Category Archives: Saints

Feb 14 – St Valentine & Catholic marriage – for pleasure?



-skull of St. Valentine (226-14 Feb 269 AD), Bishop/Priest & Martyr, in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, please click on the image for greater detail. He was martyred and his body buried at a Christian cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome, on February 14, which has been observed as the Feast of Saint Valentine (Saint Valentine’s Day) since 496 AD.  “Love is stronger than death.”

Relics of him were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which “remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the church of Santa Prassede during the pontificate of Nicholas IV”. His skull, crowned with flowers, is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome; other relics of him were taken to Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, where they remain; this house of worship continues to be a popular place of pilgrimage, especially on Saint Valentine’s Day, for those seeking love.



Tees to the Kingdom, St Valentine shirts, please click on the images for greater detail

CCC 1602-1666


-by Br Raymond LaGrange, OP

“I like Saint Valentine. I am also a big fan of Christian marriage, and he was martyred for illegally presiding over Christian marriages. Through some bizarre accident of history, his feast-day is observed by the secular world, but the Church has taken him off the General Calendar. Unfortunately, I think very few people who mark this day on their personal calendars ever consider the life of the saint or the reason he died. This is but a reflection of a deeper problem: just as the world celebrates the feast of the patron of love without actually celebrating the patron himself, so also the world celebrates romantic love without actually thinking much about what love is in the first place.

In his book Love and Responsibility (written before he became Pope), Saint John Paul II impugns the idea that the point of a relationship is for both members to derive pleasure from it. The problem with this idea is that pleasure is not really a goal; there is no pleasure except pleasure in something. We eat cake for pleasure. We do not eat pleasure directly. No cake, no pleasure. Somehow, the world is trying to eat for pleasure without thinking too much about the step where you actually put food in the mouth. Such is a relationship of pure pleasure, nonsensical.

Any relationship, not just marriage, needs to be based on a common goal. For example, people who cooperate for an end in itself (hobby, being in a band – the goal is music, art/musical appreciation, volunteering, etc). These sorts of relationships (friendships, partnerships, mutual interests, fellow aficionados, etc.) often lead to the pleasure of relationship, but a relationship that is only founded upon mutual pleasure is actually the most unstable, because pleasure is so ephemeral. This can be said of emotional as well as physical pleasures. The deep feeling of contentment that arises when silently beholding a sunset with a lover is certainly a high pleasure, even the stuff of poetry, but that delight must give way to a chilly night. When night falls, something more than the sunset must remain to keep the relationship together.

Marriage is the most profound of human relationships, and so it must be based on the highest goal. That goal is nothing but the giving of one’s entire self. Saint John Paul II teaches that such giving is perfected only in procreation. It is in the bearing and raising of children that man and woman give themselves so fully that they make more of each other. Only by pursuing together the good of children can the couple really be united, even if the hope for children never comes to fruition. If either withholds this gift, the relationship becomes one of mere pleasure or convenience or some other friendly pursuit.

Children can make life difficult. They demand self-sacrifice, especially when they present particular difficulties. It is not easy. Sleeplessness is not fun. No engaged couple dreams of interminable appointments with doctors and therapists of various stripes.

At the same time, the gift of existence is one of the greatest gifts, despite the price. God, the giver of all existence, allows a man and a woman to share in His goodness by transmitting this most precious gift to their child. They can do this only with and through each other. The giving of this gift is fulfilling, because it is the gift that we were made to give. Giving this gift gives real joy.

This goal of procreation does not replace all the other goods of marriage. Instead, it makes them possible. A marriage can only be more than a house-sharing agreement if it aspires to a higher goal. Sexual union can only be more than an ‘arrangement’ if it aspires to something more than physical pleasure. The joy of self-giving can only be felt in the actual giving of oneself. The work of arranging one’s life around these different goods can, of course, be difficult, but the order of goods that the Church provides allows marriage to be structured firmly and stably. Only then can the desire to love be fulfilled. The passing on of existence is the only sufficient basis for marital love.”

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord ” (CCC No. 1601)…

“So, if one of these conditions is intentionally left out, then no marriage takes place,” Father Thomas Urban, who is a judge at the Metropolitan Tribunal in Detroit, Michigan said. “I’ll marry you but not for the rest of our lives — no marriage. Or, I’ll marry you only if I can continue my bachelor lifestyle — no marriage. Or, I’ll marry you but I will not have any children — no marriage.” – Our Sunday Visitor Catholic Publishing, Oct 11 2017, https://www.osvnews.com/2017/10/11/can-catholic-couples-choose-childlessness/

“Decisions involving responsible parenthood presupposes the formation of conscience, which is ‘the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There each one is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in the depths of the heart’ (Gaudium et Spes, 16). The more the couple tries to listen in conscience to God and His commandments (cf. Rom 2:15), and is accompanied spiritually, the more their decision will be profoundly free of subjective caprice and accommodation to prevailing social mores.” The clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council still holds: ‘[The couple] will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God.’
— Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia No. 222 (first quoted passage taken from the final document of the 2015 Synod of Bishops)

Sex is both unitive and procreative, and the two cannot be separated.  Each is the point of the other.

I love you, Kelly & Mara.  Thanks, Mom & Dad,
Matthew

Feb 3 – Bl Iustus Takayama Ukon (高山右近), or Dom Justo Takayama (born Hikogorō Shigetomo) (1552 – 3 – 5 February 1615), Martyr


-Blessed Iustus Takayama Ukon 高山右近 Kirishitan Daimyō, please click on the image for greater detail

“The Holy Daimyo of Christ”, Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon, Martyr, was a Japanese Catholic (日本のカトリック教会) kirishitan (吉利支丹, 切支丹, キリシタン, きりしたん), daimyō, and samurai.  Of the Japan’s 42 Japanese Saints and 394 Blessed, only the Cause of Blessed Takayama Ukon was processed individually – a first instance in Japanese church history. All other Japanese Saints and Blessed are group martyrs, processed by the Vatican in four batches.

Kirishitan, from Portuguese cristão, referred to Roman Catholic Christians in Japanese and is used in Japanese texts as a historiographic term for Roman Catholics in Japan in the 16th and 17th centuries. The daimyō (大名) were powerful Japanese feudal lords.

Modern Japanese has several words for Christian of which the most common are the noun form kirisuto-kyōto キリスト教徒, and also kurisuchan クリスチャン. The Japanese word kirishitan キリシタン is used primarily in Japanese texts for the early history of Roman Catholicism in Japan, or in relation to Kakure Kirishitan, Hidden Christians. However, English sources on histories of Japan generally use the term “Christian” without distinction.

Christian missionaries were known as bateren (from the Portuguese word padre, “father”) or iruman (from the Portuguese irmão, “brother”). Both the transcriptions 切支丹 and 鬼利死丹 came into use during the Edo Period when Christianity was a forbidden religion. The Kanji used for the transcriptions have negative connotations. The first one could be read as “cut off support”, and the second as “devils who profit from death”.

Portuguese ships began arriving in Japan in 1543, with Catholic missionary activities in Japan beginning in earnest around 1549, mainly by Portuguese-sponsored Jesuits until Spanish-sponsored mendicant orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, gained access to Japan. Of the 95 Jesuits who worked in Japan up to 1600, 57 were Portuguese, 20 were Spaniards and 18 Italian. Fr. Francis Xavier, SJ, Fr. Cosme de Torres, SJ, and João Fernandes, SJ were the first to arrive to Kagoshima with hopes to bring Catholicism to Japan.

Takayama had been baptized into the faith in 1564 when he was twelve, though over time neglected his faith due to his actions as a samurai. He would eventually rekindle his faith just after his coming-of-age ritual near the age of 20. He abandoned his status to devote himself to his faith and was exiled to Manila, where he lived a life of holiness until his death two months later.

In 1571 he participated in an important and successful battle all as part of his coming-of-age ritual which culminated in a duel to the death with a compatriot whom he killed; but Ukon received grievous wounds in the process and during his convalescence realized he had cared little about the faith that had received him and had been imparted to him by his father, who was also so daimyo, and converted to Catholicism, having Ukon baptized at age twelve, and giving him the name Justus, or Iusto. After his coming-of-age celebration he was named as Shigetomo (重友). However he is better known as Takayama Ukon (高山右近).

But then disaster struck, initiated by the lies and boasts of the Spanish captain of the ship San Felipe. On its voyage from the Philippines to Mexico it ran into a roaring cyclone that tore off the masts and sails and dumped it on the Japanese coast – with most of the cargo and crew intact. By Japanese custom the local Daimyo looked after the crew, but the cargo was his.

When the ship’s captain was told this he responded with a lie and a threat. “You’ve seen the Spanish missionaries in Japan. Well they are the forerunners of the Spanish Army who will soon come and make Japan a colony. You will be in big trouble then if you have stolen my cargo.” This threat was relayed to Shogun Hideyoshi, the generalissimo and real ruler of Japan – the Emperor was a powerful symbol, eking out cultured boredom in a gilded cage in Kyoto.

The Shogun looked apprehensively at the Philippines and Mexico, and the seemingly unstoppable armies from Europe. This set the scene for the persecution of Christians in Japan.

The Shogun waited because he wanted to continue trade with Europeans via their ships. But early in 1597 he struck a fierce blow – a total ban on Japanese Christian and western missionaries. He now decided to terrorize every Japanese Christian and foreign missionary by public and gruesome executions in Nagasaki, where Christians were numerous. Famous Christian Daimyo Takayama would head the list of about 20, or so, missionaries and Japanese Christians to be executed.

These “criminals” would have ears sliced off, loaded into open carts and paraded around the capital city Kyoto. Then guarded by unmerciful samurai they would be forced to march to Nagasaki, 30 days away, during the coldest time of the year. There they would be fastened to crosses in mockery of this foreign Christian religion.

The local governor was ordered to make as many citizens as possible attend. Everything was to be unhurried and drawn out, to heighten the terror for both the crucified and the onlookers.

Finally the two samurai, who had been standing right under each of the crucified, with the steel tip of a lance very visible, would thrust the lance deep and up under the rib cage of the crucified. The last punishment was the refusal of burial for their corpse that would remain on the crosses until they rotted away.

The Shogun’s advisors did not oppose the gory executions but they advised the Shogun that Daimyo Takayama was too highly respected, famous throughout Japan as a man of great courage and ability, and a lover of the highest expressions of Japanese culture – the Way of the classical Tea Ceremony, Haiku poetry, fine calligraphy – and a brilliant designer of Daimyo castles.

The advisors dared not raise with lecherous Hideyoshi another reason for Takayama’s fame – his total faithfulness to his wife Justa Kuroda, in an era of sexual abandon among the powerful men of the land. His advisors suggested that crucifying Daimyo Takayama like a common criminal could cause dangerous resentment and possibly harm to the Shogun’s “great reputation”.

So Shogun Hideyoshi took Takayama off the list of those to be executed on February 6, 1597. However the merciless Shogun was angry that Takayama still lived publically as a Christian, despite the Shogun outlawing Christianity.

To backtrack some years, Sen no Rikyu, still venerated by most Japanese, was the acknowledged creator of the fully developed Japanese Tea Ceremony, “Chado”, The Way of Tea, which was fast becoming the quintessence of Japanese refinement and culture for the ruling classes. The Tea Ceremony is not like a casual cup of tea with friends.

The Tea Ceremony is conducted mostly in silence, taking an hour or more, and is acted out according to a solemn ritual full of spiritual symbols. Often when Japanese Tea Ceremony people attend Mass for the first time they will say the Mass reminded them of their much loved Tea discipline.

This famous and venerated Sen no Rikyu had publically named the young Daimyo Takayama Ukon as one of his seven “mana deshi” – “most beloved disciple” – among the many Japanese who now practised the Tea cultural expression he created. Shogun Hideyoshi, who was also a follower of this Way of Tea, of course knew Sen no Kikyu personally.

He called Rokyu to his castle, and ordered him to visit Takayama with this stern warning. “I order you to renounce your Christian beliefs. I am your liege lord. If you do not obey me you are betraying ‘bushido’, the Way of the Samurai. The whole warrior class in Japan, from the Shogun to humblest samurai, vows to follow this Way until death. Bushido demands total obedience to your liege lord. I as Shogun am your liege lord and order you to renounce this foreign religion. If you refuse to obey you are breaking the bushido vow, and will have to suffer the consequences.” The consequences the Shogun referred to was the duty of hara kiri (seppuku), the ritualistic disembowelling of oneself with a short sword.

To crafty Hideyoshi the spirited Daimyo Takayama replied immediately and masterfully, neither rejecting bushido nor his Christian faith: “I accept Shogun Hideyoshi as my liege lord on this earth. But, higher than my earthly bushido obligation is my totally absolute obligation to obey Jesus, my Divine liege Lord, the Heavenly liege Lord of all earthly lords. I cannot renounce Him from whom I have received life itself, and the promise of eternal salvation.”


-model of Takatsuki Castle in the Edo Period, please click on the image for greater detail.  The castle was founded in the 10th century AD. Takatsuki was an important commercial and transportation hub because it was between Osaka and Kyoto. The Saigoku road, which connected Nishinomiya (in Kobe) with Kyoto, went through the town as well as did the Yodo River. As a result, the castle was the largest in the Hokusetsu region of what now comprises the northern parts of the Osaka municipality. Ukon helped to develop a thriving castle town. In 1581, Takayama Ukon built a church within the castle grounds and invited missionaries to administer to the local people. There were about 18,000 Christians living in the castle town around Takatsuki Castle.

The Nagai (original patriarch, Nagai Naokiyo, gained control of the castle in 1649. The Nagai ruled for 13 generations until the end of the Edo Period when it was abandoned in 1871. This family gradually increased the size of the castle and expanded its moats outward from when it was a Sengoku period castle. The castle was about 630 meters long and 510 meters wide after the last round of expansion. Unfortunately, it was destroyed after the Meiji Restoration and the castle’s wood from buildings, and stone walls, were repurposed to build the train line between Mukomachi and Osaka in 1874. The stones of the castle were smashed into rocks to be used for the rail bed that was built to connect Osaka with Kyoto.

One of the original castle gates can still be found at Hongyoji Temple. Some Japanese castle books have also suggested that the Karamon at Nagai Shrine is an original castle gate from Takatsuki Castle. The family crest of the Nagai Clan can be seen on the water trough just inside the entrance of Nagai Shrine.

When Shogun Hideyoshi received Takayama’s reply from Sen no Rikyu he was infuriated. He ordered the immediate seizure of Takayama, his castle, lands and all his possessions, reducing him to the ignominious, lowest rank of a samurai, masterless “ronin”, whom no Daimyo could employ or shelter. Takayama, his wife and family were banished to an inhospitable area of Kanazawa in the present day Ishikawa Prefecture. Homeless ex-Daimyo Takayama first went to the Jesuit house at Arie, asking to be allowed to do a week’s retreat based on St Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.

Takayama was a great admirer of St Ignatius of Loyola, SJ who once was a knight. The converted Ignatius chose poverty to follow Christ. Samurai Takayama told his wife and family that they now had the opportunity to do the same for Christ. Fortified by the Ignatian retreat, and at peace, Takayama asked for the prayers of the Jesuits and then led his family to what became a hand-to-mouth existence in a hostile environment. Ukon continued to spread Catholicism.

Ukon lived under the protection of his allies for several decades but in 1614 Tokugawa Ieyasu (the new shogun, after Hideyoshi died only one year after impoverishing Ukon and his family) prohibited the Christian faith which witnessed Ukon’s expulsion from Japan.

The shogun knew ex-Daimyo Takayama was spreading Christianity in the provinces and sent a grim message to him. Takayama ignored it. Some new friends advised Takayama to save himself and his family by a “seeming” obedience to Tokugawa’s order. Takayama replied, “For a man who has a sense of honour, and is firmly convinced of his Christian religion, it is inadmissible to even speak of such cowardice.”

Shogun Tokugawa then sent samurai to arrest Takayama and bring him bound to Kyoto. There Tokugawa worked on still famous Takayama for seven months, alternating between enticements of rewards and savage death threats. Takayama remained rock solid for Christ.

On 8 November 1614, Takayama, his wife Justa Kuroda, their daughter and their five grandchildren, 350 missionaries and Japanese Christian laymen were put on a small boat and deported to Manila.

He arrived to Manila on 11 December 1614 where he received a warm welcome from the Spanish Jesuits and the local Filipinos. The governor Juan de Silva wished to provide him with an income to support him and his relations but he declined this offer since he said he was no longer in a position to offer his services in exchange for income but neither did he wish to act like a lord.

The colonial government of Spanish Philippines offered to overthrow the Japanese Empire through an invasion of Japan in order to protect the Japanese Christians and place him into a position of great power and influence. Ukon declined to participate and was even opposed to the plan. He died of illness at midnight on 3 or 5 February 1615 just a mere 40 days after having arrived in Manila after having suffered from a violent fever. Upon his death the Spanish government gave him a Christian burial replete with full military honors befitting a daimyō. His remains were buried in the Jesuit church of San Ignacio Church in Intramuros and this made him the only daimyō to be buried on Philippine soil.


-This statue is found on the grounds of the city of Takatsuki’s functional Catholic Church, The Grand Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of Osaka, Japan.  It is modeled on the cathedral outside Manila, where Takayama spent his last days. This statue is located on the cathedral grounds, near the site where the church Takayama built his original church in 1574, please click on the image for greater detail.


-statues of Bl Takayama Ukon in the Philippines. The first four of the same statue, and the plaque below, are in Plaza Dilao, Paco, Manila, Luzon, Philippines, and the image immediately above of one unveiled 28 March 2017, “Samurai of Christ”, Thomas Aquinas Research Center at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines


-medallion commemorating the beatification of Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon

Prayer for intercession

“O God, in Your Wonderful Providence, You have chosen Justus Ukon Takayama to be a singular promoter of Your Kingdom, and an undaunted witness to the Catholic Faith — Reward, we beseech you, his zeal for Your Glory, and graciously grant us what we humbly ask through his intercession. Grant us also that following his example, we may bravely bear all trials for the sake of our holy Catholic Faith. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Prayer for canonization

“O God, you desire the salvation of all people. Sustained by your grace, Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon followed the Gospel faithfully, and, rejecting all worldly rank and honors, achieved martyrdom by exile from his homeland.

We humbly pray, that Blessed Justo Ukon, who by freely accepting many hardships, gave powerful witness to Your love, may become a source of hope to people throughout the world, and soon be numbered among your saints.

Merciful Father, through the intercession of Blessed Justo Ukon, please hear our fervent prayers. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Father Anton Witwer, SJ, general postulator of the Society of Jesus, explained in 2014, “Since Takayama died in exile because of the weaknesses caused by the maltreatments he suffered in his homeland, the process … is that of a martyr.”

Love,
Matthew

Feb 6 – Twenty-six crosses on a hill & “Silence”, the movie: love is stronger than death, 日本二十六聖人, Nihon Nijūroku Seijin


-1628 engraving, please click on the image for greater detail


-monument to the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki, 1962, please click on the image for greater detail

With the Oscars last night, will Hollywood ever tell this story, instead of apostasy? I doubt it. One of the reasons I started this blog, to, in my own small way, tell the brilliance of saints. When Christian missionaries returned to Japan 250 years later, they found a community of “hidden Catholics” that had survived underground.

Jn 11:25


-by Matthew E. Bunson

“A group of twenty-six Christians gave their lives for Christ on a hill near Nagasaki, Japan, on February 5, 1597. They are noteworthy not only for the zeal they showed as they died as martyrs, but for the model they provided to Japanese Christians for centuries to come. Their story reminds us that heroic examples of the Catholic faith transcend country and race.

Jesuit Beginnings

The Catholic faith was introduced into Japan on August 15, 1549 by the great Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, SJ, who landed on the Japanese island of Kyushu with two fellow Jesuits, Cosme de Torres, SJ, and John Fernandez, SJ. Francis soon learned of the prevailing political situation. Despite the emperor’s traditionally accepted divine origins, he had little authority; instead the local lords (daimyo) exercised extensive powers. Francis concentrated on winning the confidence of the daimyo in the area, and on September 29, he visited Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Kagoshima, and asked for permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. The daimyo readily agreed to his request, believing that such a church might help to establish a trade relationship with Europe.

Francis mastered Japanese, then took his preaching into the neighboring island of Honshu, the main island in the Japanese archipelago. Within six years, six hundred Japanese converted to the faith in one province alone. But the rapid growth of the new faith soon provoked a sharp reaction. In 1561, the daimyo of several provinces launched a persecution that compelled Christians to abjure their faith.

Surprisingly, the Shogunate of Japan initially gave its support to the enterprise of evangelization. Primarily the shoguns believed the new religion might curb the influence of the sometimes-troublesome Buddhist monks in the islands, but they also thought it would facilitate trade with the outside world. Nevertheless, the Japanese officials were suspicious of the long-term intentions of the representatives of Spain and Portugal, most so because they were aware of the expanding Spanish Empire in Asia and the Pacific.

The labors of Francis Xavier were carried on and furthered by the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, who arrived in 1579. This remarkable missionary opened a school to teach new mission workers, established seminaries, and promoted vocations for the Jesuits among the inhabitants. By around 1580, eighty missionaries were caring for more than one hundred fifty-thousand Christians, including the daimyo Arima Harunobu.

In Rome, Pope Gregory XIII declared his immense satisfaction with the work of the Jesuits and issued the decreed Ex Pastorale Officio in 1585. He declared that the Japanese missions were the exclusive territory of the Society of Jesus. Two years later, the first diocese was created at Funai (modern Oita).


-St Francisco Blanco OFM, Lima, Peru, please click on the image for greater detail”

Change in Politics

Several events soon transpired that changed the tolerant atmosphere. First, assorted Catholic missionaries who lacked the subtlety of the Jesuits arrived in Japan and failed to respect Pope Gregory’s decree. Their aggressive manner offended many Japanese, especially those who feared that Christianity was merely a prelude to invasion by the European powers. Thus, by 1587, when there were over 200,000 Christians in Japan, an initial edict of persecution was instituted by the country’s regent, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Nearly 150 churches were destroyed and missionaries were condemned to exile from the islands. The missionaries declined to leave and found safe haven in various parts of Japan. As a result of the persecution, within a decade the number of Christians had increased by 100,000.

The second major turning point occurred on August 26, 1596, when the San Felipe, a Spanish trade ship traveling from Manila to North America, ran aground off the coast of Shikoku, the southeastern island of Japan. Angered by the violation of Japanese territory, Hideyoshi ordered that the cargo be confiscated, and among the items seized were several cannons. The discovery alarmed Japanese officials, and the ship’s pilot made matters worse. Furious over the loss of his cargo, he threatened the Japanese with military action by Spain, an invasion, he claimed, that would be assisted by the Christian missionaries in the country.

The threats were complete fabrications, of course, but Hideyoshi used the occasion to seize the ship and then to launch the first major anti-Christian persecution in the history of Japan. In 1597, the same year as the arrival of the first bishop, Pierre Martinez, S.J., the government launched its pogrom. The Christian religion was banned, and those who refused to abjure the faith were to be condemned to death.

The initial public execution took place at Nagasaki, a city that had become the center of the Christian faith in Japan. The first martyrs were Paul Miki and his companions.


-drawing remembering 26 Catholic martyrs of Nagasaki, please click on the image for greater detail

Marked for Death

Born around 1564, Paul Miki was the son of a Japanese soldier, Miki Handayu. He was educated by the Jesuits and joined the Society of Jesus in 1580, the first Japanese to enter any religious order. Paul swiftly earned a reputation for the eloquence of his preaching. He was on the verge of ordination when he was arrested and thrown together with twenty-four other Catholics condemned to die in the name of the emperor. With Paul were six European Franciscan missionaries, two other Japanese Jesuits and sixteen Japanese laymen. The laymen included Cosmas Takeya, a sword maker; Paul Ibaraki, a member of a distinguished samurai family; and his brother Leo Karasumaru, who had been a Buddhist monk. Also arrested were Louis Ibaraki, twelve, a nephew of Paul Ibaraki and Leo Karasumaru; and thirteen-year-old Anthony of Nagasaki.

The martyrs were assembled at Kyoto, condemned to die, and then ordered to be taken to Nagasaki for their execution. As was customary, the prisoners had their left ears cut off prior to setting out so that they would be marked as condemned. The march to Nagasaki lasted a month. Along the way the men suffered the tortures of their captors and the jibes of crowds, but they also won the respect of many onlookers as they marched, bleeding and exhausted but still praying and singing. One Japanese Christian layman named Francis—a carpenter from Kyoto—decided to follow the martyrs as they progressed until he was arrested himself and expressed his joy at being included among them.

After the grueling trek from Kyoto, the condemned arrived at last at the place of their martyrdom, the city of Nagasaki. At ten in the morning on February 5, they were led along the highway from Tokitsu to Omura, and then commanded to stop at a small cluster of hills at the base of Mount Kompira. At the lowest of these hills, called Nishizaka, common criminals were put to death, and the lingering smell of rotting corpses could be detected. All was in readiness: Twenty-six crosses awaited the Christians.

Seeing the horrendous surroundings, several Portuguese merchants went to the brother of the governor, Terazawa Hazaburo, and asked him to intervene and at least have the place of execution moved. The governor, Ierazawa Hazaburo, was willing to listen to their plea, especially as his brother was a friend of Paul Miki. As it happened, across the road from the hill of Nishizaka was a lovely field of wheat, and the governor decreed that the executions could be carried out there.


-crucifixion of the martyrs of Nagasaki. A painting in the Franciscan convent of the Lady of the Snows in Prague, please click on the image for greater detail.

Calm amid Horror

At the wheat field, the martyrs were divided by the soldiers into three groups, each one headed by a Franciscan reciting the rosary. Each of the martyrs had his own cross, the wood cut to his height. Gonzalo Garcia, the forty-year-old Franciscan lay brother from India, was the first to be led to his cross. He was shown the instrument of his imminent death, and he knelt to kiss it. Today, he is venerated as the patron saint of Mumbai. Following his example, the martyrs one by one embraced the wooden crosses before them.

Unlike the Romans, the Japanese officials did not use nails. Instead, they fixed the martyrs to their crosses by iron rings around the neck, hands, and feet and ropes tightly binding the waist. The one exception was the Spanish Franciscan priest, Peter Bautista, Superior of the Franciscan Mission in Japan. This former ambassador from Spain (who had devoted his ministry for some years to lepers) stretched out his hands and instructed the executioners to use nails. Paul Miki, meanwhile, proved shorter than his cross had been measured. As his feet did not reach the lower rings, the executioners tied him down at the chest with rope and linens.

With their victims affixed, the soldiers and executioners simultaneously lifted the crosses. As history has demonstrated many times before and after, the crowd that had gathered for amusement at the expense of the dying fell silent as the large crosses thudded into the holes in the earth and the martyrs exhaled in agony from the jarring drop. On the hill with them were four thousand Catholics from Nagasaki. Young Anthony looked down and beheld his family at the front of the crowd, and he spoke words of hope to them.

Then, just as each had embraced his cross, the martyrs one by one began to sing hymns of praise, the Te Deum and the Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. The victims struggled to sing and to raise their voices to God one last time. From his cross, Paul Miki also preached for the last time. Seeing the edict of death hanging from one soldier’s long, curved spear for all to see, he responded to the charge, his voice carrying across the hills:

I did not come from the Philippines. I am a Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime, and the only reason why I am put to death is that I have been teaching the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I am very happy to die for such a cause, and see my death as a great blessing from the Lord. At this critical time, when you can rest assured that I will not try to deceive you, I want to stress and make it unmistakably clear that man can find no way to salvation other than the Christian way. (Luis Frois, Martyrs’ Records)

And then the martyrs began their final minutes. The first to die was the Mexican Franciscan Brother Philip de Jesus, who had also been measured incorrectly, so his entire weight was placed on the ring around his neck. He slowly choked to death, until the order was given for two soldiers to pierce his chest on either side with their spears. The soldiers, in pairs, thrust their spears into each side of the remaining victims until the blades literally crossed each other. Death was virtually instantaneous. The martyrs accepted their end with the same prayerful calm that marked their ascent upon the crosses. The gathered crowd, however, cried out in anguish, and the din could be heard in the city of Nagasaki below. Many Japanese who watched the horror unfold became Christians themselves in the coming weeks and months. For the soldiers, the scene proved too much, and many began to weep at the courage of the dead Christians, especially young Louis Ibaraki who cried out, “Jesus . . . Mary” with his last breath.

With the execution over, the Christians in the crowd surged forward to soak up the blood of the martyrs in cloths and to remove small pieces of clothing to preserve as relics. Driven away forcibly by the guards, the crowds slowly dispersed, turning back to see the last rays of the sun framing the twenty-six crosses in stark relief.


-Catholic martyrs of Nagasaki, please click on the image for greater detail

Love is Stronger than Death

After dark, more people gathered. Christians from Nagasaki arrived to pray for the martyrs. In the days following, thousands more made a pilgrimage to the site. Peasants, local daimyo, soldiers, and foreigners stopped at the hill and remained there transfixed in prayer or amazement until the guards forced them away. Word spread across Japan, and the example of the twenty-six martyrs became the rallying cry for Christians.

The people of Nagasaki christened Nishizaka the “Martyrs’ Hill.” The next year, an ambassador from the Philippines was given permission by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to gather up the remains and the crosses. Pilgrims continued to visit the site, and the best efforts of officials could not stop new visits, both public and clandestine.

Paul Miki and his Companions proved the first of many thousands of martyrs in the church of Japan. Sporadic persecutions were conducted over subsequent years, erupting in 1613 under the sharp campaign of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), who considered Christianity to be detrimental to the good of Japan and the social order he was instituting. The next year, all missionaries were expelled and Japanese converts were commanded to abjure the faith. Long-simmering resentment against the persecutions culminated in a Christian uprising in 1637. This was mercilessly put down, and the once-flourishing Church in Japan seemed dead. Foreigners were forbidden to enter the country on pain of death.

The Church outside of Japan did not forget Paul Miki and his companions. The Twenty-Six Martyrs were beatified on September 15, 1627 under Pope Urban VIII, and they were canonized in 1862 by Pope Blessed Pius IX, making them the first canonized martyrs of the Far East. But then came a truly astonishing turn of events. In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States arrived in Japan, and for the first time in two centuries, the country established official contact with the outside world. To the utter shock of Westerners, the Japanese Christians had not abandoned the faith despite brutal persecution. For two centuries, they had practiced the faith in secret. In 1865, priests from the Foreign Missions discovered twenty thousand Christians on the island of Kyushu alone. Religious liberty was at last granted in 1873 by the imperial government. What had sustained these Christians in the long dark years was their trust in Christ and the examples of those who had died for the faith. Foremost in their memory were the Twenty-Six Martyrs upon Nishizaka Hill.

Today, the site of the Twenty-Six Martyrs remains a beloved place of pilgrimage, and they are honored by the Monument of the 26 Martyrs erected in 1962, as well as a shrine and a museum. Thousands of visitors arrive every year. One of them, in 1981, was Pope John Paul II. He declared during his visit:

“On Nishizaka, on February 5, 1597, twenty-six martyrs testified to the power of the Cross; they were the first of a rich harvest of martyrs, for many more would subsequently hallow this ground with their suffering and death. . . . Today, I come to the Martyrs’ Hill to bear witness to the primacy of love in the world. In this holy place, people of all walks of life gave proof that love is stronger than death.

Foreign Franciscan missionaries – Alcantarines

Saint Martin of the Ascension
Saint Pedro Bautista
Saint Philip of Jesus
Saint Francisco Blanco
Saint Francisco of Saint Michael
Saint Gundisalvus (Gonsalvo) Garcia

Japanese Franciscan tertiaries

Saint Antony Dainan
Saint Bonaventure of Miyako
Saint Cosmas Takeya
Saint Francisco of Nagasaki
Saint Francis Kichi
Saint Gabriel de Duisco
Saint Joachim Sakakibara
Saint John Kisaka
Saint Leo Karasumaru
Saint Louis Ibaraki
Saint Matthias of Miyako
Saint Michael Kozaki
Saint Paul Ibaraki
Saint Paul Suzuki
Saint Pedro Sukejiroo
Saint Thomas Kozaki
Saint Thomas Xico

Japanese Jesuits

Saint James Kisai
Saint John Soan de Goto
Saint Paul Miki

O God our Father, source of strength to all your saints, Who brought the holy martyrs of Japan through the suffering of the cross to the joys of life eternal: Grant that we, being encouraged by their example, may hold fast the faith we profess, even to death itself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Love of Him,
Matthew

Feb 4 – St Catherine de Ricci, OP, (1522-1590) – Everyday stigmata


-by Br Paul Marich, OP

“The Dominican Order celebrates the witness of one of its own members today, Saint Catherine de Ricci (1522-1590). Devotion to her may not be as widespread in the universal Church as it is to Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), another Dominican for whom today’s saint was named. Yet the life of Catherine de Ricci offers us an example of how to bear the sufferings of this life while still fulfilling our daily responsibilities.

From an early age, St. Catherine de Ricci desired to serve Christ, developing a strong devotion to his passion. She joined a community of Dominican lay women, where she started to have mystical experiences. Many members in Catherine’s community, unaware that she was having visions of spiritual ecstasy, initially had doubts about her vocation. They misunderstood her experiences as rude manners. [Ed. De’ Ricci’s period of novitiate was a time of trial. She would experience ecstasies during her routine, which caused her to seem asleep during community prayer services, dropping plates and food, so much so that the community began to question her competence, if not her sanity.] Nevertheless, she persevered in her vocation, finding ways to complete her tasks in the convent while not losing sight of her devotion.

Catherine’s love for the passion of Christ led her to receive a mystical gift, something only given to a few chosen souls. On Thursdays and Fridays of each week, Catherine would receive visions of the passion, which were accompanied with great physical pain. She was entirely united to Christ’s sufferings through these experiences, which included the gift of the stigmata, or the wounds of Christ on her very body. However, in the midst of such extraordinary graces, Catherine was diligent in carrying out her everyday tasks. Recognition of her skills and abilities would lead to her election as superior of the community on several occasions. She offered spiritual counsel to the people of her town of Prato, while fulfilling the demands of her life within the Dominican community.

Catherine’s example can help us in the midst of our everyday trials and sufferings. Of course, only a few are called to receive the mystical graces that Catherine experienced. One does not have to receive such special visions of Christ’s passion in order to be holy. “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt 16:24).

Christ calls each one of us to bear our everyday crosses with courage. These can be small setbacks, uncertain circumstances in life, persecution for our beliefs, physical ailments, or long-term struggles that seem to have no sense of a resolution, to name just a few. Embracing these crosses in union with Christ allows us to be conformed more fully to Him. At the same time, we must not allow these crosses to prevent us from going about our daily tasks, be they family responsibilities, work, or our contributions to society. In the midst of suffering, Christ’s instruction at the conclusion of the Beatitudes should give us great comfort: “rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Mt 5:12). (Ed. The priest who married Kelly and I said jokingly?, “Don’t kid yourself.” He turned out to be a bad apple anyway.)

St. Catherine de Ricci provides an example of one who fulfilled her daily commitments, while secretly carrying the burden of the cross. Now that she shares in the glory of heaven, her witness shows us the hope that awaits us in Christ, now risen from the dead. By uniting our sufferings to His, we can be assured that He will transform our pain and sorrow for the sake of His greater glory. Such confidence in Christ allows us to go about our daily tasks without any fear, for He has been victorious in His sufferings.”

Love & strength, resilience, courage, endurance through His grace, Phil 4:13,
Matthew

Nov 13 – St Francis Xavier Cabrini, MSC, (1850-1917), a saint’s face

I visited Mother Cabrini’s room behind glass, left as she died, while I lived in Chicago.  The shrine to her was beginning construction.


-by Josemaria Guzman-Dominguez, OP

“The heart changes the countenance,

either for good or for evil.

The sign of a happy heart is a cheerful face.” (Sir 13:25-26)

And the sign of disappointment? A frown. Of embarrassment? Blushing cheeks. Of pain or anger? Clenched teeth. What about profound sadness? Teary eyes. And what is the sign of roaring merriment? A mouth open with laughter.

A saintly face, then, manifests a saintly heart. What do those look like?

In a beautiful paragraph at the start of The Quest Elisabeth Langgäser writes:

Let us . . . examine the face of Mother Cabrini, the first saint of North America. Let us look at it honestly and without fear, this quiet, sublime countenance full of kindness and gentle humor. It is broad and plain, like the face of an Italian peasant woman, with big black eyes that are sheer love. The mouth too is large, an animated mouth whose corners curve slightly upward; a mouth made as if made for merriment and for storytelling. The cheeks are full. They are ripe and like fruits that must soon be picked. Here and there is a faint shadow – the shadow of a mystery. For the flesh of a saint harbors a secret that is fearful and repulsive. It was crucified and hammered into ripeness by the fists of Satan. In the battle with the Adversary it has already been touched by decay, already carries the mark of death and has become an object of horror to the world. But also it has already passed beyond decay. It has already survived its death and is on the point of manifesting in itself immortality and the resurrection of the dead.

On Mother Cabrini’s face, on the face of any saint, contraries meet: silence with storytelling, recollection with laughter, sublimity with commonality, light with shadow, youth with decay, death with resurrection. The saints’ flesh, their faces, carry opposites because their hearts do too. In unredeemed nature, these contraries would wound flesh, disfigure faces, and rend hearts irreparably, to the point of destruction. For contraries do not abide together so easily. One opposite could dominate over the other so that a face becomes a caricature. Or two contrary dispositions might be in a person, which almost splits him into two, such as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Or, out of fear, human qualities could be so muted that a person becomes bland and expressionless.

But the saints hold contraries together in a harmony of paradoxes revealed even on their faces. They can do so only because their hearts were transformed by (even into) the heart of Christ Jesus. This heart knew sorrow and utmost joy. It felt anger and compassion. It was pierced and resurrected. We wonder at the saints, their flesh, their faces, their hearts, because they were, and will be once more at the resurrection, one with Jesus’ flesh, face, and heart. And the human heart of Jesus is one with the heart of God; on His face we see God’s face.”

Love, joy, peace only He can give,
Matthew

Feb 21 – St Peter Damian (1007-1072 AD) – Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church, Reformer of the Clergy, Patron of Priests


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“By the eleventh century, the Church found itself in great need of reform, especially the clergy, and the Holy Spirit provided a series of reform-minded popes. These popes began their ecclesial careers as monks, and many of them had spent time at the famous reformed Benedictine monastery at Cluny in France. When Bruno of Alsace was elected pope in 1049, taking the name Leo IX, he initiated one of the most comprehensive reforms in Church history.

Leo (r. 1049-1054) recognized that simply issuing reform decrees from Rome would not change clerical behavior and restore the Church, so he decided to go on one of the most important road trips in papal history. During his five-year pontificate, he spent only six months in Rome, taking his reform road show to France, Italy, and Germany. Wherever he went, Leo deposed immoral bishops and punished clerics who were guilty of simony. Although those actions were necessary, the pope recognized that the major problem with clerical behavior was infidelity to the promise of celibacy.

In the first three centuries of Church history, there was no law prohibiting the ordination of married men, and many priests were married; however, marriage was never permitted after ordination. Moreover, all priests—married, single, or widowed—practiced sexual abstinence after ordination. The first recorded Church legislation concerning clerical celibacy in the West was decreed at the Synod of Elvira in Spain around the year 300, and in 385, Pope Siricius (r. 384-399) mandated celibacy for all clergy in the West.

But despite the longstanding practice of the Church, clergy in the early medieval Church often did not live celibacy faithfully. Many priests were not properly trained or formed, and they flouted their vow of celibacy, taking mistresses and concubines who bore them children, causing great scandal. Other priests engaged in homosexual acts. All the while, bishops and abbots seemed hesitant to act and restore virtue to the priesthood and monasteries.

But one monk was not afraid, and he wrote a book in which he called for Leo IX to remove this stain of clerical immorality. His name was Peter Damian, and today is his feast day.

Peter was born in Ravenna seven years into the eleventh century. His early life was marked by suffering; both his parents died when he was an infant. An older, abusive brother and his concubine took Peter into their home, where he was beaten, starved, and sent to work as a swineherd. In the midst of this tribulation, Peter took solace in Christ and developed deep piety. When he found a gold coin in the mud while tending the pigs, for example, instead of spending it on himself, Peter ran to the parish priest and paid a stipend for a Mass to be celebrated for the repose of his father’s soul.

Eventually, Peter was rescued from his horrible conditions by another brother who recognized Peter’s intellectual gifts and ensured he received an education in the liberal arts. This brother’s love and generosity influenced Peter to add his brother’s name, Damian, to his own and he henceforth was known as Peter Damian.

Peter’s devoted his life to growing closer to God, and he performed many acts of mortification to drive away temptations of the flesh. His spirituality was focused on the Cross, and he wrote, “Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ” (Sermo XVIII, 11). He incorporated this focus into his life to such a degree that he came to describe himself as “Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ.”

In his late twenties, Peter joined a monastery, where he committed himself to personal reform and to pursuing reform within his community. He knew that reform in the larger Church and even in secular society was impossible without first focusing on the individual. Peter was appalled by the immoral behavior of the diocesan clergy and monks and endeavored to return his brother priests to virtuous living. During the time of Leo’s reign, he composed a book critical of clerical sexual immorality.

Addressed to the pope, the book (given the title The Book of Gomorrah centuries later) was not just a diatribe against sin but was also an exhortation to personal penance and a return to virtue and was written in a firm yet compassionate tone. He exhorted fellow priests who were tempted by the devil toward carnal pleasures to orient “your mind to the grave.” Even as he offered a chapter on “a weeping lamentation over souls surrendered to the dregs of impurity,” he provided also “an exhortation to the man who has fallen into sin, that he might rise again.”

He also noted that the “cancer of sodomitic impurity” was raging through the clergy “like a cruel beast,” decrying that “degenerate men do not fear to perpetuate an act that even brute animals abhor.”

Pope Leo IX favorably responded to Peter’s book and adopted many of his recommendations. Over time this work became an important part of the eleventh-century reform movement.

A few years after completing his manuscript, Peter was ordained a bishop and later created a cardinal. Peter wrote extensive letters, sometimes signing them as “Peter the Sinner” or “Peter the Sinner-Monk,” which provide a window into the soul of this important saint in the life of the Church. The life of St. Peter Damian is a model of virtue to Catholic clergy, and his words provide an exhortation and a warning for all Catholics not to let sexual vice taint the life and mission of the Church.”

Love, and praying all our ordained,
Matthew

Joseph, RISE, and do your Lord’s will – Mt 1:20-25, 2:13-14, 2:20-21


-by Br Isaiah Beither, OP

“The legacy of Saint Joseph is a mysterious one. He is truly the father of Jesus, our Lord, but not according to the flesh. He is the man who named the boy Jesus, but also a man of silence. He is a man of dreams and a man of action.

A pattern arises in Saint Matthew’s Gospel—we know it well—where Joseph is visited by an angel in a dream and given instructions. Within this pattern, we notice a key word: “rise.” Three times, we hear the words of the angel in Joseph’s dream, and three times the dream is followed by “And Joseph, rising” or “And rising, he took.” As if to stress this pattern for us, the first word in both the second and third angelic message is “rise!”

Joseph is the man who rises and does what is asked of him. First, he takes Mary as his wife, and then he takes the child and his mother into Egypt, and finally he brings them back again. (Then there’s a last little dream we don’t get to listen to, which tells him to settle in Nazareth.)

To rise and do the will of the Lord—this is the vocation of the prophet. It is exactly what Jonah doesn’t do, for instance (he rises and flees). It is the preacher’s call to the redeemed people of God. And perhaps most significantly, it is exactly what Abraham does when he goes to offer up his beloved son to the Lord (Gen 22:1-3).

Joseph is the man who rises to serve the Lord, and we are his children. His example is especially important for his many sons who imitate him in fatherhood, but it also appeals to all who walk in the ways of God. For now, we’ll take just one lesson from the story of St. Joseph.

We must always be ready to rise.

Throughout the scriptures, as in the life of St. Joseph, “arising” indicates a readiness to give oneself to the good works God has laid before us (Eph 2:10). On the most basic level, this means we should not be sleepy-heads, but rise up in the morning and like St. Joseph, set our hands to the tasks God gives us. In a more general sense, we must never let our recreation and repose stop us from being generous. In an age of binge-watching and social media, when we are surrounded by ways to self-medicate, let us not succumb to the noise and become deaf to the needs of those around us! Whenever we stand in readiness to serve, we join St. Joseph in love for Jesus and his mother.

Let us who are Baptized live according to what we truly are: “sons of light and sons of the day” (1 Thess 5:5). So, in all our rest, even in the sleep of death, we will be ready to rise.”

St Joseph, come to my aid!!!

Love,
Matthew

Jul 19 – St Macrina the Younger (330-19 Jul 379 AD) – sister of Sts Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great & Gregory Nazianzus

Her father arranged for her to marry but her fiancé died before the wedding. After having been betrothed to her fiancé, Macrina did not believe it was appropriate to marry another man, but saw Christ as her eternal bridegroom.  Instead, she devoted herself to her religion, becoming a nun.

When all her siblings had grown, including Sts Basil the Great & St Gregory Nazianzus, and left the parental home, Saint Macrina convinced her mother, Saint Emilia, to leave the world, to set their slaves free, and to settle in a women’s monastery. Several of their servants followed their example. Having taken monastic vows, they lived together as one family, they prayed together, they worked together, they possessed everything in common, and in this manner of life nothing distinguished one from another.

After the death of her mother, Saint Macrina guided the sisters of the monastery. She enjoyed the deep respect of all who knew her. Strictness towards herself and temperance in everything were characteristic of the saint all her life. She slept on boards and had no possessions. Saint Macrina was granted the gift of wonderworking. There was an instance (told by the sisters of the monastery to Saint Gregory of Nyssa after the death of Saint Macrina), when she healed a girl of an eye-affliction. Through the prayers of the saint, there was no shortage of wheat at her monastery in times of famine.

Macrina had a profound influence upon her brothers and her mother with her adherence to an ascetic ideal. Her brother Gregory of Nyssa wrote a work entitled Life of Macrina in which he describes her sanctity throughout her life. Macrina lived a chaste and humble life, devoting her time to prayer and the spiritual education of her younger brother, Peter. Gregory presents her as one who consciously rejected all Classical education, choosing instead devoted study of Scripture and other sacred writings.

In 379, Macrina died at her family’s estate in Pontus, which with the help of her younger brother Peter she had turned into a monastery and convent. Gregory of Nyssa composed a “Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection” (peri psyches kai anastaseos), entitled ta Makrinia (P.G. XLVI, 12 sq.), to commemorate Macrina, in which Gregory purports to describe the conversation he had with Macrina on her deathbed, in a literary form modelled on Plato’s Phaedo. Even on her deathbed, Macrina continued to live a life of sanctity, as she refused a bed, and instead chose to lie on the ground.

Saint Macrina is significant in that her brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, was able to set standards for being a holy Early Christian woman. He believed that virginity reflected the “radiant purity of God.”

Universalism

Universalists, including Hosea Ballou and J. W. Hanson, claim Macrina as a Universalist in her teachings, citing works which they believe demonstrate Macrina’s belief that the wicked would all eventually confess Christ.

Troparion — Tone 8

The image of God was truly preserved in you, O Mother, / For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. / By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh, for it passes away, / But to care instead for the soul, since it is immortal. / Therefore your spirit, O Holy Mother Macrina, rejoices with the Angels!

Love & faith,
Matthew

Hopeful Universalism? – St Macrina the Younger (330 – 19 Jul 379 AD) – sister of Sts Gregory of Nyssa & Basil the Great

-by Rt. Rev., Matthew Gunter, 8th Bishop of the Diocese of Fond du Lac, the Episcopal Church in Northeast WI

“Today is the feast day of Macrina (330-379), older sister and theological/spiritual mentor of Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the most formative theologians and leaders of the early Church. Both of these great theologians pointed to their sister as their mentor in the faith. She was the theologian behind the theologians. Another brother, Peter of Sebaste, also became a bishop and saint.

In his book, On the Soul and the Resurrection, Gregory recounts a dialogue with Macrina in which he asks his sister and teacher a series of questions about the nature of the soul and the resurrection and related things. It might be that Gregory uses Macrina as a literary device to convey his own thoughts similar to the way Plato sometimes uses Socrates in his dialogues. Or maybe this really conveys things he learned directly from Macrina. In any event his respect for her is clear. Towards the end of On the Soul and the Resurrection, Macrina says this:

“To evaluate the way a person has lived, the judge would need to examine all these factors: how he endured suffering, dishonor, disease, old age, maturity, youth, wealth, and poverty; how through each of these situations he ran the course of the life allotted to him either well or badly; and whether he became able to receive many good things or many evil things in a long lifetime or did not reach even the beginning of either good or evil, ceasing to live when his mind was not yet fully developed. But when God brings our nature back to the first state of man by the resurrection, it would be pointless to mention such matters and to suppose that the power of God is hindered from this goal by such obstructions.

He has one goal: when the whole fullness of our nature has been perfected in each man, some straightway even in this life purified from evil, others healed hereafter through fire for the appropriate length of time, and others ignorant of the experience equally of good and of evil in the life here, God intends to set before everyone the participation of the good things in Him, which the Scripture says eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor thought attained.

This is nothing else, according to my judgment, but to be in God Himself; for the good which is beyond hearing, sight, and heart would be that very thing which surpasses everything. But the difference between a life of virtue and a life of wickedness will appear hereafter chiefly in allowing us to participate earlier or later in the blessedness which we hope for. The duration of the healing process will undoubtedly be in proportion to the measure of evil which has entered each person. This process of healing the soul would consist of cleansing it from evil. This cannot be accomplished without pain, as we have discussed previously.”
– On the Soul and the Resurrection, pp. 115-116

Note that Macrina and Gregory are not soft on the reality of death and judgment – this cannot accomplished without pain. We will be judged.There is reason to bear in mind the “Time of Scrutiny” (Sirach 18:20). There is still good reason to take our own piety with utmost seriousness and to invite others to participate now in “the blessedness which we hope for.”

They do seem, however, to understand The Judgment as having more to do with purgation and healing than final eternal punishment and torture. It is unclear whether or not they believed it is possible that some souls might hold out eternally against blessedness. But, they seem convinced that God, in His relentless love, will never give up on anyone – even beyond death and forever.

This hopeful universalism is quite different from an “all-y, all-y in come free” complacent universalism. Macrina anad Gregory are not alone in expressing some version of this. One could add Isaac the Syrian (7th century), Maximos the Confessor (7th century), Frederick Denison Maurice (19th century), C. S. Lewis (20th century), Karl Barth (20th century), Hans Urs von Balthasar (20th century), and many others…”

Love & faith,
Matthew

Dec 26 – Lá Fhéile Stiofáin/Lá an Dreoilín


-Wrenboys on Wren Day in Dingle, Ireland, please click on the image for greater detail

The wren, oh the wren; he’s the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day he got caught in the furze,
So it’s up with the kettle and it’s down with the pan,
Won’t you give us a penny for to bury the wren?

Well it’s Christmas time; that’s why we’re here,
Please be good enough to give us an ear,
For we’ll sing and we’ll dance if youse give us a chance,
And we won’t be comin’ back for another whole year!

We’ll play Kerry polkas; they’re real hot stuff,
We’ll play the Mason’s Apron and the Pinch of Snuff,
Jon Maroney’s jig and the Donegal reel,
Music made to put a spring in your heel!

If there’s a drink in the house, would it make itself known,
Before I sing a song called “The Banks of the Lowne”,
A drink with lubri-mication in it,
For me poor dry throat and I’ll sing like a linnet!

Oh please give us something for the little bird’s wake,
A big lump of pudding or some Christmas cake,
A fist full o’ goose and a hot cup o’ tay (Tea),
And then we’ll all be goin’ on our way!

The wren, oh the wren; he’s the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day he got caught in the furze,
So it’s up with the kettle and it’s down with the pan,
Won’t you give us a penny for to bury the wren?

December 26 is one of nine official public holidays in Ireland, in English, Wren Day. This name alludes to several legends, including those found in Irish mythology, linking episodes in the life of Jesus to the wren. People dress up in old clothes, wear straw hats and travel from door to door with fake wrens (previously real wrens were killed) and they dance, sing and play music.

Depending on which region of the country, they are called “wrenboys” and mummers. A Mummer’s Festival is held at this time every year in the village of New Inn, County Galway, and Dingle in County Kerry. Mumming is also a big tradition in County Fermanagh in Ulster. Saint Stephen’s Day is a popular day for visiting family members and going to the theatre to see a pantomime. In most of Ulster in the north of Ireland, the day is usually known as Boxing Day, especially in Northern Ireland and County Donegal.

Irish further appended St Stephen’s Day with the hunting of wren. At some point during the Feast of St. Stephen, the children from each family would find a wren and chase it until it was captured or died from exhaustion. After “going on the wren,” the children would tie the dead bird to the end of a pole or put it in a cage and parade around town singing.

Each group would stop at homes around the neighborhood, show their bird and collect some money. At the end of the day, the money the town’s children gathered was pooled and used to host a huge city-wide dance.

There are two tales why the wren became the unfortunate victim of the day. In one version, St. Stephen had all but eluded his capture when a singing wren betrayed his hiding place. The other explanation is that during the Viking raids on the Emerald Island in the eighth century, wrens betrayed the Irish soldiers’ location and foiled a potential ambush.

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-Cardinal Miloslav Vlk with the skull of Saint Wenceslaus during a procession on September 28, 2006, please click on the image for greater detail

“Good King Wenceslas” is a Christmas carol that tells a story of a Bohemian king going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (December 26, the Second Day of Christmas). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints which are warmed by the saint’s holiness, step for step, through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia or Svatý Václav in Czech (907–935). The name Wenceslas is a Latinised version of the old Czech language “Venceslav”.

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.


-by Br Paul Marich, OP

“Today is known as Boxing Day in England, where the wealthy would traditionally give gifts to their servants and to the less fortunate. Interestingly enough, there is a link between this secular commemoration, today’s liturgical feast of Saint Stephen, and the message of the mid-nineteenth century English carol, Good King Wenceslaus. While both St. Stephen and Wenceslaus wore the martyr’s crown, they were also known for their service to the poor, which they undertook for the sake of Christ. Their mutual witness shows us how the mystery of Christmas can transform us into loving disciples of the newborn Savior.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we find Stephen, a young man “full of grace and power” who “did great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). As one of the first deacons, he was committed to serving the poor and widows, so that the Apostles could freely fulfill their preaching mission. He defended the Faith against those who were trying to silence the followers of Christ, eventually succumbing to death by stoning. We celebrate him as the first martyr on the day after Christmas, because he reminds us of the ultimate mission of the newborn savior, who came to earth in order to die for our sins.

With St. Stephen as his example, it was quite fitting that “Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the feast of Stephen.” Who was this good “King Wenceslaus”? Wenceslaus I—more precisely, the Duke of Bohemia—was born around 907. His path to holiness was inspired by his grandmother, Saint Ludmila, who was one of the first to be baptized in Bohemia. He succeeded his father as duke when he was only a teenager, and was known for his devotion and virtue. Like Stephen, Wenceslaus assisted the poor with alms as a young man. In 935, he was killed by his brother, who resented Wenceslaus’ allegiance to both the Church and the German king. Saint Wenceslaus has been venerated as a martyr ever since his death.

It is the charity of St. Wenceslaus that is the major theme of the carol that bears his name, but we must carefully read each verse in order to unlock this message. We find the first clue at the end of verse 1: “When a poor man came in sight gath’ring winter fuel.” In verse 3, Wenceslaus and his page feed this poor man and provide him with firewood for the wintry night. By verse 4, the page is spent, unable to go further due to the cold. Wenceslaus commands him to follow in his steps, as “Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.” The presence of the saint radiates the love of Christ in the midst of the winter’s cold. It was Christ Whom Wenceslaus proclaimed, for His coming into the world scatters the darkness and warms the hardened hearts of sinners. All of us, regardless of status, must serve Christ in the poor and helpless, for in doing so, we proclaim the good news of salvation with the hope of eternal life. The final words of the carol teach such a lesson:

“Therefore, Christian men, be sure,

wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now will bless the poor,

Shall yourselves find blessing.”

Saint Wenceslaus lived this lesson eminently, humbling himself from his throne to help the poor and downtrodden.

Christmastime can prompt us to help those who are needy, yet such sentiments for good deeds should not be a mere formality or come by way of social obligation. Rather, they must be rooted in a love for the Infant lying in the manger. Christ’s lowly birth shows us our own poverty and weakness, as He descended among us to raise us out of the poverty of sin. Saints Stephen and Wenceslaus are venerated as martyrs, yet their witness includes a love for Christ in the poor, which preceded their ultimate sacrifice for Him. Their example inspires us to bring the love of the newborn Christ to all those we encounter, both at Christmas and throughout the whole year.”

Love,
Matthew