Saturday, November 22, 2014

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.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Presentation of Mary

Father Mark offers some history and thoughts to ponder on the feast commemorating Our Lady being taken to the Temple at the age of three by her parents.
In the hidden recesses of the old Temple, the Holy Ghost prepares the new Temple, the all-holy Virgin, to become the Mother of God . Destined to be the living Temple of the Word, Mary dwells in the Temple of the Old Dispensation. She hears the chanting of the psalms, the prophets, and the Law. Was it there that the Most Holy Virgin learned Psalm 118, the long litany of loving surrender to the Word? And was it from Psalm 118, held in her heart from so tender an age, that she drew her response to the message of the Angel, “Be it done unto me according to Thy Word” (Luke 1:38)?
There planted in the Lord, the dew of His Spirit made her flourish in the courts of her God, and like a green olive she became a tree, so that all the doves of grace came and lodged in her branches. (Saint John Damascene, Upon the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, ch. 15)
Virgin Mother of the Lamb
There Mary smells the fragrance of incense and burnt offerings. There she observes the faithful of Israel streaming towards Zion, filling the Temple, seeking the Face of the Lord. Priest, altar, and oblation are not unfamiliar to the Virgin who, gazing upon her Son, will recognize in Him the Eternal priest, the Altar of the New Covenant, the pure Victim, the holy Victim, the spotless Victim offered in unending sacrifice.
To Belong to God
In the seventeenth century — the age of France’s “mystical invasion” — the mystery of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple captivated the hearts of Monsieur Olier and of others on fire with zeal for the holiness of the priesthood, for the beauty of the consecrated life, and for the worthy praise of God. The so-called French School of spirituality, marked above all by the imperative of adoration and the virtue of religion, gravitated to the feast of November 21st as to the purest liturgical expression of the desire to be offered to God, to belong to God, and to abide in God’s house.
Virgo Sacerdos
When, in 1641, Jean-Jacques Olier (1608 – 1657) established the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, he placed it under the patronage of the Virgin Mary in the mystery of her Presentation in the Temple. The Child Mary, hidden in the Temple, learns the meaning of sacrifice and oblation; she is the sacerdotal Virgin, prepared by the Holy Spirit to stand at the altar of the Cross united to her Son, High Priest and immolated Lamb. Under the influence of the French Sulpicians, many religious congregations, established after the horrors of the French revolution, chose the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary as their foundation day, the day of religious profession, and of the renewal of vows.
This feast is a wonderful prelude to Advent. According to Dom Gueranger:
Mary, led to the Temple in order to prepare in retirement, humility, and love for her incomparable destiny, had also the mission of perfecting at the foot of the figurative altar the prayer of the human race, of itself ineffectual to draw down the savior from heaven. (From Abbot Gueranger's The Liturgical Year, Vol XV )

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Martinmas

It is the feast of St. Martin of Tours, the great thaumaturge who converted large parts of France. The cloak of St Martin was one of the most precious relics of France, borne before her armies, hence the word chape gave rise to our English words "chaplain" and "chapel." St. Martin spoke out against capital punishment for heretics. The shrine of St. Martin at Tours was one of the holiest of French pilgrimage sites; he is considered one of the patrons of the Holy Face devotion which also originated there. According to New Advent:
The Church of France has always considered Martin one of her greatest saints, and hagiographers have recorded a great number of miracles due to his intercession while he was living and after his death. His cult was very popular throughout the Middle Ages, a multitude of churches and chapels were dedicated to him, and a great number of places have been called by his name. His body, taken to Tours, was enclosed in a stone sarcophagus, above which his successors, St. Britius and St. Perpetuus, built first a simple chapel, and later a basilica (470). St. Euphronius, Bishop of Autun and a friend of St. Perpetuus, sent a sculptured tablet of marble to cover the tomb. A larger basilica was constructed in 1014 which was burned down in 1230 to be rebuilt soon on a still larger scale This sanctuary was the centre of great national pilgrimages until 1562, the fatal year when the Protestants sacked it from top to bottom, destroying the sepulchre and the relics of the great wonder-worker, the object of their hatred. The ill-fated collegiate church was restored by its canons, but a new and more terrible misfortune awaited it. The revolutionary hammer of 1793 was to subject it to a last devastation. It was entirely demolished with the exception of the two towers which are still standing and, so that its reconstruction might be impossible, the atheistic municipality caused two streets to be opened up on its site. In December, 1860, skilfully executed excavations located the site of St. Martin's tomb, of which some fragments were discovered. These precious remains are at present sheltered in a basilica built by Mgr Meignan, Archbishop of Tours which is unfortunately of very small dimensions and recalls only faintly the ancient and magnificent cloister of St. Martin. On 11 November each year the feast of St. Martin is solemnly celebrated in this church in the presence of a large number of the faithful of Tours and other cities and villages of the diocese.

(Artwork from The Western Confucian)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

"How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven."
~Gen. xxviii. 17

Today the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran, also called the Basilica of the Savior. As the Pope's official church, it is known as the "Mother Church of the World." Every Christian is called to be a Temple of the Lord, a tabernacle for the Divine Indwelling. This feast celebrates the holiness of the house of God, of every church building consecrated to His glory, of every Christian who through baptism becomes a sanctuary of the Most High. We look beyond the scandals of this world to the Bride of Christ, coming down out of Heaven from God, to the nuptial banquet at the end of time, of which we have already partaken. For every church is a miniature heaven, and every Mass is the marriage supper of the Lamb.

The purpose of the feast is here described:
By making the dedication of the papal church a feast throughout the world, the Church intends to stress Catholic unity without detracting from the glories of lesser churches. Other churches also have feasts, and each diocese celebrates the anniversary of its cathedral's dedication. Every church consecrated with chrism and marked on its stone-work with twelve crosses has its anniversary. But today, all churches everywhere, even bare rooms in poor towns, or huts in tropical missionary lands, align themselves in prayer with the Church's church: "Grant that whosoever enters this temple to ask good things from thee may rejoice in the obtaining of all his petitions" (Collect).
While we have one great High Priest, Jesus Christ, one Sacrifice in the holy Mass, one Faith, one Baptism, still it is for our convenience that in thousands of places we have God's temple, with thousands of human priests through whom Christ acts. The underlying unity of the Catholic Church compares with Christ's seamless robe: it is a mark of true Christianity.
For more than a thousand years successive popes ruled the true Church from their home near the Lateran basilica. Now, basilica means "house of a king," and you will recall that Pilate styled Jesus "King of the Jews" in mockery. Today the Lateran basilica is home of the King of Kings, and occasions a feast of praise. But the feast's special significance is that the Vicar of Christ the King maintains this church as his cathedral. The Pope lives now on the Vatican hill, near St. Peter's church, but he keeps the tradition of St. Sylvester: "This is that holy place in which the priest prays for the offenses and sins of the people" (Breviary).
Here is a beautiful quotation from Butler's Lives for November 9:
Hence churches have been usually consecrated by solemn rites and prayers, and it is a grievous sacrilege to profane them, or do in them anything but what has an immediate relation to the divine service: the church being the house of God. Though he be everywhere, he is said to reside particularly in heaven, because he there displays his presence by his glory and gifts. In like manner he honours the church with his special presence, being there in a particular manner ready to receive our public homages, listen to our petitions, and bestow on us his choicest graces.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

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.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hell Unleashed

From Mark Mallet:
Brothers and sisters, we need to take these collective warnings very seriously. We are at war. But rather than dwell any more here on the explosion of evil we are seeing—that is, the intensifying Storm—I want to make some very concrete suggestions to you of how to guard your heart and that of your families using this daughter’s summary. For the main point above is this: don’t be surprised to see such manifestations of evil exponentially increase in the days and months ahead. The restrainer has been lifted, and only those who keep the restrainer over their own hearts from evil will be protected.
The words of Jesus come to mind:
I have told you this so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you. (John 16:4)
(Read more.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

St. Raphael the Archangel


When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead, and didst leave thy dinner, and hide the dead by day in thy house, and bury them by night, I offered thy prayer to the Lord. And because thou wast acceptable to God, it was necessary that temptation should prove thee. And now the Lord hath sent me to heal thee, and to deliver Sara thy son's wife from the devil. For I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord. ~Tobias 12:11-15
He is one of the mysterious seven who stand before God. More HERE. The late Fr. John Hardon wrote an essay on the on-going mission of St. Raphael in our lives, saying:
Thank God for the trials in your lives. Express your gratitude for the hardships and trials He gives us. Quoting the archangel Raphael, God sometimes enables us who love Him to love Him more through trials. How we need to hear this. God’s graces can be pleasant and enjoyable, but the graces can also be difficult and painful. Never deceive yourself that what is pleasing to us is displeasing to God. Raphael talked to Tobias’ son and is teaching us this.
Finally, Raphael told father and son to be at peace. As we have seen on Christmas morning, again not just one angel, but a host of angels tell us “Peace on earth to men of Good will”. Whatever else we should learn but from not only Raphael, but from God speaking through His angels, is that we should not just be at peace but cultivate peace in our minds and in our hearts. What is peace of mind? Peace of mind is the experience of knowing the truth. Behind that statement stands years of experience. One allegedly developed country after another has tried everything that this world can offer, but are not at peace. Why not? Because we are only as much at peace in our minds as our minds possess the truth. That is why when God became man, He identified Himself as, “I am the truth.”
What is the truth? Truth is our minds corresponding with reality. Yet, millions are living in a dream world of unreality. They do not posses the truth, and the truth, I repeat, is the agreement of the mind with reality. I keep telling one audience after another, statisticians tells us that ninety percent of reading American read is fiction. How we need to guard our minds from reading bewitched by the untruth.
How do we acquire the truth? We acquire it, of course, from God’s revelation. But it is one thing to say posses the truth-such as there are three persons in one God, or I know that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ, the living God-man is present here on earth in the Holy Eucharist. But if we are to grow in this peace of mind, we are to grow in our understanding of the truth that God has revealed.
That is the main purpose of meditation. By prayerfully reflecting on God’s revealed truth we grow in our grasp and understanding of what God has revealed. And our minds grow in this blessed gift of peace of mind. But, as Raphael told father and son and is telling us, we are to have also peace of heart. A synonym for peace of heart is peace of will.
What is peace of heart? Peace of heart is the experience of doing God’s will. And that is the only true source and foundation of joy in this valley of tears. We shall have peace of heart only in the measure that we are doing God’s will. Ah, what an examination of conscience we must all make. How faithful to God’s will am I? How ready am I to accept the cross He sends me? How willing am I to share with others what God has so generously given me? How much attention do I give to prayer in my life? So the litany goes on. Peace of heart is the experience of doing the will of God, and that experience is the happiness of spirit. Know God’s will with the mind and doing it with the will.
As Christ later on will tell us, we are to be peace makers. We shall bring peace to others only if we are at peace ourselves. We will bring peace to others by sharing with them the truth which we believe. We shall bring peace to others only in the degree that we ourselves are generous, loyal and doing the will of God. All of this and far more is locked up in the most detailed and deepest revelation of an angel sent by God to teach us how we are to live our lives here on earth in anticipation of joining the choirs of angels in a heavenly eternity.
Lord of the angels, we thank you for providing for our needs by sending your angels to help us. Your angel Raphael’s name means “God heals,” send us your angels to heal us from such bodily infirmity as you wish us to have removed. But, dear Lord, heal us especially in our spirit from the sickness of soul so that healthy in mind and body we may bless you, the Lord of the angels, and that we may grow in our love for you, healed by you through your angels here on earth and that we may reach you and join you for all eternity.
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