Category Archives: May

May 22 – St Rita of Cascia (1381 – 1457), Patroness of Abuse Victims & Impossible/Desperate Situations

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Whoever said life would be easy?  Plus, you know I have a special weakness for married saints, like Kelly.

Born late to Antonio & Amata Lotti in the village of Roccaparen, Umbria, Italy in 1386, from her early youth, Rita visited the Augustinian nuns at Cascia, Italy, and showed interest in a religious life. However, when she was twelve, her parents betrothed her to Paolo Mancini, an ill-tempered, abusive man who worked as town watchman, and who was dragged into the political disputes of the day.

She begged her parents to allow her enter the convent, but they would not relent.  If she married, her parents had the chance of being cared for in their later years by her and her husband’s family.  If she entered the convent, there would be no such support.  Disappointed but obedient, Rita married Mancini when she was 18, and was the mother of twin sons. She put up with Paolo’s physical and verbal abuses for eighteen years before he was ambushed and stabbed to death by his political enemies, although near the end of his life, Rita’s positive influence began to take hold on him. Her sons swore vengeance on the killers of their father, but through the prayers and interventions of Rita, they forgave the offenders.

Upon the deaths of her sons, Rita again felt the call to religious life. However, some of the sisters at the Augustinian monastery were relatives of her husband’s murderers, and she was denied entry for fear of causing dissension. As a condition of being allowed to enter the monastery, Rita was given the seemingly impossible task of reconciling the family of her husband’s murderers with her husband’s own.  Asking for the intervention of Saint John the Baptist, Saint Augustine of Hippo, and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, she managed to bring the warring factions together, not completely, but sufficiently that there was peace, and she was admitted to the monastery of Saint Mary Magdalen at age 36.

Rita lived 40 years in the convent, spending her time in prayer and charity, and working for peace in the region. She was devoted to the Passion, and in response to a prayer to suffer as Christ did, she received a chronic head wound that appeared to have been caused by a crown of thorns, and which bled for 15 years.

Confined to her bed the last four years of her life, eating little more than the Eucharist, teaching and directing the younger sisters. Near the end, she had a visitor from her home town who asked if she’d like anything; Rita’s only request was a rose from her family’s estate. The visitor went to the home, but it being January, knew there was no hope of finding a flower; there, sprouted on an otherwise bare bush, was a single rose blossom.

Rita is well-known as a patron of desperate, seemingly impossible causes and situations. This is because she has been involved in so many stages of life – wife, mother, widow, and nun, she buried her family, helped bring peace to her city, saw her dreams denied and fulfilled – and never lost her faith in God, or her desire to be with Him.  Rita died of tuberculosis on May 22, 1457.

Recently, St. Rita has been referred to as the patron saint of baseball, due to the several references made to her in the Walt Disney movie The Rookie (2002), in which the chances of Dennis Quaid’s character of playing professional baseball is considered a lost cause. This has sparked a small movement in Roman Catholic baseball circles of considering St. Rita the patron saint of the sport: in support of the connection religious medals have been printed with an image of St. Rita on one side and a batter on the other.

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-“St Rita of Cascia”, aka Santa Rita, window, 19th century, Austin, TX, Cathedral of St Mary.

Prayers to St Rita of Cascia

Dear Rita, model Wife and Widow, you yourself suffered in a long illness showing patience out of love for God. Teach us to pray as you did. Many invoke you for help, full of confidence in your intercession. Deign to come now to our aid for the relief and cure of {name of sufferer}. To God, all things are possible; may this healing give glory to the Lord. Amen.

Holy Patroness of those in need, Saint Rita, you were humble, pure and patient. Your pleadings with your divine Spouse are irresistible, so please obtain for me from our risen Jesus the request I make of you: {mention your petition}. Be kind to me for the greater glory of God, and I shall honor you and sing your praises forever. Glorious Saint Rita, you miraculously participated in the sorrowful passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Obtain for me now the grace to suffer with resignation the troubles of this life, and protect me in all my needs. Amen.

Hymn to Saint Rita of Cascia

Come, virgins chaste; pure brides, draw near
Let Earth exult and Heaven hear
The Hymn that grateful accents raise,
Our song of joy in Rita’s praise.

By fast her sinless frame is weak;
Her livid flesh the scourges streak.
In pity for her Savior’s woes,
Her days and even nights are closed.

The thorn-wound on her brow is shown,
The crimson rose in winter blown,
And full-ripe figs on frozen tree
At Rita’s wish the wonders see.

The widowed spouse and wedded wife
The way to heaven see in her life;
The way secure our Rita trod,
In life’s dim day, through paint o God.

Praise to the Father and the Son,
Praise to the Spirit, Three in One;
O grant us grace in heaven to reign
Through Rita’s prayer and life-long pain.

Thou hast signed thy servant Rita
With the sign of thy Love and Passion.

O God! who didst deign to confer on Saint Rita for imitating Thee in love of her enemies, the favor of bearing her heart and brow the marks of Thy Love and Passion, grant we beseech Thee, that through her intercession and merit, we may, pierced by the thorns of compunction, ever contemplate the sufferings of Thy Passion, who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen.

-translation of the hymn of Lauds, office of Saint Rita of Cascia, approved by Decree of S.C.R. 24 November 1900

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Love,
Matthew

May 2 – St Athanasius (293-373 AD), Bishop, Father & Doctor of the Church, Defender of the orthodox Faith

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-St. Athanasius (1883–84), by Carl Rohl-Smith, Frederik’s Church, Copenhagen, Denmark.

In my study of and training in Christology, I have come to learn and to observe nearly every varied interpretation and manipulation, if you will, throughout history has been attempted, offered, and promulgated by heretics as to whom Jesus was and is.  There is a truth and a saying when one studies Church history:  “there are no new heresies”.  This is so true.  That word, heresy, grates on the modern ear.  We much prefer the calm, soothing, comforting, anesthetizing sounds of relativism – contemplation without thought, without challenge.  Peace at any cost, peace in our time.  Thank you, St Neville Chamberlain (Warning:  NOT a real saint!)  This is so as opposed to a more challenging, sobering truth.

The rational mind with integrity cannot accept mutually exclusive truths and rest easy.  The Church may have to deal with heresies for a time, from time to time, hopefully refute and suppress them successfully, but given the mind of man, general ignorance of and training in the theological sciences, our own willfulness and refusal to learn from our forbears in faith who have climbed Himalayan mountains of faith, thought, and life’s experiences, add in the work of the Enemy, and heresies constantly return over time mutated, altered, changed, but still holding onto the core deception.  Bad thinking leads to bad action.  History is replete with examples.

The most difficult conclusion human beings have had to come to, the hardest to hold, and the most embattled throughout human history, is that He was Whom He said He was:  the Son of the Father, co-equal with the Creator and the Holy Spirit in true Trinitarian theology.  I feel this is the most challenging since it begs of us the most difficult questions and challenges us profoundly.  How would we live differently if His divinity were not an article of faith?  But, rather, a daily, moment-by-moment live experience of fact – as we define fact?  How would we live differently if we knew our appointment with Him were not merely a possibility, but an inevitability?  For this reason, I believe this conclusion is the most difficult to which to come and hold because of the profound challenges and questions it poses – too much to bear many would claim.  Hence, the heresies, both ancient and modern, and the human temptation towards them continue.

Arius (250-336 AD) was a bishop from Alexandria, Egypt.  He taught that Jesus did not always exist, but was created by the Father and was of a different substance than the Father, nearly, or actually, implying Jesus was perhaps divine, but not Divine as God is Divine, but also a creature of God, like us, only better.  At the heart of the Arian heresy, if taken to its logical conclusion, was truly to call into question Jesus’ divinity.  At best, a second rate divinity, really.

It is really helpful at this point if one knows a little Greek and understands how one letter, “i”, one iota, literally, can change the entire meaning of a word and generally cause a big fight.  But, I will spare you that for now.  (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists have sometimes been referred to as Arians or Semi-Arians.  Unitarian Universalists deny the Trinity altogether, as well as several other problems.  Gnosticism, which pre-dates Christianity, has been recreated in the modern age as Freemasonry and Scientology.)

Ok, I lied,

homoiousios/ηομο and homoousios/ηομοουσιος The first, the heretical word if inserted into the Creed, means of a “similar essence/substance”.  The second means of the “same essence/substance”.  BIG FIGHT!!!!!  It caused such a huff, the Emperor Constantine ordered a Church council to meet, the Council of Nicea (325 AD), and work it out for the sake of peace in the empire.  Wars have been fought over the words in the Creed, which is why I am always so scandalized when new, creative, modern, “Oh, what the hell.  Let’s use this one today” type creeds get used rather blithely in Christian, especially Catholic worship.  No wonder people, even the ordained, mea culpa, are often confused.  When I teach young people, consistently they present their brains to me as so much theological mush.  I fancy myself a theological personal trainer for the young – tightening their theological core, as my actual personal physical trainer is teaching me to tighten mine.  Ouch!  I am a certified catechist, you know.  St Athanasius, pray for us!

When we recite the Nicene Creed (325 AD), it is the words,”We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father”, think of and thank St Athanasius, and those who held to the orthodox belief of the Trinity despite profound opposition and difficulty.  We have Arius to thank that we are so emphatic, repeating over and over this truth when we pray the Creed, seventeen centuries later.  Arius had trouble with the Trinity.  Granted, that’s a tough one for any Christian, even the most erudite theologians, to wrap their minds around, let alone explain.  Hence the ascription as mystery.  But, mystery as it may be, most Christians do not slip into heresy and lead others to follow because they don’t like it, most.

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-Athanasius’ Shrine (where a portion of his relics are preserved) under St. Mark’s Cathedral, Cairo

Tomb of Zaccaria and Saint Athanasius
-Tomb of Zaccaria and Saint Athanasius

“Even on the cross He did not hide Himself from sight; rather, He made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker. Then, having once let it be seen that it was truly dead, He did not allow that temple of His body to linger long, but forthwith on the third day raised it up, impassible and incorruptible, the pledge and token of His victory.”
— St. Athanasius of Alexandria

“You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.”
-St Athanasius

“Jesus, Whom I know as my Redeemer, cannot be less than God.”
-St Athanasius

Love,
Matthew

May 25 – St Mary Magdalen de Pazzi (1556-1607), Carmelite Mystic & Great Catholic Reformer, “To suffer and not to die”

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“Our Lady of Carmel and Saints”, by Pietro Novelli, 1641, Simon Stock (standing), Angelus of Jerusalem (kneeling), Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Teresa of Avila, Museo Diocesano, Palermo

It would be easy to concentrate on the mystical experiences God gave this saint, rather than on her life. In fact, it would be difficult to do differently, so overwhelming were those gifts from God. The temptation for many modern readers (including the author) would be to see little to identify with in these graces and walk away without seeing more. The other temptation would be to become so fascinated with these stories that one would neglect to dig deeper and learn the real lessons of her life.

But Mary Magdalene de Pazzi is not a saint because she received ecstasies and graces from God. Many have received visions, ecstasies, and miracles without becoming holy. She is a saint because of her response to those gifts — a lifelong struggle to show love and gratitude to the God who gave her those graces.

In fact Mary Magdalene saw her ecstasies as evidence of a great fault in her, not a reward for holiness. She told one fellow sister that God did not give this sister the same graces “because you don’t need them in order to serve him.” In her eyes, God gave these gifts to those who were too weak to become holy otherwise. That Mary Magdalene received these gifts proved, in her mind, how unworthy she was.

Born into one of the wealthiest and most distinguished noble families in Florence on April 2, 1566, the normal course would have been for Catherine de Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort.  Baptized Catherine, she was taught mental prayer when she was nine years old at the request of her mother. Her introduction at this age to this form of prayer which involves half an hour of meditation did not seem to be unusual. And yet today we often believe children incapable of all but the simplest rote prayers.  At twelve years old she experienced her first ecstasy while looking at a sunset which left her trembling and speechless.  She received religious training from the Jesuits.

With this foundation in prayer and in mystical experience, it isn’t surprising that she wanted to enter a contemplative monastery of the Carmelite Order. She chose the monastery of St. Mary’s of the Angels because the nuns took daily Communion, unusual at the time.

In 1583 she had her second mystical experience when the other nuns saw her weeping before the crucifix as she said, “O Love, you are neither known nor loved.”

Mary Magdalene’s life is a contradiction of our instinctive thought that joy only comes from avoiding suffering. A month after being refused early religious profession, she fell deathly ill. Fearing for her life the convent had her professed from a stretcher at the altar. After that she experienced forty days of ecstasies that coexisted with her suffering. Joy from the graces God gave were mixed with agony as her illness grew worse. In one of her experiences Jesus took her heart and hid it in his own, telling her he “would not return it until it is wholly pure and filled with pure love.” She didn’t recover from her illness until told to ask for the intercession of Blessed Mary Bagnesi over three months later.

As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. A severe five-year trial would follow. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, “Admonitions”, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious.

What her experiences and prayer had given her was a familiar, personal relationship with Jesus. Her conversations with Jesus often take on a teasing, bantering tone that shocks those who have a formal, fearful image of God. For example, at the end of her forty days of graces, Jesus offered her a crown of flowers or a crown of thorns. No matter how often she chose the crown of thorns, Jesus kept teasingly pushing the crown of flowers to her. When he accused her, “I called and you didn’t care,” she answered back, “You didn’t call loudly enough” and told him to shout his love.

She learned to regret the insistence on the crown of thorns. We might think it is easy to be holy if God is talking to you every day but few of us could remain on the path with the five year trial that followed her first ecstasies. Before this trial, Jesus told her, “I will take away not the grace but the feeling of grace. Though I will seem to leave you I will be closer to you.” This was easy for her to accept in the midst of ecstasy but, as she said later, she hadn’t experienced it yet. At the age of nineteen she started five years of dryness and desolation in which she was repelled by prayer and tempted by everything. She referred to her heart as a pitch-dark room with only a feeble light shining that only made the darkness deeper. She was so depressed she was found twice close to suicide. All she could do to fight back was to hold onto prayer, penance, and serving others even when it appeared to do no good.

Her lifelong devotion to Pentecost can be easily understood because her trial ended in ecstasy in 1590. At this time she could have asked for any gifts but she wanted two in particular: to look on any neighbor as good and holy without judgment and to always have God’s presence before her.  She dedicated herself to the reform and renewal of the Church.  Her great desire for Church reform was born during this time, after witnessing rays of light from on high in the summer of 1586, showing her the true state of the Church in the era after the Council of Trent.  Like Catherine of Siena, she felt ‘compelled’ to write letters to the Pope, cardinals of the Curia, her archbishop and other Church leaders, encouraging them to work for the renewal of the Church.

Far from enjoying the attention her mystical experiences brought her, she was embarrassed by it. For all her days, she wanted a hidden life and tried everything she could to achieve it. When God commanded her to go barefoot as part of her penance and she could not walk with shoes, she simply cut the soles out of her shoes so no one would see her as different from the other nuns. If she felt an ecstasy coming on, she would hurry to finish her work and go back to her room. She learned to see the notoriety as part of God’s will. When teaching a novice to accept God’s will, she told her, “I wanted a hidden life but, see, God wanted something quite different for me.”

Some still might think it was easy for her to be holy with all the help from God. Yet when she was asked once why she was weeping before the cross, she answered that she had to force herself to do something right that she didn’t want to do. It’s true that when a sister criticized her for acting so different, she thanked her, “May God reward you! You have never spoken truer words!” but she told others it hurt her quite a bit to be nice to someone who insulted her.

Mary Magdalene was no pale, shrinking flower. Her wisdom and love led to her appointment to many important positions at the convent including mistress of novices. She did not hesitate to be blunt in guiding the women under her care when their spiritual life was at stake. When one of the novices asked permission to pretend to be impatient so the other novices would not respect her so much, Mary Magdalene’s answer shook this novice out of this false humility: “What you want to pretend to be, you already are in the eyes of the novices. They don’t respect you nearly as much as you like to think.”

Mary Magdalene’s life offers a great challenge to all those who think that the best penance comes from fasting and physical discomfort. Though she fasted and wore old clothes, she chose the most difficult penance of all by pretending to like the things she didn’t like. Not only is this a penance most of us would shrink from but, by her acting like she enjoyed it, no one knew she was doing this great penance!

In 1604, headaches, paralyzation, and tuberculosis confined her to bed. Her nerves were so sensitive that she could not be touched without agonizing pain. Ever humble, she took the fact that her prayers were not granted as a sure sign that God’s will was being done. For three years she suffered, before dying on May 25, 1607 at the age of forty-one.  Even to this day, her body remains with the Carmelite community in which she lived and is incorrupt, and is under the altar of the Church of the Monastery of St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi in Careggi, Florence.

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-The Ecstasy of Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi” ,1670, by Alessandro Rosi (1627-1707), oil on canvas, 120 x 102 cm. Sold $90,900 (2008, Christie’s), Musée des Beaux-arts, Chambéry, France

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-“The Vision of Santa Maria Maddalena de Pazzi”, 1702,  by Giovanni Sangrestani

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-Carmelite Saints:  Prophet Elijah; Cyril of Constantinople ;Andrew Corsini, Bishop and Peacemaker; Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi; Brocard, the first Superior of Mount Carmel; Thérèse, The Little Flower; Simon Stock; Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Child Jesus; Albert of Sicily; Teresa of Jesus; Berthold, the Second Prior General of the Carmelites; Patriarch Peter Thomas; Angelus of Sicily; John of the Cross; and the Prophet Eliseus.

Prayer ought to be humble, fervent, resigned, persevering, and accompanied with great reverence. One should consider that he stands in the presence of a God, and speaks with a Lord before whom the angels tremble from awe and fear.”
– Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi

“Come, Holy Spirit. Spirit of truth, you are the reward of the saints, the comforter of souls, light in the darkness, riches to the poor, treasure to lovers, food for the hungry, comfort to those who are wandering; to sum up, you are the one in whom all treasures are contained.
Come! As you descended upon Mary that the Word might become flesh, work in us through grace as you worked in her through nature and grace.
Come! Food of every chaste thought, fountain of all mercy, sum of all purity.
Come! Consume in us whatever prevents us from being consumed in You.”
– from the writings of Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

“A little drop of simple obedience is worth a million times more than a whole vase of the choicest contemplation.”
– Saint Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi

“If I thought that by saying a word, however indifferent, for any other end than the love of God, I could become a Seraph, I certainly would not say it.” – Saint Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi

“If I had a voice sufficiently loud and strong to be heard in every part of the world, I would cry out to make this Love known, loved, and honored by all men as the one immeasurable Good.” -St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

“Trials are nothing else but the forge that purifies the soul of all its imperfections.”
-St Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi

“You will be consoled according to the greatness of your sorrow and affliction; the greater the suffering, the greater will be the reward.” –St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

Prayer:
Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, pray that we will make a commitment to seek the presence of God in prayer the way you did. Guide us to see the graces God gives us as gifts not rewards and to respond with gratitude and humility, not pride and selfishness. Amen

“St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi is a symbolic figure of living love that recalls an essential dimension of every Christian life,” said Benedict XVI in 2007. The Pope said this in a letter to the Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of Florence, Italy, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Carmelite mystic’s death.”She did not let herself be conditioned by the world; the world, though Christian, did not satisfy her desire to become ever more similar to her crucified Spouse,” wrote the Holy Father.  “Purified love, which beat so strongly in her heart, opened her to the desire for full conformity with Christ, her Spouse, even unto sharing with him the ‘nudo patire’ [naked suffering] of the cross,” the Pope continued. “The last three years of her life were a true Calvary of sufferings for her.”  Benedict XVI added: “During her life she would ring the bells and exhort her fellow sisters saying: ‘Come to love Love!’  The great mystic from Florence, from her convent and from the Carmelite monasteries that aspire to her, we pray that we may still hear her voice in the entire Church, spreading the proclamation of God’s love for every human creature.”

“In order to understand the greatness of Your divinity, O Lord, I need faith; and in order to accomplish anything, I need hope, for if I did not have hope of possessing You some day, I would not have the strength to labor here below. I no longer desire the things of earth, although I have never hoped in them. I do have a lively hope of obtaining, not the things of earth upon which worldly people usually set their hopes, but only You, my God.

O God, give me a firm hope, for I cannot be saved unless this virtue is firmly rooted in my soul. I need it in order to implore pardon for my sins and to attain my end. What delight hope gives to my soul, making it hope for what it will one day enjoy in heaven, and by permitting it a partial taste here on earth of what it will savor, understand, and possess eternally, which is You, my God” (-St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).

“Lord, already I have suffered and not died, by your grace. Give me always this grace to suffer, to learn how to suffer, to offer up unavoidable suffering as a sweet, fragrant, and perfect, most perfect, oblation to You, most acceptable to You. I do this in faith of You and Your Providence; that whatever Your will for me, is ultimately for my greatest good, and is Your holy will. God give me strength to do your will.” -MPM

Love,
Matthew

May 25 – St Bede the Venerable, (673-735 AD), Doctor of the Church, Father of English History

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He was known as the most learned man of his day, and his writings started the idea of dating this era from the incarnation of Christ. The central theme of Bede’s “Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People)” is of the Church using the power of its spiritual, doctrinal, and cultural unity to stamp out violence and barbarism. Our knowledge of England before the 8th century is mainly the result of Bede’s writing.

It was as a teacher that Bede was supreme. He had no interest in speculation and no desire to be original; his genius was that of one who, with infinite pains, educates himself and transmits not only what he has learned but a deep sense of the value of such knowledge. Of his oral teaching–to which he attached great importance–of course we cannot speak, but his books became standard works of reference in his own lifetime.

His carefulness and sobriety of approach, his pains to be accurate, his obvious orthodoxy, gave to them a unique authority. Bede’s works fall into three well-defined classes. His theological writings consist mainly of a teacher’s commentaries on the Bible, based very largely on the western Fathers and written for the most part in the allegorical manner of Christian tradition. Bede used his knowledge of Greek and displayed what we may think was an innocent vanity in making the most of such Hebrew as he had learned. Yet, despite the lack of originality in his approach, the commentaries of Bede remain even today one of the best means to arrive at the thought of the early Fathers.

His scientific writings consist partly of traditional explanations of natural phenomena, in which the poetic approach of St. Ambrose is sometimes reflected, and partly of treatises on the calendar and the calculation of Easter–a matter of moment, as the Paschal controversy between Saxons and Celts had by no means entirely died down. It was Bede’s popularization of the method of calculating calendar years from the supposed date of our Lord’s birth which more than anything else ensured its universal acceptance in western Christendom.

At the time Bede wrote the Historia Ecclesiastica, there were two common ways of referring to dates. One was to use indictions, which were 15-year cycles, counting from 312 AD. There were three different varieties of indiction, each starting on a different day of the year. The other approach was to use regnal years—the reigning Roman emperor, for example, or the ruler of whichever kingdom was under discussion. This meant that in discussing conflicts between kingdoms, the date would have to be given in the regnal years of all the kings involved. Bede used both these approaches on occasion, but adopted a third method as his main approach to dating: the anno domini method invented by Dionysius Exiguus. Although Bede did not invent this method, his adoption of it, and his promulgation of it in De Temporum Ratione, his work on chronology, is the main reason why it is now so widely used.

His death was as sober and undeterred as was his life. In the early summer of 735, when he was sixty-three, his health began to fail, and he suffered much from asthma. He was, however, at work until the very end. On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he summoned the priests of the monastery, made them little gifts of pepper and incense and begged their prayers. At intervals during the next forty-eight hours, propped up in bed, he dictated to the very last sentence an English rendering of the Gospel of St. John upon which he was engaged at the onset of his illness. Finally, asking to be laid on the floor, he sang the anthem ‘O King of Glory’ from the Office of Ascension Day and so died. It was May 27th, 735.

Prayer to St Bede:

“Careful Historian and Doctor of the Church, lover of God and of truth, you are a natural model for all readers of God’s inspired Word. Move lectors to prepare for public reading by prayerfully pondering the sacred texts and invoking the Holy Spirit. Help them to read in such a way that those who hear may attain learning and edification. Amen.”

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-“St Bede Dictates the Translation of the Gospel of John on his deathbed”, one of four scenes on triptych by David Hewson, 2003, St Bede Catholic Church, Williamsburg, VA

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-St Bede’s tomb, Durham Cathedral

The Last Chapter
-The Last Chapter, by J.D. Penrose, 1902

Love,
Matthew

May 12 – Sts Nereus, Achilleus, & Domitilla, (d. 98 AD), Martyrs

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-by Peter Paul Rubens, 1607

Christian devotion to Nereus & Achilleus goes back to the earliest years of the Church, though almost nothing is known of their lives. They were praetorian soldiers of the Roman army, possibly ordered to persecute Christians, they became Christians and were banished to the island of Terracina, where they were martyred by beheading in 98 AD by order of the Emperor Domitian.  Beheading was befitting Roman citizens, similar to St Paul, as opposed to crucifixion – a much longer suffering death reserved for non-Roman citizens. The bodies of Nereus & Achilleus were buried in a family vault, later known as the cemetery of Domitilla. Excavations by De Rossi in 1896 resulted in the discovery of their empty tomb in the underground church built by Pope Siricius in 390 AD.

Everyday, especially twenty-first century, Christians would first be introduced to Nereus by reading St Paul’s Letter to the Romans 16:15, “Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the holy ones who are with them…”.  It is believed Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla, along with other early Christians in Rome were all baptized by St Peter before his crucifixion in ~64 AD.

Domitilla was a Roman noble woman. Grand-daughter of Emperor Vespasian; niece of Emperors Titus and Domitian. Married to Titus Flavius Clemens, a Roman consul, nephew of Emperor Vespasian, and first cousin of Emperors Titus and Domitian. Banished to the island of Pandataria in the Tyrrhenian Sea, her husband was martyred in 96 AD.

For Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla, they were all martyred together.  Their empty tombs were located and identified in the catacomb of Domitilla, part of her former estate near the Via Ardeatina.

Andrea_di_Bonaiuto._St._Agnes_and_St._Domitilla._1365._Galleria_dell'Accademia,_Florence.
-by Andrea_di_Bonaiuto, “St._Agnes_and_St._Domitilla”,_1365, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, Italy.

Two hundred years after their death, Pope Gregory the Great delivered his 28th homily on the occasion of their feast. “These saints, before whom we are assembled, despised the world and trampled it under their feet when peace, riches and health gave it charms.”

Pope Damasus wrote an epitaph for Nereus and Achilleus in the fourth century. The text is known from travelers who read it while the slab was still entire, but the broken fragments found by De Rossi are sufficient to identify it: “The martyrs Nereus and Achilleus had enrolled themselves in the army and exercised the cruel office of carrying out the orders of the tyrant, being ever ready, through the constraint of fear, to obey his will. O miracle of faith! Suddenly they cease from their fury, they become converted, they fly from the camp of their wicked leader; they throw away their shields, their armor and their blood-stained javelins. Confessing the faith of Christ, they rejoice to bear testimony to its triumph. Learn now from the words of Damasus what great things the glory of Christ can accomplish.”

Basilica of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, an underground altar where the Catacomb Pact was signed at a Mass on Nov. 16, 1965. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho
Basilica of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, an underground altar 

-(please click on the image for greater detail), Basilica Catacombs of St Domitilla, part of her former estate, on the outskirts of Rome, the Eternal City.

The church marks the spot where tradition says Sts Nereus & Achilleus were executed for converting to Christianity. And beneath the altar, and extending through more than 10 miles of tunnels, were the tombs of more than 100,000 Christians from the earliest centuries of the church.

A view inside the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho
A view inside the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho

apse of sts nereus & achilleus
-(please click on the image for greater detail) Santi Nereo e Achilleo is an ancient church dedicated to St Nereus and St Achilleus, 4th century soldier martyrs.

The present church is the result of a restoration by Cesare Cardinal Baronio – historian and titular priest of the church – in 1596-1597/8. The work was done carefully in order to preserve as much as possible of the ancient church and to restore ancient elements that had been lost. Some of the decorations that were added were taken from San Paolo fuori le mura. Sts Nereus and Achilleus are buried beneath the high altar, together with St Flavia Domitilla. Their remains were brought here from the Catacombi di Domitilla, where they had been placed in the underground basilica. The floor in the choir was raised by Baronio in the late 16th century, to create a proper confessio beneath the high altar. The baldachino is from the 16th century, and has columns of African marble.

Cardinal Baronio asked Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) to entrust the church to his order, the Oratorians. They still serve the church.

Love,
Matthew