Aug 10 – St Lawrence of Rome, 225-258 AD, Deacon & Martyr

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We know very little about his life. He is one of those whose martyrdom made a deep and lasting impression on the early Church. Celebration of his feast day spread rapidly.

He was a Roman deacon under Pope St. Sixtus II, whose demise we learned about a few days ago. Three days after this pope was put to death, Lawrence and four more clerics also suffered martyrdom, during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian.

A well-known legend has persisted from earliest times. As a deacon in Rome, and as you may recall from Sts Timothy & Maura, deacons, in addition to their liturgical role, also typically each were assigned some practical matter to attend to:  the discipline of the assembled congregation, keeping of books/scriptures (Timothy), or acting as treasurer for the local Church, etc..

Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church in Rome, and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, and that the Emperor sought to extort, most likely by means of torture, the wealth of the Church.  While he still had time, Lawrence gathered the wealth, liquidated it and then he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the Church money he could get his hands on, selling even the sacred vessels with which the Mass is said to increase the sum.

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The prefect of Rome imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.”

Lawrence replied that the Church was indeed rich. “I will show you a great treasure. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.” After three days Lawrence gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect of Rome arrived, Lawrence simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”

The prefect was so angry he told Lawrence that he would indeed have his wish to die—but it would be by inches. He had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered in agony for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, “I am well done on this side. Turn me over!”

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-Lawrence before Valerianus, fresco, 1447-1450, Fra Angelico, (1395-1455), Pinacoteca Vaticana

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-The shrine in Rome containing the gridiron said to have been used to grill Saint Lawrence to death

Lawrence’s remains were buried in the cemetery of Saint Cyriaca on the road to Tivoli, Italy; tomb was opened by Pelagius to inter the body of Saint Stephen the Martyr; his mummified head removed to the Quirinal Chapel; the gridiron believed to have been his deathbed is in San Lorenzo in Lucina; garments in Our Lady’s Chapel in the Lateran Palace.

According to Christian legend, the Holy Grail is a relic that was sent by St. Lawrence to his parents in Spain as part of his dispersal of the Church’s treasure. While the Holy Chalice’s exact journey through the centuries is disputed, it is generally accepted by Catholics that the Chalice was sent by his family to a monastery for preservation and veneration. Historical records indicate that this chalice has been venerated and preserved by a number of monks and monasteries through the ages. Today the Holy Grail is venerated in a special chapel in the Catholic Cathedral of Valencia, Spain, in the region of St. Lawrence’s birth and early life.

With the robe of joyfulness, alleluia,
Our Lord has this day clothed His soldier, Lawrence.
May Your faithfuls’ joyous assembly clap their hands
More cheerfully than they have before.
Today the noble martyr offered pleasing sacrifice to God,
Today he, being cruelly tested,
Endured unto the end the torment of fire;
And shrank not from offering his limbs to punishments most cruel.
Before the ruler he is summoned,
And settlement is made upon the Church’s hidden holdings.
But he is unmoved by enticing words, and is unshaken
By the torments of the ruler’s avarice.
Valerian is laughed to scorn,
And the deacon’s liberal hand,
When he is asked for payments,
Gave the gathered poor.
For he was their minister of charity,
Giving them abundance from his means.
Therefore the prefect is enraged,
And a glowing bed made ready.
The torment-bearing instrument,
The gridiron of his suffering,
Roasted his very flesh,
But he laughed it to scorn.
The martyr sweats in his agony,
In hopes of crown and recompense
Which is allotted those with faith,
Who struggle for the sake of Christ.
The court of heaven rejoices
For his warfare-waging,
For he has prevailed this day
Against the lackeys of wickedness.
That we, then, may attain the gift of life,
By this our patron, be glad, O our choir,
Singing in the church upon his feast-day
A joyful alleluia.

from the Mass of Saint Lawrence, Old Sarum Rite Missal, 1998, Saint Hilarion Press

Love,
Matthew

Aug 15 – St Tarcisius of Rome, Martyr, 3rd century AD, Patron of Catholic Youth & Altar Servers

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Recently, there have been several news stories involving the disrespect and desecration of the Eucharist.  Earlier this year, on July 7, 2008, a student at the University of Central Florida, Webster Cook, a student senator, took a Eucharistic host hostage after receiving communion in the student chapel on campus in protest of student fees used for religious services.  He was confronted by ushers as he attempted to leave the chapel with the Host.  He was finally convinced to return the Host.  He was censured by the entire student senate for his actions.

On July 10, 2008, a professor at the University of Minnesota-Morris, Paul Zachary Myers, pledged to desecrate the Eucharistic and asked online if someone would please send him “a frackin’ cracker!  Can anyone score me some?  I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly…and treat it with profound disrespect and cracker abuse” on his faculty page of the University’s website.

These are both truly ironic, as well as being sad, since it was the Catholic Church which invented the university system.

We speak a lot about and give high praise and regard in this country regarding tolerance of all types of differences among us, as an educated and enlightened view.  Apparently, in reality, we haven’t come that far.  On July 24, 2008, Myers made good on his pledge.  His university blog recorded “I pierced it with a rusty nail and then threw it in the trash.”  He also tore pages from the Koran. He also stated online “Nothing must be held sacred.”

As most of you know and all of you can guess, these acts are most serious and most offensive to Catholic sensibilities.  They incur excommunication “latae sententiae”, or, automatically, w/o the necessity of any judgment by an ecclesiastical court, assuming, of course, the person was Roman Catholic to begin with.  These acts are taken with the same seriousness by the Church as the following:

  • abortion
  • using violent force against the pope
  • committing a sacrilege such as throwing away a consecrated host
  • absolving a person with whom one has committed a sin against the sixth commandment (sins against chastity)
  • consecrating a bishop without a pontifical mandate
  • directly violating the seal of confession, and
  • formal apostasy, heresy or schism

Before the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there were two degrees of excommunication: vitandus (shunned, literally “to be avoided”, where the person had to be avoided by other Catholics, and in some respects the Christian commandment for faithful Catholics to “love one’s enemies, and pray for one’s persecutors” was also transcended in regards to this person, since they had known the mercy of the Lord, and by conscious act of their will, had separated themselves from the Body of Christ, rejecting it, as opposed to one who had never been baptized, never come to accept the Lord’s mercy), and toleratus (tolerated, which permitted Catholics to continue to have business and social relationships with the excommunicant).

This distinction no longer applies today, and excommunicated Catholics are still under obligation to attend Mass, even though they are barred from receiving the Eucharist or even taking active part in the liturgy (reading, bringing the offerings, etc.).  Indeed, the excommunicant is encouraged to retain some relationship with the Church, as the goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.

In the Middle Ages, formal acts of public excommunication were accompanied by a ceremony wherein a bell was tolled (as for the dead), the Book of the Gospels was closed, and a candle snuffed out – hence the idiom “to condemn with bell, book and candle.” Such public ceremonies are never held today, but exactly the same principles apply. Only in cases where a person’s excommunicable offense is very public and likely to confuse people – as in an apostate bishop ordaining new bishops in public defiance of the Church – is a person’s excommunicated status even announced, and that usually by a simple statement from a church official.

These news stories immediately brought to my mind the story of St Tarcisius, which has always been one of my favorites since I was a boy, as would be natural for a young person, given the youth of St Tarcisius.  Kelly and I facilitate pre-cana at St Tarcissus (a spelling variation) Parish here in Chicago.

Pope Damasus I (305-383 AD) wrote the following poem in the 4th century AD in praise of Tarcisius.  During the persecution of the Emporer Valerian,  (253-260 AD), whom we heard about recently as the cause of Sixtus’ & Lawrence’s demise, and whom himself, according to some accounts, met a most inauspicious fate, but that is a story for another time when you buy me a drink; but, suffice to say it became too dangerous for priests during his reign to take the Blessed Sacrament to Christian prisoners in Rome.  So, boys who served the priests during Mass at the altar volunteered for the dangerous duty, it was believed the pagans were less aware of who they were.

Par meritum, quicumque legis, cognosce duorum,
quis Damasus rector titulos post praemia reddit.
Iudaicus populus Stephanum meliora monentem
perculerat saxis, tulerat qui ex hoste tropaeum,
martyrium primus rapuit leuita fidelis.
Tarsicium sanctum Christi sacramenta gerentem
cum male sana manus premeret uulgare profanis,
ipse animam potius uoluit dimittere caesus
prodere quam canibus rabidis caelestia membra.

-Damasi Epigrammata, Maximilian Ihm, 1895, n. 14

“You who read (this), know the equal worth of the two men
For whom the leader Damasus restored the glories after the rewards.
The Jewish people beat down Stephen, teaching better things, with stones,
He who bore the victory away from the enemy first seized martyrdom, a faithful deacon.
When a crowd badly forced holy Tarsicius, carrying the healthful sacraments of Christ,
To spread (them) to  wicked people,
He wished to lose his life, murdered,
Rather than to display heavenly portions to mad dogs.”

“At Rome, on the Appian way, the passion of St. Tarcisius the acolyte,
whom pagans met carrying the sacrament of the Body of Christ
and asked him what it was he was carrying.
He deemed it a shameful thing to cast pearls before the swine,
and so was assaulted by them for a long time with clubs and stones
until he gave up the ghost.
When they turned over his body, the sacrilegious assailants could find no trace
of Christ’s Sacrament either in his hands or in his clothing.
The Christians took up the body of the martyr and buried it with honor in the cemetery of Callistus.”

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-Alexandre Falguière, (1831–1900), Tarcisius, Christian martyr, 1868, Musée d’Orsay, marble

He was originally buried in the Catacombs of San Callisto, but today his relics rest in the San Silvestro in Capite church in Rome. His feast day is celebrated on 15 August, but, since that day is occupied by the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, he is not mentioned in the General Roman Calendar, but only in the Roman Martyrology.

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-St Tarcisius  statue over his tomb.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 20 – St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Doctor of the Church, Doctor Mellifluus, Doctor of Mercy

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-“Christ embracing St Bernard“, by Francisco Ribalta, ca 1625-1627.

While a Dominican novice, right after college, I was assigned to write a report on St Bernard of Clairvaux.  I know him better now.  I hope you appreciate him, too.

When the subject of the Crusades comes up in cocktail party conversation, as it oft tends to do…just kidding.  But, seriously, some “enlightened” moderns, injecting the cardinal sin of presentism into their study of history, say, “You Christians!  Specifically, you Catholics!  How could you?  How dare you?”

Being the devil’s gadfly, I like to respond, calmly, after a brief pause so all can recapture their breath, “Imagine if today, a Christian army, as if that could occur today, were to invade Saudi Arabia and capture and hold, without ever the prospect of likely leaving, the holy cities of Mecca & Medina, such that Muslims might likely be denied access to two of their holiest shrines, and the pilgrimage to one a central tenet of their faith?  What would the reaction of the Muslim world be?  Not to pick on the Muslim world, it’s just that example might most clearly demonstrate my point for me that human nature and its inevitable reactions, even in our modern, “enlightened” world might not be that unique to Christians or, specifically, Catholics.

Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But the “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days.

In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light.

His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know.

Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope.

The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster.

Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.

Bernard’s life in the Church was more active than we can imagine possible today. His efforts produced far-reaching results. But he knew that they would have availed little without the many hours of prayer and contemplation that brought him strength and heavenly direction. His life was characterized by a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. His sermons and books about Mary are still the standard of Marian theology.

“Wherefore, O Eve, hasten to Mary; hasten, O Mother, to your daughter. Let the daughter answer for the mother; let her take away her mother’s reproach; let her satisfy also for her father Adam, for if he fell by a woman, behold, he is now raised up by a woman. God gave a woman in exchange for a woman; a prudent woman for one that was foolish; a humble woman for one who was proud; one who, instead of the fruit of death, shall give you to eat of the tree of life, and who, in place of the poisoned food of bitterness, will bring forth the fruit of everlasting sweetness.” -St Bernard of Clairvaux

“In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may more surely obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal” -St Bernard of Clairvaux

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Love,
Matthew

Aug 25 – St Joseph Calasanz (1556-1648), Patron of Catechists

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I first encountered St Joseph Calasanz in my hagiography in 2007.  I discovered him at a time I most needed him.  Truly, it was (like) an answered prayer, a healing balm to faith.  I understood and could accept.

I wanted to see if I could find a St Joseph Calasanz medal.  I googled the order he founded, the Piarists, and they do exist in this country, mostly in the east, in about a half dozen places.  I contacted one of their main houses in this country in Pennsylvania, and the kind Father their informed me they did not keep a stock of such things here in this country and that no Catholic religious goods store was likely to carry them.  He suggested I contact the mother house in Rome, which I did.

I don’t speak Italian, but I haggled, it felt like, with one of the Scolopi at the mother house in Rome for about ten minutes.  We didn’t get far, I feel.  He only spoke Italian.  I did send an email via the website, but it went unanswered for a long time, granted it was Summer in Europe where not much gets done, particularly in August.  I even asked a friend who had recently returned from Rome and had some fresh contacts if they could help.  Eventually, lo and behold, a package arrived from Rome containing many St Joseph Calasanz holy cards and two medals.

One medal I put on the rosary I never use, but was given me by the young, attractive, blonde Dominican sister whose classroom I was the “mascot” of when I was a novice.  It is the most beautiful, yet masculine, rosary I have ever received.  It was made in France.  I have left instructions with Kelly I wish to be buried, if possible, holding that rosary.  The other I added to my Beloved cross I possess as a member of the Old St Patrick’s Beloved Community.  I wear these medals concealed when I most need external strength and confidence in the challenge or uncomfortable moment I am about to face.

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From Aragon, in Spain, where he was born in 1556, to Rome, where he died 92 years later, fortune alternately smiled and frowned on the work of Joseph Calasanz.

A priest with university training in canon law and theology, respected for his wisdom and administrative expertise, he put aside his career because he was deeply concerned with the need for education of poor children.

When he was unable to get other institutes to undertake this apostolate at Rome, he and several companions personally provided a free school for deprived children. So overwhelming was the response that there was a constant need for larger facilities to house their effort. Soon Pope Clement VIII gave support to the school, and this aid continued under Pope Paul V. Other schools were opened; other men were attracted to the work and in 1621 the community (for so the teachers lived) was recognized as a religious community, the Clerks Regular of Religious Schools (Piarists or Scolopi). Not long after, Joseph was appointed superior for life.

A combination of various prejudices and political ambition and maneuvering caused the institute much turmoil. Some did not favor educating the poor, for education would leave the poor dissatisfied with their lowly tasks for society! Others were shocked that some of the Piarists were sent for instruction to Galileo (a friend of Joseph) as superior, thus dividing the members into opposite camps. Repeatedly investigated by papal commissions, Joseph was demoted; when the struggle within the institute persisted, the Piarists were suppressed. Only after Joseph’s death were they formally recognized as a religious community.

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Meditation:

No one knew better than Joseph the need for the work he was doing; no one knew better than he how baseless were the charges brought against him. Yet if he were to work within the Church, he realized that he must submit to its authority, that he must accept a setback if he was unable to convince authorized investigators.

While the prejudice, the scheming, and the ignorance of human beings often keep the truth from emerging for a long period of time, Joseph was convinced, even under suppression, that his institute would again be recognized and authorized. With this trust he joined exceptional patience and a genuine spirit of forgiveness.

Even in the days after his own demotion, Joseph protected his persecutors against his enraged partisans; and when the community was suppressed, he stated with Job, to whom he was often compared: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21b).

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“Everyone knows the great merit and dignity attached to that holy ministry in which young people, especially the poor, receive instruction for the purpose of attaining eternal life. This ministry is directed to the well-being of body and soul; at the same time, that it shapes behavior it also fosters devotion and Christian doctrine.

Moreover the strongest support is provided not only to protect the young from evil, but also to rouse them and attract them more easily and gently to the performance of good works. Like the twigs of plants, the young are easily influenced, as long as someone works to change their souls. But if they are allowed to grow hard, we know well that the possibility of one day bending them diminishes a great deal and is sometimes utterly lost.

All who undertake to teach must be endowed with deep love, the greatest of patience, and, most of all, profound humility. They must perform their work with earnest zeal. Then, through their humble prayers, the Lord will find them worthy to become fellow workers with Him in the cause of Truth. He will console them in the fulfillment of this most noble duty, and finally, will enrich them with the gift of heaven.

As Scripture says, ‘But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, And those who lead the many to justice shall shine like the stars forever.’ (Dan 12:3) They will attain this more easily if they make a covenant of perpetual obedience and strive to cling to Christ and please Him alone, because, in His words, ‘What you did to one of the least of my brethren, you did to me.’(Mt 25:40)”
– from the writings of Saint Joseph Calasanz

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“Lord, You blessed Saint Joseph Calasanz with such charity and patience that he dedicated himself to the formation of Christian youth. As we honor this teacher of wisdom may we follow his example in working for the Truth.   Amen.”
– opening prayer for the Mass for Saint Joseph Calasanz

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-last Holy Communion of St Joseph Calasanz,, 1819, by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), oil on canvas, 43 x 33 cm, Gallery: Musee Bonn at, Bayonne, France

Love,
Matthew

Jan 6 – Rev. Gregor Mendel, OSA, (1822-1884), “Father of Modern Genetics”, Man of Science, Man of God

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As a professional applied scientist and a man of faith, I often hear, even from fellow Catholics, “How can that be?”  I respond, “How can what be?”  “Faith & Science together…in the same person?…in the same mind?…How can that be?”  If they are a little educated, I will also get, “What about Galileo?”

There is no contradiction.  In all my professional training, almost all in public schools except for one master’s degree, and even then you could hardly tell that school was Catholic, as is the schizophrenia of “Catholic identity” in our (Catholic) higher ed, I have never encountered any scientific topic which contradicted my Catholic faith.  None.  In conjunction, in all my amateur study of the Catholic faith, I have never encountered any article of faith or doctrine which contradicted my scientific training.  None. Never. Ever.  Amen.

In fact, modern physics takes even the scientist’s breath away with awe.  Romans 11:33.

Dr. Stephen Hawking who recently appeared in the documentary Curiosity on the Discover Channel concluding, “God does not exist!”  It is embarrassing for all scientists, irregardless of specialty, with even the slightest training in the scientific method, when such a famous one of us reach’s a very public conclusion not based on science, but on bias and prejudice.  Not very scientific, doctor.  No, not very scientific, indeed.  I have since offered my services to the Discover Channel as an expert, especially if that is the level of science they care to offer.

Dr. Hawking’s conclusion was that God did not exist since nothing, including God, existed before the Big Bang, as first proposed by Msgr Georges LeMaitre.  The basis of Dr. Hawking’s conclusion is that nothing existed.  No matter or energy existed.  That fallaciously assumes God is matter or energy.  ?  Dr. Hawking, even a budding high school science student would not presume to assume the Almighty was relegated to the domain of matter or energy.  Convenient for a desired conclusion, but intellectually and scientifically bankrupt.

The Church has an expression for it:  Fides et Ratio = Faith and Reason.  There is no contradiction.  If one carefully studies the Galileo affair, one will quickly find both sides were answering a different question, how so many misunderstandings commence, and no one will defend Messr. Galileo’s tact.  Not even his daughter, Virginia, or by her religious name, Suor Maria Celeste, a cloistered nun of the San Mateo Convent, Arcetri, and some say his closest confidant and advisor, even scientifically.  She had his brains, no?  Messr. Galileo is especially untactful when he mocks in word and illustration as a simpleton and a fool the then pope, who up until the publishing of Galileo’s book had been his friend, benefactor, and supporter.  Not very politic, Messr. Galileo.  Not very politic.

———————————————————–

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“Pea hybrids form germinal and pollen cells that in their composition correspond in equal numbers to all the constant forms resulting from the combination of traits united through fertilization.”

Gregor Johann Mendel was born on July 22, 1822 to peasant parents in a small agrarian town in Czechoslovakia. During his childhood he worked as a gardener, and as a young man attended the Olmutz Philosophical Institute.  From 1840 to 1843, he studied practical and theoretical philosophy as well as physics at the University of Olomouc Faculty of Philosophy.  In 1843 he entered an Augustinian monastery in Brunn, Czechoslovakia. Soon afterward, his natural interest in science and specifically hereditary science led him to start experiments with the pea plant.  Mendel’s attraction for scientific research was based on his love of nature in general. He was not only interested in plants, but also in meteorology and theories of evolution. However, it is his work with the pea plant that changed the world of science forever.

His beautifully designed experiments with pea plants were the first to focus on the numerical relationships among traits appearing in the progeny of hybrids.  His interpretation for this phenomenon was that material and unchanging hereditary “elements” undergo segregation and independent assortment.  These elements are then passed on unchanged (except in arrangement) to offspring thus yielding a very large, but finite number of possible variations.

Mendel often wondered how plants obtained atypical characteristics. On one of his frequent walks around the monastery, he found an atypical variety of an ornamental plant. He took it and planted it next to the typical variety. He grew their progeny side by side to see if there would be any approximation of the traits passed on to the next generation. This experiment was “designed to support or to illustrate Lamarck’s views concerning the influence of environment upon plants.”  He found that the plants’ respective offspring retained the essential traits of the parents, and therefore were not influenced by the environment. This simple test gave birth to the idea of heredity.

Overshadowing the creative brilliance of Mendel’s work is the fact that it was virtually ignored for 34 years. Only after the dramatic rediscovery of Mendel’s work in 1900 (16 years after Mendel’s death) was he rightfully recognized as the founder of genetics.

Why Peas?

Pisum sativum

Mendel was well aware that there were certain preconditions that had to be carefully established before commencing investigations into the inheritance of characteristics. The parental plants must be known to possess constant and differentiating characteristics.  To establish this condition, Mendel took an entire year to test “true breeding” (non-hybrid) family lines, each having constant characteristics.   The experimental plants also needed to produce flowers that would be easy to protect against foreign pollen.  The special shape of the flower of the Leguminosae family, with their enclosed styles, drew his attention.  On trying several from this family, he finally selected the garden pea plant (Pisum sativum) as being most ideal for his needs.  Mendel also picked the common garden pea plant because it can be grown in large numbers and its reproduction can be manipulated.  As with many other flowering plants, pea plants have both male and female reproductive organs.  As a result, they can either self-pollinate themselves or cross-pollinate with other plants. In his experiments, Mendel was able to selectively cross-pollinate purebred plants with particular traits and observe the outcome over many generations.  This was the basis for his conclusions about the nature of genetic inheritance.

Mendel observed seven pea plant traits that are easily recognized in one of two forms:

1.        Flower color: purple or white

2.        Flower position: axial or terminal

3.        Stem length: long or short

4.        Seed shape: round or wrinkled

5.        Seen color: yellow or green

6.        Pod shape: inflated or constricted

7.        Pod color: yellow or green


Mendel’s Law of Segregation

Mendel’s hypothesis essentially has four parts. The first part or “law” states that, “Alternative versions of genes account for variations in inherited characters.” In a nutshell, this is the concept of alleles. Alleles are different versions of genes that impart the same characteristic.  For example, each pea plant has two genes that control pea texture.  There are also two possible textures (smooth and wrinkled) and thus two different genes for texture.

The second law states that, “For each character trait (ie: height, color, texture etc.) an organism inherits two genes, one from each parent.”  This statement alludes to the fact that when somatic cells are produced from two gametes, one allele comes from the mother, one from the father. These alleles may be the same (true-breeding organisms), or different (hybrids).

The third law, in relation to the second, declares that, “If the two alleles differ, then one, the dominant allele, is fully expressed in the organism’s appearance; the other, the recessive allele, has no noticeable effect on the organism’s appearance.”

The fourth law states that, “The two genes for each character segregate during gamete production.”   This is the last part of Mendel’s generalization. This references meiosis when the chromosome count is changed from the diploid number to the haploid number. The genes are sorted into separate gametes, ensuring variation.  This sorting process depends on genetic “recombination.”  During this time, genes mix and match in a random and yet very specific way.  Genes for each trait only trade with genes of the same trait on the opposing strand of DNA so that all the traits are covered in the resulting offspring.  For example, color genes do not trade off with genes for texture.  Color genes only trade off with color genes from the opposing allelic sight as do texture genes and all other genes.  The result is that each gamete that is produced by the parent is uniquely different as far as the traits that it codes for from every other gamete that is produced.  For many creatures, this available statistical variation is so huge that in all probability, no two identical offspring will ever be produced even given trillions of years of time.

So, since a pea plant carries two genes, it can have both of its genes be the same.  Both genes could be “smooth” genes or they could both be “wrinkled” genes.  If both genes are the same, the resulting pea will of course be consistent.  However, what if the genes are different or “hybrid”?  One gene will then have “dominance” over the other “recessive” gene.  The dominant trait will then be expressed.  For example, if the smooth gene (A) is the dominant gene and the wrinkle gene (a) is the recessive gene, a plant with the “Aa” genotype will produce smooth peas.  Only an “aa” plant will produce wrinkled peas.  For instance, the pea flowers are either purple or white.  Intermediate colors do not appear in the offspring of these cross-pollinated plants.

The observation that there are inheritable traits that do not show up in intermediate forms was critically important because the leading theory in biology at the time was that inherited traits blend from generation to generation (Charles Darwin and most other cutting-edge scientists in the 19th century accepted this “blending theory.”).  Of course there are exceptions to this general rule.  Some genes are now known to be “incompletely dominant.”  In this situation, the “dominant gene has incomplete expression in the resulting phenotype causing a “mixed” phenotype.  For example, some plants have “incomplete dominant” color genes such as white and red flower genes.  A hybrid of this type of plant will produce pink flowers.  Other genes are known to be “co-dominant” where both alleles are equally expressed in the phenotype.  An example of co-dominant alleles is human blood typing.  If a person has both “A” and “B” genes, they will have an “AB” blood type.  Some traits are inherited through the combination of many genes acting together to produce a certain effect.  This type of inheritance is called “polygenetic.”  Examples of polygenetic inheritance are human height, skin color, and body form.  In all of these cases however, the genes (alleles) themselves remain unchanged.  They are transmitted from parent to offspring through a process of random genetic recombination that can be calculated statistically.  For example, the odds of a dominant trait being expressed over a recessive trait in a two-gene allelic system where both parents are hybrids are 3:1.  If only one parent is a hybrid and the other parent has both dominant alleles, then 100% of the offspring will express the dominant trait.  If one parent has both recessive alleles and the other parent is a hybrid, then the offspring will have a phenotypic ratio of 1:1.

Mendel’s Law of Independent Assortment

The most important principle of Mendel’s Law of Independent Assortment is that the emergence of one trait will not affect the emergence of another. For example, a pea plant’s inheritance of the ability to produce purple flowers instead of white ones does not make it more likely that it would also inherit the ability to produce yellow peas in contrast to green ones.  Mendel’s findings allowed other scientists to simplify the emergence of traits to mathematical probability (While mixing one trait always resulted in a 3:1 ratio between dominant and recessive phenotypes, his experiments with two traits showed 9:3:3:1 ratios).

Mendel was so successful largely thanks to his careful and nonpassionate use of the scientific method. Also, his choice of peas as a subject for his experiments was quite fortunate.  Peas have a relatively simple genetic structure and Mendel could always be in control of the plants’ breeding. When Mendel wanted to cross-pollinate a pea plant he needed only to remove the immature stamens of the plant. In this way he was always sure of each plants’ parents. Mendel made certain to start his experiments only with true breeding plants. He also only measured absolute characteristics such as color, shape, and texture of the offspring. His data was expressed numerically and subjected to statistical analysis. This method of data reporting and the large sampling size he used gave credibility to his data. He also had the foresight to look through several successive generations of his pea plants and record their variations. Without his careful attention to procedure and detail, Mendel’s work could not have had the same impact that it has made on the world of genetics.

Some of the “greatest minds”? of our generation comment on the importance of science education for our youth.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYuOKb3gO7E&feature=mr_meh&list=FLA5FfORE3_g_3bVcKeb4qVw&lf=plpp_video&playnext=0
Hey, how ‘bout that Internet thing?  Not bad, huh?  🙂

Scientifically yours,  Happy New Year!
Matthew

Aug 11 – Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, Cong. Orat., (1801-1890), Patron of the RCIA – Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults

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Cardinal John Henry Newman, CO, DD, by Sir John Everett Millais, 1881.

Catholic education.  Those words in many minds and places are synonymous.  Deo gratias.  The Church created the university system in medieval Europe, emerging from the training of monks and clerics, at the turn of the first millenia of Christianity to the second.  Fides et ratio, faith and reason; there is no conflict in the Catholic mind, or at least there should not be.  The intellect is a gift from God.  Catholics believe its use is proper, expected by God, a form of praise of its Creator, and the proper formation of conscience is essential to the assent to Faith.  The fundamental purpose of a university education is to seek and discover truth. Through this discovery, man comes to an understanding of God, himself, and the created order.  Gaudium et veritate – the joy of truth.

Credo ut intelligam – I believe that I may understand.  Intellego ut credam – I understand that I may believe.  Fides quaerens intellectum – faith seeking understanding.  (St Anselm, ora pro nobis.)  I often say to people, “I am a man of faith, not superstition.”  I am also a professional and professionally trained applied scientist.  Nothing I have ever studied as an engineer or computer scientist has ever contradicted my Catholic beliefs, quite the contrary.  How marvelous is the creation of the Almighty.  How inscrutable His designs. (cf Romans 11:33)

A much bandied about term these days in Catholic higher education is “Catholic identity”.  Very, very, over simply put it “means” if you attended a Catholic institution of learning, could you tell?  Really?  How different is it attending Catholic U vs State U?  Really.  How and to what degree is debatable.  And, IT IS!  Trust me.

I keep trying to remind others who want more uniformity in the Church, Catholic means “universal”, not “uniform”.  At the same time, overly shielding others who have chosen to voluntarily attend a Catholic university is, at least, intellectually dishonest, IMHO, and possibly an immoral omission.  This in some not quite understandable, on my part, assent to “diversity”, mea culpa, as if “diversity” were a greater good than the Gospel?  (cf Rom 1:16)  I don’t understand.  I just think of all the Catholic martyrs who embraced their passion rather than equivocate, and I understand even less.  Would the Lord understand?  Would the canonized founder understand, if modern members of the family he/she founded tried to explain “how the world works now” and convince them?  I am incredulous.  Love is unreasonable, literally.  Love is terrifying in what it may and does ask. (cf Mt 10:34-36)

The dean of Catholic studies of a major Catholic institution, a dear friend, said to me, as I recall the conversation, mea culpa if I misquote, the President of the university had given this person the assignment to conduct a dialogue with the faculty, “Who owns the Catholic identity of the university?”  This question was posed to me as we walked together.  I thought for a moment, and said,”Jesus.”  “You’re right,” I was told.  “Now, just convince the faculty of that!”

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John Henry Newman was born on 21st February, 1801, in London, the eldest son of a London banker. His family were ordinary church-going members of the established Anglican Church, without any strong religious tendencies, though the young John Henry did learn at an early age to take a great delight in the Bible. He was sent to Ealing School in 1808, and it was there, eight years later, that he underwent a profound religious conversion, which was to determine the rest of his life as a quest for spiritual perfection. In 1817 he entered Trinity College, Oxford, where he was a very successful student. Five years later he was elected to a coveted Fellowship of leading Oriel College. He was ordained and worked, first as a curate in the poor Oxford Parish of Saint Clement’s, and then, from 1828, as Vicar of the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. There, his spiritual influence on parishioners and members of the University was truly enormous, particularly through his preaching, embodied in the Parochial and Plain Sermons. He worked as a College Tutor, and a little later began to research the first of his many theological works, “The Arians of the Fourth Century”. Newman was to be one of the foremost religious writers of his century.

In 1833 he went on a tour of the Mediterranean with a friend who was in very poor health. While in Sicily Newman himself fell desperately ill with fever. On his recovery it struck him that God had spared him to perform a special task in England. On his return home he eagerly set about organizing what was to become known as the Oxford Movement. The Movement, which spread rapidly, was intended to combat three evils threatening the Church of England – spiritual stagnation, interference from the state, and doctrinal unorthodoxy.

When studying the history of the early Christian Fathers in 1839, Newman received an unexpected shock, for it appeared that the position of his own Church bore a close resemblance to that of the early heretics. He was also worried when many of the Anglican Bishops denounced one of his works a few years later – some not just denouncing him, but also espousing erroneous positions themselves. He decided to retire partly from Oxford, and, joined by a few others a little later, he moved to quarters at the nearby hamlet of Littlemore. For three years he lived a strict religious life, praying for light and guidance. By 1845, as he was writing his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, he saw his way clear, and on 9th October he was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Father, now Blessed, Dominic Barberi. He had at last found ‘the One True Fold of the Redeemer’.

Conversion meant ostracism by friends and relatives. Undaunted, Newman set out for Rome to study for the priesthood. While there he became attracted by the idea of the Oratory – a Congregation of priests founded by Saint Philip Neri in the sixteenth century. He founded the first English Oratory at Maryvale, near Birmingham, in 1848, moving soon afterwards to Alcester Street, close to the town centre, where he converted a disused gin distillery into a chapel. They moved to a new and more permanent base in nearby Edgbaston three years later, and were engulfed by work among the poor Catholics of Birmingham, which was soon to become one of the new cities of the English Industrial Revolution.

In 1851 the Bishops of Ireland decided that a separate University should be established for Catholics, and invited Newman to become its founder and first Rector. It was a demanding task for an older man, but despite the strain of fifty six crossings to and from Ireland in seven years, he succeeded in establishing what is known today as University College, Dublin. From this period dates the important work “The Idea of a University” on the nature and scope of education, and the role of the Church in the context of a university.

When he returned to England, Newman faced a life of trials, as he was suspected and even resented by some in authority. Several projects which he took up, including a magazine for educated Catholics, a mission at Oxford, and a new translation of the Bible, met with rejection or failure. On the other hand, many of his publications in this period were well-received: the “Apologia pro Vita Sua” (1864), a biographical account of Newman’s conversion; the “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk” (1875), which considered the relationship between conscience and the authority of the Church; and the “Grammar of Assent” (1870), on human reasoning and the act of faith, which although not always well understood by his contemporaries, would become generally acknowledged as a major contribution to both philosophy and theology.

During old age, Newman continued in Birmingham, quietly writing, preaching and counseling (from the age of twenty three he had been above all a pastor – ‘a father of souls’) until, when seventy eight, a big surprise came. As a tribute to his extraordinary work and devotion, Pope Leo XIII made the unprecedented gesture of naming Newman, an ordinary priest, a Cardinal. After a life of trials the news came as a joyful relief and Newman declared ‘the cloud is lifted for ever’. Cardinal Newman died on 11th August 1890 and received a universal tribute of praise. The Times wrote: ‘whether Rome canonizes him or not he will be canonized in the thoughts of pious people of many creeds in England.’ The Cork Examiner affirmed that, ‘Cardinal Newman goes to his grave with the singular honor of being by all creeds and classes acknowledged as the just man made perfect.’

I have a place in God’s counsels, in God’s world, which no one else has; whether I be rich or poor, despised or esteemed by man,
God knows me and calls me by my name.
God has created me to do Him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission–I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
Somehow I am necessary for His purposes,
as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his
–if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham.
Yet I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught.
I shall do good, I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace,
a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it,
if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him.
Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him;
in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him;
if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end,
which is quite beyond us.
He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it;
He knows what He is about.
He may take away my friends,
He may throw me among strangers,
He may make me feel desolate,
make my spirits sink, hide the future from me
–still He knows what He is about.
– Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, Meditations on Christian Doctrine

http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=7459867

“Learn to do thy part and leave the rest to heaven.” -Bl. John Henry Newman

“With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty. We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every event.” -Bl. John Henry Newman

Love,
Matthew

Aug 9 – St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, (Edith Stein), OCD, (1891-1942), Martyr

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I love reading about people like Edith Stein.  I find I need a little inspiration every day and the example of a life well-lived to encourage me.  I hope you find the story of the life of Edith Stein inspiring, too.

Edith Stein (October 12, 1891 – August 9, 1942) was a German philosopher, a Carmelite nun, martyr, and saint of the Catholic Church, who died at Auschwitz. In 1922, she converted to Christianity, was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church and was received into the Discalced Carmelite Order in 1934. She was canonized as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (her Carmelite monastic name) by Pope John Paul II in 1998; however, she is still often referred to, and churches named for her as, “Saint Edith Stein”.

Stein was born in Breslau, in the German Empire’s Prussian Province of Silesia, into an Orthodox Jewish family.  She stopped believing in God at 14.

At the University of Göttingen, she became a student of Edmund Husserl, whom she followed to the University of Freiburg as his assistant. She became fascinated with Phenomenology, an approach to Philosophy.  In 1916, she received her doctorate of philosophy there with a dissertation under Husserl, “On The Problem of Empathy.” She then became a member of the faculty in Freiburg.

As a graduate student of the philosopher Edmund Husserl, Edith Stein decided to write her dissertation on empathy, the ability to become aware of what others are experiencing. At the outbreak of World War I, however, Edith Stein deferred her philosophical studies and volunteered as a nurse’s aide at a military hospital in Moravia.

Far from distracting her from her philosophical pursuits, this time of service was a providential opportunity to learn more deeply the meaning of empathy. Each day, she assisted patients who were difficult to communicate with because of barriers of language and debilitation, trying to understand how and why they were suffering so as to be able to assist them or to communicate their symptoms to a doctor. According to Alasdair MacIntyre, this constant exposure to suffering and death helped Stein to later articulate in philosophical terms “what it is to be with and to be there for others, when they are confronting the possibility of imminent death.”

Several years later, while visiting the recently widowed Anna Reinach, Stein was astounded to find that though she had come to comfort her friend, it was in fact Reinach who comforted Stein. Years later, Stein was able to understand that this visit with Reinach, who had been baptized with her husband shortly before his death, was her “first encounter with the cross and the divine power that it bestows on those who carry it. For the first time I was seeing with my very eyes the church, born from its Redeemer’s sufferings, triumphant over the sting of death.”

While Stein had earlier contacts with Catholicism, it was her reading the autobiography of the mystic St. Teresa of Ávila on a holiday in Göttingen in 1921 that caused her conversion. Baptized on January 1, 1922, she gave up her assistantship with Husserl to teach at a Dominican girls’ school in Speyer from 1922 to 1932. While there she translated Thomas Aquinas’ De Veritate (On Truth) into German and familiarized herself with Catholic philosophy in general. In 1932 she became a lecturer at the Institute for Pedagogy at Münster, but anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Nazi government forced her to resign the post in 1933. In a letter to Pope Pius XI, she denounced the Nazi regime and asked the Pope to openly denounce the regime “to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name.”

She entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery at Cologne in 1934 and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. There she wrote her metaphysical book “Endliches und Ewiges Sein,” which tries to combine the philosophies of Aquinas and Husserl.

To avoid the growing Nazi threat, her order transferred Stein to the Carmelite monastery at Echt in the Netherlands. There she wrote Studie über Joannes a Cruce: Kreuzeswissenschaft (“The Science of the Cross: Studies on John of the Cross”).

However, Stein was not safe in the Netherlands—the Dutch Bishops’ Conference had a public statement read in all the churches of the country on July 20, 1942, condemning Nazi racism. In a retaliatory response on July 26, 1942, the Reichskommissar of the Netherlands, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts, who had previously been spared. Stein and her sister Rosa, also a convert, were captured and shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they died in the gas chambers on August 9, 1942.

The writings of Edith Stein fill 17 volumes, many of which have been translated into English.  Sister Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D., translator of several of Edith’s books, sums up this saint with the phrase, “Learn to live at God’s hands.”

In his homily at the canonization Mass, Pope John Paul II said: “…A few days before her deportation, the woman religious had dismissed the question about a possible rescue: ‘Do not do it! Why should I be spared? Is it not right that I should gain no advantage from my Baptism? If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters, my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed.’”

Addressing himself to the young people gathered for the canonization, the Pope said: “Your life is not an endless series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.”

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“God is there in these moments of rest and can give us in a single instant exactly what we need. Then the rest of the day can take its course, under the same effort and strain, perhaps, but in peace. And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him. Then you will be able to rest in Him — really rest — and start the next day as a new life.” – St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

“O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You. Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me, and I shall meet it with peace.” – St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

“Learn from St. Thérèse to depend on God alone and serve Him with a wholly pure and detached heart. Then, like her, you will be able to say ‘I do not regret that I have given myself up to Love’.” – St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

“One cannot desire freedom from the Cross when one is especially chosen for the Cross.” -St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross 

“The nation doesn’t simply need what we have. It needs who we are.” -St. Teresa Benedicta

“Whoever is near us and needing us must be our ‘neighbor’; it does not matter whether he is related to us or not, whether he is morally worthy of our help or not. The love of Christ knows no limits. It never ends; it does not shrink from ugliness and filth.” -St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

“O Prince of Peace, to all who receive You, You bright light and peace. Help me to live in daily contact with You, listening to the words You have spoken and obeying them. O Divine Child, I place my hands in Yours; I shall follow You. Oh, let Your divine life flow into me.

I will go unto the altar of God. It is not myself and my tiny little affairs that matter here, but the great sacrifice of atonement. I surrender myself entirely to Your divine will, O Lord. Make my heart grow greater and wider, out of itself into the Divine Life.

O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You. Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me and I shall met with peace.

How wondrous are the marvels of your love, We are amazed, we stammer and grow dumb, for word and spirit fail us.”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 14 – St Maximilian Kolbe, (1894-1941)

St. Maximilian Kolbe

I find I need REAL sinners in my relating towards my own sinfulness and redemption.  I love Jesus, and He is my constant inspiration, dare I say companion, but it can be a little hard to relate to an infinitely transcendant God, at least for me, on a constant basis.  Maybe you get it, but I struggle.

My fellow mortals, on the other hand, I seem to relate to readily.  And, I am inspired by how they responded, in faith, to a very real world, each of their own time.  I hope and trust you may sense method to my madness.

Maximilian Kolbe’s proximity to our own time certainly makes him more tangible, and some of our beloved elders still hold that terrible time in living memory.

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“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference. And this happens, although the praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive, therefore, to praise Him to the greatest extent of our powers…For Jesus Christ I am prepared to suffer still more.”
– Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Auschwitz prisoner #16670, Franciscan priest, missionary, martyr of charity.

He took the place of Francis Gajowniczek who was married with young children who had been condemned to die along with nine others by order of SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Karl Fritzsch, the Lagerfuhrer (i.e., the camp commander), as punishment for the escape of a prisoner from the camp in late July, 1941.  (The man who had disappeared was later found drowned in the camp latrine.)

When selecting the prisoners to die, the Nazi guards selected one man from each line at random, including Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek, when the sergeant cried out, “My wife and children.  I shall never see them again!”.  A man stepped out from the rows and offered to take his place.  It was prisoner #16670, Maximilian Kolbe.

A Nazi officer asked Kolbe who he was.  Kolbe responded, “I am a Catholic priest.  I wish to die for that man.  I am old.  He has a wife and children.”  Remember, Auschwitz was a work camp first and an extermination camp later and had the horrific deception cast in iron above the main entrance, “Arbeit Macht Frei!” – Work Makes You Free!  So, a younger prisoner was more valuable to the Nazis than someone passing middle-age.

So it was that Maximilian Kolbe and the nine others were taken to the death chamber of Block 11, notorious for torture.  Kolbe was placed in cell 18.   In the “block of death” they were ordered to strip naked, and their slow starvation began in darkness. But there was no screaming. During the time in the cell, Fr. Kolbe led the other condemned men in songs and prayer.

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Francis Gajowniczek was set eventually set free from Auschwitz when it was liberated by the Allies. Pope John Paul II canonized Maximillian Kolbe on 10 October 1982, in the presence of Gajowniczek.

During the first two weeks of August, 1941 the condemned prisoners were deprived of any food or water.  One after the other died, until only four were left including Maximilian.

The Nazis felt that death by starvation was taking too long for the remaining four and the cells were needed for newly condemned.  So, each prisoner in turn was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid (phenol) in the vein of his left arm.  Maximilian, with a prayer on his lips gave his arm to his executioner.  Maximilian Kolbe was 47 years old when he was executed.  His remains were cremated in the ovens at Auschwitz and his ashes dumped, like so much trash, along with the rest, near the camp, as had and would so many others.

As a child, he was known to be mischievous and sometimes considered wild, and a trial to his parents. However, in 1906 at Pabianice, Poland, at age twelve and around the time of his first Communion, Raymond, his baptismal name, Maximilian was his religious name, reports he received a vision of the Virgin Mary that changed his life:

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“I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.”

“Courage, my sons. Don’t you see that we are leaving on a mission? They pay our fare in the bargain. What a piece of good luck! The thing to do now is to pray well in order to win as many souls as possible. Let us, then, tell the Blessed Virgin that we are content, and that she can do with us anything she wishes.” -Maximilian Mary Kolbe, when first arrested.

“Love without penance, without sacrifice, is not love. There are souls who would like to possess the love of God, but they avoid and fear to do penance. Without the spirit of penance and self-abnegation, there can be no love.” St. Maximilian Kolbe

“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference. And this happens, although the praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive, therefore, to praise Him to the greatest extent of our powers.” -St. Maximilian Kolbe 

St Maximilian Kolbe is the patron of addicts.

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Prayer – St Maximillian Kolbe:

O Lord Jesus Christ, You who said, “greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13), through the intercession of St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose life illustrated such love, we beseech you to grant us our petitions . . .

(here mention the requests you have).

Through the Militia Immaculata movement, which Maximilian founded, he spread a fervent devotion to Our Lady throughout the world. He gave up his life for a total stranger and loved his persecutors, giving us an example of unselfish love for all men – a love that was inspired by true devotion to You, in imitation of Mary.

Grant, O Lord Jesus, that we too may give ourselves entirely, without reserve, to the love and service of You in our lives, in imitation of our Heavenly Queen, and in so doing, better love and serve our neighbor, in imitation of Your humble servant, Maximilian. Amen.

“Be a man, be a Catholic, don’t blush for your convictions. Be a man.” – Saint Maximilian Kolbe

“Let us remember that love lives through the sacrifice & is nourished by giving.” – St M. Kolbe

Love,
Matthew

Nov 25 – St Catherine of Alexandria, (282-305 AD), Virgin & Martyr, Co-patroness of the Order of Preachers & “The Sopranos”

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-Gaudenzio Ferrari, “The Martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria”, c. 1500~1550, oil on panel, 334 cm (131.5 in) x 210 cm (82.7 in).

Christians have always venerated the saints and martyrs since the inception of the Church.  We have evidence of this from 1st century scratchings on the walls of the catacombs.  “Vincent, you are in Christ, pray for Phoebe.  Paul and Peter, pray for Victor.  Sentianus, in your prayers, pray for us, for we know you are in Christ.”

This Summer (2007), Kelly and I, in honor, or mourning, if you prefer, of the ending of the HBO series “The Sopranos”, watched the entire series from beginning to end in the vacuum of Summer television programming.

In addition to being entertaining, I felt there might be therapeutic, for my wife, and practical, to me, benefits in helping my Midwestern born and raised wife understand that not all of her new husband’s volatile (relative to the Midwest) personality traits were his fault alone, but that some were certainly environmental and cultural and “from the water”, as they say, of his youth as a waif growing up in “Joisey”.

The plot of the series and the actions of its characters made perfect practical sense to me.  Tony Soprano is my hero, along with Jesus Christ; a study in contrasts, I realize.  I mean, really, how else or otherwise are you efficiently supposed get your point across? Negotiate?  🙂

While Kelly did gain an appreciation of her husband’s native State and its people, culture, and ways, as we watched the series, she still confessed there are many things she does not understand about me.  Join the club.  The mystery is the joy.  To know is to love.  You gotta’ problem with ‘dat?

We now regularly greet each other at home with “how you doin’?”  Or, “fuggettaboutit”.

I must confess, seasons 1-3 are my favorites.  I think success altered the tone of the plot after that.

In season three, episode twelve, Carmela and Meadow are touring the Met in NY, and stand before the painting “The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria” by Giuseppe (alt, Jose’ de) Ribera, 1648.  Carmela begins to weep and the plot moves on.

I love the story of St Catherine of Alexandria. See…and you wondered how I was going to tie in “The Sopranos” to St Catherine of Alexandria, didn’t you?  Oh, ye of little faith. 🙂

Alexandria, the historically great Egyptian city (a rival to Rome itself in nearly all aspects in the ancient world, and exceeding it in some) at the mouth of the Nile was founded by Alexander the Great.  In the ancient world, Alexandria was traditionally a center of great learning, both pagan and Christian. The “Library of Alexandria”, before it burned, was sibling to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  Its Christian activities centered around the great church founded, according to tradition, by the Apostle Mark, with its catechetical school, the first of its kind in Christendom.

Saint Catherine lived at the end of the third century A.D. and the beginning of the fourth.  Catherine was born of a patrician family of Alexandria. She was the daughter of Constus, Governor of Alexandria, Egypt.  From childhood Catherine had devoted herself to study and through her reading she had learned much intellectually of Christianity.  She declared to her parents that she would only enter into marriage with someone who surpassed her in reputation, wealth, beauty and wisdom.

Catherine’s mother, a secret Christian, sent her for advice to her own spiritual advisor – a monk who lived in solitude in a cave not far from the city. Having listened to Catherine, the monk said that he knew of a Youth who surpassed her in everything, such that “His beauty is more radiant than the shining of the sun, His wisdom governed all creation, His riches were spread throughout all the world—this however did not diminish but rather added to the inexpressible loftiness of his lineage.”

At this point, Catherine had not yet been baptized, but prayed all night and was granted a vision the Blessed Mother holding the infant Jesus. But the Child turned His face away from her saying that He was not able to look at her because she was ugly, of shabby lineage, beggarly and mindless like every person—not washed with the waters of holy Baptism and not sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

Catherine returned again to the monk deeply saddened. The monk lovingly instructed her in the faith of Christ, admonished her to preserve her purity and integrity and to pray unceasingly; he then performed over her the mystery and sacrament of holy baptism.  Again, Catherine had a vision of the Mother of God with her Child. Now the Lord looked tenderly at her and gave her a ring—a wondrous gift of the heavenly Bridegroom – a mystical marriage.

The account of Catherine’s life continues that shortly afterwards, at the age of eighteen, Catherine presented herself to the Roman Emperor Maximinus Daia who was in Alexandria celebrating a pagan feast day, but who also was carrying out a persecution of the Christians. She admonished him for his cruelty and demanded that he cease the persecutions.

Astounded and insulted at the young woman’s audacity, but lacking the training and intellectual skills necessary to debate with her, Maximinus detained her in his palace and called for fifty of his best scholars to try to trip her up in her beliefs, either to make her apostatize against Christianity or commit a heresy against the Roman pagan religion so that she could be put to death. Contrary to what Maximinus expected, she managed to convert his scholars with her eloquence and knowledge of both religion and science.  Maximinus was so outraged he had all fifty of them burned alive and Catherine scourged and put in prison.

The empress, Faustina, however, heard of the extraordinary young woman and stole secretly into the prison in the company of the Roman general Porphyry.  They listened to Catherine, were converted and baptized, but were both executed by Maximinus when he discovered what had happened.

The beauty of the maiden captivated the emperor.  Maximinus, no longer hoping to convince the saint, tried to entice her with the promise of riches and fame by becoming his wife. Catherine gave him an angry refusal.  Infuriated, Maximinus ordered Catherine to be broken on a spiked wheel. Yet at her touch, the instrument of torture was miraculously destroyed.

Seeing no alternative, Maximinus ordered her beheaded. She died in the year 305 A.D.

Her final words are recorded as:  “O Jesus, good King, I await the sword for Thy sake; do Thou deign to receive my spirit, and to show mercy to those who honor my memory.  Come, My chosen one, come; enter into the bridal chamber of thy Spouse.  Thou hast obtained the grant of thy petition, and it shall be well with them that praise Thee.”

Her body was carried to Mount Sinai where a monastery and church were later built by the order of the Emperor Justinian. Interestingly enough, the site where Catherine’s body was found is also believed to be the site of the burning bush seen by Moses.

Eleven centuries later, when Jeanne d’Arc, a twelve year old illiterate French farm girl claimed to hear three voices telling her to drive out the English from France and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation and did, Joan, at her trial for heresy after being captured by the English, claimed Catherine’s voice was one of those she heard.

In the Eastern Church, the following hymns (troparion) are used as part of the Liturgy of the Feast of St Catherine of Alexandria:

Greek usage (Tone 5)

Let us praise the all-lauded and noble bride of Christ,
the godly Catherine, the guardian of Sinai and its defense,
who is also our support and succour and our help;
for with the Holy Spirit’s sword
she hath silenced brilliantly the clever among the godless;
and being crowned as a martyr, she now doth ask great mercy for us all.

Slavic usage (Tone 4)

Thy lamb Catherine, O Jesus,
Calls out to Thee in a loud voice:
I love Thee, O my Bridegroom,
And in seeking Thee, I endure suffering.
In baptism I was crucified so that I might reign in Thee,
And died so that I might live with Thee.
Accept me as a pure sacrifice,
For I have offered myself in love.
By her prayers, save our souls, since Thou art merciful.

File:Michelangelo Caravaggio 060.jpg
-Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Caravaggio, c. 1598, oil on canvas, H: 173 cm (68.1 in). W: 133 cm (52.4 in).

File:José de Ribera 056.jpg
-The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Giuseppe Ribera, 1648. Catherine kisses an infant Jesus, who is held by the Virgin Mary. In the background are Saint Anne and Saint Joseph.

File:Ring Sinaya.jpg
-ring of St Catherine given to pilgrims who visit Mount Sinai

Tradition has it that Catherine appeared three times in visions during the early days of the Order of Preachers.  She was one of the Virgins (along with St. Cecilia) who accompanied the Blessed Virgin Mary when she gave Bl. Reginald the scapular.  She also accompanied the Blessed Virgin in the vision in which St. Dominic saw the Virgin Mary sprinkling the brethren while they slept.

Lastly, she again accompanied the Blessed Virgin, along with St. Mary Magdalene (co-patroness of the Order of Preachers), during the transitus of the miraculous image of St. Dominic to Soriano.  It might seem that not only has the Dominican Order chosen her as patroness, but you might even be able to say that she herself has chosen to watch over the Friars Preachers in a special way.

O God, you gave the law to Moses on the summit of Mount Sinai, and through your holy angels, wonderfully put in that same place the body of the blessed Catherine, your virgin and martyr; grant, we beseech you, that by her merits and intercession, we may reach that mountain which is Christ.  Through Christ our Lord.

Love,
Matthew

Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville