr.

Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches. Immortalized in the tale of George and the dragon, he is the patron saint of Canada, Catalonia, England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, the cities of Beirut, Istanbul, Ljubljana and Moscow, as well as a wide range of professions, organizations and disease sufferers.

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In the legend of St George and the dragon, brought back to Europe by Crusaders, a dragon makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of Cyrene in Libya or the city of Lydda, depending on the source you consult. Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, in order to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon a human sacrifice. The victim is chosen by drawing lots.

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One day, this happened to be the princess. The monarch begs for her life with no result. She is offered to the dragon, but there appears the saint on his travels. He faces the dragon, slays it and rescues the princess. The grateful citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.

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In Sweden, the princess rescued by Saint George is held to represent the kingdom of Sweden, while the dragon represents an invading army. Several sculptures of Saint George battling the dragon can be found in Stockholm, the earliest inside Storkyrkan (“The Great Church”) in the Old Town.

Prayer in honor of St George

O God, You granted Saint George strength and constancy in the various torments which he sustained for Holy Faith; we beseech You to preserve, through his intercession, our faith from wavering and doubt, so that we may serve You with a sincere heart faithfully unto death. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Invocation of St George

Faithful servant of God and invincible martyr, Saint George; favored by God with the gift of faith, and inflamed with an ardent love of Christ, you fight valiantly against the dragons of pride, falsehood, and deceit. Neither pain nor torture, sword nor death could part you from the love of Christ.

I fervently implore you, for the sake of this love, to help me by your intercession to overcome the temptations that surround me, and to bear bravely the trials that oppress me, so that I may patiently carry the cross which is placed upon me; and let neither distress nor difficulties separate me from the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

O, Valiant Champion of Faith, assist me in the combat against evil, that I may win the crown promised to them that persevere unto the end.
Amen.

“Saint George was a man who abandoned one army for another: he gave up the rank of tribune to enlist as a soldier for Christ. Eager to encounter the enemy, he first stripped away his worldly wealth by giving all he had to he poor. Then, free and unencumbered, bearing the shield of faith, he plunged into the thick of the battle, an ardent soldier for Christ.

Clearly what he did serves to teach us a valuable lesson: if we are afraid to strip ourselves of our worldly possessions, then we are unfit to make a strong defense of the faith.

Dear brothers & sisters, let us not only admire the courage of this fighter in heaven’s army, but follow his example. Let us be inspired to strive for the reward of heavenly glory. We must now cleanse ourselves, as Saint Paul tells us, from all defilement of body and spirit, so that one day we too may deserve to enter that temple of blessedness to which we now aspire. “
– from a sermon by Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072), priest & one of the Great Catholic Reformers

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-tomb of St George, Lod, Israel

Love,
Matthew

Apr 28 – St Peter Chanel, SM, (1803-1841), Apostle to & Protomartyr of Oceania

Peter-Chanel

Anyone who has worked in loneliness, with great adaptation required, and with little apparent success, will find a kindred spirit in Peter Chanel.

Pierre Louis Marie Chanel was born on July 12, 1803 in La Potière near Cuet in the area of Belley, France.

He was ordained priest along with 24 others on 15 July 1827. From an early age Chanel had been thinking about going on the foreign missions and his intention was strengthened by the letters that arrived from a missionary in India.

The following year Chanel applied for permission to go to the missions. His application was not accepted and instead he was appointed for the next three years as parish priest of the run down parish of Crozet.  This parish was in dire straits and situated in a seamy district.  By the simple method of showing great devotion to the sick, Peter revitalized and reinvigorated the faith of the community surrounding the parish.

Seeming to take one step closer to his ambition of becoming a missionary, in 1831, Peter joined the newly forming Society of Mary (Marists).  Instead of being selected as a missionary, however, the Marists used his talents as the spiritual director at the Seminary of Belley, where he patiently and obediently worked for five years.

Finally, he was given permission to be a missionary and traveled to Western Oceania.  The bishop accompanying the missionaries left Peter and another Marist brother on Futuna Island in the New Hebrides, promising to return in six months. The interval lasted five years.

The group was initially well received by the island’s king, Niuliki, who had only recently forbidden cannibalism. Meanwhile Peter struggled with this new language and mastered it, making the difficult adjustment to life with whalers, traders and warring natives. Despite little apparent success and severe want, Peter maintained a serene and gentle spirit and endless patience and courage. A few natives had been baptized, a few more were being instructed.

Once the missionaries learned the local language and began preaching directly to the people, the king grew restive. He believed that Christianity would take away his prerogatives as high priest and king. When the king’s son, Meitala, sought to be baptized, the king sent a favored warrior, his son-in-law, Musumusu to “do whatever was necessary” to resolve the problem.

Musumusu initially went to Meitala and the two fought. Musumusu, injured in the fracas went to Chanel feigning need of medical attention. While Chanel tended him a group of others ransacked his house. Musumusu took an axe and clubbed Chanel on the head.  His body was cut to pieces by the natives.

Over a year later, for it took that long for news to travel of Peter’s murder and arrangements to be made, a chief named Maligi, who had not agreed to Chanel’s murder, agreed to disinter Fr. Chanel’s body, and brought it to the L’Allier, a French naval corvette, sent to retrieve Peter’s body, wrapped in several local mats.  Eventually, with proper and improved care taken of the remains, entrusted from trustworthy hand to trustworthy hand, Peter’s remains were returned to the motherhouse of the Society of Mary in Lyon, France, June 1, 1850.

Within two years after Peter’s death, some sources say five months, the whole island of Futuna became Catholic and has remained so. Musumusu himself converted, and as he lay dying, expressed the desire that he be buried outside the church at Poi so that those who came to revere Peter Chanel in the Church would walk over his grave to get to it.  As a kind of penitence a special action song and dance, known as the “eke”, was created by the people of Futuna shortly after Chanel’s death. The dance is still performed in Tonga.  Peter Chanel’s remains were returned to Futuna in 1977.

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Prayer

St Peter Chanel, you left your homeland to proclaim Jesus, Savior of the world, to the peoples of Oceania. Guided by the spirit of God, who is the strength of the gentle, you bore witness to love, even laying down your life. Grant that like you, we may live our daily life in peace, joy, and in love. May your prayer and example call forth from our midst many workers for the Gospel so that God’s kingdom may reach to the ends of the earth.  Amen.

“He loves us. He does what he teaches. He forgives his enemies. His teaching is good.”
– one of Saint Peter’s catechumens, explaining why he believed Peter’s teachings

Love,
Matthew

Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ