Category Archives: Theology

Freedom for Excellence!!!!

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)

Saul’s Conversion, Caravaggio, 1601, Oil on canvas, 230 cm × 175 cm (91 in × 69 in), Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery (of sin) (Gal 5:1)

In 21st century America, we understand the freedom as an absence of coercion or restraint.  This was not always how this word has been understood.  Christians have understood freedom as freedom for the good,  the Freedom for Excellence.

As a catechist, I am strongly of the opinion, the crises of our age are directly related to a crises of catechesis. Our modern concept of “freedom to/of” suggest, wrongly, that the beauty of freedom is a vacuum of restraint.  Rather than,”You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32), the modern concept of freedom proposes, “You will ignore the truth, and the ignorance will make you free?”

Freedom of indifference (free will) (William of Ockham) provides the ability to do anything one likes, to feel a lack of constraint. Freedom for excellence1, on the other hand, is the freedom to do good. It can develop and grow over time.

Everyone has freedom of indifference when playing the piano. Even if you’ve never had a single lesson, you can sit down and hit any key you wish. But only the trained musician has freedom for excellence, the freedom to play beautiful, sophisticated music. Similarly, everyone has freedom of indifference to throw a basketball toward a hoop, but only an experienced player has freedom for excellence, freedom to shoot and score consistently.

Freedom to achieve the goal of human life is aided and enhanced through revelatory instruction—what to do and what to avoid, or law/constraint. Natural law, that which is plainly evident from nature, enables all to do good and avoid evil. Revealed law is an additional grace that specifies for the individual conscience even more clearly the good to be done.

John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote in his letter to the Duke of Norfolk, our “conscience is the voice of God . . . a messenger of Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal vicar of Christ.”

Conscience has dignity and rights because of its relationship to truth, a truth to which we owe allegiance. Conscience does not create values; it inquires zealously into what is true.  Recall my layman’s fascination for Pilate’s query, albeit mockingly lacking sincerity, “What is truth?” Jn 18:38.  More important than what we are free from is what we are free for:  to live the truth in love, both now and forever.

The human person, or moral agent, is a unity of body and soul, not soul alone. What a person does with his or her body partially constitutes who he/she is and whether he/she is moving toward increased virtue or vice.

As Thomas Aquinas wrote, to analyze the morality of an action, we have to look at the means, motive, and circumstances (Summa Theologiae I-II.18).  All three elements of an action must be good for the action to be good, just as to be a good airplane pilot, the pilot must see well, have flying experience, and be sober. Two out of three is not enough and is likely tragic. An otherwise good act motivated by greed, hatred, or cruelty is not a good act. Likewise, there are situations in which the motive is laudable (say, to express and reinforce love), the means is good (for example, spouses making love), but the circumstances are wrong (making love in a public park at noon).

The moral life involves the challenge to live a life of holiness to a heroic degree – such as the saints have done. Obedience to the truth about the human person —a pursuit of deep happiness and freedom—cannot be achieved through human power alone…

Freedom…even for…the Cross?  Explain the Cross and you will know, imho, all necessary to understand, at least, Christianity.  Spend a little time, slowly…this week, I humbly suggest, with the Cross.  Don’t be afraid.  Don’t turn away.  Don’t rush to Easter.  Just be at the foot of the Cross and relish the radiance and joy of its meaning, splendor and purpose.  I think, doctor, I’ll take my own advice, too.

Love,
Matthew

1  Pinckaers, Servais, O.P. The Sources of Christian Ethics, Translated by Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.

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

StTeresaMargaret

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.

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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! 🙂

Theodicy – The Problem of Evil

theodicy
-by Scipione Tadolini, “St Michael the Archangel”, 1865, Marble sculpture, Rotunda, Gasson Hall, Boston College.

“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.  Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.  The God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.  To Him be dominion forever. Amen.”  1 Peter 5:8-11

The last thing the Enemy wishes is our despair.

Satan’s Tools

There is a story about Satan selling some of his tools at a garage sale he was giving. There on tables grouped by importance were his bright, shiny but deadly trinkets.

One could find tools that made it easy to tear others down.  And for those who had big egos, there were lenses for magnifying one’s own importance, but if you looked through them the other way, you could also use the lens to belittle others.

An unusual assortment of gardening implements stood together with a guarantee to help your pride grow by leaps and bounds.  Also in prominence was the rake of scorn, the shovel of jealousy for digging a pit for your neighbor, tools of gossip and backbiting, of selfishness and apathy.

All of these were pleasing to the eye and came complete with great promises and guarantees of prosperity.  The prices, of course, were steep but a sign declared “Free Credit Extended” to all.  “Take at least one home, use it.  You don’t have to pay until later!” old Satan cried rubbing his hands in glee.

One prospective buyer was looking at all the things offered when he noticed two well-worn, non-descript tools standing in one corner.    Not being nearly as tempting as the other items, he found it curious that these two tools had price tags higher than any other.

When he asked why, Satan just laughed and said, “Well, that’s because these two are more useful to me than the others.  I can pry open and get inside a person’s heart with these when I cannot get near them with my other tools. Once I get inside, I can make people do what I choose. They are badly worn because I use them on almost everyone, since very few people know that they belong to me.”

Satan pointed to the two tools, saying, “You see, I call that one Doubt and the other Discouragement. Those will work when nothing else will.”

Resist him, solid in your faith.  We used to call this Spiritual Warfare.  The Lord’s love is infinitely stronger than any evil.  He is God.  He cannot be defeated.  The Prince of Lies wishes us to believe he can defeat Him.  It is a lie.  Do not listen to him.  With the power of prayer and trust in the Lord, banish the Liar to the void of suffering from whence he came for his rebellion against God, to which he wishes to drag us all.  Resist him, solid in your faith.

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Seraphim, may the Lord make us worthy to burn with the fire of perfect charity. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Cherubim, may the Lord grant us the grace to leave the ways of sin and run in the paths of Christian perfection. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Thrones, may the Lord infuse into our hearts a true and sincere spirit of humility. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Dominions, may the Lord give us grace to govern our senses and overcome any unruly passions. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Powers, may the Lord protect our souls against the snares and temptations of the devil. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Virtues, may the Lord preserve us from evil and falling into temptation. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Principalities, may God fill our souls with a true spirit of obedience. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Archangels, may the Lord give us perseverance in faith and in all good works in order that we may attain the glory of Heaven. Amen.

By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial Choir of Angels, may the Lord grant us to be protected by them in this mortal life and conducted in the life to come to Heaven. Amen.

O glorious prince St. Michael, chief and commander of the heavenly hosts, guardian of souls, vanquisher of rebel spirits, servant in the house of the Divine King and our admirable conductor, thou who dost shine with excellence and superhuman virtue deliver us from all evil, who turn to thee with confidence and enable us by your gracious protection to serve God more and more faithfully every day.

Pray for us, O glorious St. Michael, Prince of the Church of Jesus Christ, that we may be made worthy of His promises.

Almighty and Everlasting God, Who, by a prodigy of goodness and a merciful desire for the salvation of all men, has appointed the most glorious Archangel St. Michael, Prince of Thy Church, make us worthy, we beseech Thee, to be delivered from all our enemies, that none of them may harass us at the hour of death, but that we may be conducted by him into the August Presence of Thy Divine Majesty. This we beg through the merits of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicy

hofer
-by Rev. Andrew Hofer, OP, teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. This article comes from the September 2011 issue of The Irish Rover, a newspaper produced by students at the University of Notre Dame.

“How do we reconcile God’s omnipresence with the existence and agency of the Devil and with the presence of sin and evil in general?”

A perennial problem in human thinking is the question of good and evil. How can we reconcile the presence of God and the presence of evil forces that we experience in the world? In Christianity, Gottfried Leibniz (d. 1716) was especially famous for framing the question of theodicy, that is, how to justify God when we face the problem of evil.

If God is infinitely good, all-powerful, omnipresent, and all-loving, how could there be evil forces at work in creation? Various approaches are taken to answer this today. One approach is to be silent in the face of the mystery of suffering.

For some of those who articulate an answer, it seems that God has too exalted a job description! They want to lessen God’s descriptions. God isn’t REALLY almighty, they say. He’s working out His salvation, and ours, in a complex cosmos.

An even more serious objection arising from the question of evil is that God simply doesn’t exist. This modern-sounding objection is, in fact, one that St. Thomas Aquinas considers when asking “Does God exist?” in SUMMA THEOLOGIAE Ia, q. 2, a. 3. The objection runs like this. It seems that God does not exist. If one of two contraries is infinite, the other would be totally destroyed. But this word “God” is understood to mean infinite goodness. If therefore God exists, evil couldn’t be found. But evil is found in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

Few people may go through this reasoning in a logical syllogism, but many people wonder along those lines when bad things happen. How could God let my friend suffer and die? Where was God in the September 11 attacks against America ten years ago? Individual painful experiences such as these can drive people to agnosticism or atheism.

For his part, St. Thomas answers the objection from evil concerning God’s existence with a quotation from St. Augustine: “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” St. Thomas continues to say that this is actually a part of God’s infinite goodness: He allows evil—and out of that evil produces good. In other words, God does not directly will evil, and when He declines to prevent it (see Job), He who made creation from nothing has a plan to make something very good out of the disorder of evil.

In responding to the question of evil, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “No quick answer will suffice…. THERE IS NOT A SINGLE ASPECT OF THE CHRISTIAN MESSAGE THAT IS NOT IN PART AN ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF EVIL” (309). In the world that we have, with its freedom and the misuse of freedom in sin, there are devils and sinners. God doesn’t obliterate devils after their fall, which was their irrevocable everlasting choice against God’s goodness. God created devils originally as good angels, and their own choice to turn away from Him does not cause God to destroy them. He also doesn’t obliterate us human sinners. Even when God’s own Son became man and was crucified by evil forces, by our sins, God did not obliterate His creation. He showed that the horror imposed upon Jesus could be used for our salvation. In fact, it is by “his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:5). When we experience evil personally, when we suffer, it is an invitation to be united with Jesus, “to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Col 1:24).

For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have proclaimed to the world that “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” His Resurrection beckons us to live by the Holy Spirit and see how no evil, however horrible it is, can be a match for God’s almighty goodness. It doesn’t make everything easy in this world. But our faith in the Resurrection, where God triumphs over ALL evil forces, sustains us. The mystery of God’s triumph calls us both to silent prayer at the foot of the Cross, and to joyful preaching of the Good News.”

Love,
Matthew

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

DCF 1.0
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

Nov 28 – St James of the Marche, OFM (1394-1476) – The Virtue of Fortitude

francisco_de_zurbaran_james_of_the_marches
-St James of the Marche,~1625 AD, by Francisco Zuraban, oil on canvas, Height: 291 cm (114.6 in). Width: 165 cm (65 in), Prado Museum

The self-inflicted wound is always the dearest (most costly).  I am well acquainted.  Well acquainted.

I LOOOOOOOOVE BEING A CATECHIST!!!!!!  So far, I want my epitaph, very fashionable to write your own, to read:  engineer, entrepreneur (still working on that one), CATECHIST!!!!!!!!, & Mt 25:20.  JPII posited, and I agree, unleash an army of dedicated catechists on the world and it will be converted.  The message is the power, we are only messengers.  But, they still shoot messengers, don’t they.  Regardless of how profoundly imperfect the messenger (me), the Message IS PERFECT!!!!!

When preparing the confirmandi for the sacrament of Christian adulthood, it is required they know the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit they are about to receive through supernatural grace:  wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (courage), knowledge, piety, and holy fear of the Lord – which is the beginning of wisdom.

I have come to a much deeper, more personal knowledge of fortitude, and what that gift of the Holy Spirit means, of late, as I am sure have most Catholics who continue to practice the Faith and are not in denial or willful ignorance.

For the past ten years, going to Mass I have felt and still feel distinctly like Alice in Wonderland and the Queen of Hearts is having a bad day.  No apologies to Lewis Carroll (Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) who was a pedophile.  Why do you think he wrote the book?  I learned this from former Cook County detective, and now international consultant on child trafficking, Robert Hugh Farley.  See all the wonderful things I get to learn?  Sleep like the dead?  References to Carroll are used in chat rooms and in person by the depraved as a sort of code their fellow felons will comprehend.

For ten years I have gone to Mass as internationally billions were paid, priests were defrocked, arrested, sentenced to prison for the rest of their short natural lives, a bishop was indicted, international criminal court charges of crimes against humanity were filed at the Hague, multiple international government reports issued and never once have I heard this Truth addressed in any meaningful way from the pulpit.  Not a blip.  Not a burp.  Not a wiggle from the pulpit, save Old St Pat’s, to their credit and courage.  Silence.  I realize there have been exceptions, and I have not attended every homily, yet, still, in general, a profoundly disconcerting level of silence given the magnitude of “the situation”.  Disturbing, disturbing.

I realize the ears  of many of my fellow Catholics would bleed should a celebrant have the courage to speak such truth to power during Mass, but, the Truth is a b****, ain’t she?  Apologies, ladies.  Cultural milieu, and all that jazz, you know.   No offense intended.

We can pray for the repose of the soul of Moammar Ghadafi or some other nonsense I regularly hear in the Prayers of the Faithful together as a community in our worship space, a horrible Muslim dictator, but not deal with our own s***?  Knave of Hearts, pray tell, where are the Queen’s tarts?  As if nothing was going on?  As if we would not notice?  Yet, we play with the words of the Mass?  Nero, where’s that violin?  Maddening.  Absolutely maddening.  We applaud positive financial status updates from the pulpit, but never sermons?  That assumes there would be, are, were sermons worth applauding?  The celebrant gets up to the pulpit and says, “Be nice!” 🙁   St John Chrysostom, pray for us!  Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable?

Each time another shoe would drop, and those shoes are GIANTS, I thought to myself every Sunday, “OK, now they HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING!!!!!”  Nope.  But, nothing stopped the big, important collections.  Those HAD to go on without a hitch.  God help us all.  He will have to.  Not the soul murder of children, the ripping away of their innocence, not the utter destruction, literally, of lives, of families, not the obfuscation, not the dissembling, not the obstruction of justice, not the bs, not the payouts, not the abounding stupidity & insanity. Nothing.  Where is the virtue of fortitude?  Holy Spirit gift #4!!!!!????  Mt 23:3

I must give credit to Old St Pat’s though for at least having the courage to speak of the issue, if not to it.  One-third of the country still cannot accept the current President was born in the US, so sanity and rational behavior I am not expecting.  (Pssssst…let you in on a little secret…non-white people have, actually, been born in this country, and, according to the Constitution, are legally eligible to be President of the USA.  Shocker.  The Union won!  Ad victorem spolias!  Your mileage may vary.)

I really start to wonder if Jesus had any doubts?  Regrets?  How tormenting they must have been.  I cannot, dare not attempt to imagine.  The Agony in the Garden has always been one of my most favorite meditations.  How could it not be?  For anyone?  Who is human and has a pulse?

The observant viewer of Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, will note that in the garden scene, one manifestation of the agony of Jesus was the tiny blotches of blood that surfaced on His facial skin. This feature of Christ’s suffering is alluded to by Luke, the author of the New Testament books of Luke and Acts, who himself, by profession, was a physician. His writings manifest an intimate acquaintance with the technical language of the Greek medical schools of Asia Minor.

Of the four gospel writers, only Dr. Luke referred to Jesus’ ordeal as “agony” (agonia). It is because of this agony over things to come that we learn during His prayer “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Only Luke referred to Jesus’ sweat (idros)—a much-used term in medical language. And only Luke referred to Jesus’ sweat as consisting of great drops of blood (thromboi haimatos).

A thorough search of the medical literature demonstrates that such a condition, while admittedly rare, does occur in humans. Commonly referred to as hematidrosis or hemohidrosis (Allen, 1967, pp. 745-747), this condition results in the excretion of blood or blood pigment in the sweat. Under conditions of great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can rupture (Lumpkin, 1978), thus mixing blood with perspiration. This condition has been reported in extreme instances of stress (see Sutton, 1956, pp. 1393-1394).

During the waning years of the twentieth century, 76 cases of hematidrosis were studied and classified into categories according to causative factors: “Acute fear and intense mental contemplation were found to be the most frequent inciting causes” (Holoubek and Holoubek, 1996). While the extent of blood loss generally is minimal, hematidrosis also results in the skin becoming extremely tender and fragile (Barbet, 1953, pp. 74-75; Lumpkin, 1978), which would have made Christ’s pending physical insults even more painful.

From these factors, it is evident that even before Jesus endured the torture of the cross, He suffered far beyond what most of us will ever suffer. His penetrating awareness of the heinous nature of sin, its destructive and deadly effects, the sorrow and heartache that it inflicts, and the extreme measure necessary to deal with it, make the passion of Christ beyond all comprehension.

Age and experience have only added/continue to add to the profundity of the Agony’s contemplation for me.  I have to do what?  For whom?  Father, U R NUTS!!!!!!  I AM outta here!  Amen.

I am told from those who have been to the Gethsemane, there is a little path with which one can slip out unseen, unnoticed and anyone in a situation like the Lord’s, knowing they were about to be betrayed and fully comprehending what that meant and what “justice” they were likely to receive could have been long gone, quickly & easily.   See what Love can do?  For the profoundly unworthy?  Like me.

dys·func·tion [dis-fuhngk-shuhn]
noun Sociology. a consequence of a social practice or behavior pattern that undermines the stability of a social system.  I n s a n i t y.

WWJD?  Jesus would say, “WTF?”  Kyrie eleison.  Kyrie eleison.

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Tragically, in these times of economic hardship, it seems perversely appropriate, ironic, to introduce ourselves ourselves to St James of the Marche, one of the fathers of the modern pawnshop.

James Gangala was born in the Marche of Ancona, in central Italy along the Adriatic Sea. After earning doctorates in canon and civil law at the University of Perugia, he joined the Friars Minor (Conventuals) and began a very austere life. He fasted nine months of the year; he slept three hours a night. St. Bernardine of Siena told him to moderate his penances.

James studied theology with St. John of Capistrano. Ordained in 1420, James began a preaching career that took him all over Italy and through 13 Central and Eastern European countries. James preached penance and conversion and combated heresy.

The Fraticelli

The Fraticelli/Zelanti/Spirituals were medieval Roman Catholic groups that could trace their origins to the Franciscans, but which came into being as a separate entity. The Fraticelli were declared heretical by the Church in 1296 by Boniface VIII.

The Fraticelli (“Little Brethren”) were extreme proponents of the rule of Saint Francis of Assisi, especially with regard to poverty, and regarded the wealth of the Church as scandalous, and that of individual churchmen as invalidating their status. They were thus forced into open revolt against the whole authority of the Church.  Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose is set against the persecution of Fraticelli.

In 1394, Pope Martin V nominated St. John Capistran (27 May) and St. James of the March (11 October) as inquisitors general to take action against the Fraticelli. These promoters of order among the Franciscans fulfilled the duties of their office strictly and energetically and succeeded in striking at the very vitals of the sect. In 1415, the city of Florence had formally banished the “Fraticelli of the poor life, the followers of Michelino of Cesena of infamous memory”, and in Lucca five Fraticelli, on trial, had solemnly abjured their error (1411).

Preaching

Friar James was an extremely popular preacher and converted many people (250,000 at one estimate) and helped spread devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. His sermons prompted numerous Catholics to reform their lives and many men joined the Franciscans under his influence.

With John of Capistrano, Albert of Sarteano and Bernardine of Siena, James is considered one of the “four pillars” of the Observant movement among the Franciscans. These friars became known especially for their preaching.

Pawn Star

To combat extremely high interest rates, James established montes pietatis (literally, mountains of charity) — nonprofit credit organizations that lent money at very low rates on pawned objects.

Enemies & assassination attempts

Not everyone was happy with the work James did. King Tvrtko II of Bosnia and particularly Queen Dorothea tried to poison him. Twice assassins lost their nerve when they came face to face with him.  He is generally represented holding in his right hand a chalice, out of which a snake is escaping – an allusion to some endeavors of heretics to poison him, using the chalice with which he would celebrate Mass.  James was buried in Naples in the Franciscan church of St. Maria la Nuova, where his body is still to be seen.

James wanted the word of God to take root in the hearts of his listeners. His preaching was directed to preparing the soil, so to speak, by removing any rocks and softening up lives hardened by sin. God’s intention is that his word take root in our lives, but for that we need both prayerful preachers and cooperative listeners.

james_of_marches

“Beloved and most holy word of God! You enlighten the hearts of the faithful, you satisfy the hungry, console the afflicted; you make the souls of all productive of good and cause all virtues to blossom; you snatch souls from the devil’s jaw; you make the wretched holy, and men of earth citizens of heaven” -sermon of St. James of the Marche

On the feast of Saint James of the Marches, we pray for the fortitude, steadfastness, and endurance that this holy man displayed each day of his life in defense of the Faith and of Holy Mother Church. Saint James of the Marche, pray for us!  2 Tim 4:7,  “Keep the Faith!” -Mary D. McCormick.  “Young man, get your ass to Mass!” – (Pfc) Robert L. McCormick (USMC, 1942-1946, Ret), when as a college student I had temporarily stopped attending Mass.

A Prayer for Fortitude

O Holy Spirit, who descended upon the twelve as they stood in anxiety, come unto me in my endeavors. Banish from my heart all timidity and false pride; strengthen my soul to avoid all sin, to practice virtue, and to prefer ridicule to the denial of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let not the goodness of purity, obedience and charity be obscured in the face of adversity. Instill in me the virtue of Fortitude so that I may courageously profess and practice my holy Catholic faith. Open my eyes, O Holy Spirit, that I may recognize my state in life. Give me the confidence to embrace it and the strength to live it as a son of God. I pray that Your guidance, protection and consolation may be with me now and throughout my life. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Aug 28 – St Augustine, (354-430 AD), Bishop, Doctor of the Church, Doctor Gratiae, Doctor of Grace, “Tolle, Lege!”

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica
– Sts Augustine & Monica, by Ary Scheffer, 1846, please click on the image for greater detail.

“This very moment I may, if I desire, become the friend of God.” -St Augustine

Bishops have had a tough decade, as have all the ordained.  Some would say, of the guilty, deservedly so, by their or their predecessors own action/inaction.  We are ALL sinners, most especially, yours truly!  Sins of commission and omission.  The Catholic understanding of sin is that it is never a private affair.  All sin, even unknown sin, is a social offense.

The first tragedy, the victims of clergy sexual abuse, and, a second, I dare suggest, are the innocent ordained, who have dedicated their lives in service and love, try as they may with the aid of grace, in service to the Lord and His People.  God bless them!  Their reward will surely be great in Heaven for having lived, and served, and loved in this time.  Bless them!  And, thank you!  How much harder it must be to live out the life of service and love in these days!  Rejoice!  I say again, rejoice!  You shine as examples of Christian fortitude, fidelity, the power of grace and commitment!  True servants of the Lord!  I know I am inspired by your example!  Thank you!  God bless you!  Thank you for your service and your love, for your fidelity and example which inspires us all in, of, and for Love!

St. Augustine of Hippo is the patron of brewers because of his conversion from a former life of loose living, which included parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions. His complete turnaround and conversion has been an inspiration to many who struggle with a particular vice or habit they long to break.

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Accepted by most scholars to be the most important figure in the ancient Western church, St. Augustine was born in Tagaste, Numidia in North Africa. His mother, St Monica, was a Christian, but his father remained a pagan until late in life. After a rather unremarkable childhood, marred only by a case of stealing pears, Augustine drifted through several philosophical systems before converting to Christianity at the age of thirty-one. At the age of nineteen, Augustine read Cicero’s Hortensius (now lost), an experience that led him into the fascination with philosophical questions and methods that would remain with him throughout his life. After a few years as a Manichean, he became attracted to the more skeptical positions of the Academic philosophers. Although tempted in the direction of Christianity upon his arrival at Milan in 383, he turned first to neoplatonism. During this time, Augustine fathered a child by a mistress. This period of exploration, including its youthful excesses (perhaps somewhat exaggerated) are recorded in Augustine’s most widely read work, the Confessions.

This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. At age 17, through the generosity of fellow citizen Romanianus, Augustine went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. Although raised as a Christian, Augustine left the church to follow the Manichaean religion, much to the despair of his mother, Monica.  As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits with women and urged the inexperienced boys, like Augustine, to seek out experiences or to make up stories about experiences in order to gain acceptance and avoid ridicule.  It was during this period that he uttered his famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet!” – “da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.” At a young age, he began an affair with a young woman in Carthage. She was his lover for over thirteen years and gave birth to his son Adeodatus, who was said to have been extremely intelligent.

Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been brought up a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride darkened his mind so much, that he could not see or understand the Divine Truth anymore. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine finally became convinced that Christianity was the one true religion. Yet he did not become a Christian then, because he thought he could never live a pure life. One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted on reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terrible, ashamed of himself. “What are we doing?” he cried to his friend Alipius. “Unlearned people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!”

Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine flung himself out into the garden and cried out to God, “How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?” Just then he heard a child singing, “Tolle, lege! = Take up and read!” Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage his gaze fell on. “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts'”[Rom 13:13-15]. “I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.” — The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book VIII, Paragraph 29.

During his youth, Augustine had studied rhetoric at Carthage, a discipline that he used to gain employment teaching in Carthage and then in Rome and Milan, where he met Ambrose who is credited with effecting Augustine’s conversion and who baptized Augustine in 387. Returning to his homeland soon after his conversion, he was ordained a presbyter in 391, taking the position as bishop of Hippo in 396, a position which he held until his death.

Besides the Confessions, Augustine’s most celebrated work is his De Civitate Dei (On the City of God), a study of the relationship between Christianity and secular society, which was inspired by the fall of Rome to the Visigoths in 410. Among his other works, many are polemical attacks on various heresies: Against Faustus, the Manichean; On Baptism; Against the Donatists;and many attacks on Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Other works include treatises On the Trinity; On Faith, Hope, and Love; On Christian Doctrine; and some early dialogues.

St. Augustine stands as a powerful advocate for orthodoxy and of the episcopacy as the sole means for the dispensing of saving grace. In the light of later scholarship, Augustine can be seen to serve as a bridge between the ancient and medieval worlds. A review of his life and work, however, shows him as an active mind engaging the practical concerns of the churches he served.

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“The honors of this world, what are they but puff, and emptiness and peril of falling?” – Saint Augustine

“In my deepest wound I saw Your glory and it astounded me.”-St. Augustine 

“One loving heart sets another on fire.” -St. Augustine

“What is more fragrant, more delightful, than the gentle breath of truth?” -St. Augustine

“Daily advance, then, in this love, both by praying and by well doing, that through the help of Him who enjoined it on you, and whose gift it is, it may be nourished and increased, until, being perfected, it render you perfect.”– Saint Augustine

“What do you possess if you possess not God?” – Saint Augustine

“The Holy Spirit has come to abide in you; do not make Him withdraw; do not exclude Him from your heart in any way.” -St. Augustine

“Unhappy is the soul enslaved by the love of anything that is mortal.” -Saint Augustine

“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” -St. Augustine

“The world is a book and he who does not travel reads only one page.” -St Augustine

“Love, and He will draw near; love, and He will dwell within you. The Lord is at hand; have no anxiety. Are you puzzled to know how it is that He will be with you if you love? God is love.” -St. Augustine

“You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones.” -St. Augustine

“If a vessel is to be filled, it must first be empty. So cast all evil away from you, that you may be filled to the brim.” -St. Augustine

“He willed not that any one should glory in the exalted position of any city of earth. He, too, Whose are all things and by Whom all things were created, was made poor, in order that no one, while believing in Him, might venture to boast himself in earthly riches. He refused to be made by men a king, because He displayed the pathway of humility to those unhappy ones whom pride had separated from Him; and yet universal creation attests the fact of His everlasting kingdom.” -St Augustine

“I will suggest a means whereby you can praise God all day long, if you wish. Whatever you do, do it well, and you have praised God.” – Saint Augustine

“Love has hands to help others. It has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. This is what love looks like.” -St. Augustine 

“This is the business of our life. By labor and prayer to advance in the grace of God, till we come to that height of perfection in which, with clean hearts, we may behold God.” -Saint Augustine

“God in his omnipotence could not give more, in His wisdom He knew not how to give more, in His riches He had not more to give, than the Eucharist.” – Saint Augustine

“God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes you do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and aids you that you may be able.” – Saint Augustine

“Conquer yourself and the world lies at your feet.” – Saint Augustine

“God himself will be the goal of our desires; we shall contemplate him without end, love him without surfeit, praise him without weariness.”-St Augustine (on St Paul writing: “So that God may be all in all.”)

“O eternal truth, true love and beloved eternity. You are my God. To you do I sigh day and night. When I first came to know you, you drew me to yourself so that I might see that there were things for me to see, but that I myself was not yet ready to see them. Meanwhile you overcame the weakness of my vision, sending forth most strongly the beams of your light, and I trembled at once with love and dread. I sought a way to gain the strength which I needed to enjoy you. But I did not find it until I embraced “the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who is above all, God blessed for ever.” He was calling me and saying: “I am the way of truth, I am the life.” Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with You. Created things kept me from You; yet if they had not been in You they would have not been at all. You called, You shouted, and You broke through my deafness. You flashed, You shone, and You dispelled my blindness. You breathed Your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for You. I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.” – from the Confessions of Saint Augustine

Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ. – from The City of God by Saint Augustine

A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers. – from Against Faustus the Manichean, by Saint Augustine

There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for the dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended. – from Sermons by Saint Augustine

“At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.” – from Homilies on John by Saint Augustine

“Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.” – Saint Augustine

“O Sacrament of Love! O sign of Unity! O bond of Charity! He who would have Life finds here indeed a Life to live in and a Life to live by. – Saint Augustine

“And He departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here.” -St. Augustine

If you see that you have not yet suffered tribulations, consider it certain that you have not begun to be a true servant of God; for Saint Paul says plainly that all who chose to live piously in Christ, shall suffer persecutions – Saint Augustine

I speak to you who have just been reborn in baptism, my little children in Christ, you who are the new offspring of the Church, gift of the Father, proof of Mother Church’s fruitfulness. All of you who stand fast in the Lord are a holy seed, a new colony of bees, the very flower of our ministry and fruit of our toil, my joy and my crown. It is the words of the Apostle that I address to you: Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its desires, so that you may be clothed with the life of Him whom you have put on in this sacrament. You have all been clothed with Christ by your baptism in Him. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus. Such is the power of this sacrament: it is a sacrament of new life which begins here and now with the forgiveness of all past sins, and will be brought to completion in the resurrection of the dead. You have been buried with Christ by baptism into death in order that, as Christ has risen from the dead, you also may walk in newness of life. You are walking now by faith, still on pilgrimage in a mortal body away from the Lord; but He to Whom your steps are directed is Himself the sure and certain way for you: Jesus Christ, who for our sake became man. For all who fear Him He has stored up abundant happiness, which He will reveal to those who hope in Him, bringing it to completion when we have attained the reality which even now we possess in hope. This is the octave day of your new birth. Today is fulfilled in you the sign of faith that was prefigured in the Old Testament by the circumcision of the flesh on the eighth day after birth. When the Lord rose from the dead, He put off the mortality of the flesh; His risen body was still the same body, but it was no longer subject to death. By His resurrection He consecrated Sunday, or the Lord’s day. Though the third after his passion, this day is the eighth after the Sabbath, and thus also the first day of the week. And so your own hope of resurrection, though not yet realized, is sure and certain, because you have received the sacrament or sign of this reality, and have been given the pledge of the Spirit. If, then, you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your hearts on heavenly things, not the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. – from a sermon by Saint Augustine

Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne-Saint Augustin, by Phillippe de Champaigne, (1602-1674), completed 1645-1650, oil on canvas, 78.7 × 62.2 cm (31 × 24.5 in), Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Jaume_Huguet_-_Consecration_of_Saint_Augustine_-_Google_Art_Project-The Consecration of St Augustine, by Jaume Huguet, (1412-1492), completed 1466~1475, tempera on panel, H: 272 cm (107.1 in). W: 200 cm (78.7 in), Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy. Amen.
-St Augustine’s prayer to the Holy Spirit

Give me yourself, O my God, give yourself to me.
Behold I love you, and if my love is too weak a thing,
grant me to love you more strongly.
I cannot measure my love
to know how much it falls short of being sufficient,
but let my soul hasten to your embrace
and never be turned away until it is hidden
in the secret shelter of your presence.
This only do I know,
that it is not good for me when you are not with me,
when you are only outside me.
I want you in my very self.
the plenty in the world
which is not my God is utter want. Amen.
– St Augustine

Holy Spirit, powerful Consoler,
sacred Bond of the Father and the Son,
Hope of the afflicted,
descend into my heart
and establish in it
your loving dominion.
Enkindle in my tepid soul
the fire of your Love
so that I may be wholly subject to you.
We believe that when you dwell in us,
you also prepare a dwelling for the Father and the Son.
Deign, therefore, to come to me,
Consoler of abandoned souls,
and Protector of the needy.
Help the afflicted,
strengthen the weak,
and support the wavering.
Come and purify me.
Let no evil desire take possession of me.
You love the humble and resist the proud.
Come to me, glory of the living, and hope of the dying.
Lead me by your grace
that I may always be pleasing to you. Amen.
-St Augustine

Love,
Matthew

Forgiveness & reconciliation…

I remember, as a child, when my mother proposed to me the concept that “there is no sin that God cannot forgive”, following her around the house the rest of the day trying to think up the most horrific sins as a child I could imagine.  My mother’s constant, identical answer, a credit to the her own faith and constancy, was always, “Nope.  He can forgive that one, too.”  I could not find a crack.

Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is interior, taking place in the heart of the one who forgives. Reconciliation, the ultimate goal toward which forgiveness tends, is a two-way street. Entrusted with the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18), we are called to reconcile with those willing to be reconciled with us. However, if the offender is unrepentant, God requires only that we forgive him or her interiorly. I believe that is why Jesus, who bestowed forgiveness directly upon repentant sinners (such as the “woman of the city” in Luke 7:48), forgave his murderers only indirectly. Instead of saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” he said, “Father, forgive them” (Lk 23:34). When the one who abused us continues to behave abusively, this intercessory prayer of Jesus—an outward expression of his interior forgiveness—becomes our model for fulfilling his commandment to forgive.

Forgiveness means letting go of resentment. We have seen that God permits evil only so that he may bring about a greater good (CCC 412). The greatest good possible is that we grow in grace. When we hold onto resentment toward the person who hurt us, we impede grace. Instead of being like Jesus’ disciples, who gave up everything to follow him heavenward, we become like the rich young man of Matthew 19. He could have been another St. John, “the disciple Jesus loved,” for Jesus looked upon him and “loved him.” Instead, the young man “went away sorrowing” because he was unable to let go of the things that tied him to the earth.

Forgiveness does not mean forgoing the demands of justice. It means wanting God’s best for that person. Where there is a crime, God’s best can mean, in the words of Mark Shea, “releasing the evildoer into the hands of God’s mercy even as you finger him to the cops.” St. Maria Goretti, as she lay dying, both forgave her attacker and answered the police’s questions so he could be prosecuted. Both actions sprang from the same desire for her attacker’s good and the good of others. God’s best also means not letting the offender continue to offend. If another is abusive, we fulfill God’s commandments by only having such contact with him or her as is safe.

Forgiveness means praying for the offender. This falls under the commandment to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44). When the mere thought of an abuser stirs up painful memories, it can be a particularly difficult commandment to follow. A Sister of Life gave me some helpful advice: Ask Mary to place the offender within her Immaculate Heart; then, pray often for Mary’s intentions. Prayer is vital to forgiveness because it connects you with the “circulatory system” of the Mystical Body of Christ—the graces that flow from its Head to its members. The more you pray for your abuser, the more healing you will receive. This leads to the most important point:

Forgiveness is not within our own power. It is in God’s power. Alexander Pope had it right: to err is human; to forgive, divine. In the Mass, when the bread and wine become, through transubstantiation, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, it is not by the priest’s own power, but by the power of Christ acting through him. So too, when we pray for those who have offended us, we transform the detritus of evil into a seedbed of goodness—not by our own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. The Catechism says that the effect of praying for our offender is so spiritually potent that it purifies our memory: “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (CCC 2842, 2843).

All this is not to say that forgiveness is without pain. Union with Christ demands interior martyrdom (2 Cor 4:11). But we’re in good company. The Catechism says our acts of forgiveness connect us with all the saints who gave their lives for the faith: “Forgiveness . . . bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus” (CCC 2844).”

-Eden, Dawn (2012-05-12). My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints (p. 92-94). Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

Words of Love and Creation

My friends Joe & Victoria got hitched on Friday!  Congrats you two!  Joe,
DO NOT try the below @home!    I have complete confidence!    Rather,
“Yes, ma’am!” seems to keep the peace for me!  
-By Br. Raymond Snyder, O.P.
“If you are like me and grew up attending religious education classes of
some sort (CCD = Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), you may have come
across the line, “If God stopped thinking about you at any instant, you
would immediately disappear; you would cease to exist.” What a terrifying
thought to offer the inquisitive mind of a child! The suggestion seems to
be that, on occasion, either through forgetfulness or malice, God
annihilates some unfortunate person or persons. But this is not true; God
doesn’t even annihilate demons or the damned – although some may wish,
much less unsuspecting third graders.
Of course, the remark is well meant, and, properly understood, it is a
vivid reminder of a profound metaphysical truth, namely, that we all
depend on God for both our coming to be and our preservation in being.  
Indeed, meditating on this truth can help us to grow in wisdom and
humility, whether we are third graders or thirty-somethings.  For some
reason, it seems easy for people to accept the notion that they have their
origin in God, but the fact that they are preserved in existence by God at
every moment never crosses their minds. The key idea here is that God’s
act of creation is not a one-time event, but rather extends through time.  
Since God is universal cause of all things, anything that exists not only
has its origin in God, but also its conservation in being. God alone
exists necessarily; God alone cannot not exist. All other beings exist
contingently; they might not have existed, and they depend upon God, the
Necessary Being, for their continuance in existence.
The popular notion, which runs completely contrary to this, is that, once
we come into being, we exist independently of God; we are on our own and
autonomous. Worse yet, some seem to believe—and perhaps we all sometimes
act as if we believed—that we are the cause of our own existence. As if we
could ever pat ourselves on the back and say, “Good job, self, I am glad
you decided to exist! What a great idea it was to come into being!” No,
however much we may fool ourselves, our existence is a gift, and it is a
gift that continues as long as we continue. “What have you that you have
not received?” asks St. Paul. And, of course, the appropriate response is,
“Nothing. Not even myself.”
There is something utterly foundational about this truth. Prior to the
fact that we are able to act as genuine causes, or the fact that we can be
perfected by the grace of God, there is the fact that we depend on God for
our very being. The most intimate words that Our Lord spoke to St.
Catherine of Siena, O.P. express this same truth:  “You are she who is
not; I am He Who is.” This is not the type of romantic language that we
usually associate with a mystic. In fact, it might seem like quite an insult. The
Bridegroom does not tell his mystical bride, “I love you,” but rather,
“You are nothing.” In reality, however, these words are right and just.  
Humility consists in knowing what one truly is in relation to God, and St.
Catherine was blessed to receive this knowledge directly from our Lord. Far 
from being an insult, these were the intimate words of the divine Spouse.”
Love,
Matthew

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

epiphanyaus

charles_shonk_op
-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