Wednesday, November 30, 2016

O Bona Crux

On this day, Andrew the poor fisherman from Galilee, patron saint of Scotland, of Greece, and of Russia, passed into eternal glory after many ordeals. Here is an excerpt from the old Martyrology for November 30, Feast of St Andrew the Apostle, as quoted in Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year, Vol XV :
Andrew, having been brought to the place of execution, seeing the cross at some distance, began to cry out: O good cross, made beautiful by the body of my Lord! so long desired, so anxiously loved, so unceasingly sought after, and now at last ready for my soul to enjoy! take me from amidst men, and restore me to my Master; that by thee He may receive me, Who by thee redeemed me. He was therefore fastened to the cross, on which he hung alive two days, preaching without cessation the faith of Christ....

Hail and Blessed

Here is an old prayer which if meditated upon daily from the feast of St. Andrew until Christmas Eve is said to be instrumental in bringing many graces. (An old Italian nun once told me it was supposed to be pondered fifteen times a day, rather like the prayer of the rosary, so that the soul comes to taste the meaning of the words, and enter into the ineffable mystery.)
Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment when Jesus Christ was born of the pure Virgin Mary at midnight in Bethlehem in piercing cold. At that hour vouchsafe O my God to hear my prayer and grant my petition through the intercession of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary His Mother. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

St. Cecilia


While in Rome, my mother bought me a small statue of Saint Cecilia, the Roman martyr from the turn of the early third century. It is based on the life-size one in her basilica, sculpted after her incorrupt body was exhumed in the sixteenth century. She is lying on her side in her dressing gown with her neck half-severed. Cecilia was killed in her bathroom, and the executioner who hacked at her neck was put off by her calm dignity. It took her three days to die. The prelude to her ordeal was an attempt to scald her, which was why she was found near the bath - one of those huge Roman baths. For Cecilia belonged to one of the ancient Roman families and possessed great wealth. She was young, beautiful, and desired, but she died because she refused to renounce her Savior.

While journeying through life it is easy to understand why so many of the martyrs were very young. When people are young they do not understand what it is to lose life. Sacrifices are easier when you do not fully grasp what is being renounced. There is a special valor, a reckless courage, possessed by young soldiers which old soldiers do not always have. And yet Christians of every age are called to be soldiers of Christ and martyrs in spirit if not in body. The fortitude that seemed so effortless in my grandparents in their old age I see now was no small thing.

As Abbot Gueranger wrote in The Liturgical Year, Vol XV :
The lesson will not be lost if we come to understand this much: had the first Christians feared, they would have betrayed us, and the word of life would never have come down to us; if we fear, we shall betray future generations, for we are expected to transmit to them the deposit we have received from our fathers.
Those who had faith and courage, whether it was Saint Cecilia in her agony, or my grandmothers in their nursing homes, where they spent many years before they died, have passed on to me a priceless gift.

Monday, November 14, 2016

All Carmelite Saints

"With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts." ~3 Kings 19:10

Today the Carmelite Order commemorates the members of our Order who have ascended the mountain of perfection to their heavenly home. They sought God alone, conversing with Him in the depths of their hearts. Our Lord once said to the Holy Mother St. Teresa: "I desire that you no longer hold conversation with men, but with angels," and in many ways those words can be applied to all who follow the Carmelite way. The habits of the interior life, of recollection and mortification, must be cultivated amid our daily duties in order to create an atmosphere conducive to contemplation. In the Rule of St. Albert, the medieval hermits were told: "In silence and hope shall your strength be." (Isaias 30:15) During the theophany on Mt. Horeb, Elias the prophet experienced the Lord God, not in the earthquake, or in the fire, but in a "whistling of gentle air." (3 Kings 19:12) It is in silence and solitude that generations of Carmelites have sought to live in imitation of Elias, "meditating day and night on the law of the Lord and watching in prayer." (Rule of St. Albert)

The primary example of the saints and blessed of the Order has been Our Lady, the Queen and Beauty of Carmel, both in her hidden life at Nazareth and in her anguish at the foot of the Cross. St. Teresa enjoined her nuns to meditate on the lives of Christ's Mother, and His saints. "We need to cultivate and think upon and seek the companionship of those who, though living on earth like ourselves, have accomplished such great deeds for God." (The Interior Castle, p.172)

Speaking particularly of the hermits of old, the Holy Mother exhorts her daughters in The Way of Perfection:
Let us remember our holy fathers of the past, those hermits whose lives we aim to imitate. What sufferings they endured! What solitude, cold, hunger, and what sun and heat, without anyone to complain to but God! Do you think that they were made of steel? Well, they were as delicate as we. (The Way of Perfection, p.81)

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Prayer for America on Election Day

In thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded: deliver me in thy justice. Bow down thy ear to me: make haste to deliver me. Be thou unto me a God, a protector, and a house of refuge, to save me. For thou art my strength and my refuge; and for thy name's sake thou wilt lead me, and nourish me. Thou wilt bring me out of this snare, which they have hidden for me: for thou art my protector. Into thy hands I commend my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth. Psalm 30: 1-5 (Douai version)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

All Souls

The day following All Saints is the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, All Souls Day. "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they might be loosed from their sins." (2 Maccabees 12: 46) These words reflect the Jewish origins of the practice of praying for the dead, a practice continued by the Church. On All Souls Day, every priest has the privilege of celebrating three Masses. A full plenary indulgence can be gained for a soul of the faithful departed on November 2 and on everyday of the week that follows, by fulfilling the usual conditions. As The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.

An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.” (CCC, 1471)
The custom of gaining indulgences for the living and the dead goes back to the early Church. As explained by Fr. William Saunders:
From the earliest days of the Church, individuals have offered prayers and good works for the salvation of sinners. In those times, absolution was not granted until both confession and penance had been performed (and the penances were very lengthy in duration, even lasting months). Penitents oftentimes asked martyrs facing death for aid (to offer their sufferings for the atonement of the penitents’ sins) so that full reconciliation with the Church and re-admission to the sacraments could be obtained more speedily. When a martyr offered his sufferings to expiate the sins of a penitent, the Church recognized this charitable act and granted absolution. For example, St. Cyprian (d. 258) stated, "Those who have received certificates from the martyrs and are able to be assisted by their privileged position before God" may be absolved and "come to the Lord with the peace which the martyrs, as indicated in letters sent to us, desired to be given them" ("Letter to the Clergy," 18 (12), 1). In such cases, the penitents received an indulgence which satisfied their penance. Herein lies part of the basis for our belief. (Fr. William Saunders, The Catholic Herald, January 27, 2005)
However, it is not only on All Souls Day but on every day of the year that Holy Mother Church prays for her departed children. Every Mass is offered for both the living and the dead. According to the Council of Trent, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the chief means of bringing succor to the souls in Purgatory. The prayers and good works of the faithful can also benefit the dead.

St. Teresa of Avila had a great love for the suffering souls, a love that was willing to bear the vicissitudes of life in order to aid them. We, too, can bear the pin pricks of inconveniences, of gossip, of calumny and misunderstanding, to gain deliverance from the chastisements of the netherworld those whom we have loved, family members, and even our enemies.

Purgatory is not inevitable, but we can undergo our purgation here on earth by our patient endurance of trials. It is not the intensity of the trial itself that expiates sin; rather it is the intensity of the love for God with which the trial is accepted. Love is what matters most.

(Published in the November-December 2008 issue of Canticle Magazine.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Solemnity of All Saints

On November 1 the Church commemorates the "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1), both hidden and renowned, who have ascended the mountain of perfection to their heavenly home. As the nineteenth century French liturgist Dom Gueranger expressed it:
Blessed are they who are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb! Blessed are we all, who have received in baptism the nuptial robe of holy charity, which entitles us to a seat at the heavenly banquet! Let us prepare ourselves for the unspeakable destiny reserved for us by love. To this end are directed all the labors of this life; toils, sufferings, struggles for God's sake, all adorn with priceless jewels the garment of grace, the clothing of the elect....Let us sing, then, with the psalmist: "I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord...." (Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year, Vol XV, p.58)
The Little Flower greatly relied upon the intercession of the saints. In her autobiography, St Thérèse wrote:
Remembering the prayer of Eliseus to his Father Elias when he dared to ask him for his double spirit, I presented myself before the angels and saints and I said to them: 'I am the smallest of creatures; I know my misery and feebleness, but I know also how much noble and generous hearts love to do good. I beg you then, O Blessed Inhabitants of Heaven, I beg you to adopt me as your child. To you alone will be the glory which you will make me merit, but deign to answer my prayer. It is bold, I know; however, I dare to ask you to obtain for me your twofold spirit.' (The Story of a Soul, pp.195-196)
Shortly before her death, St. Thérèse had a dream in which the Venerable Mother Anne of Jesus, one of the foundresses of the Carmelite reform in the sixteenth century, assured her that she would soon possess eternal beatitude. The saint of Lisieux was surprised because, as she penned:
I was, up until then, absolutely indifferent to Venerable Mother Anne of Jesus. I never invoked her in prayer and the thought of her never came to mind....And when I understood to what a degree she loved me, how indifferent I had been towards her, my heart was filled with love and gratitude, not only for the saint who visited me, but for all the blessed inhabitants of heaven. (The Story of a Soul, pp.191-192)
We will never know in this life how individual saints, perhaps ones we have never heard of, have interceded for us. Through prayer and the Eucharist, we can draw upon the merits of our brothers and sisters in Paradise. Such richness is ours in the Communion of Saints, for all belong to Christ.

(Published in the November-December 2008 issue of Canticle Magazine.)

Image from Vultus Christi.
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