Category Archives: Christology

Sacred Heart of Jesus

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Many of you know, the McCormick family has a very special devotion to the Sacred Heart. Our family custom is to add, after grace before meals, the following, in unison:  “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!”

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-by Br Luke Hoyt, OP (Br Luke, prior to joining the Order, earned a degree in piano performance from the University of Michigan and studied philosophy as a seminarian at the Pontifical College Josephinum.)

“When St. Gertrude and St. Margaret Mary, several centuries apart from each other, encountered Jesus in visions, they both did something curious. Ears pressed close to Jesus’ breast, they listened.

And they heard a heartbeat. With rapt attention, they listened to the Heartbeat of Jesus.

This is the act of a lover. When you are in love with someone, you want to know them entirely, to be one with them. In an exchange of spiritual goods, you want to live within the beloved, and you want that person to live within you. If you could locate one spot which somehow centered that other person, you would want to figuratively both step inside that spot, and also reach for it and hold it–tenderly and reverently–to place it deep inside yourself where it would be forever treasured.

For the human person, this spot is the heart. The heart is the locus of the “I.” And therefore to listen to the heartbeat of a beloved is to try to reach out and touch that “I,” to put your finger on another’s self, to cherish the sound, so to speak, of their existence.

This is what St. Gertrude and St. Margaret Mary sought in listening to Jesus’ heart. They were in love with their God, and were therefore spellbound by the sound of His Heart.

But when you listen to a human heart, you notice something within it. You notice a wound.  This is the case with every human heart. As soon as you locate it, you discover that it is broken and crying out in some way.

And Jesus’ heart is no exception. It is beating; it is alive. But it is also pierced. It bleeds. We ourselves pierced it, and now it flows and flows and flows.

But mysteriously, because it flows, the desire of the lover is answered.  The lover, finding the “I” of the beloved, can do more than listen to the heartbeat.  He or she can actually touch the very lifeblood which that heart beats and take it into his or her own self.

And when this happens, our hearts become like Jesus’ heart: filled with his blood. Because our hearts are also wounded, pierced like His, they too will flow – and flow and flow. But as they flow, they will spread the blood of the beloved wherever they go. And other hearts will in turn be transformed, and these also will flow.

And when the whole world is filled with our God’s blood, we will no longer need to strain our ears, listening for His heartbeat  For we will be within Him, within His Most Sacred Heart.”

Love,
Matthew

What does it mean to be “Alive!”?

-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP (Br Thomas graduated from Stanford University with a PhD in Physics before joining the order.)

“As someone who has made it far enough into your day to turn on your computer and start reading this blog post, I doubt that you are harboring many doubts about whether or not you are alive, let alone whether life exists at all. It might surprise you to know that this exact worry was aired in a recent op-ed by Ferris Jabr, an editor for Scientific American. He boldly claims that nothing is truly alive and, what’s more, that this knowledge is “liberating.”

On the surface, life seems like one of the most obvious parts of nature to understand. The squirrel runs, the rock doesn’t. The seed sprouts and grows into a full blown tree, the log just sits there. Some things move and grow and reproduce of their own accord, other things need a good shove to get them going. The difficulty, as always, is in the details. Growing crystals, self-replicating molecules and parasitic viruses seem to mimic some of the powers we attribute to life, and provide counter-examples that make the definition of life more difficult for biologists to nail down.

Jabr’s revelation is that we need not be worried about the definition of life, because life is merely a mental construct anyways—there is nothing there to define. He argues that because there is no identifiable property or set of properties that scientists have been able to agree upon as the defining aspect of life, it simply is not there. Life is a “pure concept” that can be useful at times, but can just as easily be set aside. Everything that exists is really just a particular arrangement of fundamental particles, and we can find some of the features of life at many different levels of these arrangements from chemicals to whole biospheres. Life just becomes a useful way of labelling certain kinds of complexity we encounter in the real world and, unbound by a hard and fast definition, we are free to use it as we see fit.

Needless to say, there are a whole host of objections to Jabr’s proposal—scientific, philosophical, and theological. In fact, it’s a bit hard to decide where exactly to begin. One could argue for a robust definition of life as an internal principle of movement, object to Jabr’s implicit reductionism that assumes we can simply explain everything as collections of molecules, or present the whole host of ethical and legal ramifications to trivializing the concept of life.

Here, I simply want to link Jabr’s argument to a number of other skeptical arguments that seek to overturn common sense ideas in the name of science—and argue we’re better off for it. It’s an undeniable fact that modern science, particularly since the beginning of the twentieth century, has revealed that the world we live in is more complicated, wonderful, and at times bizarre than people ever expected. Nevertheless, the fact that we now take for granted almost unimaginable concepts like wave-particle duality and curved spacetime does not mean that the purpose or goal of science is to come up with weird ideas and to overturn our natural expectations. Scientific investigation of the very large and the very small did not reveal that our everyday assumptions completely fail. It clarified the bounds in which our everyday assumptions actually work, namely everyday applications.

Skeptics like to claim that a single difficult case can invalidate our preconceived notions, no matter how much previous experience and reasoning they are based on. Yet our understanding of the world and of nature, properly considered, need not be some well-constructed but fragile house of cards that cannot bear even the slightest jostle. Aristotle had a helpfully robust view of what it meant for something to be natural, namely that it happened “always or for the most part.” This is not simply a premodern “fudge factor,” but a deep insight into the fact that nature is at once usually reliable and a bit unpredictable, and this particular balance of consistency and fallibility allows for the beautiful order amongst all of its pieces.

While Aristotle applied the principle to understanding natural processes, in an analogous way we can apply it to our definitions and reasoning about those processes. Life is “always or for the most part” easily identifiable. The fact that there are inanimate substances that seem to mimic aspects of life need not destroy our confidence in the fact that there really is a difference between living and non-living. We should not look at difficult cases with fear for the possibility of life, but embrace them as a fascinating opportunity to work out the bounds of our understanding of life.

A full response to Jabr and his argument would need to actually address his concerns about the definition of life and the difficult cases he brings up. While I think just such a response is possible, it is worth noting that the skeptical perspective—that a few counter examples is all it takes to overturn consistent and well supported ideas about nature—has a tendency to create worries no one ever really had, and to solve them in a way no one really appreciates. A healthy view of natural philosophy can accept the corrective and enlightening role of difficult cases without fearing that it will lose the very foundation it was built upon in the process.”

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Rev 22:13

Love,
Matthew

You can’t pay for that!!! aka, Taste & See!!!

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Descent from the Cross, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1634, oil on canvas, 158 cm (62.2 in) x 117 cm (46.1 in), Hermitage Museum, Russia

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-by Br Joseph Martin Hagan, OP

““Excuse me, sir. You’re not going to be able to pay for that.” His words flew like a dart. I was startled. My thoughts raced: “Is he talking to me?” I stood paralyzed. “It must be me.” My heart sunk. “Sir, I don’t think you make enough money to purchase that.” The second time was harsher. Embarrassed blood flushed my face. I lowered my gaze and mumbled something apologetic as my feet carried me away to anywhere else.

A few moments earlier, I had been enraptured by beauty. My friend and I had just entered the art gallery, and the first painting captivated me: Rembrandt’s Descent from the Cross. I delighted in its mastery and especially its use of light, and I wanted to share this wonder with my friend. But as I began to point out Rembrandt’s technique, my finger went too far. I triggered the security guard sitting behind me, and he intervened swiftly and bluntly.

As we hurried away from the scene of my embarrassment, a part of me became defensive. My finger wasn’t that close. If he only knew me, he would know that I’m not the type of person who goes around touching paintings. What kind of person did he think I was? I’m a respectable art gallery-goer.

But something more disturbed me. I had felt a certain familiarity with the painting—that wasn’t a painting of just anything or anyone; that was my Savior, my brother, that was the moment of my redemption. Yet the guard’s words paid no regard to this. It was as if I were a stranger looking at an antique artifact. Sure, some might see a priceless, untouchable masterpiece, but I saw a family portrait.

Then my thoughts came to a compromise. On one hand, I’ll grant to the guard that I could never pay for that: whether the painting or its subject. In fact, the painting shows just how much He paid for me, for all of us. I can’t explain why Jesus would make such a down payment for us, but I’m glad He did.

But on the other hand, I will not apologize for getting too close to Jesus. Sure, keep your fancy painting in mint condition, but I’ll take my Jesus, who for our sake, took on our brokenness. He handed himself over to us, and we scourged and crucified him. He who knew no sin became sin—and even now he bears the glorious marks of his sorrowful passion.

My Jesus is touchable. Just recall the dinner-party with the Pharisee and the sinful woman. The Pharisee murmured to himself: “does not Jesus know who is touching him? If he were a prophet, he would know that she is a sinner.” Yes, Jesus knows who touches him. He knows my unfaithfulness, my brokenness, my slowness to love, my insecurities, my sins.

But he is more than a prophet—he is a savior. He not only knows my sins, but takes them on himself, nailing them to the cross. And now he lavishes us with forgiveness and healing, pouring out mercy in the confessional.

This is a Savior who comes to us even today in a piece of once-bread and a sip of once-wine, inviting us not just to touch, but to taste, to take and eat, to be united to his very Body and Blood.

So next time I go to the art museum, I will mind the boundaries with refined etiquette. But the next time Jesus comes to me in the Eucharist, may my soul forget all its boundaries. O gates, lift high your heads; grow higher, ancient door. Let him enter, the king of glory!”

Blessed & fruitful Easter!

Love,
Matthew

Baptism of the Lord & The Heresy of Adoptionism

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-“Baptism of Christ”, by Francesco Albani, oil on canvas, (1630-1635), State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russian Federation, the heresy of Adoptionism declares this may have been one event where God “adopted” Jesus as His Son.

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-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” The words of John the Baptist to Christ in Matthew’s Gospel are worth pondering. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? Being the Son of God, why be troubled at all about the ritual of baptism, especially by a man like John the Baptist?

It is easy to fall into error over this question. Some people have concluded that since Jesus underwent baptism, he must have been in need of something, and so Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father made Jesus divine. This heresy has been called Adoptionism, since it contends that Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father ‘adopted’ Jesus and he ‘really’ became divine.

But what, then, are the real reasons that Jesus desired to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan? One reason is that Jesus was not baptized to be cleansed himself, but to cleanse others. Though he was not a sinner himself, Christ took on our sinful nature and the likeness of sinful flesh when he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Now, during his baptism, the old man of our sinful nature was plunged below the waters so that we might grow into the full stature of adopted sons of God. In Christ’s descent into the Jordan River, the waters are given the virtue of baptism, and our frail nature is restored.

Another reason is so that Christ could lay a path that all his disciples could imitate. In response to John the Baptist’s question, Christ replies that his own baptism is fitting “to fulfill all righteousness.” In commenting on this verse, St. Ambrose states that true righteousness is to “do first yourself what you wish another to do, and so encourage others by your example.” By entering into the waters of the Jordan, Christ gives an example to us in humility and obedience to his Father in heaven. This obedience, which is fulfilled completely in Christ’s passion, is the example which every Christian is called to follow.

The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Christ’s ministry in Galilee and Judah, and is the fulfillment of God’s promise to save mankind. But it is fitting that Christ’s ministry should begin immediately after his baptism in the Jordan River. As St. Ambrose noted, where Elijah divided the river of the Jordan with his mantle of old, so now Christ, in these same waters, will make all things new by separating the plague of sin from our human nature. May we thank God for our own baptism, and encourage others to be cleansed from sin in the water that was first cleansed by the pure, spotless, and saving flesh of Christ.”

Love,
Matthew

Jun 27 – St Cyril of Alexandria, (376-444), Patriarch of Alexandria, Father & Doctor of the Church, Pillar & Defender of the Faith, A Man’s Man of Christian Love

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After taking a look at the life of St. Cyril, it’s easy to see him as a man who always came into a situation with both barrels blazing. Seriously, Cyril took no prisoners.

Cyril was born at Alexandria, Egypt. He was nephew of the patriarch of that city, Theophilus. Cyril received a classical and theological education at Alexandria and was ordained by his uncle.  He succeeded his uncle Theophilus as patriarch of Alexandria on Theophilus’ death in 412.  Before Cyril became Patriarch, he had to survive a riot that ensued due to a rivalry for the Patriarchy with his rival, Timotheus.  Thus, Cyril followed his uncle in a position that had become powerful and influential, rivaling that of the Roman prefect.

When he became Patriarch of Alexandria in 412, he “assembled a mob” that plundered and closed the churches of the Novations1. Novations had been persecuting Christians in the area.  Cyril also drove out of Alexandria the Jews, who had formed a flourishing community there since Alexander the Great.  The Jews of Alexandria were also political backers of the Roman Prefect of Alexandria, governor of the Roman Diocese (political, not ecclesiastical) of Egypt. Expulsion from a territory was a secular power that belonged to the pagan Roman Prefect.  But the Jews had caused tumults and had massacred the Christians. Expelling their enemies may have been the only possible defense for the Christians.  The Roman Prefect of Egypt, Orestes, though was very angry at Cyril for usurping power that was his.  Cyril offered Orestes a Bible; a gesture which would mean Orestes’ acquiescence to Cyril’s religious authority and policy, which Orestes rejected.

Yes, you guessed it, a serious brawl ensued as a result of the conflict between Cyril and Orestes. 500 (yes, five hundred) monks came swinging out of the lower deserts of Egypt (Nitria) to defend Cyril. Can you imagine 500 men with big beards and worn-monastic habits storming into a fight against Orestes’ soldiers? One word comes to mind: Fortitude. One of the monks, Ammonius, actually beamed Orestes with a rock during the skirmish. Orestes had Ammonius tortured to death. Cyril actually honored the remains of the rock lobbing monk for a time.

Prefect Orestes enjoyed the political backing of Hypatia, a pagan female astronomer, philosopher and mathematician who had considerable moral authority in the city of Alexandria, and who had extensive influence. Indeed many students from wealthy and influential families came to Alexandria purposely to study privately with Hypatia, and many of these later attained high posts in government and the Church. Several Christians thought that Hypatia’s influence had caused Orestes to reject all reconciliatory offerings by Cyril. Modern historians think that Orestes had cultivated his relationship with Hypatia to strengthen a bond with the pagan community of Alexandria, as he had done with the Jewish one, to handle better the difficult political life of the Egyptian capital.  A Christian mob, however, led by a lector named Peter, took her from her chariot, dragged her to a church and tore her flesh with potsherds till she died, finally burning the pieces outside the city walls.  Cyril did not support this action and it caused him much embarrassment and political difficulty after the fact, but since this Peter was only a lector, and not a member of the clergy, Cyril could distance himself from this event.

Cyril, in league with Pope Celestine I, is most known for intellectually duking it out with Nestorius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople (present day Istanbul). At one point, the Emperor (Theodosius II) had both Nestorius and Cyril arrested. The emperor, however, cut Cyril loose after Papal Legates showed up on his doorstep saying that Pope Celestine endorsed Cyril’s condemnation of Nestorius.

So what was the big deal with Nestorius? Well, he promoted the heresy of Nestorianism, which says that “Mary was not the Mother of God, Theotokos(Θεοτόκος), since Christ was Divine and not human, and consequently she should not have the word theotokos (God-bearer) applied to her.”  Dyophysitism.  (Caution to the reader:  there are LOTS of “physitisms”. Don’t ask.  It gets very long, shades of grey, & complicated!  Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 🙂  And you thought ecumenism was easy?)

Nestorianism goes, well, “out-of-its-way” to overly emphasize the disunion, or, at best, a very loose union between the human and Divine natures of Jesus, preferring the term Christotokos, in terms of whom Mary gave birth to; arguing that it was only the humanity of Christ which was born at the Incarnation, and not the Deity.  Conversely, the implication, at least, with Theotokos, possibly, Nestorians would argue, was it suggesting the Divine nature was also somehow created at the Incarnation?, which they could not stand.  However, Theotokos, properly understood, contains none of these objected to and objectionable connotations.  Nestorianism is a clear heresy from orthodox Christianity, negating the hypostatic, ὑπόστασις, union.  (How’s that for ten cent words?  Church techno speak! It helps to know a little Greek, Latin, & Hebrew.  It does.    Nicean orthodox Christianity says “True God & True Man”, in which it means:  two unique, full, complete natures, perfectly united in one person.  Dear Reverend Fathers on this distribution, how did I do?  Whew!  Did I pass?    These distinctions are NOT trivial, meaningless, nor unimportant.  Depending on how the Church defines the nature of Christ, it gives a whole new reading, meaning, & coloring to the interpretation of Scripture, tough enough as it is.  Better get it right!  Better!  🙂

Cyril was the bedrock for the third general Council of Ephesus in 431, which declared Nestorianism a heresy. Oddly enough, a group of bishops that sided with Nestorius convened their own council after the one at Ephesus and deposed Cyril (this is the point where Cyril and Nestorius got arrested by the Emperor).

The exegetical works of St. Cyril are very numerous. The seventeen books “On Adoration in Spirit and in Truth” are an exposition of the typical and spiritual nature of the Old Law. The Glaphyra or “brilliant”, Commentaries on Pentateuch are of the same nature. Long explanations of Isaiah and of the minor Prophets give a mystical interpretation, after the Alexandrian manner. Only fragments are extant of other works on the Old Testament, as well as of expositions of Matthew, Luke, and some of the Epistles, but of that of St. Luke much is preserved in a Syriac version. Of St. Cyril’s sermons and letters the most interesting are those which concern the Nestorian controversy. Of a great apologetic work in the twenty books against Julian the Apostate ten books remain. Among his theological treatises we have two large works and one small one on the Holy Trinity, and a number of treatises and tracts belonging to the Nestorian controversy.

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-Cyril, from the 2009 film “Agora”

“By nature, each one of us is enclosed in his own personality, but supernaturally, we are all one. We are made one body in Christ, because we are nourished by One Flesh. As Christ is indivisible, we are all one in Him. Therefore, He asked His Father “that they may all be One as We also are one.” – Saint Cyril of Alexandria

“That anyone could doubt the right of the holy Virgin to be called the Mother of God fills with astonishment. Surely she must be the Mother of God if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and she gave birth to him! Our Lord’s disciples may not have used those exact words, but they delivered to us the belief those words enshrine, and this has also been taught us by the holy fathers. The divinely inspired Scriptures affirm that the Word of God was made flesh, that is to say, he was united to a human body endowed with a rational soul. He undertook to help the descendants of Abraham, fashioning a body for himself from a woman and sharing our flesh and blood, to enable us to see in him not only God, but also, by reason of this union, a man like ourselves. It is held, therefore, that there is in Emmanuel two entities, divinity and humanity. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ is nonetheless one, the one true Son, both God and man; not a deified man on the same footing as those who share the divine nature by grace, but true God who for our sake appeared in human form. We are assured of this by Saint Paul’s declaration: “When the fullness of time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.” – from a letter by Saint Cyril of Alexandria

But the biggest reason why St. Cyril of Alexandria is a ‘Trooper’ is his doctrine, which has been quoted by multiple Church councils—Cyril has the title Doctor of the Church. Here is an excerpt from his book on the Divine Motherhood of Mary:

“In the third book of his work on the holy and consubstantial Trinity, our father Athanasius, of glorious memory, several times refers to the holy Virgin as “Mother of God.” I cannot resist quoting his own words: “As I have often told you, the distinctive mark of holy Scripture is that it was written to make a twofold declaration concerning our Savior; namely, that He is and has always been God, and that for our sake in these latter days He took flesh from the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and became man.”

Prayer in Honor of Mary, Mother of God

“Hail, Mary, Mother of God, venerable treasure of the whole universe, lamp that is never extinguished, crown of virginity, support of the true faith, indestructible temple, dwelling of Him whom no place can contain, O Mother and Virgin! Through you all the holy Gospels call blessed the One whom comes in the name of the Lord.

Hail, Mother of God. You enclosed under your heart the infinite God whom no space can contain. Through you the Most Holy Trinity is adored and glorified, the priceless cross is venerated throughout the universe. Through you the heavens rejoice, and the angels and archangels are filled with gladness. Through you the demons are banished, and the tempter fell from heaven. Through you the fallen human race is admitted to heaven.

Hail, Mother of God. Through you kings rule, and the only-begotten Son of God has become a star of light to those who were sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.” -Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor

Love,
Matthew

1Novation was born about the year 200. He was a man of considerable learning, apparently educated in literary composition; the first writer to use Latin in the Church. His immediate rival in Rome, Bishop Cornelius, spoke of him sarcastically as ” that maker of dogmas, that champion of ecclesiastical learning”.  During the persecutions of emperor Decius in mid third century, Novatian took the position that those who had stopped practicing Christianity, the “Lapsi”, during the persecutions, to save themselves, could not be accepted back into the Church even if they repented and that the only way to reenter the church would be by re-baptism. Cornelius and Cyprian of Carthage did not believe in the need for re-baptism. Instead they thought that the sinners should only need to show contrition and true repentance to be welcomed back into the church.

During the election of the bishop of Rome in 251, Novatian opposed Cornelius because he was too lax in accepting the return of Christians who had lapsed during the persecutions. His party then consecrated him as a rival bishop (antipope) to Cornelius. He announced throughout the empire his election, as had Cornelius, as both parties appointed bishops and priests in cities where the incumbent favored his rival, thus creating a widespread schism in the Church.

By the end of 251, Bishop Cornelius assembled a council of sixty bishops that condemned and excommunicated Novation apparently over the legitimacy of his claim to the ecclesiastical throne of Rome. It was only later that Novation began to be called a heretic and this appeared to be over the question of the Church having the power to grant absolution in certain cases.  Novatian is known for his writing of which only two have survived, the De Cibis Judaicus and De Trintate (On the Trinity), an interpretation of the early church doctrine on the Trinity which is his most important work.  Novationists called themselves καθαροι (“katharoi”/Cathari) or “Puritans” reflecting their desire not to be identified with what they considered the lax practices of a corrupted Catholic Church. They went so far as to re-baptize their own converts. Because Novatianists (including Novatian) did not submit to the bishop of Rome, they were labeled by Rome as schismatics.

Novations were Montanists, another name for a heretical group, who took their name from a priest and Anti-pope, Montanus.  Montanus preached that those who fell from grace were out of the church forever, as opposed to the orthodox position that by sincere contrition and repentance the fallen might be readmitted. In addition they believed that the value of the sacraments depended on the purity and worthiness of the priest administering the rites. In time they merged with the Donatists who sprang up in Carthage, 4th century in a split with Rome over the failure of a their man to win the bishop’s seat.  The Novations also held second marriages were not valid.

Resurrection

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Every Christian must, by necessity, struggle with the belief in Resurrection:  His, our own.  St Gregory replies to the objections of his time…which sound a lot like the ones we imagine, too.

“Because human reason is so weak, there are some who – judging divine power by the limits of our own – insist that what is beyond our capacity is impossible even for God.  They point to the fact that the dead of past ages have disappeared, and to the ashes of those who have been cremated.  They bring up the idea of carnivorous animals, and the fish that consumes the body of the shipwrecked sailor – the fish then becoming food for people, and passing by digestion into the mass of the one who eats it.  They bring up many similarly trivial things to overthrow the doctrine of the Resurrection – as though God could not restore man the way he made him in the first place.

But we make quick work of their convoluted logical foolishness by acknowledging that the body does indeed dissolve into the parts it was made of.  Not only does the earth return to the earth, as God’s word says, but air and water also revert to the like element.  Each of our parts returns to the elements it was made from.

But although the human body may be scattered among vultures, or the most savage beasts, by becoming their food; and although it may pass through the teeth of fish; and although it may be changed by fire into smoke and dust – wherever you may suppose, for the sake of argument, the man has been removed, he certainly remains in the world.  And the world, as the voice of inspiration tells us, is held by the hand of God.

If you, then, know what is in your hand, do you suppose that God’s knowledge is weaker than your own power?  Do you suppose that it would fail to discover the smallest things that are in the palm of God’s hand?”

-On the Making of Man, 26; St Gregory of Nyssa, (335-394 AD), Bishop, Confessor, Doctor & Father of the Church

Love,
Matthew

Good Friday

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“…Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and all Your Saints: we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by Your protecting help.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”
-Eucharistic Prayer I, Communicantes

Early Christian persecution had recently spared northern Africa.  But, in 250 AD, the Emperor Decius, began a furious persecution of Christians.  St  Cyprian tells a group of Christian prisoners that their sufferings are earning them greater honors than the proud officials who confine them there will ever have.  They have missed a whole year of changing seasons in the outside world, but their suffering brings them far better rewards in Heaven.

“Forget the judges and governors.  Let them puff themselves up with the symbols of their dignity, which lasts for only a year.  The heavenly dignity in you is already sealed by the brightness of a year’s honor, and its victorious glory continues into another year.

The changing months have passed, and Winter is gone; but you, shut up in prison, suffered the winter of persecution instead of the inclement weather outside.  After Winter came the mildness of Spring, rejoicing with roses and crowned with flowers; but you had roses and flowers from the gardens of paradise, and heavenly garlands wreathed your brows.

Now the Summer bears its fruitful harvest, and the threshing-floor is full of grain; but you sowed glory, and are reaping the fruit of glory.  On the Lord’s threshing-floor, you are seeing the chaff burned with unquenchable fire.  Like grains of wheat, winnowed and precious, purged of chaff and gathered in, you see prison as your granary.

Nor  does Autumn lack spiritual graces for the tasks of the season.  The vintage is pressed outside, and the grape that will soon flow into the cups is pressed.  You, rich bunches from the Lord’s vineyard,  branches with fruit already ripe, pressed by worldly troubles, fill your wine vat in the torments of prison, and shed your blood instead of wine.  Standing up bravely to your suffering, you willingly drink the cup of martyrdom.

So the year rolls on for the Lord’s servants.  Thus we celebrate the changing seasons with spiritual honors and heavenly rewards.”

-Letter 15, St Cyrprian of Carthage, (200-258 AD), Bishop, Martyr, Father & Doctor of the Church

Blessed Good Friday!

Love,
Matthew

Mar 7 – St Teresa Margaret Redi of the Sacred Heart, OCD, (1747-1770) – Saint of the Hidden Life, “Deus Caritas Est!”

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This Tuesday, Kelly will register Mara, in person, for Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary School, Sun Prairie, WI, 4K.  (feigned sobbing) They grow up SOOOO fast!  I know I will ponder that truth melancholically in my own heart, sincerely, soon enough. 🙁

We were asked, also, to send in a deposit if we intend Mara to continue at Sacred Hearts (aka, Little Hearts on the Prairie, cute! 🙂 beyond 4K, and we do, so we did.  Both my fathers, the one of blood and the one of marriage, were wise and witty men and both faithful Catholics.  My father-in-law, the late Richard B. Whitney, said of being Catholic, “It’s expensive!”  How true.  One of my favorite lines I’ll always remember and cherish.  Tell you my own father’s favorite line regarding the Church and money some other time!  🙂

Also, we are in the midst of “Potty Wars”.  My money is on the baby.  Who knew?  The only sound I have yet to hear coming from the bathroom is gun fire.  And, Kelly, just this week, celebrated one of those “can’t say thirty-something anymore” birthdays.  This is a particularly delicate time for me, I must say.  I just follow directions and don’t interfere, which is difficult, as men and engineers are wont to solve problems!  No?  🙂  But, men who want to remain married know their place.  Right, guys?  🙂

The McCormick family has a very special devotion to the Sacred Heart.  Grace always ended, growing up, with “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!”  I am becoming more adept, through experience, interpreting those “knowing” looks my parents would always throw at each other when praying that prayer.

Born Anna Maria Redi into a large devout family in Arezzo, Italy in 1747.  From the earliest days of her childhood, Anna Maria was filled with a deep love of God questioning the adults around her as to “Who is God”?  Already she was dissatisfied with answers given her.   Her entire life was driven by the desire to “return love for love”.  She entered the Carmelite convent in Florence at the age of seventeen, advanced rapidly in holiness and died an extraordinary death at twenty-two.  Her spiritual director reflecting on her death remarked “she could not have lived very much longer so great was the strength of the love of God in her”.

She was a beautiful child with clear blue eyes, golden hair and delicate features which might have caused one anticipate for her a future as the lady of a manor and a life of leisure.

Her father Ignatius and her mother Camille were of the lower Tuscan nobility but were not overly wealthy. Anna Maria was the second of thirteen children. Her mother bore twelve children in fourteen years. The last two were twins who lived only a few weeks. Three other children also died in infancy. After a gap of six years the last child, Teresa was born. This child was given Anna Maria’s name in Carmel.  Anna Maria (St. Teresa Margaret) had died six years before little Teresa’s birth.

Camille did not have a strong constitution and the strain of childbirth left her a semi-invalid. As the oldest girl, Anna Maria was entrusted with the supervision of the older of her little siblings while her mother was busy in the nursery. Her father said of Anna Maria that she had a fiery temperament and she was not above getting physical to maintain control over her little charges.

Her father testified that he could clearly see that from the age of five, Anna Maria had given her heart completely to God and she used all her facilities to know and to love Him. In later years she told her confessor simply that “from infancy I have never longed for anything other than to become a saint.”

“Who is God?” she asked her mother, her father, her aunt… The answers she received from the adults around her never fully satisfied her. People told her about God, what God is, not who God is. When her mother told her one day that God is love, Anna Maria lit up with joy. This answer at last gave her some satisfaction. But then she wondered, “What can I do to please Him?” From this moment her inexhaustible quest to love God as He loved her had begun. It is touching to note that when this childhood zeal was brought up to her, she replied in innocence “But everyone does that”.

Anna Maria’s parents were serious and pious. The family circle was warm and loving. Family prayer and daily Mass were an integral part of their lives. It appears that Camilla would have liked more social life in the villa but Ignatius would have seen that as a waste of resources and time.

The Redi villa was an ideal home for a child with a religious disposition and it is probably not an accident that all but one of the eight surviving children entered religious life or the priesthood. The large comfortable house had inspiring murals of the crusades on the walls of the entrance hall. The bedrooms contained religious art. A striking fresco of the Assumption was on the ceiling of Camilla’s room. Anna Maria’s bedroom had its own altar where she spent hours in prayer, after bribing the young ones with holy cards if they would leave her in peace. Sometimes they would creep back to observe her absorbed in prayer. Her brother Cecchino recorded that he thought she looked like a little Madonna.

The villa contained beautiful gardens and orchards. Anna Maria could be found in the corner of the gardens looking toward heaven and “thinking”. Close to the house was a chapel. It was decorated simply with frescos from episodes in the life St. Francis of Assisi. Anna Maria took St. Francis as her patron and was inspired by him with a love of poverty.

Although it was a peaceful and prosperous home, the children were not permitted to be idle. They were expected to spend their leisure time constructively. Anna Maria learned sewing and knitting and she was sometimes found knitting a simple object while completely absorbed in prayer.

At the age of seven Anna Maria made her first Confession. At that time first Confession preceded first Communion by several years. She was very attracted to the sacrament and prepared for it carefully and received it often. A conversation which took place while returning from Church and recorded by her father gives an idea of her attitude towards the sacrament.

“I have been thinking about the text that was preached on Sunday, the unforgiving servant. We come to the great King of Heaven with empty hands, in debt to Him for everything: life itself, and grace, and all the gifts He lavishes on us. Yet all we can say is, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all I owe,’ while all the time we could never pay anything towards the remission of our own debts, if God did not put into our hands the means to do so. And then, how often do we go away and refuse pardon for some slight fault in our neighbors, withholding our love, remaining aloof, or even nursing a grievance against them, and building up grudges that cool charity.”

After this conversation, Ignatius, who already appreciated the piety of this child, felt certain that God was calling Anna Maria in a special way. From that point on he began to provide her with true spiritual direction appropriate to her understanding. It was Ignatius who introduced Anna Maria to the devotion to the Sacred Heart, a devotion which became one of the central focuses of her spiritual life. The love of this father and daughter grew deeper as their profound spiritual confidences expanded the already deep familial affection. As an adult, Sr. Teresa Margaret would say “So great was the good my father has done to my soul that I can truly claim that he has been my father twice over”. It is a tender irony that in aiding the rapid spiritual growth of this most beloved daughter Ignatius was preparing the path that would take her away from him forever.

St. Apollonia’s Boarding School

At the age of nine, Anna Maria was sent to the boarding school of the Benedictine nuns of St. Apollonia’s in Florence. While other families of their status thought educating their daughters was a waste of money, the Redi family was determined to do so. His decision to provide the best of educations for Anna Maria and her three sisters as well as for his four sons forced Ignatius to tighten the family budget. One of their sacrifices was to give up the family coach. This was not only a sacrifice in convenience but also in status. A coach was a mark of a family’s situation but Ignatius was not moved by such considerations. Young Anna Maria was deeply impressed by this sacrifice and urged her older brother to be very diligent in his studies in response to this generosity.

There were two reasons Anna Maria wanted to keep her interior life hidden. First, she understood from an early age that “the merits of a good action can diminish when exposed to the eyes of others who, by their praise or approval, give us satisfaction or at least flatter our self-love and pride too much; and that therefore it is necessary to be content to have God alone.” The second reason was in order to imitate the hidden life of the Holy Family. This singular family appeared to the folk of the little village of Nazareth to be no different from any other. This was Anna Maria’s goal.

She continually experienced movements of love which impelled her to try to live a more holy life. Yet she feared others would notice if she intensified her devotional exercises and this went against her determination to remain hidden.  In her need, she turned to the one she called twice her father; and so started an extraordinary correspondence with Ignatius Redi. He remained her spiritual director for the next five years. It is a great loss for us that Ignatius, obedient to her wishes, burned each of Anna Maria’s letters after reading it.

It is a mark of Anna Maria’s intelligence that she succeeded in her almost contradictory goals, extraordinary growth in holiness while appearing to be just like all the rest. At the age of sixteen as her time at St. Apollonia was coming to an end, Anna Maria was finding it difficult to make a decision regarding her future. She felt drawn to the religious life and loved the Benedictine nuns at St. Apollonia yet there was something missing. A very strange and singular incident put Anna Maria on the path to Carmel.

One day a distant acquaintance of Anna Maria, Cecilia Albergotti, who was about to enter Carmel, paid a farewell visit to St. Apollonia. She told Anna Maria she wished to speak to her but the time passed and there was no opportunity to do so. However, as she was leaving Cecilia took Anna Maria’s hand and looked at her intently, saying nothing. Anna Maria walked back to her room with a strange feeling inside. Suddenly she heard the words “I am Teresa of Jesus, and I want you among my daughters.” Confused and a bit frightened, she went to the chapel and knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. She heard the words again.

Now convinced of the authenticity of the locution, she determined at that moment to enter Carmel and started immediately making plans to leave the school. She was only home for a few months when preparations were made for her application to the Carmel in Florence. She entered on September 1, 1764 a few weeks after her seventeenth birthday taking the name Teresa Margaret of the Heart of Jesus.

Entrance into Carmel

The community she entered contained thirteen professed nuns and two novices. The religious observance in the convent was excellent and Teresa Margaret always had high regard for the nuns there whom she called angels or great saints. She always, to her last day, felt unworthy to be among them.

From her first days in Carmel it was obvious to her superiors that she was an unusually mature and capable young woman. Because of her spiritual maturity she was treated severely by the novice mistress, Mother Teresa Maria, for the purposes of aiding her growth. Although Teresa Margaret exercised complete control over her actions and attitudes, her fair complexion which blushed bright red often gave away the interior battle she waged to maintain this control.

The period of postulancy was usually three months but it was extended one month because she developed an abscess on her knee. The ailment required surgery to scrape the infection away from the bone. This was done without anesthesia and the nuns marveled at her courage. Teresa Margaret however chided herself when a small whimper escaped her during the cutting. She feared that this ailment might cause the nuns not to accept her into the novitiate but there was no cause to worry. The nuns had found her spiritually mature, obedient, with a sweet and gentle nature. They considered her a gift and a true daughter of St. Teresa. She was accepted by a unanimous vote.

It was the custom at the time for the candidate to make a brief return to the world to consider once more the life she was leaving behind. Teresa Margaret visited again with members of her family and spent precious time with her father. There was no doubt now that their next parting would be forever. If anything could have kept Teresa Margaret from retuning to the Carmel, it would have been the pain she was causing her father. When Ignatius brought her back to the convent those around her were alarmed at her pallor. That evening she confided in her superior, Mother Anna Maria “I do not think that it is possible for me ever to suffer greater pain than that which I experienced in leaving my father.” She wept copious tears that night to the point of alarming Mother Anna Maria and causing her to wonder how Teresa Margaret had kept her composure through the day.

The next day Teresa Margaret was composed and radiant. Her father however was overcome and moved to a back corner of the church unable to watch the clothing ceremony. Later in the afternoon he was able to visit with her in the parlor. He could see her flooded with the peace the world cannot give and a joy no earthly pleasure can produce. He left her with an emptiness his other children could never fill yet he was at peace and thankful to God for the gift of this sacrifice.

The duties of the novices were general housekeeping and various small tasks needed by the community. But even as a novice, Teresa Margaret started the work that would take most of her time and energy for the rest of her years in Carmel; that of caring for the sick. Of the thirteen professed nuns, nine were elderly and often ill. Teresa Margaret started by assisting the aged novice mistress prepare for bed each night. She then took on the care of an ailing novice. More and more she spent any free time assisting the infirmarian in caring for one or the other of the seriously ill nuns. Some times she would move into the room of a sick sister to provide care during the night. Aside from the required periods of prayer Teresa Margaret gave her self to physical labor. Her work went far beyond what was required or expected.

A year after her clothing Teresa Margaret was scheduled to be professed. The abscess on her knee reappeared. She wondered if this might be a sign that she was mistaken, that she did not have a vocation after all. She brought her doubts before God with simplicity and humility desiring only the will of God whatever it might be. The abscess disappeared. When the time came for her profession, with honest feelings of unworthiness she asked to be professed as a simple lay Sister. This was not allowed but she kept this humble attitude all through her life in Carmel and often helped the lay sisters at their tasks. No duty was too lowly for her.

Theresa Margaret lived only four years after her Profession. For two years she served as assistant sacristan but never gave up her work among the sick. She was finally named assistant infirmarian though she had been doing the job all along.

She loved this job and the constant charity it demanded for she stated “love of neighbor consists in service.” Although “assistant” she soon was in fact exercising full responsibility for the infirmary. She was young and strong and seemed to thrive on the hard work. During her years of service, in spite of her continued determination to keep hidden her gifts and graces, remarkable incidences occurred: the miraculous healing which occurred after Teresa Margaret, filled with compassion, kissed a sister weeping in pain; her ability to converse with a deaf nun with whom no one else could communicate; various cures which, though not miraculous were at the least unusual; and her uncanny ability to know when a patient needed her no matter where in the monastery she might be.

Her Interior Life

Teresa Margaret had a rich, active interior life. The first tenant, as has been mentioned, was to remain hidden, to keep her gifts and graces hidden from all but her Lord while appearing quite ordinary to the world.

In her desire to prove her love to God, she practiced severe penances; sleeping on the floor, using a hairshirt, leaving windows open in the winter and closed in the summer, taking the discipline, etc. There was nothing masochistic in these practices. She wanted to discipline her body and unite herself to the suffering Christ. For her, suffering was a way of repaying love for love. As she grew she modified these practices and took as her motto “Always receive with equal contentment from God’s hand either consolations or sufferings, peace or distress, health or illness. Ask nothing, refuse nothing, but always be ready to do and to suffer anything that comes from His Providence.”

Her daily spiritual exercises were simple. She determined to present a smiling and serene exterior no matter how severe her interior and exterior trials. She practiced the art of never doing her own will for she believed that “she who does not know how to conform her will to that of others will never be perfect.” She would never offer an excuse for a fault or defend herself when falsely accused. She wrote that “everything can be reduced to interior movements, where the constant exercise of abnegation is essential.” She believed that God would be found when God alone is sought. To that end she made the following resolution: “I propose to have no other purpose in all my activities, either interior or exterior, than the motive of love alone, by constantly asking myself: ‘Now what am I doing in this action? Do I love God?’ If I should notice any obstacle to pure love, I shall take myself in hand and recall that I must seek to return my love for His love.” As for love of neighbor, she determined to “sympathize with their troubles, excuse their faults, always speak well of them, and never willingly fail in charity in thought, word or deed”.

All these little practices seem to be no more than what any good Christian should be doing. How simple and un-heroic they are. Yet to spend even one day in the minute by minute application of them would be more than most could hope to accomplish.

One Sunday in choir, Teresa Margaret was given a particular grace to understand the deep meaning of the love of God. While the community was reciting Terce, the words “Deus caritus est” (God is Love, I John 4:8) were read and it seemed to her she heard them for the first time. She was flooded with an elevated understanding of these words that seemed to be a new revelation. Despite the fact that she tried carefully to hide this sudden grace, all around her were aware something out of the ordinary had happened. These words occasioned a mystical experience which transformed her knowledge of God.

For the next few days the words “God Is Love” were constantly on her lips as she went about her duties. She appeared so out of herself that the Carmelite Provincial was brought in to examine her to see if she were suffering from “melancholy”. After examining her he responded: “I would indeed very happily see every sister in this community afflicted with such ‘melancholy’ as that of Sister Teresa Margaret!” It was only later that the community came to attribute her “faraway look” to her habitual awareness of the presence of God and His continual operations in her.

Night of the Spirit

This grace was however to start a great spiritual trial for Teresa Margaret. She had always found it impossible to return to God “love for love” as she desired. Now that she had a mystical experience of the love of God the abyss between God’s love for her and her ability to return that love sufficiently became a source of increasing torment to her.

In a series of letters to her spiritual director, Fr. Ildephonse, she wrote: “I am telling you in strict confidence, sure of your discretion that I find myself in pain because I am not doing anything to correspond to the demands of love. I feel that I am continually being reproached by my Sovereign Good and yet, I am very sensitive to the slightest movement contrary to the love and knowledge of Him. I do not see, I do not feel, I do not understand anything interiorly or exteriorly which could impel me to love … no one can imagine how terrible it is to live without any love when one is actually burning with the desire for it.”

“This is a torture to me, let alone the fact that it requires such an effort to apply myself to the things of God,” she confessed later. “I fear that God is very displeased with my Communions; it seems that I have no desire to ask His help because of the great coldness which I experience … It is the same with prayer and, of course, in all the other spiritual exercises. I am continually making good resolutions but I never succeed in attaining some way of successfully overcoming these obstacles which stand in my way and prevent me from throwing myself at His feet.”

“The tempest has become extremely violent and I feel myself being so knocked about that I scarcely know what to do if this continues. Everywhere there is darkness and danger. My soul is so dark that the very things which used to afford me some spiritual consolation are only a source of torture to me … I must do violence to myself in order to perform each interior and exterior spiritual exercise … Finding myself in this state of supreme weariness I commit many failings at each step … My mind is in such turmoil that it is open to temptations of every sort, especially to those of despair … I have a great fear of offending God grievously … I see that I do wrong and at the same time try to follow the inspiration to do good and then I feel remorse for my infidelity; and to top it all, I am not succeeding in conquering myself because my repugnance is so great …”

“The cruelest torturer of her soul,” wrote Fr. Ildephonse, “was her love which, in the very same measure that it increased – hid itself from the eyes of her spirit. She loved, yet believed she did not; in the measure love grew in her soul, in the same measure augmented the desire of loving and the pain of thinking that she did not love.” He was convinced that she was at the stage of Spiritual Marriage. When he later heard of her sudden and unexpected death he remarked “she could not have lived very much longer so great was the strength of the love of God in her.”

Her Death

It is suspected that Teresa Margaret had a premonition of her death. After obtaining permission from Fr. Ildephonse, she made a pact with Sr. Adelaide, an elderly nun she was caring for. The pact was that when she died, Sr. Adelaide would ask God “to permit Sister Teresa Margaret to join her quickly in order that she may love Him without hindrance for all eternity and be fully united with the fount of divine charity.” Shortly after the death of Sr. Adelaide, Teresa Margaret was indeed with God. It is likely that the cause of Teresa Margaret’s death was a strangulated hernia. It is probable that it was in lifting the heavy, inert body of Sister Adelaide that she strained herself causing the hernia. If so, it was a delightful seal to their pact.

In mid-February, 1770, Teresa Margaret wrote her last letter to her father, in which she begged that he begin a novena to the Sacred Heart at once for a most pressing intention of hers.

On March 4th she asked Father Ildefonse to allow her to make a general confession, as though it were to be the last of her life, and to receive Communion the following morning in the same dispositions. Whether or not she had any presentiment that this was indeed to be her Viaticum one cannot know; but in fact it was. She was only twenty-two years old and in excellent health, yet it appears she was making preparations for her death.

On the evening of March 6th Teresa Margaret arrived late to dinner from her work in the infirmary. She ate the light Lenten meal alone. As she was returning to her room, she collapsed from violent abdominal spasms. She was put to bed and the doctor was called. He diagnosed a bout of colic, painful but not serious. Teresa Margaret did not sleep at all during the night, and she tried to lie still so as not to disturb those in the adjoining cells. The following morning she seemed to have taken a slight turn for the better

But when the doctor returned he recognized that her internal organs were paralyzed and ordered a surgeon for a bleeding. Her foot was cut and a bit of congealed blood oozed out. The doctor was alarmed and recommended that she should receive the Last Sacraments right away. The infirmarian however, felt that this was not necessary, and was reluctant to send for a priest because of the patient’s continued vomiting. In addition, Sister Teresa Margaret’s pain appeared to have lessened. The priest was not called.

Teresa Margaret offered no comment, nor did she ask for the Last Sacraments. She seemed to have had a premonition of this when making her last Communion “as Viaticum”. She held her crucifix in her hands, from time to time pressing her lips to the five wounds, and invoking the names of Jesus and Mary, otherwise she continued to pray and suffer, as always, in silence.

By 3 p.m. her strength was almost exhausted, and her face had assumed an alarmingly livid hue. Finally a priest was called. He had time only to anoint her before she took her flight to God. She remained silent and uncomplaining to the end, with her crucifix pressed to her lips and her head slightly turned towards the Blessed Sacrament. The community was stunned. Less than twenty-four hours earlier she had been full of life and smiling serenely as she went about her usual duties.

Glory Revealed

Teresa Margaret had attempted all her life to remain hidden. In many ways she succeeded. But upon her death, the veil over her exalted sanctity was lifted by God Himself.

The condition of Teresa Margaret’s body was such that the nuns feared it would decay before proper funeral rites could be accomplished. Her face was discolored, her extremities were black, the body already bloated and stiff. When her body was prepared and laid out in the choir later in the day, it was almost unrecognizable to the sisters who had lived with her for the last five years.

Her funeral was held the following day and plans were made for her immediate burial. When she was moved into the vault however, everyone noticed that a change had taken place in the body. The blue-black discoloration of her face was much less noticeable. The community decided to postpone the burial. A few hours later a second examination showed that the entire body had regained its natural color. The nuns were consoled to see the lovely face of Teresa Margaret looking just as they had known her.

They begged the Provincial’s permission to leave her unburied until the next day, a request which he, dumbfounded at this astonishing reversal of natural processes, readily granted. The final burial of the body was arranged for the evening of the 9th of March, fifty-two hours after her death. By that time her skin tint was as natural as when alive and in full health, and the limbs, which had been so rigid that dressing her in the habit had been a difficult task, were flexible and could now be moved with ease.

This was all so unprecedented that the coffin was permitted to remain open. The nuns, the Provincial, several priests and doctors all saw and testified to the fact that the body was as lifelike as if she were sleeping, and there was not the least visible evidence of corruption or decay. Her face regained its healthy appearance; there was color in her cheeks. Mother Victoria, who had received the profession of this young nun, suggested that a portrait should be painted before the eventual burial. This was unanimously agreed to, and Anna Piattoli, a portrait painter of Florence, was taken down to the crypt to capture forever the features that now in death looked totally life-like.

The Carmel burial vault was a scene of much coming and going during these days, and had assumed anything but a mournful atmosphere. By the time the painting was completed, a strange fragrance was detected about the crypt. The flowers that still remained near the bier had withered. But the fragrance persisted, and grew in strength, pervading the whole chamber. And then, miles away in Arezzo her mother Camilla also became aware of an elusive perfume which noticeably clung to certain parts of the house.

During the next two weeks several doctors and ecclesial authorities came to the crypt to examine the body. As the days continued to pass the body regained more and more the characteristics of a living being. The Archbishop of Florence came on March 21 to make his own examination. The body was now totally subtle. Her bright blue eyes could be seen under lids slightly opened. Finally a little moisture collected on her upper lip. It was wiped off with a piece of cloth and rendered a “heavenly fragrance”. The Archbishop declared: “Extraordinary! Indeed, it is a miracle to see a body completely flexible after death, the eyes those of a living person, the complexion that of one in the best of health. Why, even the soles of her feet appear so lifelike that she might have been walking about a few minutes ago. She appears to be asleep. There is no odor of decay, but on the contrary a most delightful fragrance. Indeed, it is the odor of sanctity.”

Teresa Margaret was finally buried eighteen days after her death. The report of miracles attributed to her intercession began immediately. Thirty-five years later, on June 21, 1805, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the incorrupt body of St. Teresa Margaret was transferred to the nuns’ choir in the Carmel of Florence where it remains to this day.

st-teresa-margaret-of-the-sacred-heart

IMG_2921 St TM REDI web

“… my God, I do not want anything else other than to become a perfect image of You and, because Your life was a hidden life of humiliation, love, and sacrifice, I desire the same for myself. I wish, therefore, to enclose myself in Your loving Heart as in a desert in order to live in You, with You, and for You this hidden life of love and sacrifice.  You know indeed that I desire to be a victim of Your Sacred Heart, completely consumed as a holocaust by the fire of Your holy love.  And thus Your Heart will be the altar upon which I must be consumed, my dearest Spouse; You will Yourself be the priest Who must consume this victim by the fire of Your holy love.” -from the Act of Oblation of St Teresa Margaret Redi of the Sacred Heart.

St Teresa Margaret Redi of the Sacred Heart, OCD, was the subject of Chapter 2 of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD, (Edith Stein)’s (1891-1942), who was killed at Auschwitz, book, “The Hidden Life”, written in 1939.

Love,
Matthew
It was long, mea culpa, but it’s Lent.  It’s good for us! 🙂

Nov 18 – St Rose Phillipine Duchesne, RSCJ, (1769-1852), Foundress of the American branch of the Society of the Sacred Heart

(c) Digby Stuart College, University of Roehampton; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Digby Stuart College, University of Roehampton; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Patroness of, and included among those opposed by Church authorities, including: St Elizabeth Ann Seton, St Joan of Arc, and St Teresa of Avila.  Known as “The Lady of Mercy”.  Named  “Quah-kah-ka-num-ad” = “Woman-who-prays-always” by the Potawatomi, St Rose Phillipine Duchesne is a model of Christian love, faith, and perseverance.

Born in Grenoble, France, of a family that was among the newly rich, Philippine learned political skills from her father and a love of the poor from her mother. The dominant feature of her temperament was a strong and dauntless will, which became the material—and the battlefield—of her holiness.

She entered the convent at 19 without telling her parents and remained despite their opposition. As the French Revolution broke, the convent was closed, and she began taking care of the poor and sick, opened a school for street urchins and risked her life helping priests in the underground.

When the situation cooled, she personally rented her old convent, now a shambles, and tried to revive its religious life. The spirit was gone, and soon there were only four nuns left. They joined the infant Society of the Sacred Heart, whose young superior, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, would be her lifelong friend.

In a short time Philippine was a superior and supervisor of the novitiate and a school. But her ambition, since hearing tales of missionary work in Louisiana as a little girl, from a Jesuit missionary, was to go to America and work among the Indians. At 49, she thought this would be her work. With four nuns, she spent 11 weeks at sea en route to New Orleans during which time disease nearly killed her, and seven weeks more on the Mississippi to St. Louis, which also nearly killed her.

She then met another of the many disappointments of her life. The bishop had no place for them to live and work among Native Americans. Instead, he sent her to what she sadly called “the remotest village in the U.S.,” St. Charles, Missouri. With characteristic drive and courage, she founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi.  St Rose Phillipine Duchesne went on to found six other Sacred Heart houses including schools and orphanages.  She struggled since her teaching methods were based on French models and her English was terrible, but everyone could see the purity of her intentions.

Though she was as hardy as any of the pioneer women in the wagons rolling west, cold and hunger drove her and her fellow sisters out of St Charles to Florissant, Missouri, where she founded the first Catholic Indian school, adding others in the territory. “In her first decade in America Mother Duchesne suffered practically every hardship the frontier had to offer, except the threat of Indian massacre—poor lodging, shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and money, forest fires and blazing chimneys, the vagaries of the Missouri climate, cramped living quarters and the privation of all privacy, and the crude manners of children reared in rough surroundings and with only the slightest training in courtesy” (Louise Callan, R.S.C.J., Philippine Duchesne).  “Poverty and Christian heroism are here”, Rose Phillipine wrote, “and trials are the riches of priests in this land.”

Finally, at 72, in poor health and retired, she got her lifelong wish. A mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi. She was taken along. Though she could not learn their language, they soon named her “Woman-Who-Prays-Always.” While others taught, she prayed. Legend has it that Native American children sneaked behind her as she knelt and sprinkled bits of paper on her habit, and came back hours later to find them undisturbed. She died in 1852 at the age of 83.  She spent her last ten years in retirement in a tiny shack at the convent in Saint Charles, Missouri where she lived austerely and in constant prayer.

Divine grace channeled her iron will and determination into humility and selflessness, and to a desire not to be made superior. Still, even saints can get involved in silly situations. In an argument with her over a minor change in the sanctuary, a priest threatened to remove her tabernacle. She patiently let herself be criticized by younger nuns for not being progressive enough. Through it all, 31 years, she hewed to the line of a dauntless love and an unshakable observance of her religious vows.

Setback after setback after setback, even into old age! This woman of bronze—St. Rose Philippine Duchesne—let nothing stop her, nothing discourage her, nothing slow her down. We can do almost anything for God if we refuse to be discouraged and are willing to pay the price: the price is something called holiness.

“We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self.”
-Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne

“I live now in solitude and am able to use my time reflecting on the past and preparing for death. I cannot put away the thought of the Indians and in my ambition I fly to the Rockies. “
-Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne

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DCF 1.0

Prayer
Gracious God, you filled the heart of Philippine Duchesne with charity and missionary zeal, and gave her the desire to make you known among all peoples. Fill us who honor her memory today, with that same love and zeal to extend your kingdom to the ends of the earth. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.

Love,
Matthew

Solemnity of the Epiphany: Why did God become a man?

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-by Br. Charles Shonk, OP

“Would God have become man if man had never sinned? An odd question, perhaps, but one which St. Thomas [Aquinas, O.P.] takes the trouble to answer with characteristic intellectual humility:

“Such things as spring from God’s will, and are beyond the creature’s due, can be made known to us only through being revealed in Sacred Scripture, in which the Divine Will is manifested to us. Hence, since everywhere in Sacred Scripture the sin of the first man is assigned as the reason of the Incarnation, it is more in accordance with this to say that the work of the Incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin; so that, had sin not existed, the Incarnation would not have been. And yet the power of God is not limited to this; even had sin not existed, God could have become incarnate.”

God’s omnipotence, on the one hand, and the testimony of Scripture, on the other, lead us to believe that, although God could have become incarnate in a sinless world, He would not have done so. Still, we may ask, if He had done so, why would He have done so? St. Thomas does not answer this question directly, but, when considering the Incarnation in a more general way, he does say that it was fitting, not only as a remedy for sin, but also simply as an expression of God’s goodness: “It belongs to the essence of goodness to communicate itself to others… [and] it belongs to the essence of the highest good to communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature.”

It is stupefying, really, to think of God becoming incarnate merely to communicate his goodness to unfallen mankind – even more stupefying, in a certain sense, than God becoming incarnate to redeem us from our sins. It may also seem a rather fruitless piece of speculation. I would suggest, however, that this hypothetical scenario can help us better appreciate at least one aspect of the mystery of Christ’s birth, namely, the humble circumstances in which it occurred.

If Christ had been born into a world without sin, it follows – we might almost say it follows “by definition” – that the whole of creation would have welcomed him as jubilantly as the angels did on Christmas night: “Glory to God in the highest!” There would have been no search for hospitality, no rude feeding-trough for a bed, no flight from murderous Herod. The King of kings would have come into a world that recognized him as such, a world that worshiped and adored His ineffable love and majesty; He would not have silently slipped into a world that had become enemy territory. Indeed, although it is fitting that we now see the stable and the manger through the “rose-colored glasses” of our Savior’s love for us, we must also see them as what they were: the contemptuous rebuff of a sinful and fallen world.

Yet God, by submitting to the indignity of such poverty and obscurity, blesses it. In effect, He tells us that a poor and obscure life is the appropriate, natural, and beneficial condition of mankind after the Fall, the fitting exterior sign of our interior wretchedness, a salutary obstacle to our pride and self-sufficiency. Accordingly, the angels announce tidings of peace, not to the wise and powerful, but to the poor and simple shepherds, because, to the shepherds, who know their own need so well, the coming of God’s kingdom does, in fact, mean peace. Herod, on the other hand, and, with him, all who are persuaded by their power or prosperity that they are not wretched and poor, can only see the coming of God’s kingdom as unsettling, inconvenient, or irrelevant.

We moderns have our own pride and blindness, even if it is less obvious than Herod’s. In this egalitarian, scientific, “information” age, we habitually approach the mysteries of the Faith as so many mere facts, as items to be reviewed in a more or less casual way, analyzed from a critical distance, even evaluated on a strictly evidential basis. We respect, but do not reverence. We are interested, but not ravished. We read, but do not meditate. We experiment, but do not commit. These are signs of a spiritual and moral disease, and, if we would overcome that disease – if we would hear the Christmas Gospel afresh – we must learn from the shepherds, who teach us that the mysteries of God are revealed, not to the proud and the subtle, not to the “well-informed” and sophisticated, but to the humble and to those who suffer, to the innocent and to those who know their own sinfulness, to the teachable, and to those whose hearts are prepared.”

Merry Christmas,
Matthew