Mar 20 – St Jozef Bilczewski, (1860-1923), Archbishop of Leopoli, Lviv/Ukraine, “Good & Faithful Servant of the Lord”

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-Latin Cathedral, Lvov, Ukraine

Archbishop St JOSEPH BILCZEWSKI was born April 26, 1860 in Wilamowice near Kęty, in the present day Diocese of Bielsko Żywiec, then part of the Diocese of Krakow. Having finished elementary school at Wilamowic and Kęty, he attended high school at Wadowice receiving his diploma in 1880. On July 6, 1884 he was ordained a priest in Krakow by Cardinal Albino Dunajewski. In 1886 he received a Doctorate in Theology from the University of Vienna. Following advanced studies in Rome and Paris he passed the qualifying exam at the Jaghellonic University of Krakow.

The following year he became professor of Dogmatic Theology at the John Casimir University of Leopoli. He also served as Dean of Theology for a period of time prior to becoming Rector of the University. During his tenure at the University, he was appreciated as a professor by his students and also enjoyed the friendship and respect of his colleagues. He arduously dedicated himself to scientific work and, despite his young age, acquired notoriety as a learned man. His extraordinary intellectual and relational abilities were recognized by Francis Joseph, the Emperor of Austria, who presented Monsignor Joseph to the Holy Father as a candidate for the vacant Metropolitan See of Leopoli. The Holy Father, Leo XIII responded positively to the Emperor’s proposal and on December 17, 1900 he named the forty year old Monsignor Joseph Bilczewski, Archbishop of Leopoli of the Latin Rite.

Given the complex social, economic, ethnic and religious situation, care for the large diocese required of the Bishop a deep commitment and called for great moral effort, strong confidence in God, and a faith enlivened by a continual contact with God.

Archbishop Joseph Bilczewski became known for his abundant goodness of heart, understanding, humility, piety, commitment to hard work and pastoral zeal which sprung from his immense love for God and neighbor.

Upon taking possession of the Archdiocese of Leopoli he spelled out very clearly his pastoral plan which can be summed up in the words “totally sacrifice oneself for the Holy Church”. Among other things he pointed out the need for the development of devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament and frequent reception of Holy Communion.

A particular form of pastoral action of Archbishop Bilczewski were the pastoral letters and appeals addressed to the priests and the faithful of the Archdiocese. In them he spoke of the problems of faith and morals of the time as well as of the most pressing issues of the social sphere. He also explained devotion to the Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart in them and the importance of religious and moral formation of children and youth in the family and in school. He taught for the Church and for the Holy Father. Above all, he took great care to cultivate many holy priestly vocations. He saw the priest as first and foremost a teacher of faith and an instrument of Christ, a father for the rich as well as for the poor. Taking the place of Christ on Earth, the priest was to be the minister of the Sacraments and for this reason his whole heart had to be dedicated to the celebration of the Eucharist, in order to be able to nourish the people of God with the body of Christ.

He often exhorted the priests to adoration of the most Blessed Sacrament. In his pastoral letter devoted to the Eucharist he invited the priests to participate in the priestly associations: The Association for Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament and the Association of Aid to Poor Catholic Churches whose goal was to rejuvenate the zeal of the priests themselves. He also dedicated a great deal of care to the preparation of children and to full participation in the Mass, desiring that every Catechesis would lead children and youth to the Eucharist.

Archbishop Joseph Bilczewski promoted the construction of churches and chapels, schools and day-care centers. He developed teaching to help enable the growth in the instruction of the faithful. He materially and spiritually helped the more important works which were springing up in his Archdiocese. His holy life, filled with prayer, work and works of mercy led to his meriting great appreciation and respect on the part of those of various faiths, rites and nationalities present in the Archdiocese. No religious or nationalistic conflicts arose during the tenure of his pastoral work. He was a proponent of unity, harmony and peace.

On social issues he always stood on the side of the people and of the poor. He taught that the base of social life had to be justice made perfect by Christian love. During the First World War, when souls were overtaken with hate and a lack of appreciation of the other, he pointed out to the people the infinite love of God, capable of forgiving every type of sin and offense. He reminded them of the need to observe the commandments of God and particularly that of brotherly love. Sensitive to the social questions regarding the family and youth, he courageously proposed solutions to problems based on the love of God and of neighbor. During his 23 years of pastoral service he changed the face of the Archdiocese of Leopoli. Only his death on the 20th of March 1923 could end his vast and far-sighted pastoral action.

He was prepared for death and accepted it with peace and submission as a sign of God’s will, which he always considered sacred.

He left this world having enjoyed a universal recognition of holiness. Wanting to rest among those for whom he was always father and protector, in accord with his desires, he was buried in Leopoli in the cemetery of Janów, known as the cemetery of the poor. Thanks to the efforts of the Archdiocese of Leopoli the process for his beatification and canonization was initiated. The first step was concluded on December 17, 1997 with the declaration of the life of heroic virtue of Archbishop Joseph Bilczewski by The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. In June 2001, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints recognized as miraculous the fact of the rapid lasting and unexplainable “quo ad modum” healing through the intercession of Archbishop Bilczewski of the third degree burns of Marcin Gawlik, a nine year old boy, thus opening the way for his beatification. The beatification took place in the Diocese of Leopoli on the 26th of June 2001 during Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Visit to the Ukraine.  Canonized Oct 23, 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI.

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-statue of St Jozef Bilczewski displayed in Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Lviv, Ukraine

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– Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Lviv, Ukraine, founded 1360 AD by Casimir III the Great

St Jozef Bilczewski!  Pray for your people!  Pray for us!

Blessed Lent.

Love,
Matthew

Mar 17 – St Jan Sarkander, (1576-1620) – Priest, Widower, Martyr for the Seal of the Confessional

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-chapel of St John Sarkander

‘Tis the Season, as they say, for one’s Easter Duty.  Including everyone’s least favorite sacrament.

The Neo-baroque chapel of St. John Sarkander is a two-storeyed building crowned with a dome with a lantern opening. In the middle of the chapel, there is a circular opening into the basement, where a torture rack from Sarkander’s time has been situated. The interior of the chapel is impressively illuminated. Daylight from the lantern opening penetrates through the circular hole in the floor down to the basement.

The immediate surroundings of the chapel are one of the most picturesque corners of Olomouc, Moravia, Czech Republic. The adjoining double staircase is graced by a statue of St. John of Nepomuk, in a corner niche there is a statue of St. Jan Sarkander.

In the past, the city prison where John Sarkander was interrogated and tortured to death in 1620 was located on the site of the Chapel. John Sarkander was accused by Protestants of having helped to arrange the invasion of the army of the Polish Catholic King into Moravia. However, he did not violate the Seal of Confession during the torture.

Son of Georg Mathias Sarkander and Helene Kornicz Sarkander. Born in a time and place in the midst of the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation. His father died when Jan was still young, and the family moved to Pribor. He married, but his wife died when they were young, and they had no children.

Educated by Jesuits at Prague, receiving a master of philosophy degree in 1603.  In Olmutz, he became the center of a struggle for the hearts and souls of the local people; he was supported by Baron von Labkowitz of Moravia, but bitterly opposed by the wealthy anti-Catholic landowner Bitowsky von Bystritz.

The year 1618 saw the start of the Thirty Years War between Catholic and Protestant armies. When Protestant forces occupied Hollenschau, Jan was briefly exiled to Poland, but returned to minister to his oppressed parish flock. Polish forces moved into the area in 1620, and battle seemed imminent. Jan visited the field commander, carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance as a shield and chastisement. No battles were fought in the area of Hollenshau.

Seizing the opportunity to brand him a spy, and thus explain the lack of attack by the Polish troops, his enemy von Bystritz denounced Father Jan as a traitor. Jan was arrested, taken to Olmütz, and tortured for a confession, for revenge, and to get him to break the seal of the confessional and supply damaging information about his patron and parishioner Baron von Labkowitz. Sarkander was racked, beaten and murdered, but he clung to his faith and gave his tormentors nothing. He was racked on February 13, 17, and 18th.  His tendons burst.  His bones dislocated.  On each of the days mentioned, the torture lasted for two and three hours, lighted candles and feathers soaked in oil, pitch, and sulphur were strewn over his body and ignited.

The sacramental seal is inviolable. Quoting Canon 983.1 of the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism states, “…It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason” (No. 2490). A priest, therefore, cannot break the seal to save his own life, to protect his good name, to refute a false accusation, to save the life of another, to aid the course of justice (like reporting a crime), or to avert a public calamity. He cannot be compelled by law to disclose a person’s confession or be bound by any oath he takes, e.g. as a witness in a court trial. A priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession either directly, by repeating the substance of what has been said, or indirectly, by some sign, suggestion, or action. A Decree from the Holy Office (Nov. 18, 1682) mandated that confessors are forbidden, even where there would be no revelation direct or indirect, to make any use of the knowledge obtained in the confession that would “displease” the penitent or reveal his identity.

What happens if a priest violates the seal of confession? The Catechism (No. 1467) cites the Code of Canon Law (No. 1388.1) in addressing this issue, which states, “A confessor who directly violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; if he does so only indirectly, he is to be punished in accord with the seriousness of the offense.” From the severity of the punishment, we can clearly see how sacred the sacramental seal of confession is in the eyes of the Church.

In my own personal experience, rarely, but it has occurred, I have initiated, it has NEVER been initiated to me, a comment with my confessor outside the sacramental seal, referring to some innocuous anecdote, reflecting upon a recent confession; the confessor suddenly develops memory loss, not recalling anything about the sacrament.  I suspect/firmly believe this is intentional.  Triggered as a reflex, as a protective measure confessors have developed from wisdom and practice.  I know to drop it, quickly.  I get the message.  Gratefully.  Thankfully, for the mercy and compassion of these ordained.  This has happened more than once, with more than one confessor.  Consistently.  Such is the seriousness of the matter.

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-relief of torturing of John Sarkander on torturing rack at Sarkander’s gravestone


-reliquary of St Jan Sarkander, Olomouc Cathedral, Czech Republic.

O Mother Mary,
through the memory of your martyred Son
and His servant Jan Sarkander,
we ask you for support for those
whose unfortunate fate is to live
under the rule of violence and hatred.
We ask you to pray for the strength
for them to endure in their faith despite tortures,
plagues and prison. Amen.

Blessed Lent.

Love,
Matthew

Mar 10 – 40 Martyrs of Armenia, (d. 320 AD) – Soldiers of Christ

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-Forty Martyrs, ivory relief, 10th century, Constantinople

The phrase “Soldier of Christ (2 Tim 2:3)”, Ecclesia Militans, Church Militant, “The Fighting Church”, are all a bit dated, some may say.  Others, not so.  But here is a story of real ones.  We know their names. At Confirmation, Catholics become adults in the Church, and, traditionally, “Soldiers of Christ”.  At Confirmation, when the confirmandi are anointed with sacred chrism, they, by allowing this act say, “I am willing to die for the faith.  Never to deny my Lord and Savior.  No matter what.”  No exceptions.  “…more strictly obliged to spread and defend the Faith, by word and deed.”

Heralded in the sermons of St Basil, only fifty or sixty years after their deaths, we know they belonged to the Twelfth Legion, Legio XII, the Fulminata Legion, or “Armed with Lightning” Legion, or “Thunderbolt” Legion.  The Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, Licinius, who was eventually defeated and executed by Emperor Constantine the Great, was persecuting Christians.  The Emperor ordered all in his armies to sacrifice, to perform their pagan religio.  These forty legionnaires refused.

The military judge in charge of their case first tried persuasion.  He instructed them on the dishonor they would incur for refusing to worship the pagan gods.  Then, he made them large promises of preferment and high favor with the Emperor.  These were refused.  He recoursed to threats, most terrifying.  All in vain.  They were torn with whips.  Their sides rent with iron hooks.  Thrown in jail and chained.

Lysias, their general, returned.  They spoke freely and bravely of their love of the Lord.  A slow and severe death was devised especially for them.  They were stripped naked, marched onto a frozen pond and made to lie exposed to the cold.  On the shore were made warm baths and hot soup, within their sight.

Finally, one of their number fell, and ran to the warm baths.  As in battle, when one falls, another takes his place, a guard attending the baths on the shore was so moved by the courage of the remaining thirty-nine, embraced Christ, stripped, and took the place of the apostate, in formation, on the ice.

In the morning, the judge ordered the dead with cold and those nearly so, all of them, to be thrown into the fire, to be cremated.  As the bodies were being thrown into a wagon to be transported to the pyre, Melito, the youngest among them, was found to still be alive.  His tormentors hoped still to turn him.  So, they left him on the ice.

Melito’s mother, also a Christian, found her son in this condition.  Quite frozen, not able to move, and scarcely breathing.  He looked at her, and she encouraged him to persevere.  Reproaching his executioners, she picked him up and placed him in the wagon herself.  Their bodies were burned, but the ashes and remains collected by other Christians as relics, spread throughout many cities, around which many churches were built.

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-relics of the 40 Martyrs, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

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-Church of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, Bitola, Macedonia

“We beseech you, O most holy martyrs, who cheerfully suffered torments and death for His love, and are now more familiarly united to Him, that you intercede with God for us slothful and wretched sinners, that He bestow on us the grace of Christ, by which we may be enlightened and enabled to love Him.” – St Ephrim

“If we die with Him,
we will also live with Him.
If we endure hardship,
we will reign with Him.
If we deny Him,
He will deny us.
If we are unfaithful,
He remains faithful,
for he cannot deny Who He is.”

-2 Tim 2:11-14

Blessed Lent.

Love,
Matthew

You don’t have to like your priest

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(Editor’s note: if you are an adult of any length, one of greater struggles of faith, and especially of late, is the humanness of clergy. When I meditate on this and attempt to come to terms and still believe, I think of Jesus, and how He looks at and still loves us, and I have my answer; wonderfully, joyfully. Blessed be the Lord! Bless His Holy Name!

I’ve changed my perspective on this. I used to look up at the altar for inspiration. By default, such is the viewpoint of the laity. Lovingly, I was underwhelmed. However, when I changed my perspective to that of the celebrant, and saw the laity, at say, daily Mass, I was blown away. No pretension here. Just trying to make it through another day. Just one more day. And then, Mass again tomorrow morning. And, so on. That’s all. Simple. Wow. Awesome.

Looking from the altar into the pews I really, truly found inspiration. No offense to celebrants. It’s just maybe, and we do, expect too much, seeking that inspiration. I love our priests, even the ones I’ve had to forgive in my life. Maybe most especially those. At the same time, if you asked me, why are you Catholic, Matt? I would have to say as a primary reason because of all the truly Christian clergy, Servants of the Lord, I have met, and they far outnumber the ones I have had to forgive; holy men & women. I can name them for you. You know who you are. 🙂 )

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-by Br Patrick Mary Briscoe, OP

“It may well be the case that your parish priest preaches homilies that are—how do we say it gently?—uninspiring. Maybe you’ve come to him to ask a serious question about the faith concerning a teaching or mystery you’ve really struggled with, (Editor: mine is the Eucharist; my questions, doubts, and fears abound, yet in Adoration, still, I know, and believe. I simply accept. I know He is there. He looks at me. I look at Him) and he’s failed to offer satisfying answers. Perhaps he lacks charm and charisma, or falls short when it comes to offering the parish visionary leadership. He may well be a little impersonal, excessively shy, obnoxiously gregarious, slavishly bound to rubrics, overly political, or simply unexceptional. These may be the human realities of your priest…and you don’t have to like them.

Catholics often feel guilty if they’re unable to relate personally to their priest. Longing for their parish to incarnate the virtues of The Bells of St. Mary’s, people rightly have high expectations for their priests. Notwithstanding the faults of their beloved clergy, something lingers. For many faithful Catholics it’s hard to write off a priest. For better or worse, his office (his role) makes it difficult to treat him as if he were one more set of footprints stepping into, then out of, a life.

The simple fact is, the relationship of a priest to his people is not like any typical inter-personal relationship of our day. The people of God aren’t—strictly speaking—soldiers in an army, nor is the priest their commander. Parishes aren’t franchises, and the priest isn’t the office manager. Churches aren’t daycare centers, and the priest certainly isn’t a babysitter. So what, then, is the priest? How does he relate to his people?

The priest is a shepherd. Shepherds have a certain authority, like a military officer, but they exercise it differently. Sheep aren’t to be numbered off and subjected to evaluations according to certain performance standards: sheep are to be loved. Critics reject this image, saying it assigns the lay faithful the role of “mindless following,” and admittedly, like all analogies, it limps. However, it’s worth pointing out that being a shepherd isn’t exactly glamorous either. In reality, shepherding entails long, cold nights, exposure to the elements, mud, wandering, and lots of time alone. Our culture’s emphasis on egalitarianism and our deeply ingrained American democratic values can present considerable stumbling blocks to entering into this aspect of an authentic (healthy!) relationship with a priest.

Priests are physicians. A priest shouldn’t treat parishioners like employees. Far from focusing on stamping time-cards, filling out requisition forms, or accumulating benefits, the priest’s mission is to transform lives. As good doctors help patients to make much-needed lifestyle transitions, priests lead people to a closer relationship with God. Good doctors, and good priests, treat the whole person, communicating information clearly and patiently accompanying souls on their healing journey.

Finally, priests are fathers. Given the rate of disintegration of the natural family, we shouldn’t be surprised to see unresolved family difficulties come to the fore as seekers investigate religion. For others the problem isn’t the family, but the idea that the male priesthood offends the dignity of women. The lens of radical feminism or that of a fragmented family dynamic tragically discolors the image of the father. To cast light and dispel the discoloration, it can be helpful to consider the natural role of the father. At the biological level, fathers beget. They give life; they nurture and protect it. Fundamentally, the principle of bringing people to life invigorates priestly ministry. Fatherhood isn’t at its core about doling out discipline or dealing with dirty diapers—although any father will attest that these are important paternal duties. At its core, fatherhood is meant to strengthen and to animate.

Ultimately, relating to a priest isn’t about emotional satisfaction or some kind of quantifiable affectivity. Our relations with our priests are simply not like the connections we build or the bonds we forge in any other aspect of our life. We don’t have to like every priest we meet. Nevertheless, despite the challenges we may face with the priests we encounter throughout our lives, we should remember the difficulty of the task with which they have been entrusted, as well as that they are made of the same stuff as all human beings. Priests aren’t ordained because they are perfectly qualified or worthy or, in any simply natural way, deserving of the privilege of ministry; they are ordained because God has chosen to care for His people by means of frail human beings. And whether we like them or not, their frailty is a welcome reminder that God’s ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts (Isa 55:8). The One Who redeemed the world by the foolishness of the Cross continues to draw a people to Himself through faulty instruments – instruments like you and me.”

Blessed Lent.

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Immanence

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-by Br Peter Martyr Joseph Yungwirth, OP

“Sometimes it can feel like God is so far away.  Why?  Sure there is the obvious, “Well, I’m a sinner.”  But, sometimes God feels far away even when we’re in a state of grace.  (Editor’s note:  my mother ALWAYS asked her children, “Are you in the state of grace?”  If you don’t know what that means, get thee to a confessional!  The same woman who oft remarked in front of all who cared to listen, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother.”  No pressure.  Growing up Irish Catholic.  It’s a “little” different.  🙂 Why does He do this to us?

After all, in a solemn moment of self-revelation, God manifested Himself in a burning bush and gave Moses his name, “I AM WHO AM.” Then, while the Israelites were stuck in the desert, God did the unthinkable and came to dwell among them. Not in an Athenian temple or a Roman basilica but in the tabernacle of a movable tent. There, God was close to His people, remaining with them and guiding them by night and by day.

And if this wasn’t enough, God desired an even greater proximity to His people. So “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (Jn 1:14). In the Incarnation, Jesus showed us just how close God was willing to come to be with His people. No longer was His presence in the tabernacle good enough. Now God desired to take on flesh, to be joined to humanity, and to make a virgin His new tabernacle. God became so close to His people that He literally walked among them.

That was all thousands of years ago, but what about now? Just as Moses relied on God’s support, just as the nation of Israel followed the cloud and the pillar of fire through the desert, and just as the apostles walked and talked with the Incarnate God, so too wouldn’t it be helpful if God were present with us to guide us on the way? After all, thanks to Jesus’ ascension to heaven, hasn’t God left us without His presence again?

Not at all. Jesus said to us, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). This is especially true when we consider the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, God has done something even more marvelous than speak from a burning bush or descend into a tabernacle in the wilderness. Now, God enters into us. For a short time, we become His tabernacle where He transforms us through the power of His grace, communicated to us via His eucharistic Body and Blood. Each and every day, God comes down on our altar where He continues to manifest His great love for His people and to show us just how near He really is.

Sometimes God might feel far away, but God is not a God who is transcendent in such a way that He won’t come near us. Rather, because of His divine immanence, He is simultaneously present to us. He was immanently present in a special way to the Israelites in the wilderness and to His people in the desert tabernacle. Now, on our Catholic altars and on our tongues, He is immanently present to us again. As in the Old Testament period and now in the more profound way of the Eucharist, God comes to be with His people and to guide us on the path to Heaven.”

(Catechetical note:  Roman Catholicism does not restrict Divine Immanence to solely the Eucharist, although this is the most visible & celebrated manifestation.  The Catholic understanding of Divine Immance includes His Presence always available, universally, immediately to us.)

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Transcendence

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-by Br Joseph-Mary Hertzog, OP

“Have you ever noticed the way some companies try to sell their products by raising them to the level of a symbol for something beyond their intrinsic value? I recently saw a commercial for an electronic gadget in which the device was never referred to—not even once—during the entire commercial. Instead, through impressive images of nature, human culture and play and the gravitas of the narrator’s voice the viewer was reminded that he or she was a “member of the human race,” that we live for things like art, beauty, passion, and love. And then we hear the nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman asking about the meaning of life and man’s place in it, concluding that your life—even life itself—is a wonder, a kind of play to which each one may contribute a verse.

At first glance, it seems strange to sell your product by implying a higher meaning to the product (making it a mere means for satisfying some deeper desire). Then again, we human beings do this all the time. The world is built this way; we are built this way. We are always hunting for the touch of a more profound, more beautiful, and deeper meaning.

We are confronted with a world that alludes to something beyond itself, to a truth beyond experience and a meaning not of this world. This allusiveness conveys to us an awareness of a spiritual dimension of reality, our relatedness to transcendent meaning. We hunger for meaning, for truth, for goodness—this is how we know we are alive and we won’t be satisfied with anything less than a meaning, a truth that transcends all classification and division and is as extensive as reality itself.

But how does a man lift up his eyes to see a little higher than himself? The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is part of this world may enter into a relationship with Him who is greater than this world; that man may lift up his mind and be attached to the absolute. How does one find a way in this world that would lead to an awareness of Him who is beyond this world? How does one find the way to an awareness of the transcendent God?

I believe the answer starts with a recovery of a Biblical view of the world and of life: an awareness of the sublime, of wonder, of mystery, awe, and the grandeur of reality. The world itself can give no answer to man’s ultimate wonder at the world. There is no answer in the self to man’s ultimate wonder at the self. Without this awareness, the world becomes flat and the soul a vacuum. The recovery of this awareness will give us eyes to see that everything in the world and in history bears the imprint of He-Who-Is-Beyond-Everything, calling us beyond everything so that He might give us everything.”

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Eternity

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-by Br Boniface Endorf, OP

“Often God is depicted as an old man—but is He really old? Over all these centuries, has God aged? Christian prayers do not mention God as old, but instead as eternal. But what does that mean? It means that God is not in time—God does not think back on what He did yesterday, nor ponder what He will do tomorrow, for such temporal concepts simply do not apply to Him. This does not mean that God is stuck in time, like a bug in amber or a caveman in a block of ice—God is not frozen in time, but beyond time itself.

God is beyond time because He is not a part of the created world. The world we see around us is subject to time—these things can have a past, present, and future, or they can simply not exist at a certain time. But God is not one of those things; instead He created those things. If God were just another thing in the created world, then the obvious question arises: ‘how did God create himself?’ But God is not one of those created things, rather He is above and beyond them—they depend upon Him but He doesn’t depend on them. That’s why it would sound strange to say, “I see a tree, and a squirrel, and a bench, and, oh, there’s God!” God just isn’t that type of “thing.” There is a great chasm between God and those things He created.

Think of Tolkien and his book The Hobbit: Tolkien created The Hobbit, but is not himself subject to the time within his novel. Thus as Bilbo ages within the book, Tolkien does not age accordingly. But Tolkien is still within time—he was once living and now has already grown old and died. He was not in the fictional time of The Hobbit, but was in the real time of this world. However, God is not in a different time than us, but in eternity instead.

Things in this world of time are spread out over time. I am not the same today as I was yesterday, nor as I will be tomorrow. The Hobbit is similar—it cannot be entirely present in a moment, but must be read over time. To read the first chapter is to not be reading the second or third, and so the book can only exist spread out over time. But God is not spread out like that, rather He is always fully present. It would be as if one could read all of The Hobbit in an instant rather than line by line over time. Because God is in eternity rather than time, He is always fully present and fully alive in a way that the things of this world are not.

As the Author of time itself, God rules time from eternity: God is the Lord of time. As Tolkien created and determined the plot in The Hobbit, so God does for the real world. While we often do not understand the meaning of what happens around us or know how things will turn out, God does. We do know that this world is not written as a tragedy—God is good and His love prevails. We know this because He has told us—He has given us the cliff notes for our world. He has given the Bible. Because God is the Author of this world and because He is good, we can trust Him to guide us even when difficulties seem insurmountable. We know that He can and will turn everything toward the good in the end. Unlike an old man, God will not forget about us.”

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Impassibility

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-by Br Leo Checkai, OP

“God never wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. God never has a bad day. God never suffers. A slightly fancier way to say this is that God is “impassible.”

But doesn’t that drive a huge chasm between us and God? How can God really know and love us if he does not stand shoulder to shoulder with us in suffering? Doesn’t “impassible” really mean unresponsive and uncaring?

To be certain, Jesus Christ, True God and true man, willingly, truly suffered the pangs of death on the Cross in His human nature to which divinity was united. And so it can never be rightly said that God lacks compassion or solidarity with His people. But in the Godhead—the divine essence—no suffering ever clouds the sunny sky of God’s perfect and eternal happiness.

The act of suffering can be very meaningful to us, because great love can be shown in willing to suffer for someone or something. Yet even then, suffering is not intrinsic to love. Love has its own reality that does not depend on suffering for its existence. Suffering, in itself, is an evil, a lack of a good. God is love, and there is no lack of good in Him, either of moral good or of any other kind.

This impassibility of God is the unshakeable ground of our great hope for true and lasting happiness. When we speak of Heaven, we speak of union with God and sharing in His happiness. Because of this, we can be sure that for those who belong to God, suffering will never have the last word. No matter how deep our sorrows run, from this vale of tears we can look with confident hope to the new life where God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Rev 21:4). God, Whose life is perfect blessedness that no suffering can invade, is able to make good on this promise, and desires to do so with the dynamic energy of His unfathomable love.”

“Sufferings gladly borne for others convert more people than sermons.”
St. Therese of Lisieux

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Simplicity

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With gratitude to the prayer for the feast day of St Lawrence, Aug 10:

“…The court of heaven rejoices
For his warfare-waging,
For he has prevailed this day
Against the lackeys of wickedness.”

An indie rock band named “The Lackeys of Wickedness” always appealed to me. No? 🙂  Great line!  I have also always thought a restaurant named “Nice Thai!” would also be appealing. 🙂 “The Divine Attributes” would also be a good candidate for a band name, no?  🙂  But, seriously folks, the Divine Attributes:  simplicity, impassibility, eternity, transcendence, immanence, are God’s character traits.  They describe what God is like.  Good to know, no? 🙂  Relationships require we know what the Other is about.  No?  🙂

philipnerireeseop

-by Br Philip Neeri Reese, OP

“It’s complicated . . .

The part that comes next doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it won’t be good. Complicated relationships? Bad. Complicated questions? Bad. Complicated answers? Bad.

To make the point a bit more pointedly, here’s a challenge: can you name even one time you’ve finished a job, turned to a friend, and said, “well, at least that was complicated”?

I didn’t think so.

Few things are as universally negative as complexity. Unfortunately for us, few things are as universally true as life’s complexity. Why is it so hard to pay the bills? To raise the kids? To be a good husband or a good wife? Why are friendships as easy to break as they are tough to build? Why (to use the words of Saint Paul) is it so hard to do what my will intends?

Because we’re complicated creatures, whose emotions, intentions, thoughts, and desires swirl chaotically around that mysterious center-point we call our soul. Arriving at self-knowledge is a little like trying to grab a tornado with one hand. Coming to know ourselves and others is like trying to double-fist them. It’s no wonder we mess things up: wherever we go, we trail behind us the twin tornadoes of “me” and “you,” like riotous toilet paper stuck to the back of both shoes.

And that’s before we add sin to the mix. Sin speeds up the whirlwinds, launching cow-, tractor-, and house & barn-sized problems at our already-rickety lives.  Sin divides.  Ubi divisio, ibi peccatum, as the saying goes.   It separates us from God, separates us from each other, and even separates us from ourselves. To shift metaphors slightly, sin sets us adrift without port or anchor in a storm of our own devising.

Who can save us from our sins? Who can calm the chaos of our lives? Who can simplify our complexities?

Only Someone entirely free from all complexity and chaos. Only Someone who is totally, perfectly, and radically simple. Only God.

Nothing disturbs God. Nothing rattles Him. He is not plagued by self-doubts or second-guesses. Simply put, God is pure simplicity (and that italics is crucial: there’s no division in God at all—not in His Love, not in His Thought, not even in His Being). And when God enters our lives He brings that simplicity with Him.

Jesus Christ took on all the complexities of our humanity so that we can take on the simplicity of His Divinity. Full of love and compassion, Jesus once said to a friend, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only One thing is necessary” (Lk. 10:41). He says the same to us today. And what is that One necessary thing? The God of Divine simplicity Himself.

When we focus on Him, everything else falls into the background. When we make Him our all, nothing else matters. When God becomes our simplicity, our peace, and our joy, He stills the whirling complexities of our lives, and we begin to hear His voice in a calming whisper: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all the rest shall be yours as well” (Mat. 6:33).”

How very true.

Love,
Matthew

Feb 18 – St Francis Regis Clet, CM, (1748-1820) – Priest, Missionary & Martyr

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Being a “cradle”, learning how “non-cradles” come to understand Catholicism is a process.  What for me is normal, usual, every day, reflexive, from childhood, is absolutely inscrutable to others, I have come to realize.  In college, a dear friend of mine, Jeanie, decided to become a Catholic albeit with full-immersion, somewhat unusual at that time, perhaps even so now.  And she often asked me, “How do you know which of the (Memorial Acclamations) to use?”  Practice, was my unsatisfactory answer.  So, I have learned the importance of helping those who wish to understand Catholicism to learn to speak “Catholic” – partially a motivation for my being a catechist, which I love.  Maybe you can tell? 🙂

One of the most wonderful things about being Catholic is one could spend several lifetimes and never learn ALL there is to learn about Catholicism.  After two thousand years, there is ALWAYS another “treasure” hiding up in the attic.  How thrilling! 🙂  At least for me!  And, so helping others untangle the alphabet soup of religious congregations is an especial reward.  Trying to figure out the difference between a “Venetian”, 🙂 , and a Vincentian, is a teachable moment!  And, being a Blue Demon, a graduate of DePaul’s Graduate School of Computer Science, I have another especial duty to help in this regard.  Lazarist, Vincentian, Congregation of the Mission:  it’s the same.  Lazarist because St Lazare in Paris became the headquarters.  Vincentian because of their founder.  And CM, as their formal name in the Church.

The Vincentian mission is the alleviation of poverty.  Ignorance, in the Vincentian imagination, is a form of poverty.  My CM confreres, please, humbly, gratefully correct me, if even now, my understanding is incomplete.

“Give me a man of prayer and he will be capable of everything; he can say with the Apostles: ‘I can do all things in Him who sustains and comforts me.’ The Congregation of the Mission will last as long as the exercise of mental prayer is faithfully carried out in it, because prayer is an impregnable rampart which will shield Missionaries from all sorts of attacks. It is a Mystical arsenal, a Tower of David, which will furnish them with all sorts of arms, not only for the purpose of defense but also of attack.”  -St Vincent DePaul.

The tenth of 15 children, was born into a farm family in Grenoble in the southwest corner of France in 1748 and was named for the recently canonized fellow-Grenoblian, Jesuit Jean Francois Regis, SJ. After completing studies at the Royal College (founded by the Jesuits), he followed his elder brother and sister into vowed religious life. In Lyons in 1769, he entered the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians).

After ordination, Francis served as professor of moral theology at the Vincentian seminary in Annecy where he was affectionately called “the walking library” because of his encyclopedic knowledge and academic discipline. In 1786, he became Rector of Annecy and two years later, Director of Novices in Paris.

Francis Regis petitioned to go to China as a missionary several times, but his superiors did not accede to his request until 1791. At the age of 43, he replaced another priest who had to withdraw from the assignment at the last minute. A confrere, in writing about Clet’s assignment to China, noted: “He has everything you could ask for: holiness, learning, health and charm.”

After a six month sea journey from France and some transition time in Macao, which included assuming the dress and customs of the Chinese people, the new missioner arrived in Kiang-si in October of 1792 as the only European in the area. Clet’s acculturation was hampered by his life-long difficulty with the language. In 1793 Clet joined two Chinese confreres in Hou-Kouang in the Hopei Province where both of his companions died within his first year, one in prison and one from exhaustion. In that year, Clet became superior of an international group of Vincentian missioners scattered over a very large territory, and he himself pastored an area of 270 thousand square miles. In that leadership capacity, he developed standards so that there would be a uniform approach to ministry (sacramental and catechetical) among the missioners.

In 1811, the anti-Christian persecutions in China intensified with the Christians being accused of inciting rebellion against the ruling dynasty. For several years, Clet endured abuse and attacks, which frequently forced him to find refuge in the mountains. In 1819, with a generous reward on their heads, Clet and a Chinese confrere became fugitives. Like Jesus, he was finally betrayed by one of his own, a Catholic schoolmaster whom Clet had challenged for his scandalous behavior. Like the missionary St. Paul, Clet endured ignominy and forced marches in chains over hundreds of miles.

On January 1, 1820, Clet was found guilty of deceiving the Chinese people by preaching Christianity and was sentenced to strangulation on a cross. On February 18, age 72, after approval of his sentence by the Emperor, Francis Regis Clet was executed. He was tied to a stake erected like a cross, and was strangled to death, the rope having been relaxed twice to give him a three-fold death agony, a traditional Chinese execution.

As in the case of Jesus, Christians took his body and buried it on a hillside where it rested until it was returned to the Vincentian motherhouse in Paris several decades later and is now honored at St. Lazare.  His holy life and death were the inspiration of Blessed John Gabriel Perboyre, CM, Sep 11, also a Lazarist, who was martyred in China in 1840.

Clet canonization medallion

Francis Regis Clet

“You can easily imagine that a journey as long as the one I’m making calls for an exceptional sum of money.  I need 1000 francs, and Fr Daudet, our Bursar, is willing to advance me this sum on the understanding I gave him that you would repay him in a short time…I could, of course, be making a mistake, but at least I’m in good faith.  If God doesn’t bless my attempt, I’ll cut my losses, admit I was wrong, and in future be more on my guard against the illusion of my imagination or vanity; the experience will teach me a bit of sense.” – St Francis Regis Clet, in a letter to his older sister, Marie-Therese, upon letting her know he was to be missioned to China.

“At the moment, I’m living in a house which is rather large but totally dilapidated; they’re going to start repairing it at once, and as it’s wooden it won’t be unhealthy in the winter, which, anyway, isn’t very bad in these parts.  A new life is starting for me, re-awakening religion in former Christians who have been left to themselves for several years, and also converting pagans; that, I hope, will be my work till death.” – Francis’ 1st letter to his sister, Oct 15, 1792, letting her know he’d arrived in Kiang-si.

“The Chinese language is hopeless.  The characters which make it up don’t represent sounds, but ideas; this means that there’s a huge number of them.  I was too old on coming to China to get a good working knowledge of them…I know barely enough for ordinary daily living, for hearing confessions and for giving some advice to Christians.” – a 1798 letter to his brother

Love,
Matthew

Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine