Aug 28 – St Augustine, (354-430 AD), Bishop, Doctor of the Church, Doctor Gratiae, Doctor of Grace, “Tolle, Lege!”

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– Sts Augustine & Monica, 1846

“This very moment I may, if I desire, become the friend of God.” -St Augustine

Bishops have had a tough decade, as have all the ordained.  Some would say, of the guilty, deservedly so, by their or their predecessors own action/inaction.  We are ALL sinners, most especially, yours truly!  Sins of commission and omission.  The Catholic understanding of sin is that it is never a private affair.  All sin, even unknown sin, is a social offense.

The first tragedy, the victims of clergy sexual abuse, and, a second, I dare suggest, are the innocent ordained, who have dedicated their lives in service and love, try as they may with the aid of grace, in service to the Lord and His People.  God bless them!  Their reward will surely be great in Heaven for having lived, and served, and loved in this time.  Bless them!  And, thank you!  How much harder it must be to live out the life of service and love in these days!  Rejoice!  I say again, rejoice!  You shine as examples of Christian fortitude, fidelity, the power of grace and commitment!  True servants of the Lord!  I know I am inspired by your example!  Thank you!  God bless you!  Thank you for your service and your love, for your fidelity and example which inspires us all in, of, and for Love!

St. Augustine of Hippo is the patron of brewers because of his conversion from a former life of loose living, which included parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions. His complete turnaround and conversion has been an inspiration to many who struggle with a particular vice or habit they long to break.

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Accepted by most scholars to be the most important figure in the ancient Western church, St. Augustine was born in Tagaste, Numidia in North Africa. His mother, St Monica, was a Christian, but his father remained a pagan until late in life. After a rather unremarkable childhood, marred only by a case of stealing pears, Augustine drifted through several philosophical systems before converting to Christianity at the age of thirty-one. At the age of nineteen, Augustine read Cicero’s Hortensius (now lost), an experience that led him into the fascination with philosophical questions and methods that would remain with him throughout his life. After a few years as a Manichean, he became attracted to the more skeptical positions of the Academic philosophers. Although tempted in the direction of Christianity upon his arrival at Milan in 383, he turned first to neoplatonism. During this time, Augustine fathered a child by a mistress. This period of exploration, including its youthful excesses (perhaps somewhat exaggerated) are recorded in Augustine’s most widely read work, the Confessions.

This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. At age 17, through the generosity of fellow citizen Romanianus, Augustine went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. Although raised as a Christian, Augustine left the church to follow the Manichaean religion, much to the despair of his mother, Monica.  As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits with women and urged the inexperienced boys, like Augustine, to seek out experiences or to make up stories about experiences in order to gain acceptance and avoid ridicule.  It was during this period that he uttered his famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet!” – “da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.” At a young age, he began an affair with a young woman in Carthage. She was his lover for over thirteen years and gave birth to his son Adeodatus, who was said to have been extremely intelligent.

Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been brought up a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride darkened his mind so much, that he could not see or understand the Divine Truth anymore. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine finally became convinced that Christianity was the one true religion. Yet he did not become a Christian then, because he thought he could never live a pure life. One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted on reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terrible, ashamed of himself. “What are we doing?” he cried to his friend Alipius. “Unlearned people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!”

Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine flung himself out into the garden and cried out to God, “How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?” Just then he heard a child singing, “Tolle, lege! = Take up and read!” Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage his gaze fell on. “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts'”[Rom 13:13-15]. “I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.” — The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book VIII, Paragraph 29.

During his youth, Augustine had studied rhetoric at Carthage, a discipline that he used to gain employment teaching in Carthage and then in Rome and Milan, where he met Ambrose who is credited with effecting Augustine’s conversion and who baptized Augustine in 387. Returning to his homeland soon after his conversion, he was ordained a presbyter in 391, taking the position as bishop of Hippo in 396, a position which he held until his death.

Besides the Confessions, Augustine’s most celebrated work is his De Civitate Dei (On the City of God), a study of the relationship between Christianity and secular society, which was inspired by the fall of Rome to the Visigoths in 410. Among his other works, many are polemical attacks on various heresies: Against Faustus, the Manichean; On Baptism; Against the Donatists;and many attacks on Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Other works include treatises On the Trinity; On Faith, Hope, and Love; On Christian Doctrine; and some early dialogues.

St. Augustine stands as a powerful advocate for orthodoxy and of the episcopacy as the sole means for the dispensing of saving grace. In the light of later scholarship, Augustine can be seen to serve as a bridge between the ancient and medieval worlds. A review of his life and work, however, shows him as an active mind engaging the practical concerns of the churches he served.

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“The honors of this world, what are they but puff, and emptiness and peril of falling?” – Saint Augustine

“In my deepest wound I saw Your glory and it astounded me.”-St. Augustine 

“One loving heart sets another on fire.” -St. Augustine

“What is more fragrant, more delightful, than the gentle breath of truth?” -St. Augustine

“Daily advance, then, in this love, both by praying and by well doing, that through the help of Him who enjoined it on you, and whose gift it is, it may be nourished and increased, until, being perfected, it render you perfect.”– Saint Augustine

“What do you possess if you possess not God?” – Saint Augustine

“The Holy Spirit has come to abide in you; do not make Him withdraw; do not exclude Him from your heart in any way.” -St. Augustine

“Unhappy is the soul enslaved by the love of anything that is mortal.” -Saint Augustine

“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” -St. Augustine

“The world is a book and he who does not travel reads only one page.” -St Augustine

“Love, and He will draw near; love, and He will dwell within you. The Lord is at hand; have no anxiety. Are you puzzled to know how it is that He will be with you if you love? God is love.” -St. Augustine

“You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones.” -St. Augustine

“If a vessel is to be filled, it must first be empty. So cast all evil away from you, that you may be filled to the brim.” -St. Augustine

“He willed not that any one should glory in the exalted position of any city of earth. He, too, Whose are all things and by Whom all things were created, was made poor, in order that no one, while believing in Him, might venture to boast himself in earthly riches. He refused to be made by men a king, because He displayed the pathway of humility to those unhappy ones whom pride had separated from Him; and yet universal creation attests the fact of His everlasting kingdom.” -St Augustine

“I will suggest a means whereby you can praise God all day long, if you wish. Whatever you do, do it well, and you have praised God.” – Saint Augustine

“Love has hands to help others. It has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. This is what love looks like.” -St. Augustine 

“This is the business of our life. By labor and prayer to advance in the grace of God, till we come to that height of perfection in which, with clean hearts, we may behold God.” -Saint Augustine

“God in his omnipotence could not give more, in His wisdom He knew not how to give more, in His riches He had not more to give, than the Eucharist.” – Saint Augustine

“God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes you do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and aids you that you may be able.” – Saint Augustine

“Conquer yourself and the world lies at your feet.” – Saint Augustine

“God himself will be the goal of our desires; we shall contemplate him without end, love him without surfeit, praise him without weariness.”-St Augustine (on St Paul writing: “So that God may be all in all.”)

“O eternal truth, true love and beloved eternity. You are my God. To you do I sigh day and night. When I first came to know you, you drew me to yourself so that I might see that there were things for me to see, but that I myself was not yet ready to see them. Meanwhile you overcame the weakness of my vision, sending forth most strongly the beams of your light, and I trembled at once with love and dread. I sought a way to gain the strength which I needed to enjoy you. But I did not find it until I embraced “the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who is above all, God blessed for ever.” He was calling me and saying: “I am the way of truth, I am the life.” Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with You. Created things kept me from You; yet if they had not been in You they would have not been at all. You called, You shouted, and You broke through my deafness. You flashed, You shone, and You dispelled my blindness. You breathed Your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for You. I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.” – from the Confessions of Saint Augustine

Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ. – from The City of God by Saint Augustine

A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers. – from Against Faustus the Manichean, by Saint Augustine

There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for the dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended. – from Sermons by Saint Augustine

“At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.” – from Homilies on John by Saint Augustine

“Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.” – Saint Augustine

“O Sacrament of Love! O sign of Unity! O bond of Charity! He who would have Life finds here indeed a Life to live in and a Life to live by. – Saint Augustine

“And He departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here.” -St. Augustine

If you see that you have not yet suffered tribulations, consider it certain that you have not begun to be a true servant of God; for Saint Paul says plainly that all who chose to live piously in Christ, shall suffer persecutions – Saint Augustine

I speak to you who have just been reborn in baptism, my little children in Christ, you who are the new offspring of the Church, gift of the Father, proof of Mother Church’s fruitfulness. All of you who stand fast in the Lord are a holy seed, a new colony of bees, the very flower of our ministry and fruit of our toil, my joy and my crown. It is the words of the Apostle that I address to you: Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its desires, so that you may be clothed with the life of Him whom you have put on in this sacrament. You have all been clothed with Christ by your baptism in Him. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus. Such is the power of this sacrament: it is a sacrament of new life which begins here and now with the forgiveness of all past sins, and will be brought to completion in the resurrection of the dead. You have been buried with Christ by baptism into death in order that, as Christ has risen from the dead, you also may walk in newness of life. You are walking now by faith, still on pilgrimage in a mortal body away from the Lord; but He to Whom your steps are directed is Himself the sure and certain way for you: Jesus Christ, who for our sake became man. For all who fear Him He has stored up abundant happiness, which He will reveal to those who hope in Him, bringing it to completion when we have attained the reality which even now we possess in hope. This is the octave day of your new birth. Today is fulfilled in you the sign of faith that was prefigured in the Old Testament by the circumcision of the flesh on the eighth day after birth. When the Lord rose from the dead, He put off the mortality of the flesh; His risen body was still the same body, but it was no longer subject to death. By His resurrection He consecrated Sunday, or the Lord’s day. Though the third after his passion, this day is the eighth after the Sabbath, and thus also the first day of the week. And so your own hope of resurrection, though not yet realized, is sure and certain, because you have received the sacrament or sign of this reality, and have been given the pledge of the Spirit. If, then, you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your hearts on heavenly things, not the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. – from a sermon by Saint Augustine

Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne-Saint Augustin, by Phillippe de Champaigne, (1602-1674), completed 1645-1650, oil on canvas, 78.7 × 62.2 cm (31 × 24.5 in), Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Jaume_Huguet_-_Consecration_of_Saint_Augustine_-_Google_Art_Project-The Consecration of St Augustine, by Jaume Huguet, (1412-1492), completed 1466~1475, tempera on panel, H: 272 cm (107.1 in). W: 200 cm (78.7 in), Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy. Amen.
-St Augustine’s prayer to the Holy Spirit

Give me yourself, O my God, give yourself to me.
Behold I love you, and if my love is too weak a thing,
grant me to love you more strongly.
I cannot measure my love
to know how much it falls short of being sufficient,
but let my soul hasten to your embrace
and never be turned away until it is hidden
in the secret shelter of your presence.
This only do I know,
that it is not good for me when you are not with me,
when you are only outside me.
I want you in my very self.
the plenty in the world
which is not my God is utter want. Amen.
– St Augustine

Holy Spirit, powerful Consoler,
sacred Bond of the Father and the Son,
Hope of the afflicted,
descend into my heart
and establish in it
your loving dominion.
Enkindle in my tepid soul
the fire of your Love
so that I may be wholly subject to you.
We believe that when you dwell in us,
you also prepare a dwelling for the Father and the Son.
Deign, therefore, to come to me,
Consoler of abandoned souls,
and Protector of the needy.
Help the afflicted,
strengthen the weak,
and support the wavering.
Come and purify me.
Let no evil desire take possession of me.
You love the humble and resist the proud.
Come to me, glory of the living, and hope of the dying.
Lead me by your grace
that I may always be pleasing to you. Amen.
-St Augustine

Love,
Matthew

Aug 27 – St Monica, (322?-387 AD) – “When in Rome, do as the Romans do…”

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I personally hold the two most powerful and awesome forces in the universe are:  1)  God, and 2) a mother’s love.

I often, from experience, have to question my ordering of these two dramatic forces.  Something happens when a woman, even modern day women, have children.

I don’t know if it’s chemical or nature or what, but something so subtle, yet so powerful emerges.  If you haven’t witnessed as an adult, as a husband, it is difficult to explain.

Please don’t even try and tell me men and women are the same.  I’ll try not to laugh in your face.  I have benefited from it as a child, as a youth, as an adult, as a father, tremendously.  I fear it.  I respect it, wholly/holy?  I stay out of it’s way.  I watch my tongue.  I obey its commands.  I cooperate with it, and hopefully, grace.  I do as I am told.  “I came to serve, and not to be served.” -Mt 20:28/Mk 10:45, I repeat to myself when my marital and parental obligations become, rarely, inconvenient.  If the Son of the Living God can do this, I certainly, and all of us, can.

Given these two forces, Augustine and his father, Patricius, were finished from the beginning.  So much for male dominance, as if even one would wish for such a thing.  Women make, have always made, my world infinitely better.  Thank you.  My practical advice to Augustine & Patricius, and to all men?  Surrender, quickly, and get on with it.

The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Our knowledge of Monica comes almost entirely from the writings of her much-loved son, the great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo. His relationship with his mother was a close one, especially during Monica’s last years. In Book IX of St. Augustine’s “Confessions”, he gives us many details of her life, and expresses his gratitude for her devotion in moving terms. She was born of a well-off Christian family in Tagaste in Nortern Africa, also known as the Numidian city of Thagaste, on whose ruins modern Souk Ahras, along the Mediterranean in the modern day northeastern corner of Algeria, exist.  Souk is an Arabic word meaning “marketplace”.  I have visited souks in the Middle East.  Much fun.

We are given one episode of her childhood which suggests a possible origin for her firmness of will. She was sometimes sent down to the cellar to draw wine for the family, and fell into the habit of taking secret sips. She developed such a passion for wine that before long she was drinking great draughts of it whenever opportunity offered. One day a family slave who had been spying on the little girl denounced her as a wine-bibber, and Monica, covered with shame, gave up the habit. Soon afterwards she was baptized, and thenceforth seems to have led a life of irreproachable virtue.  She is patroness of alcoholics, among other causes.

Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism.

Monica and Patricius had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine, is the most famous. Navigius, who seems to have been an exemplary son, Augustine, and Perpetua, a daughter, who became a religious. Augustine, the more brilliant of the sons, was sent to Carthage, so that he might develop his talents and become a man of culture. He took to learning naturally but he also spent time in youthful carousing. This caused his mother great anguish, and when he returned to Tagaste, she disapproved so strongly both of his loose living and of his espousal of the popular heresy of Manichaeism that she refused at first to allow him to live at home. She relented only after having seen a vision. One day as she was weeping over his behavior, a figure appeared and asked her the cause of her grief. She answered, and a voice issued from the mysterious figure, telling her to dry her tears; then she heard the words, “Your son is with you.” Monica related this story to Augustine, and he replied that they might easily be together if she gave up her faith, for that was the main obstacle keeping them apart. Quickly she retorted, “He did not say I was with you: he said that you were with me.” Augustine was impressed by the quick answer and never forgot it. Although his conversion was not to take place for nine long years, Monica did not lose faith. She continually fasted, prayed, and wept on his behalf. She implored the local bishop for help in winning him over, and he counseled her to be patient, saying, “God’s time will come.” Monica persisted in importuning him, and the bishop uttered the words which have often been quoted: “Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.”

When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric, and bring along his mistress and their son, Adeodatus. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan.

In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her. Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.

She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end.

“The day was now approaching when my mother Monica would depart from this life; you know that day, Lord, though we did not. She and I happened to be standing by ourselves at a window that overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house. At the time we were in Ostia on the Tiber. And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, “forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead..” We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth – for you are the Truth – what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man.” We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life. That was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. But you know, O Lord, that in the course of our conversation that day, the world and its pleasures lost all their attraction for us. My mother said, “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be His servant. So what am I doing here?” I do not really remember how I answered her. Shortly, within five days or thereabouts, she fell sick with a fever. Then one day during the course of her illness she became unconscious and for a while she was unaware of her surroundings. My brother and I rushed to her side, but she regained consciousness quickly. She looked at us as we stood there and asked in a puzzled voice: “Where was I?” We were overwhelmed with grief, but she held her gaze steadily upon us, and spoke further: “Here you shall bury your mother.” I remained silent as I held back my tears. However, my brother haltingly expressed his hope that she might not die in a strange country but in her own land, since her end would be happier there. When she heard this, her face was filled with anxiety, and she reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts. Then she looked at me and spoke: “Look what he is saying.” Thereupon she said to both of us, “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” Once our mother had expressed this desire as best she could, she fell silent as the pain of her illness increased.” – from the Confessions of Saint Augustine

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Today, with Internet searches, e-mail shopping and instant credit, we have little patience for things that take time. Likewise, we want instant answers to our prayers. Monica is a model of patience. Her long years of prayer, coupled with a strong, well-disciplined character, finally led to the conversion of her hot-tempered husband, her cantankerous mother-in-law and her brilliant but wayward son, Augustine.

When Monica moved from North Africa to Milan, she found religious practices new to her and also that some of her former customs, such as a Saturday fast, were not common there. She asked St. Ambrose which customs she should follow. His classic reply was: “When I am here, I do not fast on Saturday, but I fast when I am in Rome; do the same and always follow the custom and discipline of the Church as it is observed in the particular locality in which you find yourself.”

“Nothing is far from God.” – Saint Monica

Exemplary Mother of the great Augustine,
you perseveringly pursued your wayward son
not with wild threats but with prayerful cries to heaven.
Intercede for all mothers
in our day so that they may learn
to draw their children to God.
Teach them how to remain close
to their children,
even the prodigal sons and daughters
who have sadly gone astray. Amen.

Dear St. Monica,
troubled wife and mother,
many sorrows pierced your heart during your lifetime.
Yet, you never despaired or lost faith.
With confidence, persistence, and profound faith,
you prayed daily for the conversion
of your beloved husband, Patricius,
and your beloved son, Augustine;
your prayers were answered.
Grant me that same fortitude, patience,
and trust in the Lord.
Intercede for me, dear St. Monica,
that God may favorably hear my plea for

(Mention your intention here.)

and grant me the grace to accept His Will in all things,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 18 – St Jane Frances de Chantal, VHM, (1572-1641), Wife, Mother, Foundress of the Daughters of the Visitation

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Jane Frances was wife, mother, nun and founder of a religious community. Her mother died when Jane was 18 months old, and her father, head of parliament at Dijon, France, became the main influence on her education. He allowed his children to discuss any matter, even the most serious and adult topics of the day, including religious matters.  He made erudite discussion fun, and instilled in Jane a deep devotion.  A friend said of her, “Even stupid jokes were funny when she told them!”

Jane developed into a woman of beauty and refinement, lively and cheerful in temperament. At 21 she married Christophe, Baron de Chantal, by whom she had six children, three of whom died in infancy. The Baron also had enormous debts.  At her castle she restored the custom of daily Mass, and was seriously engaged in various charitable works.  Jane took charge of the estate; personally organizing and supervising every detail of the estate, a method which not only brought the finances under control but won her employees’ hearts as well.

Despite the early financial worries, she and her husband shared “one heart and one soul.” They were devoted to each other and to their children. When reproached for her extremely sober manner of dressing, her reply was: “The eyes which I must please are a hundred miles from here”, referring to Christophe when he was at court or with the army.

One way Jane shared her blessings was by giving bread and soup personally to the poor who came to her door. Often people who had just received food from her would pretend to leave, go around the house and get back in line for more. When asked why she let these people get away with this, Jane said, “What if God turned me away when I came back to him again and again with the same request?”

Christophe was killed in a hunting accident after seven years of marriage; he died in Jane’s arms when she was 28.  Jane sank into deep dejection for four months at her family home.  Before he died, her husband forgave the man who shot him, saying to the man, “Don’t commit the sin of hating yourself when you have done nothing wrong.”  Heartbroken, Jane, however, had to struggle with forgiveness for a long time. At first she tried just greeting him on the street. When she was able to do that, she invited him to her house. Finally she was able to forgive the man so completely that she even became godmother to his child. Jane’s father-in-law, however, threatened to disinherit her children if she did not return to his home. He was then 75, vain, fierce and extravagant. Jane Frances managed to remain cheerful in spite of him and his insolent housekeeper.

When she was 32, she met St. Francis de Sales (October 24), who became her spiritual director, softening some of the severities imposed by her former director. She wanted to become a nun but he persuaded her to defer this decision. She took a vow to remain unmarried and to obey her director.  St Francis said of Jane:  “In Madame de Chantal, I have found the perfect woman, whom Solomon had difficulty finding in Jerusalem”.

After three years Francis told her of his plan to found an institute of women which would be a haven for those whose health, age or other considerations barred them from entering the already established communities. There would be no cloister, and they would be free to undertake spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They were primarily intended to exemplify the virtues of Mary at the Visitation (hence their name, the Visitation nuns): humility and meekness.

The usual opposition to women in active ministry arose and Francis de Sales was obliged to make it a cloistered community following the Rule of St. Augustine. Francis wrote his famous Treatise on the Love of God for them. The congregation (three women, Jane and here two daughters) began when Jane Frances was 38 in 1610.

After she had secured the future for her still living minor children, she intended to fulfill her spiritual director’s intentions.  Her fourteen year old son, Celse-Bénigne, whom she put in the care of her father and brother, tried to block her way and her new mission, literally, by lying across the threshold through which she would need to pass.  Mme de Chantal stopped, overcome: “Can the tears of a child shake her resolution?” said a holy and learned priest, the tutor of Celse-Bénigne. “Oh! no”, replied the saint, “but after all I am a mother!” And she stepped over the child’s body.

She underwent great sufferings: Francis de Sales died; her son was killed; a plague ravaged France; her daughter-in-law and son-in-law died. She encouraged the local authorities to make great efforts for the victims of the plague and she put all her convent’s resources at the disposal of the sick.  When people criticized her, she said, “What do you want me to do? I like sick people myself; I’m on their side.”

Still a devoted mother, she was constantly concerned about the materialistic ways of one of her daughters. Her daughter finally asked her for spiritual direction as did many others, including an ambassador and her brother, an archbishop. Her advice always reflected her very gentle and loving approach to spirituality:

“Should you fall even fifty times a day, never on any account should that surprise or worry you. Instead, ever so gently set your heart back in the right direction and practice the opposite virtue, all the time speaking words of love and trust to our Lord after you have committed a thousand faults, as much as if you had committed only one. Once we have humbled ourselves for the faults God allows us to become aware of in ourselves, we must forget them and go forward.”

During a part of her religious life, she had to undergo great trials of the spirit:  interior anguish, darkness and spiritual dryness. She died while on a visitation of convents of the community.

It may strike some as unusual that a saint should be subject to spiritual dryness, darkness, interior anguish. We tend to think that such things are the usual condition of “ordinary” sinful people. Some of our lack of spiritual liveliness may indeed be our fault. But the life of faith is still one that is lived in trust, and sometimes the darkness is so great that trust is pressed to its limit.

We have been told the secret of happiness is finding: finding yourself, finding love, finding the right job. Jane believed the secret of happiness was in “losing,” that we should “throw ourselves into God as a little drop of water into the sea, and lose ourselves indeed in the Ocean of the divine goodness.” She advised a man who wrote to her about all the afflictions he suffered “to lose all these things in God. These words produced such an effect in the soul, that he wrote me that he was wholly astonished, and ravished with joy.”  There is no past, no future, no here or there. There is only the infinite ocean of God.

St. Jane de Chantal

St. Vincent de Paul (September 27) said of Jane Frances: “She was full of faith, yet all her life had been tormented by thoughts against it. While apparently enjoying the peace and easiness of mind of souls who have reached a high state of virtue, she suffered such interior trials that she often told me her mind was so filled with all sorts of temptations and abominations that she had to strive not to look within herself…But for all that suffering her face never lost its serenity, nor did she once relax in the fidelity God asked of her. And so I regard her as one of the holiest souls I have ever met on this earth”.

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“Hold your eyes on God and leave the doing to Him. That is all the doing you have to worry about.” – Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

One day Saint Jane spoke the following eloquent words, which listeners took down exactly as spoken: “My dear daughters, many of our holy fathers in the faith, men who were pillars of the Church, did not die martyrs. Why do you think this was? Each one present offered an answer; then their mother continued. “Well, I myself think it was because there is another martyrdom: the martyrdom of love. Here God keeps His servants and handmaids in this present life to that they may labor for Him, and He makes of them both martyrs and confessors. I know,” she added, “that the Daughters of the Visitation are meant to be martyrs of this kind and that,by the favor of God, some of them, more fortunate than others in that their desire has been granted, will actually suffer such a martyrdom.” One sister asked what form this martyrdom took. The saint answered: “Yield yourself fully to God, and you will find out! Divine love takes its sword to the hidden recesses of our inmost soul and divides us from ourselves. I know one person whom love cut off from all that was dearest to her, just as completely and effectively as if a tyrant’s blade had severed spirit from body.” We realized that she was speaking of herself. When another sister asked how long the martyrdom would continue, the saint replied: “From the moment when we commit ourselves unreservedly to God, until our last breath. I am speaking, of course, of great-souled individuals who keep nothing back for themselves, but instead are faithful in love. Our Lord does not intend this martyrdom for those who are weak in love and perseverance. Such people He lets continue on their mediocre way, so that they will not be lost to Him; He never does violence to our free will.” Finally, the saint was asked whether this martyrdom of love could be put on the same level as martyrdom of the body. She answered: “We should not worry about equality. I do think, however, that the martyrdom of love cannot be relegated to a second place, for ‘love is as strong as death.’ For the martyrs of love suffer infinitely more in remaining in this life so as to serve God, than if they died a thousand times over in testimony to their faith and love and fidelity.” – from the memoirs of the secretary of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal.  Love is more than a feeling.  Love is more powerful than sin and death.

“Fidelity toward God consists in being perfectly resigned to His holy will, in enduring everything that His goodness allows in our lives, and in carrying out all our duties, especially that of prayer, with love and for love. In prayer we must converse very familiarly with our Lord, concerning our little needs, telling Him what they are, and remaining submissive to anything He may wish to do with us.  We should go to prayer with deep humility and an awareness of our nothingness. We must invoke the help of the Holy Spirit and that of our good angel, and then remain still in God‘s presence, full of faith that He is more in us than we are in ourselves. There is no danger if our prayer is without words or reflection because the good success of prayer depends neither on words nor on study. It depends upon the simple raising of our minds to God, and the more simple and stripped of feeling it is, the surer it is. We must never dwell on our sins during prayer. Regarding our offenses, a simple humbling of our soul before God, without a thought of this offense or that, is enough…such thoughts act as distractions. – Saint Jeanne de Chantal, from Wings to the Lord.

An Act of Abandonment:
-by Saint Jane Frances De Chantal

O sovereign goodness of the sovereign Providence of my God!
I abandon myself forever to Thy arms.
Whether gentle or severe,
lead me henceforth whither Thou wilt;
I will not regard the way through which Thou wilt have me pass,
but keep my eyes fixed upon Thee,
my God, who guidest me.
My soul finds no rest without the arms
and the bosom of this heavenly Providence,
my true Mother, my strength and my rampart.

Therefore I resolve with Thy Divine assistance,
O my Saviour,
to follow Thy desires and Thy ordinances,
without regarding or examining why Thou dost this rather than that;
but I will blindly follow Thee
according to Thy Divine will,
without seeking my own inclinations.

Hence I am determined to leave all to Thee,
taking no part therein save by keeping myself in peace in Thy arms,
desiring nothing except as Thou incitest me to desire,
to will, to wish.

I offer Thee this desire, O my God,
beseeching Thee to bless it;
I undertake all it includes,
relying on Thy goodness,
liberality, and mercy,
with entire confidence in Thee,
distrust of myself,
and knowledge of my infinite misery and infirmity.
Amen!

Lord, you chose Saint Jane Frances to serve You
in marriage, family and in religious life.
By her prayers, help us to be faithful
in our vocation,
and always to be the light of the world.

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.

Novena Prayer to St Jane Frances de Chantal

0 glorious saint, blessed Jane Frances,
by fervent prayer, attention to the Divine Presence,
and purity of intention,
you attained on earth an intimate union with God.

Be now our advocate, our mother,
our guide in the path of virtue and perfection.

Plead our cause near Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
to whom you were so tenderly devoted,
and whose holy virtues you so closely imitated.

Obtain for us, O amiable and compassionate Saint,
the virtues you deem most necessary for us;
an ardent love of Jesus in the most holy Sacrament,
a tender and filial confidence in His Blessed Mother,
and like you, a constant remembrance
of His sacred Passion and death.

Obtain also, we pray,
that our particular intention in this novena
may be granted.

V.Pray for us, O holy St. Jane Frances,
R. That we may be made worthy
of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:

0 almighty and merciful God,
who granted to blessed St. Jane Frances,
so inflamed with love of You,
a wonderful degree of fortitude
through all the paths of life,
and through her, were pleased to adorn Your church
with a new religious Order,
grant by her merits and prayers that we,
who sensible of our weakness
confide in Your strength,
may overcome all adversity with the help
of Your heavenly grace,
through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

PRAYERGRAPHIC_JaneFrancesdeChantal

“The best method of prayer is not to have one.” – St. Jane Frances de Chantal. I concur, whole heartedly. Those unfamiliar w/God benefit most from methods/specific directions. Those more familiar are just in the constant presence. There is no “tele”, Greek for ‘at a distance’, in their communication with God. He is immediate, always present. Or, as in adoration, “I look at Him. He looks at me.” Or, when they set up young Dominican student brothers to give direction on prayer to more senior, male or female, religious, and the senior religious simply say, “I sit on the bench outside in nature, and listen. He speaks to my heart.” Whom is really giving direction to whom? Exactly. The heart is always the correct organ to use when listening to God. I have always found what God has to say is infinitely more interesting than anything I might add. So, I shut up. And, listen.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 2 – Blessed Ceferino Gimenez Malla, (1861-1936), Martyr

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength…Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” -1 Cor 1:25, 27-29.

Often, in church, I see old men in the back of church or some nondescript pew clinging to their Rosary and constantly praying in silence.  Constantly.  Wisdom in action.  I want to grow up to be like them.  Ps 84:11a

Ceferino Giménez Malla was born into a gypsy family of the Romani (a nomadic people in Spain). Born at Benevent de Lérida. The family moved consistently throughout his childhood, generally supporting themselves through selling baskets they weaved. While he never received formal education, and was possibly illiterate, Ceferino’s intelligence, wisdom, and sound judgment was obvious to all he encountered. He was valued by his community as a peacemaker and wise arbiter, settling disputes and disagreements. He also demonstrated a consistent faith, practicing charitable works, modeling the love and patience of Christ.  His nickname was “El Pele” = “strong/brave one”.  He loved nature.

In accordance with custom and tradition, Ceferino married at a young age in a “gypsy” ceremony.  In order to normalize his marriage in the eyes of the Church, he was baptized as an adult, in 1912 married Teresa Jimenez Castro in a Catholic ceremony at age 51, and together with his wife continued the nomadic life. He worked as a horse trader, and was recognized by all for his honesty and fair practices and was financially quite successful at this business. The couple never had children, but took in a niece and assumed responsibility for raising her. Ceferino attended Mass every day, and received the Holy Eucharist as frequently as possible. On many days, Ceferino would gather the local children he encountered—gypsy and non-gypsy together—and teach them the Bible through stories and basic prayers – a catechist.

Ceferino’s wife died in 1922, and his niece married, leaving him in solitude. At this time, Ceferino grew in his contemplation and love of the Lord, and entered the Franciscan Order as a tertiary. He spent most evenings in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and eventually became a member of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out, there was much anti-Catholic sentiment, and many were being persecuted. Ceferino defended a priest who was being taken to prison and was being dragged through the streets of Barbastro,  He was arrested and imprisoned alongside him. Asked by the soldiers if he had any weapons, he said, “Yes.  Here it is.”  And showed them his Rosary.  While in prison, Ceferino clung to his Rosary, praying constantly. Offered freedom if he would renounce his faith and give up his Rosary, he declined and was eventually taken to a cemetery and executed by firing squad with other believers and priests. Even in death, he maintained his prayer, holding his Rosary aloft and proclaiming, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”). His body was buried in a common, unmarked grave. His body has never been found.

ceferino2b

O God our Father, great and good,
through the light and power of Your Spirit
the gypsy Ceferino,
the proto-martyr of his people,
was united to the sufferings of Jesus.

We thank You that You have thus in Your love
honored all the traveling people of the world.

We pray that You will raise up holy missionaries
among these people and in the whole Church.

Help us to follow the example of this true believer
who loved You intensely and was a good Samaritan to others.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 8 – St Dominic, OP, (1170-1221) – Priest, Preacher of Grace, Light of the Church, Doctor of Truth, “Zeal must be met with zeal…”

The_Perugia_Altarpiece,_Side_Panel_Depicting_St._Dominic

-side panel, the Perugia altarpiece, depicting Dominic, by Fra Angelico, 1436.

“Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching Truth.” – St Dominic

Good thinking leads to good action; bad to calamity/catastrophe.  One to life, the other to death.  There is such a thing as objective moral truth.  A basic premise of philosophy, even outside of theology, is “truth cannot contradict truth”.  Ask the victims of the Nazis, etc.  An American heresy is that all thought is merely innocuous and is equally good and valuable.  Really?  Really?  🙁

Dominic, founder of the great order of preaching friars which bears his name, was born in the year 1170 at Calaruega, Castile, Spain, of a noble family with illustrious connections. His father, Don Felix de Guzman, held the post of royal warden of the village; his mother, a woman of unusual sanctity, was to become Blessed Joan of Aza. Very early it was decided that Dominic should have a career in the Church. His call was so evident that while he was still a student, Martin de Bazan, bishop of Osma, appointed him canon of the cathedral, and the stipend he received helped him to continue his studies. Dominic’s love of learning and his charity are both exemplified in a story of his student days. He had gathered a collection of religious books inscribed on parchment; these he greatly treasured, but one day he sold the whole lot that he might give the money thus obtained to some poor people. “I could not bear to prize dead skins,” he said, “when living skins were starving and in need.”

At the age of twenty-five he was ordained and took up his duties. The chapter lived under the rule of St. Augustine, and the strict observance gave the young priest the discipline that he was to practice and teach to others all his life. Someone who knew Dominic at this time wrote that he was first of all the monks in holiness frequenting the church day and night, and scarcely venturing beyond the walls of the cloister. He was soon made subprior, and when the prior, Diego d’Azevado, became bishop of Osma. about 1201, Dominic succeeded to his office. He had then been leading the contemplative life for six or seven years.

When, two years later, the bishop was appointed by the King to go on an embassy to negotiate a marriage for the King’s son, he chose Dominic to accompany him. On the way, they passed through Languedoc, in southern France, where the Albigensian heresy was winning many adherents.  Albigensianism, Manicheaism, Catharism are all names for basically the same heresy:  namely, that there are two gods, a good god who created the spiritual realm, and an evil god who created the physical.  This type of thinking leads married couples to stop having children and the “perfecti”, the elect, the most spiritually pure to starve themselves to death.  This type of thinking leads to the destruction of society.  Inspired in part by the Persian prophet Mani (216-276 AD), it is a major form of Gnosticism, another heresy, for another time.   The host at an inn where they stopped was an Albigensian, and Dominic spent a whole night in discussion with Dominic. By morning he had convinced the man of his error. From that day, it appears, Dominic knew with certainty that the work God required of him was an active life of teaching in the world.

The ambassadors returned to Castile after their mission was accomplished, then were sent back to escort the young woman to her future home, but they arrived only to assist at her funeral. Their retinue returned to Castile, while they went to Rome to ask leave of Pope Innocent III to preach the Gospel to the infidels in the East. The Pope urged them to stay and fight against the heresy which was threatening the Church in France. Bishop Diego begged to be allowed to resign his episcopal see, but to this the Pope would not consent, though he gave him permission to stay two years in Languedoc. They paid a visit to St. Bernard’s monastery at Citeaux, whose monks had been appointed to go on a mission to convert the Albigensians. Don Diego put on the Cistercian habit and almost at once set out with Dominic and a band of preachers.

Albigensian doctrine was based on a dualism of two eternally opposing principles, good and evil, all matter being regarded as evil and the creator of the material world as a devil. Hence the doctrine of the Incarnation was denied, and the Old Testament and the Sacrament rejected. To be perfect or “pure” a person must refrain from sexual relations and be extremely abstemious in eating and drinking. Suicide by starvation was by some regarded as a noble act. In its more extreme form Albigensianism thus threatened the very existence of human society. The rank and file did not attempt such austerity, of course, but the leaders maintained high standards of asceticism, in contrast with which the easy-going observance of the Cistercian preachers away from home looked far from saintly. Dominic and Diego now advised those who had been in charge of the mission to give up their horses, retinues, and servants. Also, as soon as they won a hearing, they were to use the method of peaceful persuasion instead of threats. The way of life Dominic enjoined on others he was the first to follow himself. He rarely ate anything but bread and soup; if he drank wine it was two thirds water; his bed was the floor, unless-as sometimes happened-he was so exhausted that he lay down at the side of the road to sleep.

The missionaries’ first meeting with the heretics took place at Servian in 1206, where they made several conversions; afterwards they preached at Carcassone and neighboring towns, but nowhere did they meet with unusual success. At one public debate the judges submitted Dominic’s statement of the Catholic faith to the ordeal by fire, and three times, it is recorded, the parchment was left unharmed by the flames. The heresy, supported as it was by the great spiritual and temporal lords of the country, had a strong hold on the populace, who seemed unmoved either by preaching or miracles. Diego, disappointed with the results, returned to Osma, leaving Dominic in France.

Women exerted great influence in the Middle Ages, as now, and Dominic was struck by their share, perhaps most, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world!”, in the propagation of Albigensianism. He also observed that many Catholic girls of good family were exposed to wrong examples in their own homes or else were sent to Albigensian convents to be educated. On the feast of St. Mary Magdalen in 1206 he had a vision which led him to found a convent at Prouille, in the diocese of Toulouse, to shelter nine nuns, who had been converted from heresy. He wrote for them a rule of strict enclosure, penance, and contemplation, with the spinning of wool for their manual occupation. A house was founded a little later, in the same locality, for his preaching friars, whom he placed under a strict rule of poverty, study, and prayer.

In 1208, after the murder of a papal legate, Pope Innocent called on the Christian princes to suppress the heresy by force of arms. The Catholic forces were led by Simon de Montfort, the Albigensian by the Count of Toulouse. Everywhere Montfort was victorious, but he left behind him destruction and death. Dominic had no part in this terrible civil war. Courageously he continued to preach, going wherever he was called, seeking only the good of those who hated him. Many attempts were made on his life, and when he was asked what he would do if caught by his enemies, he answered, “I would tell them to kill me slowly and painfully, a little at a time, so that I might have a more glorious crown in Heaven.” When Montfort’s armies approached where he was preaching, he did all he could to save human life. Among the crusaders themselves, many of whom had joined the Catholic side for the sake of plunder, he discovered disorder, vice, and ignorance. Dominic labored among them with as much diligence and compassion as among the heretics. The Albigensian military forces were finally crushed in the battle of Muret, in 1213, a victory which Montfort attributed to Dominic’s prayers. The victor was not satisfied, however, and, to Dominic’s great distress, kept up for five years longer a campaign of devastation, until at last he was killed in battle.

Dominic had no illusions as to the righteousness or efficacy of establishing orthodoxy by armed force, nor had he himself anything to do with the episcopal courts of the Inquisition which were set up in southern France to work with the civil power. He never appears to have approved of the execution of those unfortunate persons whom the courts condemned as obdurate. His biographers say that he saved the life of a young man on his way to the stake, by assuring the judges that, if released, the man would die a good Catholic. The prophecy was fulfilled some years later, when the man entered the Dominican Order. Dominic rebuked the bishop of Toulouse for traveling with soldiers, servants, and pack-mules. “The enemies of the faith cannot be overcome like that,” he said. “Arm yourself with prayer instead of a sword; be clothed with humility instead of fine raiment.” Offered a bishopric three times, Dominic each time declined, knowing well that his work lay elsewhere.

He thus spent nearly ten years in Languedoc, with headquarters at Prouille, leading the mission and directing the work of his special band of preachers. His great desire was to revive a true apostolic spirit in the ministers of the altar, for too many of the Catholic clergy lived for their own pleasure, without scruple. He dreamed of a new religious order, not like the older ones, whose members led lives of contemplation and prayer in isolated groups, and who were not necessarily priests. His men would join to their prayers and meditation a thorough training in theology and the duties of a popular pastor and preacher; like the earlier monks, they would practice perpetual abstinence from meat and live in poverty, depending on alms for subsistence. They would be directed from a central authority, so that they could be moved about according to the need of the time. Dominic hoped thus to provide the Church with expert and zealous preachers, whose spirit and example would spread the light. In 1214 Bishop Foulques conferred on him a benefice at Fanjeaux, and gave his episcopal approval to the new order. A few months later he took Dominic with him to Rome to attend the Fourth Lateran Council, as his theologian.

Pope Innocent III approved the convent at Prouille. He also issued a decree, which was counted as the tenth canon of the council, reminding all parish clergy of their obligation to preach, and stressing the need of choosing pastors who were powerful in both words and works. The current neglect of preaching, said the Pope, was one cause of the ignorance, disorders, and heresies then rampant. Yet Dominic did not find it easy to get formal approval for his preaching order; it contained too many innovations for sanction to be granted hastily; moreover, the council had already voted against the multiplication of religious orders. It is said that Innocent had decided to withhold his consent, but on the next night dreamed he saw the Lateran Church tottering as if on the verge of collapse; Dominic stepped forward to support it. Be that as it may, the Pope finally gave oral approval to Dominic’s plan, bidding him return to his brothers and select one of the rules already approved.

The little company which met at Prouille in August, 1216, consisted of eight Frenchmen, eight Spaniards, and one Englishman. After some discussion, they chose the rule of St. Augustine, the oldest and least detailed of the existing rules, which had been written for priests by a priest who was himself an eminent preacher. He added certain special provisions, some borrowed from the more austere order of Premontre. Meanwhile Pope Innocent died, in July of 1216, and Honorius III was elected in his place. In October of that year, after Dominic had set up a friary in Toulouse, he went to Rome. Honorius formally confirmed his order and its constitutions in December. The brothers were to be, in the words of the Pope’s bull, “the champions of the faith and the true lights of the world.”

Instead of returning at once to France, Dominic stayed in Rome until the following Easter in order to preach. He suggested to the Pope that since many of the clerics attached to his court could not attend lectures and courses outside, a master of sacred studies in residence would be very useful. Honorius then created the office of Master of the Sacred Palace, who ex-officio serves as the Pope’s personal canonist and theologian, nominates his preachers, and assists at consistories. He ordered Dominic to assume the office temporarily, and ever since it has been held by a member of the Order of Preachers. While at Rome, too, Dominic composed a commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul, much commended in his day, but, like his sermons and letters, it has not survived.

During this time Dominic formed friendships with Cardinal Ugolino and Francis of Assisi. The story goes that in a dream Dominic saw the sinful world threatened by the divine anger but saved by the intercession of the Virgin, who pointed out to her Son two figures, one of whom Dominic recognized as himself, while the other was a stranger. The next day in church he saw a poorly dressed fellow whom he recognized at once as the man in his dream. It was Francis of Assisi. He went up to him and embraced him, exclaiming, “You are my companion and must walk with me. For if we hold together no earthly power can withstand us.” This meeting of the founders of the two great orders of friars, whose special mission was to go out into the world to save it, is still commemorated twice a year, when on their respective feast days the brothers of both orders sing Mass together, and afterwards sit at the same table. Dominic’s character was in marked contrast to that of Francis, but they stood united on the common ground of faith and charity.

On August 13, 1217, the Friars Preachers, popularly known in later times as the Dominicans, first met as an order at Prouille. Dominic spoke to them on methods of preaching and urged them to unremitting study and training. He reminded them too that their primary duty was their own sanctification, for they were to be successors of the Apostles. They must be humble, putting their whole confidence in God alone; only thus might they be invincible against evil. Two days later, Dominic abruptly broke up his little band, dispersing them in different directions. Four he sent to Spain, seven to Paris, two returned to Toulouse, and two stayed at Prouille. Dominic himself went back to Rome. He had hopes that he might resign his post and set off to preach to the Tartars, but Pope Honorius would not give his consent.

The four remaining years of Dominic’s life were spent in developing the order. Honorius gave him the church of St. Sixtus in Rome as a center for his activities. He preached in many of the city’s churches, including St. Peter’s. An old chronicle tells us that a woman named Gutadona, on coming home one day from hearing him preach, found her little child dead. In her grief she lifted him out of the cradle, and carried him to the church of St. Sixtus to lay him at Dominic’s feet. He uttered a few words of fervent prayer, made the sign of the cross, and the child was straightway restored to life. The Pope would have had this miracle proclaimed from the pulpit, but the entreaties of Dominic checked him.

Large numbers of nuns were living in Rome at this time, uncloistered and almost unregulated, some scattered about in small convents, others staying in the houses of parents or friends Honorius now asked Dominic to assemble these nuns into one enclosed house. Dominic gave to the nuns his own monastery of St. Sixtus, which was then completed. For his friars he was given a house on the Aventine Hill, with the adjacent church of St. Sabina.

A house of the order had been founded at the University of Paris, and Dominic had sent a contingent to the University of Bologna, there to set up one of the most famous of his establishments. In 1218 he journeyed through Languedoc to his native Spain, and founded a friary at Segovia, another at Madrid, and a convent of nuns, directed by his brother. In April, 1219, he returned to Toulouse, and from there went to Paris, the first and only visit he paid to the city. On his way back he stopped to found houses at Avignon, Asti and at Bergamo in Lombardy. Towards the end of the summer Dominic reached Bologna, there to live until his death. In 1220 Pope Honorius confirmed his title as Master General of the Order of Brothers Preachers, and the first general chapter was held at Bologna. The final constitutions were then drawn up which made the order what it has since been called, “the most perfect of all the monastic organizations produced by the Middle Ages.” That same year the Pope charged them, along with the monks of other orders, to undertake a preaching crusade in Lombardy. Under Dominic’s leadership, a hundred thousand heretics are said to have been brought back to the Church.

Although Dominic had hoped to journey to barbarous lands to preach and eventually to achieve martyrdom, this was denied him. The ministry of the Word, however, was to be the chief aim of his great order. Those members who had a talent for preaching were never to rest, except during the intervals assigned to them for retirement. They must prepare for their high calling by prayer, self-denial, and obedience. Dominic frequently quoted the saying: “A man who governs his passions is master of the world. We must either rule them, or be ruled by them. It is better to be the hammer than the anvil.” He taught his friars the art of reaching the hearts of their hearers by animating them with a love of men. Once, after delivering a stirring sermon, he was asked in what book he had studied it. “In none,” he answered, “but that of love.”

Dominic never altered the severe discipline he had established at the start. When he came back to Bologna in 1220, he was shocked to find a stately monastery being built for his friars; he would not allow it to be completed. This strong discipline helped the rapid spread of the order. By the time of the second general chapter at Bologna in 1221, it numbered some sixty houses, divided into eight provinces. Already there were black- robed brothers in Poland, Scandinavia, and Palestine, and Brother Gilbert, with twelve to aid him, had set up monasteries in Canterbury, London, and Oxford. The Order of Preachers is world-wide and noted especially for its intellectual achievement; it has become the mouthpiece of scholastic theology and philosophy today. There are Dominican establishments adjacent to almost all the chief seats of learning, and the founder has sometimes been called “the first minister of public instruction in Europe.” The Dominicans are cloistered, but there is also a Third Order for active workers in the world, religious and lay.  In contrast to most other orders within the Church, the Dominican Order, in its 800 year history has never needed to be reformed.  Due to a play on the Italian “Dominicanes”, the Order of Preachers has been given the nickname “The Hounds of God”, get it?  Domini-canes?!  A popular symbol of the Order of Preachers is a dog with a burning torch clutched in its mouth running, setting the world ablaze for Christ.

At the close of the second general chapter, Dominic visited Cardinal Ugolino in Venice. Afterwards he fell ill and was taken to the country. He knew the end was near, and made his last testament in a few simple, loving words: “These, my much loved ones, are the bequests which I leave to you as my sons; have charity among yourselves; hold fast to humility; keep a willing poverty.” He asked to be carried back to Bologna, that he might be buried “under the feet of his brethren.” To this day, Dominicans gather in the hallways of their priories and sing the De Profundis in memory of their confreres buried under the hallway floor.  I remember doing this as a novice.  My most favorite time of a Dominican day.  Gathered about him on an August evening, they said the prayers for the dying; at the Subvenite, he repeated the words and died; he was only fifty-six years old. The saint died “in Brother Moneta’s bed, because he had none of his own, in Brother Moneta’s habit, because he had not another to replace the one he had long been wearing.”“Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.”

Jordan of Saxony, Dominic’s successor as master-general of the order, wrote of him: “Nothing disturbed the even temper of his soul except his quick sympathy with every sort of suffering. And as a man’s face shows whether he is happy or not, it was easy to see from his friendly and joyous countenance that he was at peace inwardly.” When in 1234 Pope Gregory IX, formerly Cardinal Ugolino, signed the decree of canonization, he remarked that he no more doubted the sanctity of Dominic than he doubted that of St. Peter or St. Paul.

SaintDominic

-“St Dominic of Guzman”, by Claudio Coello, 1685, Museo Nacional del Prado, Spain.

“Wonderful, saintly founder of the eloquent Order of Preachers,
friend of St Francis of Assisi, you were a fiery defender of the Faith,
a fighter against the darkness of heresy.  You resembled a great
star, that shone close to the world and pointed to the Light of
Christ.

O Holy Priest of God and glorious Patriarch, St. Dominic,
thou who wast the friend, the well-beloved son and confidant of the Queen of Heaven, and didst work so many miracles by the power of the Holy Rosary, have regard for my intercessions.

On earth you opened your heart to the miseries of your fellow man,
and your hands were strong to help them; now in heaven your charity has not grown less nor has your power waned.

Pray for me to the Mother of the Rosary and to her divine Son,
for I have great confidence that through your assistance
I shall obtain the favor I so much desire: (mention your intentions). Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

An raibh tú ag an gCarraig? – Were you at the rock?

This Saturday I start Beginner Gaelic at the Irish American Heritage Center, irish-american.org, even as Ireland currently writhes in political-ecclesiastical turmoil over the sexual abuse of children by the professed. If any informed Catholic, or especially Irish-Catholic, tell you their heart is not breaking, or they’re not enraged, they’re lying to you, or are woefully ignorant of current/recent events.

I cannot yet bring myself to read the Irish government reports, only so far reading reports about reports. We always knew being an Irish kid was tough, even a little brutal, but life can be brutal and toughness is a necessary adult quality, but not to this unspeakable extent. I am very glad the truth is coming out. I know I have a problem with truth, I like it too much, in all cases and situations, especially my own, most especially my own. Those survivors can be finally believed and receive the healing they more than deserve.

The IAHC is very near where Kelly and I live. We have a family membership. Chicago boasts two Irish heritage centers! Gaelic Park, chicagogaelicpark.org, in the southern suburb of Oak Forest and the IAHC on the northwest side of the city. There is an amicable, informal understanding, Gaelic Park will focus primarily on Irish sporting events and IAHC will host literary and cultural events.

I can always tell when I am in the presence of others of Irish ancestry. The pace of wit quickens, the teasing, the loving insults, the jests and the jokes become animated and fly fast and furious. How joyful. How pleasant. How much like home. I feel most at home then. At Old St Pat’s in the Loop, those who cannot disengage their ancestry even for a moment are referred to as, “professionally Irish”. 🙂

In my two visits to the “ould sod”, literally Ireland, I learned, traditionally, it is quite impolite to ask a native Irish person the standard American 1st or 2nd question, “What do you do?”, even innocently and sincerely, as in “How much money do you make?” This, I have found in my travels of the globe, is generally true. Our culture shows its adolescence.

This introduction, so natural and second nature to Americans, is taken negatively by the Irish. An income is merely a means to an end, one’s expenses, in the native Irish mind.  Some cultures have been around much longer and have had that length to distinguish what is truly important. The Irish would much prefer to know, “Are you any fun to be with? Do you tell jokes? Do you sing? Do you dance? Would I enjoy spending time with you in the pub?” A pub in Ireland is not a bar. It is not necessarily loud or abrasive or shallow or demonstrative. Quit the opposite. It is a communal extension of the community members’ living room. Babes are brought, even to be nursed. Cards are played. Good craic = fun. When a pub closes, especially if a good game of Gaelic football, footy/footie, or hurling is on and closing time comes, the regular customers leave. The intimate few are quietly migrated to the back room where the craic and the viewing and the Guinness will resume as nothing had occurred. When reopening, the opposite migration will occur with no fanfare. And, so it goes.

When I was in MBA school, one of my favorite teachers, Mark Tauber, taught us industrial psychology, although it had a much fancier, B-school sounding name. It still does. This kind, generous man learned that I had been a Dominican novice. He politely suggested I should become Episcopalian, marry, and then, I too could become a priest. Lovely man. I know my pupils dilated, and tried to keep that my only reaction. He noticed and his pupils dilated because mine did. Dear man. My mother’s voice heard, disembodied in the background, “If my children lose their Faith, I have failed as a mother!” I politely thanked him and said I would think about it. It’s an Irish thing. You wouldn’t…never mind. Reporters noticed James Joyce, the Irish author, had stopped practicing Catholicism. They asked him, “Mr. Joyce, have you become a Protestant?” He replied, “Good God, man. I’ve lost my faith, not my mind!” 🙂

The Irish, to the present, have been Catholics for 1600 years.  From the consolidation of English power in Ireland and “the bloody flight of Earls”, www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_of_the_Earls, early 1600s-1869, the Penal Laws were in effect in Ireland:
– being a Roman Catholic priest was punishable by death,
– saying Mass was punishable by death,
– attending Mass was punishable imprisonment,
– harboring a priest was punishable by imprisonment,
– exclusion of Catholics from most public offices,
– ban on intermarriage with Protestants,
– Catholics were tithed to support the Church of Ireland (Anglicanism),
– Catholics barred from holding firearms or serving in the armed forces – (n.b. my great-grandfather on my father’s side was a sergeant in the British Army stationed in Egypt in the late 19th century. He could not become an officer due to the fact he was Irish. My father’s mother was born on Cyprus and is reported to have spoken six languages including Arabic.). —
– Catholics barred from membership in either the Parliament of Ireland or the Parliament of Great Britain,
– Catholics could not vote,
– Catholics were excluded from the legal professions and the judiciary,
– it was illegal for Catholics to travel to the continent of Europe to be educated in Catholic schools and to return to Ireland,
– Catholics barred from entering Trinity College Dublin,
– on a death by a Catholic, his legatee could benefit by conversion to the Church of Ireland (Anglicanism),
– Catholic inheritances of land were to be equally subdivided between all an owner’s sons with the exception that if the eldest son and heir converted to Protestantism that he would become the one and only tenant of estate and portions for other children not to exceed one third of the estate. This law kept Catholics “land impoverished” in their own country and made them tenant farmers in the same and forcing the native populace into monoculture,
– ban on converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism on pain of traemunire (treason), forfeiting all property estates and legacy to the monarch of the time and remaining in prison at the monarch’s pleasure.
– In addition to forfeiting the monarch’s protection, by said conversion, one forfeited protection under the law, no matter how atrocious any future crime against the converted,
– ban on Catholics buying land under a lease of more than 31 years,
– ban on custody of orphans being granted to Catholics on pain of 500 pounds that was to be donated to the Blue Coat hospital in Dublin,
– ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land,
– prohibition on Catholics owning a horse valued at over £5 (in order to keep horses suitable for military activity out of the majority’s hands’,
– “No person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm’ upon pain of twenty pounds fine and three months in prison for every such offence. Any and all rewards not paid by the crown for alerting authorities of offences to be levied upon the Catholic populace within parish and county. (You had to pay for the persecution of your own religion.).

During An Gorta Mor, The Great Hunger, 1845-1852, English authorities offered a watery soup if one apostatized to Anglicanism.  Over one million Irish men, women, and children chose to starve over that humiliation. (Irish are offended by/resist the term “Famine”, as there was no famine in Ireland, plenty of foodstuffs were being shipped to England and English colonies:  wheat, cattle, fruits, vegetables, etc. All that was left to the Irish was the potato, which the fungus destroyed, and which the French would not eat as a staple, contributing to the French Revolution. The term genocide is not inappropriate or misused.)

The song “An Raibh Tu’ ag an gCarraig?” speaks of Penal Days when the Mass was celebrated in secret at remote gatherings. The “Carraig” was the “Mass rock” used as a meeting-place and altar. These can will still be pointed out by locals today.

According to native Irish “sean nos” singers, the words appear as a love song, “Were you at the Rock and did you see my Valentine?” (meaning either the priest or the Host). However, it was a code addressed to a disguised priest or congregant, so the enemy would not grasp the true meaning even if he spoke Irish. Death was the penalty for those caught at Mass. In Penal Times, a price of 30 pounds was offered for the head of a priest or hedge-school master, the same as for that of a wolf.

An raibh tú ag an gCarraig?
nó a’ bhfaca tú féin mó grá>nó a’ bhfaca tú gile,
finne agus scéimh na mná?

Nó a’ bhfaca tú t-úll
ba chumhra is ba mhilse bláth?
nó a’ bhfaca tú mo Vailintín

Nó a’ bhfuil sí á cloí mar táim.

Ó bhí mé ag an gCarraig,
is chonaic mé mé féin dó grá
Ó chonaic mé gile
finne agus scéimh na mná

Ó chonaic mé an t-ull
ba chumhra is ba mhilse bláth
Agus chonaic mé do Vailintín
agus ní sí á cloí mar ‘láir.

Were You at the Rock?
Or did you yourself see my love,
Or did you see a brightness,
the fairness and the beauty of the woman?

Or did you see the apple,
the sweetest and most fragrant blossom?
Or did you see my Valentine?
Is she being subdued as they are saying?

O, I was at the rock
And I myself saw your love
O, I saw a brightness,
the fairness and the beauty of the woman

O, I did see the apple
the sweetest and most fragrant blossom
and I saw your Valentine
she is not being subdued as they are saying.

At first glance, “An Raibh Tú ag an gCarraig” appears to be a series of questions and answers about a young woman, but in reality it contains a coded message. The coded message is decoded below.

Were you at the Mass?
Did you see the Virgin Mary?
Did you take communion?
And say the rosary?

Did you see the chalice?
Did you see the sacrifice of the Mass?
Did you practice the faith?
Are we being persecuted as they are saying?

I was at the Mass;
I saw the Virgin Mary
I received communion,
and said the rosary

I saw the chalice,
and saw the sacrifice of the Mass
And I practiced the faith;
we are not being subdued as they are saying.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 26 – Blessed Titus Brandsma, O. Carm. (1881-1942), Priest & Martyr

TitusBrandsma

Anno Sjoera Brandsma was born in a little hamlet area of Friesland, Holland in the year 1881 on February 23; he was born into a very tight knit and loving family. His mother was of an anxious nature and therefore was very protective of her family, as was his father, Titus, who was also very proud of their Friesland heritage. Catholicism was not well embraced where the Brandsma family lived and so Titus as head of their home became involved in local politics as he tried hard to preserve their culture from modern intrusion.

But also apart from politics, Titus, Anno’s father, made his living as a dairy farmer in that region of Holland, where he focused on producing milk and cheese to be sold. It was hard living with very few modern conveniences, so all the children from early on were raised with a great work ethic as well as a strong Catholic Faith.

Anno attended the Franciscan school or ‘gymnasium’ at Megen, Holland, many of the students from this school like Anno would later enter the priesthood. But Anno told others that he didn’t particularly like this school and preferred a more communal approach in living and studying Catholicism and the school’s other curricular activities.  His nickname was “de Punt”=”Shorty”.

Upon completion of his studies with the Franciscans, Anno Brandsma felt a calling to embrace the Carmelite Order; he entered the Carmelite Monastery in Boxmeer Holland in the year 1898, where he took his father’s name Titus as his religious name. From the beginning of entering the Carmelite Monastery, Titus showed an extraordinary gift for journalism and writing. Titus was ordained a Catholic priest on June 17, 1905, and after further studies at the Roman Gregorian University, graduated on October 25, 1909 with a doctorate in philosophy.  He translated the works of the mystic St Teresa of Avila into Dutch.  He was often seen working with a cigar in his mouth.

Father Titus Brandsma spent his early ministry in education where he joined the faculty of the newly founded Catholic University of Nijmegen in 1923, which he helped found. He began a speaking tour of the United States in 1935, the same year he began writing against anti-Jewish marriage laws.

With Fr. Titus’ journalistic interests and gift of writing, the Archbishop De Jong of Utrecht appointed him as spiritual advisor to the staff members of the more than thirty Catholic newspapers in Holland; this coincided with the more virulent and tyrannical presence of the Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler. It didn’t take long for Fr. Titus to begin criticizing the new German leadership.  “The Nazi movement is a black lie,” he proclaimed. “It is pagan.”

When the Germans invaded Holland in the year 1940 and began persecution of the Jews in that country, the Dutch resistance rose up to counteract the Nazi oppression. Also the Catholic hierarchy announced that the Sacraments would be refused to Catholics who supported the Nazi occupation and the Nazi regime.  Fr. Brandsma was continually followed by the Gestapo.

During this difficult and most dangerous of times, Fr. Titus Brandsma also became more involved in the Dutch resistance, making little effort to conceal his activities from the Nazis. And it was his refusal and the Church’s refusal to print National Socialist (Nazi) propaganda which infuriated the Nazis. Especially as Fr. Titus also felt compelled to personally deliver to each Catholic editor a letter from the bishops ordering them not to comply with a new law requiring them to print official Nazi publications.  It was this pastoral letter, read in all Catholic parishes in Holland, which caused the Nazis to select the first three thousand Jews deported from Holland to be those who had converted to Roman Catholicism, including St Edith Stein, aka St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

This proved to be too much provocation for the Nazis and they arrested Father Titus on January 19, 1942; Titus visited 14 editors before the Gestapo arrested him at 6 p.m. at the Boxmeer monastery. He knelt and received the blessing of his superior.  Police agents took him under guard to a prison at Scheveningen, a seaside port near The Hague. He was locked in cell 577.

“Imagine my going to jail at the age of 60,” he said to his arresting officer.

“You should not have accepted the archbishop’s commission,” was the humorless reply.

Captain Hardegen, the tall, blond, always polite officer in charge of Titus’ case, began his interrogation with the question: “Why have you disobeyed the regulations?”

“As a Catholic, I could have done nothing differently,” Titus replied.

“You are a saboteur. Your church is trying to sabotage the orders of the occupying powers, to prevent the national socialistic philosophy of life from reaching the Dutch population.”

Titus responded: “We must object to anything or any philosophy that is not in line with Catholic doctrine.”

Moved  to Amersfoort in Holland before being sent to Dachau, where he arrived on June 19, 1942.  He was abused and punished for ministering to fellow prisoners.

Father Titus Brandsma’s health was always a little fragile and he suffered periodically with kidney infections throughout the 1930’s. So the brutal conditions at Dachau quickly saw his health decline rapidly. Fr. Titus had many times to visit the camp ‘hospital’ due to his health problems.  When he could no longer work this then enabled the Nazis to use this Holy Priest for biological experiments.  When he could no longer even serve this purpose to his persecutors, he was killed.

Even though Father Titus was imprisoned at Dachau, these were not empty years, as Fr. Titus kept up his prolific abilities to write with deep and mystical meaning upon suffering, and also other holy works.  He asked fellow prisoners to pray for the salvation of their guards.

Unfortunately this Holy Priest’s health could not stand up to the brutal beatings, forced labor and the vile experiments upon his emaciated figure. Father Titus Brandsma a man and a priest of holy and courageous countenance was killed by the Nazis with a lethal injection on July 26th in 1942.  To his executioner, a doctor of the Allgemeine SS, he gave a rosary.  The doctor was assisted by a nurse who was raised Catholic, but who had left the Church.

This was a priest who lived a joy filled life even amidst the greatest evil; he is a testament to the Spirit of Love for God and his fellow man. He is a modern mystic, though many of his writings were lost during the years of the war what remained is mystical theology based on his own sufferings and that of the Church. Though he did not seek martyrdom yet he bowed with humility when it embraced him as one who is called to atone for the many. With a Christ-like love he forgave his enemies and is a shining example of love conquering evil.  Love is more than a feeling.  Love is more powerful than sin and death.

“Those who want to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come into conflict with it.” -Blessed Titus Brandsma

blessed-titus

“O Jesus, when I look on You
My love for You starts up anew,
And tells me that Your heart loves me
And You my special friend would be.

More courage I will need for sure,
But any pain I will endure,
Because it makes me like to You
And leads unto Your kingdom too.

In sorrow do I find my bliss,
For sorrow now no more is this:
Rather the path that must be trod,
That makes me one with You, my God.

Oh, leave me here alone and still,
And all around the cold and chill.
To enter here I will have none;
I weary not when I’m alone.

For, Jesus, you are at my side;
Never so close did we abide.
Stay with me, Jesus, my delight,
Your presence near makes all things right.
-Blessed Titus Brandsma, O. Carm.

God our Father,
source of life and freedom,
through your Holy Spirit you gave the Carmelite Titus Brandsma
the courage to affirm human dignity even in the midst of suffering and degrading persecution.
Grant us that same Spirit,
so that, refusing all compromise with error,
we may always and everywhere give coherent witness
to your abiding presence among us.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Forgiveness & reconciliation…

I remember, as a child, when my mother proposed to me the concept that “there is no sin that God cannot forgive”, following her around the house the rest of the day trying to think up the most horrific sins as a child I could imagine.  My mother’s constant, identical answer, a credit to the her own faith and constancy, was always, “Nope.  He can forgive that one, too.”  I could not find a crack.
  • Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is interior, taking place in the heart of the one who forgives. Reconciliation, the ultimate goal toward which forgiveness tends, is a two-way street. Entrusted with the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18), we are called to reconcile with those willing to be reconciled with us. However, if the offender is unrepentant, God requires only that we forgive him or her interiorly. I believe that is why Jesus, who bestowed forgiveness directly upon repentant sinners (such as the “woman of the city” in Luke 7:48), forgave his murderers only indirectly. Instead of saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” he said, “Father, forgive them” (Lk 23:34). When the one who abused us continues to behave abusively, this intercessory prayer of Jesus—an outward expression of his interior forgiveness—becomes our model for fulfilling his commandment to forgive. 
  • Forgiveness means letting go of resentment. We have seen that God permits evil only so that he may bring about a greater good (CCC 412). The greatest good possible is that we grow in grace. When we hold onto resentment toward the person who hurt us, we impede grace. Instead of being like Jesus’ disciples, who gave up everything to follow him heavenward, we become like the rich young man of Matthew 19. He could have been another St. John, “the disciple Jesus loved,” for Jesus looked upon him and “loved him.” Instead, the young man “went away sorrowing” because he was unable to let go of the things that tied him to the earth. 
  • Forgiveness does not mean forgoing the demands of justice. It means wanting God’s best for that person. Where there is a crime, God’s best can mean, in the words of Mark Shea, “releasing the evildoer into the hands of God’s mercy even as you finger him to the cops.” St. Maria Goretti, as she lay dying, both forgave her attacker and answered the police’s questions so he could be prosecuted. Both actions sprang from the same desire for her attacker’s good and the good of others. God’s best also means not letting the offender continue to offend. If another is abusive, we fulfill God’s commandments by only having such contact with him or her as is safe. 
  • Forgiveness means praying for the offender. This falls under the commandment to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44). When the mere thought of an abuser stirs up painful memories, it can be a particularly difficult commandment to follow. A Sister of Life gave me some helpful advice: Ask Mary to place the offender within her Immaculate Heart; then, pray often for Mary’s intentions. Prayer is vital to forgiveness because it connects you with the “circulatory system” of the Mystical Body of Christ—the graces that flow from its Head to its members. The more you pray for your abuser, the more healing you will receive. This leads to the most important point: 
  • Forgiveness is not within our own power. It is in God’s power. Alexander Pope had it right: to err is human; to forgive, divine. In the Mass, when the bread and wine become, through transubstantiation, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, it is not by the priest’s own power, but by the power of Christ acting through him. So too, when we pray for those who have offended us, we transform the detritus of evil into a seedbed of goodness—not by our own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. The Catechism says that the effect of praying for our offender is so spiritually potent that it purifies our memory: “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (CCC 2842, 2843). 
All this is not to say that forgiveness is without pain. Union with Christ demands interior martyrdom (2 Cor 4:11). But we’re in good company. The Catechism says our acts of forgiveness connect us with all the saints who gave their lives for the faith: “Forgiveness . . . bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus” (CCC 2844).”
-Eden, Dawn (2012-05-12). My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints (p. 92-94). Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition.
Love,
Matthew

UPDATED: “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds With the Help of the Saints” by Dawn Eden (Goldstein), Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, © 2012

dawn_eden2

I am reading the above book – surprise.  Powerful.  Profound.  Truthful. Wrenching.  Joyful.  Hopeful.  Haunting.

Dawn Eden, raised Jewish, describes how in her own journey the lives of the saints have given her hope and aided her spiritual healing after childhood sexual abuse. According to the CDC, one in four American women and one in six American men report having been sexually abused during childhood.  “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints” is a wonderful resource.  Dawn is studying for her doctorate in theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC.  The world is a small place.  This book provides a much-needed resource for spiritual healing from the isolating effects of these wounds. Dawn gives an excellent account of the understanding of Christian suffering.

In my too rare and too few privileged moments with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, I have struggled to come to terms with their personal tragedy and the continuing communal tragedy within the Church.  I realize I will never understand their suffering in the way they do.  They lived and live it.

Pope Benedict XVI in his “Letter to the Catholics of Ireland”, 3/19/10, stated “…(we) have obscured the light of Gospel to a degree not even centuries of persecution have succeeded in doing.”  How true.  We continue to do so.  Kyrie Eleison.

“This failure to protect a child’s innocence reverberates throughout a victim’s entire life. In my knowledge, a victim of sexual abuse often struggles, even as an adult, to conquer the relentless temptations of self-condemnation.”
-Mother Mary Agnes Donovan, S.V., Sisters of Life, Psychololgist & Author of the Forward for the book. Christe Eleison.

Dawn writes, truly, “I share the anger and grief (ed: and outrage and shame and humiliation and disorientation and profound, painful doubts & fresh disillusionment, cynicism budding anew, the deceptive whispers of the Enemy) of my fellow Catholics over those who have betrayed their sacred office.”  Just like Judas, with a “kiss”, betraying the Body of Christ.

I found Dawn’s reflections on St Ignatius of Loyola particularly poignant. Anyone familiar with Jesuit spirituality will have encountered the Suscipe.

“Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem. Accipe memoriam, intellectum, atque voluntatem omnem. Quidquid habeo vel possideo mihi largitus es; id tibi totum restituo, ac tuae prorsus voluntati trado gubernandum. Amorem tui solum cum gratia tua mihi dones, et dives sum satis, nec aliud Quidquam ultra posco.  Amen.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All I have and call my own, You have given to me; to you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only Your love and your grace. That is enough for me.”

In her book, Dawn poses the “taking of one’s memory” not as a surrender of something good and valuable as a sacrifice or oblation, but, rather, the taking of memory by God as a balm, a salve, a healing compassion for those who have suffered trauma.

And of St Sebastian, Dawn writes, “Artists typically depict him shot through with arrows. The image is deceptive, for the assault on him by the Emperor Diocletian’s archers is not the most interesting part of his story. The most interesting part is that he survived.”

Dawn does an excellent job of comparing the stigmata, even “invisible stigmata”, experienced by some of the saints to the ongoing trauma suffered by survivors of childhood sexual abuse at their most vulnerable and innocent stage of life.  Heart of Jesus, be the comfort of those afflicted and suffering.  Kyrie Eleison.

I highly recommend this book.  Please pray for those who have suffered, do suffer, and will suffer.  Be there for them.  Believe them.

As “eloquent icons of innocence”, as so described by the Fathers of the Early Church, and recall Heaven can see all our actions through eyes of an icon, “maxima debetur puero reverentia”. (Mt 19:14/Mk 10:14)

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
-Frederick Douglas

“God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with.”
-Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 39, quoting the ancient maxim.

Love,
Matthew
Awardee, John Paul the Great Scholarship, (not normally given to 1st yr graduate students!) Ave Maria University.

UPDATE: 5/8/17

Very Rev. Douglas L. Mosey, C.S.B., Ph.D., President and Rector of Holy Apostles College & Seminary, and the entire Holy Apostles community are pleased to welcome Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein to the On Campus faculty in the Fall of 2017 as an Assistant Professor of Dogmatic Theology. She joins Holy Apostles from St. Mary’s College, Oscott, the seminary of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, where she currently serves as a resident lecturer in Dogmatic Theology. Dr. Goldstein’s teaching credentials include having taught at Allen Hall in London, which is the seminary of the Archdiocese of Westminster, and at Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England. Last year, she served as a featured lecturer for the John Paul II Forum Summer Workshop.

Dr. Goldstein received her Doctorate in Sacred Theology, Summa Cum Laude, from the University of St. Mary of the Lake. She holds the distinction of being the first woman ever to be awarded that degree from St. Mary’s. She holds her STL, Magna Cum Laude, from the Pontifical Institute of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

Additionally, Dr. Goldstein is a noted author under the name Dawn Eden. Her works include Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories, My Peace I Give You, and The Thrill of the Chaste. She has also written articles for the New York Times, L’Osservatore Romano, and many other publications.

The Holy Apostles College & Seminary community is proud to have Dr. Goldstein join our Mission to Cultivate Catholic Leaders for Evangelization.

Jul 4 – Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, OP, (1901-1925) – The Joy & Gift of Christian Youth

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is a saint for the modern world, and especially for the young people of our time. Born in 1901 in Turin, Italy, to a rich and politically influential family; his mother was the painter Adelaide Ametis; his father was an agnostic, the founder and editor of the liberal newspaper La Stampa, which opposed many Catholic positions, and became the Italian ambassador to Germany.

Pier Giorgio’s time on earth was short-only 24 years-but he filled it passionately with holy living. He was a model of virtue, a “man of the beatitudes,” as Pope John Paul II called him at the saint’s beatification ceremony in Rome on May 20, 1990.  A pious youth, average student, outstanding athlete and mountain climber, he was extremely popular with his peers.  He was described by friends as “an explosion of joy.” His nickname was “Terror”, due to his incessant practical jokes!  As Pier Giorgio’s sister, Luciana, says of her brother in her biography of him, “He represented the finest in Christian youth: pure, happy, enthusiastic about everything that is good and beautiful.”

To our modern world which is often burdened by cynicism and angst, Pier Giorgio’s life offers a brilliant contrast, a life rich in meaning, purpose, and peace derived from faith in God. From the earliest age, and despite two unreligious parents who misunderstood and disapproved of his piety and intense interest in Catholicism, Pier Giorgio placed Christ first in all that he did. These parental misunderstandings, which were very painful to him, persisted until the day of his sudden death of polio. However, he bore this treatment patiently, silently, and with great love.  He was especially devoted to St Catherine of Siena and St Thomas Aquinas.

Pier Giorgio prayed daily, offering, among other prayers, a daily rosary on his knees by his bedside. Often his agnostic father would find him asleep in this position. “He gave his whole self, both in prayer and in action, in service to Christ,” Luciana Frassati writes. After Pier Giorgio began to attend Jesuit school as a boy, he received a rare permission in those days to take communion daily. “Sometimes he passed whole nights in Eucharistic adoration.” For Pier Giorgio, Christ was the answer. Therefore, all of his action was oriented toward Christ and began first in contemplation of Him. With this interest in the balance of contemplation and action, it is no wonder why Pier Giorgio was drawn in 1922 at the age of 21 to the Fraternities of St. Dominic. In becoming a tertiary, Pier Giorgio chose the name “Girolamo” (Jerome) after his personal hero, Girolamo Savonarola, the fiery Dominican preacher and reformer during the Renaissance in Florence. Pier Giorgio once wrote to a friend, “I am a fervent admirer of this friar (Savonarola), who died as a saint at the stake.”

Pier Giorgio was handsome, vibrant, and natural. These attractive characteristics drew people to him. He had many good friends and he shared his faith with them with ease and openness. He engaged himself in many different apostolates. Pier Giorgio also loved sports. He was an avid outdoorsman and loved hiking, riding horses, skiing, and mountain climbing. He was never one to pass on playing a practical joke, either. He relished laughter and good humor.

piergiorgio

piergiorgio1

As Luciana points out, “Catholic social teaching could never remain simply a theory with [Pier Giorgio].” He set his faith concretely into action through spirited political activism during the Fascist period in World War I Italy. He lived his faith, too, through discipline with his school work, which was a tremendous cross for him as he was a poor student.  He studied mineralogy in an engineering program.  Most notably, however, Pier Giorgio (like the Dominican St. Martin de Porres) lived his faith through his constant, humble, mostly hidden service to the poorest of Turin. Although Pier Giorgio grew up in a privileged environment, he never lorded over anyone the wealth and prestige of his family. Instead, he lived simply and gave away food, money, or anything that anyone asked of him. It is suspected that he contracted from the very people to whom he was ministering in the slums the polio that would kill him.

Even as Pier Giorgio lay dying, his final week of rapid physical deterioration was an exercise in heroic virtue. His attention was turned outward toward the needs of others and he never drew attention to his anguish, especially since his own grandmother was dying at the same time he was. Pier Giorgio’s heart was surrendered completely to God’s will for him. His last concern was for the poor. On the eve of his death, with a paralyzed hand, he scribbled a message to a friend, reminding the friend not to forget the injections for Converso, a poor man Pier Giorgio had been assisting.

When news of Pier Giorgio’s death on July 4, 1925 reached the neighborhood and city, the Frassati parents, who had no idea about the generous self-donation of their young son, were astonished by the sight of thousands of people crowded outside their mansion on the day of their son’s funeral Mass and burial. The poor, the lonely, and those who had been touched by Pier Giorgio’s love and faithful example had come to pay homage to this luminous model of Christian living.

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Pier Giorgio’s mortal remains were found incorrupt in 1981 and were transferred from the family tomb in the cemetery of Pollone to the Cathedral of Turin.

Frassati Societies exist throughout the world for young people interested in the Catholic faith, often centered around high schools and colleges.  The mission of the societies is to help young people live out the Beatitudes through prayer, service, and fun.

Pier-Giorgio-Portrait

“I would like for us to pledge a pact which knows no earthly boundaries nor temporal limits:  union in prayer.” – in a letter to his friend, Isidoro Bonini, Jan 15, 1925.

“To live without a Faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for the Truth, is not living but existing.” – Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati

“Sadness ought to be banished from Catholic souls.” -Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati 

“In God’s marvelous plan, Divine Providence often uses the tiniest twigs to do good works.” -Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

“The faith given to me in baptism suggests to me surely: by yourself you will do nothing, but if you have God as the center of all your action, then you will reach the goal.” -Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

“We were quietly eating when we heard Marischa’s screams. At first I thought it was thieves, but on reaching the hall and seeing one of them about to cut the telephone wires, I immediately realized that they were the Fascists. My blood raced in my veins. I threw myself at that scoundrel shouting “rascals, cowards, assassins,” and delivered a punch.” — Excerpt from PGF’s letter to his friend Antonio Villani on June 23, 1924, describing his defense of the family home a day earlier. The incident was recounted in papers as far away as the United States.

“We went to the mountains together… There were more than twenty of us, and every time we stopped, Pier Giorgio gave us his little speeches very enthusiastically, comparing our climb in the mountains to our spiritual ascent in our faith in Christ. Even Father Bonino was amazed. He said that he, a priest, hadn’t thought of saying such sublime things to us. Pier Giorgio said, ‘Let’s climb higher and we’ll hear the voice of Christ even better!’” – Testimony of Antonio Valetto

“Pier Giorgio didn’t flee from intimacy; on the contrary, he loved, and thus he overcame the typical Biellese resistance to speaking about love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, something that is central to the Christian life. He left me with an unforgettable impression, so much so that I consider Pier Giorgio to be one of the strongest and most solid souls ever to live in Christ Jesus.” – Testimony of Lorenzo Berra, engineer

“We teased him a bit. He had trouble organizing mountain hikes that didn’t involve missing Sunday Mass, which for him was more important than anything else. This seemed a bother to those who were not so faithful to the Sunday Mass precept, but Pier Giorgio could not give in. He wasn’t a fanatic, but he would not compromise on this.” – Testimony of Carlo Enrico Galimberti, engineer

“I must say that when he prayed, it was something extraordinary. I saw him quite a few times during night-time adoration at San Secondo Church. He was enchanted with the liturgy, and it seemed that the ritual lifted him up to another world. In fact, I never saw anyone else like that boy, who was humility personified.” – Testimony of Emilio Zanzi, journalist

“I watched him in the house of God. Frassati seemed like someone else, someone unrecognizable. I would never have suspected that that young rabble-rouser who was quick to crack a joke was capable of such a radical change. He prayed with exemplary composure. He was never distracted, he remained motionless, with his arms folded, with a posture that was devout and manly at the same time. He was prayer personified, in soul and body.” – Testimony of Maria Tasca, Ph.D.

Happy Fourth of July!
Love,
Matthew

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