All posts by techdecisions

Dec 22 – Bl Jacopone da Todi, OFM, (ca. 1230 – 1306) – “Crazy Jim”, Early Dramatist of Gospel themes…, Author of “Stabat Mater”

I LOVE BEING MARRIED!!!!  Let me repeat, I love being married!!!  It requires I grow everyday.  That’s definitely not a comment about Kelly.  It is infinitely a comment about me.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you, Kelly.  Thank you for saying “yes” or “sure”, or whatever it was.  Thank you for being Mrs. McCormick.  Thank you for being Mara’s “Omi”.  I love you very much.  You know how I feel.

Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna.  His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle, or hairshirt, she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life.

He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order. Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or “Crazy Jim,” by his former associates. The name became dear to him.  On another occasion, he appeared at a wedding in his brother’s house, tarred and feathered from head to toe.

After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor. Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular.

Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, “Fraticelli”, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two brothers, the Colonnas, cardinals of the Church, and Pope Celestine V. Interestingly, Celestive resigned before action could be taken.  These two cardinals, though, along with the King of France, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII, who opposed the more ascetic approach.  During the struggle that followed, Jacopone publicized the Spirituals’ cause by writing verses highly critical of their opponents, the Pope included.  A battle between the two factions ensued, ending in the siege of Palestrina.

At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later in 1303, having been specifically excluded from the Jubilee Year of 1300 by papal bull.  He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping “because Love is not loved.” During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, Stabat Mater.

On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed “Sister Death” with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, he has been venerated as a saint.  He is praised in Dante’s Paradiso.


-The Piazza del Popolo in Todi, where Jacopone crawled around on one occasion, wearing a saddle.

Some of his poetry,

From “Love That Is Silent”:

Love, silent as the night,
Who not one word wilt say,
That none may know Thee right!
0 Love that lies concealed,
Through heat and storm and cold,
That none may guess nor read
Thy secrets manifold;
Lest thieves should soon grow bold
To steal away thy treasure,
Snatch it and take to flight
Deep-hid, thy secret fires
More ardently shall glow;
And he who screens thee close,
Thy fiercest heat shall know.

From “The God-Madness”:

“What happens to the drop of wine
That you pour into the sea?

Does it remain itself, unchanged?
It is as if it never existed.
So it is with the soul: Love drinks it in,
It is united with Truth,
Its old nature fades away,
It is no longer master of itself.

The soul wills and yet does not will:
Its will belongs to Another.
It has eyes only for this beauty;
It no longer seeks to possess, as was its wont–
It lacks the strength to possess such sweetness.
The base of this highest of peaks
Is founded on nichil,
Shaped nothingness, made one with the Lord.”

From “The Soul’s Over-Ardent Love”:

Love, that art Charity,
Why has Thou hurt me so?
My heart is smote in two,
And burns with ardent love,
Glowing and flaming; refuge finding none,
My heart is fettered fast, it cannot flee;
It is consumed, like wax set in the sun;
Living, yet dying, swooning passionately,
It prays for strength a little way to run,
Yet in this furnace must it bide and be:
Where am I led, ah me!

I once could speak, but now my lips are dumb;
My eyes are blind, although I once could see:
In this abyss my soul is stark and numb,
Silent I speak; cling, yet am held by Thee:
Falling, I rise; I go, and yet I come;
Pursue, and am pursued; I am bound yet free;
O Love that whelmeth me!
Maddened I cry:
“Why must I die,
They fiery strength to prove?”

Love, Love, of naught but Love my tongue can sing,
Thy wounded Hand hath pierced my heart so deep:
Love, Love, with Thee made one, to Thee I cling,
Upon Thy breast, let me sleep;
Love, Love, with Love my heart is perishing;
Love, like an Eagle snatching me Thy sleep,
For Thee I swoon, I weep,
Love, let me be,
By courtesy,
Thine own in death. . .

From “Rapture Divine”:

When the mind’s very being is gone,
Sunk in a conscious sleep,
In a rapture divine and deep,
Itself in the Godhead lost:
It is conquered, ravished, and won!
Set in Eternity’s sweep,
Gazing back on the steep,
Knowing not how it was crossed –
To a new world now it is tossed,
Drawn from its former state,
To another, measureless, great,
Where Love is drowned in the Sea.

The Stabat Mater

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had pass’d.

Oh, how sad and sore distress’d
Was that Mother highly blest
Of the sole-begotten One!

Christ above in torment hangs;
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
Whelm’d in miseries so deep
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?

Bruis’d, derided, curs’d, defil’d,
She beheld her tender child
All with bloody scourges rent.

For the sins of His own nation,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above;
Make my heart with thine accord.

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
Make my soul to glow and melt
With the love of Christ our Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through;
In my heart each wound renew
Of my Saviour crucified.

Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all my sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourn’d for me,
All the days that I may live.

By the cross with thee to stay,
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins best,
Listen to my fond request
Let me share thy grief divine.

Let me, to my latest breath,
In my body bear the death
Of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
Steep my soul till it hath swoon’d
In His very blood away.

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
Lest in flames I burn and die,
In His awful Judgment day.

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
Be Thy Mother my defense,
Be Thy cross my victory.

While my body here decays,
May my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.

Amen.

-Blessed Jacopone da Todi


-tomb of Bl Jacopone da Todi

Epitaph:  “Here lie the bones of Blessed Jacopone dei Benedetti da Todi, Friar Minor, who, having gone mad with love of Christ, by a new artifice deceived the world and took Heaven by violence.”

Blessed Nativity.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 13 – St Lucy, (283-304 AD), Virgin & Martyr – Two Eyes on a Plate/Light Humor

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saint lucy

Rich, young Christian of Greek ancestry. Raised in a pious family, she vowed her life to Christ. Her Roman father died when she was young. Her mother, Eutychia, arranged a marriage for her. For three years she managed to keep the marriage on hold. To change the mother‘s mind about the girl‘s new faith, Lucy prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha, and her mother‘s long haemorrhagic illness was cured. Her mother agreed with Lucy’s desire to live for God, and Lucy became known as a patron of those with maladies like her mother‘s.

Her rejected pagan bridegroom, Paschasius, denounced Lucy as a Christian to the governor of Sicily. The governor sentenced her to forced prostitution, but when guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; they went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger in the throat. Her name is listed in the prayer “Nobis quoque peccatoribus” in the Canon of the Mass.

Legend says her eyesight was restored before her death. This and the meaning of her name led to her connection with eyes, the blind, eye trouble, etc.

(When I travel on business with colleagues and the diversions include a trip to a cultural or historical site such as a Catholic Church, or even an art museum, I find I am, at least, at their request, only, a practical and useful docent to them, with some awareness of iconography and Latin, etc.)

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-by Br Leo Camurati, OP

“In iconography, there are different tokens, called “attributes,” that help to distinguish between different saints. Attributes can be common objects, or more unusual ones. For example, St. Peter has the Keys to the Kingdom Of Heaven as Christ gave him, St. Jerome is dressed as a cardinal (even though he wasn’t one), and St. Catherine of Alexandria is distinguished by a wheel, her instrument of torture.

Today is the feast of St. Lucy, which brings to mind the first time I saw an image of her, along with her “attribute.” She was holding two eyes, on a plate. No, that’s not a typo. Two eyes. On a plate.

In a word, it was grotesque. In several more words, it was unpalatable, impolite, bizarre, and disturbing. Of course, I wasn’t naïve enough to believe such things never happened—Byzantine history provides plenty of examples—but why would anyone be so crude as to commemorate it with a statue?

It’s said that, after St. Lucy was blinded, God miraculously restored her sight. But it’s also fairly likely that this is only a legend. After all, neither the blinding itself nor the miraculous healing is mentioned either in the thirteenth-century Golden Legend or in earlier works.

Perhaps it will be helpful to go to the Gospels:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light;  but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Mt 6:22–23)

Christ points out the limits of our vision. In one way or another, we are all blinded to our faults. Incidentally, this passage comes right after Christ’s condemnation of hypocrisy. We can all look great in our own eyes, and we can all rationalize anything that gets in the way of our self-deception. But we have been warned, on good authority, not to embrace this way of seeing:

“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Mt 18:9)

And so, the unsettling image of St. Lucy starts to make a bit more sense. More than just a legendary accretion, her story is a call to the profound reevaluation we must make if we are to see clearly.

St. Lucy was martyred during the persecution of Diocletian, but, before she was killed, the Roman authorities tried to humiliate and disgrace her by condemning her to a house of ill repute—to put it more plainly, a brothel. When the judge sentenced her, she replied,

“If you were to lift my hand to your idol and so make me offer against my will, I would still be guiltless in the sight of the true God, who judges according to the will and knows all things. If now, against my will, you cause me to be polluted, a twofold purity will be gloriously imputed to me. You cannot bend my will to your purpose; whatever you do to my body, that cannot happen to me.”

St. Lucy could see something that the judge could not. But preaching the faith to him was like trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to a Manhattanite—a hard sell if there ever was one. His worldly way of thinking might be summed up in Mark Twain’s charming but cynical definition of faith: “believing that which we know not to be true.”

Charming, perhaps, but wrong—dead wrong. Such “faith” does not produce martyrs. St. Lucy, like other saints through the ages, saw through the outward appearance of respectability, comfort, and peace that is offered by the world. These items were off the table for her, because she caught the glimpse of something far greater.

Fulton Sheen once remarked that humor results from the ability to see through things. Slapstick, irony, even puns are only really funny when they point beyond themselves. The Church exhibits her sense of humor in this way by placing the feast day of St. Lucy, whose name means “light,” at the darkest time of the year. It’s not such a great one-liner, of course, and it won’t get as many laughs as Mark Twain. But then it’s a different kind of humor—the sort that doesn’t go stale.

C.S. Lewis gives his own charming description of faith in his second Narnia novel, Prince Caspian. One day, the youngest child in the story—Lucy Pevensie—encounters the lion Aslan, whom she hasn’t seen in a long time; but, much to her dismay, she soon realizes that her siblings cannot see him, even in broad daylight. Then she notices something else:

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

As we grow older, does our faith, like the faith of St. Lucy and little Lucy Pevensie, allow us to see Christ “grow bigger”? Or is there a need to rub our eyes, in the event that we are missing something important? Getting to the bottom of these questions will probably take more than one Advent, so it’s a good idea to get started now.”

master-of-the-saint-lucy-legend-virgin-surrounded-by-female-saints
-please click on the image for greater detail

-The Blessed Virgin Surrounded by Female Saints, Artist Unknown/Anonymous, c. 1488, Oak, 108 x 171 cm, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels –  Three saints are at the center of the composition.  They are Catherine, Mary Magdalen and Barbara.

The Virgin is represented as the Queen of Heaven. She wears a crown and is seated on a throne behind which two angels hold aloft a rich brocade honour cloth. The scene takes place in an enclosed garden, full of plants and flowers, evoking Paradise. A landscape extends far into the background. The eleven young women surrounding the Virgin can be identified by their various attributes accompanying them or decorating their rich garments. The Child is holding a ring to Catherine in order to seal their “mystical marriage”. This saint is also accompanied by a sword and her mantle is decorated with wheels. Mary Magdalene can be recognised by her ointment pot and Barbara by the towers that decorate her brocade mantle and her necklace. To the left, Ursula is identified by the arrows of her martyrdom half hidden beneath her gown, Apollina by a tooth in a pair of pincers and Lucy by a tray with two eyes on it. An unidentified saint holds a crown and a bell. To the right, Agnes carries a lamb in her lap and presents a ring, signifying her mystical marriage with Christ. Cunera, a companion of Ursula, carries a little cradle or footstool, along with an arrow, and Agatha a pair of pincers holding a torn-off breast. Margaret holds a cross in her hand. She is also accompanied in the landscape by a representation of St George slaying the dragon, a scene with which she is frequently associated.

Saint Lucy
Whose beautiful name signifies ‘LIGHT’
by the light of faith which God bestowed upon you
increase and preserve His light in my soul
so that I may avoid evil,
Be zealous in the performance of good works
and abhor nothing so much as the blindness and
the darkness of evil and sin.
Obtain for me, by your intercession with God
Perfect vision for my bodily eyes
and the grace to use them for God’s greater honour and glory
and the salvation of souls.
St. Lucy, virgin and martyr
hear my prayers and obtain my petitions.

Amen.

st lucy 008

O! Glorious St Lucy, Virgin and Martyr, you greatly glorified the Lord by preferring to sacrifice your life rather than be unfaithful. Come to our aid and, through the love of this same most loveable Lord, save us from all infirmities of the eyes and the danger of losing them.

Through your powerful intercession, may we spend our life in the peace of the Lord and be able to see Him with our transfigured eyes in the eternal splendour of the Celestial Homeland. Amen.

St Lucy, pray for us and for the most needy, to Christ our Lord. Amen.

St.-Lucy-Bread

O St Lucy, you preferred to let your eyes be torn out instead of denying the faith and defiling your soul; and God, through an extraordinary miracle, replaced them with another pair of sound and perfect eyes to reward your virtue and faith, appointing you as the protector against eye diseases. I come to you for you to protect my eyesight and to heal the illness in my eyes.

O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.

Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognise His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.

St Lucy, protect my eyes and preserve my faith. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Lead Us Not Into Clericalism – Daniel P. Horan, OFM

http://americamagazine.org/issue/lead-us-not-clericalism

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“Next month I turn 30. While that might seem like an old age to me as I approach the milestone, most people are quick to remind me of how young a friar and priest I still am. That statement of fact is often, but not always, accompanied by some well-meaning remark by a parishioner after Mass or an audience member after a talk suggesting that I’m not like other “young priests” they know.

What generally follows that sort of comment is an expression of concern about the perceived unapproachable or pretentious character of so many of the newly ordained. They appear to be more concerned about titles, clerical attire, fancy vestments, distance between themselves and their parishioners, and they focus more on what makes them distinctive than on their vocation to wash the feet of others (Jn 13:14–17), to lead with humility and to show the compassionate face of God to all.

What concerns people, in other words, is clericalism.

What I hear in these moments is not so much a compliment or praise for me as the worry people have for the future of ministry. As St. Francis cautioned his brothers, I realize that anything good that comes from my encounters in ministry is God’s work, and the only things I can truly take “credit” for are my weaknesses and sinfulness (Admonition V). And, trust me, there are plenty of both in my own life. At the heart of this encounter is the intuitive recognition that we are all sinners, yet we all have equal dignity as the baptized, and that those ordained to the ministerial priesthood should serve their sisters and brothers on our journey of faith.

While I know many good and humble religious and diocesan priests, I’ve encountered far too many clergy who, for whatever reason, feel they are above, better or more special than others. Pope Francis also recognizes this and spoke critically about it in the impromptu interview he gave during his return trip from World Youth Day.

Catholic News Service reported the pope’s words: “I think this is a time for mercy,” particularly a time when the church must go out of its way to be merciful, given the “not-so-beautiful witness of some priests” and “the problem of clericalism, for example, which have left so many wounds, so many wounded. The church, which is mother, must go and heal those wounds.”

Pope Francis names this the culture of clericalism, which maims and distorts the body of Christ, wounding those who seek God’s mercy but instead encounter human self-centeredness.

In an interview published in America (9/30), Pope Francis suggested ministers could help heal these wounds with mercy. He said: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

St. Francis of Assisi is often remembered for having had a special reverence for priests, a characteristic that appears frequently in his writings. But he also had a particular vision for how the brothers in his community, ordained or not, would live in the world. His instruction seems as timely as ever in light of the persistence of clericalism.

In his Earlier Rule St. Francis says, “Let no one be called ‘prior,’ but let everyone in general be called a lesser brother.” He also wrote in Admonition XIX:

Blessed is the servant who does not consider himself any better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and looked down upon, for what a person is before God, that he is and no more. Woe to that religious who has been placed in a high position by others and [who] does not want to come down by his own will. Blessed is that servant who is not placed in a high position by his own will and always desired to be under the feet of others.

All members of the clergy, not just Franciscans, should be challenged by these words.

Eight months into Pope Francis’ pontificate, I sense that he is challenging the whole church, but especially its ordained members, to a similar way of living. His call for humbler and more generous priests is a call to work against a culture of clericalism. It is a call for priests and bishops, young and old, to remember that their baptism is what matters most.”

Lord, You have called me to priestly ministry
in a particular moment of history,
as in the times of the first Apostles,
when You desire that all Christians,
and in a particular way Your priests,
might be witnesses to the wonders of God
and the strength of Your Spirit.

Allow me to be a witness to the dignity of human life,
to the grandeur of love,
and to the power of the ministry which I have received.
May my entire life be dedicated to You:
for love, only for love, and for a higher love.

May my commitment to celibacy
born of Your mission,
be a joyful and happy affirmation
and a total dedication of myself to others
in the service of Your Church.
Give me strength in my weakness,
and gratitude for my steadfastness.

Holy Mother Mary,
greatest and most wonderful mother of all time,
grant that I may entrust my life to you each day.
Mary, font of generosity and dedication,
grant that I may be joined with you
at the foot of the greatest crosses of the world,
experiencing the redeeming pain of the death of your Son,
so that I might enjoy the triumph of the Resurrection
for eternal life. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 12 – Our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas, Queen of Heaven & Earth

1531_Nuestra_Señora_de_Guadalupe_anagoria


-by Br Dominic Mary Verner, OP

The two women gazed at each other through the pane of bulletproof glass: one the Secretary of State of the currently most powerful nation on Earth, the other the maternal emissary and mother of the Universe’s Eternal Creator & Savior. Madam Secretary stood dressed in a smart red power suit; La Guadalupana was miraculously emblazoned on a humble peasant’s tilma. Unfortunately, their visit had to be short: Madam Secretary had an award banquet to attend in honor of her protection of abortion rights. She could not dawdle with the Virgin who had converted an Aztec nation to end child sacrifice. So she laid the pro-forma flowers at the foot of the tilma and, as if to encapsulate the irony of the encounter, she turned to the rector of the Basilica and asked the good monsignor to tell her who painted such a beautiful image.

No one should be faulted for not knowing what they have no reason to know, especially when it concerns something belonging to a faith which they do not possess. That being said, in her 2009 visit to Mexico City, somebody dropped the ball by failing to inform Madam Secretary about the history of the Lady to whom she was offering flowers. If she had even a cursory knowledge of that history, perhaps she would have paid more than lip service to that beautiful lady robed with the stars, with the moon under her feet.

The echo of Luther’s hammer against the Wittenberg church doors still resounded throughout Northern Europe when Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego. She was sent at a time when the Christian missionary efforts were bearing little fruit among a people loath to accept the religion of their conquerors. How were they to know that the love of Christ extended across the Atlantic when that love was accompanied by the Spanish sword and whip?

When Our Lord sent his mother as his emissary to the conquered Aztecs, she appeared as a mestiza woman, dark-skinned, with local features, a woman pregnant no doubt with a mestizo child. She came in a most fitting way to reveal the love which her Son had for them. With brown eyes lowered in humility, dark hair, and hands folded in intercessory prayer, she assured Juan Diego—and through him, his nation—with the words any distressed son or daughter longs to hear: “Am I not here . . . I who am your mother”?

If the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the miraculous image left on St. Juan Diego’s tilma tell us anything, it is that the mother of Our Lord is a most effective ambassador. As European kings and princes were abandoning the Church, leading millions to throw in their lot with the schismatics, halfway around the world Our Lady was leading a poor and humbled people into the Church in droves. The Lord of all nations sent His most beloved diplomat, His mother, to be the queen of a nation finally ready to receive His saving Gospel.

On October 12, 1945, Pope Pius XII proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe “Empress of the Americas,” placing “under her powerful patronage the purity and the integrity of the holy faith in the whole American continent.” Our Empress reigns with the maternal love which befits the mother of God. She is the patroness of the unborn, having crushed the head of the serpent Quetzecoatl and stemmed the tide of infant blood sacrificed on his altars. She is empress, emissary, mother, and queen, and in her powerful intercession we hope for the conversion of our nation and of all the Americas.

Upon hearing her honest question, the monsignor courteously gave the U. S. Secretary of State his solemn reply: “God.” God painted the image of Our Lady who gazed at her through the glass. What Madam Secretary made of this reply we cannot be sure. So many preconceptions, assumptions, and values would have to change to accept such an unexpected and disturbing claim. Something like that would have the power to convert a continent. Whatever her response may have been, she was observed a few minutes later standing before rows of vigil candles. Lighting a candle to the Patroness of the Unborn, the Empress of the Americas, Madam Secretary blew out the match, bowed her head, and hurried off to receive the Margaret Sanger award.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico and Empress of the Americas, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

“The advent of our God with eager prayers we greet…”

AdventWreath

My deceased sister, Connie, handmade me an Advent wreath some years before she passed away.  She had done this for others, and I let my Christmas present wish be known.  It is a little smushed now, having been in the box so long.  It is one of my most treasured possessions.

The advent of our God
with eager prayers we greet,
and singing haste upon His road
His glorious gift to meet.

The everlasting Son
scorns not a Virgin’s womb;
that we from bondage may be won
He bears a bondsman’s doom.

Daughter of Zion, rise
to meet thy lowly King,
let not thy stubborn heart despise
the peace He deigns to bring.

In clouds of awful light,
as Judge He comes again,
His scattered people to unite
with them in heaven to reign.

Let evil flee away
ere that dread hour shall dawn,
let this old Adam day by day
God’s image still put on.

Praise to the Incarnate Son,
Who comes to set us free,
with God the Father, ever One,
to all eternity.

-”The advent of our God” -Charles Coffin, 1736; trans. Harriett Packer, 1906.

Love,
Matthew

“…it has to cost me something, so that it can change me…”

When I was a Dominican novice, ever so briefly, my weekly ministry was to work in the food pantry at St John’s Social Service Center in Cincinnatti, OH.  (I “thought” the prison would be much “cooler”, but this was a blessed lesson in obedience to my novice master, Fr. Ambrose Eckinger, OP, a barber in secular life and a talented musician.)  I learned many real lessons about real poverty and dismissed many misconceptions and biases I possessed.

Within the same block was a beautiful salon and haven for the homeless.  They could take a shower, something I think we all take too much for granted.  What joy.  What pleasure.  What heaven.  Table stakes for social interaction.  Have their hair cut.  Have their clothes washed.  Receive mail.  Make and receive phone calls.  Find that job, the quick unthinking, unfeeling, dismissive retort of many.  “There, but for the grace of God…”  Ps 103:2.

On the glass front door was an etching of just a foot (Jesus) and the head of a woman bathing the foot with her tears and drying them with her long tresses.(Luke 7:36-50)  This Lent, let’s all bathe His feet and dry them with our hair.  To borrow, I know they won’t mind, a Jesuit prayer practice, let’s all, especially me, REALLY PRAY THAT, imagine actually doing that, being the penitent woman, man, husband, wife, brother, sister, mother, father, etc. this Lent.

Vatican Homeless Showers

Vatican Homeless Showers

Vatican Homeless Showers

Vatican Homeless Showers

Homeless person sleeps outside Vatican press office near St. Peter's Square

A view of the public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. Rome’s homeless are about to get some TLC. The Vatican is finishing renovations on public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square that will include three showers and a barber shop for the homeless. Each “homeless pilgrim” as Vatican Radio called the clients Friday, will receive a kit including a towel, change of underwear, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razor and shaving cream. The showers will be open every day but Wednesday, when the piazza is full for the pope’s general audience. Haircuts are available Mondays.

UPDATE:

“Vatican prepares to open showers, barber shop for homeless

-by Nicole Winfield, AP News
Feb 6, 2015

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Rome’s homeless are about to get some TLC.

The Vatican said Friday it had finished renovations on public restrooms just off St. Peter’s Square that will include three showers and a free barber shop for the city’s neediest.

Each “homeless pilgrim,” as the Vatican called the clients, will receive a kit including a towel, change of underwear, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, razor and shaving cream. The showers will be open every day but Wednesday, when the piazza is full for the pope’s general audience. Haircuts will be available Mondays.

Barbers volunteering on their days off – Rome’s barber shops are closed Mondays – as well as students from a local beauty school will be donating their time, as well as some sisters from religious orders and other volunteers.

The bathrooms were made with high-tech, easy-to-clean materials to ensure proper hygiene, the Vatican said in a statement. The walls are grey, with white washbasins and a high-tech looking barber chair.

Francis’ chief alms-giver, Monsignor Konrad Krajewski, has said the project is needed since homeless people are often shunned for their appearance and smell. The initiative is being funded by donations and sales of papal parchments sold by Krajewski’s office.

Francis has stepped up the role of the Vatican “elmosiniere” as part of his insistence that the church look out for the poorest. In addition to small acts of charity, Krajewski’s office handed out 400 sleeping bags to the homeless over Christmas, distributed 1,600 phone cards to new migrants on the island of Lampedusa, and this past week gave away some 300 umbrellas that had been left behind at the Vatican Museums to help the homeless cope with days of heavy rain in the capital.”

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http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/11/28/pope-francis-charity-office/3776499/

“I told him, ‘Eminence, this isn’t being an almoner. You might be able to sleep at night, but being an almoner has to cost you. Two euros is nothing for you. Take this poor person, bring him to your big apartment1 that has three bathrooms, let him take a shower – and your bathroom will stink for three days – and while he’s showering make him a coffee and serve it to him, and maybe give him your sweater…”

(1I always urge caution & prudence when dealing with those whose needs exceed our abilities, which is frequent.  The heart of charity is a beautiful thing; however, I strongly believe making professional services aware of the person’s plight and location is a far more loving and prudent thing than acting naively out of love.  I lost a dear friend, Lynn, in a tragic crime, where all she tried to do was help.  These are issues/circumstances beyond the layperson’s ability/competence and often result in the gravest of dangers.  Mt 10:16)

(Giving an Apostolic Blessing, from the papal almoner, for very special occasions, a wedding, an anniversary, etc. was always par for the course for McCormicks.  It was completely usual to go into a McCormick home and see the Apostolic Blessing hanging on the wall, framed, in a  place of honor, as it would be in any Catholic home, along with a framed picture of the Kennedy brothers, Jack & Bobby, (more highly regarded than actual saints) and the Holy Father.  Par for the course.  Par.)

Blessed Advent.

Love,
Matthew

Purgatory


-please click on the image for greater detail

(Editor’s note:  it is helpful to recall in the Old Testament, when trying to understand the doctrine of Purgatory, I have found, for mortals to look upon the Beatific Vision (God) was certain and instantaneous death.  Recall in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” Indy’s, scriptural student that he was, instructions to Marian, “Don’t look at it, Marian!  Don’t look at it!”  AVERT YOUR EYES!!!!  Wise and successful student.  Indy and Marian live.  The Nazis, whom, with effrontery, dare look upon even a glimmer of the Divine glory?…not so much.  We must prepare.  We must be prepared.  We must cooperate with His infinite grace and mercy, not because our efforts are necessary or even helpful, but out of sheer joy and the most profound gratitude.  What other response could we possibly have?  How horrific to ignore, be indifferent to such a Gift?)


– by Br Raphael Forbing, OP

“In John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the artist invites us into a utopian paradise where the elimination of religion and politics—the two things men seem to fight about most—has finally ended all competition and dissension on earth. Once government and religion are removed from the equation, Lennon seems to suggest, peace and love are all that will remain. Of course, this imagined utopia is an implicit denial that God is the true source of all peace and love. Lennon fails to see that, in a world without God, the life of man is meaningless; he is not lovable in himself, but only because he is created and loved by God.

Far from depicting a heavenly utopia, Lennon’s song is actually closer to a description of Purgatory, the place of purification after death. Purgatory is neither Hell nor Heaven, and as in Lennon’s utopia, there are no countries, no killing, and no dying there. The souls in Purgatory are even all living for the eternal “today” of everlasting life and peace in the presence of God. That may be the end of the similarity, yet much more can be said about Purgatory, which has fascinated the Christian imagination for centuries, even millennia.

Scripture tells us little about Purgatory aside from a few key references to its existence. Even the Catechism devotes only three paragraphs to the topic. The most imaginative description we have of Purgatory is probably that made by Dante Alighieri in his Purgatorio, the second “volume” of his trilogy, La Divina Commedia. While Dante’s depiction of Purgatory is not a doctrinal statement, it can help the doctrine of Purgatory come alive for us and spur us on to pray for our deceased loved ones. Before glancing at Dante’s text, it is worth noting the most substantial paragraph on Purgatory from the Catechism:

“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent . . . As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire . . . we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. (CCC 1031)”

With the doctrine of the Church in mind, we can take a glance at Dante’s imaginative Purgatory. After escaping Hell, Dante and his companion Virgil arrive on the shore of “ante-Purgatory,” where souls who delayed repentance in life must wait for a period of time before they begin their purification. An angel then transports those ready for Purgatory’s penances to the shores of “Mount Purgatory,” which ascends to the lowest realm of Heaven. Mount Purgatory is made up of seven terraces. Each terrace represents one of the seven deadly sins, and each of these has its own unique form of penance. The souls there slowly labor under their penances and are purified of their sin. For instance, those who were envious and “lusted with their eyes” after the goods of others, have their eyelids sewn shut with an iron thread, as they weep profusely for their sins. Voices call out examples of envy, perhaps adding to the sorrow of the penitents, who weep all the more at such vile offenses committed against such a good and loving God.

While the true destiny of man is to live in the beatific vision of God without suffering, the guilt of our sin, though forgiven, still deserves punishment. If, in the course of our life here on earth, we do not make sufficient penance for our sins, we must endure the punishment that awaits us in Purgatory, whatever that may look like. Thanks to God’s good Providence, we can choose our penances while we are alive to lessen our own stay in Purgatory, and we can also offer prayers and penances for the souls in Purgatory to lessen the punishment they must endure. Upon their arrival in Heaven, they in turn offer prayers with the saints to God on our behalf.

John Lennon may not have esteemed the good of religion, but for Christians, true religion is the source of lasting peace.”

Blessed Advent.  Lower profile than Lent as a penitential season, Advent has many parallels.

Both Advent and Lent are penitential seasons, which does seem strange because Lent has a feeling of sorrow whereas Advent does not. Both are penitential in the sense that we are preparing ourselves. Advent is a season of preparation with a feeling of hope, the hope that comes from the birth of the Savior. Lent is a season of preparation with a feeling of sorrow, sorrow for our sins for which our Savior suffered and died.

“During Advent, the faithful are admonished to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord’s coming into the world as the incarnate God of love, thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.” – “On Christian Hope”, Pope Benedict XVI, Nov 30, 2007.

Let us “Prepare the way of the Lord, for He comes!”  For all souls in purgatory, we pray, eternal rest grant unto them, may the perpetual light shine upon them, may they rest in peace.  Make haste, O Lord, to welcome into your love and joy our departed loved ones.  Make haste, O Lord, to welcome us, too, when, at the hour of our own death, we shall see You as You are, in glory; where we shall spend eternity in praise and thanksgiving to You!

Love,
Matthew

Dec 7 – St Ambrose, (340-397 AD) – Governor of Milan, Bishop, Confessor, Doctor, & Father of the Church, “The Honey-tongued Doctor”

St. Ambrose

Saint Ambrose’s life testifies to the fact that everything can change in a moment’s notice, and that God has greater plans for us than we could ever fathom for ourselves. Aurelius Ambrosius was born into Roman nobility and proceeded to receive an excellent education. By the age of 33 Ambrose was living the life every Roman dreamed of.  He was a successful lawyer and the governor of Milan. Suddenly and without warning everything would change.

In about 374 A.D. the bishop of Milan, Auxentius, died. This was a major problem because at this time Milan was full of Catholics and Arians.  Arianism was a terrible heresy which swept the early Church.  Arius (250-336 AD) was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt. He developed an exegesis of Proverbs 8:22-31 et seq, the passage beginning “The Lord created me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of old.” The passage is referring to Wisdom. Arius derived from this the notion that Christ, who is often identified as Wisdom in Proverbs, is a created creature. This is the same belief held by modern Arians, whom we know as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Arius was apparently quite a charismatic character, although his description does not quite match up to the trouble that he caused. He was born in Libya, but raised in Antioch. A contemporary, Epyphonius, described him as tall and grave, with a winning personality. He always walked about barefoot, and led an ascetic life. Despite what appears to be an unassuming personality, Arius fervently marketed his teaching. Throughout the controversy, the world was treated to Arians singing popular ditties relating their theology. One writer of the period complained that it was impossible to go to the market without having to listen to such songs, and engaging in theological dispute with the butcher, the fruit vendor and the bath attendant.  St Jerome, of prior note, lamented “The whole world woke and groaned to find itself Arian.”

The dispute tore the Christian world apart, especially in the East. In reaction, the Emperor Constantine the Great (who was born in England by the way) in 325 AD convened a great council of bishops to address the controversy. Meeting in Nicaea, 318 bishops deliberated and debated the issue. Among them was the bishop of Alexandria, named Alexander, and his young deacon, Athanasius (St Athanasius, of prior note). This council would later be recognized as the first Ecumenical Council, one of seven which would produce the dogmatic statements that are so important in Holy Tradition. The bishops produced what we now know as the Nicene Creed.

From this simple, albeit misguided, exegesis, the entire world was thrown into upheaval, which lasted for most of the fourth century.  If, as the logic goes, Christ is a creature, then He is not Divine.  Careful what you misinterpret in Scripture.  Therefore, the Incarnation did not happen and we are NOT saved.  Arians believed that Christ was not divine, and the former bishop of Milan was an Arian.

After the bishop’s death, a huge riot proceeded in the cathedral of Milan and it seemed that bloodshed was imminent. Ambrose came on the scene and gave a powerful speech for peace which resulted in the crowd’s decision that Ambrose, a catechumen who was yet to be baptized, ought to be the new bishop. St. Amborse resisted as much as he could, but he eventually gave up because he knew that he had to accept in order to keep the peace. St. Ambrose was then baptized and ordained all in the same day.

St. Ambrose then began his career as a bishop, preacher, and negotiator. Saint Ambrose sold all of his possessions and gave them to the poor and the church. He preached passionately against the Arian heresy and was educated in theology by St. Simplician. When the emperor died, the Empress Justina, an Arian, became regent for her four year old son. Maximus, a former Roman soldier, realized the emperor’s death might weaken the empire enough for his army to conquer it. Justina begged Ambrose to negotiate with him. In spite of the fact that she was his enemy, Ambrose went on a diplomatic mission that convinced Maximus not to invade.  Ambrose convinced Maximus and his armies not to invade on numerous occasions.

Here is a favorite St. Ambrose quote which certainly points to the kind of man he was:  “It is a better thing to save souls for the Lord than to save treasures. He Who sent forth His apostles without gold had not need of gold to form His Church. The Church possesses gold, not to hoard, but to scatter abroad and come to the aid of the unfortunate.”  “That which cannot be bought with gold, does not take its value from gold.”

In thanks?, Empress Justina demanded Ambrose to surrender one of the Churches of Milan to the Arians, Ambrose declared, “If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death, I will not resist; but I will never betray the church of Christ. I will not call upon the people to succour me; I will die at the foot of the altar rather than desert it. The tumult of the people I will not encourage: but God alone can appease it.”  Imperial soldiers surrounded the basilica.  In the face of arms and soldiers, Ambrose said, “My only arms are my tears. I will never depart willingly but I won’t resist by force.”

In order to calm the frightened people, Ambrose taught them to sing hymns he had composed. He split the congregation in two in order to alternate verses of the hymns. This is our first record of communal singing in church.  The music of praise and prayer seeped out through the walls of the basilica and into the hearts of the soldiers. Soon the soldiers outside joined in the singing. They did enter the church, but to pray.  The siege ended.  Ambrose’s preaching also brought eastern Emperor Theodosius to do public penance for his sins.

Ambrose was careful never to say or do anything to start violence. When Catholics seized an Arian priest and were going to put him to death, Ambrose intervened in the name of peace and prayed God suffer no blood to be shed. He sent out priests and deacons to rescue his Arian enemy.

Saint Ambrose was unsurprisingly famous for selling gold vessels of the Church in order to tend to the poor and free captives of neighboring barbarians. St. Ambrose also baptized and preached to Saint Augustine of Hippo, of prior note.

The title “Honey-tongued Doctor” was initially bestowed on Ambrose because of his speaking and preaching ability; this led to the use of a beehive and bees in his iconography, symbols which also indicate wisdom. This led to his association with bees, beekeepers, chandlers, wax refiners, etc.

st. Ambrose body

-the remains of St Ambrose (in white vestments), Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan, Italy.

emperor-theodosius-forbidden-by-st-ambrose-to-enter-milan-cathedral-1620.jpg!Blog

-detail from the painting ‘Emperor Theodosius Forbidden by Saint Ambrose To Enter Milan Cathedral’, Sir Anthony van Dyck, 1619-20, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London, England, 149 cm x 113 cm

saint-ambrose-of-milan-01

-painting of Saint Ambrose of Milan, Vatican Museum

“No one heals himself by wounding another.” – Saint Ambrose

“Our own evil inclinations are far more dangerous than any external enemies.” – Saint Ambrose

“Know, O beautiful soul, that you are the image of God. Know that you are the glory of God.” -St. Ambrose of Milan

“But if these beings, angels, guard you, they do so because they have been summoned by your prayers.” – Saint Ambrose

“The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church’s foundation is unshakable and firm against assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress.

There is a stream which flows down on God’s saints like a torrent. There is also a rushing river giving joy to the heart that is at peace and makes for peace.

He who reads much and understands much, receives his fill. He who is full, refreshes others. So Scripture says: “If the clouds are full, they will pour rain upon the earth.”

Therefore, let your words be rivers, clean and limpid, so that you may charm the ears of people. And by the grace of your words win them over to follow your leadership. Solomon says: “The weapons of the understanding are the lips of the wise”; and in another place he says: “Let your lips be bound with wisdom.” That is, let the meaning of your words shine forth, let understanding blaze out. Let no word escape your lips in vain or be uttered without depth of meaning.” – from a letter by Saint Ambrose

“To avoid dissensions we should be ever on our guard, more especially with those who drive us to argue with them, with those who vex and irritate us, and who say things likely to excite us to anger. When we find ourselves in company with quarrelsome, eccentric individuals, people who openly and unblushingly say the most shocking things, difficult to put up with, we should take refuge in silence, and the wisest plan is not to reply to people whose behavior is so preposterous. Those who insult us and treat us contumeliously are anxious for a spiteful and sarcastic reply: the silence we then affect disheartens them, and they cannot avoid showing their vexation; they do all they can to provoke us and to elicit a reply, but the best way to baffle them is to say nothing, refuse to argue with them, and to leave them to chew the cud of their hasty anger. This method of bringing down their pride disarms them, and shows them plainly that we slight and despise them.” – Saint Ambrose, Offices

“O God, I who presume to invoke Thy Holy Name, stand in the presence of Thy Divine Majesty: have mercy upon me, a man: a sinner smeared by the foulness of inherent impurity; forgive the unworthy priest in whose hand this oblation is seen offered: Spare O Lord one polluted by sins: in faults the foremost, in comparison to all others, and do not enter into judgment with Thy servant, for no one living is justified in Thy sight. It is true that we are weighed down in the faults and desires of our flesh: remember, O Lord, that we are flesh and there is no other source of help than Thee. Yeah, in Thy sight not even those in Heaven are much more cleansed than we earthly humans, of whom, as the Prophet said of all our righteous acts: we are in comparison as unworthy as a menstrual rag. O Jesus Christ, let us live. O Thou Who dost not will the death of a sinner: grant forgiveness unto us whom Thou hast established in flesh, so that by penitential acts we may come to enjoy eternal life in the Heavens, through our Lord Jesus Christ Who reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit throughout all ages of ages. Amen. ”
-From the Lorrha (“Stowe”) Missal used by Churches of Ireland, Scotland, Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, and northern Italy.  Translated and Rubricated by Priest Kristopher Dowling, S.S.B.

“Lord, teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me when I seek You. For I cannot seek You unless You first teach me, nor find You unless You first reveal Yourself to me. Let me seek You in longing and long for You in seeking. Let me find You in love, and love You in finding.”
-St Ambrose of Milan, Bishop, Writer, Doctor of the Church

“Lord Jesus Christ, I approach Your banquet table in fear and trembling, for I am a sinner, and dare not rely on my own worth but only on Your goodness and mercy. I am defiled by many sins in body and soul, and by my unguarded thoughts and words.

Gracious God of majesty and awe, I seek Your protection, I look for Your healing. Poor troubled sinner that I am, I appeal to You, the fountain of all mercy. I cannot bear Your judgment, but I trust in Your salvation. Lord, I show my wounds to You and uncover my shame before You. I know my sins are many and great, and they fill me with fear, but I hope in Your mercies, for they cannot be numbered.

Lord Jesus Christ, eternal king, God and man, crucified for mankind, look upon me with mercy and hear my prayer, for I trust in You. Have mercy on me, full of sorrow and sin, for the depth of Your compassion never ends.

Praise to You, saving sacrifice, offered on the wood of the cross for me and for all mankind. Praise to the noble and precious blood, flowing from the wounds of my crucified Lord Jesus Christ and washing away the sins of the whole world. Remember, Lord, Your creature, whom You have redeemed with Your blood. I repent my sins, and I long to put right what I have done. Merciful Father, take away all my offenses and sins; purify me in body and soul, and make me worthy to taste the holy of holies.

May Your body and blood, which I intend to receive, although I am unworthy, be for me the remission of my sins, the washing away of my guilt, the end of my evil thoughts, and the rebirth of my better instincts. May it incite me to do the works pleasing to You and profitable to my health in body and soul, and be a firm defense against the wiles of my enemies.”
-Saint Ambrose of Milan, Prayer before Holy Communion

In “On the Mysteries” (De Mysteriis) [English], Chapter 2, St. Ambrose wrote,

“After this the Holy of holies was opened to you, you entered the sanctuary of regeneration; recall what you were asked, and remember what you answered. You renounced the devil and his works, the world with its luxury and pleasures. That utterance of yours is preserved not in the tombs of the dead, but in the book of the living.”

“Post haec reserata tibi sunt sancta sanctorum, ingressus es regenerationis sacrarium: repete quid interrogatus sis, recognosce quid responderis. Renuntiasti diabolo et operibus ejus, mundo et luxuriae ejus ac voluptatibus. Tenetur vox tua, non in tumulo mortuorum, sed in libro viventium.”

Love,
Matthew

Survival Guide for Thinking Catholics – Ten tips from Rev. Tom Reese, S.J.

“Thinking Catholic is not an oxymoron.”  -MP McCormick

Born out of conscience, which St Thomas Aquinas says is inviolable, erring or not, Summa Theologiae Ia, q. 79, a. 13 – “Whether conscience is a power?” Aquinas’ treatment on natural law can also be found in ST I-II, q. 92 + ff.

“For Aquinas, every conscience binds, even an erring one. This means that if there is something that you believe you cannot do (after having taken care to form your conscience as well as you can), even if the Church commands it, then you cannot do it without committing a sin. Likewise, if there is something you believe you must do, even if the Church forbids it, then you must do it or else commit a sin. The command of one’s conscience to do or not do something against what the Church directs has to be pretty strong in order to fit what Aquinas is talking about.”-Joseph M. Magee, Ph.D.

In the Regan lecture delivered on April 26, 2006 cosponsored by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, Reese outlined his strategies for Catholics who think, question, doubt, debate, and disagree. Here are those strategies in a nutshell:

1. Understand what the Church is actually saying. Is your question the result of a misunderstanding or a true disagreement?

2. Our understanding should be inspired by sympathy, not sarcasm and cynicism. Whatever a person says should be interpreted in the best possible light, which is one of the things St. Ignatius says in his spiritual exercises. If we disagree, we should disagree as friends in the Lord, not as opposing armies of fanatics.

3. You have to do your homework. The issues that face the church today are complex and not solvable through sound bites. As Catholics, we do not believe it is sufficient simply to listen to the Pope and ignore scripture, but nor do we believe it is sufficient to simply read the scriptures in isolation from the believing community. For us, conscience is important—but it must be an informed conscience.

4. We are a believing community with 2,000 years of tradition and history. We need to know our history—our triumphs and our failures, our saints and our sinners. A study of history helps us take the long view. Things have been worse, things can get better. For example, prior to the 20th century, a Catholic understanding of the Bible appeared to be in conflict with science. Today, contemporary biblical scholarship not only has eliminated this conflict, but helped us to better understand the Bible. Imagine what is going to be the situation 100 years from now as people look back on our time. How many of our theological debates and doubts will seem as silly as those caused among Christians when they discovered that the Earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa?

5. It is important to distinguish between law and doctrine. If you are a conservative and want a return to the pre Vatican II liturgy, don’t let anyone tell you that you are a heretic. If you are a liberal and believe that married men should be ordained, don’t let anyone tell you that you are a heretic. The question of married priests, the question of Latin in the liturgy, these are not doctrinal issues. These are matters of canon law and liturgical law. Laws have changed over time, laws can change again.

6. Understand the level of authority of a doctrinal position with which you disagree. Popes have only made two infallible declarations since Vatican I, the time when the infallibility of the Pope was defined: on the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception. Some people tend to give all Vatican statements a definitive or infallible status, and that is just not the case.  Today we see that even longstanding teachings of the church can sometimes change. The church now teaches that capital punishment is wrong, whereas for centuries it had no problem with it; in fact, popes executed people in the papal states. Likewise, the Church is rethinking its position on limbo. Most theologians now believe that unbaptized children go to heaven. This is not what I learned in the Baltimore catechism.

7. Know how to interpret the words in doctrinal statements. Catholics in the last generation have learned from scripture scholars that it is a mistake to understand the bible in a fundamentalist way. It is important to study the historical and cultural context of the writing, the literary style, and the audience to which it was addressed. The same is true of doctrinal statements. When a Vatican document says that homosexuals are intrinsically “disordered,” we tend to think of this as a psychological description, whereas the authors meant it as a philosophical description. You may still disagree, but it is important to understand what you are disagreeing with.

8. Sometimes the Church uses words that are open to multiple interpretations as a way of covering over differences and maintaining unity. This was certainly done at the second Vatican council. Paul VI wanted documents approved by what amounted to almost unanimity. Compromise and ambiguity were important to gain conservative votes. Problems arise today when this historical fact is ignored and conservatives go back and give unambiguous interpretations to words and phrases that were purposely ambiguous at the time.

9. In my parents’ day there were only two options when facing questions about your faith: “Accept what the Church says or leave.” This is more an Irish or Northern European response than a Catholic response. Certainly this is not the way Italians and Africans live their faith. Italians pick and choose just like the classic cafeteria Catholics in the United States. The only difference is Italians don’t question the Church’s authority publicly; they simply ignore it and do what they want. The response is much more cultural than theological.

10. We need to recognize there will always be disagreements in the Church because there have always been disagreements in the Church. The Acts of the Apostles discloses that Paul disagreed with Peter at the council of Jerusalem. What I find so delightful in this story is that the disagreement was resolved through a compromise: Gentiles would not have to be circumcised, but they would have to refrain from blood sacrifice to idols (no longer a problem) and from adultery (still somewhat of a problem).

In the Catholic Church, we believe that an informed conscience is our highest authority. We also believe in the importance of humility. One must pray not simply for the conversion of ones’ opponents, but for the conversion of oneself. Despite their weakness and sinfulness, Christians have faith in the word of God that shows them the way. Christians have hope, based on Christ’s victory over sin and death and his promise of the spirit. And Christians have love, that inspires them to forgiveness and companionship at the Lord’s table. Any survival strategy for thinking Catholics must be based on the virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 5 – Bl Niels Stensen, (1638-1686), Bishop, Vicar Apostolic of Nordic Missions – Father of Geology, Anatomist, Neuroscientist

Niels_stensen

In the mid-seventeenth century there was an anxious young man who wrote in his journal, “I pray Thee, O God, take this plague from me and free my soul from all distraction.  To work on one thing alone and to make myself familiar with the tables of medicines, alone.”  Well, we are lucky, and luckily for generations of biologists, anatomists, neuroscientists, geologists, paleontologists, that prayer went unanswered and the young man continued chasing his wandering interests.  The author of that prayer, Niels Stensen, also known by his Latin name, Nicolas Steno, or Nicolaus Stenonis.

He made unprecedented discoveries in anatomy and then some of the most important principles of modern geology.  This was at a time when everyone believed that fossils grew inside of rocks spontaneously and that lowly animals emerged spontaneously from decaying matter.  It was incredible.  Nicolas Steno, born on New Year’s Day in 1638.  His father was a goldsmith and a court jeweler.  He was a Lutheran, born in Copenhagen during the Thirty Years War.  He was a frail and sickly young boy and actually contracted an illness that kept him indoors for three years as a youngster and when he recovered from that, his father died at age seven.  His mother remarried but her new husband died just a year later and so he went to live with an older half-sister and her husband.

It was at this time that the plague was sweeping across Copenhagen and indeed Europe.  At times there were sixty funerals in a day.  At age fifteen he lost many of his friends.  He never owned a home and in his life seldom lived in one place for very long and rarely enjoyed a steady income.  He agonized over the fate of his own soul.  All of this perhaps because of this relatively unstable and uncertain childhood and adolescence that he underwent.  He did have some surrogate fathers.  The first of these was Oley Borch, an alchemist, with whom he studied solid particles suspended in liquid.

Stensen really wanted to study mathematics but figured out that being a doctor would be more practical.  So, he went to the University of Copenhagen to study medicine.  At this time he spoke five different languages.  What a savant, he was conversant they say in Greek and Hebrew.  He wrote a manuscript called “Chaos” in 1659 actually in Latin, where he recorded observations examining the grains of sand, snowflakes, and essentially rejected Aristotelian elements of earth, fire, air, and water.

It was at this time that the University in Copenhagen closed its doors.  Denmark was at war with Sweden.  Thomas Bartholin, who was Denmark’s’ leading anatomist at that point in time was his next mentor, and he probably learned some of his dissection techniques from Bartholin, or he could have simply inherited manual dexterity from his father, a goldsmith.  He began to travel throughout Germany and France.  Eventually moving to the bustling multi-cultural city of Amsterdam.

While he was going through France he would meet with the literati and the intellectual elite educators at various universities.  One physician said that he used to impress the high society with dissections of horse eyes.  You could imagine that that is a pretty rare trick at parties.  This French physician said that “He made us see everything there is to see in the construction of the eye, without putting the eye, the scissors, or his one other small instrument anywhere but in his one hand, which he kept constantly exposed to the gathered company, almost as if he was a magician with sleight of hand.”

Eventually, he moved back to Amsterdam and a bustling multi-cultural city he saw; he saw the commerce and he respected the religious freedom there.  He stayed with a physician named Gerard Blaze and it was with Blaze that while dissecting a sheep’s head he, almost accidentally, discovered the parotid duct, which carries his name even today, Stensen’s duct, which is opposite the second to the last molar in the upper jaw.  He noted by passing a probe there that the parotid duct emptied there into the mouth.

In 1662 he published a report on anatomical observations of glands, describing all the glands in the head.  In Paris, only a few years later he delved into studying muscles, realizing that muscles worked through contractions of the muscle fibers.  Not by ballooning of them, which was commonly believed at the time.  He was one of the first to discover that the heart is actually a muscle pumping blood to the body, not pumping or transferring heat.  He met various philosophers in Holland.  He disputed Descartes.  He moved onto the French Academy of Sciences.  Throughout his travels in France he began to discuss the Catholic faith with friends there.

In 1665 he published a treatise on the anatomy of the brain that was delivered in flawless French, it was said, and in it he had key finds about the anatomy of the brain.  His dissection techniques were meticulous.  In this treatise he said that one could not hope to understand the functions of the various parts of the brain until we can get better dissection techniques.  So, in 1666, on the feast of Corpus Christi on June twenty-four, Stensen was in Levorno, Italy, and he witnessed a Corpus Christi Eucharistic procession.  He said, “When I saw the host being carried in a procession through the streets, the following thoughts welled up inside me.  Either this host is a normal piece of bread, and so those who have accorded such honor are fools, or the host really does contain the body of Christ and so why don’t I too honor it?”

He began to study the Bible and the oldest Christian writings in the morning and geology in the afternoon.  He moved to Florence to Academia Dolce Mento, he was called there by the Medicis and by the intellectual curiosity of the Medici.  The Medicis had brought together the Academia Dolce Mento: scientists really studying science.  They were funded.  Stensen had no knowledge of something like this being in France, where the rulers really had no interest in devoting an immense amount of money, simply for the pursuit of art and science as the Medici did in Florence, Italy.

It was here where he met an elderly nun, Maria Flaviomaneiro, they began to pray the Angelus together daily.  She talked to him about the Catholic view of the Virgin Mary and the Annunciation.  They were all brought there by the Medici brothers, Ferdinando and his brother, Leopoldo.

In October of 1666, a great white shark washed up on the shores of Levorno and Stensen went to dissect it and noted thirteen rows of teeth, and these teeth resembled, what, up to this time, had been called glossopetrae, or tongue stones, why were they called that?  Well, these were tiny little rocks found that seemed to fall from the sky, they appeared after rain storms and they even occurred in mountains and they looked as if they were serpents teeth or serpents tongues, and there is a story of Saint Paul that while he was shipwrecked in Malta, had either turned the serpents to stone, or somehow the tongues became stone, but Steno said they looked like sharks’ teeth.  Now he wasn’t the first to correctly identify sharks teeth. He didn’t even state it with certainty, but his published illustrations left no doubt and he talked about how can sharks’ teeth appear in the mountains?  He started to put two and two together and came to the conclusion that a great sea covered these mountains at one point in time.

In November of 1667, he was received into the Catholic Church on All Souls Day.  He tells the story of walking down the street and hearing someone yell, “‘Go not on the side that you are about to go, sir. Go on the other side.’  That voice struck me, because I was just mediating on religion.”

Neither he nor others could really explain why he would suddenly convert, logical arguments just weren’t enough. This was something that touched him deep inside.  Stensen would then convert many in his lifetime.  He never pressed anyone to convert, but convinced them with arguments and reason.  He stressed that faith was a gift and he denounced forced conversions.  He always left converts take the last steps themselves.

In Stensen’s time, scholars had debated the origins of fossils. They did have resemblance to living organisms.  Could they have belonged to organisms that had become extinct?  Well, the concept of extinction didn’t exist at this time.  The explanation was that they were likely deposited by Noah’s flood, or, that the fossils themselves grew spontaneously inside rocks.  So, you could imagine that shell fossils found under a shoreline didn’t stretch the limits of credulity, but, when you find ocean mollusks on mountaintops, that certainly did.  How could a flood deposit these there?  He realized what seems obvious today; fossils result from once living organisms.  He noted that trees bent around rocks, but fossils didn’t.  So, the fossils had to be there first, as a part of the rock.  He wrote a manuscript on the geology of Tuscany in 1669 called “De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento”, or simply, De solido, and came up with Steno’s Principles, or Stensen’s Principles, which are even studied today by geology students.  The principle of super-position in stating that the sentiment levels are deposited in sequence with the oldest layers on the bottom.

In the midst of his conversion to Catholicism, Stensen received an ironic summons from Frederick III to return to Denmark, which of course was not a Catholic country.  So, he spent the next twenty months on a journey of nearly four thousand miles, reaching Amsterdam when he received word that Frederick III was dead and he was off the hook.  No update on life status on Facebook in those days.  On the road to Denmark he had seen some of Europe’s geological wonders, the Alps, Mount Vesuvius, and others.  He got to know Gottfried Leibniz, who was best remembered for his dispute with Isaac Newton over the invention of calculus.  Leibniz was so convinced that Stensen must keep working after he became a priest, that he searched diligently for any writings that he might have left behind.

But, in the last phase of his life, Stensen changed course again.  Stensen reached Copenhagen but at the time since he heard the king died, he missed Florence and he wanted to go back to Florence and permission was granted so that he could tutor a young Medici prince.  He said “Whenever I tried to repay God’s goodness towards me, not that I would ever be in a position to do so, the debt seemed so huge that I was filled with the desire to give him the best that I could in the best possible way.”  So, in 1675 he took a vow of poverty and became a priest.  He hoped for a simple life of pastoral duties, but the church summoned him to Rome and made him a Bishop in 1677.  His new assignment was in northern Europe converting Protestants to Catholicism in Germany, Norway, and Denmark; a tough, tough assignment.

So, he went to Hanover and in Hanover the clergy were spread incredibly thin. They were eager to have him come, however, and even more eager to have him come was Leibniz, the philosopher and mathematician he met earlier.  Leibniz deplored Steno’s decision to leave science and he said that he went from being a great physicist to a mediocre theologian.  Stensen was frustrated by the bureaucracy and corruption in the church and the indifference of the laity.  He sought solace by taking vows of poverty and self-denial to ever increasing extremes. He even asked Rome to release him from his vows as Bishop.  He sold his Bishop’s ring and crucifix to give money to the poor.  Doing this you might imagine he made enemies of the wealthy parishioners and the upper ranks of clergy.  He fled again. This time to Hamburg.  More and more ascetic he became.  A friend said “I found him there without a house, without a servant, devoid of all of life’s comforts, lean, pale and emaciated.  He slept sitting in a chair, a bed of straw on the floor. He fasted four days a week on bread and water and dressed like a pauper, performing his pastoral duties, bare foot.”

On November 21, 1686 he had intense abdominal pain that continued.  Two days later he collapsed and he was carried to bed with a swollen belly.  At the end he asked those around him who were praying to change from the prayers of the sick to the prayers of the dying.  He called his own death.  He said, “To my usual ailment, colic, it seems now that the stone has been added, not a drop of urine comes. I believe that it has imbedded itself in the fold of the bladder”, a kidney stone, “and this will be the cause of my death.”  Shortly before 7AM on November 26, 1686 he died at the age of forty-eight.  His self-denial taking its ultimate toll.  According to an inventory, his clothing and personal furnishings consisted of a wretched black garment, an old tunic, an old cloak, two sack cloth shirts, some small handkerchiefs and a nightcap.  The funeral was delayed nearly two weeks for lack of proper clothing to dress the corpse.  He ultimately did make it back to Florence however in May of 1687 when the corpse was loaded on a ship bound for San Lorenzo, where he was buried in the Medici church in Florence, Italy.

Three hundred years after his death, Danish pilgrims petitioned Pius XI for canonization.   In 1953 his coffin was opened and a skeleton was found, minus the head, in bishop’s robes and crozier, the body was processed and buried in a chapel with the name, the Capella Stenoyana.  A miracle for beatification was announced.  The spontaneous recovery of a cancer patient and he was beatified on October 23rd, the exact day Bishop Usher had chosen for the creation of the world.  He was beatified by Pope John Paul II 1988.  What a radical change of life.  In the latter years Steno cared more about saving souls than studying rock strata.  Yet, he never renounced his scientific work.  He said “One sins against the majesty of God by being unwilling to look into nature’s own works and contenting one’s self with reading others.  In this way, one forms and creates for one’s self, various fanciful notions and thus does not only not enjoy the pleasure of looking into God’s wonders, but also wastes time that should be spent on necessities and to the benefits of one’s neighbors and states many things which are unworthy of God.”  Stensen’s coat of arms as a Bishop, a cross and a heart and as a testament to his anatomical dissections, the heart is larger on the left.  Impact craters on Mars and the Moon are named in his honor.

ASTENO

-Google doodle of 11 Jan 2012 in honor of Bl Niels Stensen.

 

Love,
Matthew