Category Archives: May

May 20 – St Bernadine of Siena, OFM, (1380-1444), Priest, “IHS: No other name…”

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-Church of the Gesu, Rome, Italy

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-16th century image of St Bernadine of Siena, OFM, Langeais Castle, France

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” -Acts 4:12
“Preach about vice and virtue, punishment and glory!” -St Francis of Assisi

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-by Br John Paul Kern, OP (a convert to the Catholic faith through Penn State’s RCIA program, where he earned a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s in Nuclear Engineering)

“Today is the memorial of St. Bernardine of Siena (d. 1444), a preacher renowned for his love for the Holy Name of Jesus.

As a young boy Bernardine’s love for Jesus overflowed into care for the sick during a time of pestilence in Siena. He later joined the Franciscan Order and was assigned the task of preaching, despite a serious throat affliction. God answered his prayers with the miraculous cure of his throat, and Bernardine became a zealous preacher throughout Italy. Through him the Lord converted many individuals and brought genuine reform to the Church. So great was his preaching that Pope Pius II called him “a second Paul.”

Just like that great missionary apostle, Bernardine endeavored to preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). When Bernardine entered a city to preach, he would have a banner carried in front of him with the Holy Name of Jesus (IHS, Ed. the first three letters of the name “Jesus” in Greek) encircled with twelve golden rays and a cross at the top. When he preached he had this symbol placed next to the pulpit, and at his encouragement the Holy Name of Jesus was placed on many altars, churches, and even on the public buildings of large cities. Bernardine had great faith in the power of Jesus’ name.

Do we believe in the power of “the name which is above every name”? Or do we hesitate to speak the name of Jesus Christ, “the power of God and the wisdom of God,” because it is a “stumbling block” and “folly” in the eyes of many of our peers? (1 Cor. 1:23-24)

Indeed, there is no other name that receives as strong and diverse an array of reactions as the name of Jesus. No other name elicits such love, peace, and joy among those who know him. No other name elicits such vitriol, scorn, and anger among those who do not.

Even those who express an initial apathy toward the name of Jesus tend to react quite powerfully when they encounter a person speaking of Jesus with great passion and love. Waning belief is enkindled into hope. “I do desire this Jesus!” “How can I find him?”

Other times, disappointment and hurt bubble to the surface, displayed as shock and skepticism. “You are crazy!” “You cannot know Him like that!” “You are brainwashed! Jesus isn’t a friend and savior!” People react strongly when they hear something they believe is too good to be true. Compared to any lesser truth we have known and experienced in our lives, Jesus, Who is Truth, does seem too good to be true.

Great thinkers and spiritual seekers have questioned, reasoned, and intuited their way to the existence of a First Cause from His effects in the world. The invisible God identified Himself sensibly to Abraham as “I am” (Ex 3:14), and this revelation allowed many people to know of God’s existence. But God became uniquely visible for us in Jesus Christ so that even the most ignorant, distracted, and skeptical of us can come face to face with His goodness, grapple with our doubts, and ask “how can this be?” and “are you for real?” There is only one name that brings everything—our lives, our joys, our sufferings, the good and evil that is in the world, in human history, and in ourselves, the apparent chaos and order of the cosmos—into focus.

We do not see Jesus incarnate with our eyes, as people 2000 years ago did. But He remains incarnate in a lesser way in his body the Church, of which we are his members. We are each united to Christ, and He lives in each of us, creating diverse points of encounter between Himself and the world through us. And yet when people see the toe, the finger, or the hand of God at work in meeting us, they may not realize whose members they are meeting. “Mother Teresa was a good person.” This is true. But to ensure that people correctly identified God as the author and source of this goodness, she always emphasized that she was but a pencil in the hand of God and that it was Jesus who was at work through her, loving the poorest of the poor. She wanted people to know Him by name.

Charity, the love that God invites us into, is not an anonymous or distant love, but a personal love. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that “charity is the friendship of man for God” (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 1).

Friendship requires that love be mutual and that both friends know that they are loved by their friend. You cannot be friends with a nebulous cosmic force or anonymous first cause, no matter how benevolent you regard it to be or how grateful you are to it for your existence. However, Jesus was and is a friend, even of sinners, and he desires that all people share in this love of friendship. But in order to enter into this friendship, as with all friendships, we must know the name of the other.

This is why, in addition to preaching the Gospel through our actions, sharing Him by our joy, praising Him for the goodness and beauty of His creation, and witnessing to Him by our love, we must speak His name so that all people may know Him and love Him. May we, like St. Bernardine, boldly proclaim this name of Jesus, the only name by which we may enter into eternal life.”

“When a fire is lit to clear a field, it burns off all the dry and useless weeds and thorns. When the sun rises and darkness is dispelled, robbers, night-prowlers and burglars hide away. So when Paul’s voice was raised to preach the Gospel to the nations, like a great clap of thunder in the sky, his preaching was a blazing fire carrying all before it. It was the sun rising in full glory. Infidelity was consumed by it, false beliefs fled away, and the truth appeared like a great candle lighting the whole world with its brilliant flame.

By word of mouth, by letters, by miracles, and by the example of his own life, Saint Paul bore the name of Jesus wherever he went. He praised the name of Jesus “at all times,” but never more than when “bearing witness to his faith.”

Moreover, the Apostle did indeed carry this name “before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” as a light to enlighten all nations. And this was his cry wherever he journeyed: “The night is passing away, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves honorably as in the day.” Paul himself showed forth the burning and shining-light set upon a candlestick, everywhere proclaiming “Jesus, and Him crucified.”

And so the Church, the bride of Christ strengthened by his testimony, rejoices with the psalmist, singing: “O God from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.” The psalmist exhorts her to do this, as he says: “Sing to the Lord, and bless His name, proclaim His salvation day after day.” And this salvation is JESUS, her savior.”
– from a sermon by Saint Bernadine of Siena

“Bonfires of the Vanities” were held at his sermon sites, where people threw mirrors, high-heeled shoes, perfumes, locks of false hair, cards, dice, chessmen, and other frivolities to be burned. Bernardino enjoined his listeners to abstain from blasphemy, indecent conversation, and games of hazard, and to observe feast days.

Prayer

“Jesus, Name full of glory, grace, love and strength! You are the refuge of those who repent, our banner of warfare in this life, the medicine of souls, the comfort of those who morn, the delight of those who believe, the light of those who preach the true faith, the wages of those who toil, the healing of the sick.

To You our devotion aspires; by You our prayers are received; we delight in contemplating You. O Name of Jesus, You are the glory of all the saints for eternity. Amen.”
-St. Bernardine of Siena

Love,
Matthew

May 1 – St Joseph the Worker, Patron of Men, Husbands, Fathers & the Family

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-“The Dream of St Joseph”, by Anton Raphael Mengs, circa 1773/1774, oil on oak, 114 × 86 cm (44.9 × 33.9 in), Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna, Austria

I think a subtitle of this feast should be “The Physical Labor of the Lord”, to celebrate God’s enshrinement, sanctification, participation in holy work:  muscles, mind, sweat, and the dignity and joy of it.  The Talmud states that if someone has a religious question and the rabbi is unavailable, they should consult the carpenter/mason, one who works on walls, windows, doorways and the like.  Joseph and his foster Son’s trade appears to have had some religious authority associated with it.

In thinking of St Joseph, the first characteristic, most precious, and most relevant to today is his obedience.  He was willingly, lovingly obedient to the will of God, all his life.  He never thought of what he should do instead of what God wanted, and when he learned what God wanted, he did it straight away, without question, hesitation, or guarantee.  Mt 1:24.  He had his uncertainties, his doubts, his concerns, his worries, of real practical necessities, but he trusted, in faith, always, and bent to the will of the Father, even when that was most difficult, all of his life.  St Joseph, Obedient Servant of God, pray for us!

Most privileged, even more than all the priests of Jesus Christ to follow, he held, truly, the flesh & bone, body & blood, warm & youthful human body of God in his arms.  He had the extreme privilege to let God, immediately before him, obedient to Joseph as parent, (Oh! The irony!) know He was loved, by word and deed, to wipe His tears, stroke his hair, rub His back, to tickle Him, to remonstrate with Him, and bring forth a smile when anything else was shown, to encourage Him, always.  Blessed Joseph, Most Privileged of Men, pray for us!

I have a growing and burning, maybe you can tell, passion for and devotion to St Joseph.  I think he is a key to renewal of the Church in the modern world.  I do.  Not some fairy tale character, but a masculine man of action, humble enough to realize he was not God nor entitled to anything; risk-taking, intrepid, resourceful, and obedient to the will of God.  I do.  I love St Joseph.  I do.  St Joseph, Head of the Holy Family, pray for us!

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-by Dr. Taylor Marshall

“Where does Joseph sit in heaven? Is he in the front row? Is there anyone ahead of him?…When I was a brand new Catholic; I think I had been Catholic maybe three or four months, I was in confession and I confessed, you know, maybe having a disagreement with my wife or a fight or something like that, or difficulty with the kids and the priest through the screen said, well, you should have a devotion to St. Joseph, which I knew that, and he said, St. Joseph had a wife and he had a child and he can really help you and inspire you.

I ended up leaving that confession and being like, yeah, but Joseph’s wife was sinless and his son was God,  🙂 so I don’t really see how Joseph helps me out there. So, I’m gonna show you how I kind of passed through that way of thinking and I found Joseph to be so helpful. I’m gonna answer all those questions today. But first, before we answer these questions I’m gonna read a passage from Sacred Scripture. It’s my favorite passage about St. Joseph but it never mentions the word Joseph once. You’ve probably read it or heard it in mass dozens of times and you’ve never thought of Joseph, but I’m gonna suggest to you that it is, in fact, about Joseph.

It’s from the Gospel of Matthew 20:20-29:

“Then came to Jesus the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her two sons adorning and asking something of Him. He said to her, “What whilt thou?” She said to Him, “Say that these my two sons may sit, the one at your right hand and the other at thy left in thy kingdom.” And Jesus answering said, “You do not know what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He said to them, “My chalice indeed you shall drink, but to sit on my right or left hand is not mine to give you, but to them for who it is prepared by my Father.”

And the ten having heard it were moved with indignation against the two brothers. But, Jesus called to them and said, “You know that the princes exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you, but whosoever is great among you let him be your minister and he who will be first among you shall be your servant. Even as the son of man has not come to be ministered unto but to minister and to give his life as a ransom for many.” When they went out from Jericho a great multitude followed Him.”

Okay, so the two brothers and the mother come and they want to sit at the right hand and the left hand of Jesus and He says, you can’t have that spot because it’s been reserved or prepared by my Father in Heaven. So, that means that from eternity past, all the way in the mind of God, God had reserved in Heaven two places for two people. One to sit at the right hand and one to sit at the left hand and it wasn’t for the Apostles, for a different two people.

Now, who sits at the right hand of Jesus? Mary, right? We know that Psalm 44/45:9, it’s in the liturgy…

“The daughters of kings have delighted thee in thy glory. The queen stood on thy right hand in gilded clothing surrounded with variety,” right.

The tradition is, if you see every single Catholic painting and mural all over Europe and the world, the Blessed Mother is on the right hand of Jesus. She’s enthroned on the right hand. It comes from that Psalm; that’s the tradition. Also, in Catholic churches, traditionally, when you’re facing the altar, right, you’ll see that Our Lady is usually on the left hand, and in traditional churches there will be an altar to Our Lady on the left as you’re facing the alter and on the right there’s an altar or a statue to Joseph.

If you think about Jesus being enshrined in the tabernacle on his right hand would be that shrine to Our Lady and on the left would be Joseph, and you can see where I’m going with this. Joseph, we know in scripture that God, the Father, preserved a place on the right and left hand of Jesus Christ and all of us know who’s on the right hand but we never think about that left hand. So, that means that God, the Father, prepared a place on Christ’s left hand in glory forever. So, who gets that spot? Well, it’s pretty obvious, Joseph. In the Catholic tradition it is Joseph. This raises a question. Where does Joseph fit in the Bible? Is he in the Old Testament, is he in the New Testament? He’s right there on the edge. He dies, tradition says, before Jesus died on the cross but he’s there at the nativity of Our Lord so he’s sort of straddling, so where do we place him?  Is he a Saint of the Old Testament like Abraham, Moses, and King David, or is he more of a Saint of the New Testament. Where does he fit? Well, many theologians, Catholic theologians have weighed in on this and they say that Joseph belongs to what’s called the hypostatic order.

So, we’re gonna get a little theological here but don’t worry, this is pretty simple stuff. Christ has two natures. He’s fully God and he’s fully man, so decided at the Council of Chalcedon AD 451…Okay, so he is fully God and fully man. In order for him to be a man He was born of a virgin, our Blessed Mother, Our Lady, right? However, it is necessary in God’s order, the natural order, that children be born in nuclear homes, right, nuclear families, so God saw it fitting that not only would the Son of God be born of the Virgin Mary, He would have to be born to a family.

You can’t just have Mary and the Baby Jesus sleeping outside on park benches, right? They had to be protected. In the first talk today we talked about the role of being a protector of your realm. So, God had to appoint a father figure, a protector, a guardian for Mary, who is the Immaculate Conception, and Jesus Christ, Who is the Son of God.

And so, what this means is that St. Joseph really stands above even the Old and New Testament in this special class, which we call devotionally the Holy Family. The Holy Family. They’re the Old Testament saints, you know, matriarchs, and patriarchs, and they’re the New Testament saints. We all live in the New Testament. The New Testament continues until the end of time, the new covenant, but Jesus, Mary and Joseph stand in a certain sense above it and they are – a priest told me he councils and gives spiritual direction to seminarians and he always reminds the seminarians, he says, when you go into a church, most Catholic churches have the tabernacle and then Mary and Joseph.

He says, always remember that when you’re a priest, when you’re serving in the Church, because it’s not Peter and Paul, it’s Joseph and Mary, and that shows in the Catholic Church the family represented perfectly by the Holy Family has a certain precedence. The priesthood is there to serve and lift up the family, so don’t ever ever be overly impressed with your collar.  You’re there to serve the family.”

“Saint Joseph is a man of great spirit. He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all because he listens to the words of the Living God. He listens in silence. And his heart ceaselessly perseveres in the readiness to accept the Truth contained in the word of the Living God,” -Pope St John Paul II

St Joseph, Most Respectful Lover of Women, pray for us!  St Joseph, Model for all Men, pray for us!  St Joseph, Glorious in Your Gracious Restraint & Self-Control before God and Womanhood, Most Blessed Exemplar of Men, pray for us!

“The Creator of the heavens obeys a carpenter; the God of eternal glory listens to a poor virgin. Has anyone ever witnessed anything comparable to this? Let the philosopher no longer disdain from listening to the common laborer; the wise, to the simple; the educated, to the illiterate; the child of a prince, to a peasant.” -St. Anthony of Padua

Love,
Matthew

May 26 – St Philip Neri, CO, Apostle of Joy & Holy Fools, 1 Cor 1:25

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-“St Philip Neri & the Virgin”, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, between 1739-1740

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-by Br Philip Neri Reese, OP

“The doorbell rang. (anachronism)

Most of the guests had already arrived. Rome’s elite filled a bustling main hall. Very powerful cardinals struggled to hear the very rich men to whom they spoke. The din died down, however, as a very pale butler (anachronism) announced the party’s very newest arrival: A man missing half his beard. “Fr. Philip Neri,” the pallid butler proclaimed.

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According to the people of Rome, the man was a living saint. According to the cultured, cultivated eyes of his onlookers, he was a lunatic. Moreover, there was no mistaking it for an accident. The famed priest had neatly trimmed his beard on one side of his face, and meticulously removed it on the other.

The rest of the night passed awkwardly, especially for the party’s host, to whom the preposterous priest assiduously attached himself until party’s-close. Upon leaving, most of the guests made two resolutions: (1) avoid that priest at all costs, and (2) never attend another party thrown by the host again. At this point you might ask yourself: Why the beard-shaving?

It would be true for me to say that God gave St. Philip Neri the gift to read souls (to see someone’s virtues and vices), and that, when the party’s host had extended him the invitation to come, St. Philip had seen immediately that the man only wanted him there so that the Roman elite would see their host standing beside a reputed saint.

But that would not be the answer.

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St. Philip Neri did not shave off half his beard and attend an A-list party simply to teach a prideful and vain man a lesson (though that it certainly did). He did it to look like a fool.

I imagine for most of us that’s an unsettling answer, but there it is. And St. Philip Neri wasn’t alone. The Church has a rich tradition of “holy fools,” men and women whose intense sanctity comes tied hand-and-foot to their extreme self-abasement. St. Simeon Salos was known to drag a dead dog behind him; St. David the Dendrite lived in a tree for three years; and St. Benedict Joseph Labre spent thirty years in a state of voluntary homelessness, sleeping among the ruins of the Colosseum in Rome.

What do we do with stories like these? What do we do with Saints like these?

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I think we’re supposed to marvel at them. Scripture says that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” and “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (see 1 Cor 1:18-25). Saints such as these give us shocking and abrasive opportunities to believe it. Purely human reason, purely human prudence, cannot comprehend the actions of holy fools. In fact, even for people with the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom (and that includes every Christian in a state of sanctifying grace) it can be tough to make out the divine reason behind the apparent folly. But the holy fools do make clear one thing: God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are his ways our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8).

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St. Philip Neri did a lot of things we can relate to: he gave young people wholesome alternatives to the lascivious entertainment of the carnivals; he invited musicians and composers to offer their art to God; he praised cheerfulness as a far more religious temperament than solemnity. But he also did a lot of things that, on a purely human level, we cannot relate to. And that’s ok.

In fact, it might well be those things that are the most important. The holy fools thought so little of themselves – lived lives of such awe-inspiring humility – that mere human reason cannot comprehend what that would be like.

And praise God for it. Because if we cannot wrap our minds around these holy fools, how much more will God transcend our wildest dreams?”

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“Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life. Therefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.” -Saint Philip Neri , CO

O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, you who trusted Scripture’s promise that the Lord is always at hand and that we need not have anxiety about anything, in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows and lift the burdens from our hearts. We come to you as one whose heart swells with abundant love for God and all creation. Hear us, we pray, especially in this need (make your request here). Keep us safe through your loving intercession, and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St. Philip, transform our lives and bring us peace. Amen.


Prayer to Know and Love Jesus

-by St. Philip Neri

“My Lord Jesus, I want to love You but You cannot trust me. If You do not help me, I will never do any good. I do not know You; I look for You but I do not find You. Come to me, O Lord. If I knew You, I would also know myself. If I have never loved You before, I want to love You truly now. I want to do Your will alone; putting no trust in myself, I hope in You, O Lord. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

May 22 – St Rita of Cascia, (1381-1457), the bitter valley into a place of springs…

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-by Br Joseph Martin Hagan, OP

The life of St. Rita can read like a Shakespearean tragedy. As a young woman, Rita desired to enter the convent and consecrate herself to God alone, but her parents had other ideas. They arranged for Rita to marry a nobleman, Paolo, and she humbly obeyed their wishes. Sadly, her husband was an abusive, violent man who treated Rita with little dignity. Paolo, however, died a sudden death when he was ambushed and stabbed by members of a rival family. Rita was left a widow with two young sons.

At her husband’s funeral, Rita forgave his murderers and pleaded for peace between the feuding families. So strong was her family’s vendetta that she asked God to take her sons’ lives rather than allow them to commit murder. Her prayers were answered rather brutally: both of her sons died of a fatal illness before they could seek vengeance. Rita was now a widow and childless.

Returning to her childhood desire, Rita again sought to enter the local convent of Augustinian nuns; however, the nuns objected to her entrance. Many of the nuns were related to the murderers of Rita’s husband, and they were wary of inviting dissension if they accepted Rita. Before allowing her into the convent, they required the impossible of Rita: bringing peace to the rival families.

By this point in her story, we get the message: Rita, though innocent, had a tough life. Is this what made her a saint? Was her holiness merely a matter of patiently suffering the tragedies of her life? No. Surely suffering is part of every Christian’s journey with the Cross of Christ, but a saint suffers without the usual pessimism of a tragedy.

The life of St. Rita can also read as a song of hope. She met adversity with an anthem of God’s unfailing mercy. Rita did not merely endure her husband; she met his abuse with her love and kindness. She was a mercy to him, and many accounts record that by the time of his death, he had become a good, peaceful man. His violent death came not by his instigation, but by the betrayal of his trusted allies.

Her sons’ premature deaths too were a sort of mercy. No good parent desires their child’s death. And we do not know if Rita’s sons would have grown up to seek violent revenge. But what is worse: the death of the body or of the soul? Our dead bodies will be resurrected, but a dead soul in hell awaits no return. Rita’s prayers potentially saved her boys from murder and from losing their souls by attempting to fulfill their inherited vendetta.

In response to the convent’s initial rejection, Rita worked one of her greatest miracles: bringing peace to a town torn by family feuds. First, she invoked the intercession of St. Augustine, St. Nicholas, and St. John the Baptist. Then, she successfully exhorted her family to accept peace, and subsequently the rival family. For this, she received the title the Peacemaker of Cascia.

Then, as a nun, she committed herself to a life of prayer and penance. She entered into mystical union with the Crucified Christ and received a thorn in her forehead—a suffering born of love. Offering herself to God, her life was a blessing to all of Cascia, to all of the Church. Even unto today, St. Rita is invoked as the saint of the impossible.

This second reading of St. Rita’s life emphasizes an important point. Saints do not just suffer through life, waiting for it to be over. Rather, they raise a song of hope in the midst of life’s suffering. And even more, this song is not a solo but a chorus. St. Rita’s holiness was contagious, bringing others closer to God.

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To rightly praise St. Rita and her love of God, the words of Psalm 84 seem fitting:

“They are happy, whose strength is in you,
in whose hearts are the roads to Zion.
As they go through the Bitter Valley
they make it a place of springs.
The autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They walk with ever growing strength,
they will see the God of gods in Zion.”

By her intercession, may we go through the Bitter Valley of our life and make it a place of springs. May the roads to Heaven be written in our hearts, and may we travel with ever growing strength.

St. Rita, pray for us.

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Strita

Love,
Matthew

May 21 – St Eugene de Mazenod, OMI, (1782-1861), Bishop of Marseille, founder of the Congregation of the Missionaries, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, “A 2nd Paul”

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CHARLES JOSEPH EUGENE DE MAZENOD came into a world that was destined to change very quickly. Born in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France on August 1, 1782, he seemed assured of position and wealth from his family, who were of the minor nobility. However, the turmoil of the French Revolution changed all that forever. When Eugene was just eight years old his family fled France, leaving their possessions behind, and started a long and increasingly difficult eleven year exile.

The Years in Italy

The Mazenod family, political refugees, trailed through a succession of cities in Italy. His father, who had been President of the Court of Accounts, Aids and Finances in Aix, was forced to try his hand at trade to support his family. He proved to be a poor businessman, and as the years went on the family came close to destitution. Eugene studied briefly at the College of Nobles in Turin, but a move to Venice meant the end to formal schooling. A sympathetic priest, Don Bartolo Zinelli, living nearby, undertook to educate the young French emigre. Don Bartolo gave the adolescent Eugene a fundamental education, but with a lasting sense of God and a regimen of piety which was to stay with him always, despite the ups and downs of his life. A further move to Naples, because of financial problems, led to a time of boredom and helplessness. The family moved again, this time to Palermo where, thanks to the kindness of the Duke and Duchess of Cannizzaro, Eugene had his first taste of noble living and found it very much to his liking. He took to himself the title of “Count” de Mazenod, did all the courtly things, and dreamed of a bright future.

Return to France: the Priesthood

In 1802, at the age of 20, Eugene was able to return to his homeland – and all his dreams and illusions were quickly shattered. He was just plain “Citizen” de Mazenod, France was a changed world, his parents had separated, his mother was fighting to get back the family possessions. She was also intent on marrying off Eugene to the richest possible heiress. He sank into depression, seeing little real future for himself. But his natural qualities of concern for others, together with the faith fostered in Venice began to assert themselves. He was deeply affected by the disastrous situation of the French Church, which had been ridiculed, attacked and decimated by the Revolution. A calling to the priesthood began to manifest itself, and Eugene answered that call. Despite opposition from his mother, he entered the seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris, and on December 21, 1811, he was ordained a priest in Amiens.

Apostolic endeavours: Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Returning to Aix-en-Provence, he did not take up a normal parish appointment, but started to exercise his priesthood in the care of the truly spiritually needy-prisoners, youth, servants, country villagers. Often in the face of opposition from the local clergy, Eugene pursued his course. Soon he sought out other equally zealous priests who were prepared to step outside the old, even outmoded, structures. Eugene and his men preached in Provencal, the language of the common people, not in “educated” French. From village to village they went, instructing at the level of the people, spending amazingly long hours in the confessional. In between these parish missions the group joined in an intense community life of prayer, study and fellowship. They called themselves “Missionaries of Provence”. However, so that there would be an assured continuity in the work, Eugene took the bold step of going directly to the Pope and asking that his group be recognized officially as a Religious Congregation of pontifical right. His faith and his persistence paid off-and on February 17, 1826, Pope Leo XII approved the new Congregation, the “Oblates of Mary Immaculate”. Eugene was elected Superior General, and continued to inspire and guide his men for 35 years, until his death. Together with their growing apostolic endeavours-preaching, youth work, care of shrines, prison chaplaincy, confessors, direction of seminaries, parishes – Eugene insisted on deep spiritual formation and a close community life. He was a man who loved Christ with passion and was always ready to take on any apostolate if he saw it answering the needs of the Church. The “glory of God, the good of the Church and the sanctification of souls” were impelling forces for him.

Bishop of Marseilles

The Diocese of Marseilles had been suppressed after the 1802 Concordat, and when it was re-established, Eugene’s aged uncle, Canon Fortune de Mazenod, was named Bishop. He appointed Eugene Vicar General immediately, and most of the difficult work of re-building the Diocese fell to him. Within a few years, in 1832, Eugene himself was named auxiliary bishop. His Episcopal ordination took place in Rome, in defiance of the pretensions of the French Government that it had the right to sanction all such appointments. This caused a bitter diplomatic battle, and Eugene was caught in the middle, with accusations, misunderstandings, threats, and recriminations swirling around him. It was an especially devastating time for him, further complicated by the growing pains of his religious family. Though battered, Eugene steered ahead resolutely, and finally the impasse was broken. Five years later, he was appointed to the See of Marseilles as its Bishop, when Bishop Fortune retired.

A heart as big as the world

While he had founded the Oblates of Mary Immaculate primarily to serve the spiritually needy and deprived of the French countryside, Eugene’s zeal for the Kingdom of God and his devotion to the Church moved the Oblates to the advancing edge of the apostolate. His men ventured into Switzerland, England, Ireland. Because of his zeal, Eugene had been dubbed “a second Paul,” and bishops from the missions came to him asking for Oblates for their expanding mission fields. Eugene responded willingly despite small initial numbers, and sent his men out to Canada, to the United States, to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), to South Africa, to Basutoland (Lesotho). As missionaries in his mold, they fanned out preaching, baptising, caring. They frequently opened up previously uncharted lands, established and manned many new dioceses, and in a multitude of ways they “left nothing undared that the Kingdom of Christ might be advanced.” In the years that followed, the Oblate mission thrust continued, so that today the impulse of Eugene de Mazenod is alive in his men in 68 different countries.

Pastor of his Diocese

During all this ferment of missionary activity, Eugene was an outstanding pastor of the Church of Marseilles-ensuring the best seminary training for his priests, establishing new parishes, building the city’s cathedral and the spectacular Shrine of Notre Dame de la Garde above the city, encouraging his priests to lives of holiness, introducing many Religious Congregations to work in the diocese, leading his fellow Bishops in support of the rights of the Pope. He grew into a towering figure in the French Church. In 1856, Napoleon III appointed him a Senator, and at his death he was the senior bishop of France.

Legacy of a Saint

May 21, 1861, saw Eugene de Mazenod returning to his God, at the age of 79, after a life crowded with achievements, many of them born in suffering. For his religious family and for his diocese, he was a founding and life-giving source: for God and for the Church, he was a faithful and generous son. As he lay dying he left his Oblates a final testament, “Among yourselves-charity, charity, charity: in the world-zeal for souls.” The Church in declaring him a saint on December 3, 1995, crowns these two pivots of his living-love and zeal. His life and his deeds remain for all a window unto God Himself. And that is the greatest gift that Eugene de Mazenod, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, can offer us.

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“I am a priest, a priest of Jesus Christ. That says it all.” – Saint Eugene

“The Oblates [of Mary Immaculate] are the specialists of difficult missions.” – Pope Pius XI

“Go to Marseilles. There is a bishop there whose Congregation is still small, but the man himself has a heart as big as Saint Paul‘s, as big as the world.” – contemporary bishop speaking of Bishop de Mazenod

“Their ambition will be to encompass in their holy desires the immense breadth of the entire world.” – Saint Eugene, speaking of his missionaries; at the time, there were ten of them

“To love the Church is to love Jesus Christ, and vice versa.” – Saint Eugene

“We glorify God in the masterpiece of his power and love…it is the Son whom we honor in the person of his Mother.” – Saint Eugene

“Leave nothing undared for the Kingdom of God.” – Saint Eugene

“Learn who you are in the eyes of God.” – Saint Eugene

“Avoid giving the impression that you act like the Master.”  -St Eugene

“Practice amongst yourselves charity, charity, charity…and zeal for the salvation of souls.” – Saint Eugene to Oblate members as he lay dying

“I find my happiness in pastoral work. It is for this that I am a bishop, and not to write books, still less to pay court to the great, or to waste my time among the rich. It is true…that this is not the way to become a cardinal, but if one could become a saint, would it not be better still?” – Saint Eugene de Mazenod, OMI

“If priests could be formed, afire with zeal for men’s salvation, solidly grounded in virtue – in a word, apostolic men deeply conscious of the need to reform themselves, who would labor with all the resources at their command to convert others – then there would be ample reason to believe that in a short while people who had gone astray might be brought back to the long neglected duties of religion. We pledge ourselves to all the works of zeal that priestly charity can inspire… We must spare no effort to extend the Savior’s Empire and destroy the dominion of hell.” – Saint Eugene de Mazenod, OMI

“Every religious congregation in the Church has a spirit all its own; it is inspired by the Spirit of God to respond to the needs of the Church to work for the salvation of souls. By our particular vocation we are involved with the redemption of humanity… May we, by the sacrifice of our whole being, so cooperate as not to render His redemption fruitless for ourselves and for those we are called upon to evangelize. “– Saint Eugene de Mazenod, OMI

“Servants! Farmhands! Peasants! Poor! Come and learn who you are in the eyes of God. You poor of Jesus Christ, you afflicted, unfortunate suffering, infirm, diseased: all you who are burdened with misery, listen to me! You are the children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, co-heirs of His eternal kingdom, His cherished inheritance. Lift up your minds: you are the children of God. Look through the tatters that cover you. There is an immortal soul within you made to the image of God, a soul redeemed at the price of the very blood of Jesus, more precious in the eyes of God than all the riches and all the kingdoms of this earth. Know your dignity – you even share the Divine Nature – Children of God, Children of the Most High!” – Saint Eugene de Mazenod, OMI

“How should men who want to follow in the footsteps of their divine Master Jesus Christ conduct themselves if they are to win back the many souls who have thrown off his yoke? They must strive to be saints. They must walk courageously along the same paths trodden by so many before them who handed on splendid examples of virtue they must wholly renounce themselves, striving solely for the glory of God, the good of the Church, and the growth and salvation of souls. The Oblates are a Missionary Congregation. They are men set apart for the Gospel, men ready to leave everything to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Their principal service in the Church is to proclaim Christ and his kingdom to the most abandoned. They preach the Gospel among people who have not yet received it. Where the Church is already established, their commitment is to those groups it touches least. The mission of the Oblate is especially to those people whose condition cries out for salvation and for the hope which only Jesus Christ can fully bring. These are the poor with their many faces – they have our preference because of their need Our mission is to proclaim the kingdom of God and seek it before all else. We fulfill this mission in community; and our communities are a sign that in Jesus, God is everything for us. Together we await Christ’s coming in the fullness of his justice so that God may be all in all. The cross of Jesus Christ is central to our mission. Like the apostle Paul, we “preach Christ and him crucified.” If we bear in our body the death of Jesus, it is with the hope that the life of Jesus, too, may be seen in our body. Through the eyes of our crucified Savior, we see the world which he redeemed with his blood, desiring that those in whom he continues to suffer will know also the power of his resurrection. Growing in faith, hope and love, we commit ourselves to be a leaven of the Beatitudes at the heart of the world. Our mission requires that, in a radical way, we follow Jesus who was chaste and poor, and who redeemed mankind by his obedience. That is why, through a gift of the Father, we choose the way of the evangelical counsels.” – extracts from the Rule of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Love,
Matthew

May 10 – St Damien de Veuster, SSCC, (1840-1889) – Priest & Leper, Martyr of Charity, Martyr of Love, Patron of Leprosy, Outcasts, & those with HIV

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Born in Tremelo, Belgium, on January 3, 1840, the seventh child and fourth son of the Flemish corn merchant Joannes Franciscus (“Frans”) De Veuster and his wife Anne-Catherine (“Cato”) Wouters; following in the footsteps of his sisters Eugénie and Pauline (who became nuns) and brother Auguste, who became a priest of the same order, he joined the Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary Fathers, aka Picpus Fathers, in 1860. He was born Joseph and received the name Damien in religious life.

His superiors thought that he was not a good candidate for the priesthood because he lacked education. However, he was not considered unintelligent. Because he learned Latin well from his brother, his superiors decided to allow him to become a priest. During his ecclesiastical studies, he would pray every day before a picture of St. Francis Xavier, SJ, patron of missionaries, to be sent on a mission.  When his brother became ill and could not be sent on a mission to Hawaii, Damien went in his place.

In 1864, he was sent to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he was ordained. For the next nine years he worked in missions on the big island, Hawaii. In 1873, he went to the leper colony on Molokai, after volunteering for the assignment.

Hawaiians who contracted the disease were forcibly deported to Molokai under government sanctioned quarantine.  Dumped like so much trash, to live or to die, inconsequential, as fate may determine.  Damien cared for lepers of all ages, but was particularly concerned about the children segregated in the colony.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infection caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Initially infections are without symptoms and typically remain this way for 5 to as long as 20 years. Symptoms that develop include granulomas of the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes.

This may result in a lack of ability to feel pain and thus loss of parts of extremities due to repeated injuries. Weakness and poor eyesight may also be present. It is believed to be transmitted by respiratory droplets. It is not very contagious, 95% of humans are immune to the disease, but this was not known before recently.

You have to be up close and personal for an extended period of time to contract the disease, such as a priest might be in the care of his flock; the unwanted, the abandoned, the diseased, the repulsive to look at, the impossible to touch.  Literally, “untouchables”.

Kalaupapa and Kalawao, where the leper colonies were located, is on the eastern end of the Kalaupapa peninsula on the island of Molokaʻi. Kalawao County, where the villages are located, is divided from the rest of Molokaʻi by a steep mountain ridge, and even now the only land access to it is by a mule trail. About 8,000 Hawaiians were sent to the Kalaupapa peninsula from 1866 through 1969.

Father Damien announced he was a leper in 1885 and continued to build hospitals, clinics, and churches, and some six hundred coffins.  He dressed ulcers, built homes and furniture, made coffins, and dug graves.  Before his arrival, a hopeless people were descending into a hell of hopelessness, in drunkenness and lewd conduct.  Under his leadership, basic laws were enforced, shacks became painted houses, working farms were organized, and schools were established.

He died on 8am, April 15 , 1889, at the age of 49.

Hawaiian King David Kalākaua bestowed on Damien the honor “Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalākaua”. When Princess Lydia Liliʻuokalani visited the settlement to present the medal, she was reported as having been too distraught and heartbroken to read her speech.

The most well-known treatise against Damien was by a Honolulu Presbyterian, Reverend Charles McEwen Hyde, in a letter dated August 2, 1889, to a fellow pastor, Reverend H. B. Gage; in it, Hyde referred to Father Damien as “a coarse, dirty man” whose leprosy should be attributed to his “carelessness”.

In 1889, Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his family arrived in Hawaii for an extended stay. While there Stevenson, also a Presbyterian, drafted a famous open letter as a rebuttal in defense of Damien.

Prior to writing his letter, dated February 25, 1890, Stevenson stayed on Molokaʻi for eight days and seven nights, during which he kept a diary. In the letter Stevenson answered Hyde’s criticisms point by point. He sought testimony from critical Protestants who knew the man, which he recorded in his diary. The treatise included some extracts, like the following, which upbraided Rev. Hyde for his fault finding:

“But, sir, when we have failed, and another has succeeded; when we have stood by, and another has stepped in; when we sit and grow bulky in our charming mansions, and a plain, uncouth peasant steps into the battle, under the eyes of God, and succors the afflicted, and consoles the dying, and is himself afflicted in his turn, and dies upon the field of honor – the battle cannot be retrieved as your unhappy irritation has suggested. It is a lost battle, and lost for ever. One thing remained to you in your defeat – some rags of common honor; and these you have made haste to cast away.”

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“Not without fear and loathing,” Pope Benedict underlined, “Father Damian made the choice to go on the island of Molokai in the service of lepers who were there, abandoned by all. So he exposed himself to the disease of which they suffered. With them he felt at home. The servant of the Word became a suffering servant, leper with the lepers, during the last four years of his life.”

He continued, “To follow Christ, Father Damian not only left his homeland, but has also staked his health so he, as the word of Jesus announced in today’s Gospel tells us, received eternal life.”

The figure of Father Damian, Benedict XVI added, “teaches us to choose the good fight not those that lead to division, but those that gather us together in unity.”

In Saint Damien’s role as the unofficial patron of those with HIV and AIDS, the world’s only Roman Catholic memorial chapel to those who have died of this disease, at the Église Saint-Pierre-Apôtre in Montreal, Quebec, is consecrated to him.

“I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”
-St Damien de Veuster, SSCC

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POPE FRANCIS' GENERAL AUDIENCE

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Love,
Matthew

May 26 – St Philip Neri, CO, (1515-1595) – Apostle of Rome, “A joyful heart…”

If one had to choose one saint who showed the humorous side of holiness that would be Philip Neri.  “A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one”, he often said.  Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise.   As the Council of Trent was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality.

He was born in Florence on July 22, 1515, the youngest child of Francesco, a lawyer, and his wife Lucrezia da Mosciano, whose family were nobility in the service of the state. Neri was carefully brought up, and received his early teaching from the Dominican friars at San Marco, the famous Dominican monastery in Florence. He was accustomed in later life to ascribe most of his progress to the teaching of two of them, Zenobio de’ Medici and Servanzio Mini.  He showed the impulsiveness and spontaneity of his character from the time he was a boy. In fact one incident almost cost him his life. Seeing a donkey loaded with fruit for market, the little boy had barely formed the thought of jumping on the donkey’s back before he had done it. The donkey, surprised, lost his footing, and donkey, fruit, and boy tumbled into the cellar with the boy winding up on the bottom! Miraculously he was unhurt.

Philip’s own father was not successful financially, and, at the age of 18, Philip was sent to his uncle, Romolo, a wealthy merchant at San Germano, a Neapolitan town near the base of Monte Cassino, to assist him in his business, and with the hope that he might inherit his uncle’s fortune.  He did gain Romolo’s confidence and affection, but soon after coming to San Germano Philip had a conversion. During this time, Philip found a favorite place to pray up in the fissure of a mountain that had been turned into a Dominican chapel. We don’t know anything specific about his conversion but during these hours of prayer he decided to leave worldly success behind and dedicate his life to God.  He chose to relocate to Rome in 1533.

After thanking his uncle, upon arriving in Rome he was the live-in tutor of the sons of a fellow Florentine, Galeotto Caccia, an aristocrat.  He studied philosophy and theology under the Augustinians, until he thought his studies were interfering with his prayer life. He then stopped his studies, threw away his books, and lived as a kind of hermit.

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Night was his special time of prayer. After dark he would go out in the streets, sometimes to churches, but most often into the catacombs of St. Sebastiano to pray. During one of these times of prayer he felt a globe of light enter his mouth and sink into his heart. This experience gave him so much energy to serve God that he went out to work at the hospital of the incurables and starting speaking to others about God, everyone from beggars to bankers.

In 1548 Philip formed a confraternity with other laymen to minister to pilgrims who came to Rome without food or shelter. The spiritual director of the confraternity convinced Philip that he could do even more work as a priest. After receiving instruction from this priest, Philip was ordained in 1551.

At his new home, the church of San Girolamo, he learned to love to hear confessions. Young men especially found in him the wisdom and direction they needed to grow spiritually. But Philip began to realize that these young men needed something more than absolution; they needed guidance during their daily lives. So Philip began to ask the young men to come by in the early afternoon when they would discuss spiritual readings and then stay for prayer in the evening. The numbers of the men who attended these meetings grew rapidly. In order to handle the growth, Philip and a fellow priest, Buonsignore Cacciaguerra, gave a more formal structure to the meetings and built a room called the Oratory to hold them in.

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Philip understood that it wasn’t enough to tell young people not to do something — you had to give them something to do in its place. So at Carnival time, when the worst excesses were encouraged, Philip organized a pilgrimage to the Seven Churches with a picnic accompanied by instrumental music for the mid-day break. After walking twelve miles in one day everyone was too tired to be tempted!

In order to guide his followers, Philip made himself available to everyone at any hour — even at night. He said some of the most devout people were those who had come to him at night. When others complained, Philip answered, “They can chop wood on my back so long as they do not sin.”

Not everyone was happy about this growing group and Philip and Buonsignore were attacked by the priests they lived with. But eventually Philip and his companions were vindicated and went on with their work.

In 1555, the Pope’s Vicar accused Philip of “introducing novelties” and ordered him to stop the meetings of the Oratory. Philip was brokenhearted but obeyed immediately. The Pope only let him start up the Oratory again after the sudden death of his accuser. Despite all the trouble this man had caused, Philip would not let anyone say anything against the man or even imply that his sudden death was a judgment from God.

One church, for Florentines in Rome, had practically forced him to bring the Oratory to their church. But when gossip and accusations started, they began to harass the very people they had begged to have nearby! At that point, Philip decided it would be best for the group to have their own church. They became officially known as the Congregation of the Oratory, made up of secular priests and clerics.

Philip was known to be spontaneous and unpredictable, charming and humorous.

He seemed to sense the different ways to bring people to God. One man came to the Oratory just to make fun of it. Philip wouldn’t let the others throw him out or speak against him. He told them to be patient and eventually the man became a Dominican. On the other hand, when he met a condemned man who refused to listen to any pleas for repentance, Philip didn’t try gentle words, but grabbed the man by the collar and threw him to the ground. The move shocked the criminal into repentance and he made a full confession.

Humility was the most important virtue he tried to teach others and to learn himself. Some of his lessons in humility seem cruel, but they were tinged with humor like practical jokes and were related with gratitude by the people they helped. His lessons always seem to be tailored directly to what the person needed. One member who was later to become a cardinal was too serious and so Philip had him sing the Miserere, Psalm 51, the Psalm of repentance, at a wedding breakfast. When one priest gave a beautiful sermon, Philip ordered him to give the same sermon six times in a row so people would think he only had one sermon.  St Philip Neri was an enemy of solemnity and conventionality. When some of his more pompous penitents made their confession to him he imposed salutary and deflating penances on them, such as walking through the streets of Rome carrying his cat (he was very fond of cats). When a novice showed signs of excessive seriousness, Philip stood on his head in front of him, to make him laugh. When people looked up to him too much, he did something ridiculous so that they should not respect someone who was no wiser – and no less sinful – than they were. In every case there was an excellent point to his pranks: to combat pride, or melancholy, or hero-worship.

Philip preferred spiritual mortification to physical mortification. When one man asked Philip if he could wear a hair shirt, Philip gave him permission — if he wore the hair shirt outside his clothes! The man obeyed and found humility in the jokes and name-calling he received.

There were unexpected benefits to his lessons in humility. Another member, Baronius, wanted to speak at the meetings about hellfire and eternal punishment. Philip commanded him instead to speak of church history. For 27 years Baronius spoke to the Oratory about church history. At the end of that time he published his talks as a widely respected and universally praised books on ecclesiastical history!

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Philip did not escape this spiritual mortification himself. As with others, his own humbling held humor. There are stories of him wearing ridiculous clothes or walking around with half his beard shaved off. The greater his reputation for holiness the sillier he wanted to seem. When some people came from Poland to see the great saint, they found him listening to another priest read to him from joke books.

Philip was very serious about prayer, spending hours in prayer. He was so easily carried away that he refused to preach in public and could not celebrate Mass with others around. But when asked how to pray his answer was, “Be humble and obedient and the Holy Spirit will teach you.”  Amen. Amen.

Philip died in 1595 after a long illness at the age of eighty years.

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– St Philip Neri’s effigy at his tomb in the Chiesa Nuova

We often worry more about what others think than about what God thinks. Our fear of people laughing at us often stops us from trying new things or serving God. Do something today that you are afraid might make you look a little ridiculous. Then reflect on how it makes you feel. Pray about your experience with God.  Or, if you’re like me, just be yourself!  

Prayer:
Saint Philip Neri, we take ourselves far too seriously most of the time. Help us to add humor to our perspective — remembering always that humor is a gift from God. Amen

Cheerfulness is an important part of holiness. St. Philip Neri’s story teaches us that the way to be really happy is to put God and other people first in our lives. If we only think about ourselves we’ll never feel satisfied.  Laughter is not much heard in churches: perhaps that is to be expected… but outside church, Christians should laugh more than anyone else – laugh from sheer joy, that God bothered to make us, and that He continues to love us despite the fools and sinners we are, or, at least, certainly me. Everyone is a sinner, but Christians are sinners redeemed – an outrageous, undeserved rescue and act of Divine Love that we make even less deserved by everything we do. It is too serious a matter to be serious about: all we can reasonably do is rejoice.

Which reminds me of a joke…”Take my…”, no, not that one, “Two Irish guys…”, not that one either.  Why can angels fly?….Because they take themselves so lightly!  

Many people wrongly feel that such an attractive and jocular personality as Philip’s cannot be combined with an intense spirituality. Philip’s life melts our rigid, narrow views of piety. His approach to sanctity was truly catholic, all-embracing and accompanied by a good laugh. Philip always wanted his followers to become not less but more human through their striving for holiness.

Philip Neri prayed, “Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow.”

Love,
Matthew

May 10 – St John of Avila, (1499-1569) – Doctor of the Church, Apostle of Andalusia

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-by Pierre Subleyras (1746)

Saint John of Ávila, called the “Apostle of Andalusia” was a Spanish priest, preacher, scholastic author, and religious mystic.  John was born in Almodóvar del Campo, in the Province of Ciudad Real, of a wealthy and pious family of Jewish converso descent. At the age of fourteen he was sent to the University of Salamanca to study law but returned home after a year, where he spent the next three years in the practice of austere piety.  His sanctity impressed a Franciscan friar journeying through Almodóvar, on whose advice he took up the study of philosophy and theology at Alcalá de Henares, where he was fortunate to have as his teacher the noted Dominican friar, Domingo de Soto. While he was a student his parents died and after his ordination he celebrated his first Mass in the church where they were buried, then he sold the family property and gave the proceeds to the poor.

He saw in the severing of natural ties a vocation to foreign missionary work and prepared to go to Mexico. In 1527, while he was in Seville looking for a favourable opportunity to set out for his new field of labour, his unusually great devotion in celebrating Mass attracted the attention of Hernando de Contreras, a local priest, who mentioned him to the Archbishop of Seville and Inquisitor General, Alonso Manrique de Lara. The archbishop saw in the young cleric a powerful instrument to stir up the faith in Andalusia, recently reclaimed for Spain in the Reconquista by Servant of God Queen Isabel the Catholic and Ferdinand II of Aragon, having expelled the Berbers and Moors from Spain.  After considerable persuasion, Juan was induced to abandon his journey to America.

John’s first sermon was preached on 22 July 1529, and immediately established his reputation. During his nine years of missionary work in Andalusia, crowds packed the churches at all his sermons. However, his strong pleas for reform and his denunciation of the behaviour of the aristocracy later brought him before the office of the Inquisition in Seville. He was charged with exaggerating the dangers of wealth and with closing the gates of heaven to the rich. The charges were refuted and he was declared innocent in 1533. By special invitation of the royal court, he was later appointed to preach a sermon for a major feast day in the Church of the Savior in Seville.  Like other Spanish mystics of the period, including La Beata de Piedrahita, he was suspected several times during his career of belonging to the Alumbrados, deemed a heretical sect.(1)

John of Avila is also remembered as a reformer of clerical life in Spain. He founded several colleges where his disciples dedicated themselves to the teaching of youths. Among the disciples attracted by his preaching and saintly reputation were St. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of God, St. Francis Borgia and the Venerable Louis of Granada.  Of special importance was the University of Baeza established in 1538 by a papal bull of Pope Paul III.  He served as its first rector, and it became a model for seminaries and for the schools of the Jesuits.  He is especially revered by the Jesuits. Their development in Spain is attributed to his friendship and support to the Society of Jesus.

He began his career as apostolic preacher of Andalusia, aged thirty. After nine years he returned to Seville, only to depart for the wider fields of Cordova, Granada, Baeza, Montilla and Zafra. For eighteen years before his death he was the victim of constant illness, the result of the hardships of his apostolate of forty years. He died on 10 May 1569 in the town of Montilla in the Province of Córdoba. He was buried in that city, in the Jesuit Church of the Incarnation, which now serves as the sanctuary to his memory.

In his homily declaring St John of Avila a Doctor of the Church, Pope Benedict said that John of Avila was a “profound expert on the sacred Scriptures, he was gifted with an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church.”

Saint John of Ávila’s works were collected at Madrid in 1618, 1757, 1792 and 1805; a French translation by d’Andilly was published at Paris in 1673; and a German translation by Schermer in six volumes was issued at Regensburg between 1856 and 1881. His best-known works are the “Audi Fili”  one of the best tracts on Christian perfection, and his “Spiritual Letters” to his disciples.

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-lower jaw relic of St John of Avila, currently in Almodovar del Campo

“Turn yourself round like a piece of clay and say to the Lord: I am clay, and you, Lord, the potter. Make of me what you will.” – Saint John of Avila

“Withdraw your heart from the world before God takes your body from it.” – Saint John of Avila

“Your life consists in drawing nearer to God. To do this you must endeavor to detach yourself from visible things and remember that in a short time they will be taken from you.” – Saint John of Avila

“Dear brothers and sisters, I pray God may open your eyes and let you see what hidden treasures he bestows on us in the trials from which the world thinks only to flee. Shame turns into honor when we seek God’s glory. Present affliction become the source of heavenly glory. To those who suffer wounds in fighting his battles God opens his arms in loving, tender friendship. That is why he (Christ) tells us that if we want to join him, we shall travel the way he took. It is surely not right that the Son of God should go his way on the path of shame while the sons of men walk the way of worldly honor: “The disciple is not above his teacher, nor the servant greater than his master.”” – from a letter by Saint John of Avila

Love,
Matthew

(1) The alumbrados (The Illuminated) was a term used to loosely describe practitioners of a mystical form of Christianity in Spain during the 15th-16th centuries. Some alumbrados were only mildly heterodox, but others held views that were clearly heretical. Consequently, they were firmly repressed and became some of the early victims of the Spanish Inquisition.

The historian Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo found the name as early as 1492 (in the form aluminados, 1498), and traced the group to a Gnostic origin. He thought their views were promoted in Spain through influences from Italy.

The alumbrados held that the human soul can reach such a degree of perfection that it can even in the present life contemplate the essence of God and comprehend the mystery of the Trinity. All external worship, they declared, is superfluous, the reception of the sacraments useless, and sin impossible in this state of complete union with God. Persons in this state of impeccability could indulge their sexual desires and commit other sinful acts freely without staining their souls.

In 1525, the Inquisition issued an Edict on the alumbrados in which the Inquisitor General, Alonso Manrique de Lara, explained how the new heresy of alumbradismo was discovered and investigated. The text then gave a numbered list of forty-eight heretical propositions which had emerged from the trials of the alumbrados’ first leaders, Isabella de la Cruz and Pedro Ruiz d Alcaraz. After each proposition were given the grounds on which it was judged heretical. Among the odder of these propositions are that it is a mortal sin to read a book to console one’s soul (No. 31), which the Inquisition’s theologians described as “crazy, erroneous, and even heretical”; and that one sinned mortally every time one loved a son, daughter, or other person, and did not love that person through God (No. 36), which the theologians said was “erroneous and false, and against the common teaching of the saints”. One alumbrado, seeing a girl cross the street, said that “she had sinned, because in that action she had fulfilled her will” (No. 40). The theologians commented: “The foundation of this proposition is heretical, because it seems to state that all action that proceeds from our will is sin.”

A labourer’s daughter known as La Beata de Piedrahita, born in Salamanca, came to the notice of the Inquisition in 1511, by claiming to hold colloquies with Jesus and the Virgin Mary; some high patronage saved her from a rigorous denunciation.  She is often, as The Catholic Encyclopedia cautiously notes, “cited as an early adherent” of the alumbrados’ errors, though “it is not certain that she was guilty of heresy”.  Some recent scholars, like the Dominican historian and theologian Álvaro Huerga, who takes a relatively favorable view of her, question, on chronological and other grounds, the tendency to associate her with that movement, seeing her rather as “pre-alumbrados”.

Henry Charles Lea, in his “A History of the Inquisition in Spain”, mentions, among the more extravagant alumbrados, a priest from Seville named Fernando Méndez, who had acquired a special reputation for sanctity: “he taught his disciples to invoke his intercession, as though he were already a saint in heaven; fragments of his garments were treasured as relics; he gathered a congregation of beatas and, after mass in his oratory, they would strip off their garments and dance with indecent vigor — drunk with the love of God — and, on some of his female penitents, he would impose the penance of lifting their skirts and exposing themselves before him.” Méndez died before the Inquisition could bring him to trial.

Ignatius of Loyola, while studying at Salamanca in 1527, was brought before an ecclesiastical commission on a charge of sympathy with the alumbrados, but escaped with an admonition. Miguel de Molinos was also accused of sympathy owing to some similarities between his book The Spiritual Guide and the teachings of the early alumbrados, Isabella de la Cruz and Pedro Ruiz de Alcaraz.

Their persecution, by Inquisitional standards, was not particularly severe. Those convicted of engaging in the mystical practices and heresy of the alumbrados were not executed, few endured long-term sentences, and most were tried only after they managed to acquire large congregations in Toledo or Salamanca. Not all, however, were so fortunate. In 1529 a congregation of naïve adherents at Toledo was subjected to whippings and imprisonment. Greater rigors followed, and for about a century alleged connection with the alumbrados sent many to the Inquisition, especially at Córdoba. In spite of this determined action, however, the heresy maintained itself until the middle of the 17th century. The connection of later alumbrados, whose practices varied in different places, to the original alumbrados, Isabella de la Cruz and Pedro Ruiz del Alcaraz, is debatable, but the continuing influence of their teachings is not improbable.

The movement (under the name of Illuminés) seems to have reached France from Seville in 1623, and attained some following in Picardy when joined (1634) by Pierce Guerin, curé of Saint-Georges de Roye, whose followers, known as Guerinets, were suppressed in 1635.

A century later, another, more obscure body of Illuminés came to light in the south of France in 1722, and appears to have lingered till 1794, having affinities with those known contemporaneously in the United Kingdom as ‘French Prophets’, an offshoot of the Camisards.

May 28 – Blessed Margaret Pole (1473-1541), Countess of Salisbury, Martyr

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Margaret Pole was born in England in 1473 and was the niece of two English kings. Another king arranged for Margaret to marry Sir Reginald Pole, a friend of the royal family. They had a happy marriage, giving birth to five children: Henry, Reginald, Geoffrey, Arthur, and Ursula.

When Reginald died, the new king, Henry VIII, made Margaret a countess. He appointed her governess of his daughter. Henry VIII called Margaret the “holiest woman in England.”

Untimely and homicidal death was a reality of royal English politics and intrigues before, during, and after the time Margaret lived.  Brutal, harsh, but real.  She was from the Plantagenet royal line, kings who had ruled over England from the 12th to the 15th century.  Her grandfather Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, warrior in the English War of the Roses, which ultimately produced the Tudor line, died on the field of battle.  Her father, George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV, died in the Tower of London in January, 1478.  Many other tragedies happened in Margaret’s family due to the central place her family relations held in English royal lines.

When Henry VIII, once called by Pope Leo X, “Fidei defensor” – Defender of the Faith, due to his authorship of “Defense of the Seven Sacraments”, which was critical of Martin Luther, broke with Rome and appointed himself head of the Anglican Church in England, so he might divorce Queen Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, Margaret told Henry that he was wrong. Margaret had served as Governess of the Princess, eventually Queen, Mary.

The king expelled Margaret from the royal court. He became even angrier when one of Margaret’s sons, Reginald, a cardinal of the Catholic Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury, but who resided outside of England on the European continent, wrote an article denying Henry’s claim to be head of the Church in England. Henry blamed Margaret. He had her arrested.  Margaret was seventy years old by this point.

Margaret was questioned harshly to prove that she was a traitor, but there was no evidence. She had always been faithful to Jesus and the Church. None of this mattered to Henry. Margaret was sentenced to death. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London for two years, suffering cold and neglect, before being executed by beheading on the morning of May 28, 1541.

The following poem was found carved on the wall of her cell:

“For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!”

Her last words were: “Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The character of Lady Salisbury, played by Kate O’Toole in the Showtime series “The Tudors” is loosely inspired by her.

Lord, in Whom there is no change or shadow of alteration, You gave courage to Your servant Blessed Margaret Pole. Grant unto us, we beseech You, through her intercession, the grace to always be steadfast in faith. May we be strengthened to serve You in imitation of the courage of Blessed Margaret. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever. Amen.

Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs, pray for us!

Blessed Margaret Pole, pray for us!

Love,
Matthew

May 3 – Sts Timothy & Maura of Antinoe, (d. 286), Husband & Wife, Martyrs

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I love the story of Sts Timothy & Maura.  I hold a special devotion to them for Kelly & I.  Mara’s name is inspired by the story of Sts Timothy & Maura. They provide an example, firstly, of the devotion to duty, despite the circumstances, a love of Scripture, and the ability to love when we would be justified by human reason in anything but.  They provide an example for all Christians and especially those vowed in the heroic vocation of marriage, that love and forgiveness is possible no matter what, with God’s grace.  I hope and trust you will concur.  (If you’re squeamish, take my word.)

Coming from the Eastern Christian tradition, and so not usually included on the American Roman liturgical calendar, Timothy was a deacon, a lector, and a catechist of the Church in Egypt (then called Kemet) in 286 AD, during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian.

As a deacon, it was traditional that each deacon serve some particular practical function, and Timothy’s was to safeguard the scrolls on which the Scriptures were written.  He was betrayed by an enemy to the local Roman authorities as a Christian, and when the Romans learned of his unique function they demanded the Scriptures from Timothy so they could defile them.  Timothy refused saying it would be like giving up one of his children to them.  Timothy had only recently been married to Maura, a fellow Christian, and a fellow catechist in the community at Penapais.  They had only been married twenty days.

The Roman governor said to Timothy: “You see, don’t you, the instruments prepared for torture?” Timothy replied: “But don’t you see the angels of God, which are strengthening me?”

Because of Timothy’s refusal to hand over the scrolls containing the Scriptures, the Romans tortured him by inserting white hot irons into his ears, which also blinded him.  They then hung him upside down and tied a very heavy stone to his head. The cut off his eyelids.  The Romans then brought Maura in.  The Romans had put a piece of wood in Timothy’s mouth so he could not speak.  At Maura’s request, they removed the wood and Timothy incited her to give witness by her suffering.

The Romans believed any harm done to Maura on Timothy’s behalf, and for his refusal, would be far less bearable to Timothy than any pain inflicted on him directly.  Maura never encouraged Timothy to submit, rather, she encouraged him to be strong.

This enraged the Romans and they pulled all the hair from her head.  They chopped off her fingers.  And they lowered her into boiling water, making Timothy aware all the time of what was going on despite his injuries.

Finally, Timothy and Maura were each crucified at Antinoe on opposite walls facing each other.  They both lingered for nine more days, during which they encouraged one another.  They died of shock, blood loss, and dehydration.

It is reported the Roman governor, Arian, who ordered and oversaw the torture of Timothy & Maura later repented, became a Christian, and suffered martyrdom for Christ, as well.  His feast day is December 14.

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Troparion (liturgical hymn) of Sts Timothy & Maura – Tone 4

Your holy martyrs Timothy and Maura, O Lord,
Through their sufferings have received incorruptible crowns from You, our God.
For having Your strength, they laid low their adversaries,
And shattered the powerless boldness of demons.
Through their intercessions, save our souls!

Kontakion (Tone 4)

You accepted many humiliations,
And deserved to be crowned by God.
Great and praiseworthy Timothy and Maura,
Intercede with the Lord for us
That we may celebrate your most pure memory;
That He may grant peace to our land and people,
For He is a powerful stronghold for the faithful!

Love,
Matthew