Category Archives: Corporal

Jun 27 – St John Southworth (1592-1654) – Priest & Martyr


-The Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs.  Note the reliquary, “feretory”, of St John Southworth on the right.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

The marble walls and floor were completed in 1931. The life-size figure of St George takes its place as chief patron of the Chapel

St George was a Roman soldier, put to death for his Christian faith about 302AD. His cult was brought to England by the Crusaders, and King Edward III made him patron of England in the fourteenth century.

In this Chapel, which is currently in the process of being decorated with its mosaic scheme, we pray especially for England, and for those who have witnessed to their Catholic faith in our land.

In the center of the floor is a rose, symbol of England; the rose motif is continued behind the altar and around the walls. Either side of the altar the red cross of St George is displayed on marble shields. Panels list servicemen who gave their lives in battle, and who are prayed for in the Cathedral.

On the facing wall is a carving of St George by Lindsey Clarke. Above the altar is the last carving of Eric Gill. It portrays Christ on the cross, not suffering, but gloriously triumphant over death; to his left stands St Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, and to his right St John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. Both men were executed in 1535 for their refusal to deny the Supremacy of the Pope under King Henry VIII.

Normally, St John Southworth, martyred in 1654 at Tyburn (now Marble Arch) for his Catholic faith, lies in a shrine by the grill. His body was brought to the Cathedral in 1930. It is now temporarily housed in the Chapel of the Holy Souls while the decoration of the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs is completed.

At the entrance to the Chapel is a mosaic representing Christ the Divine Healer, erected in 1952 in memory of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Outside the Chapel, a new mosaic records St Alban, the first to shed his blood for the Christian faith on British soil. Alban was a Roman soldier in the Roman province of Britannia. He sheltered, and then changed places with, a persecuted Catholic priest. When arrested, he refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, and was martyred. The mosaic, by Christopher Hobbs, was unveiled in June 2001.

Lord, we pray for all those who
witness to the Gospel in this land.
May all Christians work to heal
divisions within the Church,
So that together we may bear witness to Jesus Christ.


-reliquary of St John Southworth, the only Reformation martyr whose remains are wholly intact, please click on the image for greater detail.

Saint John Southworth came from a Lancashire family, the principal members of which seemed to have lived at Samlesbury Hall. He is thought to have been born in 1592 and was martyred at Tyburn on 28 June 1654. His family chose to pay heavy fines rather than give up the Catholic faith.

In 1618, John Southworth was ordained a priest at the English College, Douai (Douay) in Northern France. After returning to England, he was arrested and condemned to death in Lancashire in 1626, and imprisoned first in Lancaster Castle, and afterwards in the Clink Prison, London. On 11 April, 1630, at the insistence of Queen Henrietta Maria, he and seventeen others were delivered to the French Ambassador for transportation abroad, but, in 1636, he was reported to have been released from the Gatehouse, Westminster, and was living at Clerkenwell. From there it seems he and Henry Morse, SJ, frequently visited the plague-stricken dwellings of Westminster to administer the sacraments and comfort the sick and the dying. They both also raised money for plague-stricken families. In 1637, he appears to have been based in Westminster, where he was arrested on 28 November, before being again sent to the Gatehouse. From there he was transferred to the Clink and, in 1640, was brought before the Commissioners for Causes Ecclesiastical, who sent him back there. During these various imprisonments Fr Southworth was protected by the Secretary of State to the King, Francis Windebank, who seems to have allowed him relative freedom, and who eventually became a Catholic himself.

On 16 July, John Southworth was again freed, but by 2 December he was once more imprisoned in the Gatehouse. After his final apprehension on 19 June 1654, dragged from his bed by a Colonel Worsley, he was tried at the Old Bailey, where he insisted on pleading guilty to being a priest. He was reluctantly condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered by the Recorder of London, Serjeant Steel, who wept bitterly while reading the sentence.  He was permitted to wear his vestments at this execution, a rare honor.  He was the only Catholic martyr to die under the rule of Oliver Cromwell.  On the day of his martyrdom, he was allowed to make a long speech at the gallows.

Among his last words:

“I am come hither to die, and would willingly speak something…I am a Lancashire man and am brought hither to die not for any crime I have committed against the laws, but for being a priest, and obeying the commandments of my Savior Jesus Christ and for professing the true Roman Catholic and Apostolic Faith, in which I willingly die, and have earnestly desired the same. My study from my infancy was to find out the true and only way to serve God, and having found it, my study was to serve Him.  And I have suffered much, and many years imprisonment, to obtain that which I hope ere long I shall enjoy.

Almighty God sent his only Son my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into this world for the redemption of mankind; and although the least of His sufferings was superabundant satisfaction, yet He rested not so contented, but Himself doeth by word and example give us a rule by which we should be guided: He told St. Peter, thou art a rock, and upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it — which is the true Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.

My faith and obedience to my superiors is all the treason charged against me; nay, I die for Christ’s law, which no human law, by whomsoever made, ought to withstand or contradict… To follow His holy doctrine and imitate His holy death, I willingly suffer at present; this gallows I look on as His Cross, which I gladly take to follow my Dear Saviour…I plead not for myself…but for you poor persecuted Catholics whom I leave behind me.

My faith is my crime, the performance of my duty the occasion of my condemnation. I confess I am a great sinner; against God I have offended, but am innocent of any sin against man, I mean the Commonwealth, and the present Government.”  He was cut short.  Closed his eyes, said his prayers, and the trap door of the gallows swung open.

The Venetian Secretary reported on his execution: he was hung, and was not dead when the executioner “cut out his heart and entrails and threw them into a fire kindled for the purpose, the body being quartered . . . Such is the inhuman cruelty used towards the English Catholic religious.”

The Spanish ambassador bought his body for forty guineas from the executioner and, in 1655, returned it to Douai after the corpse had been sewn together and embalmed (parboiled). In 1656 the recovery of Francis Howard, fifth son of the Earl of Arundel, was attributed to St John Southworth’s relics. When England and France went to war in 1793 St John Southworth’s body was buried in a lead coffin in an unmarked grave below the college for its protection. The grave was discovered in 1927 where it remained hidden until 1927 when the college was demolished to make way for housing.
His major relics were sent to St Edmund’s College, Ware, successor of the English College in Douai. In 1930, his major relics – the only complete body of a Reformation martyr – were brought to Westminster Cathedral, where a shrine was prepared for them.

He was beatified in 1929 and was canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.


-please click on the images for greater detail.

So here he lies as he has lain in state
These ninety years in this cathedral crypt
At Westminster. We come to venerate
The relics of a martyr: his heart, ripped
Out of his chest at Tyburn for a priest,
Was sewn back in at Cromwell’s stern behest.
Four times arrested and three times released,
That blessèd little man four times confessed.

His derring-do his daring deeds display,
This doughty representative of Christ.
With face behind a silver mask he lies
And if he cries we cannot see his eyes.
-Peter Hartley

St John Southworth’s feast day is 27 June, which is observed as a Solemnity at the Westminster Cathedral, London, UK.

Love,
Matthew

Plague, the Catholic way

In 1575, the black death/plague descended on Milan [Ed. Ambrosian rite, as Milan was the city also of St Ambrose.  My novice master’s religious name was Ambrose.] The city’s bishop, St. Charles Borromeo, hastened both to action and to prayer. Borromeo sold his own possessions to fund the relief effort and persuaded many wealthy citizens to contribute generously. He organized his clergy to care, materially and spiritually, for all in need. He created and staffed hospitals and quarantine houses. [Ed. we get our word “quarantine” from the forty days plague victims were required to isolate themselves, “Italian: quaranta giorni”.] Concerned by the growing ranks of the unemployed (sound familiar?) he created jobs for, or otherwise supported, large numbers of unemployed workers. Though he instilled strict distancing policies, he was nevertheless desperate not to forego his own personal contact with the suffering. Accordingly, St Charles made everyone, including his own household, treat him as though he had the plague; he went so far as carrying a long pole to keep healthy-looking people at bay when going about his business. He also made a special point of ensuring that the most vulnerable—that is, the orphaned infants whom he took “particular pleasure in rescuing”—received adequate love and attention.

Mindful above all of his flock’s spiritual needs, Borromeo went to great lengths to ensure people, despite everything, received proper religious care: “While he did not neglect their bodies, his principal solicitude was for the salvation of souls.” Most strikingly, at the peak of the epidemic, with churches closed and people confined to their homes, he had outdoor altars erected all around town, “where Mass was said daily, so that all could attend from their homes.” [Ed. the Mass “online” of its day?] He also instituted door-to-door confessions—“the confessor sitting on the doorstep outside, and the penitent kneeling within”—and home-delivery of the Eucharist on Sundays, administering the sacrament at the doorstep “as if they had been cloistered religious.”

“It did not escape him that the forty days of quarantine, if given up to idleness, afforded many temptations to sin; he therefore was heedful to provide that this time should be spent so as to promote the glory of God and the salvation of their souls.” To this end, he organized a number of activities and resources to help his flock homeschool themselves in piety and virtue. Prayerbooks were also distributed to each household, so the whole city might pray in unison at seven times of the day and night, “singing psalms and hymns in two choirs, after the manner of a chapter of canons, and saying suitable prayers, each hour being announced by the ringing of the great bell of the cathedral.” Copies of inspiring readings were translated into the vernacular and published, including works by our third-century friends Sts. Cyprian and Dionysius, relevant sermons and letters from other saints, and an account of the Franciscan St. Bernardine’s ministrations in plague-torn Siena in 1400.

Aged just nineteen, Bernardine volunteered to work in Siena’s plague hospital and encouraged his friends to do likewise. Nursing the sick and dying, he “labored with such readiness and cheerfulness of mind, that it seemed as if he were engaged in the care of his father, of his brothers, or of his own children. This should cause little astonishment, for in serving the sick, Bernardine served God, who is more than father, brother, or son to us.”

And that was not all: To provide still further against the evils of idleness, St. Charles sent round a pastoral letter, suggesting how the rest of their time might be profitably spent in mental prayer and spiritual reading, and granted special indulgences to those who practiced these exercises and prayed for the sick.

According to Borromeo’s biographer, thanks to his concern for the spiritual sustenance of the quarantined, “Milan might at this time have been not unfitly compared to a cloister of religious of both sexes serving God in the enclosure of their cells, an image of the heavenly Jerusalem filled with the praises of the angelic hosts.”

St. Henry Morse (1595–1645) and St. John Southworth (c. 1592–1654) ministered illegally to London’s Catholics during a seventeenth-century outbreak of plague. Though neither liked the other’s methods, they got results. Both were later martyred for these and other “crimes.”

Blessed Engelmar Unzeitig (1911– 1945), was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941 for preaching in defense of the Jews. Imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp, he volunteered to serve quarantined inmates who were infected with typhoid. He contracted and died from the disease. He was beatified a “martyr of charity/love”, instead of a martyr from violence, similar to St Maximillian Kolbe or St Damien De Veuster, in 2016.

St Marianne Cope

Love, trust in Him, always,
Matthew

Hospitals, hospices, and conquering the Roman Empire

“Our brethren who are freed from this world by the Lord’s summons are not to be lamented, since we know that they are not lost, but sent before; that, departing from us, they precede us as travellers, as navigators are accustomed to do; that they should be desired, but not bewailed; that the black garments should not be taken upon us here, when they have already taken upon them the white raiment there.”
St. Cyprian of Carthage

In the late 240s AD, a grave new illness arose, wreaking terror throughout the Roman Empire for the best—or rather worst—part of the next two decades. This sickness, originating in the south-eastern reaches of the then-known world, would suddenly appear in a major city and transport hub: Alexandria, Carthage, Rome. It would torment and ravage the inhabitants over the cooler winter months, then ease over the summer. Often enough, it would return the next year. And sometimes the next.

Exactly what this illness was, modern scholars are not sure. While there have been various suggestions, including smallpox and bubonic plague, the smartest money is probably on one of two possibilities: either Ebola or an especially virulent influenza-like illness. In his 2017 book The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire, historian Kyle Harper draws instructive comparisons to the global “Spanish” Flu crisis of 1918–1920 and the more recent outbreaks of H5N1 “avian flu”. Today, another parallel leaps all too readily to mind: our current coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.

Though there are clear and (for us) merciful differences – the “diseased putrefaction” of bodily extremities, necessitating amputation, being just one—there are nonetheless some striking similarities. Here we rely on the first-hand testimony of St. Cyprian, who was bishop of Carthage in modern-day Tunisia when the disease hit the city around AD 250. He speaks, for instance, of “the attack of fevers.” Severe gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting, which afflict a significant number of coronavirus sufferers, were also a major hallmark: “The bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge of the bodily strength…The intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting.” Specific symptoms aside, the malady clearly thrived on close person-to-person contact, as per our own obsessions with “social distancing” and “self-isolation”. Hints from other ancient sources also suggest that, while no age group was truly “safe,” those in middle and older age brackets were at least equally, if not (as with COVID-19) harder hit. (This contrasts with the 1918–1920 pandemic, for example, which disproportionately hit the young and fit.

Though medically and historically interesting, comparing symptoms is not what is most helpful in considering our current situation. For our purposes, the most salient link between the so-called “Plague of Cyprian” and our present global crisis is something they both share with countless other such outbreaks throughout human history: the staggering costs in terms of lives and livelihoods; the anguish—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual-afflicting millions, even billions, of people; and the stress and strains put on all, but especially on those whose calling it is to serve, protect, treat, and/or care for others.

Writing within a year or two of Cyprian, another North African bishop, St. Dionysius of Alexandria, noted that “now, indeed, everything is tears and everyone is mourning, and wailings resound daily through the city because of the multitude of the dead and dying.”…St. Dionysius, just a few sentences later remarks: “Truly the best of our brethren departed from life [having contracted the disease in the course of their care for others] including some presbyters and deacons and those of the people who had the highest reputation.”

In a groundbreaking 1996 book, The Rise of Christianity, the American sociologist Rodney Stark turned the tools of his trade on the early Church—with fascinating results. Among other things, he highlighted the role that such pandemics—and Catholics’ response to them, which differed from other people’s—played in the ultimate Christianization of the Roman Empire. St. Pontius, who served as a deacon of Cyprian’s during the period in question, describes the “numberless” inhabitants in Carthage succumbing to the “dreadful plague”:

“All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends—as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of the plague, one could also exclude death itself. Lying about over the whole city were, no longer bodies, but the carcasses of many, demanding the pity of those passing by, who contemplated a destiny that in their turn would be their own.”

The city’s Catholics, however, were a notable exception to this general trend. While others fled to the countryside (in many cases, one assumes, taking the disease with them), as significant number of Pontius’ coreligionists stayed behind to nurse any in need, irrespective of their faith. Nor was this a local aberration. Over in Alexandria, for instance, Dionysius reports: “Most of our brethren were unsparing in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness. They held fast to each other and visited the sick fearlessly, and ministered to them continually, serving them in Christ.”

Early the next century, as a new plague ravaged parts of the Empire, Catholics again came to the help of those in need. According to Eusebius of Caesarea:

“In the midst of such illness, they alone [the Catholics] showed their sympathy and humanity through their deeds. Every day some continued caring for and burying the dead, for there were multitudes who had no one to care for them; others collected those who were afflicted by the famine throughout the the entire city into one place, and gave bread to them all.”

All things considered, it is perhaps not surprising that this selfless heroism won both admiration and converts: “[These things were] reported abroad among all people, and they glorified the God of the Christians; and, convinced by the facts themselves, confessed that they alone were truly pious and religious.” While Catholic writers may be suspected of some bias here, there is no good reason to doubt this basic assessment: even the Church’s enemies admitted the public power and persuasive pull of Catholic love for “the least of these” (Matt. 25:31– 46). In addition, Stark demonstrates how this care for the sick and dying would have had other, more subtle implications. For example, even the most basic nursing care—bringing water and food to the bedridden, say—can dramatically raise a patient’s survival prospects. Given the lack of basic hygiene and poor understanding of how contagions spread, the odds were high of contracting the latest disease at some time anyway, whether one tried to flee or not. Being a Catholic, and thus belonging to its mutual nursing syndicate, could greatly increase one’s chances of surviving. Even just knowing Catholics would help, since if they knew where you lived, they’d be able to send someone to you. These two facts—a higher survival rate for Catholics, and for people already connected to Catholics—would have important repercussions once the pandemic had passed: (1) a higher-than-before proportion of Catholics compared to the pagan population; and (2) a good number of pagans more closely networked with, and grateful to, Catholics than they had been before. Hence, they themselves were more susceptible to conversion. Repeat this whole process every generation or two and, combined with some other factors (e.g., a trend for bigger families, not least due to Catholics’ countercultural aversion to both abortion and infanticide), you have an important part of how “the West”—including North Africa and the Near East—was Christianized.

Yet so much of what is now taken for granted—from public hospitals and hospices to famine relief charities and social security—were avowedly Catholic innovations. As Bart Ehrman, a scholar of early Christianity (who is an agnostic), puts it:

“By conquering the Roman world, and then the entire West, Christianity . . . changed the way people look at the world and choose to live in it. Modern sensitivities, values, and ethics have all been radically affected by the Catholic tradition…Without the conquest of Catholicism…billions of people may never have embraced the idea that society should serve the marginalized or be concerned with the well-being of the needy, values that most of us in the West have simply assumed are “human” values.”

Ehrman is by no means alone in this assessment.”

Lk 10:37

Love, and trust in Him,
Matthew

Interdict, actual grace, sanctifying grace & pandemic

The Church as sacrament

I know it is difficult for others to understand how the well catechized Catholic sees and understands the Church.  The Church, herself, is a sacrament.  Not a club.  Not an association.  Not something convenient, social, or popular to belong to, rather, the Church is an absolute necessity and vehicle for salvation.  Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; He is present to us in His body which is the Church. He Himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” (CCC 846)

Both CCC 847 and Gaudium Et Spes 22, regarding salvation outside the Church, say, basically, “may”, “ought”. They do not say “will”, “shall”, 51% chance, or any other equivocation from the original formula of Extra ecclesiam nulla salus. And while Mt 18:18, and God gives His authority to His Church, His continuing presence on earth, God does not give away His power to save whomsoever He shall choose, whensoever He may choose.  He is God.  His Church recognizes this.

Actual & Sanctifying Grace

While belonging to the Church is a “necessary” vehicle, Mt 7:21. Therefore, all before baptism bear the deficiency of original sin, baptism is regenerative in grace. It is grace, sanctifying grace, to be in “the state of grace”, conscious of no mortal sin unrepented and absolved of, that makes us acceptable to God, to be in, to remain in the presence of God after death.  God in His infinitely brilliant, beyond comprehension brilliance, where no sin cannot be unconsumed, does not tolerate less than His own grace in His presence.  My mother would call her children, I assume my sister, too, but there was never much question about her, but definitely her sons and regularly ask, “(Name) are you in the state of grace?” Lovingly, like a mother who says, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother” would do.  Right?  Everybody knows what that’s like.  Right?  Everybody got those calls from their mothers.  Right? 🙂

Sanctifying grace stays in the soul. It’s what makes the soul holy; it gives the soul supernatural life. More properly, it is supernatural life.

Actual grace, by contrast, is a supernatural push or encouragement. It’s transient. It doesn’t live in the soul, but acts on the soul from the outside, so to speak. It’s a supernatural kick in the pants. It gets the will and intellect moving so we can seek out and keep sanctifying grace. You can obtain supernatural life by yielding to actual graces you receive. God keeps giving you these divine pushes, and all you have to do is go along.

Sanctifying grace implies a real transformation of the soul. Recall that most of the Protestant Reformers denied that a real transformation takes place. They said God doesn’t actually wipe away our sins. Instead, our souls remain corrupted, full of sin. God merely throws a cloak over them and treats them as if they were spotless, knowing all the while that they’re not.

But that isn’t the Catholic view. We believe souls really are cleansed by an infusion of the supernatural life. Of course, we’re still subject to temptations to sin; we still suffer the effects of Adam’s Fall in that sense (what theologians call “concupiscence”); but God has removed the sins we have, much like a mother might wash the dirt off of a child who has a tendency to get dirty again. Our wills are given the new powers of hope and charity, things absent at the merely natural level.

He sends you an actual grace, say, in the form of a nagging voice that whispers, “You need to repent! Go to confession!” You do, your sins are forgiven, you’re reconciled to God, and you have supernatural life again (John 20:21–23). Or you say to yourself, “Maybe tomorrow,” and that particular supernatural impulse, that actual grace, passes you by. But another is always on the way, God is never abandoning us to our own stupidity (1 Tim. 2:4).

Once you have supernatural life, once sanctifying grace is in your soul, you can increase it by every supernaturally good action you do: receiving Communion, saying prayers, performing corporal or spiritual works of mercy. Is it worth increasing sanctifying grace once you have it; isn’t the minimum enough? Yes and no. It’s enough to get you into heaven, but it may not be enough to sustain itself. The minimum isn’t good enough because it’s easy to lose the minimum, due to our original sin.  Our defect, not God’s.  Our defect in preternatural justification, holiness, and grace lost in original sin.

We must continually seek God’s grace, continually respond to the actual graces God is working within us, inclining us to turn to Him and do good; even as original sin causes tempts us to turn away and do evil. This is what Paul discusses when he instructs us: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Phil. 2:12–16).

Sacraments as primary vehicles of grace

BALTIMORE CATECHISM #3
LESSON 13 – ON THE SACRAMENTS IN GENERAL

Q. 574. What is a Sacrament?

A. A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.

In Catholicism, the seven sacraments are the primary vehicles of grace. To be deprived of them is a serious matter to Catholics for the above stated reasons. If, like in Japan, where for 200 years hidden Catholic communities maintained the faith from the seventeenth century when Catholicism was made illegal in Japan, and clergy expelled, until the nineteenth century when hidden Catholic communities who had kept the faith in Nagasaki and Imamura without clergy were rediscovered by returning missionaries, Catholics would believe God would supply the necessary graces for salvation in the absence of the sacraments.

However, as a means of censure, prohibition of the sacraments could mean the endangerment of one’s soul. Interdict today, it has a long history and technicalities, has the effect of forbidding the person or community, often referred to as “personal” or, in the case of a community, “local”, interdict from celebrating or receiving any of the sacraments, including the Eucharist, or to celebrate the sacramentals. One who is under interdict is also forbidden to take any ministerial part (e.g., as a reader if a layperson or as a deacon or priest if a clergyman) in the celebration of the Eucharist or of any other ceremony of public worship.

However, in the case of a ferendae sententiae interdict, as opposed to latae sententiae, or automatically, similar to excommunication, ferendae sententiae interdict is one incurred only when imposed by a legitimate superior or declared as the sentence of an ecclesiastical court, those affected are not to be admitted to Holy Communion (see canon 915), and if they violate the prohibition against taking a ministerial part in celebrating the Eucharist or some other ceremony of public worship, they are to be expelled or the sacred rite suspended, unless there is a grave reason to the contrary. In the same circumstances, local ordinaries (bishops) and parish priests lose their right to assist validly at marriages.

Automatic (latae sententiae) interdict is incurred by anyone using physical violence against a bishop, as also by a person who, not being an ordained priest, attempts to celebrate Mass, or who, though unable to give valid sacramental absolution, attempts to do so, or hears a sacramental confession. Automatic interdict is also incurred by anyone falsely accusing a priest of soliciting sexual favors in connection with confession or attempting to marry while having a perpetual vow of chastity.

An interdict is also the censure that canon law says should be imposed on someone who, because of some act of ecclesiastical authority or ministry publicly incites to hatred against the Holy See or the Ordinary (Bishop), or who promotes or takes up office in an association that plots against the Church, or who commits the crime of simony.

Our pandemic imposed interdict


by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“Many saints have lived through tumultuous times—much like our own. Look no further than the fourteenth century; it seems to bear a striking resemblance to our present state of affairs. In fact, a quick read through one saint’s writings and you would think that she was living today.

Saint Catherine of Siena was born in the middle of the fourteenth century when the black death swept through Europe. Italy was far from united at the time, for all of the city states were embroiled in near ceaseless warfare (of smaller or larger scale) with one another.

At times, the Pope was even placing cities under interdict so that there were many who could not receive the Sacraments on account of their rebellious leaders. Saint Catherine was sometimes called on to act as an intermediary in these conflicts, such as when she traveled to Avignon in order to convince the Pope to lift the interdict on Florence.

Despite these many tribulations, the Catholic Church and her members persevered through this period of upheaval and uncertainty. And how did they do it? We can look to St. Catherine as a model. Her response to all of the troubles in the world was to implore the Lord to act through his Christian servants, both lay and ordained. She prayed for their renewed fidelity to the vocation God had given them. Whenever she prayed thus, she never failed to include herself as needing the same help she was asking for others.

Saint Catherine’s humble trust in God can serve as an example for us during these uncertain times. Below is an excerpt from a prayer that she said on Passion (Palm) Sunday in 1379, a little more than a year before her death at the age of 33. Perhaps you will find her centuries-old appeal to resonate with the needs of our present day and age.

“Oh Godhead,

my Love,

I have one thing to ask of You.

When the world was lying sick

You sent Your only-begotten Son

as doctor,

and I know You did it for love.

But now I see the world lying completely dead—

so dead that my soul faints at the sight.

What way can there be now

to revive this dead one once more?

For You, God, cannot suffer,

and You are not about to come again

to redeem the world

but to judge it.

How then

shall this dead one be brought back to life?

I do not believe, oh infinite Goodness,

that You have no remedy.

Indeed, I proclaim it:

Your love is not wanting,

nor is Your power weakened,

nor is Your wisdom lessened.

So You want to,

You can,

and You know how

to send the remedy that is needed.

I beg You then,

let it please Your goodness

to show me the remedy,

and let my soul be roused to pick it up courageously.

Response: [St. Catherine pauses here to listen to the Lord’s response.]

True,

Your Son is not about to come again

except in majesty,

to judge,

as I have said.

But as I see it,

You are calling Your servants christs,

and by means of them

You want to relieve the world of death

and restore it to life.

How?

You want these servants of Yours

to walk courageously along the Word’s way,

with concern and blazing desire,

working for Your honor

and the salvation of souls,

and for this

patiently enduring pain,

torments,

disgrace,

blame—

from whatever source these may come.

For these finite sufferings,

joined with their infinite desire,

You want to refresh them—

I mean, You want to listen to their prayers

and grant their desires.

But if they were merely to suffer physically,

without this desire,

it would not be enough

either for themselves or for others—

any more than the Word’s Passion,

without the power of the Godhead,

would have satisfied

for the salvation of the human race.

Oh best of remedy-givers!

Give us then these christs,

who will live in continual watching

and tears

and prayers

for the world’s salvation.

You call them Your christs

because they are conformed with Your only-begotten Son.

Ah, eternal Father!

Grant that we may not be foolish,

blind,

or cold,

or see so darkly

that we do not even see ourselves,

but give us the gift of knowing Your will.

I have sinned, Lord.

Have mercy on me!

I thank you,

I thank you,

for You have granted my soul refreshment—

in the knowledge You have given me

of how I can come to know

the exaltedness of Your charity(love)

even while I am still in my mortal body,

and in the remedy I see You have ordained

to free the world from death.”

-“Prayer 19” in The Prayers of Catherine of Siena, trans. Suzanne Noffke (San Jose: Authors Choice Press, 2001), 212-15.

Love & hope, trust in Him ALWAYS!!!,
Matthew

The Catholic invention of the hospital


-“St Fabiola of Rome”, -by Jean-Jacques Henner, 1885, oil on canvas, 11 x 9 in. (27.9 x 22.9 cm.) Saint Fabiola, feast day December 27, was a nurse and Roman matron of rank of the company of noble Roman women who, under the influence of the Church father St. Jerome gave up all earthly pleasures and devoted themselves to the practice of Christian asceticism and charitable work, founding a hospital in Rome in the 4th century AD.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Mike Aquilina

1 out 7 hospital patients in the US is cared for in a Catholic hospital.

“Did you know that the institution we know as the hospital is entirely an invention of the Catholic Church?

Well, it was. The ancient world had all the material ingredients needed for such an institution. It had medical professionals, and it had sick people. It had a centuries-old tradition of medical science and technology. And yet it could not bring all that together to make a hospital. There was no way to make such a venture profitable, so there was no compelling motive to keep such a venture running during an epidemic.

What they had instead were individual freelance practitioners, who moved from place to place like traveling salesmen — usually outrunning their most recent failure. They passed down their knowledge, as trade secrets, within their family and never risked public disclosure.

The pagans had medicine. What they lacked was charity, as it came to be expressed in hospital-ity, the virtue that gave the healthcare institution its name.

It was Catholics who invented the hospital, and they did this in response to a real need, an urgent need—in a time of epidemic.

It was the middle of the third century, and the world found itself suddenly oppressed by plague. Scholars disagree on whether the disease was smallpox or influenza. Some say it was Ebola. But whatever the bug was, it quickly reached pandemic levels—and it stayed there for thirteen years. In that time, the population of the empire was reduced by thirty percent, and there was a corresponding decline in every sector of the economy, not to mention the military.

The practice of Christianity was illegal. In fact, it was a capital crime and it was punished more severely during the plague. Why? Because traditional Romans blamed their run of bad luck on the Christians’ refusal to sacrifice to the gods.

Governing the Church in North Africa at the time was a bishop named Cyprian. He had been a prominent attorney in the city of Carthage, earning renown for his work in the courts. And now he brought all the powers of his gigantic intellect to bear on the problems of the Church in his day.

Cyprian called his flock to act with heroic charity during the plague, insisting that Christian doctors must give care not only their fellow believers, but also their pagan neighbors—the very people who were trying to kill them.

Cyprian exhorted his congregation: “There is nothing remarkable in cherishing merely our own people … [We] should love our enemies as well … the good done to all, not merely to the household of faith.”

And from this exhortation of a bishop came medical care as we know it. The foremost expert on the history of hospitals, Dr. Gary Ferngren, made this point emphatically in his recent survey published by Johns Hopkins:

“The hospital was, in origin and conception, a distinctively Catholic institution, rooted in Catholic concepts of charity and philanthropy. There were no pre-Catholic institutions in the ancient world that served the purpose that Catholic hospitals were created to serve … None of the provisions for health care in classical times … resembled hospitals.”

This was not a local phenomenon. We possess similar testimonies from Alexandria in Egypt and elsewhere. The great sociologist Rodney Stark noted that the Catholic Church grew during this period at a steady rate of forty percent per decade, and he believes that growth was due, at least in part, to its profound and unprecedented public witness of charity.

The pattern emerged still more clearly in the following century during the epidemic of 312 AD. By then, the Christians were numerous in every major city. So their efforts were more effective, extensive, and visible. Eusebius, who was an eyewitness, reports that Christians “rounded up the huge numbers who had been reduced to scarecrows all over the city and distributed loaves to them all.”

Gary Ferngren, once again, states most emphatically that “The only care of the sick and dying during the epidemic of 312-13 was provided by Catholic churches.” He adds: “No charitable care of any kind, public or private, existed apart from Catholic … care because there was no religious, philosophical, or social basis for it.”

Epidemics were among the great terrors of the ancient world. Doctors could identify the diseases, but they knew no way to stop the spread. Antibiotics and anti-viral drugs were still centuries away in the future.

So when the plague hit a city, the physicians were the first to leave. They knew the symptoms from their textbooks, and they knew what was coming, and they knew there was nothing they could do to stop the inevitable horror.

Catholics couldn’t stop the plagues either. But they could and did risk their lives in order to serve chicken soup to the sick. They could and did make a clean, well-lighted place for the sick to find rest. And some of those sick people recovered as a result—and became Catholics.

In time, those stable Catholic institutions—those hospitals—became de facto sites of medical research. Only there could medical professionals gain experience together, compare notes openly, and make progress.

Often you’ll hear people say that the Church has historically waged a “war on science” or a “war on women.” That’s exactly wrong, and the history of the hospital tells why. Many of the pioneers in the field were women—St Fabiola in Rome, for example, and St Olympias in Constantinople. They changed society in ways that pagan women could not. The Church made opportunities that had been impossible in classical antiquity.

So, if we can fight this year’s disease with medicine, we should thank our long-ago ancestors in the faith. And we might permit ourselves to ask what wonders God will work through today’s circumstances.”

Our Lady!!!! Health of the Sick!!!! Pray for us.
Love,
Matthew

The Black Death & the Protestant Revolution

“The arrival of the Black Death in Christendom — perhaps the most destructive pandemic in world history, which killed, by very reliable estimates, about half the population of Europe. In some areas the death toll may have been as high as 80 percent.

“It was a visitation upon a scale so enormous as to strike a blow at medieval society which might have dissolved it — and nearly did dissolve it. . . . In some places towns and villages sank never to rise again. . . . You may trace its effects even today in the half-finished buildings which were stopped dead and their completion never undertaken.”22

It’s no wonder many Catholics believed that Pestilence, the first of St. John’s Four Horsemen, had made his prophesied appearance (see Rev. 6).

One of the cruelest ironies about the Black Death is the way it contributed so heavily to the deterioration of the clergy. In what way? Imagine the workload for a priest: confessions, last rites, comfort to survivors, and Christian burial (when possible) from sunup to sundown for weeks, months, years on end. And though science did not yet know what caused the Black Death, everyone knew very well by common sense alone that whoever spent time around the plague usually died from it sooner or later. So the clergy who took the sacraments into the plague zones were spiritually akin to the firemen who ran toward the Twin Towers on 9/11 while everyone else was running away. The faithful bishop, the loyal priest, the dutiful deacon all ministered as long as they could, and then died. The cowards and deserters fled and survived — to become practically the whole clergy in the post plague years. No wonder the fifteenth century was such a dumpster fire.

As a direct result of this factor, the Faith itself got lost somewhere along the way — or adulterated, at any rate, by a nasty tincture of superstition. The plague shut down churches and monasteries, all the places where the real Christian Faith was meant to be taught (and had been for a long time, despite individual lapses).

Many of the clergy ordained to replace the fallen became “Mass priests” — priests, that is, who literally did nothing but recite the Mass because they had no training and did not know how to preach. Deprived of solid doctrine this way, the laity took on bad doctrines, often spread by teachers who were simply ignorant. Sub-Christian notions crept back in and distorted Catholic teaching.

The Church’s perfectly sound traditions about the correct use of sacramentals, for instance, were allowed to mix with leftovers from Europe’s recently dead pagan past. Sacred medals became charms; relics were confused with rabbit’s feet. In a disaster area like this, with no time to spare for jumping through moral or theological hoops, quick cures were needed — so the Church became a source for magic pills, not spiritual salvation. Doctors and theologians kept the true teaching on the books, to be sure, but popular extravagances happened far away from the universities. “For instance,” as Belloc writes,

the doctrine of the Invocation of Saints is clear; but towards the end of the Middle Ages you get men robbing one shrine to enrich another. The doctrine of the use of Masses is clear, and especially their use for the benefit of the souls in Purgatory; but the superstition that a Mass in this place was efficacious, and in that was not — the superstition which confuses mechanical repetition with spiritual force grew as the Middle Ages declined.23

Somewhat akin to this are the many fantastic legends about the saints and the early Church that grew up during these years, based, in many cases, on few, if any, historical facts. Most of them were perhaps harmless — saints who never existed, shrines built at the sites of miracles that never happened — harmless, that is, until they came to be confused with the actual tenets of the Faith. Laypeople lost the ability to distinguish between actual Sacred Tradition and tradition with a small t (i.e., just old, oft-repeated stories, many times nothing but wives’ tales). Worse, both sets of ideas came to be held with the same tenacity — leaving the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord in the same category with St. George’s dragon.

And then, a few decades later, when some Lollard or Lutheran came along, bringing proofs against the “Donation of Constantine” or the “False Decretals,” many a vulnerable papist joined the Protestants in their Bible-only beliefs, convinced that they had now seen the folly of “man-made” Christianity.

When the Black Death began to subside in the late 1300s, some measure of order was restored. Why, afterward, weren’t efforts made to sort through these fables and false documents? There were — but only after the Protestant revolt. Before then, there was simply too little incentive to overcome the inertia. And here, of course, is where the bad shepherds returned big time. Too much money was being generated by this point, money the Church had come to depend on. The best example is the most famous: the sale of indulgences, against which Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses.”

-Bennett, Rod. Bad Shepherds: The Dark Years in Which the Faithful Thrived While Bishops Did the Devil’s Work . (c) 2018 Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition. Location: 874-913

Love,
Matthew

22 Hilaire Belloc, The Crisis of Civilization (Charlotte, NC: TAN Books, 1992), 89.
23 Ibid., 81.

The Black Death



-by Steve Weidenkopf

“As the modern world struggles to handle the impact of the Coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic, commentators are making comparisons to previous viral outbreaks such as the Influenza Pandemic (or “Spanish Flu”) in the early twentieth century or the Black Death in the fourteenth century. Although historical comparisons can be helpful in some situations, they are not always beneficial because the context in which these events occurred is often not sufficiently acknowledged.

The Black Death is one of the best-known calamities in human history, but the society it ravaged and its impacts on Christendom and the Church are not widely understood. Given the current health crisis gripping the modern world, it may be profitable to investigate the period in an effort to shed a different light on the current situation.

In the mid-fourteenth century, a nasty virus carried to Europe by merchants from the East attacked Christendom. Known at the time as “the pestilence,” “the plague,” or “the great mortality” (the term “Black Death” was coined first in the sixteenth century but entered popular usage in the nineteenth century), it began in China, spread to Mongolia, the Byzantine Empire, and the Crimea, from which it entered Sicily and spread throughout Europe. Every country in Christendom was affected except Poland and Bohemia, which had limited merchant activity with the rest of Europe.

England suffered greatly from three waves of the plague over the course of a century. So great the devastation that the country did not return to its pre-plague population of six million until the mid-eighteenth century.

The deadly pestilence occurred in three forms: bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic plague. Bubonic plague produced painful buboes in the lymph nodes, especially in the groin, armpits, and neck. Symptoms included high fever, swelling of the lymph nodes, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches, convulsions, and dizziness. The septicemic plague involved an infection of the blood and produced black and blue marks on the body, abdominal pain, and other symptoms. The pneumonic plague produced shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing as the infection settled in the lungs.


-physician protective gear of the 14th century. The belief was disease was caused by bad smells, which certainly accompany disease after the fact. But, the belief in bad smells as a cause led to the masks seen here. The beak was filled with sweet smelling herbs, or such, and the entire outfit certainly lessened the direct contact with germs to a horrific degree, which supported the use of the garment and mask and theory in lieu of anything more enlightened. So, while the beak and outfit looks awful and chilling, it did have a practical intended purpose.

Medieval doctors did not have accurate knowledge of the transmission of germs and immunology, so a wide spectrum of treatment options was employed, including enemas and bloodletting. Some doctors endorsed abstinence from seafood, sexual activity, and bathing. Jacme D’Agramont, a Spanish physician and professor at the University of Lerida, wrote in his book Regimen of Protection against Epidemics that, “habitual bathing is also very dangerous, because the bath opens the pores of the body and through these pores corrupt air enters and has a powerful influence upon our body.”

Although the plague affected parts of Europe differently, recent estimates put the overall death rate at fifty percent of Christendom’s total population over a two-year period. Cities were devastated and many urban dwellers fled to the countryside in an attempt to escape the pestilence. The volume of deaths was staggering as thousands died daily. In the Burgundian village of Givry the annual death rate before the plague was forty; in 1348, the village lost 650 souls. The southern French city of Avignon, home at this time to the popes, witnessed 11,000 deaths over a five-week period. The calamity produced extreme reactions. Some people believed the plague was punishment from God for the sins of humanity, so they publicly practiced extreme penances, such as scourging. A group known as the Flagellants developed. They preached doctrinal errors and ran afoul of the Church hierarchy because of their unorthodox and unauthorized preaching and penitential processions. The chronicler Heinrich of Herford recorded their vicious flagellations and wanderings from place to place:

“I have seen, when they whipped themselves, how the iron points became so embedded in the flesh that sometimes one pull, sometimes two, was not enough to extract them. They wandered the land… but when they came to cities, towns, and large villages and settlements, they marched down the street in procession, with their hoods or hats pulled down a little to cover their foreheads.”

The Flagellants required members to pledge not to leave the fraternity without permission of superiors, to practice silence, never to scourge themselves to the point of illness or death, to give alms to the poor, and to pray for an end to the pestilence. The people generally viewed the Flagellants favorably due to their overall appearance of piety and extreme penances. The Church, however, found the Flagellants independent streak troublesome and their unorthodox preaching unacceptable. Pope Clement VI (r. 1342­–1352) suppressed the group in 1349 in the bull Inter Solicitudines.

In searching for an explanation for the outbreak of the plague, some Christians blamed the Jewish people. Rumors circulated in southern France and Spain, where the majority of Europe’s Jews lived, that the Jews had poisoned wells with the plague. Sadly, these rumors led to pogroms, mostly in German areas, in the fall of 1348, eventually encompassing nearly a hundred cities and towns by 1351. During the violence, Jews were burned, robbed, expelled, and forced to convert to the Christian Faith in order to spare their lives. Some Jews chose immolation and other forms of suicide rather than suffer at the hands of the mobs.

The Jewish community in Strasbourg suffered greatly as 900 Jews out of a population of 1,884 were killed. In some areas, bishops protected the Jewish people from harm. Notably, the Jewish community in Avignon, site of the papal residence, did not suffer because of the plague due to papal protection. Additionally, Pope Clement VI issued the bull Sicut Judeis in July 1348 declaring the Church’s protection of Jews throughout Christendom. Pope Clement highlighted the false charge against the Jews about the plague:

“It does not seem credible that the Jews on this occasion are responsible for the crime nor that they caused it, because this nearly universal pestilence, in accordance with God’s hidden judgment, has afflicted and continues to afflict the Jews themselves.”

The impact of the great pestilence on Christendom was widespread. Europe suffered great economic turmoil as trade was reduced and society witnessed a severe shortage of laborers. Spiritually, people gravitated to the Faith and sought solace in prayer and the sacraments.

The Church lost nearly forty percent of its priests to the Black Death. Some towns saw the death of ninety percent of priests. The English clergy died at an alarming rate, including three archbishops of Canterbury in the span of a year. Monasteries suffered immensely as the plague wiped out entire religious communities. The high percentage of clergy deaths because of the plague produced a shortage of priests, which the Church tried to ameliorate by lowering the minimum age of ordination from twenty-five to twenty. Although understandable given the circumstances, this action produced a cadre of inexperienced, young, and poorly formed priests. The quality of the priesthood suffered and with it the Church as a whole, as ecclesiastical abuses became widespread in the fifteenth century, leading—many believe—to the Protestant Revolution in the sixteenth century.”

Love,
Matthew

Ars Moriendi – The Art of Dying


-by Br. Columba Thomas, OP, graduated from Yale School of Medicine and completed residency in Internal Medicine/Primary Care.

“Ars Moriendi, or “The Art of Dying,” was an immensely popular and influential medieval text aimed at equipping the faithful for death and dying. It appeared by order of the Council of Constance sometime between 1414 and 1418, and although its author is anonymous, some scholars speculate that it was a Dominican friar.

It is no surprise that the Church would focus on death-related themes at this time: one of the central pastoral preoccupations of the late medieval Church was preparing souls for death, which included saving them from damnation and shortening their stay in purgatory. To suppose that this focus on death was primarily driven by the effects of the bubonic plague is probably an oversimplification; it seems, rather, to be a foundational characteristic of medieval piety, resulting from a flourishing belief in the reality of life after death and the salvific efficacy of the sacraments. Hence, securing the ministrations of a priest in the final hours of death was a chief concern. But the impact of the bubonic plague, including the loss of clergy who would assist the dying, heightened the need for additional forms of guidance—thus arose the Ars Moriendi, a standard for deathbed pastoral practice intended for the use of dying persons and their loved ones assisting them.

The span of centuries notwithstanding, some modern-day bioethicists have looked to the medieval Ars Moriendi for inspiration in discussing contemporary approaches to death and dying. They recognize that patients nearing the end of life today often are overwhelmed by the complexity of health care and miss the opportunity to prepare well for death. A modern-day Ars Moriendi, then, would serve as a corrective to the prevailing over-medicalized, technologically driven death. Whereas bioethicists generally have sought to use the medieval text as inspiration for an approach that accommodates a wide variety of belief systems, religious and secular, it seems vital that the expressed religious intent be preserved in such a work—in fact, certain insights from the medieval text may provide a helpful addition to contemporary pastoral approaches at the end of life.

Just a cursory look at the medieval Ars Moriendi may suffice to draw out some of these insights. As the text emphasizes, dying persons are commonly faced with temptations that threaten to rob them of salvation, including the temptation against faith, the temptation of despair, and the temptation of pride that leads to complacency. When faced with these temptations, such persons must realize the importance of dying in the faith of Christ and in union with the Church to attain salvation, which is true happiness. This includes the reception of the sacraments, repeated professions of faith, self-examinations, and prayer.

For sure, the sacraments are the primary means by which the faithful can attain salvation; nevertheless, one can resist the graces offered in the sacraments, and so these other practices are important to help dispose one to receive the sacraments efficaciously. In this way, simply ensuring the visitation of a priest and the reception of the sacraments does not suffice. While efforts must be made to console dying persons that death itself is not to be feared, in light of Christ’s salvific act, it is better to stir them from complacency than to allow them to drift away from God for the sake of comfort.

These insights from the medieval Ars Moriendi may be key in reclaiming an art of dying for the twenty-first century. They give cause for concern that the typical approach for Catholics nearing the end of life today presumes that the reception of the sacraments all but guarantees salvation—typically, little emphasis is placed on the need for regular self-examination, professions of faith, and overcoming common temptations against the love of God. Instead, the focus is on consoling the dying person and loved ones, not necessarily for the sake of overcoming fear of death to remove a barrier to salvation, but out of deference to social sensibilities. Based on these concerns, it seems we truly are in need of a modern-day Ars Moriendi. The medieval text makes clear that the reality of judgment after death and hope for the salvation of souls should take priority over everything else, including attempts to better navigate the complexities and limitations of medical management at the end of life.”

Love,
Matthew

Holy Year of Mercy – Works of Mercy: Visit the Sick & Comfort the Afflicted

visit_the_sick

I have the distinct privilege of being associated as a Third Order Dominican with other men who make it their practice to visit the sick in hospitals in the Madison area and to be on call 24/7 to be present when someone is dying, regardless of creed or lack thereof, so that no one may have to die alone. Breathtaking.

I also volunteer with a secular divorced fathers group. I don’t do much. I am, as the founders call me, just one more relatively stable presence at the table. We have Chinese buffet once a month. My “official” duty or role is to be a PEO – Positive Emotional Outlet. That means that if anyone needs to primal scream at the top of their lungs, I volunteer to be the one they scream at. It is better than some of the negative behaviors these fathers deprived of their children may be tempted to indulge in. I am happy to offer. 🙂

nicene_guy
-by Nicene Guy

“When we hear of “the sick,” we probably think immediately of those who are in the care of hospitals or hospices. Perhaps we think of our own families while they suffer through cold and flu season, or allergy season. This is, of course, sickness in the conventional sense of the word, and those who suffer it need our assistance and our care.

The elderly infirm also fall into this category, and so visitations to the nursing home also are a way of fulfilling this work of mercy. Since loneliness is often rampant in the nursing homes and retirement centers, the elderly in particular often appreciate visitors.

Saint Thomas Aquinas notes that the sick include both the elderly infirm and those who are permanently disabled:

“The purpose of giving alms is to relieve our neighbor’s need. Now there are many needs of human life other than those mentioned above, for instance, a blind man needs a leader, a lame man needs someone to lean on…

All other needs are reduced to these, for blindness and lameness are kinds of sickness, so that to lead the blind, and to support the lame, come to the same as visiting the sick. On like manner to assist a man against any distress that is due to an extrinsic cause comes to the same as the ransom of captives. And the wealth with which we relieve the poor is sought merely for the purpose of relieving the aforesaid needs [hunger, thirst, clothing, shelter]: hence there was no reason for special mention of this particular need” (ST II-II.Q32.A2. Obj2 and Reply).

Thus, “the sick” is a broad term. It encompasses those who are injured; those who are physically ill (whether temporary, chronic, or acute); those who are elderly infirm; those who are disabled (blind, maimed, lame, paralyzed); those who are mentally ill; and those who are ill from addiction (through substance abuse, for example).

Visiting the sick can be a simple act of kindness, such as sending a “get-well soon” sympathy card; or helping a blind man to cross a busy intersection safely. It can be a little more involved still, as when we prepare a meal or care for the children or property (e.g. pets) for somebody who is near-bedridden (if only temporarily) with sickness. This work can be even more involved to the point of feeling like it is all we are able to do, as any parent who has stayed up all night with throwing-up sick children will attest. And it gets even harder, as anyone who has suffered through the last days of a loved one’s cancer or other slowly fatal illness can attest.

I should add another thing here before considering the spiritual work of mercy which complements visiting the sick. Illnesses have alway been around, but they haven’t always been this safe. “The sick” also included lepers, which were not merely ill but fatally so; and the disease was a scary one, so that lepers were often banned from inhabited areas [1]. Yet, Saint Francis of Assisi ministered to one such leper despite his great fears of the disease, and Saint Damien Molokai eventually died from the leprosy which he contracted ministering to a leper colony on the Hawaiian island whose name he bears. There were many instances of Catholic orders setting up hospitals (as discussed previously), which eventually would care for victims of the plagues (and in particular the Black Death). And Catholic priests and sisters and lay persons have been chaplains, nurses, and doctors to the soldiers in the various wars throughout history, often risking their lives to minister to the wounded (or even to the fearful fit before a battle).

We may not all be called to take such risks in mercy, though of course we can read in the Bible that “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). We may not have to fear leprosy or the bubonic plague (for now), but there are other diseases of both mind and body. AIDS is somewhat prevalent in America, but it is a pandemic in Africa, with as many as one in three people being infected in some countries. It may not be contagious in the way that the plague or leprosy was, but there is always some small risk of coming into contact with infected fluid.  (Ebola)

Nearer to home, there is a different sort of sickness which we might confront. I would call it mental illness, but that is not quite accurate: call it mental imbalance, especially as caused by substance abuse. There are some men whose drug-addled brains leave them unpredictable at best, dangerous at worst. Yet these, too, are “sick,” these too need to be visited, though their visitations may take the form of counseling or admonishing as well as merely visiting and comforting.

Still, to comfort is the first purpose of visiting the sick, and any aide offered to the sick is surely meant in part to do that. This then is the spiritual complement to visiting the sick: comforting the afflicted. This work of mercy is often also referred to as consoling the sorrowful and occasionally as succoring the suffering. It perhaps most directly describes what we intend to do when visiting the sick (in the literal sense of visiting a person who is physically ill).

Or, to return to a previous example, it is even more so what we do for the family of the terminally ill and the surviving next of kin to the recently departed. Anyone who has suffered through the last days of a dying relative knows second-hand the suffering of the relative, but first-hand their own suffering through sympathy and a sense of loss.  (Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come!)

The person who comes to visit the sick might also do as much to relieve their suffering as to relieve the dying person’s, if the visit is done in a spirit of charity and goodwill. The same might be said of those who engage in the corporal work of burying the dead, as their honoring of the memory of the departed might also offer comfort to the living folks dear to him.

The afflicted, the sorrowing, the grieving, the miserable: these words all pertain to an interior state more than an exterior one. Certainly, some of these states may be confused with depression, whether from a chemical imbalance (which would make it a more physical sickness) or a metaphysical state. There are correspondingly some forms of affliction which we might attempt to comfort, and some which are left to the “professionals,” by which I mean the ordained priests. I can help alleviate the physical or mental suffering of a friend or family member of spending time with him, or by kind works or kind deeds, or by a thoughtful gift or even a warm embrace.

However, some kinds of affliction are metaphysical, spiritual. We see these everyday, and are to some extent powerless against them. We can offer consolation and comfort, but some afflictions can be removed only by exorcism. This is a job for a trained priest, lest we bring the afflicting spirit upon our own heads. These kinds of affliction fall under a different work of mercy.

In the meantime, comforting the afflicted involves any true act (or words) of true kindness. Unfortunately, all-too-many people mistake comforting the afflicted with enabling the affliction. The man addicted to drugs who suffers withdrawal pains does not need to be given more drugs, but rather needs counseling and rehabilitation. Similarly, many people today are “afflicted” by their sins, and their perceived wronging at the hands of society over those sins. This is true of any addictive sin or sinful temptation, whether drug addiction, kleptomania, viewing pornography, eating disorders (gluttony), gossip [2], or any of a variety of sexual temptations and disorders, etc.

All-too-often the response is to excuse the sin as being the natural satisfaction of a very real (and often physical/physiological) temptation. It is always easier to say, “You were born this way, and there is nothing wrong (disordered) about that temptation or acting upon it” than it is to recognize that to varying extents and degrees we are all born into sin. (…And, God-do-not-forbid, acknowledging free will, God-do-not-forbid, that great gift we all cherish, and take such pride in, another deadly sin, until we are called to accountability for exercising that great gift we all take such pride in.  Until. Gal 6:7.  Thereby, NEVER having to be accountable.  HOW convenient.  How.)  We all suffer the curse of Adam, the concupiscence of our parents; to some extent, we all live in the double darkness of sin and ignorance, and we all struggle with some particular sin or set of sins. We are all afflicted in this way.

It is no comfort to pretend that a sin is not a sin for the sake of gaining physical or psychological satisfaction. It may appear to be comforting the afflicted, and may appear to be treating the “physical symptoms” of the affliction; so would be giving drugs to an addict in withdrawal pains. Doing this may alleviate the physical pains and craving for a time, but in the meantime it places the soul more firmly in the grasp of that temptation, so that the afflictions will return with a vengeance. It trades physical comfort for spiritual affliction. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

There is another kind of affliction which is spiritual, and which is of the opposite sort than this. If our society inflicts spiritual afflictions in the name of physical comforts and consolation, our consciences might at times inflict spiritual agony in greater proportion that our sins warrant. C.S. Lewis puts this idea into his children’s stories, in particular during an exchange between two characters in his Prince Caspian. Near the end of that book (spoiler!), the title character is crowned King of Narnia, and holds a brief dialogue with Aslan (Narnia’s manifestation of Christ). Aslan explains to Caspian that he is descended from pirates who had blundered into the world of Narnia, eliciting a disappointed remark from Caspian about wishing that he had descended from “more honorable lineage,” to which Aslan responds:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve..that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

We have a tendency to beat ourselves up over little things, which can then at times cause us to lose focus on the bigger things.  (AMEN!!!!  REMEMBER HIS INFINITE LOVE & MERCY!!!!) Scrupulosity over small sins can lead us to miss bigger ones, which is nearly as great a spiritual danger to us as listening to the world when it tells us to ignore our sins entirely.  (AMEN!!!!  Honesty, the TRUTH, is the HARDEST THING TO DO!!!!  With ourselves, gently & charitably with others, for them, mostly, but also for us, gently & charitably.  The lie is always easier, always.)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).  (Now, we haven’t seen this in our own time, have we? 😉  (The Gospel is constantly fulfilled.  IT KEEPS COMING TRUE!!!!  And, so it will be, until the end.)

The problem of the Pharisees, as Jesus explains earlier in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, is that they had failed to comfort the afflicted, and had indeed added to their affliction:  (Lord, have mercy!)

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4).

The Scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’ Judgment seat—Moses of course was the one to whom God gave the Old Law, the Ten Commandments as it were. Thus the Scribes and Pharisees were correctly interpreting the moral law, but were not correctly applying it. What underlies morality is love, and the “rules” of morality are rules of “right living” (and ultimately, of “right loving”), which have a threefold purpose: inner harmony, social harmony, and harmony between society and God. The first is harmony within one’s soul, that is, right relationship to oneself. The second is harmony with one’s neighbors (and between all members of the human race), right relationship with others. The last is harmony between the soul and God, that is, right relationship to God.

The Pharisees for their part were not being excoriated for insisting on the moral rules, nor even for their interpretations of the moral rules. The moral rules still apply insofar as they were moral rules, as Christ notes:

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

The problem is not that the Pharisees were going too far in their moral pronouncements: rather, they were not going far enough. They made the pronouncements, but then did not help others to live up to those pronouncements, and then judged and condemned those others when they failed. We look to Christ as the ultimate comforter of the afflicted, Who says “I do not condemn you for your sins: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11), but also “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). He comforts all the afflicted by taking on the cause of all our afflictions, and with it much of the suffering. herein lies the true difficulty of comforting the afflicted, which is the risk of taking on some of the suffering and some of the affliction ourselves. If we will be true disciples we must, because He did.”

—Footnotes—
[1] According to Old Testament Jewish Law, lepers must be banned from civilized areas and must further warn away any travelers whom they might encounter.

[2] Gossip can be addicting, sort of; if not gossip itself then at least the attention which comes from it.

Love, and always in need of His mercy,
Matthew

Death: God’s Greatest Gift

13762_unnamed-628x376


-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP (Prior to joining the Order, Br Bonaventure received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.”

— Fr. Edward T. Oakes, SJ (1948 – 2013)

What did he say? Death is a gift, even God’s greatest? Death is no stranger to superlatives, but they usually come in the negative form: death is the most terrible reality; death is the final enemy; death is the worst defeat. Because of this, death avoidance becomes a wellspring of activity in modern society: nursing homes and hospitals keep it at a safe distance from the home, and euphemisms are commonly deployed in its description. Is not the euthanasia movement an extreme form of this avoidance in its attempt to master death through free choice? If death must happen, I will decide exactly when and how it happens! Of course the avoidance of death is not limited to the modern condition. In his famous study, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes of its universal quality:

“The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity – activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.”

Surely Fr. Oakes must be morbidly misinformed or manifestly mistaken, mustn’t he?

Well no, actually, although a distinction is desirable. It is not any old death that is the greatest gift, but a Christian death, a death given by God, which is the greatest gift. Why? Because in a Christian death one does not die alone; one dies with Christ. The Catechism puts it succinctly: “To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ” (1005). To be united with Christ fully, one must be united with Him in His death, and therefore in our own deaths. Death has a new dimension, a new character, thanks to Christ’s death. The Catechism goes on to quote St. Paul in this new definition of death:

“Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).“The saying is sure: if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him” (2 Tm 2:11). What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already “died with Christ” sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ’s grace, physical death completes this “dying with Christ” and so completes our incorporation into Him in his redeeming act. (1010)”

This Summer I have had the privilege of spending a month with the Dominican Sisters at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, NY. The sisters here, part of a congregation founded by Rose Hawthorne (Mother Mary Alphonsa), the daughter of American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, work day and night to assist cancer patients in just such a “dying with Christ.” Unlike many hospices that offer a kind of palliative care that involves the refusal of suffering and the denial of death, the sisters here offer truly passionate care: the suffering-with of compassion and the acceptance of death with Christ through his passion.

Death is not covered up or ignored at Hawthorne; patients are here to die well, to die with and in Christ. It is an incredible grace and truly a gift to die with the sisters; I can attest to this because of my experiences with both patients and their families. As one family member said: “This place is the closest thing to heaven on earth.” Those gifted enough to come to Rosary Hill are taught to die well, to die with Christ, to die with love and grace. Truly what a gift!

Unfortunately, not everyone can die in the care of the Hawthorne Dominicans (Young ladies, you can change this: vocations). And yet we all face death, the final enemy and proper punishment for our sins. Thankfully, like the patients at Rosary Hill, the Church has not left us alone in this serious task of dying well; she gives us daily numerous ways of preparing well. One way is to ask for a holy death every time we see a crucifix in our house (You don’t have one? Why not?) or Church. There are also excellent works dedicated to living well by thinking about dying well, both traditional (Dominican and Jesuit) as well as contemporary (written by a friend of mine). And of course we pray for such a holy death, through the intercession of Mary, at least fifty times a day in the rosary (You don’t pray the rosary every day? Really?). The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of death (CCC 1114). After all, if this life is to be a sequela Christi, a following of Christ, one must follow Him to death and through death. Christ’s call to each disciple “to deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Lk 9:23) finds new meaning and resonance in this daily reflection and preparation for death.

To die with Christ is truly a gift, a gift that may be the greatest because it is the way to unite ourselves with Christ. Christ offers us the gift of His death and we offer ourselves united to Him through our own deaths as our final thanksgiving for all He has done. While not all of us will have the gift of dying with the Hawthorne Dominicans, we can all experience a hint of their charism with the help of the Church. And of course our death is not the final word, for the gift of death contains also the gift of the Resurrection.”

Good St Joseph!!  Patron of a Good Death, pray for us!!  Take us by the hand at that final moment and guide us to thy Divine Foster-Son!!  That we may rejoice with the Blessed forever!!!

Love,
Matthew