Category Archives: Saints

Dec 4 – St John Damascene (of Damascus) (675-749 AD), Icons = The Eyes of God

Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious
house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have
ears to hear but do not hear.
—Ezek. 12:2

Jesus said to [the disciples] . . . “Do you have eyes, and
fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?”
—Mk 8:17–18

“Both Jesus and Ezekiel recognized the parallel between having ears to hear and eyes to see, but in the Protestant tradition of my childhood, the emphasis was always on having ears to hear (the words of the Bible) to the loss of eyes to see. My earliest spiritual formation focused on the hearing part and omitted what became apparent later as effective avenues for engaging the seeing part. Symbolic images within worship began to inform my spirituality only when I chose the Episcopal Church as a teenager. I do not know if an increasing awareness of symbolism was due to natural maturation or to the richness of symbolic images so available in Episcopal liturgy. However, I vividly remember saying at age seventeen that my reason for converting was, in part, because my previous church was just “so plain.” As with many other seekers, I had a hunger for something more tangible. There was the longing to see God and live…

…icons provide a vehicle for our participation in God’s redemptive work. Icons are no less than the “dynamic manifestations of man’s spiritual power to redeem creation through beauty and art.”

If this were a book about icons simply as religious art, it would not be worth writing, let alone publishing. If Orthodox Christianity did not claim icons are essential for seeing the holy, I would not be motivated to try to inform non-Orthodox Christians about icons. God embodied, in the human and historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth—who is, for all Christians, also the Christ—the mystery and doctrine on which salvation depends. But finding Jesus incarnate in today’s world is the struggle of faith for many, me included. The words and images I encounter every day need to be countered, challenged, and balanced against words and images whose purposes are edifying, redemptive, and healing. ”
-Green, Mary E., (2014), Introduction, Eyes to See: The Redemptive Purpose of Icons, Morehouse Publishing, New York

Icons, to the believer, and properly understood, are incarnational, just like Christmas.  Acheiropoieta, are icons not made by human hands.

In cinema involving Russian characters, you will see the Russian, typically, but it could be Greek, someone of Eastern Orthodox sentiment, cover any icon with a cloth just before performing some heinous act such as suicide. There is a reason for this.

Jesus Christ is the first eikon (alternative spelling, Greek for image) of God. Icons are a symbolic and allegorical composition of: “Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy.” (Ps 32:18). Christian tradition dating from the 8th century identifies Luke the Evangelist as the first icon painter. There is a Christian legend that Pilate made an image of Christ.

In the icons of Eastern Orthodoxy, and of the Early Medieval West, very little room is made for artistic license. Almost everything within the image has a symbolic aspect. Christ, the saints, and the angels all have halos. Angels (and often John the Baptist) have wings because they are messengers. Figures have consistent facial appearances, hold attributes personal to them, and use a few conventional poses.

Color plays an important role as well. Gold represents the radiance of Heaven; red, divine life. Blue is the color of human life, white is the Uncreated Light of God, only used for resurrection and transfiguration of Christ. If you look at icons of Jesus and Mary: Jesus wears red undergarment with a blue outer garment (God become Human) and Mary wears a blue undergarment with a red overgarment (human was granted gifts by God), thus the doctrine of deification is conveyed by icons. Letters are symbols too. Most icons incorporate some calligraphic text naming the person or event depicted. Even this is often presented in a stylized manner.

In the Eastern Orthodoxy, there are reports of particular, Wonderworking icons that exude myrrh (fragrant, healing oil), or perform miracles upon petition by believers. When such reports are verified by the Orthodox hierarchy, they are understood as miracles performed by God through the prayers of the saint, rather than being magical properties of the painted wood itself. Theologically, all icons are considered to be sacred, and are miraculous by nature, being a means of spiritual communion between the heavenly and earthly realms. However, it is not uncommon for specific icons to be characterized as “miracle-working”, meaning that God has chosen to glorify them by working miracles through them. Such icons are often given particular names (especially those of the Virgin Mary), and even taken from city to city where believers gather to venerate them and pray before them.

In the Book of Numbers it is written that God told Moses to make a bronze serpent, Nehushtan, and hold it up, so that anyone looking at the snake would be healed of their snakebites. In John 3, Jesus refers to the same serpent, saying that He must be lifted up in the same way that the serpent was. John of Damascus also regarded the brazen serpent as an icon. Further, Jesus Christ himself is called the “image of the invisible God” in Colossians 1:15, and is therefore in one sense an icon. As people are also made in God’s images, people are also considered to be living icons, and are therefore “censed” along with painted icons during Orthodox prayer services.

According to John of Damascus, anyone who tries to destroy icons “is the enemy of Christ, the Holy Mother of God and the saints, and is the defender of the Devil and his demons.” This is because the theology behind icons is closely tied to the Incarnational theology of the humanity and divinity of Jesus, so that attacks on icons typically have the effect of undermining or attacking the Incarnation of Jesus himself as elucidated in the Ecumenical Councils.

Thus to kiss an icon of Christ, in the Eastern Orthodox view, is to show love towards Christ Jesus Himself, not mere wood and paint making up the physical substance of the icon. Worship of the icon as somehow entirely separate from its prototype is expressly forbidden by the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Catholics traditionally have also favored images in the form of three-dimensional statuary, whereas in the East, statuary is much less widely employed.

Icons are often illuminated with a candle or jar of oil with a wick. (Beeswax for candles and olive oil for oil lamps are preferred because they burn very cleanly, although other materials are sometimes used.) The illumination of religious images with lamps or candles is an ancient practice pre-dating Christianity.

Windows to Heaven

Icons look different to us because they are meant to be heaven looking at us, not us at heaven, hence the Eastern Orthodox covering the icon before some unholy act, which the character does not want Heaven to see.

The eyes of an icon are meant to look into the viewer — with what has been called inverse perspective. Most Western artwork has a vanishing perspective point that draws the viewer into the painting. With an icon, the icon seems to move toward the viewer, bringing Heaven close. If you pray with an icon properly, it will seem as if heaven were drawing into you. As Franciscan Fr. Michael Scanlon wrote, “For Eastern Christians, the icon is a representation of the living God, and by coming into its presence it becomes a personal encounter with the sacred, through the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

An icon, which we would most likely refer to as a painting, the correct verb for creation is “writing an icon”. An iconographer must be prepared for this work and receive permission from the bishop or abbot to begin an icon. He or she must spiritually prepare to write an icon with prayer and fasting. As the great modern Byzantine iconographer Photios Kontoglou wrote, “The art of the icon painter is above all a sacred activity…Its style is entirely different from that of all the schools of secular painting. It does not have its aim to reproduce a saint or an incident from the Gospels, but to express them mystically, to impart to them a spiritual character…to represent the saint as he is in the heavenly kingdom, as he is in eternity.”


-by Br Cornelius Avaritt, OP

“Icons are a gift of the Church. They are beautiful images that represent Christ and the mysteries of his life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following regarding icons:

The sacred image, the liturgical icon, principally represents Christ. It cannot represent the invisible and incomprehensible God, but the incarnation of the son of God has ushered in a new “economy” of images. Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words. Image and word illuminate each other. All the signs in the liturgical celebrations are related to Christ: as are sacred images of the holy Mother of God and of the saints as well. They truly signify Christ, who is glorified in them. (CCC 1159-1161)

Praying with icons allows us to behold the face of Christ, and to catch a glimpse of his love for the world while meditating on his humanity. The representation of Christ’s humanity through an image allows us to understand more fully the gospel message and to grow in knowledge of him. Just as the sacred words of Scripture signify the events of Christ’s life, so do the images reveal a glimpse of God’s plan of salvation for the world through depictions of the life of Christ. Because the Son of God was made incarnate, he became depictable. Icons depict his humanity, and we can pray with icons to deepen our love for Christ.

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of St. John of Damascus, a monk and Doctor of the Church, who was a strong proponent for the use of icons. He says the following in favor of the practice of venerating icons:

“We use all our senses to produce worthy images of Him, and we sanctify the noblest of the senses, which is that of sight. For just as words edify the ear, so also the image stimulates the eye. What the book is to the literate, the image is to the illiterate. Just as the words speak to the ear, so the image speaks to the sight; it brings us understanding.” (On the Divine Images,1, 17)

Icons captivate the eye, but they are not merely pieces of art that hang on walls. They bring “understanding.” The image “written” on an icon is meant to draw us into the mystery of Christ’s humanity, to engage our senses in prayer, to help us catch a glimpse of Christ’s face and through that prayer come to know him more. One feature of sacred images that helps bring such understanding is their rich symbolism depicted in the choice of colors of the scene. Gold often represents Christ. White represents purity and divinity. Red represents the humanity of Christ, while green represents earth and temporality. Purple is used to represent nobility. The different colors engage the eye, as to draw one into a meditation of the mystery that is depicted. Because of this, our prayer is made more fruitful and we come to recognize more fully the love Christ has for us.

Advent is a great time to grow in knowledge and understanding of our Lord. The use of icons for prayer during Advent is one way to grow in this knowledge and understanding. Icons helps us to catch a glimpse of salvation, and aid our belief in Jesus Christ. So, during this Advent season, as you are awaiting the arrival of our Lord, consider spending time in prayer with an icon, meditate on the mystery depicted in the scene, and may you come to know Christ’s love for you.”

Love,
Matthew

Dec 3 – St Francis Xavier, SJ (1506-1552), Priest, Missionary, Co-founder Society of Jesus, “Simple Ain’t Easy”


-by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“Sometimes God works in mysterious ways that we can’t understand. We may not be sure what exactly it is God wants us to do. At other times God’s will for us can be painfully simple. I say simple because what God wants us to do can often be quite obvious. I say painfully because that obvious task is not necessarily easy. Sometimes, we would rather have God’s will for us be mysterious rather than pay the cost that the obvious task demands of us.

Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first members of the Jesuits, provides an excellent example of someone who followed God’s will for him when it was simple and straightforward. He did this despite the pains he would have to undergo. At the direction of St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier left Europe to accompany the Portuguese explorers and preach throughout India and eventually even Japan. It was not a complicated task to do as he was told. Saint Francis Xavier simply had to go to those people who had never heard the Gospel and preach to them. St. Ignatius’s instructions were nothing more than a reissuing of the Great Commission which Jesus gave to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). The task could hardly be simpler: preach the Gospel to those who have not heard it.

Yet, this was not an easy task even if St. Francis Xavier knew what he had to do to accomplish it. He had to learn multiple languages in order to translate the Creed and other basic prayers, which he would use to catechize these foreign peoples. He traveled far and frequently. He was often on his own during these travels. The trials were even physically demanding. We can see this from one letter he sent back to the Jesuits in Rome:

“As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms.” (quoted in The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier by Henry James Coleridge, S.J., 153)

Saint Francis Xavier, SJ, exemplifies the heroic virtue that allowed him to carry out day in and day out the simple, repetitive, sometimes even monotonous tasks to which God called him. Tasks that cost him a great deal of suffering. Sometimes, this is precisely the reminder that we need. God has called each and every one of us to do certain, simple tasks, most of which are not glamorous. These tasks are, nonetheless, the foundation of the Kingdom of God. The pain of these tasks for us may not be physical, it may be the pain of stepping out of our comfort zone or doing the job no one else wants to do. By being faithful in the obvious, repetitive, and sometimes distasteful tasks given to us, we can spread God’s love to the world one person at a time.

Eventually, St. Francis Xavier would die at the age of 46 from a fever while waiting for a boat to take him to China. This seems like a rather prosaic death for a saint who had served God so fervently. He did not die a martyr’s death. Instead, he bore witness to God by his arduous labor at a task he could never hope to complete in his lifetime. It was a task that wore him to the bone and ate away at his health, but he embraced it joyfully.

Most of those he preached to were eager to receive the Gospel and only needed someone to preach it to them. Likewise, there are many people in our lives who are ready to hear the Gospel if they only had someone to bring it to them. What will preaching the Gospel cost us?Are we, like St. Francis Xavier, willing to embrace the attendant hardships with joy? Can we be like Jesus who “for the sake of the joy that lay before him . . . endured the cross”(Heb 12:2)?


-Pilgrims pray by and view the body of St Francis Xavier during an exposition of the saint in December 2004.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-missionary journeys of St Francis Xavier, SJ, (1541-1552).  Please click on the image for greater detail.

Love,
Matthew

Relics

The sixteenth-century Church endured an outbreak of new ideas and teachings contrary to the one true Faith. The Protestant Reformation had a slow start, but decades after Martin Luther’s first discourses against the Church, more ideas of reform and biblical interpretation began to arise. Soon, these ideas became infestations, and the mass spread of this fever became an ideological and spiritual plague.

In addition, many actual plagues were popping up in corners of Europe. Crops were decimated, food supplies spoiled, and water was poisoned. In the 1570s, the metropolitan city of Milan in northern Italy suffered a plague that drove out the wealthy, the influential, and the learned, leaving it nearly barren for leadership. It was left to one person to take charge and drive out the pestilence.

As if Charles Borromeo was not busy enough being archbishop of the city, he was also a highly influential cardinal tasked with executing the decrees and reforms resulting from the recently concluded Council of Trent. Finding the time to drive out a plague from one of the busiest and politically layered cities in the world would have seemed unthinkable. But nothing ever stopped Borromeo from accomplishing something when he put his mind to it. Through his managerial savvy he was able to influence the mayor to cordon here, prevent entry there, and direct traffic elsewhere, choking off the transport and transmission of the plague within the city walls.

Borromeo was not only a gifted administrator; he had a heart for the pastoring of souls. His applied his desire for personal holiness and reform to the lives of all his flock. During the plague and immediately afterward he applied one kind of pastoral care that may seem a little antiquated in our time: public demonstration of our faith through relics.

What is a relic? The word comes from the Latin term relinquo, meaning to leave behind, and fittingly, in their highest classification relics are the physical remains of saints or venerated persons. These remains consist of everything from hair to muscle tissue to vials of blood, with the most common being pieces of bones. These are known as first-class relics and they are usually kept in cathedral crypts, reliquaries in certain locations, and in altar stones in parishes (or in the floor immediately under where an altar would go).

Second-class relics are items that were used or owned by the saint, such as the cassock St. Charles was wearing when he was shot in an assassination attempt. (The blood on the cassock is first class.) Third-class relics are items that have been touched to a first-class relic. So, crucifixes, medals, and rosaries often become third-class relics.

Relics have an important place in the Church for several reasons. First, because the body is sacred, a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17).These temples belong to God, and we are to honor God with them (1 Cor. 6:19). It follows that the bodies of the saints, who in their lives honored God to an extraordinary degree, are worthy of our special respect. We can also note how the bodies of numerous saints have remained uncorrupted even centuries after death, a miracle that compels us to marvel at the power of this temple in which the Holy Spirit dwelt.

Furthermore, there relics and their veneration can be instruments of God’s power. We see this in Scripture. The Israelites took the bones of Joseph when they departed Egypt (Ex. 13:19). Elisha’s bones came in contact with a dead person who then was resurrected to life (2 Kings 13:21). Elisha also took the mantle of Elijah and fashioned a miracle with it (2 Kings 2:13). The Christians of Ephesus, by using handkerchiefs and cloths touched to St. Pauls skin, effected the healing of the sick (Acts 19:12). And Christian history is chock-full of occasions of miracles involving contact with and veneration of relics.

In Borromeo’s time many Catholics were succumbing to the ideas of Calvin, whose stronghold in Geneva was just 200 miles away. Protestants were destroying relics and even some incorruptible bodies. St. Charles understood this challenge and, in an effort to rekindle hope and faith the hearts and minds of the people of Milan, decided to do something about it: show the people these relics, first-hand, and preach about their power. Most famously, he led a Lenten procession of one of the holy nails from the Crucifixion, displayed in a crystal enclosure. Thousands of people took part in the forty-hour veneration, each receiving a replica of the nail as a solemn remembrance of the Passion.

Even when a sizable portion of his city had doubts about their power, Borromeo marched these relics straight down the busiest boulevards for all to witness. Imagine that happening today. Imagine if at the March for Life, or on All Saints Day, or on Good Friday, our bishops and pastors marched the relics of our martyrs and saints right down Park Avenue in New York City, Lakeview Drive in Chicago, the National Mall in Washington D.C., or the main thoroughfare in your city, right to the cathedral for a solemn Mass. Imagine taking our faith to the streets during the next crisis, the next natural disaster, the next holy day. Imagine the faith that can still be stirred up by this act of Christian piety and tradition.

It worked so well for Borromeo during the plague that when the pestilence was driven out and the Lombardi and Piedmont regions were clear of signs of disease, his pastoral use of relics did not end—it only increased. When he was confident of the end of the epidemic, he wrote the dukes of Savoy in Chambéry, France to inform them of his intention to make a pilgrimage of thanks over the Alps to venerate the sacred burial cloth that covered Christ in his tomb.

In their excitement to meet the famous cardinal, they met him halfway: in the city of Turin, where the Shroud and other relics were displayed for three days of city-wide spiritual exercises and devotions. Before his departure, Borromeo met privately with the duke and his sons. We don’t know exactly what they discussed, but we do know that the Shroud never went back to Chambéry. It remained in Turin, and that city has been part of its name ever since.

Five hundred years after the Reformation’s beginnings, we still have the trustworthy and wise voice of the Council of Trent that responded to the Reformers’ claim that veneration of the saints and their relics is contrary to Scripture. As the council taught, “The holy bodies of the holy martyrs and of the others who dwell with Christ . . . are to be honored by the faithful.” Let us follow that exhortation—and St. Charles Borromeo’s example—in the Church today.”

Love,
Matthew

Nov 1 – Reality


-for more detail, please click on the image

“How shining and splendid are Your gifts,
O Lord which You give us for our eternal well-being
Your glory shines radiantly in Your saints,
O God, in the honor and noble victory of the martyrs.
The white-robed company follow You, bright with their abundant faith;
They scorned the wicked words of those with this world’s power.
For You they sustained fierce beatings, chains, and torments, they were drained by cruel punishments.
They bore their holy witness to You Who were grounded deep within their hearts; they were sustained by patience and constancy.
Endowed with Your everlasting grace, may we rejoice forever with the martyrs in our bright fatherland.
O Christ, in Your goodness, grant to us the gracious heavenly realms of eternal life.”
-10th century

Not only do those in heaven pray with us, they also pray for us. In the book of Revelation, we read: “[An] angel came and stood at the altar [in heaven] with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God” (Rev. 8:3-4).

And those in heaven who offer to God our prayers aren’t just angels, but humans as well. John sees that “the twenty-four elders [the leaders of the people of God in heaven] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). The simple fact is, as this passage shows: The saints in heaven offer to God the prayers of the saints on earth.


-by Br Vincent Mary Bernhard, OP

“Reality is not always something we can choose for ourselves, and oftentimes we neither understand nor acknowledge it. So what is reality, properly speaking? Reality speaks to the truth of an objective state of affairs in which we exist, forming our perceptions about ourselves and those around us. In light of this “objective state of affairs,” we often speak of people needing to “wake up to reality” and to live in a way that is “realistic”—and the Church invites us to do the same. She does just this through the feast days and solemnities of the liturgical year. By reflecting on the events of Christ’s life and the witness of the saints, we are shaken from our mental slumber and spiritual routine to ponder anew the reality that is the Christian life.

Today is the day that the Church awakens us from our spiritual lethargy, so that we may recognize the reality of sainthood. Far from being a “catchall” for the unknown saints in heaven, this solemnity is a final and dramatic reminder that the Church gives us as the liturgical year draws to a close. There is a multitude of saints in heaven, and we are called to join them before the face of God.

The Church upholds the example of the saints, not only showing how they attained heaven but that they attained heaven; the glory of resting in the heart of the Father is not only possible but within reach. Further, these saints are still united with us in the Mystical Body of Christ, and the same divine life sustaining them in glory is perfecting us here and now. “Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ,” we read in Lumen Gentium, “so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from Whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself” (LG 50). We are called to the same glory as the saints in heaven and are united with them right now as their brothers and sisters.

As Jesus Christ intercedes on behalf of the human race in heaven, so also do those who participate in His glory share in His intercessory prayer before the Father. The saints remain before the face of the Father as those transformed into the likeness of the Son, and because they exist in this reality, they pray on our behalf for our salvation. Their prayers are efficacious inasmuch as their wills are perfectly united to the divine will, and their power is evident inasmuch as they are united to us through Christ. We are, therefore, existing within a reality that transcends space and time, intimately connected with the saints in heaven through our life in Christ.

We are reminded today of this reality: our call to sainthood and the intimate relationship we share with those who have entered eternal glory before us. Let us call upon the aid of the saints in heaven as we are renewed in our vigor and zeal, that we may take heaven by storm. May the saints, through their witness and prayers, help us surrender to the reality of the Father’s love for us, the Son’s call to us, and the Holy Spirit’s saving work within us, so that we may be more perfectly conformed to Christ’s image and come to participate in his glory with the saints in heaven.”

Love,
Matthew

Jul 26 – Bl Robert Nutter, OP, (1550-1600) – Priest & Martyr


-Bl Robert Nutter, St Dominic’s Church, Washington, DC


-by Br Titus Mary Sanchez, OP

His demeanor was uncharacteristic of a man to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. An eye-witness to Robert Nutter’s execution wrote that he went “to the gallows, with as much cheerfulness and joy as if he had been going to a feast, to the astonishment of the spectators” (Modern British Martyrology, 197).

Cheerfulness and joy? In the face of death? Did he not know that in a few moments he was to have his beating heart torn out of his chest? Surely he had gone mad! The execution of this subversive and treasonous Englishman was supposed to extinguish his hope, not cause it to burst forth in euphoric praise of God!

“Blessed are you when men hate you … Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven.” (Lk 6:22-23)

Blessed Robert Nutter is counted among the Douai martyrs, a group of English Catholic priests martyred in 16th and 17th century England. Each of these men was trained at a single English seminary in Douai, a city in northern France. It briefly relocated to Rheims for about 15 years, at which time Nutter received his theological formation. Why France? In an effort to eradicate Catholicism from the country, the English crown had forcibly closed and repurposed all churches, schools, and seminaries. In effect, they attempted to abolish the Catholic Church in England—no small feat.

The Douai seminary was established for the purpose of training Englishmen to be diocesan priests so that they could return as missionaries to their homeland, where the Church was enduring severe persecution. Indeed, during this time, agents of the British crown systematically hunted down, arrested, tortured, and executed Catholic priests, charging them with high treason. Before being put to death, these priests could spend years in prison; interestingly enough, it was during this time that Nutter professed vows as a Dominican friar.

Of the 300 priests ordained at the Douai seminary during this period, 158 were put to death for bringing the sacraments back to their fellow countrymen. One could be so bold as to say that Robert Nutter and the Douai martyrs were not only ordained to be priests, but martyrs as well: they knew that their priesthood would likely culminate in the shedding of their blood. In perfect conformity to Jesus Christ—the Eternal High Priest—priests like Robert Nutter knew the stakes, but counted them as nothing compared to possessing the heart of Christ and bringing the sacraments to souls.

It is difficult to imagine the mindset of men like Nutter. In the depths of his heart, he desired to be a priest of Jesus Christ. He knew that he would be despised by his own government. He knew that while living out his priesthood, he would do so secretly, always aware that someone—anyone—could betray him. He realized that this could very well mean his own death, a death that would come only after gruesome periods of torture. If he survived, there would be no recognition or thanks from those he served.

Therein lies the aim of priesthood: to forget yourself, to become another Christ, and to mount the cross for the salvation of souls—so as to make present once again the saving mysteries of God. Nutter knew that the ultimate reason for his priesthood and martyrdom was the salvation of the Englishmen he served.

What can the priest of today learn from a man like Nutter?

Without hesitation, he ought to learn that as a priest, his life and his heart are no longer his own. Instead, his life and his heart belong to Christ alone. Conversely, in an abundantly generous grace, Christ offers his own Sacred Heart to his priest, so that he may live and love as another Christ. The priest who does not have the heart of Christ approaches “in sheep’s clothing, but underneath is a ravenous wolf” (Jn 7:15). Pray and fast often that our priests’ hearts would be conformed to the crucified heart of Christ!

Given the nature of being hanged, drawn, and quartered, it is quite plausible that Nutter would have actually seen the hands of his executors reaching into his chest to cut out his heart. Every priest, martyr or not, should cry out the words: “I give you everything Jesus! I give you my very own heart! You may have all!”

Bl. Robert Nutter, pray to the good Lord for us, and ask him to send holy priests who, by an interior martyrdom of the heart, are willing to make as their only desire the salvation of souls.”

Love,
Matthew

Oct 19 – St Philip Howard (1557-1595), 13th Earl of Arundel, Husband, Father, Martyr


-Lord Arundel, age 18, by George Gower

Philip Howard (1557-1595), handsome, clever, rich – also impeccably aristocratic – seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence. His conscience, however, and still more his wife, prevented his sinking into the abyss of privilege.

Born at Arundel House in the Strand, Philip was the only child of Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, and his wife Mary, daughter of the 12th Earl of Arundel. Philip of Spain, later King Philip II, became his godfather.  He was baptized at Whitehall Palace with the royal family in attendance, and was named after his godfather, King Philip II of Spain. His home from the age of seven was a former Carthusian monastery.

Philip’s mother died shortly after his birth. His father, by his next wife, had two more sons and three daughters. Then, through a third match, to Elizabeth, widow of the 4th Baron Dacre, he acquired four stepchildren. In 1571 Philip was married at the age of fourteen to Anne, the eldest Dacre daughter, his step-sister.  It was an arranged marriage, which Philip resented at first.

Widowed again in 1567, his father, the Duke of Norfolk, intrigued on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots, whom he hoped to marry. Instead, he was executed in 1572 and the dukedom lapsed.

Philip, after two years at St John’s College, Cambridge, took up residence at court in the hope of restoring his family to favor. His wife he left neglected in the country.  His life had been a frivolous one, both at Cambridge and at Court.

Queen Elizabeth, however, never warmed to him, even though in 1578 Philip spent a fortune entertaining her at Kenninghall in Norfolk. His mother’s family, the Fitzalans, were far from impressed by his conduct. Nevertheless, in 1580 Philip succeeded his maternal grandfather as 13th Earl of Arundel.

He was present at the debate held in 1581 in the St John Chapel of the Tower of London, between Father Edmund Campion, a Jesuit, Father Ralph Sherwin and a group of Protestant theologians over Campion’s Decem Rationes. He was so impressed by the Catholics that he experienced a spiritual conversion. He renounced his previous, frivolous life and was reconciled with his wife.

Howard’s conversion influenced his behavior at Court and the change did not go unnoticed. Although he maintained his duties at Court and in Parliament, Howard did not go to any Anglican services. He had been one of the most spendthrift and gallant of Elizabeth’s courtiers, neglecting his wife; now Howard was solemn and devoted to Anne.

By 1585, it was a felony to aid a Catholic priest and an act of treason for an English Catholic priest to be in the country. Howard had a Catholic chaplain in his house in London and his castle at Arundel.

Another Jesuit missionary, Father William Weston, received Howard into the Catholic Church on September 30, 1584, three years after those debates in the Tower.

Unable to support the pains of recusancy, he determined to flee England and join recusants in Flanders. Anne, who was pregnant with his son, Thomas, would join him later. He would never see either of them again. Philip was a man of high profile, and his movements were closely watched by Queen Elizabeth’s spies. Arrested at sea, he was arraigned before the Star Chamber, and imprisoned in the Tower.

His father and grandfather (the poet, Henry, Earl of Surrey) had both been beheaded. Now Philip appeared to face the same fate.

In 1588 a Catholic priest called Fr William Bennet, imprisoned with him in the Tower, confessed under torture that Howard had instructed him to say Mass on behalf of the Spanish Armada. Bennet, however, later admitted he “confessed everything that seemed to content their humour”.

Howard was condemned to death, though the sentence was never carried out. Disdaining the offer of freedom should he return to the state religion, he passed his imprisonment in translating and writing spiritual works.

Queen Elizabeth never signed the death warrant, but Howard was not told this. He was kept constantly in fear of execution, although comforted by the companionship of a dog, which served as a go-between by which Howard and other prisoners, most notably the priest Robert Southwell, could send messages to each other. Although these two men never met, Howard’s dog helped them to deepen their friendship and exchange encouragement in each other’s plight. Philip Howard loved his pet, who is remembered along with him in a statue at Arundel Cathedral.

Howard spent ten years in the Tower, until his death from dysentery, was the official story. He petitioned the Queen as he lay dying to allow him to see his wife and his son, who had been born after his imprisonment. The Queen responded that “If he will but once attend the Protestant Service, he shall not only see his wife and children, but be restored to his honors and estates with every mark of my royal favor.” To this, Howard is supposed to have replied: “Tell Her Majesty if my religion be the cause for which I suffer, sorry I am that I have but one life to lose.” He remained in the Tower, never seeing his wife or daughter again, and died alone on Sunday 19 October 1595. He was immediately acclaimed as a Catholic (dry) Martyr.

He died on October 19 1595 after an illness of two months. Poisoning was suspected. “The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world,” ran the Latin inscription in his room, “the more glory we shall obtain with Christ in the next.”

His son Thomas (1586-1646) succeeded as Earl of Arundel. Philip Howard was canonized in 1970.


-martyrs chapel, Horsham, England, please click on the image for greater detail.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 24 – St. Gerard of Csanád, OSB, (980-1046 AD) Bishop & Martyr – a spiked barrel & JOY!!!!!


-by Br Louis Bethea, OP

“Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the joyous martyr, St. Gerard of Csanád. The Legenda Minor S. Gerardi (ca. 1080) records that he was born around 970. He was a Benedictine monk who was made bishop of Marosvár (later named Csanád) in the Kingdom of Hungary. The region contained many Greek Orthodox inhabitants alongside numerous pagan communities in what was then a part of Hungary’s “wild west.” In addition to Gerard’s success at catechesis and exegesis, he converted many of the local pagans with gentleness and zeal. When the King of Hungary, St. Stephen, died in 1038, a period of political chaos ensued, and it was in this turmoil that St. Gerard was martyred. Several accounts of his martyrdom describe him, buoyed by the grace of God, rolling down a hill in a spiked barrel. Found still alive at the bottom of the hill, he was bludgeoned to death. Throughout this episode, and others in his life, various sources pay attention to Gerard’s joy, rooted in his deep love for Jesus Christ.

When we think of joy, perhaps images of victorious sports teams or holding a newborn baby come to mind. The Christian perspective goes deeper. Reflecting on its essence, Pope St. Paul VI taught that joy is “the spiritual sharing in the unfathomable joy […] which is in the heart of Jesus Christ glorified” (Gaudete in Domino 2). Drawing from St. Thomas Aquinas, Paul VI clarifies that joy is happiness “in the strict sense, when man, on the level of his higher faculties, finds his peace and satisfaction in the possession of a known and loved good” (see ST I-II, q. 31, a. 3). There is a distinction between the lower forms of happiness and joy in that “joy, which is about God, is caused by charity” (ST II-II, q. 28, a. 4). To the degree that our happiness is rooted in earthly things or in our love of God helps us differentiate between happiness and true, spiritual joy, respectively.

Drawing from the lives of the saints, perhaps the clearest expression of joy is given to us in the gospel, when Elizabeth felt John the Baptist “leap for joy” at the approach of Jesus in the Blessed Mother’s womb (Lk 1:44). The presence of God, even in the womb of his mother, was enough to send the baby John into a fit of joy! Saint Felicity, on her way to the arena for her execution, was in such a state of joy that she walked with “shining steps as the true wife of Christ, the darling of God” (The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity). We too, when we unite our gladness and anguish to Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection, can exude joy in responding to the love of God as his treasured sons and daughters. In so doing, we become magnetic Christians on account of our joyful tranquility, which in turn draws others to Christ.

As Catholics, we are called to witness to the “joy that we have in the celebration of the death and resurrection of the Lord” (Guadete in Domino 3). Joy, as that ultimate state of happiness described by Pope St. Paul VI, reflects the love that we are granted from the Father. The grace that God provided St. Gerard allowed him to endure his martyrdom and become God’s instrument for the conversion of the Magyar pagans, who eventually would embrace the faith. May the Holy Spirit also grant us the gift of joy as we persevere in the Christian life. Saint Gerard of Csanád, pray for us!”

O God, Who were pleased to give light to your Church by adorning blessed Gerard with the victory of martyrdom, graciously grant that, as he imitated the Lord’s Passion, so we may, by following in his footsteps, be worthy to attain eternal joys. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The sign of a Christian is JOY amongst our crosses. Not fake smiles, but because of our deep contemplative relationship with Him, all is JOY!!!!

Love,
Matthew

Sep 19 – St Januarius, Bishop & Martyr, d. 305 AD-blood that flows


-please click on the image for greater detail

At Pozzuoli in Campania [the memory] of the holy martyrs Januarius, Bishop of Beneventum, Festus his deacon, and Desiderius lector, together with Socius deacon of the church of Misenas, Proculus deacon of Pozzuoli, Eutyches and Acutius, who after chains and imprisonment were beheaded under the Emperor Diocletian.

The body of St. Januarius was brought to Naples, and there honorably interred in the church, where his holy blood is kept unto this day in a phial of glass, which being set near his head becomes liquid and bubbles up as though it were fresh.

Timotheus, President of Campania, was the official who condemned the martyrs, that Januarius was thrown into a fiery furnace, but that the flames would not touch him, and that the saint and his companions were afterwards exposed in the amphitheatre to wild beasts without any effect. Timotheus declaring that this was due to magic, and ordering the martyrs to be beheaded, the persecutor was smitten with blindness, but Januarius cured him, and five thousand persons were converted to Christ before the martyrs were decapitated.

Blood that flows

Saint Januarius is famous for the alleged miracle of the annual liquefaction of his blood. The first certain date is 1389, when it was found to have melted. Then, over the following two and a half centuries official reports began to appear declaring that the blood spontaneously melted, at first once a year, then twice, and finally three times a year.

While the report of the very first incidence of liquefaction did not make any explicit reference to the skull of the saint, soon afterwards assertions began to appear that this relic was activating the melting process, as if the blood, recognizing a part of the body to which it belonged, “were impatient while waiting for its resurrection”


-reliquary containing the head of St Januarius, please click on the image for greater detail

Thousands of people assemble to witness this event in Naples Cathedral three times a year: on September 19 (Saint Januarius’s Day, commemorating his martyrdom), on December 16 (celebrating his patronage of Naples and its archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (commemorating the reunification of his relics). The blood is also said to spontaneously liquefy at certain other times, such as papal visits.


-Matteo Treglia, Mitre of St. Januarius, 1713, Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro, Naples, Italy, please click on the image for greater detail


-Michele Dato, Necklace of St. Januarius, 1679, Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro, Neaples, Italy, please click on the image for greater detail

Love,
Matthew

Sep 17 – Galileo, Copernicus, Bellarmine: to read history, throw away modern lenses


please click on the image for greater detail

“Presentism” is a heresy of history of reading history through modern point of view, culture, and biases. We cannot judge the past from the present. It is impossible. Nor would the past understand the present. The best way to read history is to prepare like an actor to participate in that moment in history taking a well know, well worn role, and seeing it through those eyes.


-by Christopher Check

“Events in history happen in certain times and places. Goes without saying, right? I’m not so sure. It’s not uncommon for us to examine the past through the lenses of today.

I once read a history of the eleventh-century Norman conquest of Sicily. This otherwise lively and accurate account portrayed Robert Guiscard and Roger de Hauteville as venture capitalists, a profession that no medieval man could have wrapped his imagination around.

It is a mistake to judge the decisions and actions of the churchmen involved in what has come to be called the Galileo Affair through the lens (no pun intended here) of modern astronomical discoveries. Better to consider the event by taking a stab at understanding the state of the science at the time, the personality of Galileo, the cultural and religious atmosphere, and the personality of the one saint in the story, the man whose sanctity we celebrate today on his feast day: Robert Cardinal Bellarmine.


-Nikolaus Kopernikus, “Torun portrait” (anonymous, c. 1580), kept in Toruń town hall, Poland, please click on the image for greater detail

Copernicus raises a question

Since ancient times man’s understanding of the cosmos was geocentric: a fixed, immobile Earth around which the heavenly bodies orbited. Aristotle and Ptolemy, whose model included planetary epicycles to account for apparent retrograde motion, were the chief proponents of this model. Among the ancients there was at least one proponent of a heliocentric model, Aristarchus of Samos (known to us through Archimedes), but in the absence of observational evidence the model that was intuitive took hold. Geocentrism was not doctrine, but because it came from Aristotle and because it comported with Scripture, the Church adopted the model.

Not until a canon of the Catholic Church, Nicholas Copernicus, in 1543 published on his deathbed his De revolutionibus orbium ceolestium did anyone give a serious look at a heliocentric model. Even then, few took notice, and the Church certainly was not alarmed. Fact is, Copernicus was encouraged by priests to publish, and he dedicated the book to Pope Paul III. (Luther and Calvin, it’s worth noting, were in fits; Luther called Copernicus a “fool.”)

Copernicus had not one piece of physical observational evidence in support of heliocentrism. De revolutionibus was a complex collection of mathematical formulas and Latin descriptions written to predict the location of the heavenly bodies throughout the year. It’s important to underscore that astronomers at this time in history were not natural philosophers, what we call “physicists” today. They were mathematicians. Their job was to devise the formulas that predicted the location of the heavenly bodies, whether or not the formulas were a true account of what was happening in the physical cosmos.

“Why bother then?” Well, if you were the navigator on a seagoing vessel, or one of the Jesuits at the Roman College hard at work on bringing more precision to the Julian Calendar (some eleven minutes too long every year), where the planets and stars were and when was of central importance to your trade. Also, if you were an astrologer—and make no mistake, back then astrology and astronomy were considerably less delineated than they are now (Galileo wrote horoscopes for cash)—the position of the heavenly bodies was critical to your trade, too.


-Galileo Galilei (1636), by Justus Sustermans, please click on the image for greater detail

Galileo: a force of nature

Knowing the distinction between astronomers (mathematicians) and natural philosophers (physicists) helps us appreciate just how groundbreaking Galileo was: he looked at astronomical questions from the perspective of a natural philosopher. His interests were motion, dynamics, mechanics, etc.; in other words, the fields that tell us what is happening in the physical world.

His theories would not have received the attention they did had it not been for the arrival in the early seventeenth century—in the Netherlands, perhaps—of a carnival toy. Galileo did not invent the telescope, but he sure did improve it, and—another critical contribution—in December of 1609 he pointed it at the heavens. The subsequent months revealed undiscovered wonders, the “mountains of the moon,” the moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus. None of these was proof of a heliocentric solar system, but for a pioneer of deductive reasoning, they constituted compelling evidence.

Equally compelling was the force of Galileo’s personality. An impatient genius, Galileo did not go out of his way to make friends among his academic colleagues in Pisa, Florence, Padua, and Rome. His correspondence is replete with bold expressions of his arrogance and bitter insults leveled at men who disagreed with him. He not only lacked humility, he took pleasure at social gatherings in humiliating other scholars with rhetorical traps. His obstinacy is something to marvel at, especially when he was wrong—as he was about the tides, circular orbits, and comets, for example.

Had Galileo been a little more sensitive to the religious atmosphere of his age, the story might have gone less badly. It is commonly believed that the Church’s leading minds refused to look at Galileo’s arguments or look through his telescope. Nothing could be further from the truth. He had the backing of the Carmelite scientist and philosopher Paolo Antonio Foscarini and of many the Jesuits at the Roman College, including Gregorian Calendar architect Christopher Clavius, who were buying up his telescopes and confirming his findings. (His chief academic adversaries were laymen.)

It is true, however, that Galileo made his discoveries in a world still reacting to Martin Luther’s and John Calvin’s insistence that Scripture was subject to personal interpretation. The Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century said it was not. There was no shortage of scriptural passages making reference to a fixed Earth orbited by sun and stars. (There still are!) The Church, as Cardinal Bellarmine was at pains to explain to Galileo when they met in 1616, needed to be deliberate in interpreting scriptural passages that seemed to contradict the discoveries of modern astronomy.

Bellarmine: the voice of reason

Bellarmine counseled caution for two reasons. The first showed a more disciplined and careful approach to deductive science than Galileo’s. “The Copernican system predicts the phases of Venus,” Bellarmine told Galileo. “This does not prove the converse, that is: Venus exhibits phases, therefore the universe is Copernican.” Bellarmine was right, of course. Tycho Brahe’s hybrid model, in which all but the Earth revolves around the sun and all that swirling bundle revolves around the Earth, would also account for the phases of Venus. In other words, absent proof (and that does not come until the mid-nineteenth century) caution more than anything was required in reinterpreting Scripture—which brings us to the good saint’s second reason for caution.

Bellarmine was sharp of mind and had a strong pastoral sense. He told Galileo, “The evidence is insufficient to force scriptural reinterpretations that could lead to doubts in the minds of the faithful about the inerrancy of Scripture.” The position is a perfectly reasonable one. It applies a pastoral solution to a speculative problem. Had Galileo listened to Bellarmine, he would not have found himself in front of an understandably impatient (by this time he had implied that the pope was simpleminded) and admittedly heavy-handed inquisition in 1633.

The dictate of charity

The details of that conflict are for another piece. Let’s conclude with the reflections of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, who, while still an Anglican, argued that Bellarmine in his caution was following the dictates of charity:

Galileo might be right in his conclusion that the earth moves; to consider him a heretic might have been wrong; but there was nothing wrong in censuring abrupt, startling, unsettling, unverified disclosures, if such they were, disclosures at once uncalled for and inopportune, at a time when the limits of revealed truth had not as yet been ascertained. A man ought to be very sure of what he is saying, before he risks the chance of contradicting the word of God. It was safe, not dishonest, to be slow in accepting what nevertheless turned out to be true. Here is an instance in which the Church obliges Scripture expositors, at a given time or place, to be tender of the popular religious sense.

I have been led to take a second view of this matter. That jealousy of originality in the matter of religion, which is the instinct of piety, is, in the case of questions that excite the popular mind, also the dictate of charity. Galileo’s truth is said to have shocked and scared the Italy of his day. To say that the Earth went round the sun revolutionized the received system of belief as regards heaven, purgatory, and hell; and it forcibly imposed a figurative interpretation upon categorical statements of Scripture.

Heaven was no longer above and Earth below; the heavens no longer literally opened and shut; purgatory and hell were not for certain under the earth. The catalogue of theological truths was seriously curtailed. Whither did our Lord go on his ascension? If there is to be a plurality of worlds, what is the special importance of this one? And is the whole, visible universe, with its infinite spaces, one day to pass away?

We are used to these questions now and reconciled to them; and on that account are no fit judges of the disorder and dismay that the Galilean hypothesis would cause to good Catholics, as far as they became cognizant of it, or how necessary it was in charity, especially then, to delay the formal reception of a new interpretation of Scripture, till their imaginations should gradually get accustomed to it.”

Love,
Matthew

Evangelicals & Augustine’s Confessions


-Augustine’s Confessions


-by Alberto Ferreiro, PhD

“Why do Evangelical Protestants find Augustine’s Confessions so engaging? In the university where I teach, for most students the Confessions is their first encounter with Augustine, and their response is overwhelmingly favorable. (Ironically, when I assign Augustine, most Catholics in my classes are reading him for the first time as well, and some have never heard of him at all.) Many Evangelicals have embraced him in much the same way they have embraced Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi, and Thomas Merton. Though there are shortcomings of Evangelicals’ reading of the Confessions, Catholics can learn from them.

Let us begin with the pear tree episode, which highlights Augustine’s youthful, restless phase and his emerging recognition that something is dreadfully wrong with the deep impulses of human nature. Augustine describes how his group of “young scoundrels,” hanging out in the street until late, robbed a neighbor’s pear tree of its fruit “not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden” (Confessions 2:4:9).

Evangelicals—whether they are influenced by the Wesleyan, Lutheran, or Reformed view of human nature—have a strong sense of sin and the enormous damage it causes. While many modern Catholic and Protestant teachers minimize sin, Evangelicals tend to overemphasize the Fall and its effects on the individual and his relationship with God. Neither extreme is a healthy one. For Evangelicals it is not a question of simply doing good or controlling one’s destructive behavior; it is, rather, the need to experience a radical transformation of the inner person.

Augustine concluded, as he reflected on the act of stealing and destroying the pears, that there was really no such thing as a benign sin without temporal consequences. A shortcoming of the Evangelical understanding of sin is the lack of distinction between what Catholics call venial and mortal sin. Conspicuously absent in Evangelical preaching is any reference to this distinction as made in 1 Corinthians 3:10–15, and especially as when John says, “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal” (1 John 5:17). What permeates Evangelical preaching and evangelism are Paul’s statements that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

Where Evangelicals have it right is that they recognize, as did Augustine, that all acts of sin, while they may not be of similar temporal gravity, are reflections of our rebellion against God, and their effects deform us. In the end, neither Catholics nor Evangelicals must allow a loss of the sense of sin to enter into their lives and the life of the Church. If we begin to excuse away venial sin or treat it in a lighthearted manner, chances are in time we will also find justification for mortal sin as well.

One of the distinctive elements of Augustine’s conversion is his direct encounter with Scripture in the garden of Milan, buttressed by Ambrose’s preaching (5:13:23–25). This aspect of his conversion is often cited by Evangelicals. When a Catholic visits an Evangelical gathering for the first time, the one thing that stands out the most—other than the vigorous and copious singing—is the central place preaching takes in their worship. In many Evangelical churches, the eucharist is absent. It is celebrated infrequently with the emphasis on symbolism.

Nevertheless, as a former Evangelical, I can attest to having experienced a profound reverence (expressed through kneeling during the entire communion service), a call to conversion, and tears. But our focus here is on the centrality of the word. The call by Paul to the necessity of the preached word for salvation (Rom. 10:14–17) is heard frequently in Evangelical services.

Evangelicals have developed a consistent and deep understanding of the potent nature of God’s word on an individual, provided one’s heart is open to the action of the Holy Spirit. As Paul reminds us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Augustine is a model par excellence of the proper attitude one should bring to the private reading of sacred Scripture (the garden in Milan) and in the public proclamation of the word in the gathered body of Christ, the Church (the preaching of Ambrose).

Evangelicals have done well to focus on this most important aspect of the conversion experience of Augustine in the Confessions. God has at his disposal a limitless amount of ways to reach us, but one of the most important ways is through the word of God as contained in the Bible. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Augustine came to understand—in the garden and through the preaching of Ambrose—all that Moses, the prophets, and the psalms said concerning Jesus Christ. But it was only a preparation for Augustine. He would soon discover how to fully “see” Jesus through the Eucharist (Luke 24:30–31, 35).

In the Confessions, Augustine singles out his discovery of Paul as of great importance (7:21:27), undoubtedly because of his reading the epistle to the Romans during his conversion in the garden. When in the company of Evangelicals, it does not take long for one to discover the importance of Paul. It is true that Evangelicalism, and historic Protestantism in general, is heavily Pauline. It is not only because Paul wrote a good portion of the New Testament. Paul comes first, and he is the lens through which the Gospels and all else in the New Testament are read. It comes hardly as a surprise, therefore, that this section of the Confessions is of great importance to Evangelicals.

Informed Catholics, on the other hand, read Paul through the lens of the Gospels and not the other way around—just as we are taught to read the Old Testament through New Testament eyes. Augustine himself noted, “The New lies hidden in the Old and the Old is unveiled in the New” (Quaest. in Hept. 2:73). Catholics express the primacy of the Gospels at Mass by standing and singing the Alleluia, by crossing their foreheads, lips, and chests before the reading, and by concluding the reading with the acclamation, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”

No one who reads the Confessions comes away untouched by Monica and her role in the conversion of her son (9:8:17–37). This section is one of the most moving in the entire work, and Evangelicals single it out as an example of perseverance in faith and the power of intercessory prayer. Many Evangelicals have a rich and profound prayer life, even though until very recently it lacked a contemplative dimension. While Evangelicals still lack the contemplative dimension of prayer, they make up for it with their strong belief in the efficacy of intercessory prayer.

Having attended numerous prayer meetings, services, and Bible studies, and having read much of their literature over the years, I can attest that the accent is clearly on intercessory prayer. (At times this can be taken to the extreme of telling God what needs to be done and how to do it.) Evangelicals are fond of citing Scripture passages that highlight intercessory prayer, among the most popular being James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.”

By contrast, I cannot recall hearing a sermon based upon biblical texts that lend themselves to contemplation, such as the Marian text, “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). The Evangelical fear of Marian piety and devotion, which they label “mariolatry,” steers them away from such passages. As Catholic writer Mark P. Shea has observed, the aversion to and rejection of Marian themes in Scripture explains in part the absence of the contemplative and of silent adoration in Evangelical ecclesial culture.

We Catholics need to learn from our Evangelical brethren to integrate into our private prayer life intense intercessory prayer as much as they need to incorporate contemplative moments into their public and private prayer life. A prayer life without the contemplative runs the risk of becoming an exercise in demands that degenerates into telling God what to do and how to do it. That is a form of idolatry. On the other hand, a prayer life given over mainly to contemplation without an intercessory.aspect likewise tends to degenerate into self-absorbed spirituality focused only on the self. That too is a form of idolatry. From what we can gather in the Confessions, Monica did not fall into either extreme. She teaches and inspires us to persevere in intercessory prayer, which is contemplative fruit.

Most Evangelicals know Augustine only through the Confessions. What he says there is read in isolation from the rest of his theology, especially his theology of the liturgy and ecclesiology. This is understandable; to embrace the whole of Augustine’s writings would entail embracing the Catholic faith. The Confessions are safe in this regard, since they do not really touch upon these two areas of substantial disagreement between Evangelicals and Catholics.

Evangelicals’ reductionist view of the sacraments, above all of the Eucharist, explains their lack of interest in what Augustine has to say about these things. Evangelicals nevertheless need to give serious consideration to what Augustine has to say about the sacraments, ecclesiology, hermeneutics, the canon of Scripture, and the many others areas of theology he influenced decisively.

Conversely, from their reading of the Confessions Catholics can learn much from Evangelicals regarding the word of God. Catholics need to discover that Scripture itself in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament testifies time and again concerning the power of God’s word to transform people’s lives. One of the great pastoral challenges regarding the liturgy since Vatican II is to convince Catholics that the liturgy of the word is of vital importance.

The episode on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35) is a good place for Catholics to see that Scripture is essential to our experience of Christ in the liturgy. Catholics require widespread catechesis to g.asp the transforming power that God’s word carries if we allow the Holy Spirit to burn it into our minds and hearts so that we may proclaim at every Mass, “Were not our hearts burning within us?” Once we realize that sacred Scripture is God’s word, objectively speaking, and that there is a presence of Jesus in it, it changes our attitude altogether to the proclamation of the word and the homily at Mass.

The private reading of the word of God that is so crucial to Evangelical discipleship can also be instructive to Catholics. That private moment in the garden in Milan where Augustine through his direct reading of Scripture met the Lord in a personal way needs to be pondered by Catholics. Since Vatican II there has been an explosion of private devotional reading material to help Catholics experience the word of God, whether individually or in small groups outside of Mass. Long-standing scriptural devotions such as the Liturgy of the Hours are making a return among Catholics around the world thanks to the encouragement of Pope John Paul II.

Even so, many parishes do not have ongoing scriptural catechesis or prayer groups. The biblical illiteracy of many Catholics—indeed, of some priests—is still a major problem. In Evangelical communities, Bible study groups are a central component of their apostolate.

Like Augustine, we need to visit our garden each day, be open to the power of God’s word, and allow the Paraclete to guide us into all truth. Many Evangelicals are experiencing only half of Emmaus (the table of the word) and many Catholics only the other half (the table of the bread). The two are one, the latter being the primary manifestation of Christ’s presence, as the Catechism eloquently affirms: “It is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” (CCC 1374).

At the Eucharistic table we encounter our Lord once again in a singularly unique presence: his very body, blood, soul, and divinity—the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324, Lumen Gentium 11). The Jesus with whom we commune at the eucharistic banquet is the same Jesus who has spoken to us previously from the ambo in the word through the Spirit. The two disciples at Emmaus encountered nothing less than the same Jesus at every step—and so do we at every liturgy.

We Catholics have nearly as much to learn from our Evangelical friends about the word as they have to learn from us about the Eucharist. A major difference is that we have both word and Eucharist; it is a matter of Catholics entering into the fullness of both at every liturgy. Non-sacramental Evangelicals have relegated their eucharist to a distant, secondary role—if not to insignificance—and this is unfortunate.

If Catholics and Evangelicals read Augustine from a purely intellectual or scholarly approach (for which there is a time and a place), we miss out on the real reason as to why the Confessions were written in the first place. Was it not to guide our hearts and minds to the One who can only satisfy our restlessness in through a profound conversion? Do they not have as their goal to fulfill at every Catholic Mass what Paul prayed, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18)? Augustine, who was celebrated last year on the occasion of the 1,600th anniversary of the publication of his Confessions, would desire nothing less.”

Love,
Matthew