Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

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 )

Friday, November 17, 2017

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

On November 17 the Church gives us the feast of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) who in her twenty-four years on earth embodied virtues which in today's world have almost ceased to exist: honesty, modesty, courage, chastity, self-denial and fidelity. She was not queen of Hungary, as many people think, but a princess. Her parents were the king and queen. Being royal in those days meant that your life was not your own. Marriages between two ruling families would form an alliance between countries and keep two countries from going to war. So from her infancy, Elizabeth was a living pledge of peace, since she was promised in marriage to the heir of Thuringia.

Elizabeth was sent to Germany at the age of four to be raised in the household of her betrothed, Louis of Thuringia, as was the practice of the time. It was heartbreaking for her parents to separate from their lively, dark-haired little girl, but they commended her to God and Our Lady. Louis' family disliked her, as was often the case with foreign royal brides, but he always cherished and protected his little fiancée. Elizabeth, although far from home, was a Magyar princess, and there was an intensity in her commitment to God and her husband which was repugnant to the placid Thuringians. They were married when Elisabeth was fourteen and Louis was about seventeen; he had inherited the dukedom of Thuringia from his father by then. Thuringia is roughly where Hesse-Darmstadt is now. In the thirteenth century it was a prosperous and powerful territory, although Louis was a duke, not a king.

Elizabeth had always shown a strong inclination toward piety as well as a great love of helping the needy and downtrodden. She opened a hospital for the poor in one of her castles and ran a soup kitchen. She was passionately in love with her husband, which is one of her most appealing aspects - she was a saint but she was also very much a woman. Louis truly loved his wife and sought for a fervent priest to guide her spiritual life. Unfortunately, her later confessor, the overzealous Conrad of Marburg, was excessively harsh with Elizabeth.

As Duchess, she established the Franciscan order in Thuringia and became herself a tertiary (with St. Louis of France, she is the patroness of tertiaries.) . Louis and Elizabeth had three children.

When Elizabeth was twenty, her husband died while on crusade. She ran shrieking through the castle, as if she had lost her mind. Her brother-in-law coveted the inheritance; he evicted Elizabeth and her three small children from their home. He forbade everyone in Thuringia to give them shelter. The little family had to hide in a pig pen from the rain. Poverty, loss and persecution did not embitter Elizabeth, as it would have embittered others, especially when it involved the suffering of her small children. She accepted everything from the hand of God.

Finally, someone got word to Elizabeth's father the King of Hungary, and he prevailed upon the Holy Roman Emperor to intervene. Elizabeth's lands were restored to her but she voluntarily chose holy poverty. After securing her children's welfare, she lived in a small room in the hospital she had founded and cared for the sick and the lepers. That would be like someone going to live with AIDS patients today.

Emperor Frederick begged for Elizabeth's hand in marriage but she refused. She died at the age of twenty-four and as she passed from this world a great light filled the room. Many miraculous cures were reported at her grave site. She was buried wearing the imperial crown which she had refused in life.

Thinking of St Elizabeth can help us when ever we feel afraid of poverty, or of being alone. Her spirit of humility and the renunciation of worldly honors can be imitated by all.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

St. Margaret of Scotland

St. Margaret (1045-1092) was a royal Saxon princess. From a dethroned and exiled family, riches and power meant nothing to her, for she saw how quickly such things can pass away. Consequently, she was deeply drawn to the monastic life. However, the Scottish King Malcolm Canmore sought her hand in marriage, so attracted was he by her beauty and virtue. They were married. Malcolm was on the wild side, but he and Margaret loved each other completely, and died three days apart.

As Queen of Scots, St. Margaret bore eight children, was devoted to the poor, and helped to reform the liturgy. As one article states:

Under Queen Margaret's leadership Church councils promoted Easter communion and, much to joy of the working-class, abstinence from servile work on a Sunday. Margaret founded churches, monasteries and pilgrimage hostels and established the Royal Mausoleum at Dunfermline Abbey with monks from Canterbury. She was especially fond of Scottish saints and instigated the Queen's Ferry over the Forth so that pilgrims could more easily reach the Shrine of St. Andrew.
Mass was changed from the many dialects of Gaelic spoken throughout Scotland to the unifying Latin. By adopting Latin to celebrate the Mass she believed that all Scots could worship together in unity, along with the other Christians of Western Europe. Many people believe that in doing this, it was not only Queen Margaret's goals to unite the Scots, but also Scotland and England in an attempt to end the bloody warfare between the two countries.
In setting the agenda for the church in Scotland Queen Margaret also ensured the dominance of the Roman Church over the native Celtic Church in the north of the country.
It is interesting how St Margaret championed the practices of the Roman rite over the Celtic traditions, although I have no doubt that the Celtic liturgy and devotions were quite beautiful. St. Margaret, however, saw the importance of harmony of worship for the people of her country, especially after the upheavals of their century.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

All Carmelite Souls

On the Carmelite calendar to day is the feast of All Carmelite Souls. We pray for all those united in the Order of Carmel who have passed from this world. Here is a meditation on purgatory by Fr. Angelo, based on the writings of St. Catherine of Genoa. To quote:
Remembrance of the holy souls is self-forgetfulness. It is the cure . . . for them, and for us. Unless, God forbid, we go to hell, someday we will forget ourselves and remember the ultimate realities: God and our obligations toward one another. We can do it now or we can do it later. The souls in Purgatory would have us do it now.
They remember us. Do we remember them? This is no time to sleep. Rest will come, but until now, we have not toiled for God nearly enough.
The good men we have canonized at their funerals will not thank us for the kind and laudatory eulogies. We forget the sufferings of others so as to console our families, and ourselves and in this no one is served, not ourselves, not our families, and certainly not the souls of the departed. Oh, sweet sleep. How we crave rest, yet we will not find it unless we give it. During this November we would do well to do more than a casual visit to a cemetery or a write a check and conveniently hand it to our pastor for yearly masses, though both of these we should do. Indeed, nothing can be more efficacious than the Mass, except a Mass that is dedicated by the stipend of our own hearts.
The apostles slept through Our Lord’s agony and we sleep through the agony of the poor souls. It is so easy to do. Perhaps we could offer time with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, or more frequent communions for the grace to understand better the extremity of the situation and how the deliverance of the poor souls from their suffering will help protect us against our own peril, and how our imitation of their selfless desire for purity may save us from their present distress.
Love is not loved. But it need not be that way. Now is not the time for us to rest. (Read more.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

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)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

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)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

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.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity

As the Bride of Christ, she meditated on the Divine Indwelling. (More HERE.) In her own words:
O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, would that I might be for you a spouse of your heart! I would anoint you with glory, I would love you - even unto death! Yet I sense my frailty and ask you to adorn me with yourself; identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, submerge me, overwhelm. me, substitute yourself in me that my life may become but a reflection of your life. Come into me as Adorer, Redeemer and Saviour.

O Eternal Word, Word of my God, would that I might spend my life listening to you, would that I might be fully receptive to learn all from you; in all darkness, all loneliness, all weakness, may I ever keep my eyes fixed on you and abide under your great light; O my Beloved Star, fascinate me so that I may never be able to leave your radiance.
Father Mark discusses the ongoing mission of the Carmelite nun, as follows:
Before her death, Elizabeth sensed that she would be entrusted with a mission in heaven. "I think," she said, "that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them go out of themselves to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within that will allow God to communicate Himself to them and transform them into Himself."

Friday, November 3, 2017

Contemplatives and Social Media

Written for Benedictines but applicable to Carmelites. From Vultus Christi:
The computer, like the tongue, can be used to praise God and bless men. It can also be misused, even to the point of sin. The oblate seated in front of his or her computer screen must be vigilant, practicing restraint. At the click of a key, words can be disseminated over the face of the earth. Ill–considered words can cause irreparable harm, wound charity, foment division, and give scandal. Saint Benedict’s injunction that one “ought at times to refrain even from good words for the sake of silence” must be applied to the use of the internet and social media. The oblate will take care never to use wounding sarcasm or indulge in deprecating humour. (Read more.)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

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.)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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.
Related Posts with Thumbnails