Category Archives: July

Jul 11 – St Benedict of Nursia, (480-543 AD), Abbot, “Ora et Labora”, Father of Western Monasticism, “Put Christ Before All Else”

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-From the Rule of Benedict, Office of Readings for the Day

“Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection; that He, Who has honored us by counting us among His children, may never be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always serve Him with the good things He has given us in such a way that He may never – as an angry father disinherits his sons or even like a master who inspires fear – grow impatient with our sins and consign us to everlasting punishment, like wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

So we should at long last rouse ourselves, prompted by the words of Scripture: Now is the time for us to rise from sleep. Our eyes should be open to the God-given light, and we should listen in wonderment to the message of the Divine voice as It daily cries out: Today, if you shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts; and again: If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. And what does the Spirit say? Come My sons, listen to Me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Hurry, while you have the light of life, so that death’s darkness may not overtake you.

And the Lord as He seeks the one who will do His work among the throng of people to whom He makes that appeal, says again: Which of you wants to live to the full; who loves long life and the enjoyment of prosperity? And, if when you hear this you say, “I DO!”, God says to you: If you desire true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceit; turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things My eyes will be upon you and My ears will be attentive to your prayers; and before you call upon My Name, I shall say to you: Behold, I AM here. What could be more delightful, dearest brothers, than the voice of our Lord’s invitation to us? In His loving kindness He reveals to us the Way of Life.

And so, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us follow in His paths by the guidance of the Gospel; then we shall deserve to see Him who has called us into His kingdom. If we wish to attain a dwelling-place in His kingdom we shall not reach it unless we hasten there by our good deeds.

Just as there exists an evil fervor, a bitter spirit, which divides us from God and leads us to Hell, so there is a good fervor which sets us apart from evil inclinations and leads us toward God and eternal life. Monks should put this fervor into practice with an overflowing love: that is, they should surpass each other in mutual esteem, accept their weaknesses, either of body or of behavior, with the utmost patience; and vie with each other in acceding to requests. No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. They should display brotherly love in a chaste manner; fear God in a spirit of love; revere their abbot with a genuine and submissive affection. Let them put Christ before all else; and may He lead us all to everlasting life.”

“Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do not pamper yourself, but love fasting.” -St. Benedict 

“Prefer nothing, absolutely nothing, to the love of Christ.” -St. Benedict

Love,
Matthew

 

Jul 9 – Franciscan Martyrs of China & Companions: The Boxer Rebellion

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-the Empress Dowager Cixi

The uprising by the “Society for Justice and Harmony” (commonly known as the “Boxers”; don’t you just LOVE these euphemisms?  Not well disguised, except from the truly moronic?  “The Committee on Public Safety” in the French Revolution?  Pick a lobby in Washington?  Ok, I’ll cede one, “The Holy Office”, aka, The Inquisition :), occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century and caused the shedding of the blood of many Christians, Catholic & Protestant.

After a long drought, a slight drizzle began to moisten the dry fields of Shanxi province. But it was too late.  Local peasants had already spread rumors – the Christians were to blame for the long-term lack of rain. Banners had begun to appear throughout the region: “The skies won’t rain, the earth is scorched, all because the churches have blocked the heavens” (Taiyuan jiaochu jianhua, 311).

Two Franciscan bishops, two priests, a brother, and seven nuns had prayed for rain, but when it had finally arrived they knew it could not stop the tide of violence. Chinese Christians all around them were already being captured, ordered to renounce their faith in God, and executed if they refused. By the summer of 1900 a group of anti-foreign and anti-Christian men and women had organized themselves into roaming bands of martial artists groups carrying long swords, spears, and halberds; they called themselves the Yihetuan, or the “Society of Righteous Harmony.” Their duty, they asserted, was to support the ruling court and “annihilate all foreigners.”

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the Franciscan bishops, priests, and nuns were reciting the Divine Office together with Chinese faithful in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi, when they heard the clamor of weapons approaching their small room. Instinctively knowing that they would soon be executed, those present all knelt before Bishop Gregorius Grassi, the ordinary of their remote Chinese diocese. Grassi trembled with emotion as he said to his fellow Christians, “The hour of death has come, my children: kneel down and I will give you holy absolution” (Franciscan Martyrs of the Boxer Rising, 14).

Bishops Grassi and Francis Fogolla, Fathers Theodiric Balat and Elias Fachini, Brother Andreus Bauer, seven nuns, fourteen Chinese Catholics, and a group of Protestants who had also been arrested, were each stripped to the waist, men and women, and tied together. On their way to the governor’s mansion, where their execution ground was being prepared, the Franciscans were derided and beaten both by their guards and the mob that lined the street.

Once they had arrived at Governor Yuxian’s official residence, the missionaries and native Catholics were ordered to kneel in the large courtyard. There was no trial. In Cardinal Louis Nazaire Bégin’s account of what happened next, we hear of how they were martyred:
‘Kill them, kill them!’ roared the crowd. Yu-Hsien striking with his own sword cried: ‘Kill them!’ At this sight the soldiers began the slaughter, dealing blows right and left, cruelly injuring their victims before giving the final stroke. Father Elie, aged sixty-one years, received more than one hundred sword cuts and at each lifted his eyes to heaven saying: ‘I go to heaven.’

During the scene the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary were spectators, for their executioners hoped the sight of the martyred priests would make their own death more horrible. They knelt in prayer with eyes lifted to heaven, praying for the martyrs, for the conversion of their persecutors and for the perseverance of the Christians. . . . The nuns embraced each other, intoned St Ambrose & St Augustine’s Te Deum Laudamus (Christian martyrs, when presented with immanent death, SING! see also Carmelites of the French Revolution), and presented their heads to the executioners…(Life of Mother Marie Hermine, 62-63).

Father Andrew Wang tried to evade the Boxers by wearing secular garb and taking flight into Shanxi’s remote areas. Father Wang spent several days without food or shelter, and finally in a state of exhaustion, coughing blood, was discovered by his pursuers, who took him to the local magistrate for trial.

During his investigation, he was told by the local official: “. . . if you renounce your religion you will receive clothes and money, and your life will be spared.” Father Wang calmly informed his judge that he was a priest, reasserted his faith in God, and asked to be executed on the grounds of his church, which had just been destroyed by the Boxers.

The Boxer Rebellion, Boxer Uprising or Yihetuan Movement was a violent anti-foreign and anti-Christian movement which took place in China towards the end of the Qing dynasty between 1898 and 1900. It was initiated by the Militia United in Righteousness (Yihetuan), known in English as the “Boxers”, and was motivated by proto-nationalist sentiments and opposition to foreign imperialism and Christianity. The Great Powers intervened and defeated Chinese forces.

The uprising took place against a background of severe drought, and the disruption caused by the growth of foreign spheres of influence. After several months of growing violence against foreign and Christian presence in Shandong and the North China plain, in June 1900 Boxer fighters, convinced they were invulnerable to foreign weapons, converged on Beijing with the slogan “Support the Qing, exterminate the foreigners.”

Foreigners and Chinese Christians sought refuge in the Legation Quarter. In response to reports of an armed invasion to lift the siege, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager Cixi supported the Boxers and on June 21 authorized war on foreign powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians and soldiers, and Chinese Christians in the Legation Quarter were under siege by the Imperial Army of China and the Boxers for 55 days. Chinese officialdom was split between those supporting the Boxers and those favoring conciliation, led by Prince Qing.

The supreme commander of the Chinese forces, Ronglu, later claimed that he acted to protect the besieged foreigners. The Eight-Nation Alliance, after being initially turned back, brought 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Imperial Army, and captured Beijing (Peking) on August 14, lifting the siege of the Legations. Uncontrolled plunder of the capital and the surrounding countryside ensued, along with the summary execution of those suspected of being Boxers.

The Boxer Protocol of September 7, 1901 provided for the execution of government officials who had supported the Boxers, provisions for foreign troops to be stationed in Beijing, and an indemnity of 450 million taels of silver – more than the government’s annual tax revenue, to be paid as indemnity over a course of thirty-nine years to the eight nations involved.

As a result of the Boxer Rebellion, the martyrdom of Catholic & Protestant missionaries and many Chinese took place who can be grouped together as follows. Twenty-seven Franciscans and Franciscan tertiaries and their confreres in faith who became victims of the Boxer Rebellion; they represent more than 100,000 Christians of China who were martyred in the reign of Empress Dowager Tz’u Hsi (Cixi).

a) Martyrs of Shanxi, killed on July 9, 1900 (known as the Taiyuan Massacre), who were Franciscan Friars Minor:

1. Saint Gregory Grassi, Bishop,
2. Saint Francis Fogolla, Bishop,
3. Saint Elias Facchini, Priest,
4. Saint Theodoric Balat, Priest,
5. Saint Andrew Bauer, Religious Brother;

b) Martyrs of Southern Hunan, who were also Franciscan Friars Minor:

6. Saint Anthony Fantosati, Bishop (martyred on July 7, 1900), vicar apostolic of Hengchow,
7. Saint Joseph Mary Gambaro, Priest (martyred on July 7, 1900), who was tortured to death,
8. Saint Cesidio Giacomantonio, Priest (martyred on July 4, 1900), burned alive.

To the martyred Franciscans of the First Order were added seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, of whom three were French, two Italian, one Belgian, and one Dutch:

9. Saint Mary Hermina of Jesus (in saec: Irma Grivot),
10. Saint Mary of Peace (in saec: Mary Ann Giuliani),
11. Saint Mary Clare (in saec: Clelia Nanetti),
12. Saint Mary of the Holy Birth (in saec: Joan Mary Kerguin),
13. Saint Mary of Saint Justus (in saec: Ann Moreau),
14. Saint Mary Adolfine (in saec: Ann Dierk),
15. Saint Mary Amandina (in saec: Paula Jeuris).

Of the martyrs belonging to the Franciscan family, there were also eleven Secular Franciscans, all Chinese:

15. Saint John Zhang Huan, seminarian,
16. Saint Patrick Dong Bodi, seminarian,
17. Saint John Wang Rui, seminarian,
18. Saint Philip Zhang Zhihe, seminarian,
19. Saint John Zhang Jingguang, seminarian,
20. Saint Thomas Shen Jihe, layman and a manservant,
21. Saint Simon Qin Chunfu, lay catechist,
22. Saint Peter Wu Anbang, layman,
23. Saint Francis Zhang Rong, layman and a farmer,
24. Saint Matthew Feng De, layman and neophyte,
25. Saint Peter Zhang Banniu, layman and labourer.

To these are joined a number of Chinese lay faithful:

26. Saint James Yan Guodong, farmer,
27. Saint James Zhao Quanxin, manservant,
28. Saint Peter Wang Erman, cook.

When the uprising of the “Boxers”, which had begun in Shandong and then spread through Shanxi and Hunan, also reached South-Eastern Tcheli (currently named Hebei), which was then the Apostolic Vicariate of Xianxian, in the care of the Jesuits, the Christians killed could be counted in thousands. Among these were four French Jesuit missionaries and at least 52 Chinese lay Christians: men, women and children – the oldest of them being 79 years old, while the youngest were aged only nine years. All suffered martyrdom in the month of July 1900. Many of them were killed in the church in the village of Tchou-Kia-ho (or Zhujiahe), in which they were taking refuge and where they were in prayer together with the first two of the missionaries listed below:

29. Saint Leo Mangin, S.J., Priest,
30. Saint Paul Denn, S.J., Priest,
31. Saint Rémy Isoré, S.J., Priest,
32. Saint Modeste Andlauer, S.J., Priest.

The names and ages of the Chinese lay Christians were as follows:

33. Saint Mary Zhu born Wu, aged about 50 years,
34. Saint Petrus Zhu Rixin, aged 19,
35. Saint Ioannes Baptista Zhu Wurui, aged 17,
36. Saint Mary Fu Guilin, aged 37,
37. Saint Barbara Cui born Lian, aged 51,
38. Saint Joseph Ma Taishun, aged 60,
39. Saint Lucia Wang Cheng, aged 18,
40. Saint Maria Fan Kun, aged 16,
41. Saint Mary Qi Yu, aged 15,
42. Saint Maria Zheng Xu, aged 11 years,
43. Saint Mary Du born Zhao, aged 51,
44. Saint Magdalene Du Fengju, aged 19,
45. Saint Mary Du born Tian, aged 42,
46. Saint Paul Wu Anju, aged 62,
47. Saint Ioannes Baptista Wu Mantang, aged 17,
48. Saint Paulus Wu Wanshu, aged 16,
49. Saint Raymond Li Quanzhen, aged 59,
50. Saint Peter Li Quanhui, aged 63,
51. Saint Peter Zhao Mingzhen, aged 61,
52. Saint John Baptist Zhao Mingxi, aged 56,
53. Saint Teresa Chen Jinjie, aged 25,
54. Saint Rose Chen Aijie, aged 22,
55. Saint Peter Wang Zuolong, aged 58,
56. Saint Mary Guo born Li, aged 65,
57. Saint Joan Wu Wenyin, aged 50,
58. Saint Zhang Huailu, aged 57,
59. Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang, aged 66,
60. Saint Ann An born Xin, aged 72,
61. Saint Mary An born Guo, aged 64,
62. Saint Ann An born Jiao, aged 26,
63. Saint Mary An Linghua, aged 29,
64. Saint Paul Liu Jinde, aged 79,
65. Saint Joseph Wang Kuiju, aged 37,
66. Saint John Wang Kuixin, aged 25,
67. Saint Teresa Zhang born He, aged 36,
68. Saint Lang born Yang, aged 29,
69. Saint Paulus Lang Fu, aged 9,
70. Saint Elizabeth Qin born Bian, aged 54,
71. Saint Simon Qin Chunfu, aged 14,
72. Saint Peter Liu Ziyu, aged 57,
73. Saint Anna Wang, aged 14,
74. Saint Joseph Wang Yumei, aged 68,
75. Saint Lucy Wang born Wang, aged 31,
76. Saint Andreas Wang Tianqing, aged 9,
77. Saint Mary Wang born Li, aged 49,
78. Saint Chi Zhuzi, aged 18,
79. Saint Mary Zhao born Guo, aged 60,
80. Saint Rose Zhao, aged 22,
81. Saint Maria Zhao, aged 17,
82. Saint Joseph Yuan Gengyin, aged 47,
83. Saint Paul Ge Tingzhu, aged 61,
84. Saint Rose Fan Hui, aged 45.

Besides all those already mentioned who were killed by the Boxers, it is necessary also to remember:

85. Saint Alberic Crescitelli, a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions of Milan, who carried out his ministry in Southern Shaanxi and was martyred on July 21, 1900.

Some years later, members of the Salesian Society of St John Bosco were added to the considerable number of martyrs recorded above:

86. Saint Louis Versiglia, Bishop,
87. Saint Callistus Caravario, Priest.

They were killed together on February 25, 1930 at Li-Thau-Tseul.

A 14-year-old Chinese girl named Ann Wang, who was killed during the Boxer Rebellion when she refused to apostatize. She bravely withstood the threats of her torturers, and just as she was about to be beheaded, she radiantly declared, “The door of heaven is open to all” and repeated the name of Jesus three times.

Another of the martyrs was 18-year-old Chi Zhuzi, who had been preparing to receive the sacrament of Baptism when he was caught on the road one night and ordered to worship idols. He refused to do so, revealing his belief in Christ. His right arm was cut off and he was tortured, but he would not deny his faith. Rather, he fearlessly pronounced to his captors, before being flayed alive, “Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you that I am Christian.”

Following the failure of the Boxer rebellion, the government recognized it had no choice but to modernize, which in turn led to a booming conversion period in the following decades. The Chinese developed respect for the moral level that Christians maintained in their hospital and schools. The continuing association between western imperialism in China and missionary efforts nevertheless continued to fuel hostilities against missions and Christianity in China. All missions were banned in China by the new communist regime after the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950, and officially continue to be legally outlawed to the present.

“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.” – Soren Kierkegaard

Love,
Matthew

Jul 28 – Sts Pedro Poveda Castroverde, (1874-1936), Priest & Martyr – The Eleven Martyrs of Almeria, Spain

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The Spanish Civil War began in 1936. It has been described as a struggle between atheism and belief in God. One particular object of persecution was the Catholic Church. In three years, twelve bishops, 4,184 priests, 2,365 monks, and 300 nuns died for the faith. Today we celebrate eleven of those martyrs: two bishops, a diocesan priest, seven brothers of the Christian Schools, and a young laywoman. The bishops were from Almeria and Gaudix, Spain. The seven brothers of the Christian Schools were teachers at St. Joseph College in Almeria. Father Pedro Castroverde was a well-known scholar and founder of the Teresian Association. Victoria Diez Molina belonged to the Teresians. She had found a spiritual treasure in the way this group prayed and lived their Christian lives. Victoria was a teacher in a country school and was very active in her parish.

All eleven martyrs chose to die for Jesus rather than give up their Catholic faith. Brother Aurelio Maria, the director of St. Joseph College, said: “What happiness for us if we could shed our blood for the lofty ideal of Christian education. Let us double our fervor so as to become worthy of such an honor.”

Their names are: Bishop DIEGO VENTAJA MILAN of Almeria, Bishop MANUEL MEDINA OLMOS of Guadix, Bro. AURELIO MARIA from Zafra de Zancara, Bro. JOSE CECILIO from Molina de Ubierna, Bro. EDMIGIO from Adalia, Bro. AMALIO from Salinas de Oro, Bro. VALERIO BERNARDO from Porquera de los Infantes, Bro. TEODOMIRO JOAQUIN from Puntedey and Bro. EVENCIO RICARDO from Viloria de Rioja.

The two Bishops and seven Christian Brothers died for the faith in 1936, a few weeks after the outbreak of the Civil War that ravaged Spain for almost three years. The Revolutionary Committee of Almeria decided to imprison anyone suspected of not supporting the revolution, particularly priests and religious.

On 22 July 1936, several persons came to St Joseph College and took the brothers they found there into custody. During their imprisonment they were a model for the other prisoners, encouraging them to have continual recourse to God.

On the night of 30-31 August, Brothers Edmigio, Amalio and Valerio Bernardo were executed; Brothers Teodomiro Joaquin and Evencio Ricardo on 8 September; and on the night of 12-13 September, Brothers Aurelio Maria, the director of the college, and Bro. Jose Cecilio.

The last days of Bishop Diego Ventaja Milan of Almeria and Bishop Manuel Medina of Guadix were intertwined with those of the Christian Brothers imprisoned with them. On the night of 29-30 August 1936, they were taken out to the place of execution with 15 other prisoners. Bishop Medina asked permission to speak and, according to an eyewitness, said: “We have done nothing to deserve death, but I forgive you so that the Lord will also forgive us. May our blood be the last shed in Almeria”.

These exemplary Bishops always showed pastoral concern for all their people and tirelessly traveled throughout their Dioceses to strengthen and deepen their brothers’ and sisters’ faith at a truly difficult time.

Blessed Pedro’s life was marked by simplicity and constant devotion to study. Several times he expressed a desire to live his faith to the point of sacrificing his own life. He lived the spirituality of a martyr, which served as a preparation for that fateful day when he did give his life on the morning of 28 July 1936.

Born December 3rd, 1874 at Linares, Spain and raised in a pious family, Fr Pedro felt an early call to the priesthood. He entered the seminary in Jaen in 1889, then the seminary of Guadix, Grenada. Ordained on April 17th, 1897, taught at the seminary, continued his studies, and received his licentiate in theology in Seville in 1900. He ministered in Guadix to a group of people so poor they lived in caves. He built a school for the children, and provided vocation training to the adults.

He was transferred to Madrid, and was named a canon of the Basilica of Covadonga, Asturius in 1906. His time in Guadix had impressed Pedro with the need for education for the poor. He prayed on the topic, and wrote on the need for professional training for teachers. In 1911 Pedro founded the Saint Teresa of Avila Academy, the foundation of Institución Teresiana. He joined the Apostolic Union of Secular Priests in 1912, wrote on the need for more teachers, and opened teacher training centers. He returned to teaching at the seminary at Jaen, served as spiritual director of Los Operarios Catechetical Centre, and taught religion at the Teachers Training School. In 1914 he opened Spain’s first university residence for women in Madrid. In 1921 he was transferred to Madrid and was appointed a chaplain of the Royal Palace. In 1922 he was appointed to the Central Board Against Illiteracy, and he continued to work with the Teresian Association; it received papal approval in 1924, and later spread to Chile and Italy.

In the early morning hours of the day of his execution, Bl Pedro was asked to identify himself by his captors. He cried out, “I am a priest of Christ!” He was shot by firing squad on July 28th, 1936 at Madrid, Spain.

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Bishop Ventaja of Almeria had many opportunities to flee the country. He chose instead to remain with his suffering people, his suffering Church. Father Castroverde, the Teresian founder, wrote in his diary: “Lord, may I think what you want me to think. May I desire what you want me to desire. May I speak as you want me to speak. May I work as you want me to work.”

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Victoria Molina was jailed on August 11, 1936. She and seventeen others were led to an abandoned mineshaft and to their death. Victoria comforted the others and said: “Come on, our reward is waiting for us.” Her last words were: “Long live Christ the King!”

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Love,
Matthew

Jul 17 – Bl Teresa of St Augustine, OCD, & Companions, (d. 1794) – The Sixteen Discalced Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne

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Veni Creator Spiritus


– as sung at the opening of the recent conclave to elect our new Holy Father, Francis.

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav’nly aid,
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

O Comforter, to Thee we cry,
Thou heav’nly gift of God most high,
Thou Fount of life, and Fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.

O Finger of the hand divine,
the sevenfold gifts of grace are thine;
true promise of the Father thou,
who dost the tongue with power endow.

Thy light to every sense impart,
and shed thy love in every heart;
thine own unfailing might supply
to strengthen our infirmity.

Drive far away our ghostly foe,
and thine abiding peace bestow;
if thou be our preventing Guide,
no evil can our steps betide.

Praise we the Father and the Son
and Holy Spirit with them One;
and may the Son on us bestow
the gifts that from the Spirit flow.

There was something eerie in the air as the tumbrils passed through the streets of Paris that led to Place du Trône Renversé.  It was, in fact, too eerie that the normally noisy and violent crowd was “in a respectful silence such as has never been accorded throughout the Revolution.”  No rotten fruit was pelted and no clamorous insult was raised on the condemned women and men.  That evening one only heard the ethereal chanting of sixteen Discalced Carmelite nuns on their way to death.

These women could hardly be recognized as nuns.  Wrapped in their white mantles, they did not, however,  wear their veils. Their wimples had been cut away, exposing their necks to facilitate the truculent job of the guillotine’s blade.

At around eight in the evening, after a ride of two hours, the tumbrils finally arrived at the place of execution.  A horrid stench of rotting flesh from the common graves in nearby Picpus and of putrifying blood beneath the scaffold greeted them.  The crowd remained reverently silent.  The Carmelites have finally come face to face with the dreaded guillotine.  Led by their courageous prioress, Mo. Thérèse of St. Augustine, they sang the Te Deum: “You are God: we praise You; You are the Lord: we acclaim You; You are the eternal Father: all creation worships You…. The glorious company of apostles praises You.  The noble fellowship of prophets praises You.  The white-robed army of martyrs praises You…

Included were:

Mother Thérèse of St. Augustine (Marie-Madeleine-Claudine Lidoine; b. 22 September 1752 in Paris), a woman “so loved by God,” was serving her second term as prioress when the Revolution struck.  Her correspondences reveal a woman of great human and supernatural qualities.

Mother St. Louis (Marie-Anne-Françoise Brideau; b. 07 December 1751 in Belfort), the sub-prioress, was given to silence and gentleness. She celebrated the divine office with admirable remembrance and exactitude.

Mother Henriette of Jesus (Marie-Françoise de Croissy;b. 18 June 1745 in Paris), the novice mistress, was the predecessor of Mother Thérèse.  She “made herself esteemed for the qualitites of her heart, her tender piety, zeal, the happy combination of every religious virtue.”

Sr. Charlotte of the Resurrection (Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret;b. 16 September 1715 in Mouy, Oise), the most senior member of the community, possessed a lively temperament. Fond of frequenting balls in her youth, she entered Carmel “after a tragic event.”She served as infirmarian to the point of developing a spinal column deformation that she endured until death.

Sr. of Jesus Crucified (Marie-Anne Piedcourt; b. 09 December 1715 in Paris) was younger than Sr. Charlotte by a few months but was senior to her by profession. She occupied the office of sacristan for many years.Speaking about their persecutors, she said: “How can we be angry with them when they open the gates of heaven for us?”

Sr. Thérèse of the Heart of Mary (Marie Hanisset;  b. 18 January 1742 in Reims), first sister of the turn and third bursar, was endowed with wisdom, prudence and discernment.

Sr. Thérèse of St. Ignatius (Marie-Gabrielle Trezel; b. 04 April 1743 in Compiègne), the “hidden treasure” of the community, was undoubtedly a mystic.  Asked why she never brought a book for meditation, she replied: “The good God has found me so ignorant that none but He would be able to instruct me.”

Sr. Julie-Louise of Jesus (Rose Cretien de Neuville;  b. 30 December 1741 in Evreux) entered Carmel as a widow. She dreaded the guillotine but she chose to stay with her sisters.

Sr. Marie-Henriette of Providence (Marie-Annette Pelras; b. 16 June 1760 in Cajarc, Lot), the assitant infirmarian, first entered the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction of Nevers but left it for the more secluded Carmelite life.  Youngest among the choir nuns, she possessed a most exquisite beauty.

Sr. Euphrasie of the Immaculate Conception (Marie-Claude-Cyprienne Brard; b. 12 May 1736 in Bourth, Eure),the “philosopher” and “joie de vivre of the recreation,”admitted that she was filled for some time with resentment against her prioress. She worked very hard on herself that in the end she was able to overcome her negative disposition.

Along with these ten choir nuns were three lay sisters. Sr. Marie of the Holy Spirit (Angélique Roussel; b. 03 August 1742 at Fresne-Mazancourt, Somme) was afflicted by atrocious pains throughout her body, which she heroically bore up until her death.  Sr. St. Martha (Marie Dufour, b 02 October 1741 at Bannes, Sarthe) edified her companions with her virtues.  Sr. St. Francis Xavier (Elisabeth-Juliette Vérolot; b. 13 January 1764 at Lignières, Aube) was frank, lively, and full of goodness.

The youngest member of the community was Sr. Constance(Marie-Geneviève Meunier; b. 28 May 1765 at Saint Denis, Seine)Circumstances forced her to remain as a novice for seven years. Her parents wanted her to return home and even sent the police for this purpose. Sr. Constance told them: “Gentlemen, I thank my parents if, out of love, they fear the danger that may befall me. Yet nothing except death can separate me from my mothers and sisters.”

The two tourières were blood sisters. Anne-Catherine Soiron (b. 02 February 1742 in Compiègne)tearfully begged the prioress not to let her and her sister be separated from the community during those crucial hours. Thérèse Soiron,(b. 23 January 1748 in Compiègne) possessed such a rare beauty and charming personality that the ill-fated Princess de Lamballe wanted her to be attached to her court.  She responded: “Madame, even if your Highness would offer me the crown of France, I would prefer to remain in this house, where the good God placed me and where I found the means of salvation which I would not find in the house of your Highness.”

On 12 July 1790, the National Assembly implemented the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Among its articles was a provision for the suppression of the monastic orders and the liberation of monks and nuns who would choose to renounce their vows. On 15 August, the members of the Directory of the Compiègne district came to the monastery to interrogate each nun and offer her liberty.

The unanimous reply of the religious was to remain and keep their vows.  Some of the nuns made their declarations more vivid:

“For fifty-six years I have been a Carmelite.  I desire to have the same number of years more to be consecrated to the Lord.” (Sr. of Jesus Crucified)

“I became a religious by my own will.  I have made up my mind to go on wearing this habit, even if I have to purchase this joy with my own blood.” (Sr. Euphrasie)

“A good spouse desires to remain with her husband.  I do not wish to abandon my spouse.” (Sr. Saint Francis Xavier)

“If I will be able to double the bonds of my attachment to God, then, with all my strength and zeal, I will do so.” (Sr. Thérèse of the Heart of Mary)

Another provision of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy required priests and religious to take a loyalty oath that required them “to be faithful to the nation, the law and the king; and to maintain the constitution with all their power.” What the ambiguous statement meant was that they were to give the revolutionary government the right to control and democratize the Church in complete disregard of Papal jurisdiction. Pope Pius VI issued on 10 March 1791 a condemnation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and forbade the clergy to take it. A schism was inevitable. The clergy was split between the “juring” (those who took the oath) and “non-juring” bishops and priests.

Two weeks after Easter of 1792, the guillotine was installed in Paris.  Everyone was talking about it, even in the Carmel of Compiègne, and everyone feared it. In September, around 1,400  “enemies of the Republic” were killed during the infamous September Massacre; among them were hundreds of non-juring priests.

A belief that they would all be called to martyrdom someday prevailed in the community.   Between June and September of that year, Mo. Thérèse proposed that the community offer their lives to God with an act of oblation “in order that the divine peace which Christ has brought to the world may be restored to the Church and to the State.”  All promised to unite themselves to it, except for Sr. of Jesus Crucified and Sr. Charlotte of the Resurrection, the two most senior nuns.  Trembling and fearful that they would end more than fifty years of peaceful life in Carmel with a bloody death, both withdrew from the community.   Before the day ended, however, they prostrated themselves before the prioress and tearfully asked forgiveness for their momentary weakness.  All the nuns renewed the act until the very day of their death.

The Final Choir

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The journey was long… but the air was permeated by their solemn chants of the sixteen, hands tied behind their backs, singing as they did in choir:  “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.  In your compassion, blot out my offense…. Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy….”

The guillotine had been standing for more than a month already at the Barrière du Trône. Upon arriving there, Sr. Constance suddenly accused herself before Mother Thérèse of not having finished her divine office.  The prioress, told her: “Be strong, daughter.You will finish it in Paradise!”

At the foot of the scaffold, the prioress asked the executioner if she might die last so that she could encourage and support her sisters. She also asked for a few minutes to prepare them. This time her requests were granted. They sang once more, invoking the Holy Spirit: “Creator Spirit, come….” Afterward, they all renewed their religious vows.

One by one, from the youngest to the oldest, the nuns were called.

“Citizeness Marie Geneviève Meunier!”

Summoned by her real name, the youngest, Sr. Constance, knelt before Mother Thérèse and asked for her blessing and the permission to die.

Sr. Constance mounted the scaffold singing the psalm the nuns chanted daily to announce their coming into the house of God:  “O praise the Lord, all you nations…”

Her sisters followed: “…acclaim Him, all you peoples!  Strong is His love for us; He is faithful for ever.”

All the sisters followed the example of the youngest, asking their superior’s blessing and permission to die. They each went to their death joining the song of those waiting for their turn.While the blade of the guillotine snuffed their lives one by one, the chorus progressed into a decrescendo. As she ascended the scaffold, Sr. of Jesus Crucified was assisted by the assistants of the executioner.“My friends,” she told them, “I forgive you with all my heart, as I desire forgiveness from God.”

Finally, only one voice was left.

“Citizeness Marie Madeleine Claudine Lidoine!”

Having seen fifteen of her daughters precede her to the scaffold, Mother Thérèse followed them to the guillotine. At the sixteenth thud, there was nothing left… but silence.  On that day, it was said, more than one religious vocation was born and just as many conversions took place.

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-the tiny terra cotta Mother & Child statuette held by Madame Ledoine was kissed by all the nuns before the climbed the ladder up to the executioner.

Ten days later, amidst cacophonous shouts and screams, an infuriated and disillusioned crowd led a man to his death on the guillotine. “Down with the tyrant!” they cried. This time, it was the turn of Maximilien Robespierre. More than a week later, an enervated Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, the implacable Reign of Terror’s public prosecutor, followed his fate on the very instrument where he had sent hundreds to their death. The Terror consumed its own.  And with the inglorious end of these two died, also, the Reign of Terror.

Guillotined on 17 July 1794 at the Place du Trône Renversé (modern Place de la Nation) in Paris, France, the sixteen, the heads and bodies of the martyrs were interred in a deep sand-pit about thirty feet square in a cemetery at Picpus. As this sand-pit was the receptacle of the bodies of 1298 victims of the Revolution, there seems to be no hope of their relics being recovered. Five secondary relics are in the possession of the Benedictines of Stanbrook, Worcestershire.

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-plaque at the Picpus cemetery in memory of the 16 Martyrs of Compiègne

Prayer

Lord God, You called Bl. Teresa of St. Augustine, OCD, and her companions to go on in the strength of the Holy Spirit from the heights of Carmel to receive a martyr’s crown. May our love too be so steadfast that it will bring us to the everlasting vision of Your glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Lord our God, You called the 16 blessed Carmelites of Compiègne to show You the greatest testimony of love through the offering of their blood that “peace may be returned to the Church and to the State.” Remember the joyful and heroic fidelity with which they glorified You. May Your goodness manifest their favor with You, in granting through their intercession the grace (the miracle) that we ask You in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen!

Love,
Matthew

Jul 9 – St Nicholas Pieck, OFM, & Companions, (d. 1572), The 19 Martyrs of Gorkum

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On 1 April 1572 a group called the Watergeuzen or Gueux de mer (water-/sea-beggars, i.e. rebels) rebelled against the Spanish Habsburg crown which ruled the Low Countries, and conquered Brielle and later Vlissingen and other places. The town of Gorcum (also Gorkum or Gorinchem) fell into their hands in June, and they captured nine Franciscan friars and two lay brothers, as well as the parish priest, his assistant, and two others. These fifteen endured much abuse and suffering in prison and were then transported to Brielle, being exhibited for money to curious crowds on the way. At Brielle they were joined by four others. At the command of William de la Marck, Lord of Lumey, commander of the Gueux de mer, they were each interrogated and ordered to renounce their belief in the Blessed Sacrament and in papal supremacy. They all remained firm in their faith – even those who had been less than perfect Christians before their arrest. The prince of Orange, William the Silent, ordered those in authority to leave priests and religious unmolested, but Lumey ignored this command and had them all hanged, in a turf-shed on the night of 9 July.

‘The hour is now at hand,’ Father Nicholas said, ‘to receive from the hand of the Lord the long desired reward of the struggle, the crown of eternal happiness.’ He encouraged them [his companions] not to fear death nor to lose through cowardice the crown prepared for them and soon to be placed on their brows. Finally he prayed that they would joyfully follow the path on which they saw him leading the way. With these and similar words he joyfully mounted the ladder without ceasing to exhort his companions until strangulation deprived him of the use of his voice” (contemporary account of the martyrdom).

There were especially two dogmas of the Faith that were attacked by the heretics of the 16th century: the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff. The Calvinists in Holland persecuted with relentless fury the confessors of the Catholic Faith. The holy martyrs gave their lives particularly in defense of these two fundamental doctrines.

When the Calvinists, who had set themselves against all ecclesiastical as well as civil authority, took possession of the city of Gorcum, they retained 19 of the clergy as prisoners, though they had promised to let the inhabitants depart from the town without being molested. There were four secular priests among the prisoners, four priests of other religious orders, and 11 Friars Minor of the convent at Gorcum. The latter were the guardian, Father Nicholas Pieck; his vicar, Father Jerome of Weert; Fathers Wilhad, an old man of 90; Theodoric of Emden; Nicaise Jonson, a learned theologian; Godfrey of Mervelan; Anthony of Weert; Anthony of Hornaer; young Father Francis Rod; and 2 lay brothers, Peter van Asche and Cornelius of Dorstat.

Cast into a filthy prison, they were cruelly treated during the first night by the drunken soldiers. They seemed to vent their hellish rage principally against the guardian, Father Nicholas. Taking the cord which he wore around his waist and putting it around his neck, they dragged him to the door of the prison and threw the cord across it in order to hang him at once. But as a result of pulling the cord back and forth against its weight, the cord tore, and Father Nicholas fell to the earth unconscious. In order to make sure that he was dead or just for the purpose of outrage, the persecutors took a burning candle and burned off his hair and eyebrows, applying the flame also to his nose and open mouth. With a parting laugh of derision, they then left the motionless body in order to torment the others. They struck the face of the aged Father Wilhad with savage blows, but each time he merely said, “Deo gratias! Thanks be to God!”

After the miscreants had departed, Father Nicholas regained consciousness, for he had only fainted. As soon as he was able to speak again, he encouraged his brethren, declaring that in defense of the Faith he was ready to undergo the same torments again, and even more cruel ones, if it so pleased God, and as often as it pleased God. “For” he said, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us.”

On the following day several attempts were made to cause the friars, and in particular their superior, to apostatize. The Calvinists opened a discussion with them about the Blessed Sacrament and the primacy of the pope. But the heretics soon found themselves cornered by the clear proofs advanced by the guardian and his brethren. They hoped to be able at least to deceive one of the lay brothers, but he answered very simply that he was in accord with everything that his guardian had said.

Meanwhile, the relatives of Father Nicholas, especially his two brothers, were making every effort to obtain his deliverance. But, like a good shepherd, the guardian declared: “I will not leave prison unless my brethren come with me, and even though there were only one detained, and he the lowliest of them all, I would remain here with him.” When his brothers declared that one could renounce the primacy of the pope without denying God, he showed them that he who separates himself from the pope, separates himself from the Church; and that he who renounces the Church, renounces Christ the Lord. And then he spoke with holy zeal: “I would rather endure death for the honor of God than swerve even a hair’s breadth from the Catholic Faith.”

Eight days later the confessors were taken to Briel, where the Calvinist leader had his headquarters. He had them all hanged there on July 9, 1572. With Christ they shared the disgrace of shameful death, but at the same time also a glorious ascension.

In 1865, at the solemn celebration of the day on which the holy Apostles Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom, Pope Pius IX canonized the martyrs of Gorcum.

There were eleven Franciscan friars or Minderbroeders, one Dominican friar or Predikheer, two Norbertine canons regular and a local canon regular, or witheren and five wereldheren (secular clergy). The nineteen put to death on 9 July 1572 were:

  1. Leonard van Veghel (1527), spokesman, secular priest, and since 1566 pastor of Gorkum
  2. Peter of Assche (1530), Franciscan friar
  3. Andrew Wouters (1542), secular priest, pastor of Heinenoord in the Hoeksche Waard
  4. Nicasius of Heeze (1522), Franciscan friar, theologian and priest
  5. Jerome of Weert (1522), Franciscan friar, priest, pastor in Gorcum
  6. Anthony of Hoornaar, Franciscan friar and priest
  7. Godfried van Duynen (1502), secular priest, former pastor in northern France
  8. Willehad of Denemarken (1482), Franciscan friar and priest
  9. James Lacobs (1541), Norbertine canon
  10. Francis of Roye (1549), Franciscan friar and priest
  11. John of Cologne, Dominican friar, pastor in Hoornaar near Gorkum
  12. Anthony of Weert (1523), Franciscan friar and priest
  13. Theodore of der Eem (born c.1499–1502), Franciscan friar and priest, chaplain to a community of Franciscan Tertiary Sisters in Gorkum
  14. Cornelius of Wijk bij Duurstede (1548), Franciscan lay brother
  15. Adrian van Hilvarenbeek (1528), Norbertine canon and pastor in Monster, South Holland
  16. Godfried of Mervel, Vicar of Melveren, Sint-Truiden (1512), Franciscan priest, vicar of the friary in Gorkum
  17. Jan of Oisterwijk (1504), canon regular, a chaplain for the Beguinage in Gorkum
  18. Nicholas Poppel (1532), secular priest, chaplain in Gorkum
  19. Nicholas Pieck (1534), Franciscan friar, priest and theologian, Guardian of the friary in Gorkum, his native city

A shrub bearing 19 white flowers is said to have sprung up at the site of their martyrdom. Many miracles have been attributed to their intercession, especially the curing of hernias. Their beatification took place on 14 November 1675, and their canonization on 29 June 1865. For many years the place of their martyrdom in Brielle has been the scene of numerous pilgrimages and processions. The reliquary of their remains is now enshrined in the Church of Saint Nicholas, Brussels, Belgium.

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-The Martyrs of Gorkum, by Cesare Fracassini, (1863-1868), Vatican Museum

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-Reliquary containing the relics of the martyrs of Gorcum (found in the church of St. Nicolas in Brussels)

Each religious order holds its particular members of this esteemed group, understandably, especially to heart.  I find the story of James Lacops, O. Praem, especially comforting and hopeful to a backsliding Catholic like me. 🙂  James Lacops, a canon of Middelburg, was born at Oudenaarde in 1542. He was an intelligent and charming young man whose success went to his head. His religious life was mediocre. When the iconoclastic Calvinists infiltrated the abbey in 1566, the 24-year-old James renounced his faith together with two others.   His father and his brother, who was also a Norbertine, eventually brought him to reconsider. Touched by the grace of God, he returned to the abbey and was kindly received by the community when he asked forgiveness for his apostasy.  Among other things, he had gone so far as to write a pamphlet attacking the Church, and had become a preacher of the Calvinist beliefs. His abbot sent him to the abbey of Mariëweerd for a prolonged period of penance of five years.

-SS, Adrian & James, O.Praem., two of the Martyrs of Gorcum, pray for us!

It is reported one of the secular priests, St Andrew Wouters, notorious for his unchastity, was tormented by his captors with this knowledge.  His reply is famous.  “Fornicator I always was.  Heretic I never was.”

Love,
Matthew

Jul 7 – Blesseds Roger Dickenson, Ralph Milner, & Lawrence Humphrey, (d. 1591), Martyrs

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Messrs. Dickenson, Milner, & Humphrey lived in England at a time when the practice of one’s Catholic faith meant imprisonment and possible execution. Ralph Milner was an elderly, illiterate farmer, the father of eight children, from Flacstead, Hampshire. He was brought up as a Protestant but was so impressed by the lives of his Catholic neighbors that he took instructions and was received into the Catholic Faith. On the very day of his First Communion, he was arrested for having changed his religion and imprisoned in the Winchester jail.

Farmer Milner’s behavior in prison was such that he gained the respect and trust of the prison guards and so was granted frequent “parole” during which he could come and go at will. He made use of these times to see to the spiritual and temporal needs of his fellow prisoners and to aid and escort undercover Catholic priests. This is how he came into contact with the secular priest, Father Roger Dickenson (sometimes spelled Dicconsen).

Father Dickenson was a native of Lincoln who had studied for the priesthood in Rheims, France. In 1583 he was sent on a mission to England and was imprisoned soon afterwards but managed to escape when his guards got drunk. He was not so fortunate the second time he was arrested, this time with Ralph Milner who had been escorting him around the local villages. The two men were put under close confinement at the Winchester jail; Father Dickenson was charged with the crime of being a Catholic priest, Ralph Milner for aiding him.

At their trial, the judge took pity on the elderly farmer and made several attempts to set him free, urging him to merely visit a Protestant church as a matter of form. Since to Ralph Milner this would have been tantamount to renouncing his new-found Faith, he refused, saying that he could not “embrace a counsel so disagreeable to the maxims of the Gospel.”

On July 7, 1591, the day of execution, Ralph Milner’s children were escorted to the gallows, begging him to renounce his Faith and so save his life, but again he refused. He gave them his final blessing, declaring that “he could wish them no greater happiness than to die for the like cause.” The two men were hanged, drawn, and quartered; it is said that they faced their deaths calmly and with great courage.

We may think that the days of dying for one’s faith are over, but a look at the news from around the world shows that it’s as much a reality today as it was in Ralph Milner and Roger Dickenson’s time. Let us pray fervently for the priests, religious, and lay people throughout the world who are suffering and dying for their Catholic Faith.

Ralph Milner was a simple, uneducated man who offered his help wherever he saw the need. Think of the wonderful example he set for his children, not only in his aid to his fellow prisoners and to priests, but in the inspiring example of his steadfastness in his Faith, in his loyalty to God. May all fathers today follow in his footsteps and teach their children by their own example of living always in the Truth.

The third martyr, Lawrence Humphrey, had been brought into the Church by Father Stanney, S.J. He would not give up the faith he had so recently acquired. Lawrence was just twenty-one years old when he was martyred.

Every martyr reminds us that a treasure is worth defending. The martyrs recognized the value of their Catholic religion. They would not give it up for any reason. We can pray to Blessed Roger, Blessed Ralph and Blessed Lawrence. They will lead us to love and cherish our beliefs as they did.

All ye holy men & women, strengthen us!  Pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

Jul 1 – Naomh Oileabhéar Pluincéad/St Oliver Plunkett, (1625-1681) – Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, Martyr, Patron Saint of Peace & Reconciliation in Ireland

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-“Oliver Plunkett”, by Edward Luttrell, (d. 1737), National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 262

Oliver Plunkett was born in Loughcrew in County Meath, Ireland on November 1, 1629. In 1647, he went to study for the priesthood at the Jesuit Irish College in Rome. On January 1, 1654, he was ordained a priest in the Propaganda College in Rome.

Meanwhile, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53) had defeated the Roman Catholic cause in Ireland and, in the aftermath, the public practice of Roman Catholicism was banned and Roman Catholic clergy were executed. As a result, it was impossible for Plunkett to return to Ireland for many years. He petitioned to remain in Rome and, in 1657, became a professor of theology.  He became the Irish bishops’ representative in Rome.

Throughout the period of the Commonwealth and the first years of Charles II’s reign, he successfully pleaded the cause of the Irish Roman Church, and also served as theological professor at the College of Propaganda Fide. At the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on 9 July 1669, he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh, the Irish primatial see, and was consecrated on 30 November at Ghent by the Bishop of Ghent.

He eventually set foot on Irish soil again on 7 March 1670, as the English Restoration of 1660 had started on a tolerant basis. The pallium was granted him in the Consistory of 28 July 1670. Archbishop Plunkett soon established himself as a man of peace and, with religious fervor, set about visiting his people, establishing schools, ordaining priests, and confirming thousands.

After arriving back in Ireland, he set about reorganizing the ravaged Roman Church and built schools both for the young and for clergy, whom he found ‘ignorant in moral theology and controversies’. He tackled drunkenness among the clergy, writing ‘Let us remove this defect from an Irish priest, and he will be a saint’. The Penal Laws had been relaxed in line with the Declaration of Breda in 1660 and he was able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda in 1670. A year later 150 students attended the college, no fewer than 40 of whom were Protestant, making this college the first integrated school in Ireland. His ministry was a successful one and he is said to have confirmed 48000 Catholics over a 4 year period. The British Dublin Government, especially under the Duke of Ormonde ( the Protestant son of Catholic parents) extended a generous measure of toleration to the Catholic hierarchy until the mid-1670s.

On the enactment of the Test Act in 1673, to which Plunkett would not agree for doctrinal reasons, the college was levelled to the ground. Plunkett went into hiding, traveling only in disguise, and refused a government edict to register at a seaport to await passage into exile. For the next few years he was largely left in peace since the Dublin Government, except when put under pressure from London, preferred to leave the Catholic bishops alone.

In 1678, the so-called Popish Plot, concocted in England by Titus Oates, led to further anti-Roman Catholicism. Archbishop Peter Talbot of Dublin was arrested, and Plunkett again went into hiding. The Privy Council in London was told he had plotted a French invasion.The moving spirit behind the campaign is said to have been Arthur Capell, 1st Earl of Essex, who had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and hoped to resume office by discrediting James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. However, Essex was not normally thought to be a ruthless or unprincipled man and his later plea for mercy suggests that he had never intended that Plunkett should actually die.

Despite being on the run and with a price on his head, Plunkett refused to leave his flock. He was arrested in Dublin in December 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle, where he gave absolution to the dying Talbot. Plunkett was tried at Dundalk for conspiring against the state by allegedly plotting to bring 20,000 French soldiers into the country, and for levying a tax on his clergy to support 70,000 men for rebellion. Though this was unproven, some in government circles were worried about, and some used the excuse, that another rebellion was being planned. The Duke of Ormonde, aware that the Earl of Essex was using the crisis to undermine him, did not defend Plunkett in public. In private he made clear his belief in Plunkett’s innocence and his contempt for the informers against him: “silly drunken vagabonds… whom no schoolboy would trust to rob an orchard”.

The English knew Oliver Plunkett would never be convicted in Ireland and had him moved to Newgate Prison, London. The first grand jury found no true bill, but he was not released. The second trial has generally been regarded as a serious miscarriage of justice; Gilbert Burnet, an eyewitness, had no doubt of the innocence of Plunkett, who he praised as a wise and sober man who had no aim but to live peacefully and tend to his congregation.  Lord Campbell, writing of the judge, Sir Francis Pemberton, claimed it a disgrace to himself and his country. More recently the High Court judge Sir James Comyn called it a grave mistake: while Plunkett, by virtue of his office, was clearly guilty of “promoting the Catholic faith”, and may possibly have had some dealings with the French, there was never the slightest evidence that he had conspired against the King’s life.  Plunkett was found guilty of high treason on June 1681 “for promoting the Roman faith,” and was condemned to death.

Numerous pleas for mercy were made but Charles II, although himself a reputed Catholic, thought it too politically dangerous to spare Plunkett. The French Ambassador Paul Barillon conveyed a plea for mercy from his King: Charles said frankly that he knew Plunkett to be innocent, but the time was not right to take so bold a step. Essex, apparently realizing too late that his intrigues had led to the condemnation of an innocent man, made a similar plea: the King turned on him in fury, saying ” his blood be on your head- you could have saved him but would not, I would save him and dare not”.

Plunkett’s many letters showed his determination not to abandon his people, but to remain a faithful shepherd. He thanked God “Who gave us the grace to suffer for the chair of Peter.”  He was put on trial, and with the help of perjured witnesses, unable to bring his own from Ireland, and was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Upon hearing sentence, he replied, “Deo Gratias!”  With deep serenity of soul, he was prepared to die, calmly rebutting the charge of treason, refusing to save himself by giving false evidence against his brother bishops. Oliver Plunkett publicly forgave all those who were responsible for his death on July 1, 1681.

His body was initially buried in two tin boxes next to five Jesuits who had died before in the courtyard of St Giles in the Fields church. The remains were exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. The head was brought to Rome, and from there to Armagh and eventually to Drogheda where, since 29 June 1921, it has rested in Saint Peter’s Church. Most of the body was brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe. Some relics were brought to Ireland in May 1975, while others are in England, France, Germany, the United States, and Australia.

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-The shrine of St. Oliver Plunkett at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Drogheda, Ireland.  His head is just visible in the box under the spire.

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Glorious Martyr, St. Oliver,
who willingly gave your life for your faith,
help us also to be strong in faith.
May we be loyal like you to the see of Peter.
By your intercession and example
may all hatred and bitterness
be banished from the hearts of Irish men and women.
May the peace of Christ reign in our hearts,
as it did in your heart,
even at the moment of your death.
Pray for us and for Ireland. Amen.

Hymn to St Oliver Plunkett

Come glorious martyr, rise
Into the golden skies,
Beyond the sun!
Wide, wide the portals fling
And martyr hosts, O sing
To greet his entering
“Well hast thou done”.

Never reproach he made,
Like to his Lord betrayed
By his own kind.
Sharing his Masters blame,
Gladly he bore the shame,
While the false charge they frame,
“Guilty” they find.

As coach of state he hails,
Hurdle of shame and trails
All rough way through London streets, he goes,
Heedless of lesser woes,
Tyburn holds greater throes,
Ready that day.

Blood stained the path he trod,
Leading him onto God,
Counting no the cost,
Now for my faith I die,
Said he in glad reply,
O for my God I sigh, All fear is lost.

Lord in Thy hands, he prays
My soul for-ever stays,
Strengthen Thou me.
Welcome, o rope and knife!
All those who made this strife
I now forgive, my life offer to Thee.

Hail then, great martyr, hail,
In death thou did prevail
Winning renown!
Blow the full trumpets, blow,
Wider the portals throw,
Martyr triumphant go
Where waits your crown.

Love,
Matthew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blessed-titus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,
Matthew

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

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

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

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

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

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

piergiorgio

piergiorgio1

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

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

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

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

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

Pier-Giorgio-Portrait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Fourth of July!
Love,
Matthew

Jul 9 – St Augustine Zhao Rong & Companions, (1746-1815), Martyrs

Chinese_Martirs
-please click on the image for greater detail

Christianity came to China in the 600s.  It is estimated there are twelve million Catholics in China today despite persecution, martyrdom, and suppression.  The Chinese government refuses to recognize bishops appointed by Rome, rather enforcing a state run “Church” selecting Chinese appointed bishops.  In Chinese, Catholicism is referred to as Tianzhu jiao (天主教, Lord of Heaven Religion).

Augustine was a respected highly-ranked Chinese soldier who accompanied the prisoner Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse of the Paris Foreign Mission Society to his beheading in Peking in 1815.  Augustine was so impressed by the tremendous patience and courage of Bishop John as the bishop boldly chose death over the denial of his beliefs, Augustine soon realized this man possessed an inner strength that even the greatest Chinese soldier lacked. Acting on this insight, Augustine was baptized, and soon became a diocesan priest—despite the fact he knew such an action was almost a sure sentence to a slow and painful death.

Augustine was not a priest for long, but in the short time he was, he led many youth to the faith. One of those, an 18-year-old boy named Chi Zhuzi, was flayed alive in Zhao Rong’s sight shortly before Augustine himself was tortured and killed.

His captors, many of whom knew Augustine from his Army captain days, no doubt hoped that torturing the youth in front of their former mate would lead the priest to renounce the faith for himself and his followers, so they could call the massacre off. Instead, the steadfast Chi, after having had his right arm lopped off by the Army, cried out, “Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you I’m a Christian!” Needless to say, Chi, Augustine, and all the 119 Chinese youth brought there that day in 1815 glorified God with a martyr’s death.

Augustine Zhao Rong
-please click on the image for greater detail.

Lord, you gave your martyrs, St Augustine Zhao Rong & his companions: Grace, to witness Your True Strength – Love, with their lives. Death nor torture could distract them. Grant us similar grace so that neither inconvenience nor unpopularity may distract us from witnessing to You as well in our lives.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew