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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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

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-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

Sep 18 – St Joseph of Cupertino, (1603-1663), The Flying Friar

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The Flying Nun you’ve probably heard of.  (Sally Field/Sister Bertrille, ora pro nobis!)  And, school has begun.  And, school is hard these days.  There is more to learn than ever and more than ever riding on success.  Even adults have to go back to school these days to remain competitive.

That is not intended to pressure students any more than they already pressure themselves, the successful ones and even the ones that try as hard as they can but are not as successful.  Students lack adult perspective, by definition.  Unless successful at or preferably beyond their and their guardians’ expectations, they do not understand yet/have the maturity to embrace failure as a means of personal growth and realize its value, and even be thankful for it/rejoice in it for the new perspectives it brings and the death of the old way of seeing and thinking.  It brings in life sweet revelations and humility.  I, obviously, require MUCH more!  🙂  Deo gratias!

The young need our support and encouragement always.  It’s tough out there for the young.  They are not permitted the joy and luxury, to which all young persons should be, of being young very long these days.  What a shame for them and for us.  The young refresh us.  Take us back to happier days of simpler moments in our lives/redeem us; most of us. (cf Mt 18:3)

Although, not regular supplicants, the most unspiritual student, even non-Catholics, have been known to offer the occasional prayer during examination or other stressful scholarly moment to St Thomas Aquinas, or in this case, St Joseph of Cupertino.  Couldn’t hurt, right?  🙂

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Joseph, as a child, was noticed to be remarkably unclever, dull, dimwitted.  We might consider him today mentally disabled.  But, God writes straight with crooked lines (~ancient Portugese proverb).

Born Giuseppe Maria Desa in Cupertino, Apulia, June 17, 1603,  Joseph’s father, Felice Desa, was a poor carpenter in the fortified town of Cupertino, located in the heel of the boot of Italy, on the Apulian peninsula within the then Kingdom of Naples.  He died before the boy was born.

Known locally as a charitable man, Felice often guaranteed the debts of his poorer neighbors, often driving himself into debt as a result. Felice died prior to Joseph’s birth, leaving his wife Francesca Panara destitute and pregnant with the future saint.

Creditors drove his mother, Francesca, from her home, sold to pay Felice’s debts. Because of this, Joseph was born in the stable behind their home.  (Sound familiar?  Now WHERE have I heard that before?  Think.  Think.  Think.  Nope.  Nothing.)

Starting at age eight, he became prone to ecstatic visions that left him gaping and staring into space.  His childhood detractors gave him the pejorative nickname, “the Gaper.”  He had a hot temper, which his strict mother worked to overcome.  Francesca became hardened by her circumstances, and everything became Joseph’s fault.

Joseph knew he was not as quick as the others, or athletic, or comely.  Other children were praised.  Joseph was not.  Other children were given presents or nice clothes.  Joseph was not.  Absent-minded, awkward, nervous, sudden noises such as the ringing of a church bell would cause Joseph to drop all his books on the floor.  He even had trouble making friends.  He couldn’t carry on a conversation or tell a story.  His very sentences would stop in the middle because he could not find the right words, no matter how he tried.  Joseph was something of a trial, to even those who tried to love him.  Nobody wanted Joseph.  He learned this early on.  He began to think of himself as a dumb mule, a jackass.  When called to account, his only response would be, “I forgot.”

Apprenticed to a shoemaker, Joseph made a very poor cobbler, but he kept trying.  At age 17 Joseph applied for admittance to the Friars Minor Conventuals, but was refused due to his lack of education. He applied to the Capuchins, was accepted as a lay-brother in 1620, but his ecstasies made him unsuitable for work. Often he was taken in ecstasy and, oblivious of what he was doing, he would drop the food or break the dishes and trays. As a penance, bits of broken plates were fastened to his habit as a humiliation and reminder not to do the same again. Eventually, he was dismissed.  His habit taken from him, he was told to go.  It was the hardest day of his life.  When they took his habit, it was like their taking his skin from him, he said.  Now what was he going to do?  Could he do?  Joseph was despondent.

That was not the end of his troubles. When he had recovered from his stupor on the road outside the friary, he found he had lost some of his lay clothes. He was without a hat; he had no boots or stockings, his coat was moth-eaten and worn. Such a sorry sight did he appear, that as he passed a stable down the lane some dogs rushed out on him, and tore what remained of his rags to still worse tatters.

Having escaped from the dogs, poor Joseph trudged along, wondering what next would happen. He passed some shepherds tending sheep. They took him for a dangerous character. When questioned he could give no account of himself and they were about to give him a beating; fortunately one of them had a little pity, and persuaded them to let him go free. But it was only to pass from one trouble into another. Scarcely had he gone a little further down the road when a nobleman on horseback met him. The latter could see in Joseph nothing but a suspicious tramp who had no business in those parts, and thought to hand him over to the police; only when, after examining him, he had come to the conclusion that Joseph was too stupid to be harmful did he let him go.

At last, torn and battered and hungry, Joseph came to a village where one of his uncles lived. He was a prosperous tradesman there, with a thriving little shop of his own; and Joseph hoped he would find with him some kind of comfort, perhaps another start in life. But he was sadly disappointed.

Nephews of Joseph’s type, even at their best, are not always welcome to prosperous uncles, much less when they turn up unexpectedly, with scarcely a rag on their backs. Joseph’s uncle was no better and no worse than others. He looked at the poor lad who stood before him, soiling his clean shop floor with his dirty, bare feet, disgracing himself and his house with his rags, and he was just a little ashamed to own him as a nephew.

Evidently, he said to himself, the boy had inherited his father’s improvident ways, and would come to nothing good. He was already well on the road to ruin; to help him would only make him worse. Besides, Joseph’s father already owed him money; how, then, could he be expected to do anything for the son?

So instead of offering him assistance, Joseph’s uncle turned upon him; blamed him for his sorry plight, which, he said, he must have brought upon himself; railed at him because of his father’s debts, which such a son could only increase; finally pushed him into the street, without a coin to help him on his way. There was nothing to be done; he must move on; nobody wanted Joseph.

At last he reached his native town, and made for his mother’s cottage.  During Joseph’s absence, things had gone no better than before. He came to the door in fear and trembling, remembering well how his mother had long since tired of his presence. Still he would venture; it was the only place left where he might hope for a shelter and he must try. He opened the door and looked in; inside he found his mother, busy about her little hovel. Weary and footsore, hungry and miserable, no longer able to stand, he fell on the floor at his mother’s feet; he could not speak a word, though his glistening eyes as he looked up at her were eloquent.

But they failed to soften his mother. She had gone through hard times enough and was unprepared for more. What? Had he come back to burden them, now when things were worse than ever? And further disgraced, besides, for had he not been expelled from a monastery? How the neighbors would talk, and scorn the mother for having such a son; an unfrocked friar, a ne’er-do- well, a common tramp, and that at an age when other youths were earning an honest livelihood! She could restrain herself no longer. As he lay at her feet she rounded on him.

“You have been expelled from a house of religious,” she cried. “You have brought shame upon us all. You are good for nothing. We have nothing for you here. Go away; go to prison, go to sea, go anywhere; if you stay here there is nothing for you but to starve.”

But she was not content with only words. She had a brother who was a Franciscan, holding some sort of office. In high dudgeon, she went off to him, and gave him a piece of her mind about the way his Order had dismissed her son, and put him again on her hands. She appealed to him to have him taken back, in any capacity they liked; so long as she was rid of him, they could do with him what they chose. But as for readmission, the good Franciscans were immovable. Joseph had been examined before, and had been declared unsuitable; he had been tried, and had been found wanting; the most they could do was to give him the habit of the Third Order, and employ him somewhere as a servant. He was appointed to the stable; there he could do little harm. Joseph was made the keeper of the monastery mule.

And then a change came.  Joseph set about his task since it was now clear that he could never be a Franciscan, at least he could be their servant. He said not a word in complaint; what had he to complain of? He told himself that all this was only what he might have expected; being what he was, he might consider himself fortunate to find any job at all entrusted to him. He asked for no relief; he took the clothes and the food they chose to give him; he slept on a plank in the stable, it was good enough for him. What was more, in spite of his dullness, perhaps because of it, Joseph had by nature a merry heart. However great his troubles, the moment a gleam of sunshine shone upon him he would be merry and laugh. The troubles were only his desert and were to be expected; when brighter times came he enjoyed them as one who had received a consolation wholly unlooked for, and wholly undeserved.

Gradually this became noticed. Friars would go down to the stable for one reason or another, and always Joseph was there to welcome them, apparently as happy as a lord. It was seen how little he thought of himself, how glad he was to serve; since he could not be a begging friar, sometimes in his free moments he went out and begged for them on his own account. His lightheartedness was contagious; his kindly tongue made men trust him; it was noticed how he was welcomed among the poorest of the poor, who saw better than others the man behind all his oddities. He might make a Franciscan after all. The matter was discussed in the community chapter; his case was sent up to a provincial council for favorable consideration; it was decided, not without some qualms, to give him yet another trial.

In this way Joseph was once more admitted to the Order, but what was to be done with him then? His superiors set him to his studies, in the hope that he might learn enough to be ordained, but the effort seemed hopeless. With all his good intentions he learnt to read with the greatest difficulty, and, says his biographer, his writing was worse. He could never expound a Sunday Gospel in a way to satisfy his professors; one only text seemed to take hold of him, and on that he could always be eloquent; speaking from knowledge which was not found in books. It was a text of St. Luke (xi, 27): “Beatus venter qui Te portavit.”

Minor Orders in those days were easily conferred, and even the subdiaconate; but for the diaconate and the priesthood a special examination had to be passed, in presence of the bishop himself. As a matter of form, but with no hope of success, Joseph was sent up to meet his fate. The bishop opened the New Testament at haphazard; his eye fell upon the text “Beatus venter qui Te portavit,” and he asked Joseph to discourse upon it. To the surprise of everyone present Joseph began, and it seemed as if he would never end; he might have been a Master in Theology lost in a favorite theme. There could be no question about his being given the diaconate.

When it was a question of the priesthood, the first candidates did so well that the remainder of the candidates, Joseph among them, were passed without examination and Joseph was ordained a priest in 1628.  Deo gratias!

His virtues were such that he became a cleric at 22, a priest at 25, on March 4, 1628.  Joseph still had little education, could barely read or write, but received such a gift of spiritual knowledge and discernment that he could solve intricate questions.  During this period of his life, the spiritual consolations he had enjoyed since his childhood abandoned him. Later he wrote to a friend about that difficult time: “I complained a lot to God about God. I had left everything for Him, and He, instead of consoling me, delivered me to mortal anguish.”

He continued: “One day, when I was weeping and wailing in my cell, a religious knocked on my door. I did not answer, but he entered my room and said: ‘Friar Joseph, how are you?’

“‘I am here to serve you,’ I answered.

“‘I thought you did not have a habit,’ he continued.

“‘Yes, I have one, but it is falling apart,’ I responded.

“Then, the unknown religious gave me a habit, and when I put it on, all my despair disappeared immediately. No one ever knew who that religious was.”

There were many, by this time, besides the very poor who had come to realize the wonderful simplicity and selflessness of Joseph, hidden beneath his dullness and odd ways; a few had discovered the secret of his abstractedness, when he would lose himself in the labyrinth of God.

Nevertheless he remained a trial, especially to the practical-minded; to the end of his life he had to endure from them many a scolding. Often enough he would go out begging for the brethren, and would come home with his sack full, but without a sandal, or his girdle, or his rosary, or sometimes parts of his habit. His friends among the poor had taken them for keepsakes, and Joseph had been utterly unaware that they had gone. He was told that the convent could not afford to give him new clothes every day. “Oh! Father,” was his answer, “then don’t let me go out any more; never let me go out any more. Leave me alone in my cell to vegetate; it is all I can do.”

For indeed, as we have seen, Joseph had no delusions about himself; and his ordination did not make him think differently. True he was a priest, but everybody knew how he had received the priesthood. He could assume no airs on that account.

On the contrary, knowing what he was, he could only act accordingly. In spite of his priestly office, Joseph could only live the life he had lived before. He would slip down to the kitchen and wash up the dishes; he would sweep the corridors and dormitories; he would look out for the dirtiest work that others shirked, and would do it; when building was going on in the convent he would carry up the stones and mortar; if anyone protested, declaring that such work did not become a priest, Joseph would only reply to them:  “What else can Brother Ass do?”, a name given him by his brothers in religion.

But now began that wonderful experience the like of which is scarcely to be paralleled in the life of any other saint. It was first in his prayer. Joseph’s absent-mindedness, from his childhood upwards, had not been only a natural weakness, it was due, in great part, to a wonderful gift of seeing God and the supernatural in everything about him, and he would become lost in the wonder of it all. Now when he was a friar, and a priest besides, the vision grew stronger; it seemed easier for him to see God indwelling in His creation than the material creation in which he dwelt. The realization became to him so vivid, so engrossing, that he would spend whole days lost in its fascination, and only an order from his superiors could bring him back to earth.

Joseph’s visions and ecstasies would come suddenly upon him anywhere; as it were from out of space the eyes of God would look at him, or on the face of nature the hand of God would be seen at work, disposing all things.

Joseph would stand still, exactly as the vision caught him, fixed as a statue, insensible as a stone, and nothing could move him. The brethren would use pins and burning embers to recall him to his senses, but nothing could he feel. When he did revive and saw what had happened, he would call these visitations fits of giddiness, and ask them not to burn him again. Once a prelate, who had come to see him on some business, noticed that his hands were covered with sores. Joseph could not hide them, nor could he hide the truth, but he had an explanation ready.

“See, Father, what the brethren have to do to me when the fits of giddiness come on. They have to burn my hands, they have to cut my fingers, that is what they have to do.”  And Joseph laughed, as he so often laughed; but we suspect that it was laughter keeping back tears.

His life became a series of visions and ecstasies, which could be triggered any time or place by the sound of a church bell, church music, the mention of the name of God or of the Blessed Virgin or of a saint, any event in the life of Christ, the sacred Passion, a holy picture, the thought of the glory in heaven, etc. Yelling, beating, pinching, burning, piercing with needles – none of this would bring him from his trances, but he would return to the world on hearing the voice of his superior in the order.

On October 4, 1630, the town of Cupertino held a procession on the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi. Joseph was assisting in the procession when he suddenly soared into the sky, where he remained hovering over the crowd.

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When he descended and realized what had happened, he became so embarrassed that he fled to his mother’s house and hid. This was the first of many flights, which soon earned him the nickname “The Flying Saint”.

Joseph’s life changed dramatically after this incident. His flights continued and came with increasing frequency. His superiors, alarmed at his lack of control, forbade him from community exercises, believing he would cause too great a distraction for the friary. For the fact was, Joseph could not contain himself. On hearing the names of Jesus or Mary, the singing of hymns during the feast of St. Francis, or while praying at Mass, he would go into a dazed state and soar into the air, remaining there until a superior commanded him under obedience to revive.

In the refectory, during a meal, Joseph would suddenly rise from the ground with a dish of food in his hands, much to the alarm of the brethren at table. When he was out in the country begging, suddenly he would fly into a tree. Once when some workmen were laboring to plant a huge stone cross in its socket, Joseph rose above them, took up the cross and placed it in the socket for them.

So concerned were Joseph’s brethren, they ordered him to be examined by the General of the Order.  The Minister General could find no fault in Joseph.  He took Joseph to see the Pope.

Joseph’s most famous flight allegedly occurred during the papal audience before Pope Urban VIII. When he bent down to kiss the Pope’s feet, he was suddenly filled with reverence for Christ’s Vicar on earth, and was lifted up into the air. Only when the Minister General of the Order, who was part of the audience, ordered him down was Joseph able to return to the floor.

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Among other paranormal events associated with Joseph, he is said to have possessed the gift of healing. It is reported he once cured a girl who was suffering from a severe case of measles. Another story holds that an entire community suffering from a drought asked Joseph to pray for rain, which he did with success.  He also dedicated himself to improving the spiritual lives of his fellow friars.

Not all of the friars whom Joseph lived with were well disposed towards him. Some superiors would scold Joseph for not accepting money and gifts offered to him for curing people, especially when they were members of the nobility. He would also find himself in trouble for returning home with a torn habit as a result of the people seeking relics who regarded him as a prophet and a saint.

Perhaps the most difficult time came when Joseph was the subject of an investigation by the Inquisition at Naples. Msgr. Joseph Palamolla accused Joseph of attracting undue attention with his “flights”, and claiming to perform miracles. On October 21, 1638, Joseph was summoned to appear before the Inquisition and, when he arrived, he was detained for several weeks. Joseph was eventually released when the judges found no fault with him.

Nervous and concerned about letting Joseph wander about at liberty with such powers and how that might upset ordered society, wanting to keep all of this hush-hush, Joseph’s superiors ordered him into seclusion.  “Have I to go to prison?” he asked, as if he had been condemned. But in an instant he recovered. He knelt down and kissed the Inquisitor’s feet; then got into the carriage, smiling as usual as if nothing had happened.

After being cleared by the Inquisition, Joseph was sent to the Sacro Convento in Assisi. Though Joseph was happy to be close to the tomb of St Francis, he experienced a certain spiritual dryness. His flights came to a halt during this period.

Two years after his arrival at the Sacro Convento, Joseph was made an honorary citizen of Assisi and a full member of the Franciscan community. He lived in Assisi for another nine years. During this period Joseph was sought after by people (including ministers general, provincials, bishops, cardinals, knights and secular princes) who wanted to experience his divine consolation. He was happy to oblige, but the isolation of exile left him repressed. Believers were able to seek him out, but he was not allowed to preach or hear confessions, nor to join in the processions and festivities of feast days.

Over time, Joseph attracted a huge following. To stop this, Pope Innocent X decided to move Joseph from Assisi and place him in a secret location under the jurisdiction of the Capuchin friars in Pietrarubbia. Joseph was placed under strict orders to avoid writing letters, but he continued to attract throngs of people. This soon forced him to be moved to another location, this time to Fossombrone, which had little more success.

The ordeal finally ended when Pope Innocent X died, and the Conventual friars asked the newly elected Pope Alexander VIII to release Joseph from his exile and return him to Assisi. Alexander declined, and instead released Joseph to the friary in Osimo, where the Pope’s nephew was the local bishop. There, Joseph was ordered to live in seclusion and not speak to anyone except the Bishop, the Vicar General of the Order, his fellow friars, and, in case of a health crisis, a doctor. Joseph endured his ordeal with great patience. It is reported he did not even complain when a brother-cook neglected to bring him any food to his room for two days; this dull man whom no one could teach, and no one wanted, almost continually wrapt up in the vision of that which no man can express in words.

On August 10, 1663, Joseph became ill with a fever, but the experience filled him with joy. When asked to pray for his own healing he said, “No, God forbid!” He experienced ecstasies and flights during his last Mass which was on the Feast of the Assumption.

In early September, Joseph could sense that the end was near, so he could be heard mumbling, “The jackass has now begun to climb the mountain!” The ‘jackass’ was his own body.

Bedridden, there came constantly to Joseph’s lips the words of St. Paul: “Cupio dissolvi et esse cum Christo.” (Ph 1:23) Someone at the bedside spoke to him of the love of God; he cried out: “Say that again, say that again!” He pronounced the Holy Name of Jesus. He added: “Praised be God! Blessed be God! May the holy will of God be done!” The old laughter seemed to come back to his face; those around could scarcely resist the contagion. After receiving the last sacraments, a papal blessing, and reciting the Litany of Our Lady, Joseph Desa of Cupertino died on the evening of September 18, 1663.

He was buried two days later in the chapel of the Immaculate Conception before great crowds of people.  Joseph was canonized on July 16, 1767, by Pope Clement XIII. In 1781, a large marble altar in the Church of St. Francis in Osimo was erected so that St. Joseph’s body might be placed beneath it; it has remained there ever since.

Even in the 17th century, there was interest in the unusual, and Joseph’s ecstasies in public caused both admiration and disturbance in the community. For 35 years he was not allowed to attend choir, go to the common refectory, walk in procession, or say Mass in church.

To prevent making a spectacle, he was ordered to remain in his room with a private chapel. He was brought before the Inquisition, and sent from one Capuchin or Franciscan house to another. But Joseph retained his joyous spirit, submitting to Divine Providence, keeping seven Lents of 40 days each year, never letting his faith be shaken.  St Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us!

St. Joseph is the patron saint of those traveling by air, astronauts, and is the patron saint of pilots who fly for the NATO Alliance. He is the patron of paratroopers and those serving in the Air Force. He is also the patron of students taking exams.  Cupertino, California, ranked as one of the most educated towns and world headquarters of Apple, Inc., is named after him.  Cupertino boasts some of the highest ranked schools in the State of California, and has THE highest ranked highest ranked grammar school, Faria.

St. Joseph of Cupertino Church, stjoscup.org, is the Catholic parish in Cupertino, California. A life-sized bronze statue of St. Joseph in mid-flight was installed in the church prayer garden in 2006. The area where the city of Cupertino, California is today was first named in honor of St. Joseph of Cupertino on March 25, 1776, when Spanish explorers under Captain Juan Bautista de Anza camped in the area and named a small river for the Italian saint. The river is today known as Stevens Creek.

A 1962 film, “The Reluctant Saint”, starring Maximilian Schell and Ricardo Montalban was made about the life of St Joseph of Cupertino.

St. Joseph of Cupertino’s story was made into a children’s book called “The Little Friar Who Flew,” written by Patricia Lee Gauch, pictures by Tomie de Paola. It was published in 1980 by Peppercorn Publishers (soft cover) and G. P. Putnam’s Sons (hard cover), New York. ISBN (hardcover): 0-399-20714-7. ISBN (soft cover, large format): 0-399-20741-4.

A comic book, entitled The Flying Friar, was published by Speakeasy Comics in 2006, written by Rich Johnston, drawn by Thomas Nachlik, and edited by Tom Mauer. It is a fictionalization of the life of St Joseph, influenced heavily by the plotlines and characters of the Smallville TV series – St. Joseph is presented as a Clark Kent allegory, with his best friend turned worst enemy being the fictitious “Lux Luthor,” a supposed descendant of Martin Luther. (Mea culpa to the Lutherans on this distribution.)

Read the blog entries on this site reflecting prayers to and prayers answered through the intercession of St Joseph of Cupertino:  http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=72.  In the investigation preceding his canonization, 70 incidents of levitation were recorded.

Straight lines, see!  🙂  God is Great!!!!!  Amen!  Amen!

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Prayer to St Joseph Cupertino

O Great St. Joseph of Cupertino, who while on earth did obtain from God the grace to be asked at your examination only the questions you knew, obtain for me a like favor in the examinations for which I am now preparing. In return I promise to make you known and cause you to be invoked.

Through Christ our Lord.

St. Joseph of Cupertino, pray for me.

O Holy Ghost, enlighten me

Our Lady of Good Studies, pray for me

Sacred Head of Jesus, Seat of divine wisdom, enlighten me.

Amen.

“Clearly, what God wants above all is our will which we received as a free gift from God in creation and possess as though our own. When a man trains himself to acts of virtue, it is with the help of grace from God from whom all good things come that he does this. The will is what man has as his unique possession.” – Saint Joseph of Cupertino, from the reading for his feast in the Franciscan breviary

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-tomb of St Joseph of Cupertino, Osimo, Italy.  Notice, please, how the angels hold aloft his sarcophagus.

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Love,
Matthew

Nov 16 – St Gertrude the Great, (1256?-1302)

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On August 14, 1988, nearly three months after I had graduated from college, in a simple, private ceremony with no family present, I received my white, Dominican habit at St Gertrude’s priory where the novitiate of the Eastern Province of the Dominicans in the US is hosted.

Parishioners were always giving the novices small gifts.  One artistic, mature, female parishioner who used to come all the time for vespers, gave each of us a small, oval wooden magnet on which she had created a lovely hand-painted picture of St Gertrude’s and our religious name.  Mine says “Br. Matthew”.  I still have it on our fridge here at home.  It is a keepsake.

Gertrude, a Benedictine nun in Helfta (Saxony), was one of the great mystics of the 13th century. Together with her friend and teacher St. Mechtild, she practiced a spirituality called “nuptial mysticism,” that is, she came to see herself as the bride of Christ. Her spiritual life was a deeply personal union with Jesus and his Sacred Heart, leading her into the very life of the Trinity.

We don’t know who her parents were or what became of them, and she may been an orphan. Gertrude was raised in the Benedictine abbey of Saint Mary of Helfta, Eisleben, Saxony from age five. An extremely bright and dedicated student, she excelled in literature and philosophy, and when she was old enough, became a Benedictine nun.

At age 26, when she had become too enamored of philosophy, she received a vision of Christ who reproached her; from then on she studied the Bible and the works of the Church Fathers. Gertrude received other visions and mystical instruction, which formed the basis of her writings. She helped spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  She had various mystical experiences, including a vision of Jesus, who invited her to rest her head on his breast to hear the beating of his heart. Her writings have been greatly praised by Saint Teresa and Saint Francis de Sales, and continue in print today.

But hers was no individualistic piety. Gertrude lived the rhythm of the liturgy, where she found Christ. In the liturgy and Scripture, she found the themes and images to enrich and express her piety. There was no clash between her personal prayer life and the liturgy.

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“Lord, you have granted me your secret friendship by opening the sacred ark of your divinity, your deified heart, to me in so many ways as to be the source of all my happiness; sometimes imparting it freely, sometimes as a special mark of our mutual friendship. You have so often melted my soul with your loving caresses that, if I did not know the abyss of your overflowing condescensions ( voluntary assumption by the deity of equality with a creature regarded as inferior out of love), I should be amazed were I told that even your Blessed Mother had been chosen to receive such extraordinary marks of tenderness and affection” (Adapted from The Life and Revelations of Saint Gertrude).

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St Gertrude’s Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

“O Sacred Heart of Jesus, fountain of eternal life, Your Heart is a glowing furnace of Love. You are my refuge and my sanctuary. O my adorable and loving Savior, consume my heart with the burning fire with which Yours is aflamed. Pour down on my soul those graces which flow from Your love. Let my heart be united with Yours. Let my will be conformed to Yours in all things. May Your Will be the rule of all my desires and actions. Amen.”

St Gertrude showed “tender sympathy towards the souls in purgatory” and urged prayers for them. She is therefore invoked for souls in purgatory.  Perhaps for that reason, to her name has been attached a prayer that, according to a legend of uncertain origin and date (neither are found in the Revelations of Saint Gertrude the Great), Our Lord promised to release a thousand souls from purgatory each time it was said. The prayer was extended to include living sinners as well.

“Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the Universal Church, for those in my own home and within my family. Amen.”

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-St Gertrude, by Miguel Cabrera, 1763

In the above iconography of St Gertrude, you can see the Infant Jesus expressing the words “In corde Gertrudis inueunictis me” = “In the heart of Gertrude, you will find Me”.

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, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine