Category Archives: December

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.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

Dec 29 – St Thomas a’Becket, (1118-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr

English_-_Martyrdom_of_Saint_Thomas_Becket_-_Walters_W3415V_-_Open_Reverse

-miniature from an English psalter presenting a spirited account of the murder, c. 1250, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.  Three of the four knights attack the archbishop, who is kneeling in prayer before the altar. One of the knights kicks Thomas to the floor, and sends his miter flying as his sword cracks open Thomas’s head.

A St Thomas, Chancellor of the Realm, killed at the order of his former friend King Henry, where they had previously been dear friends and true confidants, separated by a matter of principle and duty to the Church and its Lord; does history repeat itself?  Perhaps.  But, this is the twelfth century, not the sixteenth.  Certainly, the ancients, and some even up to the twentieth century, believed history is cyclical, not linear, as we do.

Thomas Becket was born of parents who had emigrated from Normandy to England, some years before his birth 21 Dec 1118.  He was well educated and associated with the social elite of his day.

He was described at this early age by Robert of Cricklade, who gives a vivid portrait of him at this period:

“To look upon he was slim of growth and pale of hue, with dark hair, a long nose, and a straightly featured face. Blithe of countenance was he, winning and love-able in his conversation, frank of speech in his discourses, but slightly stuttering in his talk, so keen of discernment and understanding that he could always make difficult questions plain after a wise manner.” He abhorred foul conduct and speech.  Lying and unchastity were hateful to him.

He came into the employ and favor of the then Archbishop of Canterbury for his secretarial skills.  He was subsequently sent by his employer to study civil and canon (church) law in Bologna and Auxerre, and handle several delicate negotiations of import.

It was at this time that Henry II ascended the throne.  Henry had been made aware of Thomas’ reputation and subsequently made him his chancellor.  As chancellor of England, Thomas had a large household and lived in splendor.

Current chroniclers speak with wonder of the relations which existed between the chancellor and the sovereign, who was twelve years his junior. People declared that “they had but one heart and one mind”. Often the king and his minister behaved like two schoolboys at play. But although they hunted or rode at the head of an army together it was no mere comradeship in pastime which united them. Both were hard workers, and both, we may believe, had the prosperity of the kingdom deeply at heart.

In many matters they saw eye to eye. The king’s imperial views and love of splendor were quite to the taste of his minister. When Thomas went to France in 1158 to negotiate a marriage treaty, he travelled with such pomp that the people said: “If this be only the chancellor what must be the glory of the king himself?”

When the archbishop of Canterbury died, Henry wanted the pope to give Thomas this position. It would require that Thomas be ordained a priest. But Thomas told him plainly that he did not want to be the archbishop of Canterbury. He realized that being in that position would put him in direct conflict with Henry II’s plans to control and manipulate the Church towards his own ends. Thomas knew that he would have to defend the Church against Henry, and that would mean trouble. “Your affection for me would turn into hatred,” he warned Henry. The king paid no attention and Thomas was made a priest and a bishop in 1162.

Now a change occurred. Thomas lived more austerely and devoted much more time to prayer. At first, things went along as well as ever. All too soon, however, the king began to demand money, which Thomas felt he could not rightly take from the Church. The king grew more and more angry with his former friend. Finally, he began to treat Thomas harshly. For a while, Thomas was tempted to give in a bit to the “Constitutions of Clarendon”, which enumerated Henry’s proposed abuses. Then he began to realize just how much Henry hoped to control the Church. Thomas was very sorry that he had even thought of giving in to the king. He did penance for his weakness and ever after held firm.

Thomas fled to the continent in fear for his safety for four years.  After a long and protracted negotiation, including many threats upon property and well being of Thomas’ family and allies, it appeared a form of resolution emerged.  Thomas returned to England quietly possessing Henry’s documents of excommunication, After Thomas refused to lift the censures he had placed upon bishops favored by Henry, Henry was particularly annoyed with his former dear friend and said in anger out loud. “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

Some of his knights took him literally. They went off to murder the archbishop. They attacked him in his own cathedral, trying to remove him from the physical church building, but Thomas resisted, struggling and dying on the steps of the altar.  A sword blow scattering his brains on the cathedral floor. He died, saying, “For the name of Jesus and in defense of the Church, I am willing to die.” It was December 29, 1170.

Edward Grim, a monk, observed the attack from the safety of a hiding place near the altar. He wrote his account some time after the event:

“The murderers followed him; ‘Absolve’, they cried, ‘and restore to communion those whom you have excommunicated, and restore their powers to those whom you have suspended.’

“He answered, ‘There has been no satisfaction, and I will not absolve them.’

‘Then you shall die,’ they cried, ‘and receive what you deserve.’

‘I am ready,’ he replied, ‘to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my people whether clerk or lay.’

“Then they lay sacrilegious hands on him, pulling and dragging him that they may kill him outside the church, or carry him away a prisoner, as they afterwards confessed. But when he could not be forced away from the pillar, one of them pressed on him and clung to him more closely. Him he pushed off calling him ‘pander’, and saying, ‘Touch me not, Reginald; you owe me fealty and subjection; you and your accomplices act like madmen.’

“The knight, fired with a terrible rage at this severe repulse, waved his sword over the sacred head. ‘No faith’, he cried, ‘nor subjection do I owe you against my fealty to my lord the King.’

“Then the unconquered martyr seeing the hour at hand which should put an end to this miserable life and give him straightway the crown of immortality promised by the Lord, inclined his neck as one who prays and joining his hands he lifted them up, and commended his cause and that of the Church to God, to St. Mary, and to the blessed martry Denys. Scarce had he said the words than the wicked knight, fearing lest he should be rescued by the people and escape alive, leapt upon him suddenly and wounded this lamb who was sacrificed to God on the head, cutting off the top of the crown which the sacred unction of the chrism had dedicated to God; and by the same blow he wounded the arm of him who tells this. For he, when the others, both monks and clerks, fled, stuck close to the sainted Archbishop and held him in his arms till the one he interposed was almost severed.

“Then he received a second blow on the head but still stood firm. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living victim, and saying in a low voice, ‘For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.’

“Then the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay, by which the sword was broken against the pavement, and the crown which was large was separated from the head. The fourth knight prevented any from interfering so that the others might freely perpetrate the murder.

“As to the fifth, no knight but that clerk who had entered with the knights, that a fifth blow might not be wanting to the martyr who was in other things like to Christ, he put his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to say, scattered his brain and blood over the pavement, calling out to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; he will rise no more.’

The entire Christian world was horrified at such a crime. Pope Alexander III held the king personally responsible for the murder. A year later, Henry II performed public penance, lest he be excommunicated and thereby removing his subjects of the obligation of fealty, and he lose his crown, and likely his life.  There can only be one king.

On 12 July, 1174, the king donned a sack-cloth walking barefoot through the streets of Canterbury while eighty monks flogged him with branches. Henry capped his atonement by spending the night in the martyr’s crypt.

An immense number of miracles occurred at the tomb of St Thomas Becket, and for the rest of the Middle Ages the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury was one of the wealthiest and most famous in Europe. The martyr’s holy remains are believed to have been destroyed in September, 1538, when nearly all the other shrines in England were destroyed.

“For our sake Christ offered himself to the Father upon the altar for the cross. He now looks down from heaven on our actions and secret thoughts, and one day he will give each of us the reward his deeds deserve. It must therefore be our endeavor to destroy the right of sin and death, and by nurturing faith and uprightness of life, to build up the Church of Christ into a holy temple of the Lord. The harvest is good and one reaper or even several would not suffice to gather all of it into the granary of the Lord. Yet the Roman Church remains the head of all the churches and the source of Catholic teaching. Of this there can be no doubt. Everyone know that the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given to Peter. Upon his faith and teaching the whole fabric of the Church will continue to be built until we all reach full maturity in Christ and attain to unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God. Of course many are needed to plant and many to water now that the faith has spread so far and the population become so great. Nevertheless, no matter who plants or waters, God gives no harvest unless what he plants is the faith of Peter, and unless he himself assents to Peter’s teaching. All important questions that arise among God’s people are referred to the judgment of Peter in the person for the Roman Pontiff. Under him the ministers of Mother Church exercise the powers committed to them, each in his own sphere of responsibility. Remember then how our fathers worked out their salvation; remember the sufferings through which the Church has grown, and the storms the ship of Peter has weathered because it has Christ on board. Remember how the crown was attained by those whose sufferings gave new radiance to their faith. The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown.” – from a letter by Saint Thomas Becket

“Remember how the crown was attained by those whose sufferings gave new radiance to their faith. The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown.” -St. Thomas Becket

saint_thomas_becket4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Becket+icon

Prayer in honor of St Thomas a’Becket

Almighty God, by Whose grace and power Your holy martyr Thomas triumphed over suffering and evil, and was faithful even unto death, keep Thy household free of all evil.  Raise up for us faithful pastors and shepherds, who are wise in the ways of the Gospel.

Grant us, who now remember Your martyr Thomas with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to You in this world, that we may be a compelling sign of faith to those who witness our lives, and hence receive with Your martyrs the crown of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 10 – Sts Swithun Wells, Edmund Gennings, Polydore Plasden, & Bls John Mason, Sidney Hodges, Brian Lacey, (d. 1591), Martyrs

Swithun Wells was born at Brambridge, Hampshire, England around 1536; the youngest of five sons, his parents were Thomas Wells (or Welles) and Mary, daughter of John Mompesson.

He was christened with the name of the ninth century local saint and Bishop of Winchester, Swithun. They were a determinedly Catholic family who, during the Reformation, were to assist in the clandestine burials of Catholics in the local churchyard and whose house became a refuge for priests. His eldest brother, Gilbert, died a known recusant having forfeited the property, but it was later restored to the family by Charles II.

We know that for six years he kept a school for young gentlemen at Monkton Farleigh in Wiltshire and that for many years he conformed to the state requirement to attend Protestant services.  In 1583, Swithun Wells was reconciled to the Catholic Church.

In 1585 he went to London, where he took a house in Gray’s Inn Lane. November 7, 1591, Fr. Edmund Gennings (b. 1567) was saying Mass at Wells’s house, when the priest-hunter Richard Topcliffe burst in with his officers.  They would all be executed outside that same house.

Gennings, from Lichfield, Staffordshire, was a thoughtful, serious boy naturally inclined to matters of faith. At around sixteen years of age he converted to Catholicism. He went immediately to the English College at Reims where he was ordained a priest in 1590. He soon returned to England under the assumed name of Ironmonger. His missionary career was brief.

Topcliffe, “the Queen’s Torturer”, “the cruelest tyrant in all of England”, was a lawyer in the employ of the Privy Council and a sadistic interrogator and torturer and a sexual sadist – a man, it is reported, who too much enjoyed his work.

Topcliffe claimed that his own instruments and methods were better than the official ones, and was authorized to create a torture chamber in his home in London.  The “Topcliffe Rack”, where the victim is suspended vertically, rather than horizontally, from a wall by manacles far above their height and weights are added to the ankles, was his invention.

The congregation at Wells’ house, now surrounded, not wishing the Mass to be interrupted, held the door and beat back the officers until the Mass was finished, after which they all surrendered quietly.

Wells was not present at the time, but his wife was, and was arrested along with Gennings, another priest, Fr. Polydore Plasden, and three laymen, John Mason, Sidney Hodgson, and Brian Lacey.

On his return, Wells was immediately arrested and imprisoned. At his trial, he said that he had not been present at the Mass, but wished he had been, upon which saying he was sentenced to be hanged, and was executed outside his own house on 10 December 1591, just after Edmund Gennings.

The victim the executioners most wanted to suffer most would be killed last, watching loved ones and friends die brutally before their own passion.  Fr. Gennings, a convert to Catholicism at age 17, was killed first.  He was 24 yrs old. He is reported to have said, “Sancte Gregori, ora pro me!” while he was being disembowelled, after being hung, but not to death, only stunning him, and that the hangman swore, “Zounds! See, his heart is in my hand, and yet Gregory is in his mouth. O egregious Papist!”  The martyrdom of Edmund Gennings was the occasion of several extraordinary incidents, chief of which was the conversion of his younger brother, John, to the Catholic faith, and who became a Franciscan, and who later wrote his biography, published in 1614 at Saint-Omer.

Fr. Polydore Plasden, age 28, at his execution he acknowledged Elizabeth as his lawful queen, whom he would defend to the best of his power against all her enemies, and he prayed for her and the whole realm, but said that he would rather forfeit a thousand lives than deny or fight against Catholicism. In contrast to the others, Sir Walter Raleigh fought for his reprieve, but only succeeded in his being allowed to hang till he was dead, and the sentence was carried out upon his corpse.

It was upon Fr. Plasden’s word that the Mass they attended and for which they were about to die was allowed to conclude peacefully.  Due to Fr. Plasden’s concern for the Blessed Sacrament and his fear that the Eucharist might be subjected to sacrilege, he gave his word that he, Fr. Edmund Gennings and those recusants hearing Mass would freely surrender should Mass be permitted to conclude. The infamous Richard Topcliffe knew that Fr. Polydore would keep his word and agreed so as to be able to take them away quietly.  The message here is clear.  The Mass is the priority.  Once concluded, do with us what you wish.

On the scaffold, Swithun Wells, said to Topcliffe, “Hurry up, please, Mr. Topcliffe. Are you not ashamed to make a poor old man stand in his shirt in the cold?  God pardon you and make you of a Saul into a Paul, of a bloody persecutor into one of the Catholic Church’s children. By your malice I am thus to be executed, but you have done me the greatest benefit that ever I could have had. I heartily forgive you.” ” His wife, Alice, was reprieved, and died in prison some 10 years later.

NPG D25344,Edmund Geninges,by M. Bas

-St Edmund Gennings, priest & martyr

swithin-wells

-St Swithun Wells, layman & martyr



“If to return to England a priest or to say Mass be popish treason, I here confess that I am a traitor; but I think not so and therefore acknowledge myself guilty of this those, not with repentance but with an open protestation of inward joy!” – St Edmund Gennings, priest & martyr, executed age 24.

Eternal and loving God, the lives of your servants, Swithun Wells and his companions, offer us an example of faithful service to the Gospel and love for the Mass.

Their deaths remind us of the cost that many people pay for witnessing to the Truth.

Through the prayers of St Swithun Wells and his companions
may we be proud of the faith we have inherited from the saints and martyrs, and through our work, prayers, and most importantly Your grace, deepen the roots of the Catholic faith in ourselves and in those who observe our lives.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son.
Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Feast of the Holy Family

christ-discovered-in-the-temple-1342.jpg!Blog

-“Christ Discovered in the Temple”, 1342, Simone Martini, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK, this is my most FAV pic of the Holy Family!!!!  Ain’t NOBODY happy here!!!!  🙂

With all the debate and pronouncements regarding the modern “definitions” of marriage & family, moral theology issues, etc., in my bewilderment and dismay, the only comfort I have found, the only thing that brings peace and makes sense, is to deepen my devotion to the Holy Family.  Join me, please.

(The morning offering prayer is a traditional Catholic prayer, this one adapted for fathers.)

Morning Offering Prayer of a Father:

“O My Jesus, I offer this day to You…
All my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings…
And, through You, I make this offering to our Father in heaven.

Be with me through this whole day in all its particulars,
And assist me that it may become a worthy offering in every way.

Be close to me in all I think and say and do.
Direct Your Spirit to speak to me…
And help me listen attentively when He does speak…

So that, in my response,
Your thoughts may become more surely my thoughts,
And Your ways may become my ways;
So that my judgments may accord with Your judgments,
And that the sentiments of my heart may be most like Your own Most Sacred Heart;

So that my conversation with others
May be the conversation I may ask You to share with us,
And that my works may be works I ask You to approve.

Help me to have the practical wisdom to look to Your Mother
From time to time throughout the day
And invite her to pray with me –
Realizing her concern that I be in all things faithful to You
And that Your graces be fruitful in me
To form me after the perfect fatherhood of God.

May I know the continued grace to work with You in all I do,
And not merely for You…
So that my day may become a perfect offering…

Lived with You and in You and through You,
To be presented to our Father in joy and love.

Amen.”

Good St Joseph, Head of the Holy Family, Patron of Husbands and of Fathers, Faithful Servant, Entrusted Guardian & Protector of our Lord: I, too, have been highly favored and blessed, entrusted with the care of soul and body of this Daughter of God as my life’s vocation.  With you as my exemplar, ask your foster Son to grant me the graces always to faithfully fulfill my Christian duty as a husband and father until my own death.

O, Good St Joseph, in thanksgiving and rejoicing for this great joy and honor God has bestowed upon me – to participate with Him as co-Creator of Life, I beg you to come to my assistance and pray for me!  Be my constant advocate before the Throne of God in all my necessities and trials!  Amen.

Collect: O God, Who were pleased to give us the shining example of the Holy Family, graciously grant that we may imitate them in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity, and so, in the joy of Your house, delight one day in eternal rewards. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Pray for us!

Love,
Matthew, Kelly & Mara

Dec 14 – St John of the Cross, OCD (1541-1591) – Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Mystical Theology

El_Greco_-_View_of_Toledo_-_Google_Art_Project

-El Greco’s landscape of Toledo, Spain (ca 1596) depicts the priory in which John was held captive, just below the old Muslim alcázar and perched on the banks of the Tajo on high cliffs

One of the Great Catholic Reformers, Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) (b: 24 June 1542 — d: 14 December 1591), born Juan de Yepes Alvarez of a Jewish converso family, was a major figure of the Catholic Reformation, a Spanish mystic, and Carmelite friar and priest, born at Hontoveros, Old Castile.

John learned the importance of self-sacrificing love from his parents. His father gave up wealth, status, and comfort when he married a weaver’s daughter and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed with his own great love of God.

John was a reformer and re-vitalizer of the Carmelite Order and is considered, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, as a founder of the Discalced Carmelites. He is also known for his writings. Both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature.

Ordained a Carmelite priest at 25 (1567), John met Teresa of Jesus (Avila–October 15) and like her vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform, and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment.

Yet, the paradox! In this dying of imprisonment, John came to life, uttering poetry. In the darkness of the dungeon, John’s spirit came into The Light, paper he used to write on passed to him by one of his guards.

There are many mystics, many poets; John is unique as mystic-poet, expressing in his prison-cross the ecstasy of mystical union with God in the “Spiritual Canticle”.

But as agony leads to ecstasy, so John had his “Ascent to Mt. Carmel”, as he named it in his prose masterpiece.  Thomas Merton said of John: “Just as we can never separate asceticism from mysticism, so in St. John of the Cross we find darkness and light, suffering and joy, sacrifice and love united together so closely that they seem at times to be identified together and inseparable.”

El_Monte_Carmelo

-“The Ascent of Mount Carmel”, as depicted in the first edition of 1618 by Diego de Astor

The Church of England commemorates him, too, as a “Teacher of the Faith” on this same day.

StJohnoftheCross3

-In the iconography of St John of the Cross, you can see the words written in the book, which was St John of the Cross’ motto:  “Domine, pati et contemni pro te!”  “Lord, to suffer and be despised for You!”

“Live in the world as if only God and your soul were in it; then your heart will never be made captive by any earthly thing.” -St. John of the Cross

“The Lord measures out perfection neither by the multitude of our deeds, but by the manner in which we perform them.” -St. John of the Cross

“To saints, their very slumber is a prayer.” -St. John of the Cross

“In the first place it should be known that if a person is seeking God, his Beloved is seeking him much more.” -St. John of the Cross

Prayer of Peace

“O Blessed Jesus, grant me stillness of soul in Thee. Let Thy mighty calmness reign in me. Rule me, O thou King of gentleness, King of peace. Give me control, control over my words, thoughts and actions. From all irritability, want of meekness, want of gentleness, O dear Lord, deliver me. By thine own deep patience give me patience, stillness of soul in Thee. Make me in this, and in all, more and more like Thee. Amen.”-St John of the Cross

“Let Your divinity shine on my intellect by giving it divine knowledge, and on my will by imparting to it the divine love and on my memory with the divine possession of glory.

Let us so act that by means of this loving activity we may attain to the vision of ourselves in Your beauty in eternal life. That is: That I be so transformed in Your beauty that we may be alike in beauty, and both behold ourselves in Your beauty, possessing now Your very beauty; this, in such a way that each looking at the other may see in the other his own beauty, since both are Your beauty alone, I being absorbed in Your beauty; hence, I shall see You in Your beauty, and You shall see me in Your beauty, and I shall see myself in You in Your beauty, and You will see Yourself in me in Your beauty; that I may resemble You in Your beauty, and You resemble me in Your beauty, and my beauty will be Your beauty and Your beauty my beauty; wherefore I shall be You in Your beauty, and You will be me in Your beauty, because Your very beauty will be my beauty; and therefore we shall behold each other in Your beauty.

O abyss of delights! You are so much the more abundant the more Your riches are concentrated in the infinite unity and simplicity of Your unique being, where one attribute is so known and enjoyed as not to hinder the perfect knowledge and enjoyment of the other; rather, each grace and virtue within You is a light for each of Your other grandeurs. By Your purity, O divine Wisdom, many things are behold in You through one. For You are the deposit of the Father’s treasures, the splendor of the eternal light, the unspotted mirror and image of His goodness.

Awaken and enlighten us, my Lord, that we might know and love the blessings which You ever propose to us, and that we might understand that You have moved to bestow favors on us and have remembered us.

O Lord, my God, who will seek You with simple and pure love and not find You are all he desires, for You show Yourself first and go out to meet those who desire You?

My spirit has become dry because it forgets to feed on You.”

Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love

“Lord God, my Beloved, if You remember still my sins in suchwise that You do not do what I beg of You, do Your will concerning them, my God, which is what I most desire, and exercise Your goodness and mercy, and You will be known through them. And if it is that You are waiting for my good works so as to hear my prayer through their means, grant them to me, and work them for me, and the sufferings You desire to accept, and let it be done. But if You are not waiting for my works, what is it that makes You wait, my most clement Lord? Why do You delay? For if, after all, I am to receive the grace and mercy which I entreat of You in Your Son, take my mite, since You desire it, and grant me this blessing, since You also desire that. Who can free himself from the lowly manners and limitations if You do not lift him to Yourself, my God, in purity of love? How will a man begotten and nurtured in lowliness rise up to You, Lord, if You do not raise him with Your hand which made him? You will not take from me, my God, what You once gave me in Your only Son, Jesus Christ in Whom You gave me all I desire. Hence I rejoice that if I wait for You, You will not delay. With what procrastinations do You wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart? Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God Himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me.What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in something less, nor pay heed to the crumbs which fall from your Father’s table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in It and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.

Oh, how sweet Your presence will be to me, You Who are the supreme good! I must draw near You in silence pleased to unite me to You in … I rejoice in Your arms. Now I ask You, Lord, do not abandon me at any time in my recollection, for I know not the value of my soul.”

Sepulcro-de-san-juan-de-la-cruz-02

-reliquary of St John of the Cross, Convent of Carmelite Friars, Segovia, Spain

JohnCrossRelicsUbeda

-reliquary of St John of the Cross, Ubeda, Spain

“Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.” – St. John of the Cross, “Special Counsels: Degrees of Perfection #9

“The Dark Night of the Soul”
-by St John Of the Cross

1. One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
— ah, the sheer grace! —
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
— him I knew so well —
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

“The soul, however, cannot be perfectly purified from these imperfections, any more than from the others, until God shall have led it into the passive purgation of the dark night, of which I shall speak immediately. But it is expedient that the soul, so far as it can, should labor, on its own part, to purify and perfect itself, that it may merit from God to be taken under His divine care, and be healed from those imperfections which of itself it cannot remedy. For, after all the efforts of the soul, it cannot by any exertions of its own actively purify itself so as to be in the slightest degree fit for the divine union of perfection in the love of God, if God Himself does not take it into His own hands and purify it in the fire, dark to the soul.” — St. John of the Cross, p.14, Dark Night of the Soul, St Benedict Press Classics

From the Proper for the Feast of St John of the Cross

Lord,
you endowed our Father Saint John of the Cross
with a spirit of self-denial and a love of the cross.
By following his example
may we come to the eternal vision of Your glory.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 21 – St Peter Canisius, SJ, (1521-1597), Doctor of the Church & the Catechism

Saint_Petrus_Canisius

St Peter Canisius, SJ, is my patron saint and my hero of catechesis. When I am frustrated, I paraphrase him in a one line prayer: “Why don’t you try explaining it to them?” It REALLY helps ME understand it, too, first of all. 🙂

The Roman Catholic Church sees the divisions among Christians as scandalous.  It believes the Lord views these divisions similarly.  The Church seeks to heal these divisions.  Jn 17:21-23.  Divisions in Christianity are a disincentive to non-Christians to consider Jesus Christ and an impediment to Christian agape among Christians.

It is reported Gandhi read the New Testament every day.  Upon seeing this, a British reporter asked if The Mahatma, Great Soul, intended to become Christian.  Gandhi responded he would if he ever met one.  “You’re Christ I like” he said.

The energetic life of Peter Canisius should demolish any stereotypes we may have of the life of a saint as dull or routine. Peter lived his 76 years at a pace which must be considered heroic, even in our time of rapid change. A man blessed with many talents, Peter is an excellent example of the scriptural man who develops his talents for the sake of the Lord’s work. The restoration of the Catholic Church in Germany after the Reformation is attributed to his work.  He was one of the most important figures in the Catholic Reformation in Germany. His was such a key role that he has often been called the “second apostle of Germany” in that his life parallels the earlier work of St Boniface (June 5).

Both Holland and Germany claim him as their son, for Nijmegen, then in the Duchy of Guelders (until 1549 part of the Spanish Netherlands within the Holy Roman Empire) where he was born, Peter Kanis, May 8th, 1521, though a Dutch town today, was at that time in the ecclesiastical province of Cologne and had the rights of a German city.

“In an account known as his Confessions (c. 1570) and his Testament (c.1596), St. Peter Canisius accuses himself as a boy of contentiousness, fits of anger, jealousies, secret hatreds, arrogance, inconsiderate expressing of opinions on weighty matters, “like a blind man discoursing of colors,” and carelessness in resisting temptations against purity arising from thought, desire and the conversation of the boys he associated with. His intense humility can be expected to underscore his faults, but his words tells us that he did have a nature that needed to be tamed and controlled. In early youth he also had the inclination occasionally to be deeply stirred spiritually and to give signs of his future vocation by playing priest, acting out the Mass, preaching, singing and praying, all this sometimes before a group of playmates. He also liked to serve Mass. (Confessions, p. 12 of Braunsberger, Vol.1)”
-St Peter Canisius, SJ, as edited by Fr. Christopher Rengers, O.F.M. Cap., The 33 Doctors of the Church, (Tan Books: 2000)

Peter’s mother, Ægidia van Houweningen, died shortly after Peter’s birth.  His father, Jacob Kanis, a Catholic and nine times burgomaster of Nijmegen, sent him at the age of fifteen to the University of Cologne, where he met the saintly young priest, Nicolaus van Esch. It was he who drew Canisius into the orbit of the loyal Catholic party of Cologne, which had been formed in opposition to the archbishop, Hermann von Wied, who had secretly gone over to the Lutherans.  Canisius was chosen by the group to approach the emperor, and the deposition of the archbishop which followed averted a calamity from the Catholic Rhineland.

St Peter Canisius exerted a strong influence on Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I; he ceaselessly reminded Ferdinand of the imminent danger to his soul should he concede more rights to Protestants in return for their military support. When Peter Canisius sensed a very real danger of Ferdinand’s son and heir, King Maximilian, openly declaring himself a Protestant, he convinced Emperor Ferdinand to threaten disinheritance should Maximilian desert the Catholic Faith.

Although Peter once accused himself of idleness in his youth, he could not have been idle too long, for at the age of 19 he received a master’s degree from the university at Cologne. Soon afterwards he met Blessed Peter Faber, SJ, the first disciple of Ignatius Loyola, and underwent the Spiritual Exercises under his direction.  Faber influenced Peter so much that he joined the recently formed Society of Jesus.

At this early age Peter had already taken up a practice he continued throughout his life—a process of study, reflection, prayer and writing. After his ordination in 1546, he became widely known for his editions of the writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Leo the Great. Besides this reflective literary bent, Peter had a zeal for the apostolate. He could often be found visiting the sick or prisoners, even when his assigned duties in other areas were more than enough to keep most people fully occupied.

His obedience was tested when he was sent by St Ignatius to teach rhetoric in the comparative obscurity of the new Jesuit college at Messina, but this interlude in his public work for the church was but a brief one. In 1547 Peter attended several sessions of the Council of Trent, whose decrees he was later assigned to implement, as procurator for the bishop of Augsburg.  (I was the novice “procurator”.  I LIKED that job.  Tell you about it sometime.)

Recalled to Rome in 1549 to make his final profession in the presence of St Ignatius of Loyola himself who was his spiritual director and traveling companion and the founder of the Society of Jesus, he was entrusted with what was to become his life’s work: the mission to Germany.

At the request of the duke of Bavaria, Canisius was chosen with two other Jesuits to profess theology in the University of Ingolstadt. Soon he was appointed rector of the University, and then, through the intervention of King Ferdinand of the Romans, he was sent to do the same kind of work in the University of Vienna.

Called to Vienna to reform their university, he couldn’t win the people with preaching or fancy words spoken in his German accent. He won their hearts by ministering to the sick and dying during a plague. His success was such that the king tried to have him appointed to the archbishopric. Though he refused this dignity, he was compelled to administer the diocese for the space of a year.  During Mass one day he received a vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus , and ever after offered his work to the Sacred Heart.  Winning! (in the good, healthy sense) 🙂

It was at this period, 1555, that he issued his famous Catechism, one of his greatest services to the Church. With its clear and popular exposition of Catholic doctrine it met the need of the day, and was to counter the devastating effect of Luther’s Catechism. In its enlarged form it went into more than four hundred editions by the end of the seventeenth century and was translated into fifteen languages.

For many years during the Protestant Reformation, Peter saw the students in his universities swayed by the flashy speeches and the well-written arguments of the Protestants. Peter was not alone in wishing for a Catholic catechism that would present true Catholic beliefs undistorted by fanatics. Finally King Ferdinand himself ordered Peter and his companions to write a catechism. This hot potato got tossed from person to person until Peter and his friend Fr. Lejay were assigned to write it. Lejay was obviously the logical choice, being a better writer than Peter. So Peter relaxed and sat back to offer any help he could. When Father Lejay died, King Ferdinand would wait no longer. Peter said of writing: “I have never learned to be elegant as a writer, but I cannot remain dumb on that account.” The first issue of the Catechism appeared in 1555 and was an immediate success. Peter approached Christian doctrine in two parts: wisdom — including faith, hope, and charity — and justice — avoiding evil and doing good, linked by a section on sacraments.

Because of the success and the need, Peter quickly produced two more versions: a Shorter Catechism for middle school students which concentrated on helping this age group choose good over evil by concentrating on a different virtue each day of the week; and a Shortest Catechism for young children which included prayers for morning and evening, for mealtimes, and so forth to get them used to praying.

As intent as Peter was on keeping people true to the Catholic faith, he followed the Jesuit policy that harsh words should not be used, that those listening would see an example of charity in the way Catholics acted and preached. However, his companions were not always as willing. He showed great patience and insight with one man, Father Couvillon. Couvillon was so sharp and hostile that he was alienating his companions and students. Anyone who confronted him became the subject of abuse. It became obvious that Couvillon suffered from emotional illness. But Peter did not let that knowledge blind him to the fact that Couvillon was still a brilliant and talented man. Instead of asking Couvillon to resign he begged him to stay on as a teacher and then appointed him as his secretary. Peter thought that Couvillon needed to worry less about himself and pray more and work harder. He didn’t coddle him but gave Couvillon blunt advice about his pride. Coming from Peter this seemed to help Couvillon. Peter consulted Couvillon often on the business of the Province and asked him to translate Jesuit letters from India. Thanks to Peter , even though Couvillon continued to suffer depression for years, he also accomplished much good.

In his fight with German Protestantism, Canisius requested much more flexibility from Rome. “If you treat them right, the Germans will give you everything. Many err in matters of faith, but without arrogance. They err the German way, mostly honest, a bit simple-minded, but very open for everything Lutheran. An honest explanation of the faith would be much more effective than a polemical attack against reformers.” He rejected Catholic attacks against Calvin and Melanchton by saying, “With words like these, we don’t cure patients, we make them incurable.”

From Vienna, Canisius passed on to Bohemia, where the condition of the church was desperate. In the face of determined opposition he established a college at Prague which was to develop into a university. Named Provincial of southern Germany in 1556, he established colleges for boys in six cities, and set himself to the task of providing Germany with a supply of well-trained priests. This he did by his work for the establishment of seminaries, and by sending regular reinforcements of young men to be trained in Rome.

On his many journeys in Germany St Peter Canisius, SJ never ceased from preaching the word of God. He often encountered apathy or hostility at first, but as his zeal and learning were so manifest great crowds soon thronged the churches to listen. For seven years he was official preacher in the cathedral of Augsburg, and is regarded in a special way as the apostle of that city. Whenever he came across a country church deprived of its pastor, he would halt there to preach and to administer the sacraments. It seemed impossible to exhaust him: ‘If you have too much to do, with God’s help you will find time to do it all,’ he said, when someone accused him of overworking himself.

Another form of his apostolate was letter writing, and the printed volumes of his correspondence cover more than eight thousand pages. Like St Bernard of Clairvaux he used this means of comforting, rebuking and counseling all ranks of society. As the needs of the church or the individual required, he wrote to pope and emperor, to bishops and princes, to ordinary priest and laymen. Where letters would not suffice he brought to bear his great powers of personal influence. Thus at the conference between Catholics and Protestants held at Worms in 1556, it was due to his influence that the Catholics were able to present a united front and resist Protestant invitations to compromise on points of principle. In Poland in 1558 he checked an incipient threat to the traditional faith of the country; and in the same year, he earned the thanks of Pope Pius IV for his diplomatic skill in healing a breach between the pope and the emperor. This gift of dealing with men led to his being entrusted in 1561 with the promulgation in Germany of the decrees of the council of Trent.

Shortly afterwards he was called on to answer the Centuries of Magdeburg. This work, ‘the first and worst of all Protestant church histories,’ was a large-scale attack on the Catholic church, and its enormous distortions of history would have required more than one mar to produce an adequate answer. Yet Peter Canisius showed the way by his two works,  The History of John the Baptist, and, also theologically defended Catholic Mariology in, The Incomparable Virgin Mary/Opus Marianum, or “De Maria Virgine Incomparabili et Dei Genitrice Sacrosancta Libri Quinque”, receiving high praise from St John Eudes as a Marian teacher.

Canisius taught that while there are many roads leading to Jesus Christ, Marian veneration is the best way to him.  His sermons and letters document a clear preoccupation with Marian veneration.  Under the heading “prayer” he explains the Ave Maria, Hail Mary, as the basis for Catholic Marian piety.  Less known are his Marian books, in which he published prayers and contemplative texts. He is credited with adding to the Hail Mary the sentence “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.”  Eleven years later it was included in the Catechism of the Council of Trent of 1566.

In 1565, the Vatican was looking for a nuncio to deliver the decrees of the Council of Trent to the loyal bishops of Germany. What would be a simple errand in our day, was a dangerous assignment in the sixteenth century. The first envoy who tried to carry the decrees through territory of hostile Protestants and vicious thieves was robbed of the precious documents. Rome needed someone courageous but also someone above suspicion. They chose Peter Canisius, who had reformed German universities from heresy. At 43 he was a well-known Jesuit who had founded colleges that even Protestants respected. They gave him a cover as official “visitor” of Jesuit foundations. But Peter couldn’t hide the decrees like our modern fictional spies with their microfilmed messages in collar buttons or cans of shaving cream. Peter traveled from Rome and crisscrossed Germany successfully loaded down with the Tridentine tomes — 250 pages each — not to mention the three sacks of books he took along for his own university!

Renowned as a popular preacher, Peter packed churches with those eager to hear his eloquent proclamation of the gospel. He had great diplomatic ability, often serving as a reconciler between disputing factions. In his letters (filling eight volumes) one finds words of wisdom and counsel to people in all walks of life. At times he wrote unprecedented letters of criticism to leaders of the Church—yet always in the context of a loving, sympathetic concern.

At 70 Peter suffered a paralytic seizure, but he continued to preach and write with the aid of a secretary until his death in his hometown (Nijmegen, Netherlands) on December 21, 1597.  His body was interred before the high altar of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Fribourg.  His relics were translated to the Church of Saint Michael at the Jesuit College in Fribourg in 1625.

From 1580 until his death in 1597 he labored and suffered much in Switzerland. His last six years were spent in patient endurance and long hours of prayer in the college of Fribourg, now that broken health had made further active work impossible. Soon after his death, December 21st, 1597, his tomb began to be venerated, and numerous miracles were attributed to his intercession. He had the unique honor of being canonized and declared a doctor of the church on the same day, June 21st, 1925.

Peter’s untiring efforts are an apt example for those involved in the renewal of the Church or the growth of moral consciousness in business or government. He is regarded as one of the creators of the Catholic press, and can easily be a model for the Christian author or journalist. Teachers can see in his life a passion for the transmission of truth. Whether we have much to give, as Peter Canisius did, or whether we have only a little to give, as did the poor widow in the Gospel (see Luke 21:1–4), the important thing is to give our all. It is in this way that Peter is so exemplary for Christians in an age of rapid change when we are called to be in the world but not of the world.

400px-Dillingen_Kreuzauffindung_Fenster_973

-by Franz Xavier Zettler, 1911, in Munich

“It was as if You opened to me the Heart in Your most Sacred Body; I seemed to see it directly before my eyes. You told me to drink from this fountain, inviting me, that is, to draw the waters of my salvation from Your wellsprings, my Savior. I was most eager that streams of faith, hope and love should flow into me from that Source. I was thirsting for poverty, chastity, obedience. I asked to be made wholly clean by You, to be clothed by You, to be made resplendent by You…So, after daring to approach Your most loving Heart, and to plunge my thirst into it, I received a promise from You of a garment made of three parts: these were to cover my soul in its nakedness, and to belong especially to my religious profession. They were peace, love, and perseverance. Protected by this garment of salvation, I was confident that I would lack nothing but all would succeed and give You glory.””
–St. Peter Canisius, SJ, before he set out for Germany, having received the apostolic blessing, describing the profound spiritual experience he underwent

30450E

With sincere Marian devotion, St. Peter wrote the following words to his step-Mother:
“Dear Mother,
I am sending you a picture of Our Lady as a pledge of affectionate remembrance. May it serve you as a mirror and bring you comfort when sorrow floods into your soul. All her life long holy Mother Mary endured a thousand sorrows and anxieties on account of her dear Son, because even while He was still a child she saw clearly in the light of her heavenly meditations all the sufferings that awaited His tender limbs. Her tears used to fall on the little hands and feet that one day great nails would violently pierce, and she used to kiss the holy brow destined for its crown of thorns. So, dearest Mother, offer up all your affliction in union with the sorrows of the holy Mother of God. Place all your troubles and anxieties in the stricken heart of the Queen of Heaven, for she can protect you better than could all mankind put together. Do not take so much to heart what cannot now be changed.”
-St Peter Canisius, SJ, as edited by Fr. James Brodrick, SJ,  (Jesuit Way  — an imprint of Loyola Press) 62.

Petrus Canisius / Gemaelde - Petrus Canisius / Painting -

Resolution:
St. Peter sent his mother an image of Our Lady and counseled her to turn all her troubles and anxieties over to the stricken heart of the Queen of Heaven. Today, when I see my image of Our Lady, I will follow the advice of St. Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church, and turn my troubles over to Our Lady.

Marian Vow:
Consecration to the Immaculate is a daily process. St. Peter Canisius reminds us in his commentary on the Hail Mary that our Lady already watches over us in a daily way:

“To be sure, walking in the footsteps of the Holy Fathers, we not only salute the praiseworthy and admirable Virgin, who is as a lily among thorns, but we also believe and profess her to be endowed with such great power that she can listen to, assist and favor poor mortals as long as they especially commend themselves and their desires to her and suppliantly expect daily grace through her motherly intercession.”

-St Peter Canisius, SJ, as edited by Fr. Christopher Rengers, O.F.M. Cap., The 33 Doctors of the Church, (Tan Books: 2000), p. 473.

FN_St_Petrus_Canisius_Statue_Petrus_Canisius

Prayer

Saint Peter Canisius, you saw the good in even the most troublesome of people. You found their talents and used them. Help me to see beyond the behavior of others that may bother me to the gifts God has given them. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 17-23: Great O Antiphons!!!!!

o-antiphons-symbols

Beginning on Dec. 17, the Church prays with greater urgency for the hastening of Christ’s arrival.  A greater sense of insistence and impatience is found in the prayers and liturgy of the Church at this time just immediately before the memorial of the Incarnation and, hence, our salvation.

At Vespers each night, the Church sings the great “O Antiphons” before the Magnificat, beckoning for He Who is Wisdom from on High, Lord of Might, Rod of Jesse’s stem, Key of David, Dayspring from on high, King of the Nations, and Emmanuel, He Who made the Heavens and the Earth to come and pitch His tent among us.  These antiphons have likewise made their way into the culture of Christmas music that you hear at stores and on radio stations, not to mention most Catholic churches, in the form of the hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel”, which bases its verses on the O Antiphons.

The authors of these antiphons, they can be traced liturgically and historically back to the fourth century, not only had a great theological insight into the arrival of the Christ as expressed in each of the individual antiphons, but they also ordered them so that when they are read backwards chronologically from the 23rd to the 17th, the titles of Christ in Latin form an acronym which spells “ERO CRAS” – I will come tomorrow.

E=Emmanuel; used on December 23

R=Rex Gentium (King of all nations); used on December 22

O=Oriens (Radiant Dawn); used on December 21

C=Clavis David (Key of David); used onDecember 20

R=Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse); used on December 19

A=Adonai (Lord of Israel); used on December 18

S=Sapientia (Wisdom); used on December 17

stained_glass_o_antiphons

Enjoy!

Merry Christmas!

Love,
Matthew