Category Archives: Saints

St Anselm’s argument for the existence of God


-by Matt Nelson

St. Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence often gets a bad rap, even from many Catholics. For one thing, it can be a difficult argument to understand. Though its premises are rather simple, something about it makes us think we are being tricked. For another thing, we know that eminent authorities like St. Thomas Aquinas have expressed their discontent with the argument.

Nonetheless, I think it is wrong to discard the argument without a second thought. Indeed, I think there is still much of value to be gleaned from it. For simplicity’s sake, here’s a basic sketch of the argument:

  1. God is the greatest conceivable thing.
  2. But if something is only in the mind and not in reality, then a greater thing can be conceived.
  3. So, God cannot only be in the mind.
  4. Therefore, God exists in reality.

In short, the very idea of God necessitates His existence. Thus, the Psalmist is right when he writes, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Whether or not this is a perfect representation of Anselm’s argument, it should serve our purposes today.

I would like to set aside for now the objections against it as an argument for God’s existence, not because it’s not an important question. It is indeed a very important question! But before defending the argument, we have to understand better what Anselm was saying. In fact, unbelievers who point out what they believe to be its weaknesses tend to miss Anselm’s meaning, and thus end up “defeating” a straw man. Engaging in an argument without clarifying meanings is never a good idea.

Christian apologists have long been frustrated to deal with popular skeptics railing against God as something other than what he truly is. Comparisons of God to the tooth fairy or Santa Claus are often flippantly made, particularly among the New Atheist types. Pathetic as such caricatures are, they betray a conception among non-believers that God is a finite creature. But for St. Anselm, that is precisely what God is not.

In an age when religious indifference is rampant and serious contemplation of spiritual things is scarce, St. Anselm’s argument is valuable because it takes on the form of a spiritual exercise.

In reality, God is not a thing at allthings in the sense of “beings in the world” have limitations. They can always be imagined to be greater in some way. But as Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe writes, “God cannot be a thing, an existent among others. It is not possible that God and the universe should add up to make two.”

What he means is that God’s mode of existence is completely different than everything else. Indeed, God is the creator of everything, and keeps it in being every moment it exists. This is the kind of God St. Anselm has in mind when he imagines “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”

The Anselmian proof invites us to do away with the caricatures—a challenger cannot even begin to refute the proof until he seriously entertains the notion of God presented by Anselm. From that starting point, then, all lesser kinds of “divinities”—from Zeus to the Flying Spaghetti Monster—are necessarily ruled out. We must ask the question soberly: what is the greatest conceivable thing? It is certainly not a beast composed of pasta.

There is more than one way to approach the question. We can think about God as unrestricted existence—that is, existence itself. Or in Aristotelian terms, we can think about God as being pure act and no potency—which just means that God is utterly perfect and lacks all possibility of further perfection. Technically (and as St. Thomas affirmed), to think of God as existence itself is probably the best way to think about “what” God is.

But there is another way to think about what it means for God to be, as Anselm put it, “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Let’s think about this in concrete terms. What is greater—a God who loves everyone who loves him back, or a God who loves everyone unconditionally? Clearly the latter, for his love is perfect. Now, such “negative theology” can help us understand what God isn’t, but it proves nothing about whether such a thing exists. Still, it can help to clarify the nature of the thing considered—the first step of serious argumentation.

In his influential book, The God of Faith and Reason, philosopher Robert Sokolowski considers another contrast, one that sheds light on St. Anselm’s meaning of God. The first “god” Sokolowski asks us to consider is one who becomes greater as the result of his creation. In this first case, “god + the world” is greater than the god alone. He contrasts this version with another in which God is so great that his creation adds nothing to his perfection. In the latter case, “God + the world” is not greater than God alone. And clearly, argues Sokolowski, this latter God is a greater conception of God than the former. Indeed, no greater God could be conceived. And there are important implications that follow from this.

One implication is that if God creates but gains nothing for himself by doing so, then it follows that God’s act of creation is completely gratuitous and unsolicited. We—the created—have everything to gain by virtue of the gift of our existence.

So, aside from what it contributes to the debate about God’s existence, St. Anselm’s ontological proof helps us to re-establish who God is and what it means for us to exist. It gets us thinking about the big questions again, for we have been created for our own good by a God who is unlimited in perfection. Our lives, then, should be lived in a way that reflects uncompromising gratitude, humility, and trust in God.

If St. Anselm’s argument fails as a proof for God’s existence, it nonetheless does great service in establishing a firm starting point for determining what it is we are trying to prove in the first place. Moreover, it compels us to think seriously about whether such a grand contention could be true.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 23 – Sts Philip Evans, SJ (1645-1679) & John Lloyd, (1630-1679), Priests & Martyrs


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-linen jacket (~1640), woman’s bodice, in which remains were found at Holywell, please click on the image for greater detail

It’s a mystery that has puzzled researchers for almost 150 years. In 1878, a wooden box was discovered in an attic in the Welsh town of Holywell. It contained two skulls and a cluster of other bones, wrapped in a linen jacket.

Jan Graffius is the curator of the Stonyhurst Collections, an eye-popping assembly of Catholic martyrs’ relics at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, northwest England. She believes that she has finally solved the conundrum.

“The starting point is you look at the evidence in front of you,” she told Catholic News Agency in an interview. “So you have two skulls. One has a hole in the cranium, and many of the bones that are associated with the two skulls show evidence of having been cut with a sharp knife.”

“The immediate premise that you draw from that is that at least one of these two was dismembered after death and that one of the heads was stuck on a spike.”

Acknowledging that the details were “quite graphic,” she continued: “I examined the skull to see whether the hole in the top had been inflicted from the outside in or from the inside out. And the way the bone had been damaged indicated that the force had come from within the skull, within the cranium itself. It had also been pierced by something from inside, like a spike.”

“The clinching argument was that the coccyx [pictured above] — the bone at the base of the spine — had been severed very cleanly. And when you’re hanging, drawing, and quartering, the quartering is literal: you cut the body into pieces. And that indicates to me where you would normally expect the cuts to come from severing the legs from the body.”

A second identifying factor, Graffius said, was where the bones were found. They were uncovered in a house connected to the Jesuit order, where relics of English martyrs were previously discovered.

“So there was an association with an English martyr, or a Welsh martyr, and somebody with a Jesuit association,” she explained.

(Holywell is, in addition, home to St Winefride’s Well, the oldest continually visited pilgrimage site in Britain.)

Graffius said that another clue was that the two skulls were found together, suggesting that the two figures were closely associated.

She consulted Maurice Whitehead and Hannah Thomas, academic experts on the Welsh martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries. That led to the breakthrough.

Philip Evans was playing tennis on July 21, 1679, when he heard that he would be executed the following day. He reportedly received the news in good spirits and asked permission to finish the game in the grounds of the prison where he was being held. Not permitted to do so, he took up a harp back in his prison cell and sang praise to God for calling him to be a martyr.

Evans was born around 34 years earlier in Monmouthshire, southeast Wales. He studied at the English Jesuit College at St Omer in Flanders, entering the Jesuits at the age of 20. In 1675, he returned to his homeland to serve as a missionary: a perilous enterprise following the Welsh Reformation.

Priest hunters tracked Evans down on Dec. 2, 1678. After weeks of solitary confinement at Cardiff Gaol, he was allowed to share a cell with another condemned man, John Lloyd.

Lloyd was older than Evans. Born in Brecon, mid-Wales, he trained for the Catholic priesthood in Valladolid, Spain. He came back to Wales in 1654, knowing that he risked his life by doing so.

Evans and Lloyd were condemned to death at the Spring Assizes in 1679. A jailer allowed them considerable freedom in their final months, with Evans playing the harp as well as engaging in racket sports.

On the evening before his execution, Evans wrote to his younger sister, a nun in Paris.

“Dear Sister,” he said. “I know that you are so well versed in the principles of Christian courage as not to be at all startled when you understand that your loving brother writes this as his last letter unto you, being in a few hours hence to suffer as a priest and consequently for God’s sake. What greater happiness can befall a Christian man?”

Evans was the first to be hanged, drawn, and quartered the next day. Witnesses noted that his executioners showed unusual aggression. At executions of groups of Catholic priests, the first killing was often especially savage, in an attempt to persuade those waiting to recant. But Lloyd held fast to the faith to the end.

Graffius said that the experts she consulted suggested that the bones possibly belonged to the two Welsh priests.

“They both said, ‘Look, this must be Evans and Lloyd because they were very closely associated in life.’ They spent their last six months or so together in prison. They were executed at the same time. They were buried, or disposed of, at the same time, and they are always spoken of as a pair, if you like, because of the close friendship they had during life.”

“So it makes perfect logical and historical sense for these two bones of these very closely associated men to have been rescued together, and secreted together.”

The story of the bones’ identification is told in an online exhibition, “‘How bleedeth burning love’: British Jesuit Province’s Relics of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales,” inspired by the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

The exhibition was originally planned as a physical event marking the anniversary of the canonization by Pope Paul VI on Oct. 25, 1970. But the coronavirus crisis forced the organizers to change their plans, offering instead an audio and visual experience to internet users around the world.

The exhibition describes the discovery of the bones at Holywell as well the lives of Evans and Lloyd, who were among the 40 martyrs canonized in 1970.

It also features relics of the celebrated Jesuit martyrs St. Edmund Campion, St. Robert Southwell, and Blessed Edward Oldcorne, as well as two hats, a crucifix, and part of a hair shirt belonging to St. Thomas More.

Graffius said that she was “just thrilled” when she drew the evidence together and connected the Holywell bones to Evans and Lloyd.

“To be able to say with a good degree of confidence, ‘this is who they are,’ is very exciting,” she said.


-St Philip Evans, SJ


-St Philip Evans, SJ


-17th century chalice believed to have belonged to St Philip Evans, SJ


-carving of St Philip Evans, SJ with his harp

Philip Evans was born in Monmouth in 1645, was educated at Jesuit College of St. Omer (now in France), joined the Society of Jesus in Watten on 7 September 1665, and was ordained at Liège (now in Belgium) and sent to South Wales as a missionary in 1675.

He worked in Wales for four years, and despite the official anti-Catholic policy no action was taken against him. When the Oates’ scare swept the country both Lloyd and Evans were caught up in the aftermath. In November 1678 John Arnold, of Llanvihangel Court near Abergavenny, a justice of the peace and a staunch Calvinist and hunter of priests, offered a reward of an additional £200 (equivalent to £30,000 in 2019) for his arrest.  The normal price for a Jesuit was £50.

Despite the manifest dangers Father Evans steadfastly refused to leave his flock. He was arrested at the home of a Mr Christopher Turberville at Sker, Glamorgan, on 4 December 1678. Ironically the posse which arrested him is said to have been led by Turberville’s brother, the notorious priest-taker Edward Turberville.

Father John Lloyd, a Welshman and a secular priest (a priest not associated with any religious order), was a Breconshire man. He was educated in Ghent (now in Belgium),[citation needed] and from 1649 at the English College, Valladolid, Spain. He took the ‘missionary oath’ on 16 October 1649 to participate in the English Mission. Sent to Wales in 1654 to minister to covert Catholics, he lived his vocation while constantly on the run for 24 years. He was arrested at Mr Turberville’s house at Penlline, Glamorgan, on 20 November 1678, and imprisoned in Cardiff Gaol. There he was joined by the Jesuit, Philip Evans.

They waited five months before going to trial because the prosecution could not find witnesses to testify that they were indeed priests. Eventually a woman and her daughter said that they had received the sacraments from the Jesuit, which was true. Both priests were brought to trial in Cardiff on Monday, 5 May 1679. Neither was charged with being associated with the plot concocted by Oates. Nonetheless, they were tried for being priests and coming to England and Wales contrary to the provisions of Jesuits, etc. Act 1584, and were declared guilty of treason for exercising their priesthood.

The executions took so long to be scheduled that it began to appear that they might not take place. The priests were allowed a good deal of liberty, even to leaving the prison for recreation. The executions took place in Pwllhalog, near Cardiff, on 22 July 1679. Two plaques mark the site at what is now the junction of Crwys Road and Richmond Road in Roath, Cardiff, still known as “Death Junction”.

Philip Evans was the first to die. When Evans mounted the ladder at the gallows, he said, “This is the best pulpit a man can have to preach in, therefore, I can not forbear to tell you again that I die for God and religion’s sake. “He addressed the gathering in both Welsh and English saying, ‘Adieu, Father Lloyd! Though only for a little time, for we shall soon meet again’. John Lloyd spoke very briefly saying, “My fellow sufferer has declared the cause of our death, therefore I need not repeat it. Besides, I never was a good speaker in my life. I shall only say that I die in the true Catholic and apostolic faith, according to these words in the Creed, I believe in the holy Catholic Church; and with those three virtues: faith, hope and charity”.


-plaque at Death Junction

“Archbishop George Stack marked the 50th anniversary of the Canonisation of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI by holding Mass in the stark and grim bare stone cell at Cardiff Castle where two of these Martyrs were held before their execution on 22 July 1679.

The Archbishop and pilgrims then carried statues of Saint Phillip Evans and Saint John Lloyd to the site of their execution, then called the Gallows Field, and situated outside the Cardiff walls. It is now a busy road junction but the spot is marked by a plaque on the wall of the NatWest bank.

Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyrs
Saint Philip Evans and Saint John Lloyd
triumphed over suffering and were faithful even to death:
Grant us, who now remember them in thanksgiving,
to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world,
that we may receive with them the crown of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Mar 19 – St Joseph “dream, service, fidelity”


-by Giovanni Gasparro, “Chaste Heart of St. Joseph”, 2013, Basilica of St. Joseph the craftsman (Ex San Biagio d’Amiternum, XIII century), L’Aquila, Italy

“He did not do astonishing things, he had no unique charisms, nor did he appear special in the eyes of those who met him. He was not famous or even noteworthy: the Gospels do not report even a single word of his. Still, through his ordinary life, he accomplished something extraordinary in the eyes of God.

God looks on the heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7), and in Saint Joseph he recognized the heart of a father, able to give and generate life in the midst of daily routines.  Saint Joseph comes to meet us in his gentle way, as one of “the saints next door”. At the same time, his strong witness can guide us on the journey.

Saint Joseph suggests to us three key words for each individual’s vocation. The first is dream. Everyone dreams of finding fulfillment in life. We rightly nurture great hopes, lofty aspirations that ephemeral goals – like success, money and entertainment – cannot satisfy. If we were to ask people to express in one word their life’s dream, it would not be difficult to imagine the answer: “to be loved”. It is love that gives meaning to life, because it reveals life’s mystery. Indeed, we only have life if we give it; we truly possess it only if we generously give it away. Saint Joseph has much to tell us in this regard, because, through the dreams that God inspired in him, he made of his life a gift.

The Gospels tell us of four dreams (cf. Mt 1:20; 2:13.19.22). They were calls from God, but they were not easy to accept. After each dream, Joseph had to change his plans and take a risk, sacrificing his own plans in order to follow the mysterious designs of God, whom he trusted completely. We may ask ourselves, “Why put so much trust in a dream in the night?” Although a dream was considered very important in ancient times, it was still a small thing in the face of the concrete reality of life. Yet Saint Joseph let himself be guided by his dreams without hesitation. Why? Because his heart was directed to God; it was already inclined towards him. A small indication was enough for his watchful “inner ear” to recognize God’s voice. This applies also to our calling: God does not like to reveal himself in a spectacular way, pressuring our freedom. He conveys his plans to us with gentleness. He does not overwhelm us with dazzling visions but quietly speaks in the depths of our heart, drawing near to us and speaking to us through our thoughts and feelings. In this way, as he did with Saint Joseph, he sets before us profound and unexpected horizons.

Indeed, Joseph’s dreams led him into experiences he would never have imagined. The first of these upended his betrothal, but made him the father of the Messiah; the second caused him to flee to Egypt, but saved the life of his family. After the third, which foretold his return to his native land, a fourth dream made him change plans once again, bringing him to Nazareth, the place where Jesus would begin his preaching of the Kingdom of God. Amid all these upheavals, he found the courage to follow God’s will. So too in a vocation: God’s call always urges us to take a first step, to give ourselves, to press forward. There can be no faith without risk. Only by abandoning ourselves confidently to grace, setting aside our own programmes and comforts, can we truly say “yes” to God. And every “yes” bears fruit because it becomes part of a larger design, of which we glimpse only details, but which the divine Artist knows and carries out, making of every life a masterpiece. In this regard, Saint Joseph is an outstanding example of acceptance of God’s plans. Yet his was an active acceptance: never reluctant or resigned. Joseph was “certainly not passively resigned, but courageously and firmly proactive” (Patris Corde, 4). May he help everyone, especially young people who are discerning, to make God’s dreams for them come true. May he inspire in them the courage to say “yes” to the Lord who always surprises and never disappoints.

A second word marks the journey of Saint Joseph and that of vocation: service. The Gospels show how Joseph lived entirely for others and never for himself. The holy people of God invoke him as the most chaste spouse, based on his ability to love unreservedly. By freeing love from all possessiveness, he became open to an even more fruitful service. His loving care has spanned generations; his attentive guardianship has made him patron of the Church. As one who knew how to embody the meaning of self-giving in life, Joseph is also the patron of a happy death. His service and sacrifices were only possible, however, because they were sustained by a greater love: “Every true vocation is born of the gift of oneself, which is the fruit of mature sacrifice. The priesthood and consecrated life likewise require this kind of maturity. Whatever our vocation, whether to marriage, celibacy or virginity, our gift of self will not come to fulfilment if it stops at sacrifice; were that the case, instead of becoming a sign of the beauty and joy of love, the gift of self would risk being an expression of unhappiness, sadness and frustration” (ibid., 7).

For Saint Joseph, service – as a concrete expression of the gift of self – did not remain simply a high ideal, but became a rule for daily life. He strove to find and prepare a place where Jesus could be born; he did his utmost to protect him from Herod’s wrath by arranging a hasty journey into Egypt; he immediately returned to Jerusalem when Jesus was lost; he supported his family by his work, even in a foreign land. In short, he adapted to different circumstances with the attitude of those who do not grow discouraged when life does not turn out as they wished; he showed the willingness typical of those who live to serve. In this way, Joseph welcomed life’s frequent and often unexpected journeys: from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, then to Egypt and again to Nazareth, and every year to Jerusalem. Each time he was willing to face new circumstances without complaining, ever ready to give a hand to help resolve situations. We could say that this was the outstretched hand of our heavenly Father reaching out to his Son on earth. Joseph cannot fail to be a model for all vocations, called to be the ever-active hands of the Father, outstretched to his children.

I like to think, then, of Saint Joseph, the protector of Jesus and of the Church.  In fact, from his willingness to serve comes his concern to protect. The Gospel tells us that “Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night” (Mt 2:14), thus revealing his prompt concern for the good of his family. He wasted no time fretting over things he could not control, in order to give full attention to those entrusted to his care. Such thoughtful concern is the sign of a true vocation, the testimony of a life touched by the love of God. What a beautiful example of Christian life we give when we refuse to pursue our ambitions or indulge in our illusions, but instead care for what the Lord has entrusted to us through the Church! God then pours out his Spirit and creativity upon us; he works wonders in us, as he did in Joseph.

Together with God’s call, which makes our greatest dreams come true, and our response, which is made up of generous service and attentive care, there is a third characteristic of Saint Joseph’s daily life and our Christian vocation, namely fidelity. Joseph is the “righteous man” (Mt 1:19) who daily perseveres in quietly serving God and his plans. At a particularly difficult moment in his life, he thoughtfully considered what to do (cf. v. 20). He did not let himself be hastily pressured. He did not yield to the temptation to act rashly, simply following his instincts or living for the moment. Instead, he pondered things patiently. He knew that success in life is built on constant fidelity to important decisions. This was reflected in his perseverance in plying the trade of a humble carpenter (cf. Mt 13:55), a quiet perseverance that made no news in his own time, yet has inspired the daily lives of countless fathers, labourers and Christians ever since. For a vocation – like life itself – matures only through daily fidelity.

How is such fidelity nurtured? In the light of God’s own faithfulness. The first words that Saint Joseph heard in a dream were an invitation not to be afraid, because God remains ever faithful to his promises: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid” (Mt 1:20). Do not be afraid: these words the Lord also addresses to you, dear sister, and to you, dear brother, whenever you feel that, even amid uncertainty and hesitation, you can no longer delay your desire to give your life to him. He repeats these words when, perhaps amid trials and misunderstandings, you seek to follow his will every day, wherever you find yourself. They are words you will hear anew, at every step of your vocation, as you return to your first love. They are a refrain accompanying all those who – like Saint Joseph – say yes to God with their lives, through their fidelity each day.

This fidelity is the secret of joy. A hymn in the liturgy speaks of the “transparent joy” present in the home of Nazareth. It the joy of simplicity, the joy experienced daily by those who care for what truly matters: faithful closeness to God and to our neighbour.”

Rome, from Saint John Lateran, 19 March 2021, Feast of Saint Joseph

Francis

Patris corde

“…In our own lives, acceptance and welcome can be an expression of the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude. Only the Lord can give us the strength needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments.

We need to set aside all anger and disappointment, and to embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation but with hope and courage.

In this way, we become open to a deeper meaning. It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed.  Christian realism, which rejects nothing that exists.

Reality, in its mysterious and irreducible complexity, is the bearer of existential meaning, with all its lights and shadows.”

The pope warned that we should not think of believing as “finding facile and comforting solutions. The faith Christ taught us is what we see in Saint Joseph. He did not look for shortcuts, but confronted reality with open eyes and accepted personal responsibility for it.

Joseph’s attitude encourages us to accept and welcome others as they are, without exception, and to show special concern for the weak, for God chooses what is weak (cf. 1 Cor 1:27).

The Lord is the “Father of orphans and protector of widows” (Ps 68:6), Who commands us to love the stranger in our midst.

APOSTOLIC LETTER
PATRIS CORDE
OF THE HOLY FATHER 
FRANCIS
ON THE 150th ANNIVERSARY
OF THE PROCLAMATION OF SAINT JOSEPH
 AS PATRON OF THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH

Given in Rome, at Saint John Lateran, on 8 December, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the year 2020, the eighth of my Pontificate.”

Prayer for the Sorrows of St Joseph

I can’t help but notice the scars on your heart, how you suffered with love. You suffered darkness and confusion when Mary was found with child. You suffered the sacrifice of your flesh as you lovingly offered up the absence of bodily intimacy in marriage. You suffered a sword in your heart, with Mary, when Simeon foretold the Passion of your Son. You suffered stress and uncertainty when you had to escape with your family to Egypt and live as an immigrant. You suffered crushing anxiety when your 12-year-old Son was lost for three days. You daily suffered fatigue and bodily aches from your manual labor. Worst of all, your fatherly heart grieved at knowing that you could not be there for Jesus and Mary when their darkest hour would one day come.

St. Joseph, thank you for what you suffered in God’s service, in union with your Son, for my salvation. I love you, St. Joseph. Thank you for your yes. Now, please help me to suffer with love as you did. When I suffer, help me not to complain. Help me not to forget love. Help me not to forget others. Dear St. Joseph, through my suffering, watch over my poor heart: May it not harden but rather become more merciful. Help me to remember all God’s children who are suffering in the world, and help me to offer my suffering for them and for the good of the Church. I am counting on you, St. Joseph. I know you will be with me, helping me to suffer with love.

St. Joseph, who suffered with love,
 please help me also to suffer with a love like yours.”

Love,
Matthew

Aug 27 – Servant of God Fr. Igor Aleksandrovich Akulov (Epiphany, Epiphanius), (1897-1937) – Priest, Martyr, Victim of Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge

Fr. Epiphany was born 13 April 1897, Novo-Nikitskaya, Korchevsky County, province of Tver and was executed on 27 August 1937, Leningrad. He was a Russian orthodox monk and priest of the Russian Catholic Church, and a victim of Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge.

Igor Aleksandrovich Akulov was born into a family of orthodox peasant farmers. He graduated from Technical High School (2009). In 1918-1920 worked as a telephone clerk at the Moscow – Saint Petersburg Railway. During the Russian Civil War, he was mobilized and served in the Red Army as a noncombatant. From 1920 he became a postulant at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra and studied at the Petrograd Theological Institute (1920–1922). On 2 July 1921 he was tonsured a Russian Orthodox monk with the name of Brother Epiphany.

After meeting with Exarch Leonid Fyodorov, and under his influence Brother Epiphany Akulov began attending Eastern Rite Catholic Liturgies, and in the summer of 1922 was received into the Russian Catholic Church. In 1921, he was ordained as an Eastern Catholic priest by Archbishop Jan Cieplak. After August 1922 he was the Pastor of the Byzantine Catholic Church of the Descent of the Holy Ghost in Petrograd. He also served in the Latin parish of St. Boniface. According to Leonid Fedorov:

By the infinite mercy of God, and there has not left us, sent us a young priest-monk Epiphanius. He came to us in the midst of the struggle for the Church, but was not scared and did not retreat. He was not touched by Protestantism and rationalism. He serves well…”

In 1923, after the closure of the church, he secretly served at an apartment.  23 November 1923 he was arrested. After the arrests of other priests and their parishioners (during which he was not in Petrograd), he went to the police station and claimed to be a priest and Catholic. He was accused of the Catholic counter-revolutionary organization.  19 May 1924 was sentenced to 10 years in prison, was in political prison near the Irkutsk.  While Fr. Epiphanius was imprisoned, he corresponded with his elderly mother. In his letters, he tried to persuade her to remain as a steadfast Catholic. In 1927 released early and sent into exile. In 1933 he was freed from exile, he served in various churches in St. Petersburg.

In 1935 Akulov was arrested again for a short time. 26 July 1937 he was arrested and on Aug. 25 he was sentenced to death and executed on August 27. He was buried at Levashovo Mass Grave in St. Petersburg, a desolate area near the city.

O God Almighty, Your Son suffered on the Cross and died for the salvation of people.  Imitating Him, Your Servant Fr. Epiphany Akulov loved You from the bottom of his heart, served You faithfully during the persecutions, and devoted his life to the Church. Make him known in the assembly of Your blessed so that the example of his faithfulness and love would shine before the whole world. I pray to You through his intercession, hear my request ………………through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The prayer has to be used in private, as well as in public, out of the Holy Mass.
+ Archbishop Thaddeus Kondrusiewich, St. Petersburg 05.04.2004
Postulator asks to inform about the graces received through the mediation of the Servant of God.
Address: Fr. Bronislav Chaplicki, 1st Krasnoarmyskaya, D.11, 198005, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 23 – Servant of God (Anna Ivanovna Abrikosova) Mother Catherine of Siena, OPL, (1882-1936) – Victim of Stalin’s concentration camps

Anna Ivanovna Abrikosova (Russian: Анна Ивановна Абрикосова; 23 January 1882 – 23 July 1936), later known as Mother Catherine of Siena, O.P. (Russian: Екатери́на Сие́нская or Ekaterina Sienskaya), was a Russian Greek-Catholic religious sister, literary translator, and victim of Joseph Stalin’s concentration camps. She was also the foundress of a Byzantine Catholic community of the Third Order of St. Dominic.  She has gained wide attention, even among secular historians of Soviet repression. In an anthology of women’s memoirs from the GULAG, historian Veronica Shapovalova describes Anna Abrikosova as, “a woman of remarkable erudition and strength of will”, who, “managed to organize the sisters in such a way that even after their arrest they continued their work.” She is also mentioned by name in the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The Russian Greek Catholic Church (Russian: Российская греко-католическая церковь, Rossiyskaya greko-katolicheskaya tserkov; Latin: Ecclesiae Graecae Catholico Russica), Russian Byzantine Catholic Church or simply Russian Catholic Church, is a sui iuris Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic jurisdiction of the worldwide Catholic Church. Historically, it represents the first reunion of members of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Roman Catholic Church. It is now in full communion with and subject to the authority of the Pope of Rome as defined by Eastern canon law.

Russian Catholics historically had their own episcopal hierarchy in the Russian Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of Russia and the Russian Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of Harbin, China. However, these offices are currently vacant. Their few parishes are served by priests ordained in other the Eastern Catholic Churches, former Eastern Orthodox priests, and Roman Catholic priests with bi-ritual faculties. The Russian Greek Catholic Church is currently led by Bishop Joseph Werth as Ordinary.

Early life

Anna Ivanovna Abrikosova was born on 23 January 1882 in Kitaigorod, Moscow, Russian Empire, into a wealthy family of factory owners and philanthropists, who were the official suppliers of chocolate confections to the Russian Imperial Court. Her grandfather was the industrialist Aleksei Ivanovich Abrikosov. Her father, Ivan Alekseievich Abrikosov, was expected to take over the family firm until his premature death from tuberculosis. Her brothers included Tsarist diplomat Dmitrii Abrikosov and Alexei Ivanovich Abrikosov, the doctor who embalmed Vladimir Lenin.

Although the younger members of the family rarely attended Divine Liturgy, the Abrikosovs regarded themselves as pillars of the Russian Orthodox Church. Anna’s parents died early: her mother while giving birth to her, and her father ten days later, of tuberculosis. Anna and her four brothers were raised in the house and provincial estate of her uncle, Nikolai Alekseevich Abrikosov.

The memoirs of her brother Dmitrii “describes their childhood as carefree and joyous” and writes that their British governess “was quite shocked at the close relationship between parents and children.” She used to say that in England, “children were seen and not heard.”

Desiring to be a teacher, Anna graduated with Gold Medal Grade from the First Women’s Lyceum in Moscow in 1899. She then entered a teacher’s college, where the student body ostracized and bullied her for being from a wealthy family.

She later recalled, “Every day as I went into the room the girls would divide up the passage and stand aside not to brush me as I passed because they hated me as one of the privileged class.”

After graduating, she briefly taught at a Russian Orthodox parochial school but was forced to leave after the priest threatened to denounce her to the Okhrana for teaching the students that Hell does not exist. Although heartbroken Anna then decided to pursue an old dream of attending Girton College, the all-girls adjunct to Cambridge University. While studying history from 1901-1903, Anna befriended Lady Dorothy Georgiana Howard, the daughter of the 9th Earl and “Radical Countess” of Carlisle. Lady Dorothy’s letters to her mother remain the best source for Anna’s college days. She ultimately returned to Russia without a degree and married her first cousin, Vladimir Abrikosov.

Catholicism

The Abrikosovs spent the next decade traveling in the Kingdom of Italy, Switzerland and France.

According to Father Cyril Korolevsky:

“While traveling, she studied a great deal. She… read a number of Catholic books. She particularly liked the Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena and began to doubt official Orthodoxy more and more. Finally, she approached the parish priest of the large, aristocratic Church of the Madeleine in Paris, Abbé Maurice Rivière, who later became Bishop of Périgueux. He instructed and received her into the Catholic Church on 20 December 1908. Amazingly, especially at that time, he informed her that even though she had been received with the Latin Ritual, she would always canonically belong to the Greek-Catholic Church. She went on reading and came to prefer the Dominican spirituality and to enjoy Lacordaire’s biography of Saint Dominic… She never stopped thinking of Russia, but like many other people, she thought that only the Roman Catholic priests were able to work with Russian souls. Little by little, she won her husband over to her religious convictions. On 21 December 1909, Vladimir was also received into the Catholic Church. They both thought they would stay abroad, where they had full freedom of religion and… a vague plan to join some monastery or semi-monastic community. Since they knew that according to the canons they were Greek-Catholics, they petitioned Pius X through a Roman prelate for permission to become Roman Catholics — they considered this a mere formality. To their great surprise the Pope refused outright… and reminded them of the provisions of Orientalium dignitas. They had just received this answer when a telegram summoned them to Moscow for family reasons.”

The couple returned to Russia in 1910. Upon their return, the Abrikosovs found a group of Dominican tertiaries which had been established earlier by one Natalia Rozanova. They were received into the Third Order of St. Dominic by Friar Albert Libercier, O.P., of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Louis in Moscow. On 19 May 1917, Vladimir was ordained to the priesthood by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. With her husband now a priest, according to Catholic custom, Anna was free to take monastic vows. She took vows as a Dominican Sister, assuming her religious name at that time, and founded a Greek-Catholic religious congregation of the Order there in Moscow. Several of the women among the secular tertiaries joined her in this commitment. Thus was a community of the Dominican Third Order Regular established in Soviet Russia.

Persecution

During the aftermath of the October Revolution, the convent was put under surveillance by the Soviet secret police.

In 1922, Father Vladimir Abrikosov was exiled to the West aboard the Philosopher’s Ship. Soon after, Mother Catherine wrote him a letter from Moscow, “I am, in the fullest sense of the word, alone with half naked children, with sisters who are wearing themselves out, with a youthful, wonderful, saintly but terribly young priest, Father Nikolai Alexandrov, who himself needs support, and with parishioners dismayed and bewildered, while I myself am waiting to be arrested, because when they searched here, they took away our Constitution and our rules.”

Imprisonment

Due to her work with the Papal Aid Mission to Russia, Mother Catherine was arrested by the OGPU. Shortly before the Supreme Collegium of the OGPU handed down sentences, Mother Catherine told the sisters of her community, “Probably every one of you, having given your love to God and following in His way, has in your heart more than once asked Christ to grant you the opportunity to share in His sufferings. And so it is; the moment has now arrived. Your desire to suffer for His sake is now being fulfilled.”[13]

Mother Catherine was sentenced to ten years of solitary confinement and imprisoned at Yaroslavl from 1924 to 1932. After being was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was transferred to Butyrka Prison infirmary for an operation in May 1932. The operation removed her left breast, part of the muscles on her back and side. She was left unable to use her left arm, but was deemed cancer free.[14]

Release

Meanwhile, Ekaterina Peshkova, the wife of author Maxim Gorky and head of the Political Red Cross, had interceded with Stalin to secure her release and grounds of her illness and that her sentence was almost complete.

On August 13, 1932, Mother Catherine petitioned to be returned to Yaroslavl. Instead, she was told that she could leave any time she wanted. On August 14, she walked free from Butyrka and went directly to the Church of St. Louis des Français.[15]

Bishop Pie Neveu, who had been secretly consecrated as an underground Bishop in 1926,[16] wrote to Rome after meeting her, “This woman is a genuine preacher of the Faith and very courageous. One feels insignificant beside someone of this moral stature. She still cannot see well, and she can only use her right hand, since the left is paralyzed.”[17]

Despite warnings that it could lead to another arrest, Mother Catherine also reestablished ties to the surviving Sisters. She later told interrogators, “After my release from the isolator and happening to be in Moscow, I renewed my links with a group of people whom an OGPU Collegium had condemned in 1923. In reestablishing contact with them, my purpose was to assess their political and spiritual condition after their arrest, administrative exile and the expiration of their residence restriction. Following my meetings with them, I became convinced that they retained their earlier world outlook.”[18]

Rearrest

After immediately entering communication with the surviving Sisters of the congregation, Mother Catherine was arrested, along with 24 other Catholics, in August 1933. In what the NKVD called “The Case of the Counterrevolutionary Terrorist-Monarchist Organization”, Mother Catherine stood accused of plotting to assassinate Joseph Stalin, overthrow the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and restore the House of Romanov as a constitutional monarchy in concert with “international fascism” and “Papal theocracy”. It was further alleged that the organization planned for the restoration of Capitalism and for collective farms to be broken up and returned to their former owners among the Russian nobility and the kulaks. The NKVD alleged that the organization was directed by Pope Pius XI, Bishop Pie Neveu, and the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches.[19] After being declared guilty as charged, Mother Catherine was returned to the Political Isolator Prison at Yaroslavl.

Death

Abrikosova died of bone cancer at Butyrka Prison infirmary on July 23, 1936, at the age of 54 years. After being autopsied, her body was secretly cremated at the Donskoy Cemetery and her ashes were buried in a mass grave at the same location.

“I wish to lead a uniquely supernatural life and to accomplish to the end my vow of immolation for the priests and for Russia.”
“Soviet youth cannot talk about its world outlook; it is blinkered. It is developing too one-sidedly, because it knows only the jargon of Marxist-Leninism.”
“A political and spiritual outlook should develop only on the basis of a free critical exploration of all the facets of philosophical and political thought.”

Prayer for the beatification of the Servant of God Mother Catherine (Abrikosova)

O God Almighty, Your Son suffered on the Cross and died for the salvation of people.
Imitating Him, Your Servant Mother Catherine (Abrikosova) loved You from the bottom of her heart, served You faithfully during the persecutions and devoted her life to the Church.  Make her famous in the assembly of Your blessed, so that the example of her faithfulness and love would shine before the whole world. I pray to You through her intercession, hear my request………………………………..through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The prayer has to be used in private, as well as in public, out of the Holy Mass.
+ Archbishop Thaddeus Kondrusiewich, St. Petersburg 05.04.2004
Postulator asks to inform about the graces received through the mediation of the Servant of God.
Address: Fr. Bronislav Chaplicki, 1st Krasnoarmyskaya, D. 11, 198005, St. Petersburg, Russia

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Oct 19 – Bl Jerzy (George) Popieluszko (1947-1984), Priest, Martyr, Victim of Polish Communists “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the Faith)

Jerzy (George) Popieluszko was born on September 14, 1947, in the village of Okopy near Suchowola in Poland. His parents were farmers. During his youth, while attending school, he kept a desire for the priesthood secret lest he be singled out by the Communists and victimized socially and academically. By the 1950s the Church in Poland was undergoing a vicious persecution. In 1953 the Cardinal Primate, Stefan Wyszynski, was arrested along with his auxiliary bishop and other immediate associates. Seven bishops were imprisoned, more than two thousand Polish priests were imprisoned, deported, or made to flee into exile, and thirty-seven of those priests were put to death. Nearly half the religious houses in Poland were closed, and more than seventy percent of the Catholic schools.

Persecution

The persecution continued into the 1960s, however, realizing that they could not destroy the Church by blood and labor camps, the Reds employed other techniques against the clergy, such as monitoring sermons for “political” content, excessive taxation, and late-night arrests and interrogations. Then, in 1965, a schismatic National Catholic Church was established that would be subordinate to the atheistic government. It was a total failure. This was the year that eighteen-year-old Jerzy entered one of the seminaries that had not been forced to close. That freedom didn’t last long; his entire class was conscripted into the army. Many times the seminarian had to suffer for his Faith in this compulsory service. One time, an officer discovered his rosary and ordered him to grind it into the ground. Jerzey refused and was brutally beaten. There were other physical punishments that he suffered on account of his Catholic Faith, all of which contributed to serious health problems, which left him very thin and frail. When his period of military duty was over he returned to the seminary where he received “passing” grades, nothing to get high-headed about, but enough to qualify him to receive what he so greatly desired holy orders.

The Young Priest

On May 28, 1972, Jerzy Popieluszko was ordained by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. While serving as a parish priest, however, Father Popieluszko’s health grew worse. During one Mass, he collapsed and had to be hospitalized. To help his recovery he was assigned to a university parish in Warsaw and served as chaplain to a medical school. One incident, which occurred during Pope John Paul II’s first visit to Poland, exemplifies the kind of man Father Jerzey was. One of three girls who were bringing the Offertory gifts to the altar at the outdoor Mass (I am only reporting here, not supporting the innovation) had a letter for the Pope. The secret police, assuming that it was from the Solidarity Union, interrupted the procession and seized the letter. Seeing this, Father Popieluszko jumped over a barrier, grabbed the letter from the police and returned it in time to the girls. Fearing the crowds the police let him go; but, he would now be high on their “public enemy” list.

A New Challenge: Warsaw

After this incident, the young priest was re-assigned to Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church in Warsaw. Among his parishioners and extended flock were the steelworkers who were, at this time, conducting strikes as members of the Solidarity Union. Something happened to Father Jerzey during this chaplaincy to the steelworkers. Although he was beloved for his humility and zeal by the students, doctors, and nurses in his previous pastorate, now he seemed to be totally consumed, on fire for his people, for their sanctity, for their families, for their social rights as workingmen. He spent every spare minute he had with the factory workers, saying Mass, preaching, hearing confessions, and encouraging them in their pursuit of a just wage and humane working conditions. He was the confessor of Lech Walesa, who headed the Solidarity Union.

The transformation from a frail and sickly priest to a thundering and eloquent preacher, and ardent antagonist to the Communist regime, was astonishing. His sermons would draw tens of thousands, and they were aired regularly on Radio Free Europe. When the country fell under martial law, his monthly “Mass for the Homeland” gave the whole country a voice that kept hope alive. More than “inconvenient,” he had become the man the Communists feared most. He was setting Poland on fire. He had to be stopped.

To Suffer for, with, and in Christ

Father Popieluszko’s strong faith was the fruit of a lifetime of prayer. It was Christ whom he saw in the suffering of the Polish people: “The trial of Jesus goes on forever,” he bellowed in a sermon, “It continues through his brothers. Only their names, their faces, their dates, and their birthplaces change. If truth becomes for us a value, worthy of suffering and risk, then we shall overcome fear – the direct reason for our enslavement.” When, in 1983, a Franciscan convent was raided by the secret police and a young student murdered by Red thugs, it was Father Jerzey whose angry voice echoed that of a nation in captivity: “this was too little for Satan [the raid on the convent]. So he went further and committed a crime so terrible that the whole of Warsaw was struck dumb with shock. He cut short an innocent life. In bestial fashion he took away a mother’s only son.” He ended by saying “This nation is not forced to its knees by any satanic power. This nation has proved that it bends the knee only to God. And for that reason we believe that God will stand up for it.”

Popieluszko’s voice was heard far beyond Poland. Michael Kaufman, the New York Times’ Warsaw Bureau Chief took noted: “Nowhere else from East Berlin to Vladivostok,” he wrote, “could anyone stand before ten or fifteen thousand people and use a microphone to condemn the errors of state and party. Nowhere, in that vast stretch encompassing some four hundred million people, was anyone else openly telling a crowd that defiance of authority was an obligation of the heart, of religion, manhood, and nationhood.”

By this time the authorities had stepped up their persecution of the “meddlesome priest.” Interrogations became routine, many nights were spent in prison, and authorities even planted subversive literature and bomb-making materials in his apartment in order to inculpate him in a charge of violent insurrection.

The Pope, hearing of the persecution, called upon the Polish hierarchy to provide more protection for Father Popieluszko. He even sent him his own Rosary as a sign of support.

On October 13, 1984, the feast of the miracle of the sun at Fatima, Father Jerzy and his driver were traveling the Gdansk-Warsaw road when someone threw something at his car that would have caused a fatal “accident” had not the driver reacted quickly to avoid a crash.

A week later on October 19, 1984, despite warnings of “serious consequences” if he did so, Father Popieluszko celebrated Mass in the northern town of Bydgoszcz. Instead of preaching a sermon, he delivered a meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. His conclusion to the reflections were his last public words:

“In order to defeat evil with good, in order to preserve the dignity of man, one must not use violence. It is the person who has failed to win on the strength of his heart and his reason who tries to win by force… Let us pray that we may be free from fear and intimidation, but above all from lust for revenge and violence.”

On the return trip to Warsaw Father Jerzey’s car was blocked on a lonely road and intercepted by government security agents. His driver managed at some point to escape un-pursued; it was the priest they wanted. According to the driver’s testimony, Popieluszko was cuffed, beaten with clubs, gagged, and thrown into the trunk of one of the police cars that had cut him off. When he kept banging at the hood they opened the trunk and tied a rope around his neck and feet in such a way that if he moved his body he would choke to death. His body, which could have still been alive at the time, was thrown into the Vistula River. Ten days passed before it was found floating in the Wloclawek Reservoir. According to one priest, Father Groody, who must have questioned or read the testimony of witnesses: “The body was covered with deep wounds. His face was unrecognizable, his jaw, nose, mouth and skull were smashed. He was identified by his brother from a birthmark to the side of his chest.”  The mortician who performed the post mortem said that he had never seen internal organs so damaged. “There was blood in his lungs and his kidneys and [his] intestines were reduced to pulp.”

Father Jerzey Popieluszko’s funeral was one of the largest in the history of Poland. An estimated half-million faithful attended it. His immediate killers, four policemen, were brought to trial, found guilty, and sentenced to a certain number of years in prison. The real executors, leading party members, like General Wojciech Jaruzelski, were, naturally, not implicated.


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Prayer to Our Lady by Bl Jerzy Popieluszko

Mother of those who place their hope in Solidarity, pray for us.
Mother of those who are deceived, pray for us.
Mother of those who are betrayed, pray for us.
Mother of those who are arrested in the night, pray for us.
Mother of those who are imprisoned, pray for us.
Mother of those who suffer from the cold, pray for us.
Mother of those who have been frightened, pray for us.
Mother of those who were subjected to interrogations, pray for us.
Mother of those innocents who have been condemned, pray for us.
Mother of those who speak the truth, pray for us.
Mother of those who cannot be corrupted, pray for us.
Mother of those who resist, pray for us.
Mother of orphans, pray for us.
Mother of those who have been molested because they wore your image, pray for us.
Mother of those who are forced to sign declarations contrary to their conscience, pray for us.
Mother of mothers who weep, pray for us.
Mother of fathers who have been so deeply saddened, pray for us.
Mother of our suffering country _____, pray for us.
Mother of our faithful country _____, pray for us.
We beg you, O mother in whom resides the hope of millions of people, grant us to live in liberty and in truth, in fidelity to you and to your Son. Amen.

-from the writings of Bl Jerzy Popieluszko

“Evil can be conquered only by the one who himself is rich in good, takes care of self-development, and adorning themselves with such values that constitute the human dignity of a child of God. Multiplying good and conquering evil means looking after the dignity of a child of God, after one’s own human dignity.

Retaining dignity in order to multiply good and conquer evil means remaining internally free, even in the atmosphere of external slavery, remaining yourself in any situation. As sons of God we cannot be slaves. Our sonship carries with it the heritage of freedom. Freedom is given to man as a dimension of our greatness.

Keeping dignity in order to multiply good and conquer evil means being guided by justice in life. Justice flows from truth and love. The more truth and love there are in man, the more justice they have. Justice must coincide with love because without love one cannot be fully just. If there is a shortage of love and good, it is replaced with hate and violence.

Conquering evil with good means staying faithful to the truth. The truth is a very subtle feature of our minds. Striving for the truth was implanted in man by God Himself, therefore man is naturally oriented at the truth and reluctant to lie. The truth, just like justice, is related to love, and love costs a lot. Real love is sacrificial, therefore the truth must cost a lot as well. The truth always unites and binds people. A Christian’s duty is to stand by the truth, even if it were to cost a lot. The truth must be paid for; only chaff is free. The wheat of truth must at times be paid for.

In order to conquer evil with good, the virtue of fortitude must be taken care of. Fortitude consists in overcoming human weakness, especially fear and fright. A Christian must bear in mind that what they only ought to be fear is betraying Christ for a few pieces of silver of insipid peace. A Christian cannot be satisfied only with condemning evil, lies, cowardice, enslavement, hate, violence, but they must also be a real witness and defender of justice, goodness, truth, freedom, and love.

In order to conquer evil with good and retain human dignity, one cannot fight using violence. Who has not been able to win with heart and mind tries to win with violence. Each manifestation of violence proves moral inferiority. The most excellent and durable battles humankind and history have known are the battles of human thought. Let us pray so that we may be free from fear, intimidation, but above all from the desire to retaliate and be violent.”

Love, pray for me,
Matthew

Jan 8 – Bl Titus Zeman, SDB, (1915-1969), Priest, Martyr, Victim of Slovakian Communists, Martyr for Vocations, Witness for Hope


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Following His Vocation

The story of Fr. Titus Zeman is an excellent example of faithfulness to Don Bosco’s cause, especially through the zeal and love that he showed to save the vocations of young Salesians under the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia.

Fr. Titus was born into a Catholic family on January 4, 1915, at Vajnory, near Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. As early as age 10 he had wanted to become a priest. After completing his secondary studies with the Salesians, in 1931 he entered the novitiate. He professed vows in 1932, and on March 7, 1938, made his perpetual profession at Sacred Heart in Rome.

He did his theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and then went to Chieri, where he spent his free time at the oratory. In Turin on June 23, 1940, he achieved the goal of priestly ordination. On August 4, 1940, he celebrated his first Mass at Vajnory, his birthplace.

After his ordination, he was assigned briefly to the Salesian youth center in Bratislava, but then the provincial sent him to university to take a degree in chemistry and natural sciences, which he did. He was then sent to teach in the diocesan high school at Trnava in 1943. There he was loved and respected by the students because of his cheerful, calm, but no-nonsense yet fatherly disposition. Always ready to assist people, he made many friends. On at least one occasion he gave hiding to a Jewish youth.

After the war, the high school was nationalized and the government ordered that crucifixes be removed from the classrooms. Fr. Titus and two other teachers procured and put up new ones, to the displeasure of the principal, who fired him.

Fr. Titus moved to the Salesian school in Trnava and was prefect of studies in 1946-1947, then catechist in 1947-1949 while also helping in several parishes.

A Salesian student of theology remarked on how he helped clean up their school after the Russians left it full of excrement and stinking like a sewer.


-young Fr. Zeman greeted by girls in traditional dress, please click on the image for greater detail

Saving Vocations with Clandestine Escapes

In mid-April 1950, when the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia banned religious orders and congregations and suddenly arrested and began to intern religious in concentration camps on the night of April 13-14—“the night of the barbarians”—the Slovak provincial believed it was necessary to organize clandestine trips to Turin so that young religious (both clerics and coadjutors) could complete their studies, and he asked Fr. Titus to undertake the risky activity of smuggling them across the border to Austria. He carried out two such expeditions for more than 60 young Salesians, giving the credit for their success to Mary Help of Christians and winning the admiration of Fr. Peter Ricaldone and the other superiors in Turin.

During a third expedition in April 1951, he and the other fugitives were caught and arrested. He then underwent a difficult trial, during which he was accused of being a traitor to his country and a Vatican spy, and he risked the death penalty. On February 22, 1952, in consideration of attenuating circumstances, he was instead condemned to 25 years in prison.

Slow Martyrdom

Fr. Titus was released from prison after 12 years on March 10, 1964. He was suffering obviously from the long ordeal in prison, Titus died of heart failure due to torture and radiation poisoning after forced labor in Czechoslovakia’s uranium mines, and survived only five years, dying on January 8, 1969 (dry martyr).

Titus, in his imprisonment, was forced to work in the notorious Jachymov mine as a prisoner destined for “physical liquidation, like an insect” while also enduring the cold and exhaustion.  Upon his release from prison, Titus was barred from ministering and kept under tight police surveillance, dying during the short-lived Prague Spring reform movement.


-procession of clergy entering the cemetery for Fr. Zeman’s burial

He was very much known for his holiness and, indeed, his martyrdom. He lived his life of suffering with a great spirit of sacrifice and as an offering: “Even if I lose my life, I do not consider it a waste, knowing that at least one of those whom I have saved has become a priest to take my place.” He thus encouraged many others to “not let their hope be robbed”.

In the years immediately following Titus’ death, more than 100 vocations flourished in secret prayer groups near Bratislava. Even the communist regime’s spies present at Titus’ funeral attested to his martyrdom and suffering “for the faith and the Slovak people”. The very conversion of Judge Pavol Korbuly, responsible for the condemnation of Zeman but who later became a Christian, and ready to ask forgiveness together with his family for having condemned “about twenty innocent Salesians”, is a fruit of the martyrial life of Blessed Zeman. The Communist director who had fired him in 1946 also converted, like others he met during Titus’ years in prison. On the day of his funeral, there was also the testimony of a Lutheran pastor, a sign that the very blood of the martyrs “creates” an ecumenism that breaks down barriers and generates brotherhood.

As Pope Francis said: “This fidelity to the style of Jesus — which is style of hope — even to death, would be called by a most beautiful name by the early Christians: “martyrdom,” which means “witness” … a name fragrant with discipleship. Martyrs do not live for themselves, they do not fight to affirm their own ideas, and they accept having to die only out of fidelity to the Gospel.” (Audience of 28 June 2017).

His cause for beatification and, hopefully, canonization was taken up with ascertaining whether Zeman had died “in odium fidei” (in hatred of the faith).  Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, himself a Salesian, said Titus’ Mass of Beatification.


-Bl Titus Zeman’s remains are presented in a specially designed casket at the beatification Mass.

Cardinal Amato added that the priest had “ignored the evil suffering,” refusing later to divulge the names of “informants and spies” who, by their own admission, had harmed him.

The beatification Bl Titus Zeman, SBD, brings to more than 80 the number of communist-era Catholic martyrs honored in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.


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Prayer for the canonization of Fr Titus Zeman

Almighty God,
you called Fr Titus Zeman to follow St John Bosco’s charism.
Under the protection of Mary Help of Christians
he became a priest and an educator of the young.
He lived in accordance with your commandments,
and was known and respected among the people
for his friendly character and availability to everyone.
When the Church’s enemies suppressed human rights and freedom for the Faith,
Fr Titus did not lose courage and persevered in the way of truth.
Because of his fidelity to his Salesian vocation
and because of his generous service to the Church, he was incarcerated and tortured.
He bravely resisted his torturers and was mocked and humiliated because of this.
He suffered it all out of love and with love.
We ask you, almighty Father, to grant that Blessed Titus
be enrolled among your saints
and through his intercession grant us the grace that we now ask you.
Through Christ Our Lord,

Amen! Christus vincit, Christus regnat, christus imperat!!!

Love & endurance unto the end, pray for me for the grace final perseverance,
Matthew

Summa Theologiae


-by Br Simon Teller, OP

“If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably heard of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s theological masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae. This work has fed the minds of over 700 years of Catholic thinkers, and at least two popes have written laws to enshrine it within the syllabi of seminary professors (see the Code of Canon Law, can. 252 §3). With an import that is vast and perennial, the Summa has become one of the most important texts of Christian literature.

You probably have heard of the Summa, but do you know why Aquinas wrote it?

When St. Thomas began his work on the Summa Theologiae, he did not set out to write a timeless classic. Rather, he intended to meet a specific need of his own era (see Jean-Pierre Torrell, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Person and His Work, 142–145).

During the 1260s, the Roman Province of the Dominican Order had a problem. Its intellectual life was in a sad state because the Roman friars had lost their ardor for study. Regrettably, many of them had forsaken the reading of sacred books. As a result, the preaching of the friars was beginning to run theologically dry, lacking the robust doctrinal character appropriate to the Dominican charism. Despite years of exhortations and commands from the Dominican powers-that-be, the friars had been unable to do anything to remedy the situation.

In 1265, the Dominican Order tasked St. Thomas with founding a center of studies at its Roman headquarters—Santa Sabina (Ed. one of my novitiate classmates, who could not sing, became Prior of Santa Sabina in Rome and Prior Provinical of the Eastern Province US). Select friars from throughout the Province would be sent to study there, with the hope that they would spread the intellectual zeal from this one house to the province’s other Dominican priories when these friars were sent out for further missions. As the assigned leader of this project, Aquinas was in charge of creating the program of theological formation that would be implemented at this new theological center.

To do this, he set to work charting a course of studies for the students of this new studium. In the process of writing and rewriting his courses, Aquinas produced a synthetic and doctrinally robust textbook for the theological formation of preachers and confessors: the Summa Theologiae.

As we now know, the Summa’s impact far surpassed Aquinas’s original, modest intentions. He had set out to provide for a particular need of his own time, namely, the revival of his province’s intellectual life. But his work far transcended the needs of the Roman Dominicans in the 1260s. For St. Thomas’s writings took on a transgenerational influence, fueling the intellectual zeal of the Church on a universal scale. The local need for a doctrinally rich textbook for beginners that Aquinas’s Summa met was also a need experienced by the whole Church.

St. Thomas did not begin this work with a view to producing a perennial masterpiece. His focus, rather, was on providing for the needs of his age. But God used Aquinas’s solicitude for a particular, local need to meet a need experienced by the whole Church throughout time.”

Love,
Matthew

Holy deceased can intercede for the living -Mk 12:27, Rev 8:4


-“The Coronation of the Virgin”, Lorenzo Monaco, 1414, tempera on panel, 506 cm × 447.5 cm (199 in × 176.2 in), Uffizi Gallery, Florence, please click on the image for greater detail

“He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” – Mk 12:27

“The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” – Rev 8:4


-by Karlo Broussard

Discussions about the intercession of the saints often centers around the biblical evidence. But seldom does the conversation make it to the evidence from early Christian sources.

So, let’s look at some of that evidence here.

The earliest reference outside the New Testament that speaks of heavenly beings interceding for Christians on earth is the Shepherd of Hermas, also known as The Shepherd, which dates to around A.D. 80. Several influential early Christians—Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian—viewed The Shepherd as authoritative (well before the final canon of Scripture was declared at the Council of Rome in 382).

It records five visions given to one named Hermas, a former slave. In the fifth vision, an angelic messenger appears to Hermas in the guise of a shepherd. The shepherd says to Hermas,

But those who are weak and slothful in prayer hesitate to ask anything from the Lord; but the Lord is full of compassion, and gives without fail to all who ask him. But you, [Hermas,] having been strengthened by the holy angel [you saw], and having obtained from him such intercession, and not being slothful, why do you not ask understanding of the Lord, and receive it from him?” (The Shepherd 3:5:4).

If early Christians believed angels could intercede for Christians on earth, then it’s not that far of a stretch to think they believed the souls in heaven intercede as well.

St. Clement of Alexandria confirms this line of reasoning at the beginning of the second century:

In this way is he [the true Christian] always pure for prayer. He also prays in the society of angels, as being already of angelic rank, and he is never out of their holy keeping; and though he pray alone, he has the choir of the saints standing with him (Miscellanies 7:12).

The implication is that just as the Christian is never out of the holy keeping of the angels, so too the Christian is never out of the keeping of the choir of the saints who stand with him as he prays. For Clement, where there’s angelic intercession there’s also the intercession of the saints. And such intercessory prayer is conjoined with the prayers of the Christians on earth.

Our next early Christian witness to the intercession of the saints is Origen. Although he’s not considered an early Church Father, he is a witness to early Christian belief. In his work Prayer, which dates to about A.D. 233, he writes,

But not the high priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels . . . as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep (11).

That Origen speaks of the “saints” as having “already fallen asleep” tells us that he’s thinking of the saints in heaven and not Christians on earth. And like Clement, he combines the intercessory prayer of the angels and the saints. For Origen, they go hand in hand.

Our next witness, and perhaps the strongest so far, is St. Cyprian of Carthage. In his Letters, which dates to around A.D. 252, he writes,

Let us remember one another in concord and unanimity. Let us on both sides always pray for one another. Let us relieve burdens and afflictions by mutual love, that if any one of us, by the swiftness of divine condescension, shall go from here first, our love may continue in the presence of the Lord, and our prayers for our brothers and sisters not cease in the presence of the Father’s mercy (56:5).

Clearly, St. Cyprian believed the saints in heaven intercede for Christians on earth.

We also have evidence from early Christian epigraphical remains. Indeed, along with the idea that the saints intercede for us, we find the added requests made for their intercession. Consider, for example, an inscription concerning one named Sozon:

Blessed Sozon gave back [his spirit] aged nine years; may the true Christ [receive] your spirit in peace, and pray for us (Christian Inscriptions, no. 25, c. A.D. 250).

Another inscription speaks of someone named Gentianus, “a believer, in peace, who lived twenty-one years, eight months, and sixteen days, and in your prayers ask for us, because we know that you are in Christ” (Christian Inscriptions, no. 29, c. A.D. 250).

At the beginning of the fourth century (A.D. 300), we have evidence that Christians made requests from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Consider Methodius of Philippi, for example:

[W]e pray you, the most excellent among women, who boastest in the confidence of your maternal honors that you would unceasingly keep us in remembrance. O holy Mother of God, remember us, I say, who make our boast in you, and who in august hymns celebrate the memory, which will ever live, and never fade away (Oration on Simeon and Anna 14).

The request that Mary “remember” them is not merely a request for mental remembrance, but a request for intercessory prayer.

In St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectureswe discover that the intercession of the saints was invoked in the liturgy. Speaking of the Eucharistic Prayer, Cyril writes,

We commemorate those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that in their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition (23:9, c. A.D. 350).

Ephraim the Syrian, in his Commentary on Mark (A.D. 370), makes several requests of the martyrs in heaven, whom he calls “saints”:

You victorious martyrs who endured torments gladly for the sake of the God and Savior, you who have boldness of speech toward the Lord himself, you saints, intercede for us who are timid and sinful men, full of sloth, that the grace of Christ may come upon us, and enlighten the hearts of all of us so that we may love him.

In Gregory of Nazianzen’s Orations (A.D. 374), we find the principle that the saints’ intercession in heaven is more effective than it was here on earth. Speaking of his father’s intercession, he writes,

Yes, I am well assured that [his] intercession is of more avail now than was his instruction in former days, since he is closer to God, now that he has shaken off his bodily fetters, and freed his mind from the clay that obscured it, and holds conversation naked with the nakedness of the prime and purest mind (18:4).

The last early Christian source that we’ll reference here is St. John Chrysostom. In his Homilies on Second Corinthians (A.D. 392), he writes,

For he who wears the purple himself goes to embrace those tombs, and, laying aside his pride, stands begging the saints to be his advocates with God, and he that wears the crown implores the tentmaker and the fisherman, though dead, to be his patrons (26:2:5).

To beg the saints to advocate with God on our behalf is to request their intercessory prayer.

In light of this evidence, we can conclude that the saints intercede for us and our invoking their prayers is not something that the Church made up somewhere down the line in its history. Rather, it’s something that was part of historic Christianity.”

He lives!!!
Matthew