Jun 3 – St Charles Lwanga, Kizito, & companions, (d. 1886), Martyrs

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-Excerpts from “My Life with the Saints”, Rev. James Martin, SJ, pp 319-323, Loyola Press, © 2006.

“Christian missionaries…arrived in the interior of Africa during the late nineteenth century…The largest and most powerful of the local ethnic groups was the Baganda…(accounts of) the Baganda were that they were among the richest and most advanced tribes in Central Africa…Yet the civilization also had a cruel side…with both rulers and subjects having the reputation of being ‘unnaturally cruel’.

Mutesa, the ruler of the Baganda, exemplified this cruel streak.  When he took the throne in 1860, to ensure his own political survival, he buried his brothers alive – all sixty of them.

Conversion to Christianity among the Baganda meant a rejection of the traditional religions…(but was tolerated under Mutesa).

With the accession of Mutesa’s son, Mwanga, to the throne, the situation altered dramatically.  Mwanga was also a practicing pedophile, and upon discovering the the young men who converted to Christianity were beginning to reject his sexual advances, he grew enraged.

In January of 1885, Mwanga had three Christians, whom he referred to as “those who pray”, dismembered and their bodies burned.  In October of the same year, the newly arrived Anglican bishop…was murdered.  Mukasa, a senior advisor to the king, reproached Mwanga for not allowing the bishop the customary opportunity to defend himself.  In response, Mwanga had Mukasa beheaded.

Mukasa’s successor, Charles Lwanga, now was in danger.  Upon witnessing Mukasa’s death, Charles, went to the Catholic mission and immediately had himself baptized along with the other catechumens.  Among those baptized was Kizito, age fourteen.

The next day Charles, Kizito, and their companions were summoned into the royal court.  Mwanga demanded all the young men confess their allegiance.  All but four of them, including Charles and Kizito, did.  Baffled by this refusal, Mwanga put off their executions until the next day.

A fire forced the royal court to relocate to a lodge on the banks of Lake Victoria. During this time, Charles protected several of the young men from Mwanga’s violent sexual advances.  Mwanga finally sentenced twenty-six Christians to be burned alive.

On June 3, Charles was wrapped tightly in a reed mat and was throne into a pyre.  Eventually, a total of forty-five Christians were burned alive.”

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-photo of Charles Lwanga, #13, please click on the image greater detail.

Prayer in Honor of Sts Charles Lwanga, Kizito, and companions

Father, you have made the blood of the martyrs the seed of Christians. May the witness of Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions and their loyalty to Christ in the face of torture, mistreatment, and cruelty inspire countless men and women to live sincerely and faithfully the Christian life.

“If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love,…if I let them take my body and burn it, but have not love, it will do me no good whatever.”  -1 Cor 13: 1,3

“Perfect love casts out fear.”
-cf 1 John 4:18

Love,
Matthew

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus #2

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This unique iconographic presentation of a beloved theme combines the classic pose of “Christ the Teacher” with devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Heart of Christ is burning with love for mankind, most vividly manifest in His suffering and sacrifice on the Cross.

Devotion to the loving heart of Christ first appeared in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and has been credited to several saints, including Saints Margaret Mary Alacoque, Bonaventure, Gertrude and Bernard. The devotion became popularized in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, especially through the Society of Jesus and the Visitation Order, and widespread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus continues to this day.

One of my favorite prayers of devotion to the Sacred Heart…

“O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,
I adore You,
I love You,
I praise You,
I cry to You for mercy,
I return You thanks,
I invoke You,
And confide myself entirely to You.

O most holy Heart of my Lord and Savior,
Who for the salvation of us all
Accepted a birth into poverty,
Endured sorrow and contempt here on earth,
Lived a life of labor and contradictions,
Suffered a shameful death,
But Who remain
In the most Blessed Sacrament of the altar
Until the end of time;
Accomplish, O Most Sacred Heart,
Your will in my heart,
Which I now dedicate and consecrate to You forever.
Amen.”

“O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee.”
-Robert L. & Mary D. McCormick

“The family, just like the Church, must always be regarded as a center to which the Gospel must be brought and from which it must be proclaimed.  Therefore in a family which is conscious of this role all the members of the family are evangelists and are themselves evangelized.”
-Evangelii Nuntiandi, (Evangelization in the Modern World), #71, Pope Paul VI, 1975, as cited in the US Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 404, July, 2006, USCCB.

“To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; to seek Him, the greatest adventure, to find Him, the greatest human achievement.”
-St. Augustine

Love,
Matthew

Ego te baptizo…

“Ego te baptizo in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.”  I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Priest:  “What name do you give your child?”
Parents:  “Mara Constance”
Priest:  “What do you ask of the Church of God?”
Parents:  “Faith”   

Priest:  “What does Faith offer?”
Parents:  “Life everlasting”  


Priest:  “If then you desire her to enter into life, teach this child to keep the commandments. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ “

Priest:  “Go forth from her, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.”   

The priest now makes the Sign of the Cross with his thumb on the child’s forehead and breast.

Priest:  “Mara Constance, receive the Sign of the Cross both upon your forehead + and also upon your heart +; take to you the faith of the heavenly precepts; and so order your life as to be, from henceforth, the temple of God.”

Priest:  “Let us pray: mercifully hear our prayers, we beseech You, O Lord; and by Your perpetual assistance keep this Your elect, Mara Constance, signed with the sign of the Lord’s cross, so that, preserving this first experience of the greatness of Your glory, she may deserve, by keeping Your commandments, to attain to the glory of life everlasting. Through Christ our Lord….”

Priest:  “Do you reject Satan?”
Parents (answering for child):  “I do reject him.”
Priest:  “And all his works?”
Parents:  “I do reject them.”
Priest:  “And all his pomps?”
Parents:  “I do reject them.”
Priest:  “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth?”
Parents:  “I do believe.”
Priest:  Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was born and Who suffered?”
Parents:  “I do believe.”
Priest: “Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting?”
Parents:  “I do believe.”

Priest:  “Receive this white garment, Mara Constance.  Never let it become stained, so that when you stand before the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, you may enter into life everlasting. Amen.”

Priest:  “Receive this burning light, Mara Constance, and keep the grace of your Baptism throughout a blameless life.  Observe the commandments of God.  Then, when the Lord comes to His heavenly wedding feast, you will be able to meet Him with all the Saints in the halls of heaven, and live for ever and ever. Amen.”

The Pope & condoms

OK.  Where angels fear to tread, and always attempting to seek reason and clarity in the midst of every argument, as a certified catechist in the Archdiocese, and in training to be a catechetical leader, I certainly am no expert on Humanae Vitae, Theology of the Body, or the biology/pathology of HIV/AIDS.  Is that enough of a disclaimer, or does that convince you of the uselessness of reading any further.

Please do not crucify me for this vain attempt at clarification.  A debate amongst friends prompting my amateurish attempt at it.  I am, however, by general inclination, the devil’s advocate, much to the woe and chagrin of those who know, and yes, perhaps even love me.  Had I found as simple or certainly simpler explanation online as I am attempting here from a certainly more authoritative source, I would have immediately referred you to it and saved myself the time and trouble.  However, I am still seeking such a resource.

This question is one of those many Catholic answers which do not lend themselves to sound bites.  Most Catholic answers do not lend themselves to sound bites.  The modern world operates on sound bites and cannot tolerate any explanation longer than fifteen seconds with lots of pictures, music, and fun, pleasing imagery.  If the Church is guilty of anything, it is guilty of brilliant theology, and lousy reduction of that brilliant theology into sound bites, as if that were even possible.  Hence, the joie de catechesis.  Seriously, can you think of a more thrilling challenge in the 21st century?  I can’t.  Hence, here I am, amateur though I may be.

This particular instance regarding the pope’s latest comments in Africa, in my amateur opinion, is one of those many exquisite and regular moments.  It really does depend on what your definition of “is” is, and understanding the milieu of either side to understand how either side could sincerely be saying what they are saying, and not merely being ideological.  Please let me attempt to explain.  

Being an amateur student of the Theology of the Body and having trained myself using Ascencion Press’ “Theology of the Body for Teens”, and having some experience in amateur reduction of brilliant theology into teen speak, I sally forth to my own destruction below.

Let us begin with the facts, the simplest first.  Always a solid and reasonable place to begin in debate.  AIDS is a horrific, terrible disease of which I know nothing.  Deo Gratias.  Secular and Catholic thought wants to prevent AIDS.  Laudable and understandable and commendable.  Agreed.  See that wasn’t so bad.  We can agree.  Secular thought assumes human beings are devoid of the ability to control themselves and that that is even a laughable suggestion; therefore, the next best suggestion is some mechanical device which allows the sexual act, but may prevent the spread of the disease.  I get it.

Catholic thought has such a radically different approach to sexual union than the secular world.  For the secular world, sexual gratification is utilitarian.  The individual gets something for themselves out of it.  Catholic thought sees the sexual union as giving of oneself to the other.  It is not intended at all or whatsoever for self-gratification, that is a side benefit, although the joy of the moment is God’s gift, too.  

Catholic thought is so poetic in terms of this mutual self-giving, and ultimate union of God and mankind, in a very theological and beautiful, and not scatological way, it is difficult for most people, if not all, to wrap their minds around these ideas, and they only begin to illuminate in the depths of reflection and contemplation on the Theology of the Body.  Children are the fruit of this union.  The union is so sacred and so reflective of the Divine union, that placing anything that might interrupt or impede this union between two persons of the opposite sex expressing sincere love for one another is anathema, hence the Church’s opposition to same sex unions, contraception, or perversion of any kind.  Notice, please, I did not say Catholics always live this ideal consistently, sinners that we are, but this is the ideal.

Besides the theological objections, the Holy Father would appear to have had in mind, forgive my boldness in assuming I know his intentions, the practical reality that the great majority of human beings over-simplify, and if offered a false panacea such as a condom and infected with HIV/AIDS, and lacking, potentially, the love and concern of the other, as Catholic thought would require, the infected person because they believe a condom is a rock solid preventative may resume sexual activity indiscriminately, as if they were not infected with HIV/AIDS.  Catholic thought would call to that individual to consider morally and conscientiously the implications of their continuing sexual activity and exercise love of the other manifested in self control, with the aid of grace.  What if it breaks?

It is these considerations which I understand led the Holy Father to suggest condoms may not be the ultimate preventative against the spread of HIV/AIDS, but rather, may lead to more infection than abstinence.  Did that make any sense?  I would really appreciate a professional Catholic moral theologian correcting my many mistakes I know are extant from my ignorance.

In Christian love,
Matthew

Holy Spirit Gift #7 – The Holy Fear of the Lord

I recently (5/18/09) finished reading Dr. C. Colt Anderson’s book “The Great Catholic Reformers:  from Gregory the Great to Dorothy Day”.

As someone who has, in the past, prepared young Catholics for the sacrament of Confirmation, and who hopes to again, someday, I have been trained and know from experience the effective catechist preparing others for Confirmation constantly keeps in mind the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which, by Catholic doctrine, the Confirmandi (those to be confirmed) will receive through the sacrament.  

They are:

·     Wisdom

·     Understanding

·     Counsel

·     Fortitude

·     Knowledge

·     Piety

·     Fear of the Lord (traditionally)

In the last few decades, there has been a creeping, unhealthy, in my opinion, obsession with avoiding what some, especially the untrained and uninitiated, popularly motivated, or the merely timid, may perceive as “negative” language.  I refer to this heresy, if you will allow me the term, as the “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy”, with apologies and/or royalties to Ren & Stimpy, syndrome.  As if, an institution, the saving act of which was carried out through a cruel and brutal execution on a shameful instrument of torture:  the cross; and which is the chief bulwark against a cosmic, spiritual battle of good vs. evil, could somehow only focus on the positive to the exclusion of reality, and keep on using the word Truth, without smirks both internal and external, and full body eye rolls teenagers are so fond of, cynics that they are or pretend to be.  How pleasant, how easy, how politically convenient, and how unrealistic, that is.  To that end, gift #7, the fear of the Lord, got a makeover.  The name “awe” is now, and has been for some time, in fashion.

I take exception. While not doomsayer, I do not feel, as an experienced and certified catechist, this term accurately conveys the meaning intended.  Receipt of this gift is never, was never defined as a sniveling, obsequious, groveling of the damned, deprived of human dignity type of fear, but rather in defining the only right, healthy relationship between beloved creature and loving Creator, in “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” (Prov 1:7)

When I look at the Sears (now Willis) Tower, I feel awe.  When I think about God, it is so much more than that, which is why I found the following excerpts from the Conclusion of Dr. Anderson’s book so poignant:

“They (the Great Catholic Reformers) believed the ultimate measure of accountability is found in the great commandment:  to love God with all your heart and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself…

The reformers’ commitment to the idea that we will be held accountable for truly loving God and our neighbors…The notion of accountability to God and neighbor was traditionally grounded in the spiritual gift of the fear of the Lord.  Unfortunately, the connection between fear of the Lord and accountability has largely been severed in current magisterial teaching.

Traditionally, the fear of the Lord did not simply mean that God was grand or awesome; instead, it was interpreted in light of the scriptural and creedal affirmations that Christ will return as judge.  Because they believed in the authority of scripture, they held that the measure of the final judgment will be whether we loved God with our heart and our neighbors as ourselves.  They accepted that those who fail to commit themselves to love and mercy will be punished, as Christ warned, even for the thoughtless words they use (Mt 13:36).  Fear of the Lord gave the reformers the courage to obey God rather than people, customs, laws, or institutions;…

For the victims (of clergy sexual abuse), the loss of the sense of accountability to God makes it more difficult to heal their wounds.  God’s justice is a mercy for those who have suffered real evil…

The imperfections of the church and of its members should not surprise or scandalize us.  Jesus Christ warned us to expect ongoing problems and wicked members of the church.  Even as we work to address sin in the church, the Messiah taught us to leave judgment to Him.  To console those who have been wronged and to urge people to convert, Christ vividly drew out the consequences of malice and complacency with His parables. Reformers should keep the Lord’s description of the church in mind to avoid presumption and discouragement:

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.  Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’  -Mt 13:47-50
 
The fact that the pilgrim church contains both the bad and the ugly within her communal life is no reason to lose heart and to reject her ability to fulfill her mission, nor should the mixed nature of the church lead us to despair of ever experiencing the healing sweetness of justice.”


“What good fortune for those in power that people don’t think.”  – Adolf Hitler
“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.” -Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Love,
Matthew

May 22 – St Rita of Cascia (1381 – 1457), Patroness of Abuse Victims & Impossible/Desperate Situations

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Whoever said life would be easy?  Plus, you know I have a special weakness for married saints, like Kelly.

Born late to Antonio & Amata Lotti in the village of Roccaparen, Umbria, Italy in 1386, from her early youth, Rita visited the Augustinian nuns at Cascia, Italy, and showed interest in a religious life. However, when she was twelve, her parents betrothed her to Paolo Mancini, an ill-tempered, abusive man who worked as town watchman, and who was dragged into the political disputes of the day.

She begged her parents to allow her enter the convent, but they would not relent.  If she married, her parents had the chance of being cared for in their later years by her and her husband’s family.  If she entered the convent, there would be no such support.  Disappointed but obedient, Rita married Mancini when she was 18, and was the mother of twin sons. She put up with Paolo’s physical and verbal abuses for eighteen years before he was ambushed and stabbed to death by his political enemies, although near the end of his life, Rita’s positive influence began to take hold on him. Her sons swore vengeance on the killers of their father, but through the prayers and interventions of Rita, they forgave the offenders.

Upon the deaths of her sons, Rita again felt the call to religious life. However, some of the sisters at the Augustinian monastery were relatives of her husband’s murderers, and she was denied entry for fear of causing dissension. As a condition of being allowed to enter the monastery, Rita was given the seemingly impossible task of reconciling the family of her husband’s murderers with her husband’s own.  Asking for the intervention of Saint John the Baptist, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, she managed to bring the warring factions together, not completely, but sufficiently that there was peace, and she was admitted to the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalen at age 36.

Rita lived 40 years in the convent, spending her time in prayer and charity, and working for peace in the region. She was devoted to the Passion, and in response to a prayer to suffer as Christ did, she received a chronic head wound that appeared to have been caused by a crown of thorns, and which bled for 15 years.

Confined to her bed the last four years of her life, eating little more than the Eucharist, teaching and directing the younger sisters. Near the end, she had a visitor from her home town who asked if she’d like anything; Rita’s only request was a rose from her family’s estate. The visitor went to the home, but it being January, knew there was no hope of finding a flower; there, sprouted on an otherwise bare bush, was a single rose blossom.

Rita is well-known as a patron of desperate, seemingly impossible causes and situations. This is because she has been involved in so many stages of life – wife, mother, widow, and nun, she buried her family, helped bring peace to her city, saw her dreams denied and fulfilled – and never lost her faith in God, or her desire to be with Him.  Rita died of tuberculosis on May 22, 1457.

Recently, St. Rita has been referred to as the patron saint of baseball, due to the several references made to her in the Walt Disney movie The Rookie (2002), in which the chances of Dennis Quaid’s character of playing professional baseball is considered a lost cause. This has sparked a small movement in Roman Catholic baseball circles of considering St. Rita the patron saint of the sport: in support of the connection religious medals have been printed with an image of St. Rita on one side and a batter on the other.

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-“St Rita of Cascia”, aka Santa Rita, window, 19th century, Austin, TX, Cathedral of St Mary.

Prayers to St Rita of Cascia

Dear Rita, model Wife and Widow, you yourself suffered in a long illness showing patience out of love for God. Teach us to pray as you did. Many invoke you for help, full of confidence in your intercession. Deign to come now to our aid for the relief and cure of {name of sufferer}. To God, all things are possible; may this healing give glory to the Lord. Amen.

Holy Patroness of those in need, Saint Rita, you were humble, pure and patient. Your pleadings with your divine Spouse are irresistible, so please obtain for me from our risen Jesus the request I make of you: {mention your petition}. Be kind to me for the greater glory of God, and I shall honor you and sing your praises forever. Glorious Saint Rita, you miraculously participated in the sorrowful passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Obtain for me now the grace to suffer with resignation the troubles of this life, and protect me in all my needs. Amen.

Hymn to Saint Rita of Cascia

Come, virgins chaste; pure brides, draw near
Let Earth exult and Heaven hear
The Hymn that grateful accents raise,
Our song of joy in Rita’s praise.

By fast her sinless frame is weak;
Her livid flesh the scourges streak.
In pity for her Savior’s woes,
Her days and even nights are closed.

The thorn-wound on her brow is shown,
The crimson rose in winter blown,
And full-ripe figs on frozen tree
At Rita’s wish the wonders see.

The widowed spouse and wedded wife
The way to heaven see in her life;
The way secure our Rita trod,
In life’s dim day, through paint o God.

Praise to the Father and the Son,
Praise to the Spirit, Three in One;
O grant us grace in heaven to reign
Through Rita’s prayer and life-long pain.

Thou hast signed thy servant Rita
With the sign of thy Love and Passion.

O God! who didst deign to confer on Saint Rita for imitating Thee in love of her enemies, the favor of bearing her heart and brow the marks of Thy Love and Passion, grant we beseech Thee, that through her intercession and merit, we may, pierced by the thorns of compunction, ever contemplate the sufferings of Thy Passion, who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen.

-translation of the hymn of Lauds, office of Saint Rita of Cascia, approved by Decree of S.C.R. 24 November 1900

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Love,
Matthew

Mar 17 – The Children of Lir

If you ever come to visit Kelly and I, and you look closely…no, not at the dust and general disarray, but look closely and you may see a swan motif.  These are the Children of Lir.  Mara will soon be able to understand stories. We will tell her of the Children of Lir.

Long ago, in Ireland, there lived a king called Lir. He lived with his wife and four children: Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn. They lived in a castle in the middle of a forest. When Lir’s wife died they were all very sad. After a few years Lir got married again. He married a jealous wife called Aoife.  Aoife thought that Lir loved his children more than he loved her.  Aoife hated the children.  Soon she thought of a plan to get rid of the children.

One summer’s day Aoife took the children to swim in a lake near the castle. The children were really happy to be playing in the water.  Suddenly Aoife took out a magic wand.  There was a flash of light and the children were nowhere to be seen.  All there was to be seen was four beautiful swans, with their feathers as white as snow.

Aoife said, “I have put you under a spell. You will be swans for nine hundred years,” she cackled. “You will spend three hundred years in Lough Derravaragh, three hundred years in the Sea of Moyle, and three hundred years in the waters of Inish Glora,” Aoife said. She also said, “You will remain swans for nine hundred years until you hear the ring of a Christian bell.”

She went back to the castle and told Lir that his children had drowned. Lir was so sad he started crying. He rushed down to the lake and saw no children. He saw only four beautiful swans.

One of them spoke to him. It was Fionnuala who spoke to him. She told him what Aoife had done to them. Lir got very angry and turned Aoife into an ugly moth. When Lir died the children were very sad, but the curse of Aoife would not be lifted.  When the time came they moved to the Sea of Moyle.

Soon the time came for their final journey. When they reached Inish Glora they were very tired.  They were nine hundred years old. Early one morning they heard the sound of a Christian bell. They were so happy that they were human again. The monk (some even say it was St. Patrick himself) sprinkled holy water on them and then Fionnuala put her arms around her brothers and then the four of them fell on the ground. The monk buried them in one grave. That night he dreamed he saw four swans flying up through the clouds. He knew the children of Lir were with their mother and father.

 

 

A statue of the Children of Lir resides in the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square in Dublin, Ireland. It symbolizes the rebirth of the Irish nation following 900 years of struggle for independence from Britain, much as the swans were “reborn” following 900 years of being cursed.


 
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The Garden of Remembrance (An Gairdín Cuimhneacháin) is a memorial garden in Dublin dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom”. In 1976, a contest was held to find a poem which could express the appreciation and inspiration of this struggle for freedom.  The winner, “We Saw a Vision” by Liam Mac Uistin, is inscribed in the stone wall surrounding the Garden of Remembrance in Irish, English, and French.

We Saw A Vision
In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,
We lit the light of hope,
And it was not extinguished,
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision,
We planted the tree of valour,
And it blossomed
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision,
We melted the snow of lethargy,
And the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river,
The vision became a reality,
Winter became summer,
Bondage became freedom,
And this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generation of freedom remember us,
The generation of the vision.


 
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-The Children of Lir, 1914, by John Duncan
 
“Saoirse” is the Irish word for freedom.Love,
Matthew

 

Beannachtaí na Féile Padraig oraibh!!!Or,

 

Tha mo bhàta-foluaimein loma-làn easgannan = my hovercraft is full of eels (from a Monty Python’s Flying Circus skit).  

The Saints


“Those who imagine that the lives of saints are simple and placid, untouched by the vulgar breath of controversy, are rudely shocked by history. Yet it should be no surprise that saints, indeed all Christians, will experience the same difficulties as their Master. 
The definition of truth is an endless, complex pursuit, and good men and women have suffered the pain of both controversy and error. Intellectual, emotional and political roadblocks may slow up people like the saints for a time. But their lives taken as a whole are monuments to honesty and courage.”
-commentary for March 18, Feast of St Cyril of Jerusalem (315?-386 AD), AmericanCatholic.org, Saint of the Day.
“My child…seek out day by day the faces of the saints, in order that you may rest upon their words.”. 
-Didache of the 12 Apostles, AD 70-100

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

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