Category Archives: August

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

St. Maximilian Kolbe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Maximilian Kolbe is the patron of addicts.

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Prayer – St Maximillian Kolbe:

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

(here mention the requests you have).

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew

Aug 19 – St John Eudes, CJM, (1601-1680), Father of Modern Devotion to the Hearts of Jesus & Mary

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-n.b. the Latin inscription on the enflamed Heart of God St John is holding, which is difficult to read in this image, says “Cor Jesu et Mariae fornax amoris”, his thumb is covering the “amo” in “amoris”, a prime example of why much contextual training in interpreting, appreciating art is absolutely required, when the artist in 1673 would just assume when the literate devotee would view, would immediately know what was intended, albeit un-illustrated, hidden.  “The Heart of Jesus and Mary, furnace of love”

As many of you know, the McCormick family has a very special devotion to the Sacred Heart.  I cannot remember a time as a child when my parents and I did not end our grace before meals w/out “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!”  Modern (17th century until the present) devotion to the Sacred Heart was a response to Jansenism.

Jansenism is a Catholic heresy, condemned by Pope Innocent X in 1655, and was a product of the Counter-Reformation.  Jansenism emphasizes original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine “efficacious grace” as it relates to the free will, and predestination.  It is a form of Catholic Calvinism.  It’s principal architect was the Dutch theologian Cornelius Otto Jansen.  It held sway over Catholic thought, and strains can still be found, between the 16th-18th centuries.

Born on a farm in northern France, John died at 79 in the next “county” or department. In that time he was a religious, a parish missionary, founder of two religious communities and a great promoter of the devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  He joined the religious community of the Oratorians and was ordained a priest at 24. During severe plagues in 1627 and 1631, he volunteered to care for the stricken in his own diocese. Lest he infect his fellow religious, he lived in a huge cask in the middle of a field during the plague.

At age 32, John became a parish missionary. St John Eudes was dedicated and worked towards “restoring the priestly order to its full splendor” in his time. His gifts as preacher and confessor won him great popularity. He preached over 100 parish missions, some lasting from several weeks to several months.

In his concern with the spiritual improvement of the clergy, he realized that the greatest need was for seminaries. He had permission from his general superior, the bishop and even Cardinal Richelieu to begin this work, but the succeeding general superior disapproved. After prayer and counsel, John decided it was best to leave the religious community. The same year he founded a new one, ultimately called the Eudists (Congregation of Jesus and Mary), devoted to the formation of the clergy by conducting diocesan seminaries. The new venture, while approved by individual bishops, met with immediate opposition, especially from Jansenists and some of his former associates. John founded several seminaries in Normandy, but was unable to get approval from Rome (partly, it was said, because he did not use the most tactful approach).  Fr. John Eudes was a disciple of St Vincent de Paul.

In his parish mission work, John was disturbed by the sad condition of prostitutes who sought to escape their miserable life. Temporary shelters were found but arrangements were not satisfactory. A certain Madeleine Lamy, who had cared for several of the women, one day said to him, “Where are you off to now? To some church, I suppose, where you’ll gaze at the images and think yourself pious. And all the time what is really wanted of you is a decent house for these poor creatures.” The words, and the laughter of those present, struck deeply within him. The result was another new religious community, called the Sisters of Charity of the Refuge.

St John Eudes is probably best known for the central theme of his writings: Jesus as the source of holiness, Mary as the model of the Christian life. His devotion to the Sacred Heart and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary led Pius XI to declare him the father of the liturgical cult of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

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“Holiness is the wholehearted openness to the love of God. It is visibly expressed in many ways, but the variety of expression has one common quality: concern for the needs of others. In John’s case, those who were in need were plague-stricken people, ordinary parishioners, those preparing for the priesthood, prostitutes and all Christians called to imitate the love of Jesus and His mother.”
(www.americancatholic.org for Aug 19, Feast of St John Eudes)

“Our wish, our object, our chief preoccupation must be to form Jesus in ourselves, to make His spirit, His devotion, His affections, His desires and His disposition live and reign there. All our religious exercises should be directed to this end. It is the work which God has given us to do unceasingly” (-St. John Eudes, The Life and Reign of Jesus in Christian Souls).

“Let us therefore give ourselves to God with a great desire to begin to live thus, and beg Him to destroy in us the life of the world of sin, and to establish His life within us.”

“Father of mercies and God of all consolation, You gave us the loving Heart of your own beloved Son, because of the boundless love by which You have loved us, which no tongue can describe. May we render You a love that is perfect with hearts made one with His. Grant, we pray, that our hearts may be brought to perfect unity: each heart with the other and all hearts with the Heart of Jesus…”

“The air that we breathe, the bread that we eat, the heart which throbs in our bosoms, are not more necessary for man that he may live as a human being, than is prayer for the Christian that he may live as a Christian.”

“The worthy priest is an angel of purity in mind and body,
a cherub of light and knowledge,
a seraph of love and Charity,
an apostle of zeal in work and sanctity,
a little god on earth in power and authority, in patience and benignity.

He is the living image of Christ in this world,
of Christ watching, praying, preaching, catechizing, working, weeping,
going from town to town, from village to village,
suffering, agonizing,
sacrificing Himself and dying for the souls created to His image and likeness…

He is the light of those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

He is the destroyer of error, schisms and heresies,
the converter of sinners,
the sanctifier of the just,
the strength of the weak,
the consolation of the afflicted,
the treasure of the poor.
He is the confusion of hell,
the glory of heaven,
the terror of demons,
the joy of angels,
the ruin of Satan’s kingdom,
the establishment of Christ’s empire,
the ornament of the Church…”

Prayer for the intercession of St John Eudes

Father, You chose the priest John Eudes to preach the infinite riches of Christ. By his teaching and example help us to know You better and live faithfully in the light of the Gospel. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 28 – St Edmund Arrowsmith, SJ, (1585-1628) – Priest & Martyr, The Holy Hand

St Edmund Arrowsmith, SJ

OK, maybe this whole internet thing has gone far enough?  Now I’m finding “rate this saint” and blogs about saints – the opine of the unwashed masses. 🙂 Now:  if you can’t beat ’em, join em! 🙂

The Internet – where else you can curse out and become furious with people whom you have never met?  What a wonderful invention.  Remember, it’s not the technology.  It’s the humans.  The technology is neutral, it merely amplifies what was already there.  Granted it may serve as a catalyst to more and greater positive and negative interactions, but “It IS in the way that you use it.”  Thank you, Eric Clapton.

n.b. the only exception I have found, of course, is the University of Virginia blogs.  Everyone stays on topic, refers to each other as Mr./Ms., liberally quotes Jefferson, and all remain quite respectful of each other throughout the entire discourse, citing meaningful reference, analogy, and example.  It is a special place, isn’t it.  Profanity would be met with horror, and certainly never in writing, and never in a public forum.  Puhllease!  We are ladies and gentlemen here, not the help. (please never take me seriously when I sound like that.  I’m just having fun!)  Civilization and civility clings to life in a few very sparse, special pockets.  Like Ireland in the Dark Ages.  See http://tiny.cc/inf9y.

Civility, anyone?  What happened to good manners?  Civil discourse?  Our democracy relies upon the respectful exchange of viewpoints, or it should.  For that matter, so does civilization?  So instead of the effort, discipline, and charity civil discourse requires, we remain silent?  God help us all.  Class cannot be bought, and very rarely taught to adults.  It is realized in the rearing of children, if at all.  If you want to get depressed about humanity, read blogs.  “Love one another?”  Jesus, you’re kidding, right?  That is a good one.  What else ya’ got?

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A Jesuit saint, finally!  I shouldn’t act so surprised, should I?  I couldn’t resist.  Ok, there go a goodly part of Mara’s chances for a quality education…I hope the Holy Ghost Fathers have a sense of humor.

We must remember, the idea of separation of Church and state was deeply radical at the time of US Revolution.  The idea that one could hold public office and not be of a certain denomination was unheard of.  The idea held that loyalty to one’s country was predicated on one’s religious beliefs, and religious beliefs and attendance at services was mandatory and absences were very noticeable, was prevalent and had been for all of history, to that point.

Go back as far as you like, but take the god-king Pharaohs as a primary example.  Coronation has many parallels and overtones with ordination and vice versa, both include anointing, and both always in churches.  Jesus is the Christ because He is King, Priest, & Prophet.  “A Deo rex, a rege lexa!…The king is from God, the law from the king!” -James I of England.

Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor, knelt in the snow of Canossa for three days, 25 January to 27 January 1077, begging the Pope to rescind his excommunication.  Excommunication of the sovereign meant subjects no longer had feudal duty and may overthrow at will, and should.  When Napoleon took the crown from the altar of Notre Dame, it having been blessed by Pius VII, and placed it on his own head, instead of having the Pope crown him, as was traditional, the symbolism was clear.  It was he himself who gave himself power, not the Church.

If one was not of the established state religion, how could one claim loyalty to the state?  The Church supported the state and gave it legitimacy.  The state gave protection to the Church, usually, exemption from taxes, its own ecclesiastical courts, etc., all were most historical.  When the Roman Empire collapsed in the West, the Church was the only remaining institution resembling some/any form of government.  People came to rely on it for such.  The very vestments worn today are the uniforms of office of Roman civil servants.

In England, during the reign of Henry VIII, it became dangerous to remain Catholic.  It became right out mortal to be priest.  It became a death wish to minister.  The main source of information on St Edmund is a contemporary account written by an eyewitness and published a short time after his death.  Edmund was the eldest son of Robert Arrowsmith, a farmer, and Margery Gerard’s, a member of an important Lancashire Catholic family, four children.  Edmund was born at Haydock, England. He was baptized Brian, but always used his Confirmation name of Edmund.  The name Edmund has a sentimental value for me.  It is a long given Christian name in the McCormick family.

Edmund’s parents refused to attend Protestant services, harbored priests in their home, and at one point were arrested and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle for their actions, dragged away in the night, leaving the shivering child Edmund in his night clothes, along with his siblings, until neighbors took them in.

Edmund’s grandfather, Nicholas Gerard, was recusant, one who refuses to attend Anglican services, and spent time in prison.  His other grandfather died in prison a confessor, one who suffers persecution, including torture.  The family was constantly harassed for its adherence to Roman Catholicism.  English Catholics have always been devoted to Our Lady and the first of St Edmund’s biographers speaks of his devotion to her. On his way to school at Sennely Green, it was his custom to say part of the Little Office of Our Lady and he would recite vespers and compline on his return.

In 1605 Edmund left England and went to study for the priesthood at the English College at Douai, France.  Many young Catholic men risked their lives to make such a journey.  On 27 May 1601 it was recorded that, “Lately 15 or 16 youths of good houses were taken (captive) as they were going over to the seminary.  Some had journeyed in rags through forests living on roots and berries until they reached the coast. Others had been sent to the frightful house of correction at Bridewell, or imprisoned twice or even three times before they got clear…..”

Edmund was soon forced to quit the seminary and return to England due to ill health, but recovered and returned to Douai in 1607.  Edmund was ordained in Arras, France on December 9, 1612 and sent on the English mission (sent back to England to minister to Catholics) the following year.  The return to England was also dangerous.

On June 17, 1613, Edmund began his return journey.  Ports were especially dangerous: officials had descriptions from spies of those returning and so many landed on isolated shores. In ‘The Proclamation against Jesuits’ 21 November 1591 it was said, ”And furthermore , because it is known and proved by common experience…that they do come into the same (realm) by secret creeks and landing places, disguised both in names and persons, some in apparel as soldiers, mariners or merchants, pretending that they have heretofore been taken prisoners and put into galleys and delivered. Some come as gentlemen with contrary  names in comely apparel as though they had travelled to foreign countries for knowledge: and generally all, for the most part, are clothed like gentlemen in apparel, and many as gallants; yea in all colours, and with feathers and such like, disguising themselves; and many of them in their behaviour as ruffians, far off to be thought or suspected to be friars, priests, Jesuits or popish scholars.”

Edmund Arrowsmith ministered to Roman Catholics of Lancashire at the still-standing Arrowsmith House, located in Hoghton, Lancashire.  He hid his vestments, chalice, and altar stones in a nearby cottage.  He travelled the area on horseback and would stay overnight where there was a hiding place, to bring the sacrifice of the Mass to the people. Father Robert Persons, in a letter written in July 1581 wrote, “No-one is to be found…who complained of the length of services. If Mass does not last nearly an hour many are discontented. If six or eight masses are said in the same place on the same day, the same congregation will assist at all.”(Compare that to today, and whispers of “Fr. Sominex” and the rush to the parking lot!  I guess it IS ALL context!)

Queen Elizabeth’s governors and hierarchy lived on confiscated Catholic property, so public distrust of priests supposedly working as agents of Catholic Spain and working for a Spanish invasion, worked to their advantage, keeping the population in a constant state of paranoia, dependant on an intrusive government. To keep all this in place, Elizabeth had her own Inquisition. Outspoken, Edmund was arrested in 1622 and questioned by the Protestant bishop of Chester, Dr. Bridgeman, and various Protestant clergymen of the area.  Edmund spent his prison time arguing theology with them.   He was released unexpectedly when King James I ordered all arrested priests be freed, in a political maneuver to temporarily appease the Spanish.  Even in these oppressive times Edmund was known for his pleasant disposition, sincerity, energy, fervor, zeal, and wit.

After making the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola (ask a Jesuit), Edmund joined the Jesuits in 1624, at Clerkenwell, London then immediately returned to Lancashire.  In 1628, he was arrested when betrayed by a fellow Catholic to the local justice of the peace, a Mr. Rostern.  His betrayer was a young man, a Mr. Holden, the son of the landlord of the Blue Anchor Inn in south Lancashire, where Fr. Arrowsmith was staying.  Fr. Arrowsmith had imposed a penance on Holden and his wife to which they would not submit.  Fr. Arrowsmith had censored Holden for an incestuous marriage.  The Holdens were first cousins.  Fr. Arrowsmith tried to escape, warned by Capt. Rawsthorn that he was about to send soldiers for him, but Edmund was captured at Brindle Moss, where his horse refused to jump a ditch.  A small statue of Our Lady Edmund always carried with him dropped as he was captured.  It now resides at Arrowsmith House.  His captors bought themselves drinks with nine shillings of Edmund’s money.

Edmund preached the Gospel to his fellow prisoners while in jail.  On August 26th 1628, Sir Henry Yelverton ordered Edmund to be brought to the bar, and during the trial Yelverton swore that he would not leave Lancashire before the prisoner was executed and made sure the prisoner saw his own bowels burn before his face.  Sir Henry inflamed the jury with his bitterness.

Edmund decided to let the court prove the charge rather than help them with a confession, replying, “Would that I were worthy of being a priest!” When the jury found him guilty of being a Jesuit priest, he fell to his knees, bowed his head, and exclaimed, “Thanks be to God!”  The sentence was read,”You shall go from hence to the place from whence you came.  From thence you shall be drawn to the place of execution upon a hurdle;  you shall there be hanged till you are half dead;  your members shall be cut off before your face and thrown into the fire, where likewise your bowels shall be burnt:  your head shall be cut off and set upon a stake, and your quarters shall be set upon the four corners of the castle; and may God have mercy upon you.”  No one in Lancashire could be found to perform the execution.  Finally, a deserter, under the same sentence, was found to do the deed.

Yelverton ordered the execution at mid-day when the townspeople of Lancashire would be busy, so as to avoid a crowd.  However, a large crowd appeared.  Edmund spoke, “I die for love of Thee;  for our Holy Faith; for the support of the authority of Thy vicar on earth, the successor of St Peter, true head of the Catholic Church, which Thou hast founded and established.”

Brought to execution, “the usual butchery”, Edmund spoke again.  “I freely offer Thee my death, O sweet Jesus, in satisfaction for my sins, and I wish this little blood of mine may be a sacrifice for them”.  He asked the Catholics present to pray for him. He then prayed for the King, forgave his persecutors and asked for forgiveness from all those whom he may have offended. He continued, “Be witnesses with me that I die a constant Roman Catholic and for Christ’s sake; let my death be an encouragement to your going forward in the Catholic religion.” His confession on the day of his execution was heard by fellow-prisoner Saint John Southworth.  His final words before the executioner pushed him from the ladder were,”Bone Jesu” (O good Jesus).

Edmund Arrowsmith, SJ, was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Lancaster on August 28th, 1628.  He was 43 yrs old and had been a Jesuit for only five years.

From his remains, his hand was cut off by another Catholic as a relic.  It has been preserved and kept by the Arrowsmith family until he was beatified and it now rests in the Catholic Church of St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith, Ashton-in-Makerfield, England in a silver casket.  Many miracles are reported due to it.

On Saturday, September 18, 2010, 43 staff and pupils from St Edmund Arrowsmith, SJ High School in Ashton-in-Makerfield, UK journeyed to London to welcome BXVI to England for the beatification of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman  The Pope spoke the following words to the crowd, especially the young, “When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best.”

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-St Edmund’s vestments and Mass kit, Stonyhurst College, UK

Love,
Matthew