Category Archives: September

Sep 5 – Bl Alcide-Vital Lastaste, OP, (1832-1869), Apostle of Prisons, Founder of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany for female ex-cons & abused women

“Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning He was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and He sat down and taught them.  As He was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap Him into saying something they could use against Him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with His finger.  They kept demanding an answer, so He stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”  Then He stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.  Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.””
-Jn 8:1-11

Alcide-Vital Lastaste was born in Gironde, France, on September 5, 1832. As a teenager, Alcide felt a call to the priesthood, but as is the way of adolescence, sometimes there can be distractions. Alcide began courting a young lady named Cecilia de Saint-Germain while attending secondary school.

Cecilia and Alcide soon declared their love for each other and planned to get married as soon as possible. However, Alcide’s father, Vital, thought the couple was too young to be getting so serious. He voiced his great displeasure at their deep involvement, and the couple agreed to not see each other for a year. Incredibly, during that year, Cecilia suddenly passed away. The young man was heartbroken.

Alcide turned to his young faith for comfort. He joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the visits to the downtrodden and homeless opened his eyes to the plight of the poor. At the same time, the call to the priesthood once more erupted within him. In 1857 he entered the Dominican Order. Alcide was ordained a priest on February 8, 1863, and took the name Jean-Joseph. His unexpected spiritual journey was about to take flight and reach heights no one could have ever imagined.

In 1279, Charles of Anjou discovered the allegedly true relics of Saint Mary Magdalene in the small town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, and along with her grave were also found the grave of Saint Maximinus , the first Bishop of Aix. Karl of Anjou built the Gothic cathedral there to have a worthy repository for these relics. He also built an adjacent monastery, where he installed the Dominicans as guardians of the tomb. The monastery was named “The Royal Monastery” (Le Couvent Royal) . During the revolution, the Dominicans were expelled from the monastery, which is now converted into a hotel. It was there that Brother Jean-Joseph Lataste would deepen his spiritual life and become acquainted with Mary Magdalene, who became the inspiration for his role as founder.

On May 20, 1860, a large party was held on the occasion of the translation of Mary Magdalene’s relics. Lacordaire, who had reintroduced the Dominicans to France after the revolution, was unfortunately absent due to illness, and Brother Jean-Joseph was honored to kiss the saint’s skull, which for him would become a deep and significant spiritual experience. That thought was nailed to his mind, that so great love for the saint could be too great a sin, and he adopted Mary Magdalene as a special patron saint for his future work among sinners.

On September 15, 1864, after being a priest all of 18 months, Father Jean-Joseph Lataste was sent by the prior of the monastery in Bordeaux to conduct a four-day retreat for the inmates of a woman’s prison in the town of Cadillac. This experience would change his life forever.

Suddenly he found himself amid 400 women prisoners, most of them abused and abandoned with nowhere to go. In most cases, these women were poor, uneducated, and without family. Living on the streets forces one to live in survival mode. That means stealing and soliciting and doing whatever one must do to breathe another day. They had been discarded and treated like criminals. This was 1864, and they fit the cliché “out of sight, out of mind.”

The atmosphere of hopelessness and despair at the prison was overwhelming. He wondered what he could do for these women who were often called “the lost women.” Would they even sit and listen to him? He was frightened of the possibilities, but he was also filled with faith.

Father Jean-Joseph stood before the women, stretched out his arms, and began, “My dear sisters –” That was shocking in itself because no one ever truly spoke to these people. Dogs and cats were treated better. His gentle, brotherly greeting got their attention. He spent the next few days guiding them to a special place. It was a place where Hope existed. They had forgotten what that even meant, if they’d ever known at all.

He introduced them to God’s infinite mercy by telling them about the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus forgave her. He spoke about Hell and conversion and embracing freedom. He shared with them the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and lastly, he spoke to them of Heaven. He could not believe how many women embraced the offer of forgiveness and began going to Confession. The chapel was filled each evening for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. His own heart became filled with a new purpose. He wanted to begin a ministry to serve these women.

The women asked that he come back, and one year later he did just that. This time there was only one sermon a day because the demand for Confession was so high. The last night of the retreat, most of the women attended Adoration. Some stayed the entire night, remaining until dawn. Using the words of St. Catherine of Siena, Father Lataste wrote in his closing notes about the retreat: “I have seen the secrets of God; I have seen the wonders.”

From that point on, he was determined to find a way to help these women. In 1866, he wrote a pamphlet called Rehabilitated. He sent copies to as many journalists and government officials as he could. He knew that the reason so many of those being released failed was because no one trusted them or gave them the slightest chance. He was determined to reshape public opinion.

He announced his intentions of starting an order where women leaving prison could begin a religious life in a contemplative setting. This order was approved and is known as the Dominican Sisters of Bethany. Bethany was the village in Judea where Jesus’ three friends lived—Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, the sinner who became a contemplative soul. Father Lataste, following the Latin tradition exemplified by Saint Augustine and Saint Gregory the Great, identified Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany. Jesus loved to come and stay with them. The Order still flourishes and serves many women in different countries around the world.

However, for French society in the nineteenth century, the nature of the new foundation was surprising, even scandalous. Hostile reactions came particularly from the Dominican Third Order Regular communities, onto which Father Lataste intended to graft Bethany. These religious, usually dedicated to the education of girls, were afraid of public opinion confusing them with repentant sinners. The provincial chapter of the Order informed Father Lataste that the very principle of his foundation raised objections. The founder was not discouraged. This opposition seemed to him to be the sign of divine blessing, given through the cross. In the end, the difficulties faded away, and the foundation continued its course.

The Dominican Sisters of Bethany, contemplative women religious who welcome among them women from various paths, have four houses today—two in France, one in Switzerland, and another near Turin. They visit nearby prisons. The heart of their community life is contemplation of the Divine Mercy, centered on the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in keeping with Father Lataste’s wishes.

Tuberculosis took the life of Alcide-Vital Lastaste (aka Father Jean-Joseph) on March 10, 1868. He was only 36 years old. As he died, he could be heard softly singing the Hail, Holy Queen, “Salve Regina.”

Dominicans sing the Salve Regina at the end of Compline as the last hymn before holy silence for evening (and emptying dishwashers, yes, plural, novice joke) until morning, when “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.” is intoned to begin Matins.

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiæ,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevæ,
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.


-please click on the image for greater detail

Love,
Matthew

Sep 29 – Michael, Gabriel, Raphael

-from a homily on the Gospels by Saint Gregory the Great, pope, Second Reading, Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours, for September 29th.

“You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.

And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.

Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform. In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily by known. But personal names are assigned to some, not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they come among us. Thus, Michael means ‘Who is like God?’; Gabriel is ‘The Strength of God’; and, Raphael is ‘God’s Remedy.’

Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by His superior power. So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High. He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle was fought with Michael the archangel.

So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One Who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 14 – St Theodore the Studite (759-826 AD) – “Oratio in adorationem crucis”

“How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise but opens the way for our return.

This was the tree on which Christ, like a king on a chariot, destroyed the devil, the lord of death, and freed the human race from his tyranny. This was the tree upon which the Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in his hands, feet, and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature. A tree once caused our death, but now a tree brings life. Once deceived by a tree, we have now repelled the cunning serpent by a tree. What an astonishing transformation! That death should become life, that decay should become immortality, that shame should become glory! Well might the holy Apostle exclaim: Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world! [cf Galatians 6:14] The supreme wisdom that flowered on the cross has shown the folly of worldly wisdom’s pride. The knowledge of all good, which is the fruit of the cross, has cut away the shoots of wickedness.

The wonders accomplished through this tree were foreshadowed clearly even by the mere types and figures that existed in the past. Meditate on these, if you are eager to learn. Was it not the wood of a tree that enabled Noah, at God’s command, to escape the destruction of the flood together with his sons, his wife, his sons’ wives and every kind of animal? And surely the rod of Moses prefigured the cross when it changed water into blood, swallowed up the false serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians, divided the sea at one stroke and then restored the waters to their normal course, drowning the enemy and saving God’s own people? Aaron’s rod, which blossomed in one day in proof of his true priesthood, was another figure of the cross, and did not Abraham foreshadow the cross when he bound his son Isaac and placed him on the pile of wood?

By the cross, death was slain and Adam was restored to life. The cross is the glory of all the apostles, the crown of the martyrs, the sanctification of the saints. By the cross, we put on Christ and cast aside our former self. By the cross, we, the sheep of Christ, have been gathered into one flock, destined for the sheepfolds of heaven.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 8 – Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary


-“The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, by Giotto, in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy (circa 1305 AD)

I was privileged in my volunteer work with hospice to sit vigil this morning with Frederick “Fred” J. from 4am to 8am, my preferred shift. My new friend Fred is 89, an orphan, no family, and one female friend. I said my Lauds/Morning Office for him and with him this morning. I am blessed. This was the hymn for Morning Office today.

Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the Gate, Christ the Heav’nly Way!
Mary the Root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the Wheat-sheaf, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the Rose-Tree, Christ the Rose Blood-red!
Mary the Font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord;
Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son.
Both ever blest while endless ages run.

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Mary, my Mother, teach me to live hidden with you in the shadow of God.

MEDITATION

The liturgy enthusiastically celebrates Mary’s Nativity and makes it one of the most appealing feasts of Marian devotion. We sing in today’s Office: “Thy Nativity, O Virgin Mother of God, brings joy to the whole world, because from you came forth the Sun of Justice, Christ, our God.” Mary’s birth is a prelude to the birth of Jesus because it is the initial point of the realization of the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God for the salvation of mankind. How could the birthday of the Mother of the Redeemer pass unnoticed in the hearts of the redeemed? The Mother proclaims the Son, making it known that He is about to come, that the divine promises, made centuries before, are to be fulfilled. The birth of Mary is the dawn of our redemption; her appearance projects a new light over all the human race: a light of innocence, of purity, of grace, a resplendent presage of the great light which will inundate the world when Christ, “lux mundi,” the Light of the World, appears. Mary, preserved from sin in anticipation of Christ’s merits, not only announces that the Redemption is at hand, but she bears the firstfruits of it within herself; she is the first one redeemed by her divine Son. Through her, all-pure and full of grace, the Blessed Trinity at last fixes on earth a look of complacency, finding in her alone a creature in whom the infinite beauty of the Godhead can be reflected.

The birth of Jesus excepted, no other was so important in God’s eyes or so fruitful for the good of humanity, as was the birth of Mary. Yet it has remained in complete obscurity. There is no mention of it in Sacred Scriptures and when we look for the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel, we find only what refers to Joseph; we find nothing explicit about Mary’s ancestry except the allusion to her descent from David. Our Lady’s origin is wrapped in silence, as was her whole life. Thus, her birth speaks to us of humility. The more we desire to grow in God’s eyes, the more we should hide ourselves from the eyes of creatures. The more we wish to do great things for God, the more we should labor in silence and obscurity.

COLLOQUY

“When I feel myself tossed about in the sea of this world amidst storms and tempests, I keep my eyes fixed on you, O Mary, shining star, lest I be swallowed up by the waves.

“When the winds of temptation arise, when I dash against the reefs of tribulations, I raise my eyes to you and call upon you, O Mary. When I am agitated by the billows of pride, ambition, slander or jealousy, I look to you and I invoke you, O Mary; when anger or avarice or the seductions of the flesh rock the fragile little barque of my soul, I always look to you, O Mary. And if I am troubled by the enormity of my sins, troubled in conscience, frightened at the severity of judgment, and if I should feel myself engulfed in sadness or drawn into the abyss of despair, again I raise my eyes to you, always calling on you, O Mary.

“In dangers, in difficulties, in doubts, I will always think of you, O Mary, I will always call on you. May your name, O Virgin Mary, be always on my lips and never leave my heart; in order that I may obtain the help of your prayers, grant that I may never lose sight of the example of your life. Following you, O Mary, I shall not go astray, thinking of you I shall not err, if you support me I shall not fall, if you protect me I shall have nothing to fear, if you accompany me I shall not grow weary, if you look upon me with favor, I shall reach the port” (cf. St. Bernard).

Love,
Matthew

Sep 14 – Triumph of the Cross

People suffer horrific things in this life. And, as Jim Morris sang, “Nobody gets out of here alive.” I have long held, if you can explain the contradiction of the Cross, not easy, but then you do understand Christianity; counter-intuitive. It takes the worst, and represents the worst-also, this life can offer…and DESTROYS it, forever. Praise Him. Praise Him. Praise Him, Church. Praise Him. There is no Resurrection without the Cross. Horrific and horrifying, yes. Absolutely required? Without question or hesitation. Praise Him. Praise Him.


The Triumph of the Cross, ~1380, Agnolo Gaddi (1350–1396), fresco, Santa Croce, Florence (please click on the image for greater detail)


-by Br Ambrose Arralde, OP

“For many Christians, making the sign of the cross can be as mechanical as brushing one’s teeth or clearing one’s throat. On the one hand, it’s beautiful that such a simple sign can contain such profound meaning. It’s very simplicity, however, makes it easy for us to perform without giving its meaning a second thought. A good meditation on this phenomenon can be found in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter.

“But whenever we make the sign of the cross over ourselves or over anything that we want to protect with the cross, then we must remember how the cross was made sacred and what it means, and remember that with the suffering and death of the Lord, this symbol was given honor and power.”

The cross is not a symbol invented by Christians. At the time of the early Church, the cross was already a well known symbol imbued with meaning. The cross was the symbol of death and humiliation, intended to strike fear into the hearts of would-be malefactors. Every body hanging on a cross carried with it an implicit message for the passerby, “Do not cross the state, or this will be you.” The cross, however, lost its former power when it was used to kill Jesus Christ. His followers were not deterred by the threat of the cross, nor would they deny their Lord as they were being led to die his same death. One can only imagine that this must have been quite frustrating for Roman officials. But the cross no longer meant to the Christians what it still meant to the Romans. The cross had become a symbol of life because it had been defeated and shown to be powerless, similar to how the sign of surrender would later become the handing over of one’s sword.

The impotence of the cross, however, could only be revealed after it had been given free rein to do its worst, and its worst had been found wanting. Christ felt the full weight of suffering and humiliation. But the suffering, instead of breaking his mettle, became an occasion for heroic courage, and the humiliation, instead of causing him shame, became an occasion for him to despise shame itself (cf. Hebrews 12:2). It was only by dying that Christ could rise, and in losing all human glory he was exalted above every mere creature (cf. Philippians 2:8-9). It was only after Christ had emptied the cross of all the power it had once enjoyed that he could fill it with a new and greater power. “We must remember how the cross was made sacred and what it means, and remember that with the suffering and death of the Lord, this symbol was given honor and power.”

The sign of the cross has the power to strengthen us (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2157), and it is good for us to avail ourselves of it often, but it strengthens us precisely to meet the trials of life head on, rather than to keep them at bay. We are called to share in the life and glory of Christ, but only through sharing in his cross. There are still many Christians who suffer death for their faith in Christ, but we who are not so sorely tried can also show our Christian mettle by carrying our daily crosses, strengthened by the knowledge that the cross is the sign that points to the empty tomb.”

Love & glorious, inexpressibly joyful TRIUMPH in Him,
Matthew

Vexilla Regis = “Let Royal Banners fly!”

Jesus-Crucifixion

Vexilla Regis was written by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609 AD) and is considered one of the greatest hymns of the liturgy. Fortunatus wrote it in honor of the arrival of a large relic of the True Cross which had been sent to Queen Radegunda by the Emperor Justin II and his Empress Sophia. Queen Radegunda had retired to a convent she had built near Poitiers and was seeking out relics for the church there. To help celebrate the arrival of the relic, the Queen asked Fortunatus to write a hymn for the procession of the relic to the church.

The hymn has, thus, a strong connection with the Cross and is fittingly sung at Vespers from Passion Sunday to Holy Thursday and on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The hymn was also formerly sung on Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament is taken from the repository to the altar.

Abroad the royal banners fly,
The mystic Cross refulgent glows:
Where He, in Flesh, flesh Who made,
Upon the Tree of pain is laid.

Behold! The nails with anguish fierce,
His outstretched arms and vitals pierce:
Here our redemption to obtain,
The Mighty Sacrifice is slain.

Here the fell spear His wounded side
With ruthless onset opened wide:
To wash us in that cleansing flood,
Thence mingled Water flowed, and Blood.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song, of old:
Unto the nations, lo! saith he,
Our God hath reignèd from the Tree.

O Tree! In radiant beauty bright!
With regal purple meetly dight!
Thou chosen stem! divinely graced,
Which hath those Holy Limbs embraced!

How blest thine arms, beyond compare,
Which Earth’s Eternal Ransom bare!
That Balance where His Body laid,
The spoil of vanquished Hell outweighed.

Fragrant aromatics are thrown,
sweetest nectar is sown,
Dearest fruit of tree!
Be my noble victory!

Hail wondrous Altar! Victim hail!
Thy Glorious Passion shall avail!
Where death Life’s very Self endured,
Yet life by that same Death secured.

O Cross! all hail! sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passion-tide:
New grace in pious hearts implant,
And pardon to the guilty grant!

Thee, mighty Trinity! One God!
Let every living creature laud;
Whom by the Cross Thou dost deliver,
O guide and govern now and ever! Amen.

Translation from “The Psalter of Sarum”: London 1852.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 15 – Improperia (The Reproaches), Our Lady of Sorrows

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: “This Child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
-Luke 2:34-35

And with “Woman behold your son.”  And, “Son, behold your Mother.”  cf Jn 19:26-27, Mary became our mother, and the mother of the Church.

Good Friday is a day of mourning, remembering Christ’s death, and so is not typically a day of songs and hymns. During the Veneration of the Cross, the following Antiphon and verses known as “The Reproaches” (Improperia) are sung. Individual parts are indicated by no. 1 (first choir) and no. 2 (second choir); parts sung by both choirs together are indicated by nos. 1 and 2.

The Reproaches (Improperia)

Antiphon 1 and 2:
We worship You, Lord,
we venerate Your cross,
we praise Your resurrection.
1: Through the cross
You brought joy to the world.
1: (Psalm 66:2)
May God be gracious and bless us;
and let His face shed its light upon us.

Repeat Antiphon by 1 and 2:

The Reproaches:

I.

1 and 2: My people, what have I done to you
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you out of Egypt,
from slavery to freedom,
but you led your Savior to the cross.

2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!
1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

1 and 2: For forty years I led you
safely through the desert.
I fed you with manna from heaven,
and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.

1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

1 and 2: What more could I have done for you.
I planted you as my fairest vine,
but you yielded only bitterness:
when I was thirsty you gave Me vinegar to drink,
and you pierced your Savior with a lance.

1: Holy is God!
2: Holy and strong!
1: Holy immortal One, have mercy on us!

II.

1: For your sake I scourged your captors
and their firstborn sons,
but you brought your scourges down on me.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you from slavery to freedom
and drowned your captors in the sea,
but you handed me over to your high priests.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I opened the sea before you,
but you opened my side with a spear.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I led you on your way in a pillar of cloud,
but you led me to Pilate’s court.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I bore you up with manna in the desert,
but you struck me down and scourged me.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I gave you saving water from the rock,
but you gave me gall and vinegar to drink.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: For you I struck down the kings of Canaan.
but you struck my head with a reed.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I gave you a royal scepter,
but you gave me a crown of thorns.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

1: I raised you to the height of majesty,
but you have raised me high on a cross.
2: My people, what have I done to you?
How have I offended you? Answer me!

Love,
Matthew

Sep 14 – Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Agnolo_Gaddi_-_Discovery_of_the_True_Cross_-_WGA08367
-by Agnolo Gaddi, ca 1380, “Discovery of the True Cross”, fresco, Santa Croce, Florence, Italy, please click on the image for greater detail

albertthomasdempsey

-by Br Albert Thomas Dempsey, OP

“When the people of Israel complained against God during their wandering in the desert, God sent saraph serpents among them. It was not until Moses, at the Lord’s command, raised a serpent on a pole that all who looked upon it were cured (Num 21:6-9). The Church Fathers saw in this a prefigurement of Christ’s mounting on the cross, a promise that future generations would be saved by considering His passion and contemplating its instrument, the cross.

From this belief arose both the practice of concentrating on a crucifix when praying and today’s feast, the Exaltation of the Cross, which honors the cross’ instrumental role in the salvation of the world. Yet, if Christ’s crucifixion occurred during the Feast of Passover in the springtime, why does the Church celebrate His cross on September 14, roughly five months later? To discover the answer, one must look to the earliest centuries of Christianity.

The hostility of Jewish leaders and the persecution of Roman authorities made it difficult for Christians to frequent places associated with the life of Christ. Moreover, the province of Judea was thrust into turmoil by three revolts against Roman authority in the century following Christ’s ascension (Jerusalem was razed in 70 AD and rebuilt as a Roman city in 135 AD). Nevertheless, the Christians of the Holy Land strove to preserve orally their knowledge of the locations associated with Christ’s life. Their efforts would bear fruit two centuries later.

Born of humble parentage in the middle of the third century in Asia Minor, St. Helena married an ambitious Roman soldier named Constantius and bore him a son, Constantine, in 272 AD. Though Constantius, who eventually became emperor, cast aside his wife for a more advantageous match, his son nevertheless remained faithful to her. When Constantine himself became the first Christian emperor of Rome, he honored his mother with the title of ‘Augusta’ and converted her to Christianity. The saint took to her new religion zealously, impressing her contemporaries with her abundant virtue.

When Constantine conquered the eastern half of the Roman Empire in 323 AD, at long last, Christians in the Holy Land could worship openly. In thanksgiving for his successes, the emperor ordered a number of churches be built with public funds at Christian sites throughout the Levant.

Despite being well into her seventies, St. Helena burned with a desire to walk the ground her Savior’s feet had trodden. Shortly after the Council of Nicaea, she set out on a pilgrimage to pray for her son and grandchildren, visiting numerous churches and bishops along the way and generously aiding the needy. However, she found that some holy places had been forgotten, while others were occupied by pagan temples to discourage worship. In Jerusalem, the site of the Lord’s burial had been itself buried under a mound of earth and surmounted by a temple to Venus; St. Helena ordered the temple razed, the earth removed, and a monumental church erected on the site.

The cross, too, had been hidden by the Jews, cast into a ditch or well and covered over. Moved by the Holy Spirit, St. Helena had sought it during her pilgrimage. Upon reaching Jerusalem, she prayed that the cross might not remain hidden and, lo and behold, three crosses were found among the rubble heaped over Holy Sepulchre.

Identifying the True Cross by its inscription, St. Helena rejoiced and sent the nails to her son, one for his crown and another for his bridle, a reminder, according to St. Ambrose, that rulers must be mindful of Christ and, by His grace, curb their appetites. St. Helena and St. Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, confirmed the identity of the cross by laying it alongside the body of a dying man, who miraculously recovered.

St. Helena died shortly after returning to Rome at the age of eighty. The church she ordered constructed over the Holy Sepulchre was completed in 335 AD and dedicated on September 14, when the cross was brought outside for the veneration of the faithful. St. Helena’s discovery of the cross and the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre have been celebrated jointly from the fourth century onward.

Medieval and Renaissance depictions of religious events are often, at first glance, puzzling: Christ is shown teaching not on the shore of Galilee but along the coast of Geneva, with its mountains and gothic spires; the martyrs tormented not by Roman centurions but Italian condottierri. Surely the artists knew better! In fact, most of them did. Yet they wished to impress upon their viewers that sacred history is not mythology: the gospels and the lives of the saints describe real events that happened to real people, as real as the windmills of Holland or the towns of the Rhineland.

Similarly, today’s feast and the life of St. Helena remind us of the fullness of Christ’s Incarnation: the Lord is not merely a tale told to children, nor simply a concept bandied about by theologians. Rather, in partaking of our humanity, He shared in our particularity. He lived not once upon a time, but at that time; not somewhere, but there; and He suffered, not in the abstract, but concretely, upon a cross, the fragments of which the faithful can venerate to this day. St. Helena, pray for us that we may never forget the historicity of Christ.”

Love,
Matthew

Sep 3 – GREAT!!!!

GREAT
ɡrāt/
adjective
of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average.

nicholasschneiderop

-by Br Nicholas Schneider, OP

“A few other saints have received the title, including St. Albert the Great and St. Gertrude the Great. St. Albert received the title during his lifetime for the extreme breadth of writings, which covered everything from Aristotle, astrology, and biology, to friendship, phrenology, theology, and zoology. St. Gertrude received the title from Pope Benedict XIV because of her spiritual and theological work, especially the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and to differentiate her from another Benedictine saint of the same name.

We recognize civil leaders with the same title for grand accomplishments, often uniting military victories with advancements in culture and the arts. Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world in ten short years. Alfred the Great and Cnut the Great were given the title for their unification of England. Similarly, Frederick the Great of Prussia united the country with stunning military victories and was also a great patron of the arts. In Russia, Ivan the Great (III), Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great all added substantive territory to Muscovy and the Russian Empire, and they also promoted the sciences and arts. Ivan IV could not receive the title because his grandfather already had it. Instead, he received “The Terrible,” a term which has a similar meaning—though with quite different moral overtones—to that of the power and awesomeness of God that we see in Psalm 66.

Heirs of great rulers often fall short of their fathers. Selim “the Sot” (the drunkard) was the heir to Suleiman the Magnificent in the Ottoman Empire. Louis the Pius, the son of Charlemagne, basically lost his father’s empire, but was spared a negative title because he supported the Church and the chroniclers writing the histories were monks.

Most of us are more like the heirs of great rulers than we are the “Great”s. We will not accomplish great things, build monuments, or write great works that will be revisited and remembered here on earth for centuries. Indeed, we may even destroy some of what the great rulers built. As Mother Teresa reminds us, most of us are not called to great things, but we can all do small things with great love. Doing great things may not lead us to fulfillment. Doing the task we are given by God well and with great love, no matter how small, will lead us to that happiness we so desire. In the end, the only title that ultimately matters is the one that we hope will precede our name: Saint.

Pope St. Gregory the Great, ora pro nobis.”

Love,
Matthew