“God always gives more than we ask.” -Saint Marie-Victoire Therese Couderc
I have been on retreat more than once at The Cenacle in Lincoln Park in Chicago, www.cenaclesisters.org/chicago/. Of course my first question, as would almost anyone’s would be, “What’s a cenacle?”
The Cenacle, from Latin “cenaculum”, also known as the “Upper Room”, is the site of The Last Supper. The word is a derivative of the Latin word “cena”, which means “dinner”. In Christian tradition, based on Acts 1:13(& 14), “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
The “Upper Room” was not only the site of the Last Supper (i.e. the
Cenacle), but also the usual place where the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem, sometimes thought of as the first Christian church. Thus the Cenacle is considered the site where many other events described in the New Testament took place, such as:
- the Washing of the Feet by the Lord of the Apostles
- some Resurrection appearances of Jesus
- the gathering of the disciples after the Ascension of Jesus
- the election of Saint Matthias as apostle
- the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost
Not a bad place for a retreat? Huh? 🙂
Marie-Victoire Couderc was born in 1805 in Le Mas (Ardèche),
France. She made her novitiate with the Sisters of St. Regis in Lalouvesc (Ardèche) in 1825, taking the religious name Therese.
Concerned with welfare of female pilgrims visiting the shrine of St. John Francis Regis, SJ, in town, she co-founded the Sisters of the Cenacle with Father Jean-Pierre Etienne Terme in 1826. It was a response to the disruption and reawakening of the practice of the Faith in France due to the Revolution
St Therese became the Congregation’s founder Superior in 1828, and when the Mother House was established, its Superior General until 1838. The retreats increased rapidly and plans were made to build a new chapel and a new convent. But, after completion, the promised funding evaporated. The bishop of Viviers too quickly lost his trust in Therese, reinforcing Mother Therese’s own humble but mistaken conviction that she was to blame for the debacle. At last, she resigned her office of superior. She was thirty-three years old, having guided her sisters for the first ten years of the congregation’s existence.
Her successor, chosen by the Jesuit provincial, was Mademoiselle Gallet, a wealthy widow only 20 years old, who had been a novice for only 15 days, having entered on September 24, 1838, who hardly knew the first thing about being a nun, put the convent through a terrible trial. She made the rules more lax, Mother Therese had always insisted on silence and evangelical poverty, and borrowed money to buy beautiful things for the convent. Many nuns and outsiders were shocked at this new turn of events, but Our Lady was watching out for the little community.
When mademoiselle died later that year, she left her fortune to the
congregation. However, her relatives contested her will, and the
Cenacle’s financial situation was once more thrown into disarray. The Bishop of Viviers named Countess de la Villeurnoy the new Superior general. Soon, she even began to call herself “mother founder.”
The community of nuns as well as outside friends blamed Mother Thérèse for the whole affair. Rumors began to circulate. “They say that Therese is incompetent and has no business ability whatsoever. How can we count on her to raise funds for the congregation if she is going to fail like this? And her health is reported to be failing badly; perhaps she is no longer capable of governing. It is possible that she has mental problems.”
“It seems that no one can govern this congregation,” he began. “You
yourself resigned your office in disgrace, and this Countess has led you all to the brink of disaster. Now it falls to me to pick up the pieces.
Tell me: should I assign a new superior? Would it help this congregation function better?”
Mother Therese remained silent for a moment. “Fr Renault,” she said
carefully, “You know that I am a professed religious, and that I have taken a vow of obedience to my superiors for life. To me, that obedience means that I must respect every action of my superiors, whether it appeals to me or not. God has placed Mother de la Villeurnoy in a position of authority over me; you seek testimony which I cannot give nor do I wish to give.”
The provincial was dumbfounded. “But this woman calls herself the founder! She has stolen the respect that is rightfully yours!” he burst out.
“Perhaps,” Mother Therese said quietly. “But more important than any title is the vow which I have made to my Creator and Redeemer.”
Nevertheless, the provincial did not need her testimony; there was more than enough evidence against the Countess. After causing eleven months of havoc, the Countess was removed from office.
Mother Contenet, her replacement, eager to attract members of the higher social classes for the congregation, expelled ten of the original twelve members of the congregation. Convinced of the ineptitude of the true founder, she did everything in her power to keep Mother Therese away from the other sisters. Therese was exiled from her chosen work of giving retreats to spend thirteen years at the most difficult manual labor in the congregation, working in the gardens and the cellar. Conditions were so poor that her eyesight was permanently impaired. Her food was only the worst of the vegetables and the unwanted remnants of black bread which the gardener threw alongside the convent wall.
Mother Therese dropped into increasing obscurity. “After all,” she
reflected, “the religious life is a sufficiently great grace even though one purchase it at the price of the most difficult of sacrifices.” Despite the great mortification of her state, she told the young religious that “We should never allow even one thought of sadness to enter the soul. Have we not within us Him who is the joy of Heaven!”
Mother Therese’s exile ended with the death of Mother Contenet in 1852, but dissension and instability once more returned to the Cenacle. Mother Anaïs was elected the new superior general, but left the congregation three years later. Not until 1856 did Therese return to an active role in the congregation.
During a time of crisis, Mother Therese was sent briefly to serve as temporary superior of the convent in Paris and then at Tournon, where her governance was remembered for its firmness but genuine goodness. Again, however, she disappeared into the background.
One day, while visiting one of the convents of the Religious of the
Cenacle, Cardinal Lavigerie noticed Mother Therese praying in the chapel. He turned to the superior of the house and asked, “Anyone can see how holy the face of this sister is. What is her name?”
“Sister Therese Couderc,” was the reply.
“She seems such a saint,” he mused. “What is her place in the history of the congregation?”
The superior was embarrassed. “Well, she was in charge of the gardens for many years, and she was sent to be a temporary superior at two houses in the 1850’s. Now she just mostly prays in the chapel, and we let her alone.”
Cardinal Lavigerie looked at her sharply. “She has been left out, hasn’t she?” The superior said nothing.
Her reputation had been by now so thoroughly maligned by her superiors that even her status as founder had been completely forgotten. Her work as founder had been, above all, her prayers, penances, and humiliation. It was only towards the end of her life, when the bishop of Viviers launched an inquiry into the circumstances of the foundation, that Mother Therese Couderc was finally recognized as the founder of the Sisters of the Cenacle. Fra Angelico’s “The Mocking of Christ” comes to mind.
Mother Thérèse spent many years at the convent in Fourvière, being in charge of the manual labour. She describes some of these trying times…..“We gathered up pieces of black bread which a man used to throw beside the convent wall. At night and early morning we had only one lamp in the hall to give us light to dress by and we had very poor light to work by at recreation.”
Therese told the younger nuns, “Great trials make great souls
and fit them for the great things which God wishes to do through them…Let us say bravely and confidently: God is sufficient for me!…We should never allow even one thought of sadness to enter the soul, because we have within us, Jesus, the Joy of Heaven!”
In 1864, God made Therese understand that souls would not do enough prayer and penance. She wanted to save souls and she firmly believed in self-surrender. Mother Thérèse said, “There is sweetness and peace when one gives himself totally to God, and by doing this, the soul finds Heaven on earth!”
Mother Thérèse spent the last ten years of her life in much suffering of body and soul. In 1875, she offered herself to Our Lord as a victim soul. Day after day, but especially on Thursdays and Fridays, she shared Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. She would stay in the chapel near the altar and weep for hours on end, saying over and over, “Have pity on me Dear Lord, have pity on me!”
Her sufferings increased and by 1885, Mother Thérèse had to stay in her. In her pains she suffered patiently and suffered with great peace of. It is reported by a contemporary biographer, Mother Therese stated that the Poor Souls in Purgatory would often come to visit her and they would sing with great love and humility, the “Te Deum.” On September 26, 1885, Mother Thérèse died, closing her eyes to this world. Like a number of founders and foundresses, she later was honored for her sanctity. She died in Lyon at age 80 and is buried in Lalouvesc.
The modern day sisters of the the Cenacle, 1500 members in sixteen countries, possess a compelling love for Jesus Christ and try to find the best means of making Him better known and loved through their ministry of spiritual direction, personal, private, Ignatian, and directed retreats, particularly in the retreat centers they administer. By membership in their Congregation they give their word to God and each other to continue their search to live the Gospel in the society of today. Not a bad promise to make, IMHO.
During your retreat, you may request a Cenacle sister as a spiritual companion. The Irish have the expression Kelly and I have inscribed on the inside of our wedding rings, “Anam Cara”=”soul friend”. A Cenacle sister, if requested, may, as a trained and experienced spiritual companion, support you in:
- Exploring the “desires of your heart” by talking about your life and your relationship with God.
- Encouraging you in your prayer.
Becoming aware of God’s action in the events of your life and your inner journey.
- Reverencing and savoring your experience of God.
- Listening to the deepest desires of your heart.
- Trusting in the Holy Spirit to help you find within yourself the answers to your deep questions.
- Discerning a direction for your life that is in harmony with God’s dream for you.
For me, prayer is like breathing. I absolutely need it. I depend on upon it. Nothing works without it. It must be first. It has become more intense with time and graces received. To rest, completely. To be refreshed, wonderfully. Relationships are very important, we all realize, especially that One. Why should its deepening be any different than our deepening with others, in time spent together, speaking tenderly, lovingly with one another? With Him?
“I have just one desire, that God be glorified.”
-Saint Marie Victoire Therese Couderc
“My heart embraces the whole world.”
-Saint Marie Victoire Therese Couderc
“Let me live by love, let me die of love, and let my last heartbeat be an act of the most perfect love.”
-Saint Marie Victoire Therese Couderc
“All places are alike to me, because everywhere I expect to find God, who is the only object of all my desires.”
-Saint Marie Victoire Therese Couderc
“What does it matter if my feet, bare and torn, fill my wooden shoes with blood? I would willingly begin the journey all over again, for I have indeed found the good God!”
-Saint Marie Victoire Therese Couderc
“I abandon myself with my whole heart to God’s will, and to God’s good pleasure — and when I have in all sincerity made this act of
self-surrender, I experience great tranquility and perfect peace.” –Saint Marie Victoire Therese Couderc
“I could say, with you, that my heart doesn’t age in this matter of loving others…. We know well we have the same heart we had earlier; it always knows how to love God first and then others in [God]….” –Saint Marie Victoire Therese Couderc
“I saw written as in letters of gold this word Goodness, which I repeated for a long while with an indescribable sweetness. I saw it, I say, written on all creatures, animate and inanimate, rational or not, all bore this name of goodness. I saw it even on the chair I was using as a kneeler. I understood then that all that these creatures have of good and all the services and helps that we receive from each of them is a blessing that we owe to the goodness of our God, who has communicated to them something of his infinite goodness, so that we may meet it in every thing and everywhere.” -Saint Marie Victoire Therese Couderc
“I was preparing to begin my meditation, when I heard the pealing of the church bells calling the faithful to attend the divine Mysteries. At that moment the desire came over me to unite myself with all the Masses which were being said, and to that end I directed my intention so that I might participate in them.
Then I had an overall view of the whole Catholic world and a multitude of altars upon which at one and the same time the adorable Victim was being immolated. The blood of the Lamb without stain was flowing abundantly over every one of these altars, which seemed to be surrounded by a light cloud of smoke ascending toward heaven. My soul was seized and penetrated with a feeling of love and gratitude on beholding this most abundant satisfaction that Our Lord was offering for us.
But I was also greatly astonished that the whole world was not sanctified by it. I asked how it could be that the sacrifice of the Cross having been offered only once was sufficient to redeem all souls, while now being renewed so often it was not sufficient to sanctify them all.
This is the answer I thought I heard: The sacrifice is without any doubt sufficient by itself, and the Blood of Jesus Christ more than sufficient for the sanctification of a million worlds, but souls fail to correspond, they are not generous enough. Now the great means by which one may enter into the path of perfection and of holiness is to SURRENDER ONESELF to our good God.
But what does it mean to SURRENDER ONESELF?
I understand the full extent of the expression TO SURRENDER ONESELF, but I cannot explain it. I only know that it is very vast, that it embraces both the present and the future.
TO SURRENDER ONESELF is more than to devote oneself, more than to give oneself, it is even something more than to abandon oneself to God. In a word, to SURRENDER ONESELF is to die to everything and to self, to be no longer concerned with self except to keep it continually turned toward God.
TO SURRENDER ONESELF is, moreover, no longer to seek oneself in anything, either for the spiritual or the physical, that is to say, no longer to seek one’s own satisfaction, but solely the divine good pleasure.
It should be added that to SURRENDER ONESELF is also to follow that spirit of detachment which clings to nothing, neither to persons nor to things, neither to time nor to place. It means to adhere to everything, to accept everything, to submit to everything.
But perhaps you will think that this is very difficult to do. Do not let yourself be deceived. There is nothing so easy to do, nothing so sweet to put into practice. The whole thing consists in making a generous act once and for all, saying with all the sincerity of your soul: “My God, I wish to be entirely thine; deign to accept my offering.” And all is said. But from then on, you must take care to keep yourself in this disposition of soul and not to shrink from any of the little sacrifices which can help you advance in virtue. You must always remember that you have SURRENDERED yourself.
I pray to our Lord to give an understanding of this word to all souls desirous of pleasing him and to inspire them to take advantage of so easy a means of sanctification. Oh! If people could just understand ahead of time the sweetness and peace that are savored when nothing is held back from the good God! How he communicates himself to the one who seeks him sincerely and has known how to SURRENDER herself. Let them experience it and they will see that here is found the true happiness they are vainly seeking elsewhere.
The SURRENDERED soul has found paradise on earth, since she enjoys that sweet peace which is part of the happiness of the elect.” –To Surrender Oneself, by Saint Marie Victoire Therese Couderc, 26 June 1864
“Not my will be done, but God’s. That is my favorite prayer which I mean to pray every day as long as there is breath left in me, because it is the one which gives me and leaves me with the greatest peace of soul.”
-letter to Mother Marie Aimee Lautier, 16 Oct 1881
“Surrender myself, that is all I did during this retreat – the good God did all rest.”
-letter to Mother de Larochenegly, 13 Feb 1864
“I abandon myself sincerely to God’s will and good pleasure, and when I have sincerely made this act of abandonment, I am calm and I experience a great peace.”
-letter to Mother de Larochnegly, 25 Nov 1875
I learned the necessary interchangeability of the words “Christian faith” and “surrender to Him” many years ago, in prayer. Not easy, just necessary, required. There is no other way to peace.
Prayer for the intercession of St Therese Couderc
O Good God
We rejoice with St Therese Couderc
To find your goodness all around us
And to know that you desire only good for us.
In your great love,
Grant us the favor we ask
And the grace to receive
With your servant Therese
The gift of Christ-like surrender to God.
-the Cenacle in Jerusalem
Saint Hildegard of Bingen, O.S.B. (German: Hildegard von Bingen; Latin: Hildegardis Bingensis) (1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Saint Hildegard, and “Sibyl of the Rhine”, was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play. She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems, while supervising brilliant miniature Illuminations.
On 10 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI extended the liturgical cult of St. Hildegard to the universal Church, in a process known as “equivalent canonization”. On 27 May 2012, the Pope announced that, on 7 October 2012, he will declare St. Hildegard to be the 35th Doctor of the Church.
Hildegard’s date of birth is uncertain. It has been concluded that she may have been born in the year 1098. Hildegard was raised in a family of free nobles. She was her parents’ tenth child, sickly from birth. In her “Vita”, or brief biography often written for saints, Hildegard explains that from a very young age she had experienced visions.
Perhaps due to Hildegard’s visions, or as a method of political positioning, Hildegard’s parents, Hildebert and Mechthilde, offered her as an oblate to the church; their “tithe” to the Church. The date of Hildegard’s enclosure in the church is contentious. Her Vita tells us she was enclosed with an older nun, Jutta, at the age of eight. However, Jutta’s enclosure date is known to be in 1112, at which time Hildegard would have been fourteen. Some scholars speculate that Hildegard was placed in the care of Jutta, the daughter of Count Stephan II of Sponheim, at the age of eight, before the two women were enclosed together six years later. There is no written record of the twenty-four years of Hildegard’s life that she was in the convent together with Jutta. It is possible that Hildegard could have been a chantress and a worker in the herbarium and infirmary.
In any case, Hildegard and Jutta were enclosed at Disibodenberg in the Palatinate Forest in what is now Germany. Jutta was also a visionary and thus attracted many followers who came to visit her at the enclosure. Hildegard also tells us that Jutta taught her to read and write, but that she was unlearned and therefore incapable of teaching Hildegard Biblical interpretation. Hildegard and Jutta most likely prayed, meditated, read scriptures such as the psalter, and did some sort of handwork during the hours of the Divine Office. This also might have been a time when Hildegard learned how to play the ten-stringed psaltery. Volmar, a frequent visitor, may have taught Hildegard simple psalm notation. The time she studied music could also have been the beginning of the compositions she would later create. Upon Jutta’s death in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously elected as “magistra” of the community by her fellow nuns.
With regard to her visions, Hildegard says that she first saw “The Shade of the Living Light” at the age of three, and by the age of five she began to understand that she was experiencing visions. She used the term ‘visio’ to this feature of her experience, and recognized that it was a gift that she could not explain to others. Hildegard explained that she saw all things in the light of God through the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Hildegard was hesitant to share her visions, confiding only to Jutta, who in turn told Volmar, Hildegard’s tutor and, later, secretary.
Throughout her life, she continued to have many visions, and in 1141, at the age of 42, Hildegard received a vision she believed to be an instruction from God, to “write down that which you see and hear.” Still hesitant to record her visions, Hildegard became physically ill. The illustrations recorded in the book of “Scivias” were visions that Hildegard experienced, causing her great suffering and tribulations. In her first theological text, “Scivias” (“Know the Ways”), Hildegard describes her struggle within:
“But I, though I saw and heard these things, refused to write for a long time through doubt and bad opinion and the diversity of human words, not with stubbornness but in the exercise of humility, until, laid low by the scourge of God, I fell upon a bed of sickness; then, compelled at last by many illnesses, and by the witness of a certain noble maiden of good conduct [the nun Richardis von Stade] and of that man whom I had secretly sought and found, as mentioned above, I set my hand to the writing. While I was doing it, I sensed, as I mentioned before, the deep profundity of scriptural exposition; and, raising myself from illness by the strength I received, I brought this work to a close – though just barely – in ten years…And I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God I heard and received them in the heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, ‘Cry out therefore, and write thus’
Hildegard’s Vita was begun by Godfrey of Disibodenberg under Hildegard’s supervision. It was between November 1147 and February 1148 at the synod in Trier that Pope Eugenus heard about Hildegard’s writings. It was from this that she received Papal approval to document her visions as revelations from the Holy Spirit giving her instant credence.
Before Hildegard’s death, a problem arose with the clergy of Mainz. A man buried at the convent in Rupertsburg had died after excommunication from the Church. Hildegard saw to it the man had received the last rites. But, the clergy wanted to remove his body from the sacred ground. Hildegard did not accept this idea, replying that it was a sin and that the man had been reconciled to the Church at the time of his death. She claimed she’d received word from God allowing the burial. But her ecclesiastical superiors intervened, and ordered the body exhumed. Hildegard defied the authorities by hiding the grave, and the authorities excommunicated the entire convent community. Most insultingly to Hildegard, the interdict prohibited the community from singing. She complied with the interdict, avoiding singing and communion, but did not comply with the command to exhume the corpse. Hildegard appealed the decision to yet higher Church authorities, and finally had the interdict lifted.
On 17 September 1179, when Hildegard died, her sisters claimed they saw two streams of light appear in the skies and cross over the room where she was dying.
Hildegard’s musical, literary, and scientific writings are housed primarily in two manuscripts: the Dendermonde manuscript and the Riesenkodex. The Dendermonde manuscript was copied under Hildegard’s supervision at Rupertsberg, while the Riesencodex was copied in the century after Hildegard’s death.
Attention in recent decades to women of the medieval Church has led to a great deal of popular interest in Hildegard, particularly her music. In addition to the Ordo Virtutum, sixty-nine musical compositions, each with its own original poetic text, survive, and at least four other texts are known, though their musical notation has been lost. This is one of the largest repertoires among medieval composers. Hildegard also wrote nearly 400 letters to correspondents ranging from Popes to Emperors to abbots and abbesses; two volumes of material on natural medicine and cures; an invented language called the Lingua ignota; various minor works, including a gospel commentary and two works of hagiography; and three great volumes of visionary theology: Scivias, Liber vitae meritorum (“Book of Life’s Merits” or “Book of the Rewards of Life”), and Liber divinorum operum (“Book of Divine Works”).
In December 2010, BXVI quoted a long passage from one of Hildegard’s visions to assess the damage done to the church by the sex abuse scandal, and to invite the Vatican hierarchy to accept this “humiliation” as an “an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal”.
“In the vision of St. Hildegard, the face of the church is stained with dust. … Her garment is torn — by the sins of priests. The way she saw and expressed it is the way we have experienced it this year,” the Pope said.
A few months earlier, he had referred to Hildegard to address calls for reform inside the Church, sparked by the “abuses of the clergy.” Benedict recalled how the saint had “harshly reprimanded” those who in her lifetime wanted “radical reform,” reminding them that “true renewal” comes from “repentance” and “conversion, rather than with a change of structures.”
In Hildegard’s lifetime, Pope Eugenius III, who needed help fending off the Cathar heresy that rejected the Church’s worldly power, recognized the authenticity of her visions and authorized her to preach in public — something that Church doctrine had officially forbidden until that time and that nonetheless remains controversial in Catholicism. Hildegard used her unprecedented role to publicly rebuke the emperor and to call on the Pope and bishops to reform the Church’s ills.
In 2006, Benedict XVI himself drew on Hildegard to expound his thinking on women’s role in the Church: not as priests but as bearers of a “spiritual power” that enables them to, yes, even “criticize the bishops.”
In space, she is commemorated by the asteroid 898 Hildegard.
“Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honor. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.” – St Hildegard of Bingen
O leafy branch,
standing in your nobility
as the dawn breaks forth:
now rejoice and be glad
and deign to set us frail ones
free from evil habits
and stretch forth your hand
and lift us up.
-St Hildegard von Bingen
O ruby blood
which flowed from on high
where divinity touched.
You are a flower
that the winter
of the serpent’s breath
can never injure.
-St Hildegard von Bingen
O Shepherd of souls
and o first voice
through whom all creation was summoned,
now to you,
to you may it give pleasure and dignity
to liberate us
from our miseries and languishing.
-St Hildegard von Bingen
O eternal Lord,
it is pleasing to you
to burn in that same fire of love,
like that from which our bodies are born,
and from which you begot your Son
in the first dawn before all of Creation.
So consider this need which falls upon us,
and relieve us of it for the sake of your Son
and lead us in joyous prosperity
-St Hildegard von Bingen
O Great Father we are in great need;
Now therefore we implore, we implore you
Through your Word, by which you have
Filled us with [those things] we need;
Now it may please you Father for it befits you
To consider us with your help,
So that we might not fail and lest your name
Might be blackened in us
And through your name, deign to help us.
-St Hildegard von Bingen
“You are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.” -St. Hildegard of Bingen
Prayer for the intercession of St Hildegard von Bingen:
O God, by Whose grace Thy servant Hildegard, enkindled with the fire of Thy love, became a burning and shining light in Thy Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before Thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In 2009, Zeigeist Films released “Vision”, a film on the life of St Hildegard von Bingen: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0995850/
Quick! Name your favorite top ten living great Catholic preachers! Five? One? I trust I make my point. St John Chrysostom was one. Called “Golden-mouthed=Chrysostom”.
For the unlettered and the lettered, one can always recognize holy persons in artwork by universally known symbols in the artwork associated with that personage – iconography. For instance, the artist may have no or there is no universally accepted knowledge of what a person looked like and even among artists across time and distance you will not get a consistent image of the likeness. But, a symbol, such as a honey bee, clearly indicates honey. Right? And when you see a honey bee associated with the image of a man in Catholic art you know they were most likely not canonized for their holy bee keeping skills, but rather the “sweetness of their preaching”, which St Gregory the Great would admonish us is the only proper way of winning hearts and minds for the Lord. One of St John Chrysostom’s identifiable symbols is being depicted in art with honey bees, such was the “sweetness of his preaching”.
The legion of saints of the Church is comprised of people of extraordinary ability whose talents may have been dissimilar but many of whom seem to have shared a common genius for oratory. Yet out of this vast assembly of eloquent speakers, whose reputation might have rested on their gift of expression alone, the one for whom the title “Chrysostom”, or “golden-mouthed” was reserved, was John of Antioch, known as St. John Chrysostom, a great distinction in view of the qualifications of so many others.
Endeared as one of the great doctors of the Church, St. John Chrysostom was born in 347 in Antioch, Syria and was prepared for a career in law under the renowned Libanius, who marveled at his pupil’s eloquence and foresaw a brilliant career for his pupil as statesman and lawgiver. But John decided, after he had been baptised at the age of 23, to abandon the law in favour of service to the Savior. He entered a monastery which served to educate him in preparation for his ordination as a priest in 386 AD. From the pulpit there emerged John, a preacher whose oratorical excellence gained him a reputation throughout the Christian world, a recognition which spurred him to even greater expression that found favour with everyone but the Empress Eudoxia, whom he saw fit to examine in some of his sermons.
When St. John was forty-nine years old, his immense popularity earned him election to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, a prestigious post from which he launched a crusade against excessiveness and extreme wealth which the Empress construed as a personal affront to her and her royal court. This also gave rise to sinister forces that envied his tremendous influence. His enemies found an instrument for his indictment when they discovered that he had harbored some pious monks who had been excommunicated by his archrival Theophilos, Bishop of Alexandria, who falsely accused John of treason and surreptitiously plotted his exile.
When it was discovered that the great St. John had been exiled by the puppets of the state, there arose such a clamour of protest, promising a real threat of civil disobedience, that not even the royal court dared to confront the angry multitudes and St John was restored to his post. At about this time he put a stop to a practice which was offensive to him, although none of his predecessors outwardly considered it disrespectful; this practice was applauding in church the absence of which some feel adds to the solemnity of Church services.
St. John delivered a sermon in which he deplored the adulation of a frenzied crowd at the unveiling of a public statue of the Empress Eudoxia. His sermon was grossly exaggerated by his enemies, and by the time it reached the ears of the Empress it resulted in his permanent exile from his beloved city of Constantinople. The humiliation of banishment did not deter the gallant, golden-mouthed St. John, who continued to communicate with the Church and wrote his precious prose until he died in the lonely reaches of Pontus on September 14, 407.
The slight, five-foot St. John stood tall in his defiance of state authority, bowing only to God and never yielding the high principles of Christianity to expediency or personal welfare. In the words of his pupil, Cassia of Marseilles, “It would be a great thing to attain his stature, but it would be difficult. Nevertheless, a following of him is lovely and magnificent.”
“When you perceive that God is chastening you, fly not to his enemies…but to his friends, the martyrs, the saints, those who were pleasing to Him, and who have great power in God.” – Saint John Chrysostom, Orations, 396.
“When you are before the altar where Christ reposes, you ought no longer to think that you are amongst men; but believe that there are troops of angels and archangels standing by you, and trembling with respect before the sovereign Master of Heaven and earth. Therefore, when you are in church, be there in silence, fear, and veneration.” – Saint John Chrysostom
“If the Lord should give you power to raise the dead, He would give much less than He does when he bestows suffering. By miracles you would make yourself debtor to Him, while by suffering He may become debtor to you. And even if sufferings had no other reward than being able to bear something for that God who loves you, is not this a great reward and a sufficient remuneration? Whoever loves, understands what I say.” – Saint John Chrysostom
“It is clear through unlearned men that the cross was persuasive; in fact, it persuaded the whole world. Paul had this in mind when he said, “The weakness of God is stronger than men.” That the preaching of these men was indeed divine is brought home to us in the same way. For how otherwise could twelve uneducated men, who lived on lakes and rivers and wastelands, get the idea for such an immense enterprise? How could men who perhaps had never been in a city or public square think of setting out to do battle with the whole world? That they were fearful, timid men, the evangelist makes clear; he did not reject the fact or try to hide their weaknesses. Indeed he turned these into a proof of the truth. What did he say of them? That when Christ was arrested, the others fled, despite all the miracles they had seen, while he who was leader of the others denied him! How then account for the fact that these men, who in Christ’s lifetime did not stand up to the attacks by the Jews, set forth to do battle with the whole world once Christ was dead – if, as you claim, Christ did not rise and speak to them and rouse their courage? It is evident, then, that if they had not seen him risen and had proof of his power, they would not have risked so much.” – from a homily by Saint John Chrysostom on the first letter to the Corinthians.
“O envious one, you injure yourself more than he whom you would injure, and the sword with which you wound will recoil and wound yourself. What harm did Cain do to Abel? Contrary to his intention he did him the greatest good, for he caused him to pass to a better and a blessed life, and he himself was plunged into an abyss of woe. In what did Esau injure Jacob? Did not his envy prevent him from being enriched in the place in which he lived; and, losing the inheritance and the blessing of his father, did he not die a miserable death? What harm did the brothers of Joseph do to Joseph, whose envy went so far as to wish to shed his blood? Were they not driven to the last extremity, and well-nigh perishing with hunger, whilst their brother reigned all through Egypt? It is ever thus; the more you envy your brother, the greater good you confer upon him. God, who sees all, takes the cause of the innocent in hand, and, irritated by the injury you inflict, deigns to raise up him whom you wish to lower, and will punish you to the full extent of your crime. If God usually punishes those who rejoice at the misfortunes of their enemies, how much more will He punish those who, excited by envy, seek to do an injury to those who have never injured them?” – Saint John Chrysostom.
“To commit a murder, besides the not having the person in your power, there are many measures and precautions to take. A favorable opportunity must be waited for, and a place must be selected before we can put so damnable a design into execution. More than this, the pistols may miss fire, blows may not be sufficient, and all wounds are not mortal. But to deprive a man of his reputation and honor, one word is sufficient. By finding out the most sensitive part of his honor, you may tarnish his reputation by telling it to all who know him, and easily take away his character for honor and integrity. To do this, however, no time is required, for scarcely have you complacently cherished the wish to calumniate him, than the sin is effected.” – Saint John Chrysostom.
“I beseech you, my brothers, to be ever on your guard against the habit of swearing and blaspheming. If a slave dare to pronounce the name of his master, he does it but seldom, and then only with respect; therefore is it not a shocking impiety to speak with contempt and irreverence of the name of the Master of angels and seraphim? People handle the book of the Gospel with a religious fear, and then only with clean hands, and yet your rash tongue would inconsiderately profane the name of the Divine Author of the Gospel. Would you wish to know with what respect, fear, and wonder the choirs of the angels pronounce the adorable name? Listen to the prophet Isaiah: ” I saw,” says Isaiah, “the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated; upon it stood the seraphim, who cried one to another and said, Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of His glory.” See with what terror they are seized, even while they praise and glorify Him. As for you, my brethren, you know how cold and indifferent are the prayers you say, and you know how frequently you blaspheme a name so majestic, so sacred, and how you try to make excuses for the bad habit you have contracted. It is easy, yes, I say, it is easy, with a little care, attention, and reflection, to leave off this vicious habit. Since we have fallen, my brethren, into this sin of blasphemy, I conjure you, in the name of our Lord, to rebuke openly these blasphemers. When you meet with such who publicly sin in this respect, correct them by word of mouth, and, if necessary, by your strong arm. Let these shameless swearers be covered with confusion. You could not employ your hand to a holier work. And if you are given into custody, go boldly before the magistrate, and say in your defense that you have avenged a blasphemy. For if a person is punished for speaking contemptuously of a prince, is it not reasonable to suppose that a person who speaks irreverently of God should be sentenced to a severer punishment? It is a public crime, a common injury which all the world ought to condemn. Let the Jews and infidels see that our magistrates are Christians, and that they will not allow those to go unpunished who insult and outrage their Master. Do you remember that it was a false oath that overturned the houses, temples, and walls of Jerusalem, and from a superb city it became a mass of ruins? Neither the sacred vessels nor the sanctuary could stay the vengeance of a God justly angered against a violater of His word. Sedecias did not receive a more favored treatment than Jerusalem. Flight did not save him from his enemies. This prince, escaping secretly, was pursued and taken by the Assyrians, who led him to their king. The king, after asking him the reason of his perfidy, not only caused his children to be killed, but deprived him of his sight, and sent him back to Babylon, loaded with iron chains. Would you know the reason why? It was that the barbarians and Jews who inhabited the country adjoining Persia should know, by this terrible example, that the breach of an oath is punishable.” – Saint John Chrysostom, from the Seventh Homily.
“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefor. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.” -The Paschal (Easter) Sermon of St. John Chrysostom
O my all-merciful God and Lord, Jesus Christ, full of pity:
Through Your great love You came down
and became incarnate in order to save everyone.
O Savior, I ask You to save me by Your grace!
If You save anyone because of their works,
that would not be grace but only reward of duty,
but You are compassionate and full of mercy!
You said, O my Christ,
“Whoever believes in Me shall live and never die.”
If then, faith in You saves the lost, then save me,
O my God and Creator, for I believe.
Let faith and not my unworthy works be counted to me, O my God,
for You will find no works which could account me righteous.
O Lord, from now on let me love You as intensely as I have loved sin,
and work for You as hard as I once worked for the evil one.
I promise that I will work to do Your will,
my Lord and God, Jesus Christ, all the days of my life and forever more. -St John Chrysostom
Troparion to St. John (Tone 8)
“Grace like a flame shining forth from thy mouth has illumined the universe, and disclosed to the world treasures of poverty and shown us the height of humility. And as by thine own words thou teachest us, Father John Chrysostom, so intercede with the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls.”
“Prayer is the place of refuge for every worry, a foundation for cheerfulness, a source of constant happiness, a protection against sadness.” -St. John Chrysostom
“All seek joy, but it is not found on earth.” -St. John Chrysostom
“Mercy imitates God and disappoints Satan.” -St. John Chrysostom
“God asks little, but He gives much.” –St. John Chrysostom
“What the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world.” -St. John Chrysostom
“And though every day a man lives may rightly be a day of repentance, yet is it in these days more becoming, more appropriate, to confess our sins, to fast, and to give alms to the poor; since in these days you may wash clean the sins of the whole year.” -St. John Chrysostom
Prayer to Saint John Chrysostom
Dear Saint John, your oratorical gifts inspired thousands and earned you the name “golden-mouthed.” Continue to inspire Christians through your writings and grant us a rebirth of Christian preaching for the spiritual renewal of the Church. Obtain from God preachers like yourself who, animated by the Holy Spirit, deserve to be called other Christs and forcefully preach the Good News. Amen.
The Benedictines and Carmelites in some places in the USA, and of course in England and France, liturgically remember the September Martyrs, also called the Paris Martyrs; you will also see the memorial listed as “Blessed John du Lau and companions” after the Archbishop of Arles, the highest ranking prelate among the 191 martyrs. The Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook Abbey are connected with the Carmelite nuns and retain some of the relics. Historians tells us that about 1500 clergy and religious were killed in 1792. And this act of martyrdom inspired the writing of Georeges Bernanos’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” and the famous opera of Francis Poulenc, by the same name.
The French “virtue” of liberty was not applied to the Church. In fact, quite the opposite. Just a few years after the French Revolution there was a purge of high and low clergy, religious and laity. The killing of the clerics happened because the republican government seized control of the Church, a matter that was (and, remains so today) unacceptable to Catholic ecclesiology. As the state has its duty and responsibility for civic order and leadership, the Church’s mandate is found in sacred Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium and not in positive law; in short all things pertaining to the salvation of souls. Matters of state are not the same for the Church and vice versa unless these matters concern the moral law. This, however, was not the reigning ideology. The Republicans passed legislation that rejected the authority of the Church and it wanted the bishops and priests to uphold the new laws giving the state control over the Church. Something similar had with the Oath of Supremacy in England. Clergyman and religious weren’t the only one to offer their lives as a gift to the Lord. the laity lost their lives too, aristocrats and peasant alike. Refusing to take the oath got you the label: “non-jurors.”
Some of the 191 were killed in cold blood, others were asked a question and depending on how they answered determined if they lived or died. No mental reservation was kept when it came to following the wisdom of the Church or the wisdom of man.
One observer noted that common among those put to death was that all faced death in a happy manner as one who would’ve gone to a wedding. Indeed, the wedding feast the martyrs were going to was the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (see the Book of Revelation).
In 1790, the revolutionary government of France enacted a law denying Papal authority over the Church in France. The French clergy were required to swear an oath to uphold this law and submit to the Republic,the penalty for refusing to take the oath was deportation. Many priests and religious took the oath but a sizable minority opposed it. The revolutionary leaders’ primary target was the aristocracy, but by 1792, their attention turned to the Church, especially the non-jurors within it. In August, in the name of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, those who had refused the oath were rounded up and imprisoned in Parisian monasteries, emptied for that purpose.
Blessed John du Lau, archbishop of Arles, was born on October 30, 1738 at the Château de la Côte at Biras in the Dordogne, in the diocese of Périgueux, of an aristocratic family which had fed many members into the higher ranks of the clergy. His father was Armand du Lau, seigneur de La Coste and his mother Françoise de Salleton. Refusing to take the oath to the civil constitution, he had been brought to Paris and cast into the prison of the Cannes, formerly a Carmelite monastery, awaiting deportation, as were the rest.
Blessed Pierre-Louis de la Rochefoucauld, Bishop of Saintes and a vigorous antagonist of Jansenism, and his brother, Francois-Joseph de la Rochefoucauld, Bishop of Beauvais, were sons of Jean de La Rochefoucauld, lord of Maumont, Magnac, and other places, knight of the military orders of Notre-Dame du Mont-Carmel and St-Lazarre de Jérusalem, and Marguerite des Escots. Both brothers were imprisoned.
In September “Vigilance Committees” were set up and mobs sent to the make-shift prisons. On 2nd September a season of bloodshed and slaughter began. The inmates were cut-down in cold blood. All of the prisoners, even the old and disabled, were put to the sword. The executions at the old Carmelite monastery in Paris were recorded.
Among the martyrs was Blessed Alexander Lenfant, a Jesuit. Just a few minutes before he died, he had been hearing the confession of a fellow priest. Both were killed moments later. The rioters then went to the Carmelite church which was also being used as a prison.
The mob called out, “Archbishop of Arles!” Archbishop John du Lau of Arles (Jean-Marie du Lau d’Alleman) was praying in the chapel. When summoned, he came out and he said, “I am he whom you seek.” Thereupon, they cracked his skull, stabbed him and trampled him underfoot. Then the leader set up a “tribunal” before which the imprisoned were herded and commanded to take the oath. All refused; so, as they passed down the stairway, they were hacked to pieces by the murderers.
The bishop of Beauvais had earlier been wounded in the leg. When summoned, he answered, “I do not refuse to die with the others, but I cannot walk. I beg you to have the kindness to carry me where you wish me to go.” For a moment, his courtesy silenced the assassins. But, when he, too, refused the oath, he was killed like the rest.
On September 3, the same mob went to the Lazarist (Vincentian) seminary. It was also a temporary prison, with ninety priests and religious. Only four escaped death. According to Nicolas-Edme Restif de la Bretonne, “The number of active killers who took part in the September massacres was only about one hundred and fifty. The rest of Paris looked on in fear or approval, or stayed behind closed shutters.”
Earl Gower, a British diplomat, wrote in his dispatches: “These unfortunate people fell victims to the fury of the enraged populace and were massacred with circumstances of barbarity too shocking to describe. The mob went afterwards to the prison of the Abbaye, and having demanded of the jailors a list of the prisoners they put aside such as were confined only for debt, and pulled to pieces most of the others. The same cruelties were committed during the night and continue this morning in all the other prisons of the town. When they have satiated their vengeance, which is principally directed against the refractory Priests,… it is to be hoped the tumult will subside, but as the multitude are perfectly masters, everything is to be dreaded.”
The massacres continued for most of the year. By the end of September over 200 clergy had been killed and by the end of 1792 the total was 1500. One-hundred and ninety-one September martyrs were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1926. Long after the names of their blood-thirsty executioners have been forgotten, their heroism in the defense of the Papacy and the Faith will be remembered:
Blessed Jean-Marie du Lau d’Alleman, Archbishop of Arles
Blessed Ambroise-Augustin Chevreux
Blessed Andé Angar
Blessed André Grasset de Saint-Sauveur
Blessed André-Abel Alricy
Blessed Anne-Alexandre-Charles-Marie Lanfant
Blessed Antoine-Charles-Octavien du Bouzet
Blessed Antoine-Mathieu-Augustin Nogier
Blessed Apollinaris of Posat
Blessed Armand de Foucauld de Pontbriand
Blessed Armand-Anne-Auguste-Antonin-Sicaire Chapt de Rastignac
Blessed August-Dénis Nezel
Blessed Bernard-François de Cucsac
Blessed Bertrand-Antoine de Caupenne
Blessed Charles Carnus
Blessed Charles-François le Gué
Blessed Charles-Jéremie Bérauld du Pérou
Blessed Charles-Louis Hurtrel
Blessed Charles-Regis-Mathieu de la Calmette de Valfons (Count of Valfons)
Blessed Charles-Victor Véret
Blessed Claude Bochot
Blessed Claude Cayx-Dumas
Blessed Claude Chaudet
Blessed Claude Colin
Blessed Claude Fontaine
Blessed Claude Ponse
Blessed Claude Rousseau
Blessed Claude-Antoine-Raoul Laporte
Blessed Claude-François Gagnières des Granges
Blessed Apollinaris of Posat
Blessed Claude-Louis Marmotant de Savigny
Blessed Claude-Silvain-Raphaël Mayneaud de Bizefranc
Blessed Daniel-Louis André Des Pommerayes
Blessed Denis-Claude Duval
Blessed Éloy Herque du Roule
Blessed Étienne-François-Dieudonné de Ravinel
Blessed Étienne-Michel Gillet
Blessed Eustache Félix
Blessed François Balmain
Blessed François Dardan
Blessed François Dumasrambaud de Calandelle
Blessed François Lefranc
Blessed François Varheilhe-Duteil
Blessed François-César Londiveau
Blessed François-Hyacinthe lé Livec de Trésurin
Blessed François-Joseph de la Rochefoucald-Maumont, Bishop of Beauvais
Blessed François-Joseph Monnier
Blessed François-Joseph Pey
Blessed François-Louis Hébert
Blessed François-Louis Méallet de Fargues
Blessed François-Urbain Salins de Niart
Blessed Gabriel Desprez de Roche
Blessed Gaspard-Claude Maignien
Blessed Georges Girault
Blessed Georges-Jérôme Giroust
Blessed Gilbert-Jean Fautrel
Blessed Gilles-Louis-Symphorien Lanchon
Blessed Guillaume-Antoine Delfaut
Blessed Guillaume-Nicolas-Louis Leclerq (Salomon), a lay Brother
Blessed Henri-August Luzeau de la Mulonnière
Blessed Henri-Hippolyte Ermès
Blessed Henri-Jean Milet
Blessed Jacques de la Lande
Blessed Jacques Dufour
Blessed Jacques Friteyre-Durvé
Blessed Jacques-Alexandre Menuret
Blessed Jacques-Augustin Robert de Lézardières
Blessed Jacques-Étienne-Philippe Hourrier
Blessed Jacques-François de Lubersac
Blessed Jacques-Gabriel Galais
Blessed Jacques-Jean Lemeunier
Blessed Jacques-Joseph Le jardinier desLandes
Blessed Jacques-Jules Bonnaud
Blessed Jacques-Léonor Rabé
Blessed Jacques-Louis Schmid
Blessed Jean Charton de Millou
Blessed Jean Goizet
Blessed Jean Lacan
Blessed Jean Lemaître
Blessed Jean-André Capeau
Blessed Jean-Antoine Guilleminet
Blessed Jean-Antoine Savine
Blessed Jean-Antoine Seconds
Blessed Jean-Antoine-Barnabé Séguin
Blessed Jean-Antoine-Hyacinthe Boucharenc de Chaumeils
Blessed Jean-Antoine-Joseph de Villette
Blessed Jean-Baptiste Bottex
Blessed Jean-Baptiste Jannin
Blessed Jean-Baptiste Nativelle
Blessed Jean-Baptiste-Claude Aubert
Blessed Jean-Baptiste-Marie Tessier
Blessed Jean-Baptiste-Michel Pontus
Blessed Jean-Charles Caron
Blessed Jean-Charles Legrand
Blessed Jean-Charles-Marie Bernard du Cornillet
Blessed Jean-François Bonnel de Pradal
Blessed Jean-François Bousquet
Blessed Jean-François Burté
Blessed Jean-François-Marie Benoît-Vourlat
Blessed Jean-Henri Gruyer
Blessed Jean-Henri-Louis-Michel Samson
Blessed Jean-Joseph de Lavèze-Bellay
Blessed Jean-Joseph Rateau
Blessed Jean-Louis Guyard de Saint-Clair
Blessed Jean-Michel Philippot
Blessed Jean-Philippe Marchand
Blessed Jean-Pierre Bangue
Blessed Jean-Pierre Duval
Blessed Jean-Pierre Le Laisant
Blessed Jean-Pierre Simon
Blessed Jean-Robert Quéneau
Blessed Jean-Thomas Leroy
Blessed Joseph Bécavin
Blessed Joseph Falcoz
Blessed Joseph-Louis Oviefre
Blessed Joseph-Marie Gros
Blessed Joseph-Thomas Pazery de Thorame
Blessed Jules-Honoré-Cyprien Pazery de Thorame
Blessed Julien le Laisant
Blessed Julien Poulain Delaunay
Blessed Julien-François Hédouin
Blessed Louis Barreau de La Touche
Blessed Louis le Danois
Blessed Louis Longuet
Blessed Louis Mauduit
Blessed Louis-Alexis-Mathias Boubert
Blessed Louis-Benjamin Hurtrel
Blessed Louis-François Rigot
Blessed Louis-François-André Barret
Blessed Louis-Jean-Mathieu Lanier
Blessed Louis-Joseph François
Blessed Louis-Laurent Gaultier
Blessed Louis-Remi Benoist
Blessed Louis-Remi-Nicolas Benoist
>Blessed Loup Thomas-Bonnotte
Blessed Marc-Louis Royer
Blessed Marie-François Mouffle
Blessed Martin-François-Alexis Loublier
Blessed Mathurin-Nicolas de la VilleCrohain le Bous de Villeneuve
Blessed Mathurin-Victoir Deruelle
Blessed Michel Leber
Blessed Michel-André-Sylvestre Binard
Blessed Michel-François de laGardette
Blessed Nicolas Bize
Blessed Nicolas Clairet
Blessed Nicolas Colin
Blessed Nicolas Gaudreau
Blessed Nicolas-Claude Roussel
Blessed Nicolas-Marie Verron
Blessed Olivier Lefebvre
Blessed Philibert Fougères
Blessed Pierre Bonzé
Blessed Pierre Brisquet
Blessed Pierre Brisse
Blessed Pierre Gauguin
Blessed Pierre Landry
Blessed Pierre Ploquin
Blessed Pierre Saint-James
Blessed Pierre-Claude Pottier
Blessed Pierre-Florent Leclercq
Blessed Pierre-François Hénocq
Blessed Pierre-François Pazery de Thorames
Blessed Pierre-Jacques de Turmenyes
Blessed Pierre-Jacques-Marie Vitalis
Blessed Pierre-Jean Garrigues
Blessed Pierre-Louis de la Rochefoucauld-Bayers, Bishop of Saintes
Blessed Pierre-Louis Gervais
Blessed Pierre-Louis Joret
Blessed Pierre-Louis-Joseph Verrier
Blessed Pierre-Michel Guérin
Blessed Pierre-Michel Guérin du Rocher
Blessed Pierre-Nicolas Psalmon
Blessed Pierre-Paul Balzac
Blessed Pierre-Robert Regnet
Blessed René Nativelle
Blessed René-Joseph Urvoy
Blessed René-Julien Massey
Blessed René-Marie Andrieux
Blessed René-Nicolas Poret
Blessed Robert le Bis
Blessed Robert-François Guérin du Rocher
Blessed Saintin Huré
Blessed Sébastien Desbrielles
Blessed Thomas-Jean Montsaint
Blessed Thomas-Nicolas Dubray
Blessed Thomas-René Dubuisson
Blessed Urbain Lefebvre
Blessed Vincent Abraham
Blessed Vincent-Joseph le Rousseau de Rosencoat
Blessed Yves-André Guillon de Keranrun
Blessed Yves-Jean-Pierre Rey de Kervisic
-The Massacre at the Abbaye Prison near St. Germain des Pres, engraved by Reinier Vinkeles and Daniel Vrydag
-The Massacre of the Priests in September 1792 by H. de la Charlerie
All you Holy Martyrs of God, pray for us!
Queen of Martyrs, pray for us!
“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.
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.
“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
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.
I personally hold the two most powerful and awesome forces in the universe are: 1) God, and 2) a mother’s love.
I often, from experience, have to question my ordering of these two dramatic forces. Something happens when a woman, even modern day women, have children.
I don’t know if it’s chemical or nature or what, but something so subtle, yet so powerful emerges. If you haven’t witnessed as an adult, as a husband, it is difficult to explain.
Please don’t even try and tell me men and women are the same. I’ll try not to laugh in your face. I have benefited from it as a child, as a youth, as an adult, as a father, tremendously. I fear it. I respect it, wholly/holy? I stay out of it’s way. I watch my tongue. I obey its commands. I cooperate with it, and hopefully, grace. I do as I am told. “I came to serve, and not to be served.” -Mt 20:28/Mk 10:45, I repeat to myself when my marital and parental obligations become, rarely, inconvenient. If the Son of the Living God can do this, I certainly, and all of us, can.
Given these two forces, Augustine and his father, Patricius, were finished from the beginning. So much for male dominance, as if even one would wish for such a thing. Women make, have always made, my world infinitely better. Thank you. My practical advice to Augustine & Patricius, and to all men? Surrender, quickly, and get on with it.
The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Our knowledge of Monica comes almost entirely from the writings of her much-loved son, the great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo. His relationship with his mother was a close one, especially during Monica’s last years. In Book IX of St. Augustine’s “Confessions”, he gives us many details of her life, and expresses his gratitude for her devotion in moving terms. She was born of a well-off Christian family in Tagaste in Nortern Africa, also known as the Numidian city of Thagaste, on whose ruins modern Souk Ahras, along the Mediterranean in the modern day northeastern corner of Algeria, exist. Souk is an Arabic word meaning “marketplace”. I have visited souks in the Middle East. Much fun.
We are given one episode of her childhood which suggests a possible origin for her firmness of will. She was sometimes sent down to the cellar to draw wine for the family, and fell into the habit of taking secret sips. She developed such a passion for wine that before long she was drinking great draughts of it whenever opportunity offered. One day a family slave who had been spying on the little girl denounced her as a wine-bibber, and Monica, covered with shame, gave up the habit. Soon afterwards she was baptized, and thenceforth seems to have led a life of irreproachable virtue. She is patroness of alcoholics, among other causes.
Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism.
Monica and Patricius had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine, is the most famous. Navigius, who seems to have been an exemplary son, Augustine, and Perpetua, a daughter, who became a religious. Augustine, the more brilliant of the sons, was sent to Carthage, so that he might develop his talents and become a man of culture. He took to learning naturally but he also spent time in youthful carousing. This caused his mother great anguish, and when he returned to Tagaste, she disapproved so strongly both of his loose living and of his espousal of the popular heresy of Manichaeism that she refused at first to allow him to live at home. She relented only after having seen a vision. One day as she was weeping over his behavior, a figure appeared and asked her the cause of her grief. She answered, and a voice issued from the mysterious figure, telling her to dry her tears; then she heard the words, “Your son is with you.” Monica related this story to Augustine, and he replied that they might easily be together if she gave up her faith, for that was the main obstacle keeping them apart. Quickly she retorted, “He did not say I was with you: he said that you were with me.” Augustine was impressed by the quick answer and never forgot it. Although his conversion was not to take place for nine long years, Monica did not lose faith. She continually fasted, prayed, and wept on his behalf. She implored the local bishop for help in winning him over, and he counseled her to be patient, saying, “God’s time will come.” Monica persisted in importuning him, and the bishop uttered the words which have often been quoted: “Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.”
When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric, and bring along his mistress and their son, Adeodatus. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan.
In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her. Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.
She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end.
“The day was now approaching when my mother Monica would depart from this life; you know that day, Lord, though we did not. She and I happened to be standing by ourselves at a window that overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house. At the time we were in Ostia on the Tiber. And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, “forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead..” We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth – for you are the Truth – what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man.” We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life. That was the substance of our talk, though not the exact words. But you know, O Lord, that in the course of our conversation that day, the world and its pleasures lost all their attraction for us. My mother said, “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be His servant. So what am I doing here?” I do not really remember how I answered her. Shortly, within five days or thereabouts, she fell sick with a fever. Then one day during the course of her illness she became unconscious and for a while she was unaware of her surroundings. My brother and I rushed to her side, but she regained consciousness quickly. She looked at us as we stood there and asked in a puzzled voice: “Where was I?” We were overwhelmed with grief, but she held her gaze steadily upon us, and spoke further: “Here you shall bury your mother.” I remained silent as I held back my tears. However, my brother haltingly expressed his hope that she might not die in a strange country but in her own land, since her end would be happier there. When she heard this, her face was filled with anxiety, and she reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts. Then she looked at me and spoke: “Look what he is saying.” Thereupon she said to both of us, “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” Once our mother had expressed this desire as best she could, she fell silent as the pain of her illness increased.” – from the Confessions of Saint Augustine
Today, with Internet searches, e-mail shopping and instant credit, we have little patience for things that take time. Likewise, we want instant answers to our prayers. Monica is a model of patience. Her long years of prayer, coupled with a strong, well-disciplined character, finally led to the conversion of her hot-tempered husband, her cantankerous mother-in-law and her brilliant but wayward son, Augustine.
When Monica moved from North Africa to Milan, she found religious practices new to her and also that some of her former customs, such as a Saturday fast, were not common there. She asked St. Ambrose which customs she should follow. His classic reply was: “When I am here, I do not fast on Saturday, but I fast when I am in Rome; do the same and always follow the custom and discipline of the Church as it is observed in the particular locality in which you find yourself.”
“Nothing is far from God.” – Saint Monica
Exemplary Mother of the great Augustine,
you perseveringly pursued your wayward son
not with wild threats but with prayerful cries to heaven.
Intercede for all mothers
in our day so that they may learn
to draw their children to God.
Teach them how to remain close
to their children,
even the prodigal sons and daughters
who have sadly gone astray. Amen.
Dear St. Monica,
troubled wife and mother,
many sorrows pierced your heart during your lifetime.
Yet, you never despaired or lost faith.
With confidence, persistence, and profound faith,
you prayed daily for the conversion
of your beloved husband, Patricius,
and your beloved son, Augustine;
your prayers were answered.
Grant me that same fortitude, patience,
and trust in the Lord.
Intercede for me, dear St. Monica,
that God may favorably hear my plea for
(Mention your intention here.)
and grant me the grace to accept His Will in all things,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
Jane Frances was wife, mother, nun and founder of a religious community. Her mother died when Jane was 18 months old, and her father, head of parliament at Dijon, France, became the main influence on her education. He allowed his children to discuss any matter, even the most serious and adult topics of the day, including religious matters. He made erudite discussion fun, and instilled in Jane a deep devotion. A friend said of her, “Even stupid jokes were funny when she told them!”
Jane developed into a woman of beauty and refinement, lively and cheerful in temperament. At 21 she married Christophe, Baron de Chantal, by whom she had six children, three of whom died in infancy. The Baron also had enormous debts. At her castle she restored the custom of daily Mass, and was seriously engaged in various charitable works. Jane took charge of the estate; personally organizing and supervising every detail of the estate, a method which not only brought the finances under control but won her employees’ hearts as well.
Despite the early financial worries, she and her husband shared “one heart and one soul.” They were devoted to each other and to their children. When reproached for her extremely sober manner of dressing, her reply was: “The eyes which I must please are a hundred miles from here”, referring to Christophe when he was at court or with the army.
One way Jane shared her blessings was by giving bread and soup personally to the poor who came to her door. Often people who had just received food from her would pretend to leave, go around the house and get back in line for more. When asked why she let these people get away with this, Jane said, “What if God turned me away when I came back to him again and again with the same request?”
Christophe was killed in a hunting accident after seven years of marriage; he died in Jane’s arms when she was 28. Jane sank into deep dejection for four months at her family home. Before he died, her husband forgave the man who shot him, saying to the man, “Don’t commit the sin of hating yourself when you have done nothing wrong.” Heartbroken, Jane, however, had to struggle with forgiveness for a long time. At first she tried just greeting him on the street. When she was able to do that, she invited him to her house. Finally she was able to forgive the man so completely that she even became godmother to his child. Jane’s father-in-law, however, threatened to disinherit her children if she did not return to his home. He was then 75, vain, fierce and extravagant. Jane Frances managed to remain cheerful in spite of him and his insolent housekeeper.
When she was 32, she met St. Francis de Sales (October 24), who became her spiritual director, softening some of the severities imposed by her former director. She wanted to become a nun but he persuaded her to defer this decision. She took a vow to remain unmarried and to obey her director. St Francis said of Jane: “In Madame de Chantal, I have found the perfect woman, whom Solomon had difficulty finding in Jerusalem”.
After three years Francis told her of his plan to found an institute of women which would be a haven for those whose health, age or other considerations barred them from entering the already established communities. There would be no cloister, and they would be free to undertake spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They were primarily intended to exemplify the virtues of Mary at the Visitation (hence their name, the Visitation nuns): humility and meekness.
The usual opposition to women in active ministry arose and Francis de Sales was obliged to make it a cloistered community following the Rule of St. Augustine. Francis wrote his famous Treatise on the Love of God for them. The congregation (three women, Jane and here two daughters) began when Jane Frances was 38 in 1610.
After she had secured the future for her still living minor children, she intended to fulfill her spiritual director’s intentions. Her fourteen year old son, Celse-Bénigne, whom she put in the care of her father and brother, tried to block her way and her new mission, literally, by lying across the threshold through which she would need to pass. Mme de Chantal stopped, overcome: “Can the tears of a child shake her resolution?” said a holy and learned priest, the tutor of Celse-Bénigne. “Oh! no”, replied the saint, “but after all I am a mother!” And she stepped over the child’s body.
She underwent great sufferings: Francis de Sales died; her son was killed; a plague ravaged France; her daughter-in-law and son-in-law died. She encouraged the local authorities to make great efforts for the victims of the plague and she put all her convent’s resources at the disposal of the sick. When people criticized her, she said, “What do you want me to do? I like sick people myself; I’m on their side.”
Still a devoted mother, she was constantly concerned about the materialistic ways of one of her daughters. Her daughter finally asked her for spiritual direction as did many others, including an ambassador and her brother, an archbishop. Her advice always reflected her very gentle and loving approach to spirituality:
“Should you fall even fifty times a day, never on any account should that surprise or worry you. Instead, ever so gently set your heart back in the right direction and practice the opposite virtue, all the time speaking words of love and trust to our Lord after you have committed a thousand faults, as much as if you had committed only one. Once we have humbled ourselves for the faults God allows us to become aware of in ourselves, we must forget them and go forward.”
During a part of her religious life, she had to undergo great trials of the spirit: interior anguish, darkness and spiritual dryness. She died while on a visitation of convents of the community.
It may strike some as unusual that a saint should be subject to spiritual dryness, darkness, interior anguish. We tend to think that such things are the usual condition of “ordinary” sinful people. Some of our lack of spiritual liveliness may indeed be our fault. But the life of faith is still one that is lived in trust, and sometimes the darkness is so great that trust is pressed to its limit.
We have been told the secret of happiness is finding: finding yourself, finding love, finding the right job. Jane believed the secret of happiness was in “losing,” that we should “throw ourselves into God as a little drop of water into the sea, and lose ourselves indeed in the Ocean of the divine goodness.” She advised a man who wrote to her about all the afflictions he suffered “to lose all these things in God. These words produced such an effect in the soul, that he wrote me that he was wholly astonished, and ravished with joy.” There is no past, no future, no here or there. There is only the infinite ocean of God.
St. Vincent de Paul (September 27) said of Jane Frances: “She was full of faith, yet all her life had been tormented by thoughts against it. While apparently enjoying the peace and easiness of mind of souls who have reached a high state of virtue, she suffered such interior trials that she often told me her mind was so filled with all sorts of temptations and abominations that she had to strive not to look within herself…But for all that suffering her face never lost its serenity, nor did she once relax in the fidelity God asked of her. And so I regard her as one of the holiest souls I have ever met on this earth”.
“Hold your eyes on God and leave the doing to Him. That is all the doing you have to worry about.” – Saint Jane Frances de Chantal
One day Saint Jane spoke the following eloquent words, which listeners took down exactly as spoken: “My dear daughters, many of our holy fathers in the faith, men who were pillars of the Church, did not die martyrs. Why do you think this was? Each one present offered an answer; then their mother continued. “Well, I myself think it was because there is another martyrdom: the martyrdom of love. Here God keeps His servants and handmaids in this present life to that they may labor for Him, and He makes of them both martyrs and confessors. I know,” she added, “that the Daughters of the Visitation are meant to be martyrs of this kind and that,by the favor of God, some of them, more fortunate than others in that their desire has been granted, will actually suffer such a martyrdom.” One sister asked what form this martyrdom took. The saint answered: “Yield yourself fully to God, and you will find out! Divine love takes its sword to the hidden recesses of our inmost soul and divides us from ourselves. I know one person whom love cut off from all that was dearest to her, just as completely and effectively as if a tyrant’s blade had severed spirit from body.” We realized that she was speaking of herself. When another sister asked how long the martyrdom would continue, the saint replied: “From the moment when we commit ourselves unreservedly to God, until our last breath. I am speaking, of course, of great-souled individuals who keep nothing back for themselves, but instead are faithful in love. Our Lord does not intend this martyrdom for those who are weak in love and perseverance. Such people He lets continue on their mediocre way, so that they will not be lost to Him; He never does violence to our free will.” Finally, the saint was asked whether this martyrdom of love could be put on the same level as martyrdom of the body. She answered: “We should not worry about equality. I do think, however, that the martyrdom of love cannot be relegated to a second place, for ‘love is as strong as death.’ For the martyrs of love suffer infinitely more in remaining in this life so as to serve God, than if they died a thousand times over in testimony to their faith and love and fidelity.” – from the memoirs of the secretary of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. Love is more than a feeling. Love is more powerful than sin and death.
“Fidelity toward God consists in being perfectly resigned to His holy will, in enduring everything that His goodness allows in our lives, and in carrying out all our duties, especially that of prayer, with love and for love. In prayer we must converse very familiarly with our Lord, concerning our little needs, telling Him what they are, and remaining submissive to anything He may wish to do with us. We should go to prayer with deep humility and an awareness of our nothingness. We must invoke the help of the Holy Spirit and that of our good angel, and then remain still in God‘s presence, full of faith that He is more in us than we are in ourselves. There is no danger if our prayer is without words or reflection because the good success of prayer depends neither on words nor on study. It depends upon the simple raising of our minds to God, and the more simple and stripped of feeling it is, the surer it is. We must never dwell on our sins during prayer. Regarding our offenses, a simple humbling of our soul before God, without a thought of this offense or that, is enough…such thoughts act as distractions. – Saint Jeanne de Chantal, from Wings to the Lord.
An Act of Abandonment:
-by Saint Jane Frances De Chantal
O sovereign goodness of the sovereign Providence of my God!
I abandon myself forever to Thy arms.
Whether gentle or severe,
lead me henceforth whither Thou wilt;
I will not regard the way through which Thou wilt have me pass,
but keep my eyes fixed upon Thee,
my God, who guidest me.
My soul finds no rest without the arms
and the bosom of this heavenly Providence,
my true Mother, my strength and my rampart.
Therefore I resolve with Thy Divine assistance,
O my Saviour,
to follow Thy desires and Thy ordinances,
without regarding or examining why Thou dost this rather than that;
but I will blindly follow Thee
according to Thy Divine will,
without seeking my own inclinations.
Hence I am determined to leave all to Thee,
taking no part therein save by keeping myself in peace in Thy arms,
desiring nothing except as Thou incitest me to desire,
to will, to wish.
I offer Thee this desire, O my God,
beseeching Thee to bless it;
I undertake all it includes,
relying on Thy goodness,
liberality, and mercy,
with entire confidence in Thee,
distrust of myself,
and knowledge of my infinite misery and infirmity.
Lord, you chose Saint Jane Frances to serve You
in marriage, family and in religious life.
By her prayers, help us to be faithful
in our vocation,
and always to be the light of the world.
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. Amen.
Novena Prayer to St Jane Frances de Chantal
0 glorious saint, blessed Jane Frances,
by fervent prayer, attention to the Divine Presence,
and purity of intention,
you attained on earth an intimate union with God.
Be now our advocate, our mother,
our guide in the path of virtue and perfection.
Plead our cause near Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
to whom you were so tenderly devoted,
and whose holy virtues you so closely imitated.
Obtain for us, O amiable and compassionate Saint,
the virtues you deem most necessary for us;
an ardent love of Jesus in the most holy Sacrament,
a tender and filial confidence in His Blessed Mother,
and like you, a constant remembrance
of His sacred Passion and death.
Obtain also, we pray,
that our particular intention in this novena
may be granted.
V.Pray for us, O holy St. Jane Frances,
R. That we may be made worthy
of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray:
0 almighty and merciful God,
who granted to blessed St. Jane Frances,
so inflamed with love of You,
a wonderful degree of fortitude
through all the paths of life,
and through her, were pleased to adorn Your church
with a new religious Order,
grant by her merits and prayers that we,
who sensible of our weakness
confide in Your strength,
may overcome all adversity with the help
of Your heavenly grace,
through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
“The best method of prayer is not to have one.” – St. Jane Frances de Chantal. I concur, whole heartedly. Those unfamiliar w/God benefit most from methods/specific directions. Those more familiar are just in the constant presence. There is no “tele”, Greek for ‘at a distance’, in their communication with God. He is immediate, always present. Or, as in adoration, “I look at Him. He looks at me.” Or, when they set up young Dominican student brothers to give direction on prayer to more senior, male or female, religious, and the senior religious simply say, “I sit on the bench outside in nature, and listen. He speaks to my heart.” Whom is really giving direction to whom? Exactly. The heart is always the correct organ to use when listening to God. I have always found what God has to say is infinitely more interesting than anything I might add. So, I shut up. And, listen.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength…Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” -1 Cor 1:25, 27-29.
Often, in church, I see old men in the back of church or some nondescript pew clinging to their Rosary and constantly praying in silence. Constantly. Wisdom in action. I want to grow up to be like them. Ps 84:11a
Ceferino Giménez Malla was born into a gypsy family of the Romani (a nomadic people in Spain). Born at Benevent de Lérida. The family moved consistently throughout his childhood, generally supporting themselves through selling baskets they weaved. While he never received formal education, and was possibly illiterate, Ceferino’s intelligence, wisdom, and sound judgment was obvious to all he encountered. He was valued by his community as a peacemaker and wise arbiter, settling disputes and disagreements. He also demonstrated a consistent faith, practicing charitable works, modeling the love and patience of Christ. His nickname was “El Pele” = “strong/brave one”. He loved nature.
In accordance with custom and tradition, Ceferino married at a young age in a “gypsy” ceremony. In order to normalize his marriage in the eyes of the Church, he was baptized as an adult, in 1912 married Teresa Jimenez Castro in a Catholic ceremony at age 51, and together with his wife continued the nomadic life. He worked as a horse trader, and was recognized by all for his honesty and fair practices and was financially quite successful at this business. The couple never had children, but took in a niece and assumed responsibility for raising her. Ceferino attended Mass every day, and received the Holy Eucharist as frequently as possible. On many days, Ceferino would gather the local children he encountered—gypsy and non-gypsy together—and teach them the Bible through stories and basic prayers – a catechist.
Ceferino’s wife died in 1922, and his niece married, leaving him in solitude. At this time, Ceferino grew in his contemplation and love of the Lord, and entered the Franciscan Order as a tertiary. He spent most evenings in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and eventually became a member of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out, there was much anti-Catholic sentiment, and many were being persecuted. Ceferino defended a priest who was being taken to prison and was being dragged through the streets of Barbastro, He was arrested and imprisoned alongside him. Asked by the soldiers if he had any weapons, he said, “Yes. Here it is.” And showed them his Rosary. While in prison, Ceferino clung to his Rosary, praying constantly. Offered freedom if he would renounce his faith and give up his Rosary, he declined and was eventually taken to a cemetery and executed by firing squad with other believers and priests. Even in death, he maintained his prayer, holding his Rosary aloft and proclaiming, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”). His body was buried in a common, unmarked grave. His body has never been found.
O God our Father, great and good,
through the light and power of Your Spirit
the gypsy Ceferino,
the proto-martyr of his people,
was united to the sufferings of Jesus.
We thank You that You have thus in Your love
honored all the traveling people of the world.
We pray that You will raise up holy missionaries
among these people and in the whole Church.
Help us to follow the example of this true believer
who loved You intensely and was a good Samaritan to others.