Category Archives: March

Mar 25 – Solemnity of the Annunciation

V. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.

R. Ecce Ancilla Domini. Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum.

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– “The Annunciation”, by Henry Ossawa Tanner

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-by Br. Raymund Snyder, O.P.

“Pope John Paul II chose to conclude his 1998 encyclical, Fides et Ratio, by comparing the discipline of philosophy to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He says that “between the vocation of the Blessed Virgin and the vocation of true philosophy there is a deep harmony.” At first glance this seems like a stretch. Why, in a document addressing the relationship between faith and reason, would he conclude with the Blessed Virgin Mary? Is this just a pious invocation?

In fact, John Paul’s comparison is not only well founded, but deeply fitting. He grounds it on two fundamental similarities, the first of which has to do with the notion of offering:

Just as the Virgin was called to offer herself entirely as human being and as woman that God’s Word might take flesh and come among us, so too philosophy is called to offer its rational and critical resources that theology, as the understanding of faith, may be fruitful and creative.

Mary offered herself up completely by embracing her divine maternity. In a similar way, philosophy is called to make a complete offering of all that it is. As the systematic investigation of truth by the use of human reason, it surrenders itself to theology, a discipline greater than itself. Using the language of the Annunciation, John Paul draws out the traditional analogy between Mary as the “handmaid of the Lord” and philosophy as the “handmaid of theology.” To reach its true goal, philosophy must make its own “fiat.”

Secondly, just as Mary is exalted as the result of her surrender, so too philosophy is elevated:

Just as in giving her assent to Gabriel’s word, Mary lost nothing of her true humanity and freedom, so too when philosophy heeds the summons of the Gospel’s truth its autonomy is in no way impaired. Indeed, it is then that philosophy sees all its enquiries rise to their highest expression.

Mary’s surrender to God did not diminish her in any way; rather, it allowed God to ennoble her. In an analogous way, the truth of the faith does not constrain or inhibit rational inquiry, but elevates it. This is an important point since there are many who think that faith threatens the project of philosophy, or of scientific inquiry in general. In reality, however, faith does not hinder the pursuit of philosophy any more than God hindered the life of Mary. Far from “tainting” human knowledge, “faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds,” as the First Vatican Council affirmed.

To speak about the discipline of philosophy as such is to speak about individual persons engaged in a search for answers to the perennial questions of life. This search extends to all human beings insofar as they ask questions such as “Why do I exist?” and “What makes me happy?” As a model in our philosophical search, John Paul presents us with Mary, someone we may not have expected. To imitate her is to surrender our minds to God—and to do so with the confidence that they will be raised up.”

Blessed Annunciation!
Love,
Matthew

Resurrection

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Every Christian must, by necessity, struggle with the belief in Resurrection:  His, our own.  St Gregory replies to the objections of his time…which sound a lot like the ones we imagine, too.

“Because human reason is so weak, there are some who – judging divine power by the limits of our own – insist that what is beyond our capacity is impossible even for God.  They point to the fact that the dead of past ages have disappeared, and to the ashes of those who have been cremated.  They bring up the idea of carnivorous animals, and the fish that consumes the body of the shipwrecked sailor – the fish then becoming food for people, and passing by digestion into the mass of the one who eats it.  They bring up many similarly trivial things to overthrow the doctrine of the Resurrection – as though God could not restore man the way he made him in the first place.

But we make quick work of their convoluted logical foolishness by acknowledging that the body does indeed dissolve into the parts it was made of.  Not only does the earth return to the earth, as God’s word says, but air and water also revert to the like element.  Each of our parts returns to the elements it was made from.

But although the human body may be scattered among vultures, or the most savage beasts, by becoming their food; and although it may pass through the teeth of fish; and although it may be changed by fire into smoke and dust – wherever you may suppose, for the sake of argument, the man has been removed, he certainly remains in the world.  And the world, as the voice of inspiration tells us, is held by the hand of God.

If you, then, know what is in your hand, do you suppose that God’s knowledge is weaker than your own power?  Do you suppose that it would fail to discover the smallest things that are in the palm of God’s hand?”

-On the Making of Man, 26; St Gregory of Nyssa, (335-394 AD), Bishop, Confessor, Doctor & Father of the Church

Love,
Matthew

Good Friday

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“…Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and all Your Saints: we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by Your protecting help.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”
-Eucharistic Prayer I, Communicantes

Early Christian persecution had recently spared northern Africa.  But, in 250 AD, the Emperor Decius, began a furious persecution of Christians.  St  Cyprian tells a group of Christian prisoners that their sufferings are earning them greater honors than the proud officials who confine them there will ever have.  They have missed a whole year of changing seasons in the outside world, but their suffering brings them far better rewards in Heaven.

“Forget the judges and governors.  Let them puff themselves up with the symbols of their dignity, which lasts for only a year.  The heavenly dignity in you is already sealed by the brightness of a year’s honor, and its victorious glory continues into another year.

The changing months have passed, and Winter is gone; but you, shut up in prison, suffered the winter of persecution instead of the inclement weather outside.  After Winter came the mildness of Spring, rejoicing with roses and crowned with flowers; but you had roses and flowers from the gardens of paradise, and heavenly garlands wreathed your brows.

Now the Summer bears its fruitful harvest, and the threshing-floor is full of grain; but you sowed glory, and are reaping the fruit of glory.  On the Lord’s threshing-floor, you are seeing the chaff burned with unquenchable fire.  Like grains of wheat, winnowed and precious, purged of chaff and gathered in, you see prison as your granary.

Nor  does Autumn lack spiritual graces for the tasks of the season.  The vintage is pressed outside, and the grape that will soon flow into the cups is pressed.  You, rich bunches from the Lord’s vineyard,  branches with fruit already ripe, pressed by worldly troubles, fill your wine vat in the torments of prison, and shed your blood instead of wine.  Standing up bravely to your suffering, you willingly drink the cup of martyrdom.

So the year rolls on for the Lord’s servants.  Thus we celebrate the changing seasons with spiritual honors and heavenly rewards.”

-Letter 15, St Cyrprian of Carthage, (200-258 AD), Bishop, Martyr, Father & Doctor of the Church

Blessed Good Friday!

Love,
Matthew

Mar 17 – An Innis Aigh, The Happy Isle…

One of my favorites…some say a land of poets and saints?  I have been twice.  Very different.  Very old.  Can’t wait to take Mara.

I studied Irish (Gaelic) for a very short time at irish-american.org. Hard.  There is no “yes” or “no” in Irish.  Which explains SO MUCH!!!!!

And just remember, lads and lassies, if there is ever a topic which is uncomfortable to speak about in a family, the Irish way is to just ignore it!!!!  Maybe it will go away?  Right?  (It never does, but at least we can pretend?)  Remember, too, whenever someone does something uncouth, like burp or fart loudly, or does something truly stupid, just say, as within Irish families it is known to do, “You’re SO Irish!”  

I will cherish forever my Mother’s question, very discreetly, after I informed her of a date I went on.  There would be a very pregnant pause. (There is no small case of pause pregnancy, no?)  And then it would always come. “Is she one of us?”  Either way, my Mother would always give or feign approval.  Saying, regarding any deviation from the preferred answer, “Well, that’s very nice, too.”

Seinn an duan seo dhan Innis Àigh
An innis uaine as gile tràigh
Bidh sian air uairean a’ bagairt cruaidh ris
Ach se mo luaidh-sa bhith ann a’ tàmh

Càit’ as tràith an tig samhradh caomh
Càit’ as tràith an tig blàth air craobh
Càit’ as bòidhche ‘s an seinn an smeòrach
Air bhàrr nan ògan ‘s an Innis Àigh

An t-iasg as fiachaile dlùth don tràigh
Is ann ma chrìochan is miann leis tàmh
Bidh gillean easgaidh le dorgh is lìontan
Moch, moch ga iarriadh mun Innis Àigh

‘S ged thèid mi cuairt chun an taoibh ud thall
‘S mi ‘n dùil air uairibh gu fan mi ann
Tha tàladh uaigneach le teas nach fuairich
Gam tharraing buan don Innis Àigh

O ‘s geàrr an ùine gu’n teirig latha
Thig an oidhche ‘s gun iarr mi tàmh
Mo chadal buan-sa bidh e cho suaimhneach
Mo bhios mo chluasag ‘s an Innis Àigh

Sing this song to the Happy Isle
The green isle of whitest sands
Though storms at times threaten severely
It is where I love to be

Where does Summer come earlier?
Where do trees come into bloom sooner?
Where does the thrush sing more sweetly
On the tips of branches, than in the Happy Isle?

The most prized fish closest to land
Wishes to live about its shores
Lively youths hunt it early in the morning
With line and net, around the Happy Isle

And although I sometimes go to the mainland
And at times even think that I could stay there
A sad longing whose heat never cools
Always draws me back to the Happy Isle

It is only a short time until the close of day
Night will come and I will want for rest
My eternal sleep will be so peaceful
If I lay my head in the Happy Isle

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

Love,
Matthew

Mar 9 – St Catherine (de Vigri) of Bologna, OSC, (1413-1463) – Patroness of Art & Artists, Mystic, Prophetess

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“I really wish I could believe, because you (Catholics) have the coolest s***!”, so blogged a respondent in reply to a page displaying the mummified head of St Catherine of Siena.  (She was so popular different pieces of her relics are scattered throughout Italy.)

I must say, the relics of St Catherine of Bolgna, OSC, lead the category, at least what I can tell from the web.

Catherine Vigri was born and died in Bologna but spent most of her life in Ferrara. She was raised at the court of Nicholas III d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara, whom her father served as a diplomatic agent. Ferrara had spent much of the preceding century defending itself from Milan and Venice, so a period of relative peace allowed the Este family to do what the other northern courts were doing: trying to compete with Florence as a cultural center.

In this environment Catherine apparently received a humanist education; we know that she learned Latin, music, and the art of manuscript illumination. She was educated with Margaret d’Este, Nicholas’ daughter, and was one of her attendants until 1427, when Margaret was married to Roberto Malatesta. After Margaret’s marriage and the death of her own father, Catherine joined a community of about 15 lay women in Ferrara. The women wished to join one of the established religious orders but disagreed as to which.

Twenty years earlier a Frenchwoman, St Colette of Corbie, of prior note, had established a reformed branch of the Poor Clares, the order that had been founded by Clare of Assisi 200 years earlier but that had, over the years, grown far away from Clare’s vision. Word of Colette’s reform had spread to Italy, and Catherine and some (but only some) of the other women in her group wished to join the Reformed Poor Clares.

The disagreement among the women was severe: first, in 1431, the bishop briefly disbanded the entire group; a year later, Catherine and some of the others were professed as Poor Clares, although not according to the reformed Rule; then in 1434, 14 nuns, including Catherine, were absolved by the pope of unspecified crimes involving “apostasy.” It wasn’t until the following year that the new monastery was officially allowed to follow Colette’s reformed Rule.

During her years in Ferrara, Catherine acted as mistress of novices, and it was in this capacity that she began to write “Le sette armi spiritual” (The seven spiritual weapons). By 1450 the Ferrara monastery had grown to include 85 women, and in 1456 Catherine was sent to found a new house in Bologna, Corpus Domini. There she became abbess and stayed until her death. Before she died, she gave her nuns her manuscript to be read by them and to be shared with the nuns at Ferrara. Le sette armi spirituali was printed by the Bolognese nuns in 1475 (one of the earliest printed works in that city) and was frequently reprinted during the 1500s.

Some of Catherine’s other works, as well as her hymns (laudi) and letters, have been published but not yet translated. Among these are I dodici giardini (The twelve gardens), on the stages of growth in love of God; Rosarium metricum (a Latin poem); and I Sermoni (a collection of sermons that Catherine gave to her nuns at Corpus Domini in Bologna). Six years after Catherine’s death, her secretary, Illuminata Bembo, wrote Catherine’s biography, Specchio di illuminazione (Mirror of illumination), which includes the words of as well as anecdotes about the abbess.

Catherine also produced frescoes, free-standing paintings, and illuminated manuscripts; the frescoes are gone, but some of her other art has survived. When art scholars write of her work, they usually use her family name, Caterina Vigri.

Le sette armi spirituali seems to be almost two separate documents. The first six chapters and the start of the seventh are very practical and down-to-earth, intended for newcomers to the religious life. This part is brief, the organization is clear and easy to follow, and the dominant image is that of the almost constant warfare familiar to the courtier families from which her novices had come.

The rest of the long Chapter 7 and Chapters 8-10 describe Catherine’s visionary experiences and her attempts to make sense of them. Like Chapters 1-6 they are addressed to the novices, but content and structure are quite different. For the modern reader, the last chapters are perhaps the most interesting because of what they reveal of Catherine’s internal conflict.

Graced with many heavenly visions and mystical experiences, on Christmas Eve in 1445, the Blessed Mother gave Catherine the Infant Jesus to hold.  Catherine wrote of this experience, “The perfume that emanated from His Pure Flesh was so sweet that there is neither tongue that can express, nor such a keen mind imagine, the very beautiful and delicate Face of the Son of God, when one could say all that was to be said, it would be nothing.” Catherine was not alone in experiencing this most wondrous event as her fellow Sisters smelled the holy Presence of the baby Jesus and our Lady as a heavenly fragrance filled the room. Another time Jesus spoke to her from the crucifix in her room.

In Lent of 1463, Catherine became seriously ill, and died on March 9th.  Buried without a coffin, her body was exhumed eighteen days later because of cures attributed to her and also because of the sweet scent coming from her grave.  Her body was later enshrined in the chapel.  The flesh is grown dark, but that may well have been because of the heat and soot of candles that were burned for years around her exposed remains.  She is seated in response to a request of hers to a sister she appeared to in a vision in 1500.

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“Whoever wishes to carry the cross for His sake, must take up the proper weapons for the contest, especially those mentioned here. First, diligence; second, distrust of self; third, confidence in God; fourth, remembrance of Passion; fifth, mindfulness of one’s own death; sixth, remembrance of God’s glory; seventh, the injunctions of Sacred Scripture following the example of Jesus Christ in the desert.” – Saint Catherine of Bologna, from On the Seven Spiritual Weapons.

Prayer

Dear saintly Poor Clare, so rich in love for Jesus and Mary, you were endowed with great talents by God and you left us most inspiring writings and paintings of wondrous beauty. You were chosen as Abbess in the monastery of Poor Clares at Bologna. You did all for God’s greater glory and in this you are a model for all. Make artists learn lessons from you and use their talents to the full.  Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Mar 7 – St Teresa Margaret Redi of the Sacred Heart, OCD, (1747-1770) – Saint of the Hidden Life, “Deus Caritas Est!”

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This Tuesday, Kelly will register Mara, in person, for Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary School, Sun Prairie, WI, 4K.  (feigned sobbing) They grow up SOOOO fast!  I know I will ponder that truth melancholically in my own heart, sincerely, soon enough. 🙁

We were asked, also, to send in a deposit if we intend Mara to continue at Sacred Hearts (aka, Little Hearts on the Prairie, cute! 🙂 beyond 4K, and we do, so we did.  Both my fathers, the one of blood and the one of marriage, were wise and witty men and both faithful Catholics.  My father-in-law, the late Richard B. Whitney, said of being Catholic, “It’s expensive!”  How true.  One of my favorite lines I’ll always remember and cherish.  Tell you my own father’s favorite line regarding the Church and money some other time!  🙂

Also, we are in the midst of “Potty Wars”.  My money is on the baby.  Who knew?  The only sound I have yet to hear coming from the bathroom is gun fire.  And, Kelly, just this week, celebrated one of those “can’t say thirty-something anymore” birthdays.  This is a particularly delicate time for me, I must say.  I just follow directions and don’t interfere, which is difficult, as men and engineers are wont to solve problems!  No?  🙂  But, men who want to remain married know their place.  Right, guys?  🙂

The McCormick family has a very special devotion to the Sacred Heart.  Grace always ended, growing up, with “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!”  I am becoming more adept, through experience, interpreting those “knowing” looks my parents would always throw at each other when praying that prayer.

Born Anna Maria Redi into a large devout family in Arezzo, Italy in 1747.  From the earliest days of her childhood, Anna Maria was filled with a deep love of God questioning the adults around her as to “Who is God”?  Already she was dissatisfied with answers given her.   Her entire life was driven by the desire to “return love for love”.  She entered the Carmelite convent in Florence at the age of seventeen, advanced rapidly in holiness and died an extraordinary death at twenty-two.  Her spiritual director reflecting on her death remarked “she could not have lived very much longer so great was the strength of the love of God in her”.

She was a beautiful child with clear blue eyes, golden hair and delicate features which might have caused one anticipate for her a future as the lady of a manor and a life of leisure.

Her father Ignatius and her mother Camille were of the lower Tuscan nobility but were not overly wealthy. Anna Maria was the second of thirteen children. Her mother bore twelve children in fourteen years. The last two were twins who lived only a few weeks. Three other children also died in infancy. After a gap of six years the last child, Teresa was born. This child was given Anna Maria’s name in Carmel.  Anna Maria (St. Teresa Margaret) had died six years before little Teresa’s birth.

Camille did not have a strong constitution and the strain of childbirth left her a semi-invalid. As the oldest girl, Anna Maria was entrusted with the supervision of the older of her little siblings while her mother was busy in the nursery. Her father said of Anna Maria that she had a fiery temperament and she was not above getting physical to maintain control over her little charges.

Her father testified that he could clearly see that from the age of five, Anna Maria had given her heart completely to God and she used all her facilities to know and to love Him. In later years she told her confessor simply that “from infancy I have never longed for anything other than to become a saint.”

“Who is God?” she asked her mother, her father, her aunt… The answers she received from the adults around her never fully satisfied her. People told her about God, what God is, not who God is. When her mother told her one day that God is love, Anna Maria lit up with joy. This answer at last gave her some satisfaction. But then she wondered, “What can I do to please Him?” From this moment her inexhaustible quest to love God as He loved her had begun. It is touching to note that when this childhood zeal was brought up to her, she replied in innocence “But everyone does that”.

Anna Maria’s parents were serious and pious. The family circle was warm and loving. Family prayer and daily Mass were an integral part of their lives. It appears that Camilla would have liked more social life in the villa but Ignatius would have seen that as a waste of resources and time.

The Redi villa was an ideal home for a child with a religious disposition and it is probably not an accident that all but one of the eight surviving children entered religious life or the priesthood. The large comfortable house had inspiring murals of the crusades on the walls of the entrance hall. The bedrooms contained religious art. A striking fresco of the Assumption was on the ceiling of Camilla’s room. Anna Maria’s bedroom had its own altar where she spent hours in prayer, after bribing the young ones with holy cards if they would leave her in peace. Sometimes they would creep back to observe her absorbed in prayer. Her brother Cecchino recorded that he thought she looked like a little Madonna.

The villa contained beautiful gardens and orchards. Anna Maria could be found in the corner of the gardens looking toward heaven and “thinking”. Close to the house was a chapel. It was decorated simply with frescos from episodes in the life St. Francis of Assisi. Anna Maria took St. Francis as her patron and was inspired by him with a love of poverty.

Although it was a peaceful and prosperous home, the children were not permitted to be idle. They were expected to spend their leisure time constructively. Anna Maria learned sewing and knitting and she was sometimes found knitting a simple object while completely absorbed in prayer.

At the age of seven Anna Maria made her first Confession. At that time first Confession preceded first Communion by several years. She was very attracted to the sacrament and prepared for it carefully and received it often. A conversation which took place while returning from Church and recorded by her father gives an idea of her attitude towards the sacrament.

“I have been thinking about the text that was preached on Sunday, the unforgiving servant. We come to the great King of Heaven with empty hands, in debt to Him for everything: life itself, and grace, and all the gifts He lavishes on us. Yet all we can say is, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all I owe,’ while all the time we could never pay anything towards the remission of our own debts, if God did not put into our hands the means to do so. And then, how often do we go away and refuse pardon for some slight fault in our neighbors, withholding our love, remaining aloof, or even nursing a grievance against them, and building up grudges that cool charity.”

After this conversation, Ignatius, who already appreciated the piety of this child, felt certain that God was calling Anna Maria in a special way. From that point on he began to provide her with true spiritual direction appropriate to her understanding. It was Ignatius who introduced Anna Maria to the devotion to the Sacred Heart, a devotion which became one of the central focuses of her spiritual life. The love of this father and daughter grew deeper as their profound spiritual confidences expanded the already deep familial affection. As an adult, Sr. Teresa Margaret would say “So great was the good my father has done to my soul that I can truly claim that he has been my father twice over”. It is a tender irony that in aiding the rapid spiritual growth of this most beloved daughter Ignatius was preparing the path that would take her away from him forever.

St. Apollonia’s Boarding School

At the age of nine, Anna Maria was sent to the boarding school of the Benedictine nuns of St. Apollonia’s in Florence. While other families of their status thought educating their daughters was a waste of money, the Redi family was determined to do so. His decision to provide the best of educations for Anna Maria and her three sisters as well as for his four sons forced Ignatius to tighten the family budget. One of their sacrifices was to give up the family coach. This was not only a sacrifice in convenience but also in status. A coach was a mark of a family’s situation but Ignatius was not moved by such considerations. Young Anna Maria was deeply impressed by this sacrifice and urged her older brother to be very diligent in his studies in response to this generosity.

There were two reasons Anna Maria wanted to keep her interior life hidden. First, she understood from an early age that “the merits of a good action can diminish when exposed to the eyes of others who, by their praise or approval, give us satisfaction or at least flatter our self-love and pride too much; and that therefore it is necessary to be content to have God alone.” The second reason was in order to imitate the hidden life of the Holy Family. This singular family appeared to the folk of the little village of Nazareth to be no different from any other. This was Anna Maria’s goal.

She continually experienced movements of love which impelled her to try to live a more holy life. Yet she feared others would notice if she intensified her devotional exercises and this went against her determination to remain hidden.  In her need, she turned to the one she called twice her father; and so started an extraordinary correspondence with Ignatius Redi. He remained her spiritual director for the next five years. It is a great loss for us that Ignatius, obedient to her wishes, burned each of Anna Maria’s letters after reading it.

It is a mark of Anna Maria’s intelligence that she succeeded in her almost contradictory goals, extraordinary growth in holiness while appearing to be just like all the rest. At the age of sixteen as her time at St. Apollonia was coming to an end, Anna Maria was finding it difficult to make a decision regarding her future. She felt drawn to the religious life and loved the Benedictine nuns at St. Apollonia yet there was something missing. A very strange and singular incident put Anna Maria on the path to Carmel.

One day a distant acquaintance of Anna Maria, Cecilia Albergotti, who was about to enter Carmel, paid a farewell visit to St. Apollonia. She told Anna Maria she wished to speak to her but the time passed and there was no opportunity to do so. However, as she was leaving Cecilia took Anna Maria’s hand and looked at her intently, saying nothing. Anna Maria walked back to her room with a strange feeling inside. Suddenly she heard the words “I am Teresa of Jesus, and I want you among my daughters.” Confused and a bit frightened, she went to the chapel and knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. She heard the words again.

Now convinced of the authenticity of the locution, she determined at that moment to enter Carmel and started immediately making plans to leave the school. She was only home for a few months when preparations were made for her application to the Carmel in Florence. She entered on September 1, 1764 a few weeks after her seventeenth birthday taking the name Teresa Margaret of the Heart of Jesus.

Entrance into Carmel

The community she entered contained thirteen professed nuns and two novices. The religious observance in the convent was excellent and Teresa Margaret always had high regard for the nuns there whom she called angels or great saints. She always, to her last day, felt unworthy to be among them.

From her first days in Carmel it was obvious to her superiors that she was an unusually mature and capable young woman. Because of her spiritual maturity she was treated severely by the novice mistress, Mother Teresa Maria, for the purposes of aiding her growth. Although Teresa Margaret exercised complete control over her actions and attitudes, her fair complexion which blushed bright red often gave away the interior battle she waged to maintain this control.

The period of postulancy was usually three months but it was extended one month because she developed an abscess on her knee. The ailment required surgery to scrape the infection away from the bone. This was done without anesthesia and the nuns marveled at her courage. Teresa Margaret however chided herself when a small whimper escaped her during the cutting. She feared that this ailment might cause the nuns not to accept her into the novitiate but there was no cause to worry. The nuns had found her spiritually mature, obedient, with a sweet and gentle nature. They considered her a gift and a true daughter of St. Teresa. She was accepted by a unanimous vote.

It was the custom at the time for the candidate to make a brief return to the world to consider once more the life she was leaving behind. Teresa Margaret visited again with members of her family and spent precious time with her father. There was no doubt now that their next parting would be forever. If anything could have kept Teresa Margaret from retuning to the Carmel, it would have been the pain she was causing her father. When Ignatius brought her back to the convent those around her were alarmed at her pallor. That evening she confided in her superior, Mother Anna Maria “I do not think that it is possible for me ever to suffer greater pain than that which I experienced in leaving my father.” She wept copious tears that night to the point of alarming Mother Anna Maria and causing her to wonder how Teresa Margaret had kept her composure through the day.

The next day Teresa Margaret was composed and radiant. Her father however was overcome and moved to a back corner of the church unable to watch the clothing ceremony. Later in the afternoon he was able to visit with her in the parlor. He could see her flooded with the peace the world cannot give and a joy no earthly pleasure can produce. He left her with an emptiness his other children could never fill yet he was at peace and thankful to God for the gift of this sacrifice.

The duties of the novices were general housekeeping and various small tasks needed by the community. But even as a novice, Teresa Margaret started the work that would take most of her time and energy for the rest of her years in Carmel; that of caring for the sick. Of the thirteen professed nuns, nine were elderly and often ill. Teresa Margaret started by assisting the aged novice mistress prepare for bed each night. She then took on the care of an ailing novice. More and more she spent any free time assisting the infirmarian in caring for one or the other of the seriously ill nuns. Some times she would move into the room of a sick sister to provide care during the night. Aside from the required periods of prayer Teresa Margaret gave her self to physical labor. Her work went far beyond what was required or expected.

A year after her clothing Teresa Margaret was scheduled to be professed. The abscess on her knee reappeared. She wondered if this might be a sign that she was mistaken, that she did not have a vocation after all. She brought her doubts before God with simplicity and humility desiring only the will of God whatever it might be. The abscess disappeared. When the time came for her profession, with honest feelings of unworthiness she asked to be professed as a simple lay Sister. This was not allowed but she kept this humble attitude all through her life in Carmel and often helped the lay sisters at their tasks. No duty was too lowly for her.

Theresa Margaret lived only four years after her Profession. For two years she served as assistant sacristan but never gave up her work among the sick. She was finally named assistant infirmarian though she had been doing the job all along.

She loved this job and the constant charity it demanded for she stated “love of neighbor consists in service.” Although “assistant” she soon was in fact exercising full responsibility for the infirmary. She was young and strong and seemed to thrive on the hard work. During her years of service, in spite of her continued determination to keep hidden her gifts and graces, remarkable incidences occurred: the miraculous healing which occurred after Teresa Margaret, filled with compassion, kissed a sister weeping in pain; her ability to converse with a deaf nun with whom no one else could communicate; various cures which, though not miraculous were at the least unusual; and her uncanny ability to know when a patient needed her no matter where in the monastery she might be.

Her Interior Life

Teresa Margaret had a rich, active interior life. The first tenant, as has been mentioned, was to remain hidden, to keep her gifts and graces hidden from all but her Lord while appearing quite ordinary to the world.

In her desire to prove her love to God, she practiced severe penances; sleeping on the floor, using a hairshirt, leaving windows open in the winter and closed in the summer, taking the discipline, etc. There was nothing masochistic in these practices. She wanted to discipline her body and unite herself to the suffering Christ. For her, suffering was a way of repaying love for love. As she grew she modified these practices and took as her motto “Always receive with equal contentment from God’s hand either consolations or sufferings, peace or distress, health or illness. Ask nothing, refuse nothing, but always be ready to do and to suffer anything that comes from His Providence.”

Her daily spiritual exercises were simple. She determined to present a smiling and serene exterior no matter how severe her interior and exterior trials. She practiced the art of never doing her own will for she believed that “she who does not know how to conform her will to that of others will never be perfect.” She would never offer an excuse for a fault or defend herself when falsely accused. She wrote that “everything can be reduced to interior movements, where the constant exercise of abnegation is essential.” She believed that God would be found when God alone is sought. To that end she made the following resolution: “I propose to have no other purpose in all my activities, either interior or exterior, than the motive of love alone, by constantly asking myself: ‘Now what am I doing in this action? Do I love God?’ If I should notice any obstacle to pure love, I shall take myself in hand and recall that I must seek to return my love for His love.” As for love of neighbor, she determined to “sympathize with their troubles, excuse their faults, always speak well of them, and never willingly fail in charity in thought, word or deed”.

All these little practices seem to be no more than what any good Christian should be doing. How simple and un-heroic they are. Yet to spend even one day in the minute by minute application of them would be more than most could hope to accomplish.

One Sunday in choir, Teresa Margaret was given a particular grace to understand the deep meaning of the love of God. While the community was reciting Terce, the words “Deus caritus est” (God is Love, I John 4:8) were read and it seemed to her she heard them for the first time. She was flooded with an elevated understanding of these words that seemed to be a new revelation. Despite the fact that she tried carefully to hide this sudden grace, all around her were aware something out of the ordinary had happened. These words occasioned a mystical experience which transformed her knowledge of God.

For the next few days the words “God Is Love” were constantly on her lips as she went about her duties. She appeared so out of herself that the Carmelite Provincial was brought in to examine her to see if she were suffering from “melancholy”. After examining her he responded: “I would indeed very happily see every sister in this community afflicted with such ‘melancholy’ as that of Sister Teresa Margaret!” It was only later that the community came to attribute her “faraway look” to her habitual awareness of the presence of God and His continual operations in her.

Night of the Spirit

This grace was however to start a great spiritual trial for Teresa Margaret. She had always found it impossible to return to God “love for love” as she desired. Now that she had a mystical experience of the love of God the abyss between God’s love for her and her ability to return that love sufficiently became a source of increasing torment to her.

In a series of letters to her spiritual director, Fr. Ildephonse, she wrote: “I am telling you in strict confidence, sure of your discretion that I find myself in pain because I am not doing anything to correspond to the demands of love. I feel that I am continually being reproached by my Sovereign Good and yet, I am very sensitive to the slightest movement contrary to the love and knowledge of Him. I do not see, I do not feel, I do not understand anything interiorly or exteriorly which could impel me to love … no one can imagine how terrible it is to live without any love when one is actually burning with the desire for it.”

“This is a torture to me, let alone the fact that it requires such an effort to apply myself to the things of God,” she confessed later. “I fear that God is very displeased with my Communions; it seems that I have no desire to ask His help because of the great coldness which I experience … It is the same with prayer and, of course, in all the other spiritual exercises. I am continually making good resolutions but I never succeed in attaining some way of successfully overcoming these obstacles which stand in my way and prevent me from throwing myself at His feet.”

“The tempest has become extremely violent and I feel myself being so knocked about that I scarcely know what to do if this continues. Everywhere there is darkness and danger. My soul is so dark that the very things which used to afford me some spiritual consolation are only a source of torture to me … I must do violence to myself in order to perform each interior and exterior spiritual exercise … Finding myself in this state of supreme weariness I commit many failings at each step … My mind is in such turmoil that it is open to temptations of every sort, especially to those of despair … I have a great fear of offending God grievously … I see that I do wrong and at the same time try to follow the inspiration to do good and then I feel remorse for my infidelity; and to top it all, I am not succeeding in conquering myself because my repugnance is so great …”

“The cruelest torturer of her soul,” wrote Fr. Ildephonse, “was her love which, in the very same measure that it increased – hid itself from the eyes of her spirit. She loved, yet believed she did not; in the measure love grew in her soul, in the same measure augmented the desire of loving and the pain of thinking that she did not love.” He was convinced that she was at the stage of Spiritual Marriage. When he later heard of her sudden and unexpected death he remarked “she could not have lived very much longer so great was the strength of the love of God in her.”

Her Death

It is suspected that Teresa Margaret had a premonition of her death. After obtaining permission from Fr. Ildephonse, she made a pact with Sr. Adelaide, an elderly nun she was caring for. The pact was that when she died, Sr. Adelaide would ask God “to permit Sister Teresa Margaret to join her quickly in order that she may love Him without hindrance for all eternity and be fully united with the fount of divine charity.” Shortly after the death of Sr. Adelaide, Teresa Margaret was indeed with God. It is likely that the cause of Teresa Margaret’s death was a strangulated hernia. It is probable that it was in lifting the heavy, inert body of Sister Adelaide that she strained herself causing the hernia. If so, it was a delightful seal to their pact.

In mid-February, 1770, Teresa Margaret wrote her last letter to her father, in which she begged that he begin a novena to the Sacred Heart at once for a most pressing intention of hers.

On March 4th she asked Father Ildefonse to allow her to make a general confession, as though it were to be the last of her life, and to receive Communion the following morning in the same dispositions. Whether or not she had any presentiment that this was indeed to be her Viaticum one cannot know; but in fact it was. She was only twenty-two years old and in excellent health, yet it appears she was making preparations for her death.

On the evening of March 6th Teresa Margaret arrived late to dinner from her work in the infirmary. She ate the light Lenten meal alone. As she was returning to her room, she collapsed from violent abdominal spasms. She was put to bed and the doctor was called. He diagnosed a bout of colic, painful but not serious. Teresa Margaret did not sleep at all during the night, and she tried to lie still so as not to disturb those in the adjoining cells. The following morning she seemed to have taken a slight turn for the better

But when the doctor returned he recognized that her internal organs were paralyzed and ordered a surgeon for a bleeding. Her foot was cut and a bit of congealed blood oozed out. The doctor was alarmed and recommended that she should receive the Last Sacraments right away. The infirmarian however, felt that this was not necessary, and was reluctant to send for a priest because of the patient’s continued vomiting. In addition, Sister Teresa Margaret’s pain appeared to have lessened. The priest was not called.

Teresa Margaret offered no comment, nor did she ask for the Last Sacraments. She seemed to have had a premonition of this when making her last Communion “as Viaticum”. She held her crucifix in her hands, from time to time pressing her lips to the five wounds, and invoking the names of Jesus and Mary, otherwise she continued to pray and suffer, as always, in silence.

By 3 p.m. her strength was almost exhausted, and her face had assumed an alarmingly livid hue. Finally a priest was called. He had time only to anoint her before she took her flight to God. She remained silent and uncomplaining to the end, with her crucifix pressed to her lips and her head slightly turned towards the Blessed Sacrament. The community was stunned. Less than twenty-four hours earlier she had been full of life and smiling serenely as she went about her usual duties.

Glory Revealed

Teresa Margaret had attempted all her life to remain hidden. In many ways she succeeded. But upon her death, the veil over her exalted sanctity was lifted by God Himself.

The condition of Teresa Margaret’s body was such that the nuns feared it would decay before proper funeral rites could be accomplished. Her face was discolored, her extremities were black, the body already bloated and stiff. When her body was prepared and laid out in the choir later in the day, it was almost unrecognizable to the sisters who had lived with her for the last five years.

Her funeral was held the following day and plans were made for her immediate burial. When she was moved into the vault however, everyone noticed that a change had taken place in the body. The blue-black discoloration of her face was much less noticeable. The community decided to postpone the burial. A few hours later a second examination showed that the entire body had regained its natural color. The nuns were consoled to see the lovely face of Teresa Margaret looking just as they had known her.

They begged the Provincial’s permission to leave her unburied until the next day, a request which he, dumbfounded at this astonishing reversal of natural processes, readily granted. The final burial of the body was arranged for the evening of the 9th of March, fifty-two hours after her death. By that time her skin tint was as natural as when alive and in full health, and the limbs, which had been so rigid that dressing her in the habit had been a difficult task, were flexible and could now be moved with ease.

This was all so unprecedented that the coffin was permitted to remain open. The nuns, the Provincial, several priests and doctors all saw and testified to the fact that the body was as lifelike as if she were sleeping, and there was not the least visible evidence of corruption or decay. Her face regained its healthy appearance; there was color in her cheeks. Mother Victoria, who had received the profession of this young nun, suggested that a portrait should be painted before the eventual burial. This was unanimously agreed to, and Anna Piattoli, a portrait painter of Florence, was taken down to the crypt to capture forever the features that now in death looked totally life-like.

The Carmel burial vault was a scene of much coming and going during these days, and had assumed anything but a mournful atmosphere. By the time the painting was completed, a strange fragrance was detected about the crypt. The flowers that still remained near the bier had withered. But the fragrance persisted, and grew in strength, pervading the whole chamber. And then, miles away in Arezzo her mother Camilla also became aware of an elusive perfume which noticeably clung to certain parts of the house.

During the next two weeks several doctors and ecclesial authorities came to the crypt to examine the body. As the days continued to pass the body regained more and more the characteristics of a living being. The Archbishop of Florence came on March 21 to make his own examination. The body was now totally subtle. Her bright blue eyes could be seen under lids slightly opened. Finally a little moisture collected on her upper lip. It was wiped off with a piece of cloth and rendered a “heavenly fragrance”. The Archbishop declared: “Extraordinary! Indeed, it is a miracle to see a body completely flexible after death, the eyes those of a living person, the complexion that of one in the best of health. Why, even the soles of her feet appear so lifelike that she might have been walking about a few minutes ago. She appears to be asleep. There is no odor of decay, but on the contrary a most delightful fragrance. Indeed, it is the odor of sanctity.”

Teresa Margaret was finally buried eighteen days after her death. The report of miracles attributed to her intercession began immediately. Thirty-five years later, on June 21, 1805, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the incorrupt body of St. Teresa Margaret was transferred to the nuns’ choir in the Carmel of Florence where it remains to this day.

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IMG_2921 St TM REDI web

“… my God, I do not want anything else other than to become a perfect image of You and, because Your life was a hidden life of humiliation, love, and sacrifice, I desire the same for myself. I wish, therefore, to enclose myself in Your loving Heart as in a desert in order to live in You, with You, and for You this hidden life of love and sacrifice.  You know indeed that I desire to be a victim of Your Sacred Heart, completely consumed as a holocaust by the fire of Your holy love.  And thus Your Heart will be the altar upon which I must be consumed, my dearest Spouse; You will Yourself be the priest Who must consume this victim by the fire of Your holy love.” -from the Act of Oblation of St Teresa Margaret Redi of the Sacred Heart.

St Teresa Margaret Redi of the Sacred Heart, OCD, was the subject of Chapter 2 of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD, (Edith Stein)’s (1891-1942), who was killed at Auschwitz, book, “The Hidden Life”, written in 1939.

Love,
Matthew
It was long, mea culpa, but it’s Lent.  It’s good for us! 🙂

Mar 21, 2009 – Ego te baptizo – Εγώ βαπτίζω σε – I baptize you!

baby-baptism

(Below are some excerpts of the older rite which, in certain instances, I find more poetic/dramatic than the current one.  Please also see attached pictures.)

“Ego te baptizo in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.”  I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Priest:  “What name do you give your child?”
Parents:  “Mara Constance”
Priest:  “What do you ask of the Church of God?”
Parents:  “Faith”
Priest:  “What does Faith offer?”
Parents:  “Life everlasting”

Priest:  “If then you desire her to enter into life, teach this child to keep the commandments. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ “

Priest:  “Go forth from her, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.”

The priest now makes the Sign of the Cross with his thumb on the child’s forehead and breast.

Priest:  “Mara Constance, receive the Sign of the Cross both upon your forehead + and also upon your heart +; take to you the faith of the heavenly precepts; and so order your life as to be, from henceforth, the temple of God.”

Priest:  “Let us pray: mercifully hear our prayers, we beseech You, O Lord; and by Your perpetual assistance keep this Your elect, Mara Constance, signed with the sign of the Lord’s cross, so that, preserving this first experience of the greatness of Your glory, she may deserve, by keeping Your commandments, to attain to the glory of life everlasting. Through Christ our Lord….”

Priest:  “Do you reject Satan?”
Parents (answering for child):  “I do reject him.”
Priest:  “And all his works?”
Parents:  “I do reject them.”
Priest:  “And all his pomps?”
Parents:  “I do reject them.”
Priest:  “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth?”
Parents:  “I do believe.”
Priest:  Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was born and Who suffered?”
Parents:  “I do believe.”
Priest: “Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting?”
Parents:  “I do believe.”

Priest:  “Receive this white garment, Mara Constance.  Never let it become stained, so that when you stand before the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, you may enter into life everlasting. Amen.”

Priest:  “Receive this burning light, Mara Constance, and keep the grace of your Baptism throughout a blameless life.  Observe the commandments of God.  Then, when the Lord comes to His heavenly wedding feast, you will be able to meet Him with all the Saints in the halls of heaven, and live for ever and ever. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Mar 19 – Solemnity of St Joseph: O felicem virum! O happy man!

st joseph

O FELICEM virum, beatum Ioseph, cui datum est Deum, quem multi reges voluerunt videre et non viderunt, audire et non audierunt, non solum videre et audire, sed portare, deosculari, vestire et custodire!

V. Ora pro nobis, beate Ioseph.
R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

DEUS, qui dedisti nobis regale sacerdotium: praesta, quaesumus; ut, sicut beatus Ioseph unigenitum Filium tuum, natum ex Maria Virgine, suis manibus reverenter tractare meruit et portare, ita nos facias cum cordis munditia et operis innocentia tuis sanctis altaribus deservire, ut sacrosanctum Filii tui Corpus et Sanguinem hodie digne sumamus, et in futuro saeculo praemium habere mereamur aeternum. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum.
Amen.

O BLESSED Joseph, happy man, to whom it was given not only to see and to hear that God Whom many kings longed to see, and saw not, to hear, and heard not; but also to carry Him in your arms, to embrace Him, to clothe Him, and guard and defend Him.

V. Pray for us, O Blessed Joseph.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ
O GOD, Who has given us a royal priesthood, we beseech You, that as Blessed Joseph was found worthy to touch with his hands, and to bear in his arms, Your only-begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary, so may we be made fit, by cleanness of heart and blamelessness of life, to minister at Your holy altar; may we, this day, with reverent devotion partake of the Sacred Body and Blood of Your Only-begotten Son, and may we in the world to come be accounted worthy of receiving an ever-lasting reward. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Father’s Prayer

Father in Heaven,
I thank you for the gift of my family
for whom I now pray
and upon whom I now ask you
to shower Your blessings.
With St. Joseph as my guide,
may I always be ready
to spend my life for them.

Bless my wife whom You have given to me as my spouse,
sharing in your wondrous work of creation.  May I see her as my equal and treat her with the love of Christ for his Church.  May Mary be her guide and help her to find Your peace and Your grace.

Bless my children with Your life and presence.  May the example of Your Son be the foundation upon which their lives are built, that the Gospel may always be their hope and support.

I ask you, Father, to protect and bless my family.  Watch over it so that in the strength of Your love its members may enjoy prosperity,
possess the gift of your peace and, as the Church alive in this home,
always bear witness to Your glory in the world.  Amen.

Saint Joseph, guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, you passed your life in loving fulfillment of duty. You supported the holy family of Nazareth with the work of your hands. Kindly protect those who trustingly come to you. You know their aspirations, their hardships, their hopes. They look to you because they know you will understand and protect them. You too knew trial, labor and weariness. But amid the worries of material life, your soul was full of deep peace and sang out in true joy through intimacy with God’s Son entrusted to you and with Mary, his tender Mother.  Assure those you protect that they do not labor alone. Teach them to find Jesus near them and to watch over Him faithfully as you have done. Amen.
-Bl Pope John XXIII

Glorious St Joseph, Foster Father of our Lord, pray for fathers!

Love,
Matthew

Mar 25 – Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord – what if she had said “no”?

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-Fra Angelico, Annunciation, 1450

“The question may strike you as irreverent.  How dare I suggest that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, Co-Redemptrix of mankind, could have left us in the lurch like that?

But what if she had?

Could she have said no?  You might say that of course she couldn’t, she was far too holy — but you would be guilty of demeaning and dangerous sentimentality.

It is demeaning because it turns Our Lady from a free human being into a sanctified automaton.  The whole glory of the Annunciation is that Mary, the second Eve, could have said “no” to God but she said “yes” instead, as can we all. Love is only love if it is freely given from a free will.  Anything less is just simply not love.  That is what we celebrate, that is what we praise her for; and rightly so.

This sentimental view is dangerous too.  If we believe that the most important decision in the history of the world was in fact inevitable, that it couldn’t have been otherwise, then that means it was effortless. Now we have a marvelous excuse for laziness.  Next time we’re faced with a tough moral decision, we needn’t worry about doing what is right.  Just drift, and God will make sure that whatever choice we make is the right one.  If God really wants us to do something he’ll sweep us off our feet the way he did Mary, and if he chooses not to, it’s hardly our fault, is it?

So Mary could have said “no” to Gabriel.  What if she had?  He couldn’t just go and ask someone else, like some sort of charity collector.  With all the genealogies and prophecies in the Bible, there was only one candidate.  It’s an alarming thought.

Ultimately, of course, God would have done something: the history of salvation is the history of Him never abandoning His people however pig-headed they were.  But God has chosen to work through human history. If the first attempt at redemption took four thousand years to prepare, from the Fall to the Annunciation, how many tens of thousands of years would the next attempt have taken?

Even if the world sometimes makes us feel like cogs in a machine, each of us is unique and each of us is here for a purpose: just because it isn’t as spectacular a purpose as Mary’s, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. When we fail to seek our vocation, or put off fulfilling some part of it, we try to justify ourselves by saying that someone else will do it better, that God will provide, that it doesn’t really matter.  But we are lying. However small a part I have to play, the story of the Annunciation tells me it is my part and no-one else can do it.

Faced with the enormity of her choice, how was Mary able to decide?  If she said “no”, unredeemed generations would toil on under the burden of sin.  If she said “yes”, she herself would suffer, and so would her Son; but both would be glorified.  Millions of people not yet born would have Heaven open to them; but millions of others would suffer oppression and death in her Son’s name.  The stakes were almost infinite.

You might say that Mary didn’t worry about all this, just obeyed God; but I don’t believe it. It was clear from Scripture she was no dummy.  What God wanted was not Mary’s unthinking obedience but her full and informed consent as the representative of the entire human race.  The two greatest miracles of the Annunciation are these: that God gave Mary the wisdom to know the consequences of her decision, and that he gave her the grace not to be overwhelmed by that knowledge.

When we come to an important decision in our lives, we can easily find our minds clouded by the possible consequences, or, even more, by partial knowledge of them.  How can we ever move, when there is so much good and evil whichever way we go?  The Annunciation gives us the answer.  God’s grace will give us the strength to move, even if the fate of the whole world is hanging in the balance. After all, God does not demand that our decisions should be the correct ones (assuming that there even is such a thing), only that they should be rightly made.

There is one more truth that the Annunciation teaches us, and it is so appalling that I can think of nothing uplifting to say about it that will take the sting away: perhaps it is best forgotten, because it tells us more about God than we are able to understand.  The Almighty Father creates heaven and earth, the sun and all the stars; but when He really wants something done, He comes, the Omnipotent and Omniscient, to one of His poor, weak creatures — and He asks.

And, day by day, He keeps on asking us.”

-by Martin Kochanski, Universalis Publishing, www.universalis.com

annunciation_philippe_de_champaigne
-Philippe de Champaigne, The Annunciation, ca.1644, oil on panel, 28 x 28.75 inches (71 x 73 cm.), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Blessed Solemnity of the Annunciation!
Love,
Matthew

Mar 26 – St Margaret Clitherow, (1556-1586), Wife, Mother, Martyr, “Pearl of York”

image

Margaret was born in York and lived there all her life. Her parents were Thomas and Jane Middleton.  She was one of five children.  Her father was a candle maker and had been sheriff of York for two years.  Like other young girls of the time, she was intentionally not taught to read or to write.

At the age of 15 she married a butcher, John Clitherow, July 8, 1571, and three years later became a Catholic. Together, they had three children:  Henry, Anne, and William, William having been born while Margaret was in prison.  She helped run her husband’s butcher shop.  According to her confessor, spiritual director, and biographer, Fr. John Mush, Margaret became a Catholic because she “found no substance, truth nor Christian comfort in the ministers of the new church, nor in their doctrine itself, and hearing also many priests and lay people to suffer for the defense of the ancient Catholic Faith.”

When speaking of her husband Margaret said, “”Know you, I love him next to God in this world. . . . If I have offended my husband in any way, save for my conscience, I ask of God and him forgiveness.” John said that he could wish for no better wife, “except only two faults, and these were, she fasted too much and would not go with me to church.”

Laws were passed which included a 1585 law that made it high treason for a priest to live in England and a felony for anyone to harbor or aid a priest. The penalty for breaking such laws was death. Despite the risk, Margaret helped and concealed priests. Margaret said “by God’s grace all priests shall be more welcome to me than ever they were, and I will do what I can to set forward God’s Catholic service.”  Imprisoned for her non-attendance at Anglican services, she taught herself to read, and on her release ran a small school for her own and her neighbors’ children. It is said that she used to visit the Knavesmire (the Tyburn of the North, a place of execution) to pray for those who had been martyred there.

She saw that her children were all educated in the faith through the services of a young man, Stapleton, who had been imprisoned for his faith in York Castle. She knew this prison well having been detained there several times for non-attendance at Church of England services.

Margaret wanted her son Henry to receive a Catholic education so she endeavored that her son be sent outside the England to Douai, France for schooling. Such an act was considered a crime.  On March 10, 1586, the council summoned the Chamberlain of York, John Clitherow and demanded that he explain the absence of his son abroad. This was a bold move because the chamberlain was a well respected member of the Protestant community. He was outraged and refused to give them any information about the whereabouts or activity of his son Henry who had enrolled in the seminary in France.

Margaret was not upset to find out that her husband was summoned. She was sure that the authorities would use the occasion to search their home but she was certain that they would find nothing that would incriminate her or her husband. Mass had been said that morning and the priest had escaped. The faithful Mr. Stapleton was conducting class for a group of children. When the alarm was sounded, the teacher escaped through a window. When the searchers burst open the schoolroom door, they found nothing but a group of children studying their lessons. Had it been only the Clitherow children and their Catholic neighbors involved, the authorities would not have learned very much. The Yorkshire children were strong in their faith and were not easily intimidated.

There was in the group a weak spot. There was an older student whom the children considered a foreigner. He was older than all the rest-about 14 years of age. He was Flemish and a stranger to the ways of England and its anti-Catholic laws. Fear showed on his face and the authorities recognized it. They stripped him and threatened him with a flogging. He quickly gave in and told them everything he knew.

He showed them everything—where the Mass was said and where the vestments and altar breads were kept. This was more than the searchers had even hoped for. It clearly proved that Mass was being celebrated in the house despite the law. The Flemish boy told them everything he knew and even some things he did not know. He was only too willing to speak and not too accurate in what he said.

Quickly the authorities ransacked the house. They carried off all of the incriminating evidence. The two Clitherow children were taken to loyal Protestant families and Margaret was never allowed to see her children again. The servants were arrested and thrown into prison because they were loyal to their mistress. Once again Margaret found herself in prison.

When she was brought before the council, she astonished everyone. She was not only fearless, she had a smile on her face. She seemed relieved at being arrested. It was as if she had foreseen the danger and it may have been a relief to have the suspense end when the outcome was known to be inevitable. She was confined with her friend Anne Tesh who was being held for hearing Mass. The two were supportive of each other and confounded their captors with their continued good humor in their jail cell.

On the third day of her confinement, the authorities allowed her husband John to visit her briefly. The visit took place in the presence of the jailer. She was never to see her husband again. The meeting had a sobering effect on both.

Early in the evening of Monday, March 14, Margaret Clitherow was brought before the judges at Common Hall in the city of York. A large crowd was in the streets and in the court for she was dearly loved by many of the citizens. Her indictment was read and she was asked how she pleaded. In answer she said, “I know of no offense whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offense, I need no trial.”

Following her refusal to plead guilty the judges tried to convince her to stand trial. For hours they tried to discredit her but she refused to be shaken. Judge Clinch warned her that if she refused to stand trial, the law would sentence her to a far more painful death than a jury could. The other judges on the panel accused her of crimes of every kind including having intercourse with the priests she harbored. Nothing seemed to move her and the presiding judge sent her back to prison for the night hoping that the solitary confinement would alter her thinking and bring her to her senses.On the next day she was taken back to the Common Hall in the early morning. Judge Clinch reminded her that under the law of Queen Elizabeth, when an accused person refused to make a plea and stand trial before a jury, the accused would be sentenced to what was called “peine forte et dure.” The person was laid naked on the stone floor of an underground cell with a door laid over him and on the door heavy stones were piled. Further weights were piled upon him until he was pressed to death.

Margaret refused to make a plea and to stand trial because she did not want her young children called to court. She told her friend Mrs. Tesh that she knew she would be executed in any case and she did not want to have her children forced to give evidence against their mother. Many at the court pleaded with her to change her mind. Even the judge tried to persuade her to no avail.

Finally the judge passed sentence that she should be crushed to death as a punishment for having “harbored and maintained Jesuits and seminary priests, traitors to the Queen’s majesty and her laws.”  “You must return from whence you came, and there, in the lowest part of the prison, be stripped naked, laid down, your back on the ground, and as much weight laid upon you as you are able to bear, and so to continue for three days without meat or drink, and on the third day to be pressed to death, your hands and feet tied to posts, and a sharp stone under your back.”
– words of condemnation spoken by the British magistrate of her majesty Queen Elizabeth, on Tuesday, March 15, 1586, in the Court of York, Judge George Clinch condemned to death St Margaret, pregnant with her fourth child. Her crime was sheltering Roman priests who were “traitors and seducers of the queen’s subjects.”  The stone under the condemned’s back was to be the size of a fist, intended to break the spine as weight was applied.

When John Clitherow heard of his wife’s sentence, ‘he fared like a man out of his wits, and wept so violently that blood gushed out of his nose in great quantity, and said, “Alas, will they kill my wife? Let them take all I have and save her, for she is the best wife in all England, and the best Catholic also.”‘ She had already sent her hat to her husband ‘in sign of her loving duty to him as to her head’; her shoes and stockings she sent to her twelve-year-old daughter Anne, ‘signifying that she should serve God and follow in her steps’.

Ten days were allowed to pass between her sentencing and execution. On Good Friday morning of March 25, 1586, after sewing her own shroud the night before and after praying for the Pope, cardinals, clergy, and the Queen, Margaret was executed.  She lay sandwiched between a rock and a wooden slab while weights, 800 pounds, were dropped upon her, crushing her to death. She did not cry out but prayed “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy upon me.” On the day of her execution she was calm and forgiving. When asked to pray for the Queen, she asked God to turn Her Majesty to the Catholic faith. Within a quarter of an hour she was dead. The sheriffs left the body under the door from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. They then buried her body in some waste ground, where they hoped it would never be found, but was later discovered by friends, who buried her privately elsewhere; though the place of her burial has not yet been found. Her daughter Anne was imprisoned for four years for refusing to attend a Church of England service, and finally became a nun at Louvain. Two of Margaret’s sons became priests.

“God be thanked, I am not worthy of so good a death as this.”
– Saint Margaret, when advised of her sentence

“I die for the love of my Lord Jesu.”
– Saint Margaret, when asked to confess her crimes before execution

“The sheriffs have said that I am going to die this coming Friday; and I feel the weakness of my flesh which is troubled at this news, but my spirit rejoices greatly. For the love of God, pray for me and ask all good people to do likewise.”
– St Margaret Clitherow, to a friend upon learning of her condemnation

“I am fully resolved in all things touching my Faith, which I ground upon Jesu Christ, and by Him I steadfastly believe to be saved . . . and by God’s assistance I mean to live and die in the same Faith; for if an angel come from heaven, and preach any other doctrine than we have received, the Apostle biddeth us not believe him.”  – St Margaret Clitherow, (see Gal 1:8)

clitherow_stained_glass


THE PEARL OF YORK

A girl, a lady,
Wife, a mother,
From church of England
She saw the other.

The other where
Her church came from.
The other where
The fruit was plumb.

The other where
Her church beat down
And looted jewels
For earthly crown.

And watching she
Was irritated
And slowly grew
Sophisticated.

Sitting silent
In her shell
Her home a place
Where priests could dwell

Confect the Mass
Many saved
For this their limbs
And lives were braved.

Because a woman
Kept her shell
A jealous fortress
Barring hell.

And then the weak
Pried open wide
Exposing truth
The shell’s inside

Where mother, wife,
Lady, girl,
Had turned into
York’s royalist pearl.

clitherow_memorial

On Saturday, 26 March 2011, a pilgrimage in honor of St Margaret Clitherow was held in York.  Mass was offered at York Minster, the Anglican cathedral in York, previously a Catholic church dating back to before the time of the English Reformation.  The dean of York Minster, the Anglican prelate, was most gracious and hospitable accommodating and inviting the worshippers in use of the worship space.  Followed by a procession from the minster, via The Shambles @#s 10 & 11, where St Margaret lived, and Ouse Bridge to the Church of the English Martyrs in Dalton Terrace, where Benediction and veneration of the relic of St Margaret Clitherow took place.

Love,
Matthew