Thursday, September 30, 2010

Memorial of St Jerome

"Jerome was the son of one Eusebius, and was born at Sdrigni in Dalmatia, in the reign of the Emperor Constantius.  He was baptized at Rome when a young boy, and studied there, under the instruction of Donatus and other very learned personages.  He travelled in Gaul for the sake of improving his mind, and there sought the friendship of divers godly men learned in the Scriptures, and made with his own hand many copies of the holy books.  He afterwards betook himself to Greece, where he attained eminence as a philosopher and orator, in the following of the most famous theologians.  At Constantinople, in especial, he sat at the feet of Gregory of Nazianzus, from whom he professeth himself to have learnt his theology.  Then, for godliness' sake, he went to see the home of the Lord Christ, and so throughout all Palestine.  He witnesseth that this pilgrimage, where he got the help of the most learned of the Jews for the understanding of the Holy Scriptures, did him much good.

He withdrew himself into the wild deserts of Syria, where he passed four years in studying the Holy Scriptures and in considering the blessedness of heaven, afflicting his body by alway denying himself, by bitter tears, and by chastisement of the flesh.  He was ordained Priest by Paulinus, Patriarch of Antioch.  He went to Rome on account of the quarrelling of certain Bishops with Paulinus and Epiphanius, and there helped Pope Damasus in the writing of his letters upon Church affairs.  But the longing for his old solitude came upon him, and he went back to Palestine, where, in the monastery at Bethlehem, built beside the cradle of the Lord Christ by the Lady Paula of Rome, he set himself to enter on earth upon the life of heaven, serving God in reading and writing without ceasing, regardless of the sufferings of a body tormented by divers diseases and pains.

Hard questions upon the interpretation of the Holy Scripture were sent to him from all parts of the earth, as to an oracle.  He was oftentimes consulted by Pope Damasus and by the holy Augustine upon the meaning of the most obscure passages of the Scripture, because of his extraordinary learning, and that he knew not the Latin and Greek tongues only, but also the Hebrew and Chaldee, and, as the same Augustine testifieth, had read nearly all writers.  He attacked heretics with keen publications, and ever undertook the defence of the godly and Catholic.  He translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin, and, at the command of Damasus, reformed, according to the original Greek, the existing version of the New.  Upon great part of the Scriptures he wrote commentaries.  He translated likewise into Latin the works of many learned men, and himself contributed to the Christian life many monuments of his own wit.  He lived to an extreme old age, and passed away to heaven, famous for learning and holiness, in the reign of the Emperor Honorius.  His body was buried at Bethlehem, but hath since been brought to Rome, where it lieth in the Church of St. Mary-at-the-Manger."

-- From the 1911 Breviary of St Pius X (1950 ed)

** Painting by Anthony van Dyck

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Dedication of the Basilica of St Michael the Archangel

"The Shrine of Saint Michael the Archangel in the Gargano was the first monument of the Archangel's that we ever visited. We pray that Michael and his Shrine touch you in the same way they have touched us, as we have been called back, again and again. Come with us now, and experience the Kingdom, the Glory and the Power of God as shown to us through His Angels, especially the Prince of the Angels, our Michael.

Around the year 490, a lord of the Gargano was searching for one of his prize bulls. He almost gave up, judging the bull was helplessly lost, when he spotted him in a cave, kneeling. The cave was high above the lord, and hopelessly inaccessible. The bull would never be able to get out; so, as a gesture of mercy, the lord shot an arrow toward the bull to put the animal out of its misery. The arrow changed its course in mid-flight, like a boomerang, and struck the lord.

The lord went to the local bishop, declaring what had happened. The bishop immediately instituted three days of fasting and prayer to be done outside of the Cave, as he was not sure if it was a Heavenly inspired occurrence, or from the other place. While the bishop, his priests, and the lord were on the Gargano, praying at the mouth of the cave, St. Michael appeared to the bishop, and declared:

"I am the Archangel Michael, and am always in the presence of the Lord. This cave is sacred to me; it is of my choosing. There will be no more shedding of bull's blood. Where the rocks open widely, the sins of man may be pardoned. That which is asked here in prayer will be granted. Therefore, go up the mountain and dedicate the grotto to Christian worship."

The bishop apparently was not convinced that the apparition was truly the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts, or he could not have hesitated in obeying the command. The bishop hesitated with "should I, shouldn't I," for two years!

The nearby town of Siponto was being invaded by pagan hordes. It was certain that the town would be defeated. Gargano was right in the path of the invaders. If Siponto fell, it was pretty definite that Gargano would go, also. The bishop asked for a three day truce for prayer.

During this time, St. Michael appeared to the bishop, again. He promised, if the people would attack the enemy believing victory would be theirs, walking in faith, he, Michael, would lead them to victory. The townspeople advanced boldly. A sand storm assailed and whipped the enemy, blinding them; huge pellets of hale joined in, pummeling them relentlessly. Terrorized, they retreated from Siponto, leaving the area forever.

The bishop climbed up the mountain to the cave. He did not come down for a long time. He seemed to be agonizing. He did not enter the cave, but instead prayed outside, at the mouth of the cave . When he came down, the bishop still did not have a church built there, where the faithful could worship. We don't know what caused the bishop to hesitate this second time.

There was an anguish that didn't leave him, a gnawing inside of him, eating at him. The cave and the Archangel's words were constantly on his mind. His spirit was being wrenched by a tug-of-war. He was being pulled in opposite directions. He knew he should be honoring the Angel's request. In his heart, he knew it was truly St. Michael who had appeared to him both times. But, in his head? Well, something or someone was holding him back.

The following year, as the anniversary of the apparition drew near, the bishop appealed to the Pope for guidance and direction. The Pope ordered the bishop to go to the cave, with other bishops and priests from the area, for three days of prayer and fasting. He was to ask the Lord for discernment, and the Angel for help. The bishop prayed outside the cave, at the mouth of the cave, again not inside. During this time, Michael appeared to the bishop, a third time. He ordered the bishop to enter the cave:

"It is not necessary that you dedicate this church that I myself have consecrated with my presence. Enter and under my assistance, raise prayer and celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass. I will show you how I myself have consecrated that place."

The bishop finally did as the Archangel Michael dictated. When he entered the cave, he found a splendid altar covered with a red cloth and a crystal cross upon it, as the Archangel had foretold. At the entrance was the imprint of a child's foot, confirming the presence of the Archangel.

A structure, which appears to be a church, was built over the cave. From the street level, one can see towers, and arches, and bells. Actually, it's only a facade. Pilgrims have to walk down 86 steps to the cave, which is the church. It was set up as a church, with an altar rail, pews, and side chapels. Over the years, an Episcopal (bishop's) chair was carved out of a huge block of stone and placed at the side of the altar. Chapels were hewn lovingly out of local stone and placed in the cave. It was even raised to the level of a Basilica! It is known as the "Celestial Basilica"; maybe because the church has never been consecrated by a bishop (nor have any relics been placed in the altar stone). It has been consecrated by the presence of Michael, himself.

The Cave of St. Michael immediately became a famous Shrine for pilgrimages. At one point in the Middle Ages, there were four major Catholic Shrines in the world. They were called: Deus (or God) for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; Apostoli, for the tombs of the Apostles in Rome; Sanctus, for the Shrine to St. James, called Santiago de Compostela, in Spain, and Angelus, for the Cave of St. Michael, in the Gargano in Italy.

The history of the Shrine is not only most unusual, but also a great tribute to, and affirmation of, the power our Lord Jesus has given to His Angels, especially His Prince of the Heavenly Hosts. Michael has protected the Shrine from the earliest days. It really gets interesting, as we go down through the ages. The whole world was constantly either attacking or under attack, being conquered by this one and that one. Italy was occupied by many foreign invaders."

-- Saint Michael the Archangel in the Gargano by Bob and Penny Lord

** Shrine to St Michael the Archangel in Gargano, Italy

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Learn to be at home in the darkness

"Central to all Carmelite teaching on contemplation is the haunting image of the dark night described by John of the Cross, taken from one of his most famous poems, called: ‘One Dark Night’. Most of his writing, in one way or another, is a commentary on this poem. John uses this powerful symbol of night to describe a time of great personal crisis in prayer and in one’s life in general.

Contemplation may be, as he has described it, ‘an inflow of God’s love into the heart’, but this inflow is as much a source of pain as it is of light. At a certain point on the journey, the lights go out, the spring runs dry, the engine grinds to a halt, the centre cannot hold, the honeymoon is over ... whatever image you wish to use. God is healing and freeing the soul; the light, which in itself is not painful, blinds the soul, causing darkness, pain and confusion.

John’s advice is clear and has a universal relevance: darkness is part of the human reality. We need to let go of our accustomed ways of seeing and doing, and enter into a different landscape; sometimes it takes darkness to bring us alive. The poet David Whyte captures this beautifully in his poem ‘Sweet Darkness’:

It is time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes to recognise its own;
there you can be sure
you will not be beyond love;
the night will give you horizons
further than your eyes can see.

Which is exactly what John of the Cross is saying: learn to be at home in the darkness, do not run away from it, do not fight it or even try to understand it, embrace it -‘the night has eyes’. A new and different world is being born, what seem to be death pangs are in fact birth pangs, the soul in darkness is being renewed and transfigured; a new and terrible beauty is born. Painful though it may be, there is in fact no other way except the way of trust and surrender, and ultimately of belief in the creative and transforming power of love. John’s invitation to accept ‘the dark ray of contemplation’ may not be easy, but there is no other way."

-- Contemplative Prayer in the Carmelite Tradition by Fr Eugene McCaffrey, ocd

Monday, September 27, 2010

Memorial of St Vincent de Paul

"Vincent de Paul was a Frenchman by nation, and was born at Pouy, not far from Dax in Gascony. From a little child he shewed remarkable charity towards the poor. His father removed him from keeping the cattle, in order to give him a school education, and he learnt earthly things at Dax, and theology both at Toulouse and at Saragossa. He took Priests' orders, and a degree in Divinity. He was taken prisoner by Mohammedan pirates, who carried him off, and sold him for a slave in Africa. In his slavery he converted his owner, who was an apostate, back to Christ. Under the protection of the Mother of God, Vincent escaped from Barbary. He first visited the thresholds of the Apostles, and afterwards returned to France.  He was the saintly Rector first of the parish of Clichy, and afterwards of that of Châtillon. He was appointed by the King, Chaplain-General for the galleys of France, and worked with extraordinary zeal for the health of the souls both of those who commanded and of the convicts who rowed.  He was made Superior of the Nuns of the Visitation by St. Francis de Sales, and discharged this duty for about forty years, with a wisdom which so approved itself to the judgment of their holy Founder, that he was used to say he knew no worthier Priest than Vincent.

The preaching of the Gospel to the poor, especially peasants, was the work at which he toiled unweariedly, till he was disabled by age.  To this special work he bound himself and the members of the Congregation which he founded under the missionary Congregation of Secular Priests, by a perpetual vow approved by the Holy See.  How great were his labours for bettering the discipline of the clergy, is attested by the building of Seminaries for the final education of young clerks, the number of meetings of Priests to discuss holy things, and the religious exercises preparátory to Ordination, for which, as well as for godly retreats by laymen, he wished that the houses belonging to his Institute should be always freely open.  To spread wider the growth of faith and godliness, he sent his Gospel labourers not only into the several provinces of France, but also into Italy, Poland, Scotland, and Ireland, and also to Barbary and India.  He assisted Louis XIII on his death-bed, and the Queen Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV, put him upon the young King's Council of Conscience during the Regency, in which position it was his unceasing effort that none but the most worthy should be named to churches and monasteries, that civil contests, duels, and creeping false doctrines, from which himself shrank as soon as he met them, should be put down, and that all men should yield the obedience which was due to the decisions of the Apostolic See.

There was no kind of misery which he did not strive with fatherly tenderness to relieve.  Christians groaning in Mohammedan slavery, foundlings, deformed children, young maidens exposed to danger, houseless nuns, fallen women, convicts sent to the galleys, sick foreigners, disabled workmen, lunatics, and beggars without number, all these he relieved, and devoutly housed in divers charitable institutions which remain to this day.  When Lorraine, Champagne, Picardy, and other districts were desolated by plague, famine, and war, he made immense efforts for their relief.  He founded many charitable societies, to find out and succour the unfortunate.  Among these are remarkable that of Matrons, and that of Sisters of Charity which hath been so widely spread.  By those Of the Cross, Of Providence, and of St. Guinevere he aimed at bringing up young girls as school-mistresses.  Amid all these and other most anxious business-matters, he remained always looking simply to God, kind to all, true to himself, plain, upright, and lowly.  From all honours, riches, and pleasures, he ever shrank, and was heard to say, that nothing ever gave him any pleasure, except in Christ Jesus, whom it was his wish in all things to follow.  With a body worn out with hardships, work and old age, he gently fell asleep in the house of St. Lazarus at Paris, the chief house of the Congregation of the Missions, upon the 27th day of September, in the year of salvation 1660, and of his own age the 85th.  He was famous on account of his life, his works, and his miracles, and Clement XII inscribed his name among those of the Saints, appointing for his Feastday the 19th day of the month of July.  Finally, at the earnest prayer of many prelates, Leo XIII proclaimed and established this hero of charity, illustrious for his services to all classes of men, as the patron before God in heaven of all charitable societies throughout the whole Catholic world which derive their origin in any way from his institution."

-- From the 1911 Breviary of St Pius X (1955 ed)

** Our brethren following the traditional calendar observed this feast on 19 July.
Picture shows the incorrupt body of St Vincent de Paul.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Contemplation begins with desire

"Contemplation begins with desire – not our desire for God, but his desire for us. The first and greatest commandment may be to love God with every fibre of our being, but there is something still more fundamental: the realisation that we are loved first. Every contemplative makes this discovery, and in fact bases his/her life on it: that our God is a pursuing God. The whole Carmelite tradition is clear: our desire for God is first awakened by his desire for us. This is the message of our great saints and mystics. The Dark Night and The Spiritual Canticle of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle – together with every other spiritual classic – celebrate this divine pursuit: the Lover and the beloved seeking each other in the light and the darkness of love’s turbulent ways.

The hungers of the heart and the longings of the spirit are the result of God first desiring us and coming to us in love. This is what Iain Matthew, one of our most popular Carmelite writers, calls ‘the impact of God’: a God who is not a bystander waiting for us to find him but a restless God seeking to make space for himself in our lives. The challenge, of course, for all of us, is to let ourselves beloved, as the young French Carmelite, Elizabeth of the Trinity has said, and allow the reality of this love to change our hearts. It often comes as a surprise that Carmelite writers speak so little about ways and methods of prayer. Instead, they go straight to the heart of what prayer is all about: exposure to this selfsurrendering God. Their concern does not consist in the knowledge that we are saved, but in the assurance that we are loved. For them, the focus is clear and what they seek most of all is to awaken the heart to the presence within. ‘No matter how much you think you are searching for God’, John of the Cross reminds us, ‘he is searching for you much more.’

The one we are searching for is here in the very depths of our being, inviting and waiting for our response. This is why the key element of Carmelite prayer is silent, loving attentiveness to the one who dwells within.

The heart of contemplative prayer is love, and love is the only reality that will ultimately change us. Only when we have found a greater and a deeper love can we let go of the lesser loves that can ensnare the heart and hold it captive. Contemplation is the key to freedom of heart; it is a way of opening ourselves to the embrace of God’s love. John of the Cross may have a reputation for rugged asceticism but at the core of his teaching is the fact that love is the only reality that will ultimately change the heart from within. John is at pains to remind us that there is no setting out on the contemplative journey, unless the soul is, in the beautiful Spanish phrase, en amores inflamada, ‘enkindled with love and yearning’."

-- Contemplative Prayer in the Carmelite Tradition by Fr Eugene McCaffrey, ocd

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reverence permits us to experience the sacred

"Reverence gives being the opportunity to speak to us: The ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei. Reverence is of capital importance to all the fundamental domains of man's life. It can be rightly called "the mother of all virtues," for it is the basic attitude that all virtues presuppose. The most elementary gesture of reverence is a response to being itself. It distinguishes the autonomous majesty of being from mere illusion or fiction; it is a recognition of the inner consistency and positiveness of being-of its independence of our arbitrary moods. Reverence gives being the opportunity to unfold itself, to, as it were, speak to us; to fecundate our minds. Therefore reverence is indispensable to any adequate knowledge of being. The depth and plenitude of being, and above all its mysteries, will never be revealed to any but the reverent mind. Remember that reverence is a constitutive element of the capacity to "wonder," which Plato and Aristotle claimed to be the indispensable condition for philosophy. Indeed, irreverence is a chief source of philosophical error. But if reverence is the necessary basis for all reliable knowledge of being, it is, beyond that, indispensable for grasping and assessing the values grounded in being. Only the reverent man who is ready to admit the existence of something greater than himself, who is willing to be silent and let the object speak to him- who opens himself-is capable of entering the sublime world of values. Moreover, once a gradation of values has been recognized, a new kind of reverence is in order-a reverence that responds not only to the majesty of being as such, but to the specific value of a specific being and to its rank in the hierarchy of values. And this new reverence permits the discovery of still other values.

Man reflects his essentially receptive character as a created person solely in the reverent attitude; the ultimate grandeur of man is to be capax Dei. Man has the capacity, in other words, to grasp something greater than himself, to be affected and fecundated by it, to abandon himself to it for its own sake - in a pure response to its value. This ability to transcend himself distinguishes man from a plant or an animal; these latter strive only to unfold their own entelechy. Now: it is only the reverent man who can consciously transcend himself and thus conform to his fundamental human condition and to his metaphysical situation.

Do we better meet Christ by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down into our workaday world?

The irreverent man by contrast, approaches being either in an attitude of arrogant superiority or of tactless, smug familiarity. In either case he is crippled; he is the man who comes so near a tree or building he can no longer see it. Instead of remaining at the proper spiritual distance, and maintaining a reverent silence so that being may speak its word, he obtrudes himself and thereby, in effect, silences being. In no domain is reverence more important than religion. As we have seen, it profoundly affects the relation of man to God. But beyond that it pervades the entire religion, especially the worship of God. There is an intimate link between reverence and sacredness: reverence permits us to experience the sacred, to rise above the profane; irreverence blinds us to the entire world of the sacred. Reverence, including awe-indeed, fear and trembling-is the specific response to the sacred."

-- The Case for the Latin Mass by Dietrich von Hildebrand

Friday, September 24, 2010

Our Lady of Ransom

"In the early part of the thirteenth century of the era of our Lord, the greatest and fairest part of Spain lay crushed under the yoke of the Saracens, and countless numbers of the faithful were held in brutal slavery, with the most lively danger of being made to deny the Christian faith and of losing everlasting salvation.  Amid such sorrows the most Blessed Queen of heaven came mercifully to the rescue, and shewed how the greatness of her motherly love was fain for their redemption.  Holy Peter Nolasco, in the full bloom of the treasures of godliness as well as rich in earthly wealth, was earnestly pondering with himself how he could succour so many suffering Christians dwelling in bondage to the Moors.  To him appeared with gracious visage the Most Blessed Virgin, and bade him know that it would be well-pleasing in her own sight, and in the sight of her Only-begotten Son, that an Order of Religious men should be founded in her honour, whose work it should be to redeem prisoners from Mohammedan slavery.  Strengthened by this heavenly vision, the man of God began to burn with wonderful charity, nursing in his heart the one desire that he himself and the Order which he should found might exercise that love, greater than which hath no man, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Upon the same night the same most holy Virgin appeared to the Blessed Raymund de Pennafort, and to James, King of Aragon, charging them concerning the founding of the Order, and desiring them to help in raising up so great a work.  Peter betook himself forthwith to the feet of Raymund, who was his confessor, and laid the matter before him, whom also he found taught from heaven, and to whose governance he right humbly submitted himself.  Then came King James, who appointed to carry out this revelation, which himself also had received from the Most Blessed Virgin.  The three took counsel together, and all with one consent entered upon the institution of an Order in honour of the said Virgin Mother, to be placed under the invocation of St. Mary of Ransom, for the Redemption of Captives.

Upon the 10th of August, in the year of our Lord 1218, the above-named King James decreed the establishment of this Order, thus already conceived by these holy men.  The brethren take a fourth vow, whereby they bind themselves to remain in pawn with the unbelievers, if need so require, for the liberation of Christians.  The King granted them the right to bear on their breasts his own Royal blazon, and obtained from Gregory IX the confirmation of this Institute and Order so nobly marked by brotherly charity.  God himself, through the Virgin Mother, gave the increase, causing this Institute speedily and prosperously to spread through all the world, and to blossom with holy men, great in love and godliness, to spend in the redemption of their neighbours the alms which are committed to them by Christ's faithful people, to that end, and some whiles to give themselves up for the ransom of many.  That due thanks might be rendered to God and to the Virgin Mother for the great blessing of this Institute, the See Apostolic among  other well-nigh countless favours bestowed upon it, permitted that this special Feastday should be kept and this Office said."

-- From the 1911 Breviary of St Pius X (1950 ed)


Mother of Mercy, Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us sinners, and obtain for us the conversion of all souls to the true Catholic Faith, that we may share with you the joys of Heaven. Amen.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Memorial of St Padre Pio

"Jesus reigns in your heart to overwhelm it with His holy love! I am sorry I do not have adequate answers to all of the questions you asked in your last letter. Please forgive me for being brief in answering you, I am in bed sick for three days, but generally I assure you to be calm in regard to condition of your spirit, it is pleasing to God. I cannot really believe and absolve you from meditating solely because it does not seem to you that you are reaping any benefits. The holy gift of prayer, my good daughter, it is in the right hand of the Savior; and in such measure that you will be empty of your own corporal love and will, and be instead rooted in holy humility, the Savior will thus communicate it to your heart.

Have patience in persevering in the holy exercise of meditation, and be content to progress in slow steps until you have legs to run and wings with which to fly. Be content to obey; which is never a small thing for the soul who has chosen God as his portion, and resign yourself to be for now a small hive bee able to make honey. Be always humble and loving in front of God and men, because God talks to those whose heart is humble in front of Him, and enriches them with His gifts.

But the real reason that you do not meditate well is, I think that you approach meditation in an altered state, coupled with a great anxiety to find something with which to console your spirit – and that is sufficient not to allow you to find what you are looking for and to be unable to bring your mind into the meditation of truth and your heart empty of affections. Daughter of mine, be aware that when one seeks with great hurry and avidity something lost, one will touch it, one will see it a hundred times and yet will never notice it. From this vain and useless anxiety you can derive nothing but a great tiredness of spirit and a blurred mind. I only know of the following remedy: come out of this anxiety, because it is the worst traitor that real virtue and devotion could ever have; it feigns to work well, but it does not – it only slows us and does not let us run in order for us to fall down. This is why I must repeat that I told you loudly before, that one needs to look well at all times, especially during prayers. In order to pray well it is good to remember that the styles and graces are not waters of this earth but of the heavens, so that all of your efforts are not sufficient to make it fall; it is necessary that our disposition be put forth with great diligence, and always with humility and tranquility. We need to keep the heart open to the heavens, and wait for the heavenly dew.

Do not forget, my daughter, to have with you these considerations when you go to pray, because this way you will come near to God, and you will put yourself in His presence for two principal reasons: The first to render God the honor and respect we owe Him, because this obligation is performed with recognition that He is our God, and us His unworthy children who are prostrated with our spirit in front of Him waiting for His commands.

How many courtesans are there who come and go a hundred times in the presence of kings, none to talk or speak to him but simply to be seen by him, and doing so assiduously they let themselves be known as his real servants. This manner of staying in front of God to attest to our willingness to be know as His servants is very holy, very excellent, and of the purest and greatest perfection. Go ahead and laugh, but I am serious about what I have said.

The second reason why one puts oneself in the presence of God when praying is, in talking to Him hear His voice through his illuminations and inspirations so that He reaches us within and otherwise, and this gives us great delight for it is a grace given us to talk to such a great God, who when He answers us covers us with very precious unguents and a thousand balms which engulf the heart with joy.

Now my good daughter, one of these two riches is always you in prayer. If you can talk to God laud Him, listen to Him. If you cannot talk to Him because you were crude do not feel bad in the ways of the spirit – stop in your room, disguise yourself as the courtesan and curtsy and revere Him. He will see and appreciate your patience, He will favor your silence, and next time you will be consoled – he will take you by the hand, talk to you, take a hundred strolls with you in the paths of the garden of prayers, and if this will not take place (although they say that is impossible because such a tender father’s heart could not stand t o see His child in perpetual agony) be content just the same because we are obliged to follow Him, taking into consideration what a great miracle it is and what honor it is for Him to tolerate our presence. In this way you will not be despised when you talk to him. In prayer, then when you find yourself following God, talk to him if you can – if you cannot stop, consider your truths, let Him see your soul and do not trouble yourself further. You are always in my prayers which you speak of because I cannot forget you, who cost me many sacrifices and whose birth I have offered to God with a heart overwhelmed with grief. I confide in charity, that in your prayers you do not forget who carries the cross for all.

I bless you with all my heart and please take care."

-- Counsels. Exhortations. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina


St Padre Pio, pray for us!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Carmelite Order

"The Carmelite Order was born of a gesture made by a group of friends who had fought and suffered together for months, perhaps even years, in the wars to regain and defend the Holy Land. They had fought for Christ and now decided to go the whole way and devote their lives wholly to him. So they settled on the western slope of Mount Carmel, determined to live in obedience to him after the fashion of the monks of old who in the solitude of the desert sought to live the Christian life to the full in imitation of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps because none of them had had any experience of monastic life, they approached the Patriarch of Jerusalem for rules around which they could organize their lifestyle. The Patriarch at the time (1206-1214) was Albert and he lived in nearby Acre. Being himself a Canon of St. Augustine, over fifty years of age and quite experienced in the monastic life, he drew up for them a short document setting forth the characteristic features of the new lifestyle they wished to embrace. This is what has come to be called The Carmelite Rule, a document which was to become the basis and point of reference for all who subsequently joined this new religious family founded by crusader hermits early in the 13th. century.

If we might recall them very briefly, the elements of monastic tradition recalled by Albert in response to the desires of the hermits of Mount Carmel were:

1. Since they had decided to embrace the eremitical life as a group (and not as individuals) they must elect one of themselves to preside over them. The Superior elected will then govern with the agreement and collaboration of all; he will live in the cell nearest to the entrance to their settlement so as to be more easily accessible to anyone seeking to join the group; and he will be responsible for assessing candidates and making due provision for their admission to and initiation into their particular way of life. He is to regard himself as the humble servant of the rest, while they in turn are to honour and obey him as the representative of Christ in their midst.

2. Each hermit is to live in a cave or cell of his own.
3. They are to spend their time meditating on the word of God and watching in prayer, unless
4. other duties require their attention.
5. Every morning they are to come together to celebrate the Eucharist.
6. All they possess is to be held in common and distributed to each according to his age and needs.
7. At least once a week, they are to come together to discuss the observance of the main points of the Rule and what concerns the salvation of their souls. This is the time to draw attention to any fault, be it in an individual or in the community as a whole, with a view to its correction.
8. They are to be austere in their eating habits: no meat at any time, a fast from the Exaltation of the Holy Cross to Easter. It was accepted that delicate health, illness or any just cause could excuse one from the fast or abstinence, as necessity knows no law.
9. The Patriarch then goes on to exhort them to live by faith, hope and charity and never to forget that life is an ongoing battle. Their whole energy must be directed, he said, towards loving God above everything else and loving their neighbour as themselves; and they were to look to the Lord alone for their salvation.
10. Work, something essential in the whole monastic tradition,is to be an integral part of their way of life. Following the example of St. Paul, it can be a means of earning their livelihood as well as a means of avoiding idleness - the occasion of so many temptations.
11. If they are to ponder God's law day and night, then silence is indispensable. During the day they must avoid all unnecessary speech and at night - from Vespers till Terce next morning - all communication is forbidden.
12. Should anyone wish to do even more than is required here, concludes Albert, he may do so, and the Lord will reward him when he comes. Let everything be done with that moderation which is the hallmark of all true virtue.

As you can see, the little Rule is a perfect synthesis of the most important points of monastic community living, and these are expressed as explicitly as any adult fully committed to the monastic ideal would need.

This is the first historical document we have of the crucial coming into being phase of the Carmelite Order. That little group of men was to be followed by an uninterrupted chain of people, all enthused by the same ideal, all supporting one another in their pursuit of it. Each generation would conceive of this ideal in its own way, and historical circumstances would play their part too in how it found expression and in the way it was passed on down the centuries.

Two elements which very soon became characteristic of the group were not even mentioned in the Rule, but they were in evidence very early in their history: the presence of Mary, enthroned as patroness from the beginning (their first church was dedicated to her), and of the Prophet Elias, whose memory was preserved in the fountain which bore his name and in the souls of the hermits.

The Patriarch of Jerusalem's approval was followed by papal approval, that of Honorius III in 1226 and of Gregory lX in 1229, a step which marked the juridical consolidation of what was now a living firmly established reality capable of coping with any kind of difficulty.

Just as well, for soon circumstances changed and tested their resilience: Mount Carmel grew increasingly insecure as the Saracens regained their control. To the hermits one mountain or cave was as good as another, and they began to look for alternatives. Thus it was that from 1238 "Carmelite" communities began to appear in various parts of the West: Cyprus, France, England, Germany, and Italy.

This change of environment brought with it an internal evolution and, if we may so express it, a broadening of horizons for the Carmelites. Europe brought them into contact with the latest development in religious life called Mendicant Orders. They quickly adapted to the spirit and structure of this new form of Order and were officially recognised as such by Pope Innocent IV in 1247.

When the hermits had presented their request to Patriarch Albert forty years earlier, the thought of founding an Order had probably never entered their heads; all they wanted were some guidelines for just one community. Now the Bull of Innocent IV turns the revised Albertine Rule into one of the monastic rules and established the Carmelites as a Mendicant Order. That is the chief significance of Pope Innocent's approval.

We have no completely reliable text of the Rule as originally given by Albert, but it can be reconstructed accurately enough by comparing that transmitted by Ribot with Pope Innocent's text, which has come down to us intact. Those clauses originating with Pope Innocent are: perhaps the requirement to recite the Divine Office in common, according to the Church's usage; certainly those clauses referring to a table, not eating outside the monastery, the right to make foundations in places other than the desert, the specific definition of the period of night silence.

The rapidity with which the Order spread and grew gives us some idea of how well it flourished under the Rule as amended by Pope Innocent IV: in 1287 it was divided into 9 provinces, by 1318 it had 12, there were 14 in 1321, and 18 in 1362, by which time it numbered some 12,000 religious.

Those who achieved the greatest fame for sanctity were: Albert of Sicily (late 13th century), Blessed Franco of Siena (d.1291), Peter Thomas (d.1366), Andrew Corsini (d.1373), and Blessed Nuño Alvarez Pereira (d.1431). From the end of the 13th century the Carmelites also became very involved in sacred learning, reaching the high point of that involvement during the 14th century.

The various factors which contributed to the decline of the Church in the second half of the 14th century affected the Carmelites as well as the other religious Orders. First there was the Black Plague (1348-50). This so decimated communities and even entire provinces that tradition was entirely broken; when it was over, the communities were frequently built up again with people who had no vocation or were merely sent scurrying thither by the panic which the plague had caused in them; those who had a vocation could not always find someone to train them in the Carmelite way of life. The Western Schism (1378-1417) aggravated the situation: Carmelites were divided in allegiance between two popes - one in Rome, the other in Avignon. Besides, bad example in the upper echelons of the Church did nothing to improve the atmosphere in its lower reaches. To complete the picture, one must add that the Hundred Years War between England and France (1337-1435) coincided largely with the factors just mentioned. One can readily imagine what this meant in terms of fire, pillage and general disruption of that peace and stability which studies and the monastic life need in order to flourish.

If we are to understand the 15th and 16th centuries to any degree all these elements must be borne in mind. From the Council of Constance (1414-1418) to that of Trent (1545-1563) the most urgent problem facing both the Church and the religious Orders was that of Reform. The Carmelites were no exception, and they persevered until success finally crowned their efforts.

The situation in which the Order found itself at the beginning of the 15th century prompted its superiors to petition the Holy See to adapt the Rule once again. This, they felt, would serve as a basis for the renewal or restoration of the Order. The regulations concerning fast and abstinence contained in the old Rule were inhibiting the youth of the 15th century from entering the Order, and without youth there was no hope of revitalising it. Besides, they found that those already in the Order either observed these regulations and injured their health or did not observe them and then suffered from scruples. The passage in the Rule ordering the religious to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night in their cells and to be watchful in prayer also gave rise to some difficulties of interpretation, particularly when taken too literally.

For these reasons, the General Chapter held at Nantes in 1430 decreed that the pope was to be asked to clarify or mitigate these points. As a result, Pope Eugene IV granted the Bull Romani Pontificis; it was dated 15 February 1432 and promulgated in 1435.

What this Bull did, in effect, was to allow meat to be eaten three times a week and permit the friars to leave their cells at suitable times to walk in the cloisters or to spend some time in the church. Eugene IV did not amend the text of the Rule in any way; these were marginal glosses which left the text itself, as approved by Innocent IV, intact.

This latest papal approval gave fresh impetus to the work of renewal which, thanks to the lead of successive Priors General and sometimes stimulated by those grass-roots initiatives which led to the phenomenon of reformed Congregations, was already

making steady progress. These "Congregations" were features of practically all the Orders at that time. The most important to emerge within the Carmelite Order were that of Mantua (1413-1783) and that of Albi (1499-1602). What happened was that, faced with the inability to reform the Order as a whole, the superiors allowed reformed monasteries to group together, with a superior who was directly responsible to the General; that gave them sufficient freedom to proceed with their intent. It was looked upon as a temporary expedient, which would cease to be necessary as soon as the rest of the monasteries embraced the same measure of reform. Obviously, self-government would then be no longer necessary. What happened in reality, however, was that after variously lengthy periods of independence these Congregations were simply re-incorporated into the main body of the Order.

Not surprisingly, relations between the reformed Congregations and the central government of the Order were not always cordial, and this did nothing to help the effectiveness of the intended reform. Such dissension, quite understandable when a new group forms within an institution, sometimes arose from the rather excessive privileges granted to the reformed members, sometimes from the exaggerated zeal with which the reformed tried to take over further monasteries and disturbed the peace of those brethren who preferred a more leisurely pace. There were also those who joined reformed groups for their own selfish reasons rather than from a genuine desire for greater perfection; these only complicated matters still further.

The Priors General who won most acclaim for their promotion of reform within the Order were: Bl. John Soreth (general 1451-1471), Bl. John Baptist of Mantua (1513-1516), Nicholas Audet (1514-62) and, finally, John Baptist Rossi (or Rubeo, as he was known to St Teresa). He became vicar general in 1562 and was general from 1564 to 1578.

Then came the Council of Trent and its reform of religious life generally. The Carmelite Order's response to its measures renewed its ancient vigour, so that by the time of the various suppression which took place in the 18th and 19th centuries it had reached a membership of 15,000.

Ever since Pope Innocent IV combined apostolate with contemplation for them, the Carmelite ideal had never changed, though the forms in which it has found expression have had to be adapted to changing circumstances, and the brief Rule has been explained and developed in the commentaries which the various Constitutions and spiritual treatises have made upon it.

The characteristic Carmelite devotion to Our Lady and St Elias has also found a variety of expressions down the centuries, but its development has retained continuity with the past. In Mary they found the perfect personification of the union with God to which the whole of Carmel aspires: «Mary is the Carmelite ideal come to life: a life of listening to God's word, of total commitment to His service in the work of salvation». The figure of Elias, exemplar of the man of prayer, served as a model and inspiration to the whole monastic tradition from its very beginnings. Its influence on Carmelite spirituality increased steadily until it reached a point at which Elias was regarded for several centuries as the literal founder of the Order."

-- Teresian Carmel: Pages of History by Fr Idelfonso Moriones, ocd

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Feast of St Matthew the Apostle

"It came to pass one day at Capernaum, that Christ went forth and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom; and he said unto him: Follow me.  And he left all, rose up, and followed him.  And Levi made him a great feast in his own house.  This Levi is the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew.  After that Christ was risen again from the dead, and while he was yet in Judea, before he set forth for that land which had fallen to the lot of his preaching, he wrote the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Hebrew tongue, for the sake of them of the circumcision who had believed.  His was the first written of the four Gospels.  Thereafter he went to Ethiopia, and there preached the Gospel, confirming his preaching with many miracles.

Of his miracles, the most notable was that he raised the King's daughter from the dead, and thereby brought to believe in Christ the King her father, his wife, and all that region.  After that the King was dead, Hirtacus, who came after him, was fain to take his daughter Iphigenia to wife, but by the exhortation of Matthew she had made vow of her maidenhood to God, and stood firm to that holy resolution, for which cause Hirtacus commanded to slay the Apostle at the Altar while he was performing the mystery.  He crowned the dignity of the Apostleship with the glory of martyrdom upon the 21st day of September.  His body had been brought to Salerno, where it was afterwards buried in a Church dedicated in his name during the Popedom of Gregory VII, and there it is held in great worship and sought to by great gatherings of people."

-- From the 1911 Breviary of Pius X (1950 ed)

** The Martyrdom of St Matthew by Caravaggio

Monday, September 20, 2010

Memorial of St Eustace & Companions

"Eustace (whose name before his Baptism was Placidus) was a Roman, alike well-known on account of his noble birth, his great earthly wealth, and his eminent distinction as a soldier.  He gained, under the Emperor Trajan, the post of military commander.  Once upon a time he was hunting, and following an extraordinarily large stag, when the beast stood still, and Eustace saw between his horns a tall and glorious figure of the Lord Christ hanging upon the Cross, whence came a voice bidding him to follow after life eternal.  Thereupon Eustace and his wife Theopista, and their two little sons Agapitus and Theopistus, enlisted themselves as soldiers under the Great Captain, Christ.

In a little while he went back, according as the Lord had commanded him, to the place where he had seen the first vision, and there he heard from God how much he was to bear for his glory.  It was not long after that he had great losses and became exceedingly poor, but he bore it very patiently.  Then he was constrained to fly away privily, and on the journey was grievously afflicted in that, first, his wife and then his children were parted from him and carried he knew not whither.  Under the weight of these sorrows he lay hid a long while a far-off place, working as the steward of a land-owner, until the voice of God called him forth, and Trajan sought for him again to make him a captain in his army.

While he was with the army he found his wife and children once more, by an unexpected happiness, and re-entered the city of Rome as a conquering soldier amid the loud applause of all men, but thereupon, when he was commanded to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving for the victory to the gods that are no gods, he stoutly refused.  They tried him in vain with divers cajoleries to make him deny Christ, but could not, and he and his wife and little ones were thrown to the lions.  When these beasts would not touch them, the Emperor's fury was kindled, and he commanded them  all to be shut up in the brazen image of a bull, which was heated with fire underneath.  There they praised God until their testimony was ended, and they departed hence to be perfectly blessed for ever and ever, upon the 20th day of September.  Their bodies were buried whole by the faithful, with deep reverence, and were afterwards honourably carried to a Church built in their name."

-- From the 1911 Breviary of St Pius X (1955 ed)

** Painting by Pisanello

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bring to each action of daily life a spirit of faith

"The way to the possession of Jesus is in each hourly duty assigned to us. It is the thousand details and actions of daily life. We have only to bring to each of them a spirit of faith, and each moment will hold for us grace, and will hold for us God."

-- From the writings of Mother Aloysius of the Blessed Sacrament, ocd

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Memorial of St Joseph of Cupertino

"Joseph was born of godly parents at Copertino, a small village of the diocese of Nardo, between Brindisi and Otranto, in the year of Redemption 1603.  The love of God came to him early, and he passed his childhood and youth in great guilelessness and harmlessness.  After recovering by the help of the Virgin Mother of God from a long and painful sickness which he bore very quietly, he gave himself altogether to godliness and self-improvement.  God called him inwardly to higher things, and to give himself more utterly to his service, he determined in himself to join the Seraphic Order.  After divers failures and changes, he obtained his wish among the Friars of the convent of La Grotella.  He went first as a lay brother, on account of his ignorance of letters, but God was pleased to allow him afterwards to be taken among the choir-brethren.  After taking his solemn vows he was ordained Priest, and then set before him to aim at a more perfect life.  To this end (as far as in him lay) he thrust from him all earthly affections and all carnal things, even to such as seem almost needful for life.  He tormented his body with haircloth, scourging, spiked chains, and every kind of hardship and affliction.  He fed his spirit sweetly upon the constant exercise of holy prayer, and gazing upon the highest matters.  And so it came to pass that the love of God, which had been enkindled in his heart from his earliest years, burnt forth day by day more strangely and openly.

The chief outcome of this love of God was the strong and marvellous trances whereinto he oftentimes fell.  It was, nevertheless, strange to observe that after he had entirely lost his senses he could be called out the trance by the mere order of his superiors.  To be utterly obedient was one of his chief aims, and he was used to say that those who ruled him could lead him about like a blind man, and that it was better to die than not to obey.  He so imitated the poverty of the Seraphic Patriarch, that when he was at the point of death, when the Friars use to dispose of anything they have, he was able to tell his Superior that he had absolutely nothing.  Thus bearing about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, the life also of Jesus was made manifest in his body.  When he saw that certain persons had committed a foul sin of uncleanness, there came from him a strong savour, a proof of that snowy and glorious purity which, in spite of the most hideous temptations whereby the unclean spirit wrestled long to darken it, he kept undefiled, partly by an iron bridling of his senses, partly by the stern punishments he inflicted upon his own body, and partly by the extraordinary protection of the pure Virgin Mary, whom he was used to call his own Mother, whom he honoured and worshipped as his most tender Mother in his very heart of hearts, and whom he was eager that all men should honour, because, as he said, if we have her protection, every good thing cometh with it.

This eagerness on the part of the blessed Joseph was but one outcome from his love for his neighbours.  So great was his zeal for souls, that he vehemently sought in all ways for the salvation of all.  When he saw his neighbour in any trouble, whether it were poverty or sickness or any other affliction, his tenderness went out toward him, and he helped him as well as he could.  They who reviled, and slandered, and insulted himself were not cut off from his love.  He was used to welcome such with great long-suffering, meekness, and cheerfulness of countenance; and he preserved the same constantly amid many hardships and changes when he was sent hither and thither by command of the Superiors of his Order, and of the Holy Inquisition.  People and princes alike marvelled at the exceeding holiness of his life, and the spiritual gifts poured upon him from above, but he was so lowly, that he sincerely held himself to be chief among sinners, and earnestly besought God to take away from him the more showy of his gifts.  Of men he entreated that after his death they would cast his body somewhere where his memory might soonest perish.  But God, who exalteth them of low degree, glorified his servant during life with the gifts of heavenly wisdom, of prophecy, of discerning the hidden thoughts of the heart, of healing, and of other spiritual gifts in marvellous abundance, gave him a precious death, and made the place of his rest glorious.  He fell asleep in Jesus upon the very day and at the very place foretold by himself, that is, at Osimo, in the 61st year of his own age.  He was famous for miracles even after his death, and Benedict XIV enrolled his name among those of the Blessed, and Clement XIII among those of the Saints.  Clement XIV, being himself a member of the same Order, extended the use of the Office and Mass in memory of him to the whole Church."

-- From the 1911 Breviary of St Pius X (1950 ed)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Memorial of St Albert of Jerusalem

"Albert, born of an illustrious family, was deprived of his parents in the flower of his youth. Fearing to be contaminated with the pitch of this world, he left it and entered the institute of Canons Regular. There he advanced to such a degree in the pursuit of letters and in reputation for sanctity that he was like a candelabra upon the Church of Milan. After a few years he was sought out to be the Bishop of Vercelli.

This dignity did not puff him up, but he remained, as before, humble in manners, sparing in food, chaste in body, generous in almsgiving, assiduous in the divine office, and most fervent in preaching. And by his example he led both clerics and laity to a more virtuous life. Then he sought for by the eastern clergy as Patriarch of Jerusalem. This burden he accepted unwillingly in obedience to the Supreme Pontiff. In this office he conducted himself with such great holiness that he was held in veneration not only by the Christians but even by the Saracens.

From the works of St Basil and of John, 44th Bishop of Jerusalem, he drew up a rule of life to be observed by the Carmelite Order to which he was united by the tenderest bonds of love. In addition, in his zeal for promoting Christian piety, he had monasteries built on Mount Carmel in the cities of Ptolemais, Tyre, Sarephta, Sidon, Tripoli, and Lebanon. Persecuted by the fury of impious men, he retired secretly and joined the hermits of Carmel where he was consoled by the visible appearance of Jesus Christ and was wonderfully strengthened by the presence of the Virgin Mother of God. Full of holy works, he breathed out his soul to God with a serene countenance, surrounded by his weeping brethren.


Lord, may the fullness of your blessing descend upon us. May you ever be appeased by the pleading of St Albert, your Bishop and Confessor. This we ask of you through out Lord."

-- From the 1966 Discalced Carmelite Proper

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Memorial of Sts Cornelius and Cyprian

"Cyprian was an African.  He was first distinguished as a teacher of Rhetorick.  He afterwards became a Christian at the persuasion of the Priest Cecilius, whose surname he took, and parted all his goods among the poor.  It was not long before he was chosen a Priest, and then made Bishop of Carthage.  It would be idle to enlarge upon his wit, seeing that his works are as well known as the sun.  He suffered under the Emperors Valerian and Gallienus, in the eighth persecution, and upon the same day, though not in the same year, that Cornelius testified at Rome."

-- From the writings of St Jerome

"Cornelius was a Roman who held the Popedom during the reign of the Emperors Gallus and Volusian.  He, and that most holy Lady Lucina, took the bodies of the Apostles Peter and Paul out of the Catacombs and put them in more convenient places.  Lucina laid the body of Paul in a farm of her own upon the road to Ostia, hard by the place where he had received the sword-stroke.  Cornelius placed that of the Prince of the Apostles hard by where he had been crucified.  When this was told to the Emperors, and likewise that Cornelius was the means of making many Christians, he was banished to Civitavecchia, where Cyprian, the holy Bishop of Carthage, comforted him by letters.

They continued thus to write often one to the other, till the Emperors took in bad part these exchanges of Christian love, and sent for Cornelius to Rome.  There they commanded him to be lashed with scourges loaded with lead as though he were a traitor, and then to be carried to offer sacrifice before the image of Mars.  He firmly refused to commit this great wickedness, and was forthwith beheaded, upon the 14th day of September.  The blessed Lucina, with the help of the clergy, buried his body in the sand-pit on her own farm, near the Cemetery of Callistus.  He lived as Pope about two years."

-- From the 1911 Breviary of St Pius X (1955 ed)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

"The Martyrdom of the Virgin is set before us, not only in the prophecy of Simeon, but also in the story itself of the Lord's Passion.  The holy old man said of the Child Jesus: Behold, this Child is set for the fall and the rising again of many  in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; yea (said he unto Mary), a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.  Even so, O Blessed Mother!  The sword did indeed pierce through thy soul! for nought could pierce the Body of thy Son, nor pierce thy soul likewise.  Yea, and when this Jesus of thine had given up the ghost, and the bloody spear could torture him no more, thy soul winced as it pierced his dead side―his own Soul might leave him, but thine could not.

The sword of sorrow pierced through thy soul, so that we may truly call thee more than martyr, in whom the love, that made thee suffer along with thy Son, wrung thy heart more bitterly than any pang of bodily pain could do.  Did not that word of his indeed pierce through thy soul, sharper than any two-edged sword, even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit: Woman, behold thy son!  O what a change to thee!  Thou art given John for Jesus, the servant for his Lord, the disciple for his Master, the son of Zebedee for the Son of God, a mere man for Very God.  O how keenly must the hearing of those words have pierced through thy most loving soul, when even our hearts, stony, iron, as they are, are wrung at the memory thereof only!

Marvel not, my brethren, that Mary should be called a Martyr in spirit.  He indeed may marvel who remembereth not what Paul saith, naming the greater sins of the Gentiles, that they were without natural affection.  Far other were the bowels of Mary, and far other may those of her servants be!  But some man perchance will say: Did she not hope that he was soon to rise again?  Yea, she most faithfully hoped it.  And did she still mourn because he was crucified?  Yea, bitterly.  But who art thou, my brother, or whence hast thou such wisdom, to marvel less that the Son of Mary suffered than that Mary suffered with him?  He could die in the Body, and could not she die with him in her heart?  His was the deed of that Love, greater than which hath no man, her's, of a love, like to which hath no man, save he."

-- From a sermon by St Bernard of Clairvaux

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

"Dearly beloved, when we look to Christ lifted up on the Cross, the eyes of faith see more than what the wicked saw, unto whom it was said through Moses: And thy Life shall hang in doubt before thee, and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy Life.  They saw in the Crucified nothing but the work of their own wickedness.  As it is written: They feared greatly.  But their faith was not unto faith, which giveth life by justification, but unto the torture of their own bad conscience.  But our understanding is enlightened by the Spirit of Truth.  And so with pure and open hearts we can see the glory of the Cross shining over heaven and earth, and discern by inward sight what the Lord meant when his passion was nigh at hand, and he said: Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out; and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

O how wonderful is the power of the Cross!  O how unutterable is the glory of the Passion, wherein standeth the Lord's judgment-seat, and the judgment of this world, and the might of the Crucified!  Verily, O Lord, thou hast drawn all men and all things unto thee!  Albeit thou didst spread out thine hands all the day unto an unbelieving and gainsaying people, yet the world was made to feel and own thy Majesty!  Verily, O Lord, thou hast drawn all things unto thee!  For the senseless elements gave one wild cry of horror at the iniquity of Jewry; the lights of the firmament were darkened; day was turned into night; earth quaked with strange tremblings; and thus all God's works refused to serve the guilty.  Verily, O Lord, thou hast drawn all things unto thee!  For the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from top to bottom, and thus the Holy of Holies denied itself as a sanctuary for the ministration of unworthy priests, that the shadow might be changed for the substance, prophecy for realization, and the Law for the Gospel.

Verily, O Lord, thou hast drawn all things unto thee!  What was once veiled under types and shadows in the one Jewish Temple, is now hailed by the love of all peoples in full and open worship everywhere.  There is now a higher order of Levites, a more honourable rank of Elders, a priesthood with an holier anointing.  Thy Cross is for all men a well of blessings and a cause of thanksgiving.  Thereby for them that believe in thee, weakness is turned into strength, shame into glory, and death into life.  The changing ordinance of divers carnal sacrifices is gone; the one oblation of thy Body and Blood fulfilleth them all.  For thou art the true paschal Lamb that takest away the sins of the world.  Thou art thyself the accomplishment of all mysteries, so that as now there is one Sacrifice in place of many victims, so there shall be one kingdom composed of all peoples."

-- From a sermon by St Leo the Great

** Painting (fresco) by Piero della Francesca

Monday, September 13, 2010

Memorial of St John Chrysostom

"John of Antioch, who, on account of the golden stream of his eloquence, is called by the Greeks Chrysostomos, or, The golden-mouthed, was a lawyer and man of the world of much eminence, before he turned his great intellect and wonderful industry to the study of things sacred.  He took orders, and was ordained a priest of the Church of Antioch, and after the death of Nectarius, was forced by the Emperor Arcadius to accept, though sorely against his own will, the Archbishoprick of Constantinople.  Having received the burden of a shepherd's office, in the year 398, he set himself zealously to do his duty, struggling against the degradation of public morality and the loose lives of the nobility, and thereby drew upon himself the ill-will of many enemies, especially the Empress Eudoxia, whom he had rebuked on account of the money of the widow Callitropa, and the land of another widow.

Some bishops being assembled in a Council at Chalcedon, which Council the Saint held to be neither lawful, nor public, although he was commanded to go there, he refused.  Whereupon Eudoxia, striving earnestly against him, caused him to be sent into exile.  Soon after, however, the people of the city rose, and demanded his recall, and he was then brought back again amid great public rejoicings.  Nevertheless he ceased not to war against vice, and absolutely forbade the celebration of public games round the silver statue of Eudoxia in the square outside the Church of the Eternal Wisdom.  Upon this, a party of bishops, who were enemies to him, banded together, and obtained that he should be banished again, which was done accordingly, amid the lamentations of widows and the poor, who felt as if they were being deprived of a common father.  During this exile, it almost passeth belief how much Chrysostom suffered, and how many souls he turned to the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

At this time a Council was assembled at Rome, wherein Chrysostom's restoration to his See was decreed by Pope Innocent I, but meanwhile, he was suffering great hardships and cruelties on his journey at the hands of the soldiers who had him in charge.  As he passed through Armenia he prayed in the Church of the holy martyr Basiliscus, and the same night that blessed conqueror appeared to him in a vision and said: Brother John, tomorrow thou shalt be with me.  On the next day, therefore, he received the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and, arming himself with the sign of the Cross, resigned his soul to God, it being the 14th of September.  As soon as he was dead a furious hailstorm took place at Constantinople, and after four days the Empress died.  The Emperor Theodosius, the son of Arcadius, brought the body of John Chrysostom to Constantinople with great state, and numerously attended, and on the 27th of January, laid it with magnificent honours in the grave, beside which he prayed for the forgiveness of his own father and mother.  The holy body was afterwards taken to Rome, and is now buried in the Vatican Basilica.  The number, devoutness, and brilliance of St. John Chrysostom's sermons and other writings, his acuteness in exposition, and the close aptness of his explanations of Holy Scripture, have been and are the object of universal wonder and admiration, and often seem not unworthy to have been dictated to him by the Apostle Paul, for whom he entertained a wonderful devotion.  This most outstanding Doctor of the Church universal was proclaimed and appointed the heavenly patron of sacred orators by the Supreme Pontiff, Pius X."

-- From the 1911 Breviary of St Pius X (1955 ed)

** Our brethren following the traditional calendar observed this feast on 27 January.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In time of sorrow and trouble...

"In time of sorrow and trouble do not omit your customary good works of prayer and penance; because the devil tries to disturb you so that you will abandon them: but rather increase them, and you will see how soon the Lord will relieve you."

-- St Teresa of Avila

** Photo by Boyer d'Agen