Oct 23 – St John of Capistrano (1386-1456) – One of the Great Catholic Reformers, Patron of Judges & Military Chaplains

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-St John of Capistrano’s pulpit, St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria

On a business trip, I was fortunate to visit Mission San Juan Capistrano, of swallows fame, in California. A married saint, sort of.

It has been said the Christian saints are the world’s greatest optimists. Not blind to the existence and consequences of evil, they base their confidence on the power of Christ’s redemption. The power of conversion through Christ extends not only to sinful people but also to calamitous events.

Famous as a preacher, theologian, and inquisitor, he earned himself the nickname ‘the Soldier Saint’ when in 1456 at age 70 he led a crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire at the siege of Belgrade with the Hungarian military commander John Hunyadi.

Imagine being born in the 14th century. One-third of the population and nearly 40 percent of the clergy were wiped out by the bubonic plague. The Western Schism split the Church with two or three claimants to the Holy See at one time. England and France were at war. The city-states of Italy were constantly in conflict. No wonder that gloom dominated the spirit of the culture and the times.

John Capistrano was born in 1386, the son of a German knight, his father died when John was still young. His education, however, was thorough. His talents and success were great. The young man studied law at the University of Perugia, and worked as a lawyer in Naples.  He became a highly successful judge and magistrate in Perugia.

In 1412, when he was 26 he was made governor of Perugia by King Ladislaus of Naples, and was a great political reformer of that city. War broke out between Perugia and the House of Malatesta from Rimini in 1416.  John tried to broker a peace, but when his opponents ignored a truce and he was betrayed, John was imprisoned after a battle against the Malatestas.

During his imprisonment, John resolved to change his way of life completely. He had married just before the war, but the marriage was never consummated, and with his bride’s permission, it was annulled. He joined the Franciscans at Perugia on 4 October 1416. At the age of 30 he entered the Franciscan novitiate and was ordained a priest four years later.

His preaching attracted great throngs at a time of religious apathy and confusion. He and 12 Franciscan brethren were received in the countries of central Europe as angels of God. They were instrumental in reviving a dying faith and devotion.

The Franciscan Order itself was in turmoil over the interpretation and observance of the Rule of St. Francis – the Fratricelli. Through John’s tireless efforts and his expertise in law, the heretical Fraticelli were suppressed.

John helped bring about a reunion with the Greek and Armenian Churches, unfortunately only a brief arrangement.  As the Eastern Church began to realize the Turks would triumph, it sought reconciliation with Rome – its only possible hope.  It is conjectured by scholars that the genesis of the Renaissance was the flight of Eastern Christian scholars, artists, and thinkers to the West occasioned by the final collapse of the Eastern Byzantine Empire, direct descendant of the ancient Empire of Rome itself.  Two thousand years – not a bad run, actually.

When the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II threatened Vienna and Rome.  John was commissioned to preach a crusade for the defense of Europe. Gaining little response in Bavaria and Austria, he decided to concentrate his efforts in Hungary. He led the army to Belgrade. Under the great General John Hunyadi, they gained an overwhelming victory, and the siege of Belgrade was lifted. St John of Capistrano led his own contingent of soldiers into battle.  Worn out by his superhuman efforts, Capistrano was an easy prey to the infection bred by the refuse of battle. He died October 23, 1456 of bubonic plague.

John Hofer, a biographer of John Capistrano, recalls a Brussels organization named after the saint. Seeking to solve life problems in a fully Christian spirit, its motto was: “Initiative, Organization, Activity.” These three words characterized John’s life. He was not one to sit around, ever. His deep Christian optimism drove him to battle problems at all levels with the confidence engendered by a deep faith in Christ.

On the saint’s tomb in the Austrian town of Villach, the governor had this message inscribed: “This tomb holds John, by birth of Capistrano, a man worthy of all praise, defender and promoter of the faith, guardian of the Church, zealous protector of his Order, an ornament to all the world, lover of truth and religious justice, mirror of life, surest guide in doctrine; praised by countless tongues, he reigns blessed in heaven.” That is a fitting epitaph for a real and successful optimist.

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-statue of János Kapisztran (Saint John Capistrano) in Kapisztran Tér, Budapest, Hungary

“Those who are called to the table of the Lord must glow with the brightness that comes from the good example of a praiseworthy and blameless life. They must completely remove from their lives the filth and uncleanness of vice. Their upright lives must make them like the salt of the earth for themselves and for the rest of mankind. The brightness of their wisdom must make them like the light of the world that brings light to others. They must learn from their eminent teacher, Jesus Christ, what he declared not only to his apostles and disciples, but also to all the priests and clerics who were to succeed them, when he said, “You are the salt of the earth. But what is salt goes flat? How can you restore its flavor? Then it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Jesus also said: “You are the light of the world.” Now a light does not illumine itself, but instead it diffuses its rays and shines all around upon everything that comes into its view. So it must be with the glowing lives of upright and holy clerics. By the brightness of their holiness they must bring light and serenity to all who gaze upon them. They have been placed here to care for others. Their own lives should be an example to others, showing how they must live in the house of the Lord. – from the treatise Mirror of the Clergy by Saint John of Capistrano

Love,
Matthew

The Fifth Joyful Mystery – Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple & Family Life!

Recently, our dear friends Victoria & Dennis were married and paid me the deep compliment of having a noticeable role in their nuptials.  I could not be more humbled and flattered.  As a thank you, Victoria & Dennis sent Kelly and I a lovely box set of cards, each one depicting one of the mysteries of the Rosary.  You may recall we are all in a monthly rosary group here in the city (Chicago).

My most favorite card is for the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary – Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple.  When I looked at the artwork of Simone Martini (1284-1344), I loved it!  Nobody is happy in this picture!  Mary’s not happy.  Joseph’s not happy.  Jesus is not happy.

We have the benefit of knowledge of events before and after this time and can safely know there is still love.  Not so much the love that feels good, although we can be sure there is some of that too, as part of the human experience, but the love both of parents for child and savior for the world. The love which sacrifices all for the explicit benefit of the beloved.

BXVI’s first encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” – “God is Love” clearly illustrates the contrast between the radically different definitions of the word “love” that  God and the Church means, and the WIFM – “What’s in it for Me”, this better make me feel good/better than I already do love secular culture so casually and indiscriminately throws around.  Same word – two VERY different meanings.  As “Deus Caritas Est” attempts to point out, and what Kelly and I try to keep as the theme when we facilitate pre-cana, “Love is more than a feeling.”

Family life is NOT EASY.  Kelly and I are about to embark on that journey (marriage, April 8, 2006) so many married saints (and I mean that most liberally in relation to the technical definition) have travelled before.  To imagine there will not be crosses, is to deceive oneself.  To mean and to say “Thy will be done!  Thy Kingdom come!” is to trust, profoundly.  As always, we ask for and are grateful for your prayers, your love, and your friendship.

I loved this painting and, once again, thought I would tempt fate in sharing it with you.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 3 – St Gregory the Great, (540?-604 AD), Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Tears, & First Great Catholic Reformer

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Gregory had to hurry.  He packed quickly.  He suspected the news even before receiving it in writing.  Justinian had confirmed Gregory’s election as Bishop of Rome.  Gregory had to flee the city before he could be ordained.  Gregory knew Justinian when Gregory was papal representative in Constantinople, and had therefore interceded with him, asking Justinian to withhold his consent from the election.  News travels fast in Rome, even in the sixth century.  The people of Rome intercepted Gregory before he could make his escape and carried him off to the Basilica of St Peter to be consecrated pope.

If you have ever heard the term or actually heard “Gregorian chant”, you have heard the echo and felt the effect, a millennia and a half later, of the life and papacy of St Gregory the Great.  The old empire in the West had collapsed, Italy had been invaded and Rome sacked once again, this time by the Lombards in 568.  It had taken Justinian twenty years to drive the Ostrogoths from Italy in the 5th century, his Byzantine army looting and pillaging their way as they pushed their enemy back, bringing plague and famine along with them.  And then the Lombards came.  By the end of Gregory’s papacy, one third of Italy had succumbed to the plague, and still more had died as a result of famine and war.  It must have seemed like the end of the world.

Even though legalized in 313 by Edict of Milan, Christianity still existed in a largely pagan, brutally repressive, and unjust world.  There was essentially no help for the poor.  Desperately poor parents either abandoned their children or sold them in to slavery.  Child prostitution was legal and accepted.  Criminals, political dissenters, slaves, military captives, and members of banned religious sects were routinely tortured for public amusement in the gladiatorial games.  Don’t feel like going out?  Torture one of your slaves to death at home.  It’s fun? And, it’s legal.

After Constantine’s conversion, some of these aspects of Roman culture began to be outlawed.  In the spring of 315, Constantine legislated that aid would be provided for hungry children, although their parents were still left to fend for themselves.  That summer, Constantine made child prostitution and pederasty illegal and punishable by death in the gladiatorial arena.  Constantine forbade the immoderate torture and murder of slaves in 319, but moderate torture was still allowed.  Slaves who denounced their masters, however, were subject to crucifixion according to a law passed in 320.  In 343, it became illegal to use Christian slave women for prostitution, but non-Christian slave women could still be used in that manner.  Although the Church began having a reforming effect on Roman society, progress was painfully slow.

Even the Church’s own moral teachings led emperors to legislate laws that were unjust.  On August 6, 390, Emperor Theodosius passed a law stipulating that men who committed homosexual acts were to be burned at the stake.  This is the world Gregory was taking responsibility for as Successor of St Peter.  We can clearly appreciate his hesitance, anxiety, and desire to get out of town.

When Gregory heard the bishops of Arles and Marseilles were forcibly converting Jews, Gregory demanded they stop.  The only true way to conversion, Gregory declared, was through the sweetness of preaching.  Tragically, not all of Gregory’s successors nor the Church herself always heeded Gregory’s sage advice in succeeding generations.

The legalization and adoption of Christianity in the Roman Empire was both a blessing and a curse.  It was a blessing in the sense a flood of wealth, including state money, poured into the Church allowing it to build institutions that would survive the collapse of the Latin West.  However, that same effect immediately drew to the Church those seeking office or position not necessarily for the holiest of reasons.  As a response to this ill effect, the first major reform movement, monasticism, developed in the Church.  It came from those seeking a greater purity in their pursuit of Gospel living.  It was from this nascent monasticism Gregory came.

We should recall the emperors had given the Church a near monopoly on social welfare in the Empire.  By the fifth century, the church in Antioch provided clothing, maintained hospitals and dispensaries, and fed three thousand people a day.  Naturally, this implied major sees in large cities were receiving and distributing immense amounts of wealth.

Gregory was direct and firm. He removed unworthy priests from office, forbade taking money for many services, emptied the papal treasury to ransom prisoners of the Lombards and to care for persecuted Jews and the victims of plague and famine. He was very concerned about the conversion of England, sending 40 monks from his own monastery. He is known for his reform of the liturgy, for strengthening respect for doctrine.

An Anglican historian wrote, “It is impossible to conceive what would have been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the Middle Ages without the medieval papacy; and of the medieval papacy, the real father is Gregory the Great.”

Gregory’s book, “Pastoral Care”, on the duties and qualities of a bishop, was read for centuries after his death. He described bishops mainly as physicians whose main duties were preaching and the enforcement of discipline. In his own down-to-earth preaching, Gregory was skilled at applying the daily gospel to the needs of his listeners. Called “the Great,” Gregory has been given a place with Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome as one of the four key doctors of the Western Church.

Gregory developed what can be called a spirituality of reform that balances the need to reform with the need to maintain the unity of the faith, which he called “the bond of love”.  The essential virtue for maintaining unity, according to Gregory, is patience.  Gregory insisted that people should not expect to bring the Church to perfection, because the reality is that the Church brings us to perfection by stirring us to reform ourselves, our communities, our leaders, and our world.

The imperfect and wounded nature of the pilgrim Church is not, for Gregory, a sign that the Holy Spirit has lost His way guiding the Church toward sanctification.  Nor did he believe it was the role of the reformer to separate wheat from chaff or sheep from goats.  Only the Son of Man has this right.

Largely due to the influence of Irish and Spanish clergy and missionaries, Gregory’s ideas gradually spread throughout Christian Europe.  By the end of the 9th century, Charlemagne had made the study of Gregory’s “Pastoral Care” obligatory for all bishops in his empire.

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-by Jacopo Vignali, Pope St Gregory the Great, ca. 1630, oil on canvas, the ceiling of the library in the Dominican convent of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

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-tomb of St Gregory the Great, St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

“Perhaps it is not after all so difficult for a man to part with his possessions, but it is certainly most difficult for him to part with himself. To renounce what one has is a minor thing; but to renounce what one is, that is asking a lot” -St. Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Gospels

“Though our lips can only stammer, still we chant the greatness of God.” -St. Gregory the Great

Prayer of St Gregory the Great

“O Lord, You received affronts
without number from Your blasphemers,
yet each day You free captive souls
from the grip of the ancient enemy.

You did not avert Your face
from the spittle of perfidy,
yet You wash souls in saving waters.

You accepted Your scourging without murmur,
yet through Your meditation
You deliver us from endless chastisements.

You endured ill-treatment of all kinds,
yet You want to give us a share
in the choirs of angels in glory everlasting.

You did not refuse to be crowned with thorns,
yet You save us from the wounds of sin.

In Your thirst You accepted the bitterness of gall,
yet You prepare Yourself to fill us with eternal delights.

You kept silence under the derisive homage
rendered You by Your executioners,
yet You petition the Father for us
although You are His equal in Divinity.

You came to taste death,
yet You are The Life
and came to bring Life to us,
who are dead through sin.

Amen.”

The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist. – Saint Gregory the Great

If we knew at what time we were to depart from this world, we would be able to select a season for pleasure and another for repentance. But God, Who has promised pardon to every repentant sinner, has not promised us tomorrow. Therefore we must always dread the final day, which we can never foresee. This very day is a day of truce, a day for conversion. And yet we refuse to cry over the evil we have done! Not only do we not weep for the sins we have committed, we even add to them…. If we are, in fact, now occupied in good deeds, we should not attribute the strength with which we are doing them to ourselves. We must not count on ourselves, because even if we know what kind of person we are today, we do not know what we will be tomorrow. Nobody must rejoice in the security of their own good deeds. As long as we are still experiencing the uncertainties of this life, we do not know what end may follow…we must not trust in our own virtues. – Saint Gregory the Great, from Be Friends of God

“Scripture is read in public to feed even children, and in secret to suspend even sublime minds in admiration. It is like a river, both shallow and deep, in which a lamb may walk and an elephant may swim.” (Gregory the Great, Commentary on Job).

Love,
Matthew

Sep 8 – Blessed Frederick Ozanam (1813-1853), Husband, Father, Founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society

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On this Labor Day, please remember in your prayers all those who, as His beloved children, too, believing or not, ache for the dignity of meaningful employment and physically suffer from the lack of it.  As a loving Father, may the Lord sustain them and envelop them in His loving Providence, every one, and quicken their obtaining of meaningful and satisfying work.  May He relieve all their cares, and fears, anxieties, and worries.  (Matt 11:28-30)

Many of you know my overwhelming passion for married saints, so far, far, am I from one myself!  🙂  Just ask Kelly!  🙂  On second thought, DON’T ask Kelly, please! 🙂

Also, classes begin this week at DePaul.  And so, it is almost spooky we celebrate the Feast of Blessed Frederick Ozanam this week.  Please pray for my students.  Please pray for me.  Please pray I may be faithful in my teaching and be an example of Vincentian “service to others” as St Vincent DePaul & St Louise de Marillac would have me teach and be.  Please pray my students take more away from their time spent with me than mere technical skill.  St Vincent DePaul & St Louise de Marillac, pray for me!

Frederic Ozanam lived a short life in one of the most tumultuous periods of history. Born in the year of Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig, Ozanam would witness two major political upheavals in France during his lifetime–The overthrow of the Bourbon Dynasty in the 1830 July Revolution and the end of Louis Philipp’s “Bourgeois Monarchy” during the 1848 Revolutions.  By the time of his death forty years later, France was once again an empire and once again ruled by a Napoleon.

Frederick Ozanam was a man convinced of the inestimable worth of each human being.  Frederick served the poor of Paris well and drew others into serving the poor of the world. Through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, his work continues to the present day.

Frederick was the fifth of Jean and Marie Ozanam’s 14 children, one of only three to reach adulthood. As a teenager he began having doubts about his religion. Reading and prayer did not seem to help, but long walking discussions with Father Noirot of the Lyons College clarified matters a great deal.

Frederick wanted to study literature, although his father, a doctor, wanted him to become a lawyer. Frederick yielded to his father’s wishes and in 1831 arrived in Paris to study law at the University of the Sorbonne. When certain professors there mocked Catholic teachings in their lectures, Frederick defended the Church.

A discussion club which Frederick organized sparked the turning point in his life. In this club Catholics, atheists and agnostics debated the issues of the day. Once, after Frederick spoke on Christianity’s role in civilization, a club member said: “Let us be frank, Mr. Ozanam; let us also be very particular. What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you?”

This icon of Blessed Frederic OZANAM is at the Vincentian Shrine in St Peter's Church, Phibsborough, Dublin 7, Eire.
This icon of Blessed Frederic OZANAM is at the Vincentian Shrine in St Peter’s Church, Phibsborough, Dublin 7, Eire.

Frederick was stung by the question. He soon decided that his words needed a grounding in action. He and a friend began visiting Paris tenements and offering assistance as best they could. Soon a group dedicated to helping individuals in need under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul formed around Frederick.

Feeling that the Catholic faith needed an excellent speaker to explain its teachings, Frederick convinced the Archbishop of Paris to appoint Father Lacordaire, the greatest preacher then in France, to preach a Lenten series in Notre Dame Cathedral. It was well attended and became an annual tradition in Paris.

After Frederick earned his law degree at the Sorbonne, he taught law at the University of Lyons. He also earned a doctorate in literature. Soon after marrying Amelie Soulacroix on June 23, 1841, he returned to the Sorbonne to teach literature. A well-respected lecturer, Frederick worked to bring out the best in each student. Meanwhile, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was growing throughout Europe. Paris alone counted 25 conferences.

In 1846, Frederick, Amelie and their daughter Marie went to Italy; there Frederick hoped to restore his poor health. They returned the next year. The revolution of 1848 left many Parisians in need of the services of the St. Vincent de Paul conferences. The unemployed numbered 275,000. The government asked Frederick and his co-workers to supervise the government aid to the poor. Vincentians throughout Europe came to the aid of Paris.

Frederick then started a newspaper, The New Era, dedicated to securing justice for the poor and the working classes. Fellow Catholics were often unhappy with what Frederick wrote. Referring to the poor man as “the nation’s priest,” Frederick said that the hunger and sweat of the poor formed a sacrifice that could redeem the people’s humanity.

In 1852 poor health again forced Frederick to return to Italy with his wife and daughter. He died on September 8, 1853 at Marseilles on his way back to Paris. In his sermon at Frederick’s funeral, Lacordaire described his friend as “one of those privileged creatures who came direct from the hand of God in whom God joins tenderness to genius in order to enkindle the world.”

“Those who mock the poor insult their Maker” (Proverbs 17:5)

Professor Bailly, the spiritual leader of the first St. Vincent de Paul conference, told Frederick and his first companions in charity, “Like St. Vincent, you, too, will find the poor will do more for you than you will do for them.”

“Charity must never look back, but always ahead, for the number of its past benefits is always quite small, as the present and future miseries it should alleviate are infinite”.–Bl Frederic Ozanam

On August 23, 1997, the day of Frederick’s beatification by John Paul II in Paris, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society included 875,000 members in 47,000 Conferences (teams) in 131 countries of five continents.  Frederick’s motto always was “To become better – to do a little good.”  Frederick integrated his professional life with his ministry so well.  Frederick Ozanam remains a model example of a Christian life well-lived.  His commitment to the relevancy of the Gospel in modern life continues to inspire.

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Lord,
You made Blessed Frédéric Ozanam a witness of the Gospel, full of wonder at the mystery of the Church.
You inspired him to alleviate poverty and injustice and endowed him with untiring generosity in the service of all who were suffering.
In family life, he revealed a most genuine love as a son, brother, husband and father.
In secular life, his ardent passion for the truth enlightened his thought, writing and teaching.
His vision for our society was a network of charity encircling the world and he instilled St Vincent de Paul’s spirit of love, boldness and humility.
His prophetic social vision appears in every aspect of his short life, together with the radiance of his virtues.
We thank you Lord, for those many gifts and we ask, if it is your will, the grace of a miracle through the intercession of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.
May the Church proclaim his holiness, as a saint, a providential light for today’s world!
We make this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 12 – Most Holy Name of Mary

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“O name of Mary! Joy in the heart, honey in the mouth, melody to the ear of her devout clients!”
-St. Anthony of Padua +1231

In 1513, a feast of “The Holy Name of Mary” was granted by Papal indult [Pope Julius II] to the diocese of Cuenta in Spain. It was assigned with proper Office on September 15, the octave day of Our Lady’s Nativity. With the reform of the Breviary undertaken by Pope St. Pius V, the feast was abolished, only to be reinstituted by his successor, Pope Sixtus V, who changed the date to September 17. From there, the feast spread to the Archdiocese of Toledo [1622] and, eventually, to all of Spain and to the Kingdom of Naples [1671].

Throughout this time, permission to celebrate the feast was given to various religious orders in a prudent manner as has been the custom throughout Church history regarding feast-days, their dates, offices, liturgical expression, etc. However, this Feast of the Holy Name of Mary would one day be joyfully extended to the Universal Church, and this on account of rather dramatic circumstances involving one of Poland’s great military heroes, John Sobieski  [1629-1696].

While acting as field-marshal under King John Casimir, Sobieski had raised a force of 8,000 men and enough provisions to withstand a siege of Cossacks and Tartars, who were forced to retire unsuccessfully and at a loss. In 1672, under the reign of Michael Wisniowiecki, Sobieski engaged and defeated the Turkish army, who lost 20,000 men at Chocim.

When King Michael died, Sobieski, a beloved hero at that point, was crowned King of Poland. But, even before his coronation could take place, he would again engage and drive back the Turkish hordes in separate battles including the raising of the siege at Trembowla. Once crowned, he advanced to the Ruthenian provinces, where, having too few soldiers to attack the Turks, who outnumbered his men ten to one, he literally wore out the enemy, garrisoning his troops at Zurawno. Because of this heroic effort, he was able to regain, by treaty, a good portion of the Ukraine.

With both Turks and Poles weary from battle, peace reigned for a time . . . until the Turks set their sights on Austria, setting out through Hungary with an army of approximately 300,000 men. Fleeing from Austria, Emperor Leopold asked for Sobieski’s assistance, a plea which was seconded by the Papal Nuncio. In July 1683, the Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha had reached Vienna and laid siege to the city, which was being defended by only 15,000 men. Sobieski set out for Vienna in August, his forces marching behind the banner of the Blessed Virgin. Passing by the Sanctuary of Mary in Czestochowa, they implored Our Lady’s help and blessing.

Writing centuries later to the bishops of Poland, Pope Pius XII recalled the supplications of Sobieski to Mary at the Sanctuary on Jasna Gora [i.e., “Bright Hill”], the site of the Shrine:  “To the same Heavenly Queen, on Clear Mountain, the illustrious John Sobieski, whose eminent valor freed Christianity from the attacks of its old enemies, confided himself.”   [Letter, Cum iam lustri abeat, 1951]

In September, the men joined with the German troops under John George, Elector of Saxony, and Prince Charles of Lorraine. On the eighth day of the month, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, Sobieski prepared himself for the ensuing conflict by the reception of Holy Communion.

Battle was engaged before the walls of Vienna on September 12, 1683, with Sobieski seemingly put to flight by “the fierce Turkish forces. However, this retreat was a minor setback only. The Hussars renewed their assault and charged the Turks, this time sending the enemy into a retreat. The combat raged on, until Sobieski finally stormed the enemy camp. The Turkish forces were routed, Vienna was saved, and Sobieski sent the “Standard of the Prophet” to Pope Innocent XI along with the good news.

In a letter to the Pontiff, Sobieski summed up his victory in these words: Veni, vidi, Deus vicit —–“I came, I saw, God conquered!” To commemorate this glorious victory, and render thanksgiving to God and honor to Our Lady for their solicitude in the struggle, Pope Innocent XI extended “The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary” to the Universal Church. Although the feast was originally celebrated on the Sunday after the Nativity of Mary, Pope St. Pius X [+1914] decreed that it be celebrated on September 12, in honor of the victory of the Catholic forces under John Sobieski.

The history of this feast reminds us in some ways of that of “Our Lady of the Rosary,” which was instituted to celebrate and commemorate the victory of the Catholic forces over the Turkish navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571: “And thus Christ’s faithful warriors, prepared to sacrifice their life and blood for the welfare of their Faith and their country, proceeded undauntedly to meet their foe near the Gulf of Corinth; while those who were unable to join them formed a band of pious supplicants, who called on Mary and, as one, saluted Her again and again in the words of the Rosary, imploring Her to grant victory to their companions engaged in battle. Our sovereign Lady did grant Her aid.” [Pope Leo XIII, Supremi Apostolatus, 1883]

“Lord our God, when your Son was dying on the altar of the cross, He gave us as our mother the one He had chosen to be His own mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary; grant that we who call upon the holy name of Mary, our mother, with confidence in her protection may receive strength and comfort in all our needs”
-Marian Sacramentary, Mass for the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Love,
Matthew

Sep 17 – St Robert Bellarmine, SJ, (1542-1621): Doctor of the Church, Patron of Catechists & Catechumens

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When Robert Bellarmine was ordained in 1570, having entered the Society of Jesus ten years earlier, the study of Church history and the fathers of the Church was in a sad state of neglect. A promising scholar from his youth in Tuscany, he devoted his energy to these two subjects, as well as to Scripture, in order to systematize Church doctrine against the attacks of the Protestant Reformers. He was the first Jesuit to become a professor at Louvain.

His most famous work is his three-volume Disputations on the Controversies of the Christian faith. Particularly noteworthy are the sections on the temporal power of the pope and the role of the laity. Bellarmine took a fundamentally democratic tone, insisting power originated in God, was invested in people, and was entrusted to fit rulers.  In so doing, he incurred the anger of monarchists in England and France by showing the divine-right-of-kings theory untenable. He developed the theory of the indirect power of the pope in temporal affairs; although he was defending the pope against the Scottish philosopher Barclay, he also incurred the ire of Pope Sixtus V.

Bellarmine was made a cardinal by Pope Clement VIII on the grounds that “he had not his equal for learning.” While he occupied apartments in the Vatican, Bellarmine relaxed none of his former austerities. He limited his household expenses to what was barely essential, eating only the food available to the poor. He was known to have ransomed a soldier who had deserted from the army and he used the hangings of his rooms to clothe poor people, remarking, “The walls won’t catch cold.”

Among many activities, he became theologian to Pope Clement VIII, preparing two catechisms which have had great influence in the Church.

The last major controversy of Bellarmine’s life came in 1616 when he had to admonish his friend Galileo, whom he admired. Bellarmine delivered the admonition on behalf of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which had decided that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus (the sun as stationary) was contrary to Scripture. The admonition amounted to a caution against putting forward—other than as a hypothesis—theories not yet fully proved. This shows that saints are not infallible.

Technically, all the Church told Galileo was not to teach his theories as fact, nor to publish them as so, which Galileo quickly and immediately flaunted the instructions from the Holy Office.  The only reason the Church instructed Galileo so was there was no practical way to prove them in a meaningful way to the illiterate masses, and the Church feared the social disruption this heliocentric new understanding, which on the surface, appears a literal contradiction of Scripture, would immediately cause.  A more nuanced understanding of Scripture, and there is no conflict or concern.  Galileo, however, was not, as the video below explains, was NOT the smoothest political operative ever, hardly, very badly so.  His hard headedness, his arrogance, his lack of political savvy, all make this NOT a scientific disagreement, but one of conflicting personalities and terribly mishandled politics, like ALL wars.

Trial of Galileo Galilei before the Inquisition, 1633. The scientist and astronomer proved Copernicus' and Kepler's theories of a sun-centered system, a theory the Catholic Church had declared erroneous.
Trial of Galileo Galilei before the Inquisition, 1633. The scientist and astronomer proved Copernicus’ and Kepler’s theories of a sun-centered system, a theory the Catholic Church had declared erroneous.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

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Galileo_before_the_Holy_Office

Bellarmine died on September 17, 1621. The process for his canonization was begun in 1627 but was delayed until 1930 for political reasons, stemming from his writings. In 1930, Pius XI canonized him and the next year declared him a doctor of the Church.

“Sweet Lord, you are meek and merciful.” Who would not give himself wholeheartedly to Your service, if he began to taste even a little of Your fatherly rule? What command, Lord, do You give Your servants? “Take My yoke upon you,” you say. And what is this yoke of Yours like? “My yoke,” you say, “is easy and my burden light.” Who would not be glad to bear a yoke that does no press hard but caresses? Who would not be glad for a burden that does not weigh heavy but refreshes? And so you were right to add: “And you will find rest for your souls.” And what is this yoke of Yours that does not weary, but gives rest? It is, of course, that first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” What is easier, sweeter, more pleasant, than to love goodness, beauty, and love, the fullness of which You are, O Lord, my God?” Is it not true that You promise those who keep Your commandments a reward more desirable than great wealth and sweeter than honey? You promise a most abundant reward, for as your apostle James says: “The Lord has prepared a crown of life for those who love Him.” What is this crown of life? It is surely a greater good than we can conceive of or desire, as Saint Paul says, quoting Isaiah: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
– from “On the Ascent of the Mind to God”, by Saint Robert Bellarmine, SJ

O God, in order to defend the faith, You endowed St. Robert, Your Bishop, with wondrous erudition and virtues. Through his intercession, grant that Your people may ever rejoice in the integrity of that faith. Amen.

God our Father, You gave Robert Bellarmine wisdom and goodness to defend the faith of Your Church. By his prayers may we always rejoice in the profession of our faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Catholic denial – 9/18/09

The_Denial_of_Saint_Peter-Caravaggio_(1610)

-The Denial of Saint Peter, by Caravaggio, circa 1610, oil on canvas
H: 94 cm (37 in) x W: 125.4 cm (49.4 in), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

When I joined Voice of the Faithful two years ago, I did so with trepidation, for a number of reasons.  What followed was an in depth, profound, overwhelming and disturbing education in the subject of pedophilia and pederasty.

I drank information from the fire hose in emails, new articles, and more recently, published works and media.  I have met and talked intimately with countless survivors, befriended many, attended conferences, listened to expert speakers on the topic, participated in protests and “actions” drawing attention to the matter, and watched trials, heard heart ripping victim impact statements, and the sentencing of dissociated, unrepentant perpetrators.  I have written to one priest in jail offering the kindness of correspondence, a breviary, or rosary.  I never heard back.

This work is not for everyone.  If someone asked me today about joining VOTF, I would respond to them, “How strong is your faith?  No, REALLY, how STRONG is your FAITH!?”

It has been and continues to be an education I never wanted and still do not wish I had or wish to continue receiving.  But, I have grown in my awareness and knowledge of how this crime is perpetrated, what the danger signs are, what the effect on the victim is and what it takes to survive this horrific betrayal and violation of trust, and how long that can take to come to terms with so much, and never fully.  I want Mara, our future children, God willing, and every other child to grow up in a safer world and Church.  That is why I do it.  Jesus will ask me, in my particular judgment, I am absolutely convinced, what I did about this, and I am intent on having the best answer I can.

Witnessing the psychology of my fellow lay Catholics during this period of my education in this sin has been equally troubling and profound.  “Isn’t that over?  Isn’t that somebody else’s problem?  What does that have to do with me?  I didn’t do anything?  You’re a troublemaker!  You hate the Church!  We don’t want your kind in ministry!  How can you call yourself a Catholic?  Those people just want money!  Don’t ruin my Sunday happy time/place!” and so on.

Everyone I know in Voice of the Faithful were/are some of the most dedicated, passionate Catholics you could hope to find.  Every VOTF member held every title in the Church you can think of, yes, even bishop.  But, as well, now every member of VOTF bears another title even before their prior ministerial one, “former”, and rarely by their own choice.  It is an odd and ironic feeling I have during the Prayers of the Faithful when as a Christian community we pray for the downtrodden, the maligned, those in misery, those treated unjustly, the unfortunate, and I think to myself, “Hey, I just left them an hour ago!”, and it usually was the official church, laity or ordained, who did the mistreatment?  What Twilight Zone have I wandered into now?  And, Fr. Rod Serling just gave the homily.

Every one of the victims was sure the Church would “do the right thing” when they shared their pain.  They were, instead, victimized all over again.  A friend of mine, Rick, a survivor, showed me the window of the room in rectory where it happened when he was a child, one day when we were driving by.  He wasn’t even Catholic to begin with.  He was a Lutheran boy, but got so excited about the beauty of the Mass, he believed it all had to be true.  Rick is an old man now and not in good health.  He drives a cab.  Rick will die in his cab, I am sure.  He is a hero and a friend of mine.  I am so blessed.  This is not a Catholic problem.  It is a human sin.

I have heard so many rationalizations in hopes of not having to deal with the truth of it all from my fellow Catholics, I could not number them for you.  I have heard the equivalent of the below many times before.  Recently, another hero of mine, Deacon T, put what he heard in an email.  I get THE BEST emails!:

“A meeting of the deacons of the Archdiocese of Chicago was held Sept 9th.  Mostly a non-event as most of the meetings are with a set agenda. It was devoted mainly to the new evangelization effort in the Archdiocese called Catholics Come Home.

At the end of Bishop Rs’ remarks he opened to questions. Benign questions from the deacons. As the last question to him I asked, “Since we deacons received, in our email boxes, copies of talking points regarding the Bishop G’s deposition, and the recent law suit alleging racial discrimination against black abuse victims, should we expect more letters from Rev. C on sex abuse matters?”

The question seemed to catch him flat footed and he paused for quite some time. He said the letters were to counter the media coverage of these events  and to clarify the truth on the issues. He didn’t elaborate beyond that. I  didn’t think it appropriate to debate fallacies in the letters with him in  that forum.

However, as the meeting concluded, Deacon J, the vicariate king deacon, commented on the Catholics Come Home program. He said we must not be afraid of tough questions from lapsed Catholics who come forward. He specifically expounded on  divorce/annulment issues. Then he spoke about clerical sex abuse. He teared up  when he said he himself was abused when he was 7 by a coach. He then expounded  on how to deal with angry Catholics’ questions about abuse:

  • He said the incidence of abuse by Protestants is a higher % than by priests (projection).
  • He said how horribly painful it was for priests who are wrongly accused (reverse effect).
  • He said the reason people level allegations against the Church is because the Church has so much money (plausible ulterior motive).
  • He said many people come forward are not abused and implied they do it for the money (people are dishonest).

This could not go unchallenged.  As the meeting closed I went to him privately and expressed sympathy for the abuse he suffered. I asked if his statements to the group are the answers we should give to questioning Catholics. I said we look like fools if we say the Protestants are worse than we are. I said that dog doesn’t hunt.

He pointed out (like reading from the talking points) about how much more we know now than we did in the 60’s,  70’s… I mentioned all that went out the window with the McCormack matter. At  this point he was visibly shaken, though honestly this wasn’t my intent. I  mentioned to him my personal and diaconal experiences in sex abuse matters in  Tulsa, Ft. Worth and here in Chicago and said things  haven’t changed that much.

He said there were “mistakes  made”. I reminded him (though I’m not sure he knew) that man over there, pointing to Bishop R, who was still in the room, withheld information from the Cardinal that would have prevented further abuse, according the Cardinal’s own testimony, “I was not aware.” The people are angry with the hierarchy.  At that point he turned to others who were waiting to talk with him, and I don’t know if they heard what we were saying.

Net-net, deacons are in denial or unwilling to confront what they know is wrong. They are uninformed to any depth on this subject and are not challenged to learn the complete truth.  Bishop R doesn’t want to talk about it.

As I walked out I went to Bishop R and introduced myself and reminded him I’ll be seeing him again on 9/20 at the St. Thomas Becket 40th anniversary Mass, where I’ll be his deacon of the Mass.”

May God have mercy on us all!  Our Lady of Sorrows, come to our aid!

Love,
Matthew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 1 – Blessed Michael Ghebre, (C.M.), (1791-1855), aka Ghebre-Michael

This holy person differs in three ways from canonized and beatified we may normally encounter: First, he was African, not European; second, he was not a born Catholic, but an adult convert; and third, he never actually became a Vincentian.  Also, Ghebre-Michael was a monophysite.  Please just Google it for now, please.  Another place, another time, and yes that is a threat and a promise.  Not now.  Oh, dear God, not now.
He was a disciple of Saint Justin de Jacobis, C.M., a Vincentian missionary to Ethiopia, for many years, and eventually decided, with Justin’s consent, to become a Vincentian. A date was fixed for him to begin his internal seminary but when the fixed day arrived he was under arrest, and he died before he could carry out his intention. In a letter to the Superior General, Jean-Baptiste Etienne, C.M., Justin explained all this but said that he called Ghebre-Michael a Vincentian “because in his heart he already belonged to the Congregation”.
In a certain sense, too, he was not, strictly speaking, a martyr. He was not actually put to death for the faith. He died as a result of the long harsh treatment he had received.
The prefix Ghebre means “the servant of”.  This combination is a very common form of name in Ethiopia and Eritrea. “Ghebre” cannot be separated from “Michael” and the combination is used as if it were a first name.
Ghebre-Michael was born about 1791. At an early age he lost one eye in an accident, and in his culture that rendered him unfit for most types of work. He received some education and then entered an Orthodox monastery, where he showed himself to be a gifted student. He was not, however, preparing for ordination to the priesthood as most Ethiopian monks were not priests. His great interest was the history of monasticism. He saw, from his own experience, that there had been a great lowering of standards in Ethiopian Orthodox monasteries, and he wished to do further research into the reasons for this, and his superiors commissioned him to do so. This gave him the authority to travel around the country visiting various monasteries and studying their practices and doing research in the manuscripts in their libraries. In each monastery which he visited he formed a small group of monks who had the same outlook as himself and he instructed them, and when he left to continue his travels they remained as a nucleus of monastic reform. As his research progressed he gradually came to see that the real problem behind the deterioration of monastic standards was the poor theological formation of the monks.
This realization led him to the conclusion that the answer to the theological problems would not be found in Ethiopia, and he decided that he would have to go to Jerusalem to continue his research. He intended to make this journey alone, because no one else was going for the same purpose as himself. But just at the time he was thinking about this an unexpected thing happened.
In Ethiopia in those days there was always only one Orthodox bishop, appointed by the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria. The position was vacant in 1840-41 and a delegation was being formed to go to Alexandria and request the Patriarch to give them a new bishop. The delegation intended to visit Jerusalem and because of that Ghebre-Michael joined the group.
A most extraordinary thing about this delegation is that Justin was invited to be part of it, which indicates the esteem in which he was held by that time. He was reluctant to accept, since the purpose of the journey was to bring back a new Orthodox bishop. He compromised by agreeing to go if the delegation agreed to visit Rome on the way back; he thought that this might lead to a lessening of the opposition which the Orthodox Ethiopians had to the Catholic Church. This condition was agreed to. The delegation arrived in Alexandria and to their annoyance and amazement they were given a most unsuitable new bishop, who had been educated by Protestants. He would cause Justin and the Catholics a huge amount of trouble and be responsible for the death of Ghebre-Michael. After Alexandria the group went to Rome, and then to Jerusalem on their way back to Ethiopia.
In the archives of the Archdiocese of Dublin, there is a letter referring to the arrival of this delegation in Rome. The letter was written to the Archbishop of Dublin by the rector of the Irish College in Rome, Paul Cullen, who would himself later become Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin.   In the letter dated 19 August 1841 containing the following:
“Since I last wrote to Your Grace, a deputation of Abyssinians arrived in Rome for the purpose of making their submission, and that of their prince, to the Holy See. The deputation consists of twenty-three persons, all blacks, and it is accompanied by a Lazarist missionary Sig, de Jacobis, who was prefect of the missions in Abyssinia. 
Here in Rome they do not seem to attach much importance to the deputation, as the Abyssinians have the character of being fickle and perfidious. However, the Pope received them with his usual kindness, and four or five young men who are in the party are to remain in Rome to study at the Propaganda [Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith]. The others, after receiving some presents from his Holiness are to return to their own country.”
The reference to four or five young men staying on in Rome to study for the priesthood is interesting.  It would seem to have happened because the young men had been impressed with what they saw of Justin during the long journey. Biographers agree, Justin did not plan things to turn out in this way. Also, Cullen is not correct in thinking that the purpose of the delegation was to make their submission, and that of their prince, to the Holy See. Obviously some breakdown in communication had occurred if the Roman authorities thought that that was the purpose of the visit.
It was on this journey that Ghebre-Michael first came into contact with Justin in Cairo in 1841. His initial reaction was the typical Orthodox one of suspicion and mistrust, simply because Justin was a Catholic priest. However, as he lived in his company day after day on the journey he gradually came to admire Justin for his obvious holiness, his prayer and his way of dealing with people and situations.
In his search for theological truth, Ghebre-Michael had found that many Orthodox monks and priests became his opponents or even enemies. Because of this Justin advised him to separate himself from the main group for the return journey, and to travel home by a different route, alone. He took this advice. 
Ghebre-Michael’s great dream had been to convert the new bishop to his own way of thinking about theological truth, and in that way lead the whole country back to the truth. After a meeting with the new bishop, Ghebre-Michael saw clearly that this vision was not going to be realized. The bishop did not share his desire for theological truth, and as well as this he had a personal political agenda. The bishop saw that this monk was going to be a very dangerous opponent of his plans, and on one occasion some of the bishop’s followers tried to poison Ghebre-Michael. This plan failed because the monk had known that this would be a possibility and so he always had the antidote to the usual poison used on such occasions.
Since his meeting with the bishop was a total failure, as regards his vision of a wholesale return of the country to theological truth, Ghebre-Michael decided to seek another interview with Justin.  The two men met again in September 1843. The delegation had returned to the Red Sea port of Massawa in April 1842, and Justin was back in his own area in May. This means that it was more than a year after their return that Ghebre-Michael sought out Justin for a meeting. The main point of the meeting was that the monk told Justin that he had made up his mind to become a Catholic. At this time, September 1843, thirty-seven Ethiopians had been received into the Catholic Church, with ten more under instruction.
Justin and the monk had many discussions over a period of about six months, and they visited many monasteries together to study ancient manuscripts. Eventually, in February 1844 Justin received Ghebre-Michael into the Catholic Church. This led to about six other monks asking to be received as well.
At this time, 1844, five years after his arrival, Justin did not have any permanent central residence, and he decided to establish one. He selected the village of Guala, and sent Ghebre-Michael and two other converts there to assess its suitability as a Catholic headquarters. The local people gave them a good welcome and in December 1844 they were able to acquire some land and build a residence. They arranged religion classes for the local people, with Ghebre-Michael being the contact man for monks and priests who wished to discuss religious matters or to become Catholics. The people also handed over the village church to them.
In the following years there was some persecution of Catholics, instigated by the new Orthodox bishop, and at one stage Ghebre-Michael was imprisoned for a few months.
In 1850, six years after Ghebre-Michael’s reception into the Church, Justin raised with him something he had been considering for quite a while, namely that the monk give some thought to the question of his becoming a priest. As I mentioned earlier, most Ethiopian monks were not priests. As the suggestion came from Justin, Ghebre-Michael agreed with it. He was ordained a Catholic priest by Justin on 1 January 1851.
Almost since his arrival in Ethiopia, Justin had had doubts about the validity of sacraments administered by Ethiopian Orthodox priests. In fact, he was even doubtful about the validity of the ordination rite for diaconate and priesthood. He gave this matter a lot of thought and prayer, and also studied as much as he could the sources of Ethiopian sacramental theology. Later still he began to have doubts about the validity of Ethiopian baptism. In the specific case of Ghebre-Michael, he had doubts about the validity of his baptism. If his baptism had not been valid, then neither had his ordination, as it would have been conferred on an unbaptised man. He explained his doubts to Ghebre-Michael, who saw their significance. As a result of these reflections, Justin baptised and ordained Ghebre-Michael conditionally. “Conditionally” when referring to the administration of sacraments means they are administered with the condition “If you are not already baptised…, etc”. 
Baptism is one of the “indelible” marks on a Christian.  It cannot be undone.  You cannot be unbaptized.  You can apostatize, although I would not recommend it in terms of your salvation, but you cannot be unbaptized.  It cannot be “redone”, if done validly and licitly.  Baptismal promises can be “renewed”, or reiterated, reemphasized, but not done over/redone.  It only happens once and for all eternity you are marked, metaphysically, with the sign of Chrisitian Faith.  
This is why those entering the Church as Christians from other denominations/”faith traditions” is the politically correct term nowadays, are not required to be rebaptized upon entering the Catholic Church.  Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Unitarians, since they do not use the Trinitarian formula and water, are not recognized.  Those coming from those denominations must be validly baptized to enter the Catholic Church.
It is THE sacrament as a requirement for salvation, in the Catholic mind.  It is not sufficient for salvation, in the Catholic mind, but it is required as a minimum.  No baptism.  No salvation.  Salvation can occur, however, with no actual sacrament through “baptism of desire”, recognizing the truths of the Gospel in one’s lived life, even unconsciously, the “native in the deepest, darkest jungle” scenario, and were baptism offered and understood, the assumption goes, the sacrament would be requested.  Also, “baptism of blood”, that is martyrdom for the sake of Gospel truths.  These are the only other ways than the actual sacrament being conferred.  Ghebre-Michael’s conditional baptism and ordination took place early in 1854.
In July of that year Justin, Ghebre-Michael and four other converts were arrested and imprisoned, Justin being kept separate from the others. The Ethiopians had their legs thrust through a hole in a log and kept there with wooden wedges. The prisoners were able to communicate with each other by writing. The purpose of this imprisonment and torture was to persuade the converts to renounce Catholicism. The Orthodox bishop was particularly anxious to get rid of Justin, and he had him sent into exile. On the last stage of the journey to the coast there was a change of soldiers guarding Justin. The new guards were Moslems and, unlike the previous guards, were able to read the letter which the bishop had written in Arabic. In the letter the bishop asked that Justin be killed. When the guards read this they released him. Justin went back, and resumed contact by letter with the other prisoners. Towards the end of 1854 the bishop made another fierce effort by torture to get the prisoners to apostatize, but was not successful.
A new emperor, or Negus, of Ethiopia, Theodore II, was crowned in February 1855, and part of his policy was religious uniformity all over Ethiopia. This new ruler also tortured Ghebre-Michael in an attempt to get him to apostatize, but without success. The emperor kept him in chains and brought him along wherever he went. In May 1855 the British Consul visited the new emperor, and the emperor decided to put the monk on trial in the presence of the consul. Once again he refused to apostatize, and the court decided that he should be executed by being shot. The British Consul asked for his life to be spared, and the emperor agreed. However, he was still kept in chains and brought/dragged along with the emperor’s army. As a result of all the harsh treatment he died on 28 August 1855. He was buried where he died, at the side of the road under a cedar tree, but the exact spot has never been identified since
Some years later Justin sent a drawing of Ghebre-Michael to Jean-Baptiste Etienne, C.M., the Superior General. In the accompanying letter he wrote:
“I beg you to accept the picture which I have the honour to send you. It catches the likeness of the subject so exactly that when you take into account the lack of skill in the matter of drawing on the part of the Abyssinian priest who did it you have to admit that it is really an extraordinary picture. To this picture of the Abyssinian martyr Ghebre-Michael I have added an inscription in Latin in which I refer to him as a Vincentian seminarist. In fact he was only a postulant because the time of his vocation could be counted only from the moment when he would have begun his intern seminary; by the date which had been arranged he was already in prison; however, in his heart he already belonged to the Congregation.”  Ghebre-Michael was beatified as a martyr in 1926.
Justin himself had five more years to live after Ghebre-Michael’s death. In May 1855, some months before that event, he had had to go into enforced exile at Moncullo on the Red Sea coast. This town was on the mainland, opposite the island of Massawa which was the main point of entry to Ethiopia and a stopping place for many ships trading in that area. 
Justin had had the idea of building a Catholic church in Moncullo to cater for Christians who might come to the port. The area was under Turkish rule and a French Vincentian was negotiator with the government. Permission was given to build the church.  He spent the rest of his life as a missionary along the Red Sea.  He died in the valley of Alghedien on July 31, 1860 of tropical fever he contracted while on a missionary trip.  His body is buried in the Catholic Church at Hebo in Ethiopia.
Prayer to Blessed Ghebre-Michael
“God our Father, in your mercy you drew your martyr Blessed Ghebre-Michael to profess the true faith and you gave him a marvelous strength to be faithful to Christ even to the point of shedding his blood for him. By his merits and prayers increase our faith in You, our loving Father, and help us to follow faithfully the one You have sent, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.”
Love,
Matthew

Sep 15 – St Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510), Apostle of Purgatory, Wife & Mystic

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-Saint Catherine of Genoa adoring the Crucified Christ,  Giovanni Agostino Ratti

I LOVE MARRIED SAINTS!!!!!  DID I MENTION I LOVE MARRIED SAINTS????!!!!  It is NOT any oxymoron, but rather our Christian duty and our obligation due to Almighty God & our spouse.

Born an aristocrat in Genoa in 1447 in the Vico del Filo and baptized as Caterina Fieschi, the youngest of five children, Catherine’s parents were Jacopo Fieschi and Francesca di Negro. Catherine’s family had papal connections.  She was related to Pope Innocent V and Pope Adrian V, and Jacopo became Viceroy of Naples. When Catherine was born, many Italian nobles were supporting Renaissance artists and writers. The needs of the poor and the sick were often overshadowed by a hunger for luxury and self-indulgence.

She was known to be pious and prayerful even as a young girl.  “Taller than most women, her head well proportioned, her face rather long but singularly beautiful and well shaped, her complexion fair and in the flower of her youth rubicund, her nose long rather than short, her eyes dark and her forehead high and broad; every part of her body was well formed”, Catherine wished to enter a convent when about thirteen, perhaps inspired by her sister, Limbania, who was an Augustinian nun, but the nuns to whom her confessor applied refused her on account of her youth, after which she appears to have put the idea aside without any further attempt.

Her father, Jacopo, passed away shortly after this.  Her eldest brother, Giacomo inherited everything.  He wishing to resolve differences with the Adorno family, another noble family with whom the Fieschi’s were at odds, and so concocted the idea of marrying Catherine to the Adorno boy, Giuliano, who had returned to Genoa to marry after various military and trading experiences in the Middle East.

Giacomo obtained his mother’s support and found Giuliano more than willing to accept the beautiful, noble and rich bride proposed to him; as for Catherine herself, she would not refuse this cross laid on her at the command of her mother and eldest brother. On 13 January, 1463, at sixteen, Catherine was married to the young Genoese nobleman, Giuliano Adorno.  Giuliano was described by a witness of the time to be possessed of a “strange and recalcitrant nature” who wasted his substance on disorderly living including gambling.

The childless marriage turned out wretchedly; Giuliano proved faithless, violent-tempered, and a spendthrift, who made the life of his wife a misery.  He was careless and unsuccessful as a husband and provider, often cruel, violent and unfaithful, and reduced them to bankruptcy. Catherine became indifferent to her faith, and fell into a depression.

Details are scanty, but it seems at least clear that Catherine spent the first five years of her marriage in silent, melancholy submission to her husband; and that she then, for another five, turned a little to the world for consolation in her troubles.  She tried to find serenity in the distractions of the world.  As always, it didn’t work.

Catherine, living with Giacomo in his fine house in the Piazza Sant’ Agnete, at first entirely refused to adopt his worldly ways, and lived “like a hermit”, never going out except to hear Mass. But when she had thus spent five years, she yielded to the remonstrances of her family, and for the next five years practiced a certain commerce with the world, partaking of the pleasures customary among the women of her class but never falling into sin. Increasingly she was irked and wearied by her husband’s lack of spiritual sympathy with her, and by the distractions which kept her from God. Then, ten years after her marriage, she prayed “that for three months He (God) may keep me (Catherine) sick in bed” so that she might escape her marriage, but her prayer went unanswered.

Catherine became so despondent with a profound sense of emptiness and bitterness, she went to talk to her sister, Limbania, at the convent to unload her woes.  After listening, Limbania insisted Catherine return the following day and make her confession to the confessor of the nuns at the convent.  On 22 March 1473, while making this confession, Catherine was struck down by a vision, the revelation of God’s love and her own sinfulness, and fell into a religious ecstasy; her interior state, and her contact with the Truth she had received in the vision, stayed with her the rest of her life.Suddenly, as she was kneeling down at the confessional, Catherine explained “my heart was wounded by a dart of God’s immense love, and I had a clear vision of my own wretchedness and faults and the Most High Goodness of God. She fell to the ground, all but swooning/fainting”, of this experience she later wrote her heart cried out, “no longer the world, no longer sin”.  The confessor was at this moment called away, and when he came back she could speak again, and asked and obtained his leave to postpone her confession. After this revelation occurred she abruptly left the church, without finishing her confession. This marked the beginning of her life of close union with God in prayer.

She hurried home, to shut herself up in the most secluded room in the house, weeping, and for several days she stayed there absorbed by consciousness of her own wretchedness and of God’s mercy in warning her. She had a vision of Our Lord, weighed down by His Cross and covered with blood, and she cried aloud, “O Lord, I will never sin again; if need be, I will make public confession of my sins.” It was an experience she found difficult/nearly impossible to describe.  “Oh, Love!  Can it be that You have called me with so much love, and revealed to me at one view, what no tongue can describe?…I have no longer either soul or heart; but my soul and my heart are those of my Beloved…”.

She now entered on a life of prayer and penance. She obtained from her husband a promise, which he kept, to live with her as a brother. She made strict rules for herself–to avert her eyes from sights of the world, to speak no useless words, to eat only what was necessary for life, to sleep as little as possible and on a bed in which she put briars and thistles, to wear a rough hair shirt. Every day she spent six hours in prayer. She rigorously mortified her affections and will.

Soon, guided by the Ladies of Mercy, she was devoting herself to the care of the sick poor. In her plain dress she would go through the streets and byways of Genoa, looking for poor people who were ill, and when she found them she tended them and washed and mended their filthy rags. Often she visited the hospital of St. Lazarus, which harbored incurables so diseased as to be horrible to the sight and smell, many of them embittered. In Catherine they aroused not disgust but charity and love; she met their insults with unfailing gentleness.

From the time of her conversion she hungered insatiably for the Holy Eucharist, and the priests admitted her to the privilege, very rare in that period, of daily communion.  Once upon receiving Communion, Catherine gazed towards her Lord and said, “O Lord, perhaps Thou wouldst draw me to Thee by this fragrance? I do not desire it; I desire nothing but Thee, and Thee wholly; Thou knowest, that from the beginning, I have asked of Thee the grace that I might never see visions, nor receive external consolations, for so clearly do I perceive Thy goodness, that I do not seem to walk by faith but by a true and heartfelt experience.”

For twenty-three years, beginning in the third year after her conversion, she fasted completely throughout Lent and Advent, except that at long intervals she drank a glass of water mixed with salt and vinegar to remind herself of the drink offered to Our Lord on the cross, and during these fasts she enjoyed exceptional health and vigor. For twenty-five years after her conversion she had no spiritual director except Our Lord Himself. Then, when she had fallen into the illness which afflicted the last ten years of her life, she felt the need for human help, and a priest named Fr. Cattaneo Marabotto, who had a position of authority in the hospital in which she was then working, became her confessor.   To him she explained her states, past and present, and he compiled the “Memoirs”.

The time came when the directors of the great hospital in Genoa asked Catherine to superintend the care of the sick in this institution. She accepted, and hired near the hospital a poor house in which she and her husband lived out the rest of their days. Her prayers were still long and regular and her raptures frequent, but she so arranged that neither her devotions nor her ecstasies interfered with her care of the sick. Although she was humbly submissive even to the hospital servants, the directors saw the value of her work and appointed her rector of the hospital with unlimited powers.In 1497 she nursed her husband through his last illness. In his will he extolled her virtues and left her all his possessions. After Giuliano’s death, her life was devoted to her relationship with God, through “interior inspiration” alone.  She used no other and needed no other forms of prayer.

When Catherine was fifty-three, she fell ill.  Worn out by her life of ecstasies, her burning love for God, labor for her fellow creatures and her privations; during her last ten years on earth she suffered much. She died in 1510, worn out with labors of body and soul. Her death had been slow with many days of pain and suffering as she experienced visions and wavered between life and death.

In 1551, 41 years after her death, a book about her life and teaching was published, entitled “Libro de la vita mirabile et dottrina santa de la Beata Caterinetta de Genoa”. This is the source of her “Dialogues on the Soul and the Body” and her “Treatise on Purgatory”.  It is her writings that have continued her fame today; during her canonization inquiry, the Holy Office announced that her writings alone were enough to prove her sanctity.  Her writings also became sources of inspiration for other religious leaders such as Saints Robert Bellarmine and Francis de Sales and Cardinal Henry Edward Manning.

Catherine wrote about purgatory which, she said, begins on earth for souls open to God. Life with God in heaven is a continuation and perfection of the life with God begun on earth.  For Catherine, purgatory was not another physical place to go to atone for one’s sins, but rather, an interior cleansing.  She speaks of the soul’s purification onto complete union with God.  “The soul”, Catherine says, “presents itself to God still bound to the desires and suffering that derive from sin and this makes it impossible for it to enjoy the beatific vision of God”. Catherine asserts that God is so pure and holy that a soul stained by sin cannot behold/be in the beatific vision, the presence of the Divine Majesty.  The soul is aware of the immense love and perfect justice of God and consequently suffers for having failed to respond in a correct and perfect way to this love; and love for God itself becomes a flame, love itself cleanses the soul from the residue of sin.  In writing about purgatory, Catherine reminds us of a fundamental truth of faith that becomes for us an invitation to pray for the deceased so that they may attain the beatific vision of God in the Communion of Saints (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1032).

St Catherine of Genoa is patroness of Brides, Childless People, Difficult Marriages, People Ridiculed For Their Piety, Victims Of Adultery, and Widows, among other causes.

“We should not wish for anything but what comes to us from moment to moment, exercising ourselves none the less for good. For he who would not thus exercise himself, and await what God sends, would tempt God. When we have done what good we can, let us accept all that happens to us by Our Lord’s ordinance, and let us unite ourselves to it by our will. Who tastes what it is to rest in union with God will seem to himself to have won to Paradise even in this life.” -St Catherine of Genoa

“It remains for us to pray the Lord, of His great goodness and by the intercession of this glorious Seraphim, to give us His love abundantly, that we may not cease to grow in virtue, and may at last win to eternal beatitude with God who lives and reigns for ever and ever.” -St Catherine of Genoa

“Since I began to love, love has never forsaken me. It has ever grown to its own fullness within my innermost heart.” -St Catherine of Genoa

“If it were possible for me to suffer as much as all the martyrs have suffered, and even Hell itself, for the love of God, and in order to make satisfaction to Him, it would be after all only a sort of injury to God, in comparison with the love and goodness with which He has created, and redeemed, and, in a special manner, called me. For man, unassisted by God’s grace, is even worse than the devil, because the devil is a spirit without a body, while man, without the grace of God, is a devil incarnate. Man has a free will, which, according to the ordination of God, is in nowise bound, so that he can do all the evil that he wills; to the devil, this is impossible, since he can act only by the divine permission; and when man surrenders to him his evil will, the devil employs it, as the instrument of his temptation.”-St Catherine of Genoa

“The souls in Purgatory see all things, not in themselves, nor by themselves, but as they are in God, on whom they are more intent than on their own sufferings. . . . For the least vision they have of God overbalances all woes and all joys that can be conceived. Yet their joy in God does by no means abate their pain. . . . This process of purification to which I see the souls in Purgatory, subjected, I feel within myself.” -St Catherine of Genoa“I see that whatever is good in myself, in any other creature, or in the saints, is truly from God; if, on the other hand, I do any thing evil, it is I alone who do it, nor can I charge the blame of it upon the devil or upon any other creature; it is purely the work of my own will, inclination, pride, selfishness, sensuality, and other evil dispositions, without the help of God I should never do any good thing. So sure am I of this, that if all the angels of heaven were to tell me I have something good in me, I should not believe them. So long as any one can speak of divine things, enjoy and understand them, remember and desire them, he has not yet arrived in port; yet there are ways and means to guide him thither. But the creature can know nothing but what God gives him to know from day to day, nor can he comprehend beyond this, and at each instant remains satisfied with what he receives. If the creature knew the height to which God is prepared to raise him in this life, he would never rest, but on the contrary would feel a certain craving, a vehement desire to reach quickly that ultimate perfection, and would think himself in Hell until he had obtained it.”-St Catherine of Genoa

“If it were given to a man to see virtue’s reward in the next world, he would occupy his intellect, memory and will in nothing but good works, careless of danger or fatigue.”-St Catherine of Genoa

“The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.” -St. Catherine of Genoa

Shortly before her death Catherine told her goddaughter: “Tomasina! Jesus in your heart! Eternity in your mind! The will of God in all your actions! But above all, love, God’s love, entire love!”

“Through the words of this great Saint and the Gift that God had Graced her, we have gained a better understanding of the graphic damage that sin can do to a soul and also how the soul can be restored back to God’s Loving embrace through participation of the Sacraments. We also understand how God can transform a soul to be a divine reflection of Himself when the soul surrenders itself to the Triune Spirit. And through the works of Saint Catherine we also understand Purgatory and the Holy Souls who wait to be released into Heaven by our prayers and penances and when we offer up a Mass for the repose of their soul as these Holy souls endure the purgation of Purgatory, as they thirst to be re-united with God in Heaven.  May we reflect deeply on the messages of Saint Catherine of Genoa and how God illuminated her soul so as to instruct the faithful.” – a commentator on St Catherine of Genoa

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, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “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, "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, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila