Category Archives: The Professed

Feb 6 – St Paul Miki, SJ, (1562-1597) & Companions, Martyrs of Nagasaki

saint_paul_miki_by_tesm-d4pbn9o

The cross bears the Kanji of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

The left spear bears the ancient Greek abbreviations for
“Iesus Christos Nika!” which means “Jesus Christ Conquers” or “Jesus Christ, victor!”

The right spear bears the line from the cross of St. Benedict, which reads “Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux” which means “May the holy cross be my light!”

During 1593, Franciscan missionaries came to Japan from the Philippines by order of Spain’s King Philip II. These new arrivals gave themselves zealously to the work of charity and evangelism, but their presence disturbed a delicate situation between the Church and Japanese authorities.

Suspicion against Catholic missionaries grew when a Spanish ship was seized off the Japanese coast and found to be carrying artillery. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a powerful imperial minister, responded by sentencing 26 Catholics to death.

Nagasaki, Japan, is familiar to Americans as the city on which the second atomic bomb was dropped, killing hundreds of thousands. Three and a half centuries before, 26 martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki.

Today the Church commemorates twenty-six martyrs, three Jesuits
and six Franciscans, crucified in Nagasaki, Japan, on February 5, 1597. Most were Japanese and most were laypersons and they were among the first martyrs of a young Church. The names of the martyrs are:

The Franciscans

Fathers Peter Baptist, Martin of the Ascension, Francis Blanco; Seminarian Philip of Jesus; Brothers Gonsalvo Garzia, Francis of St Michael with seventeen native Franciscan Tertiaries

The Jesuits

Seminarians Paul Miki, John Goto, and Brother James Kisai

Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and His Church.

Paul Miki was born into a rich family. His father was an important military leader.  He was educated by Jesuits in Azuchi and Takatsuki. He joined the Society of Jesus and preached the gospel for his fellow citizens. The Japanese government feared Jesuit influences and persecuted them. Miki was jailed among others on the order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the national ruler, for preaching Christianity. They were imprisoned, then later marched through the snow to Nagasaki, so that their execution might serve as a deterrent to Nagasaki’s large Christian population. Paul Miki, SJ, and his fellow Christians were forced to walk 600 miles (≈966 kilometers) from Kyoto while singing “Te Deum” as a punishment for the community. Hung up on 26 crosses with chains and ropes, the Christians were lanced to death in front of a large crowd on Nishizaka Hill.

Brother Paul Miki, a Jesuit and a native of Japan, has become the best known among the martyrs of Japan. While hanging upon a cross Paul Miki preached to the people gathered for the execution: “The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”

When missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s, at first they found no trace of Christianity. But after establishing themselves they found that thousands of Christians lived around Nagasaki and that they had secretly preserved the faith. Beatified in 1627, the martyrs of Japan were finally canonized in 1862.

Exhibits at the Twenty-six Martyrs Museum and Monument (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-Six_Martyrs_Museum_and_Monument) include “fumie” or treading images. Every year from 1629 to 1857, Nagasaki residents were forced to go through a ritual of stepping on bronze images of Christ or Mary to prove they were not Christians.

“Since Jesus, the Son of God, showed his love by laying down his life for us, no one has greater love than they who lay down their lives for Him and for their sisters and brothers (see 1 John 3:16; John 15:13).

Some Christians have been called from the beginning, and will always be called, to give this greatest testimony of love to everyone, especially to persecutors.

Martyrdom makes disciples like their Master, who willingly accepted death for the salvation of the world, and through it they are made like Him by the shedding of blood.

Therefore, the Church considers it the highest gift and as the supreme test of love. And while it is given to few, all, however, must be prepared to confess Christ before humanity and to follow Him along the way of the cross amid the persecutions which the Church never lacks” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 42, Austin Flannery translation).

Love,
Matthew

Feb 18 – Blessed John of Fiesole, OP, (aka “Fra Angelico”) (1395-1455 AD)

Annunciation
-Annunciazione, Madrid, Museo del Prado, 1430-1432, please click on image for a larger view

Having been a Dominican novice directly after college, I was introduced to Fra Angelico (“Brother of the Angels”) at an early age. He is one of my most favorite artists, as you may imagine. I asked for and received for my birthday one year a large coffee table book of his works. It is a treasured possession in my library.

The patron saint of Christian artists was born around 1400 in a village overlooking Florence. He took up painting as a young boy and studied under the watchful eye of a local painting master. He joined the Dominicans at about age 20, taking the name Fra Giovanni. He eventually came to be known as Fra Angelico, perhaps a tribute to his own angelic qualities or maybe the devotional tone of his works.

He continued to study painting and perfect his own techniques, which included broad-brush strokes, vivid colors and generous, lifelike figures. Michelangelo once said of Fra Angelico: “One has to believe that this good monk has visited paradise and been allowed to choose his models there.” Whatever his subject matter, Fra Angelico sought to generate feelings of religious devotion in response to his paintings. Among his most famous works are the Annunciation and Descent from the Cross as well as frescoes in the monastery of San Marco in Florence.

He also served in leadership positions within the Dominican Order. At one point Pope Eugenius approached him about serving as archbishop of Florence. Fra Angelico declined, preferring a simpler life. He died in 1455.

Fra Angelico is one of the few candidates for beatification and canonization who have had their artwork examined for orthodoxy and sanctity by Vatican committees charged with verifying such things, as opposed to their writings. It is averred Fra Angelico never handled a brush without fervent prayer and wept when he painted the Crucifixion.

Pope John Paul II beatified Fra Angelico on October 3, 1982 and in 1984 declared him patron of Catholic artists. Angelico
was reported to say “He who does Christ’s work must stay with Christ always”. This motto earned him the epithet “Blessed Angelico”, because of the perfect integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of the images he painted, to a superlative extent those of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Fra_Angelico_Final_Judgement

please click image for a larger view

The Day of Judgment – (n.b. notice the saved on Christ’s right, your left, seated as Final Judge in Glory – His angels and saints surrounding Him, right dancing with angels, and the New Jerusalem (Heaven) on the hilltop in the background; and the damned on His left being taken into Hell.  Notice the opened and empty graves down the middle of the scene.)

Worldwide press coverage reported in November 2006 that two missing masterpieces by Fra Angelico had turned up, having hung in the spare room of the late Jean Preston, in her “modest terrace house” in Oxford, England. Her father had bought them for £100 each in 1965 then bequeathed them to her when he died in
1974.

Jean had been consulted by their then owner in her capacity as an expert medievalist. She recognized them as being high quality Florentine Renaissance, but it never occurred to anyone, even all the dealers she approached on behalf of the owner, that they could possibly be by Fra Angelico. They were finally identified in 2005 by Michael Liversidge of Bristol University.

There was almost no demand at all for medieval art during the 1960s and no dealers showed any interest, so her father bought them almost as an afterthought along with some manuscripts. The paintings are two of eight side panels of a large altarpiece painted in 1439 for Fra Angelico’s monastery at San Marco, but split up by Napoleon’s army 200 years ago. While the centre section is still at the monastery, the other six small panels are in German and US museums. These two panels were presumed lost forever. The Italian Government had hoped to purchase them but they were outbid at auction on 20 April 2007 by a private collector for £1.7M.

Even if we were illiterate and lived in the Middle Ages, as most people of that time were, we would know the tradition about praying to the Virgin before her image, so the good (Beato) Fra has still helped us raise our mind to God through his favorite subject of the Annunciation.

Medieval devotion (even late medieval and early Renaissance–circa Fra Angelico) to the Virgin was extreme. It really was “to Jesus, through Mary” and often “only through Mary.” God fills us with awe to such an extent that we cannot but tremble in His presence, but the Virgin was a simple peasant woman – comprehensible, appealing and approachable to a wider audience of the time. She was and is the door to salvation for the bad, the stupid, the concupiscent, the ignorant, and the unworthy. Popular literature of the Middle Ages is replete with stories of how the Virgin saves everyone who asks, leading them to her Son. Fra Angelico’s Annunciations are a real reminder of that: not just a reminder to ask, but an opportunity to do so.

Medieval art tends to be performative—it is intended to be actually efficacious for the obtaining of grace. Attempting to appreciate Medieval merely passively or as a simple visual aesthetic would be to underestimate it and misunderstand, under-appreciate it in the extreme.  It is not just a picture or a reminder to pray—it is a prayer, and you pray it by looking and participating in it. The intent of medieval artists and their expectation of their audience was the art, whether a painting, a sculpture or a medieval morality play, is a sacramental, and it really does help save your soul.

Fra_Angelico_Deposition_of_Christ

please click on the image for a larger view

Deposition from the Cross, Fra Angelico, 1432–1434, Tempera on panel, 176 cm × 185 cm (69 in × 73 in), National Museum of San Marco, Florence.

Love,
Matthew

Feb 15 – St Claude de la Colombiere, SJ, (1641-1682), Apostle of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Claude de la Colombiere, S.J and St. Margaret Mary

Many of you know of the McCormick family’s, and, therefore, especially my, special devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  At dinner, after Grace, we say “O, Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!”

Claude de la Colombiere, SJ, descended of French nobility, third child of the notary Bertrand La Colombière and Margaret Coindat, was born on 2nd February 1641 at St. Symphorien d’Ozon in the Dauphine, southeastern France. After the family moved to Vienne, Claude began his early education there, completing his studies in rhetoric and philosophy in Lyon.

It was during this period that Claude first sensed his vocation to the religious life in the Society of Jesus. We know nothing of the motives which led to this decision. We do know, however, from one of his early notations, that he “had a terrible aversion for the life embraced”. This affirmation is not hard to understand by any who are familiar with the life of Claude, for he was very close to his family and friends and much inclined to the arts and literature and an active social life. On the other hand, he was not a person to be led primarily by his sentiments.

At 17 he entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Avignon. In 1660 he moved from the Novitiate to the College, also in Avignon, where he pronounced his first vows and completed his studies in philosophy. Afterwards he was professor of grammar and literature in the same school for another five years.

In 1666 he went to the College of Clermont in Paris for his studies in theology. Already noted for his tact, poise and dedication to the humanities, Claude was assigned by superiors in Paris the additional responsibility of tutoring the children of Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance, Jean Baptiste Colbert.

Claude became noted for solid and serious sermons. They were ably directed at specific audiences and, faithful to their inspiration from the gospel, communicated to his listeners serenity and confidence in God. His published sermons produced and still produce significant spiritual fruits. Given the place and the short duration of his ministry, his sermons are surprisingly fresh in comparison with those of better-known orators.

On 2nd February 1675 he pronounced his solemn profession and was named rector of the College at Paray-le-Monial. Not a few people wondered at this assignment of a talented young Jesuit to such an out-of the-way place as Paray. The explanation seems to be in the superiors’ knowledge that there was in Paray an unpretentious religious of the Monastery of the Visitation, Margaret Mary Alacoque, to whom the Lord was revealing the treasures of His Heart, but who was overcome by anguish and uncertainty. She was waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promise and send her “my faithful servant and perfect friend” to help her realize the mission for which He had destined her: that of revealing to the world the unfathomable riches of His love.

After Father Colombière’s arrival and her first conversations with him, Margaret Mary opened her spirit to him and told him of the many communications she believed she had received from the Lord. He assured her he accepted their authenticity and urged her to put in writing everything in their regard, and did all he could to orient and support her in carrying out the mission received. When, thanks to prayer and discernment, he became convinced that Christ wanted the spread of the devotion to his Heart, it is clear from Claude’s spiritual notes that he pledged himself to this cause without reserve.

After a year and half in Paray, in 1676 Father La Colombière left for London, remaining in contact with St Margaret Mary by letter. He had been appointed preacher to the Duchess of York – a very difficult and delicate assignment because of the conditions prevailing in England at the time. He took up residence in St. James Palace in October.

In addition to sermons in the palace chapel and unremitting spiritual direction both oral and written, Claude dedicated his time to giving thorough instruction to the many who sought reconciliation with the Church they had abandoned. And even if there were great dangers, he had the consolation of seeing many reconciled to it, so that after a year he said: “I could write a book about the mercy of God I’ve seen Him exercise since I arrived here!

The intense pace of his work and the poor climate combined to undermine his health, and evidence of a serious pulmonary disease began to appear. Claude, however, made no changes in his work or life style.

Suddenly, at the end of 1678, he was calumniously accused and arrested in connection with the Titus Oates “papist plot”. After two days he was transferred to the severe King’s Bench Prison where he remained for three weeks in extremely poor conditions until his expulsion from England by royal decree.  It was only by the intervention of Louis XIV that Claude was not martyred.  This suffering further weakened Claude’s health which, with ups and downs, deteriorated rapidly on his return to France.  On 15 February 1682, Claude began coughing up blood and died.

St John Wall, OFM, knew Saint Claude. After having spent a night in spiritual conversation with him, the soon–to–be martyr said, “When I was in his presence I thought that I was dealing with Saint John returned to earth to rekindle that fire of love in the Heart of Christ.”

Saint Claude de la Colombiere, SJ, is considered a “dry” martyr, having suffered every abuse for the Faith, except death.  His major shrine and relics/remains are in the Jesuit church directly next to the Monastery of the Visitation in Paray-le-Monial, France.

ClaudedelaColombiere

St Claude de la Colombiere
-tomb of St Claude de la Colombiere, SJ, Chapelle la Colombiere, Rue Pasteur, 71600 Paray le Monial, France

“The past three centuries allow us to evaluate the importance of the message which was entrusted to Claude. In a period of contrasts between the fervor of some and the indifference or impiety of many, here is a devotion centered on the humility of Christ, on His presence, on His love of mercy and on forgiveness. Devotion to the Heart of Christ would be a source of balance and spiritual strengthening for Christian communities so often faced with increasing unbelief over the coming centuries.” – Pope John Paul II, during the canonization of Saint Claude de la Colombiere, SJ, May 31, 1992.

“My Jesus, you are my true friend,
my only friend,
you take part in all my misfortunes;
you know how to change them into blessings.
You listen to me
With the greatest kindness
When I tell you all my troubles
And you always have something
With which to heal my wounds.
I find you at any time of the day or night
For I find you wherever I happen to be
You never leave me;
If I change my dwelling place
I find you wherever I go
You never weary of listening to me;
You are never tired of doing me good.
I am certain of being loved by you,
If I but love you.
My worldly goods are of no value to you
But by bestowing yours on me
You never grow poorer.
However miserable I may be,
No one more noble or cleverer or even holier
Can come between you and me
And deprive me of your friendship;
And death,
Which tears us away from all other friends,
Will unite me forever to you.
All the humiliations attached to old age
Or the loss of honour
Will never detach you from me;
On the contrary
I shall never enjoy you more fully
And you will never be closer to me,
Than when everything seems to conspire
Against me to overwhelm me,
And cast me down.
You bear with all my faults
With extreme patience,
And even my want of fidelity
And my ingratitude
Do not wound you to such a degree
As to make you unwilling to receive me back
When I return to you.
O Jesus,
Grant that I may die loving you,
That I may die for the love of you.”
-Prayer of Friendship to Jesus, St Claude de la Colombiere, SJ

“Lord, I am in this world to show Your mercy to others. Other people will glorify You by making visible the power of Your grace by their fidelity and constancy to You. For my part I will glorify You by making known how good You are to sinners, that Your mercy is boundless and that no sinner no matter how great his offences should have reason to despair of pardon. If I have grievously offended You, My Redeemer, let me not offend You even more by thinking that You are not kind enough to pardon me. Amen. “
-Saint Claude de la Colombiere, SJ

Love,
Matthew