Sunday, March 26, 2023

Vexilla Regis

From A Clerk at Oxford:
This season, from this present day until the holy Eastertide, is called Christ's Passion-tide, and all God's servants in the holy church with their divine liturgies honour and hold in mind his Passion, through which we were all redeemed. Our books say, too, that we should keep this fortnight with great devotion, because of the approach of the holy Passion and the glorious resurrection of our Saviour. In these days we omit in our responses 'Gloria Patri', in mourning for the holy Passion, except if a great feast-day occurs then.

This is the opening of Ælfric's sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent. As he explains, the last two weeks before Easter are traditionally Passiontide, Cristes ðrowung-tid, a season with its own customs and character of deepening solemnity for genealæcunge þære halgan ðrowunge 'because of the approach of the holy Passion'. Along with practices such as that mentioned by Ælfric of omitting 'Gloria Patri' in the liturgy, the season has its own hymns, most famously 'Vexilla Regis Prodeunt': (Read more.)

Passiontide


Today we veil the statues and pictures of our home altar with purple cloth, in observance of Passiontide. Although the Fifth Sunday of Lent is not designated as "Passion Sunday" on the new calendar, it is still permissible to cover the statues and sacred images during this week and the next. It really helps to create a spirit of mourning in honor of the sufferings of Our Lord. The Church offers a treasury of beautiful hymns which draw the soul into the mystery of Christ's passion and death.

As Abbot Gueranger writes in The Liturgical Year, Vol VI:
Let us hope that, by God's mercy, the holy time we are now entering upon will work such a happy change in us, that, on the day of judgment, we may confidently fix our eyes on Him we are now about to contemplate crucified in the hands of sinners. The death of Jesus puts the whole of nature in commotion; the midday sun is darkened, the earth is shaken to its very foundations, the rocks are split; may it be that our hearts, too, be moved and pass from indifference to fear, from fear to hope, and, at length from hope to love; so that having gone down with our Crucified to the very depths of sorrow, we may deserve to rise with Him unto light and joy, beaming with the brightness of His Resurrection, and having within ourselves the pledge of new life, which shall then die no more.
During Passiontide, it is good to reflect upon the nature of envy and jealousy, for it is envy and jealousy which killed Jesus.
Envy disrupts social life generally. It sets the child against the father, brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, and nation against nation. It kills friendship, undermines business relationships, and hinders reconciliation. It is one of the chief sources of misunderstanding, criticism, hatred, vengeance, calumny, detraction, and perverse attacks upon private life.

Envy and greed, the source of the world's unrest and wars, are sins against charity, because they make us seek what belongs to others. Often, even at the cost of harm to our neighbor, we want what does not belong to us....The envious person becomes distrustful, unjust, suspicious. Envy makes its victims ill-tempered, sad, and unapproachable....

Jealousy implies the fear of being displaced by a rival, or of being deprived of that which is rightfully ours or of that which we think ought to be ours. Jealousy is anther form of envy. Jealousy has to do with our own possessions, whereas envy has to do with the possessions of others. We resent an intrusion upon that which belongs to us, and we are prone to become vengeful at this disregard of our rights and claims.

Jealousy goes a step further than envy; it not only tries to lessen the good opinion others enjoy and criticizes those who are praised and rewarded, but is characterized by an excessive love of our own personal good and brings on a fear that we will be deprived of it. Jealousy prefers to see good left undone rather than lose a single degree of praise.
(Excerpt from The Hidden Power of Kindness by Father Lawrence Lovasik, Sophia Institute Press, 1999, pp.62-63)

Saturday, March 25, 2023

The Annunciation

By Arthur Hacker

The solemnity of the Annunciation is today. Prayer is not magic. A consecration is not magic. Our Lady is mother, not a high school algebra teacher. Russia has finally been mentioned by name in a consecration to the Immaculate Heart. Let us the Church militant, united with the Church triumphant and Church suffering, keep praying for a shower of grace upon the world. Once the prophet Elias prayed for rain to end Israel's drought, and the rain came. Here is a reflection from Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, OCD:
The Angel's explanation does not prevent future events and circumstances from remaining hidden and obscure to Mary. She finds herself face to face with a mystery, a mystery which she knows intuitively to be rich in suffering; for she has learned from the Sacred Scriptures that the Redeemer will be a man of sorrows, sacrificed for the salvation of mankind. Therefore, the ineffable joy of the divine maternity is presented to her wrapped in a mystery of sorrow: to be willing to be the Mother of the Son of God means consenting to be the Mother of one condemned to death. Yet Mary accepts everything in her fiat: in the joy as well as in the sorrow of the mystery, she has but one simple answer: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."

 Here is the text of the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary which the Holy Father made a year ago today: 

O Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, in this time of trial we turn to you. As our Mother, you love us and know us: no concern of our hearts is hidden from you. Mother of mercy, how often we have experienced your watchful care and your peaceful presence! You never cease to guide us to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Yet we have strayed from that path of peace. We have forgotten the lesson learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two world wars. We have disregarded the commitments we made as a community of nations. We have betrayed peoples’ dreams of peace and the hopes of the young. We grew sick with greed, we thought only of our own nations and their interests, we grew indifferent and caught up in our selfish needs and concerns. We chose to ignore God, to be satisfied with our illusions, to grow arrogant and aggressive, to suppress innocent lives and to stockpile weapons. We stopped being our neighbour’s keepers and stewards of our common home. We have ravaged the garden of the earth with war and by our sins we have broken the heart of our heavenly Father, who desires us to be brothers and sisters. We grew indifferent to everyone and everything except ourselves. Now with shame we cry out: Forgive us, Lord!

Holy Mother, amid the misery of our sinfulness, amid our struggles and weaknesses, amid the mystery of iniquity that is evil and war, you remind us that God never abandons us, but continues to look upon us with love, ever ready to forgive us and raise us up to new life. He has given you to us and made your Immaculate Heart a refuge for the Church and for all humanity. By God’s gracious will, you are ever with us; even in the most troubled moments of our history, you are there to guide us with tender love.

We now turn to you and knock at the door of your heart. We are your beloved children. In every age you make yourself known to us, calling us to conversion. At this dark hour, help us and grant us your comfort. Say to us once more: “Am I not here, I who am your Mother?” You are able to untie the knots of our hearts and of our times. In you we place our trust. We are confident that, especially in moments of trial, you will not be deaf to our supplication and will come to our aid.

That is what you did at Cana in Galilee, when you interceded with Jesus and he worked the first of his signs. To preserve the joy of the wedding feast, you said to him: “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3). Now, O Mother, repeat those words and that prayer, for in our own day we have run out of the wine of hope, joy has fled, fraternity has faded. We have forgotten our humanity and squandered the gift of peace. We opened our hearts to violence and destructiveness. How greatly we need your maternal help!

Therefore, O Mother, hear our prayer.

Star of the Sea, do not let us be shipwrecked in the tempest of war.

Ark of the New Covenant, inspire projects and paths of reconciliation.

Queen of Heaven, restore God’s peace to the world.

Eliminate hatred and the thirst for revenge, and teach us forgiveness.

Free us from war, protect our world from the menace of nuclear weapons.

Queen of the Rosary, make us realize our need to pray and to love.

Queen of the Human Family, show people the path of fraternity.

Queen of Peace, obtain peace for our world.

O Mother, may your sorrowful plea stir our hardened hearts. May the tears you shed for us make this valley parched by our hatred blossom anew. Amid the thunder of weapons, may your prayer turn our thoughts to peace. May your maternal touch soothe those who suffer and flee from the rain of bombs. May your motherly embrace comfort those forced to leave their homes and their native land. May your Sorrowful Heart move us to compassion and inspire us to open our doors and to care for our brothers and sisters who are injured and cast aside.

Holy Mother of God, as you stood beneath the cross, Jesus, seeing the disciple at your side, said: “Behold your son” (Jn 19:26.) In this way he entrusted each of us to you. To the disciple, and to each of us, he said: “Behold, your Mother” (v. 27). Mother Mary, we now desire to welcome you into our lives and our history. At this hour, a weary and distraught humanity stands with you beneath the cross, needing to entrust itself to you and, through you, to consecrate itself to Christ. The people of Ukraine and Russia, who venerate you with great love, now turn to you, even as your heart beats with compassion for them and for all those peoples decimated by war, hunger, injustice and poverty.

Therefore, Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine. Accept this act that we carry out with confidence and love. Grant that war may end and peace spread throughout the world. The “Fiat” that arose from your heart opened the doors of history to the Prince of Peace. We trust that, through your heart, peace will dawn once more. To you we consecrate the future of the whole human family, the needs and expectations of every people, the anxieties and hopes of the world.

Through your intercession, may God’s mercy be poured out on the earth and the gentle rhythm of peace return to mark our days. Our Lady of the “Fiat," on whom the Holy Spirit descended, restore among us the harmony that comes from God. May you, our “living fountain of hope,” water the dryness of our hearts. In your womb Jesus took flesh; help us to foster the growth of communion. You once trod the streets of our world; lead us now on the paths of peace. Amen.

Of His Kingdom There Shall Be No End

A meditation on the Annunciation by Father Thomas de Saint-Laurent:
God chose the Archangel Gabriel from among the princes of the celestial court who remained constantly before the throne of the Almighty. He entrusted to him the most important and glorious assignment ever confided to a creature, the mission of announcing to the Virgin the awesome mystery of the Incarnation. All Heaven now looked upon that simple house of Nazareth, where a profound peace reigned. Joseph probably rested from his hard labor. In the adjoining room, his virgin spouse was praying. The angel appeared and respectfully bowed before his Queen. His countenance resplendent with supernatural joy, he said to her, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”18 Saint Gabriel uttered but the strictest truth. At the moment of Mary’s conception, divine grace flooded her magnificent soul. Ever since then, this grace had grown ceaselessly in proportions far surpassing our feeble understanding. Now, at this moment, the adorable Trinity wanted this already extraordinary holiness to shine with even greater brilliance: Our Lady would shelter in her womb the very Author of grace.

Yet, the Archangel’s salutation troubled the Immaculate Virgin. By divine enlightenment she had long understood the immensity of God and the nothingness of creatures. In her prodigious humility, she considered herself the lowliest of creatures and thus wondered at receiving such praise. She pondered what hidden meaning could be shrouded in such words.

Seeing this most incomparably perfect of all creatures with such a humble opinion of herself, the celestial ambassador exulted with admiration. “Mary,” he said to the trembling Virgin, “fear not, for thou hast found grace with God.”19

Then slowly, majestically, in the name of the Eternal God, he communicated his sublime message: “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father, and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”20
These words were far too clear to Our Lady for any hesitation in grasping them. She immediately understood the incomparable honor reserved for her. It seems that she experienced no hesitation on account of her virginity. Indeed, it would be a gratuitous insult to her intelligence to suspect her of such ignorance. She was aware of the prophecy of Isaias that the Emmanuel would be born of a virgin. Rather, she simply sought to know how God, so rich in miracles, would accomplish such a marvel. “How shall this be done,” she asked the angel, “for I know not man?”21 “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. Therefore, the child which shall be born of thee shall be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who is called barren; for nothing shall be impossible with God.”22 Profound silence filled that small room in Nazareth, one of those dramatic silences wherein the world’s destiny hangs in the balance.

The angel had ceased speaking and Mary was quiet. How many thoughts crowded in upon her! In her mind’s eye, she saw the resplendent crown divine motherhood would place on her head, yet she remained too profoundly humble for any complacency about this singular grandeur. She saw the indescribable joys that would surely fill her heart when holding her dear treasure against her bosom, her Jesus, both God and infant. Yet again, her self-mortification would not allow that she be guided by the allure of joy alone, even the most holy of joys.

She also saw the awful martyrdom that would rend her soul. Through Holy Scripture she knew that the Messias would be delivered to His death like a tender lamb to the slaughter. She foresaw and heard the mournful cry: “I am a worm, and no man; the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people.”23 Yet, such was her fortitude that she would not allow future sorrow to dishearten her. Above everything, she saw the extremely lofty, fatherly, and holy will of God. She owed obedience to Him; she did not hesitate.
The Immaculate Virgin at last broke the solemn silence. The angel waited to receive her consent in the name of the Holy Ghost. In accepting, she pronounced one of those sublime expressions that only the genius of humility can find. It was the most simple and modest formula of a soul completely submissive to the will of God: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word.”24 At that, the grandest of all miracles took place. From the very flesh of the Immaculate Virgin, the Holy Ghost formed a small human body. To this body He joined a human soul; to this body and soul He united the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Word of God. (Read entire post.)

Friday, March 24, 2023

Mary, the Earthly Paradise

From Rorate Caeli:
Mary alone found grace before God without the help of any other creature. All those who have since found grace before God have found it only through her. She was full of grace when she was greeted by the Archangel Gabriel and was filled with grace to overflowing by the Holy Spirit when he so mysteriously overshadowed her. From day to day, from moment to moment, she increased so much this twofold plenitude that she attained an immense and inconceivable degree of grace. So much so, that the Almighty made her the sole custodian of his treasures and the sole dispenser of his graces. She can now ennoble, exalt and enrich all she chooses. She can lead them along the narrow path to heaven and guide them through the narrow gate to life. She can give a royal throne, sceptre and crown to whom she wishes. Jesus is always and everywhere the fruit and Son of Mary and Mary is everywhere the genuine tree that bears that Fruit of life, the true Mother who bears that Son. ~ Saint Louis de Montfort (Read entire article.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Conditions for Mortal Sin


 From Monsignor Charles Pope:

Recent and public conversations about the nature of mortal sin, the reception of Holy Communion and worthiness to receive the Eucharist have shown how some in our culture, even if they accept the concept that sin could be mortal, so limit the possibility of committing it that it barely exists at all in their moral landscape. This is usually done by distorting or blurring the three conditions under which sin is considered mortal. Briefly stated these conditions are:

Mortal sin is:  

  1. sin whose object is grave matter
  2.  which is also committed with full knowledge 
  3. and deliberate consent. (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1857)
In all three of these conditions, there is a tendency to endlessly raise questions and doubts as to exactly what each phrase means and demand an exactitude without which we refuse to accept that a mortal sin has been committed. To some degree we humans love to cultivate uncertainty for this helps us remain undecided  and avoid the moral judgement of our actions, which is required of us as free moral agents.  And thus we think, “Well, who’s to say? There are a lot of opinions out there. What exactly do we mean by ‘deliberate consent’ and ‘full knowledge’?” And we forever delay pondering the answers to such things by using our moral reasoning and coming to a mature and adult faith. But God who gave us an intellect and a will is not pleased by this constant shrugging and delaying of the examination of conscience that is our responsibility and dignity to make. (Read more.)

Monday, March 20, 2023

To Saint Joseph in Thanksgiving

 "I am poor, and in labors from my youth and being exalted, I was humbled and troubled." Psalm 87:16

Joseph of Nazareth
On a joiner's bench
You ply your trade.
Hands calloused
Fingers nimble.
Wood chips and shavings
At your feet.
Sawdust
In your beard.
You sing
The song of your people
Longing
For the Face
Of Him
Who is to come.

Joseph of Nazareth
Of David's line
You sing
The wedding song.
"My sister, my spouse
Is a garden
Enclosed..."
Virgin husband
Of the Daughter of Sion
You prepare a
Dwelling
For the Stainless One.

Joseph of Nazareth
In sweat of anguish
You ponder
Another Joseph
Thrown in the cistern.
Your song
Becomes sad.
"Save me
O God
For the waters
Are come in
Even unto
My soul..."
You sing
Then fall silent.
Sleep comes
With the breeze
That stirs
The curls of wood...
And then
The voice: 
"Joseph, Son of David,
Fear not...."

By a Carmelite tertiary


The Passion of Saint Joseph

 From Catholicism:

It has always been believed that Saint Joseph died some time before Our Lord’s Passion. The Virgin-Father of Our Lord breathed forth his last surrounded by Jesus and Mary, and thus became the patron of a holy death. Whereas the most holy Virgin was predestined to participate directly and most closely in the Passion of Our Lord — so much so that she earned the title Co-Redemptrix — not so, Saint Joseph. To speak, then, of “The Passion of Saint Joseph” is to consider something other than the great carpenter’s direct participation in the events of Good Friday.

While his body and soul awaited their reunion — the former in the tomb and the latter in the Limbo of the Just — Saint Joseph’s foreknowledge and influence both made him an indirect but very real participant in the drama of our redemption.

To Saint Joseph was given a foreknowledge of Our Lord’s Passion. In 1956, the Patriarch himself revealed this to the visionary, Sister Mary Ephrem Neuzel, as part of the revelations of Our Lady of America:

“My heart suffered with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Mine was a silent suffering, for it was my special vocation to hide and shield, as long as God willed, the Virgin Mother and Son from the malice and hatred of men.

“The most painful of my sorrows was that I knew beforehand of their passion, yet would not be there to console them.

“Their future suffering was ever present to me and became my daily cross. I became, in union with my holy spouse, coredemptor of the human race. Through compassion for the sufferings of Jesus and Mary I cooperated, as no other, in the salvation of the world.”

If his foreknowledge of Our Lord’s terrible sufferings made him participate actively, albeit indirectly, in the Passion, his influence made him also a unique passive participant. For potencies that Saint Joseph had carefully fashioned for many years were put into act long after his death as his son “trod the winepress alone” (Is. 63:3).

Parents often observe each other’s features in their offspring. “You look just like your mother when you do that,” or some such thing, is commonly uttered — evoking either a pleasant or a painful correspondence between spouse and child. Jesus, naturally, looked very much like Mary, having received, as He did, all of His genes from her, and none from her husband.[1]

But genes are not all that goes into a child. Whether we call it education, discipline, or training, the multi-faceted art of child-rearing impresses as much or more of the parent onto the child as do the data contained on the double helix of DNA. Personality or temperament are already determined at birth (of this I am reasonably confident), but character is formed by upbringing. As Saint Joseph was truly father to Our Lord in every conceivable way other than the strictly biological, he was, with Mary, responsible for Jesus’ upbringing, that is, the formation of His very unique character. As a father in Israel, he had the duty to foster an environment of respect, love, piety, and religious observance in the home. Head of the Jewish “domestic Church” of the Holy House, he dutifully performed certain household religious ceremonies at which Jesus assisted. As a poor artisan, Joseph also had the duty of teaching Our Lord a trade, and that an arduous one. In this light, we can consider what Saint Paul meant when he wrote to the Hebrews that “whereas indeed he was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Finally, as the male parent of the Boy, Saint Joseph was particularly responsible for imparting the masculine character that the Son of God would bring to His mission to save our race.

In a word, Our Lord’s practice of manly virtue was an icon that had been painted by Saint Joseph. (Read more.)


 (Image source)

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Lorica of Saint Patrick

Here is Fáed Fíada, "The Cry of the Deer" or "St. Patrick's Breastplate," a prayer attributed to the great Apostle of Ireland. 
 I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation. I arise today through the strength of Christ with His Baptism,
through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial
through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,
stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me,
God's host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who
shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.
I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose
my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry,
against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul.
Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning, against drowning,
against wounding, so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right,
Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

 

Visions of St. Patrick

Saint Patrick had many visions during his life. He once spent forty days and forty nights in deep prayer on a mountain, in imitation of Moses. According to New Advent:
His only shelter from the fury of the elements, the wind and rain, the hail and snow, was a cave, or recess, in the solid rock; and the flagstone on which he rested his weary limbs at night is still pointed out. The whole purpose of his prayer was to obtain special blessings and mercy for the Irish race, whom he evangelized. The demons that made Ireland their battlefield mustered all their strength to tempt the saint and disturb him in his solitude, and turn him away, if possible, from his pious purpose. They gathered around the hill in the form of vast flocks of hideous birds of prey. So dense were their ranks that they seemed to cover the whole mountain, like a cloud, and they so filled the air that Patrick could see neither sky nor earth nor ocean. St. Patrick besought God to scatter the demons, but for a time it would seem as if his prayers and tears were in vain. At length he rang his sweet-sounding bell, symbol of his preaching of the Divine truths. Its sound was heard all over the valleys and hills of Erin, everywhere bringing peace and joy. The flocks of demons began to scatter, He flung his bell among them; they took to precipitate flight, and cast themselves into the ocean. So complete was the saint's victory over them that, as the ancient narrative adds, "for seven years no evil thing was to be found in Ireland." The saint, however, would not, as yet, descend from the mountain. He had vanquished the demons, but he would now wrestle with God Himself, like Jacob of old, to secure the spiritual interests of his people. The angel had announced to him that, to reward his fidelity in prayer and penance, as many of his people would be gathered into heaven as would cover the land and sea as far as his vision could reach. Far more ample, however, were the aspirations of the saint, and he resolved to persevere in fasting and prayer until the fullest measure of his petition was granted. Again and again the angel came to comfort him, announcing new concessions; but all these would not suffice. He would not relinquish his post on the mountain, or relax his penance, until all were granted. At length the message came that his prayers were heard:
  • many souls would be free from the pains of purgatory through his intercession;
  • whoever in the spirit of penance would recite his hymn before death would attain the heavenly reward;
  • barbarian hordes would never obtain sway in his Church;
  • seven years before the Judgment Day, the sea would spread over Ireland to save its people from the temptations and terrors of the Antichrist; and
  • greatest blessing of all, Patrick himself should be deputed to judge the whole Irish race on the last day.
Such were the extraordinary favors which St. Patrick, with his wrestling with the Most High, his unceasing prayers, his unconquerable love of heavenly things, and his unremitting penitential deeds, obtained for the people whom he evangelized.
Saint Patrick, although he did not die for the faith, came very close to red martyrdom.
He tells us in his "Confessio" that no fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives, and on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains, and his death was decreed. But from all these trials and sufferings he was liberated by a benign Providence. It is on account of the many hardships which he endured for the Faith that, in some of the ancient Martyrologies, he is honoured as a martyr.
The reward of his sufferings was an extraordinary vision that was granted him before he died.
He saw the whole of Ireland lit up with the brightest rays of Divine Faith. This continued for centuries, and then clouds gathered around the devoted island, and, little by little, the religious glory faded away, until, in the course of centuries, it was only in the remotest valleys that some glimmer of its light remained. St. Patrick prayed that the light would never be extinguished, and, as he prayed, the angel came to him and said: "Fear not: your apostolate shall never cease." As he thus prayed, the glimmering light grew in brightness, and ceased not until once more all the hills and valleys of Ireland were lit up in their pristine splendour, and then the angel announced to St. Patrick: "Such shall be the abiding splendour of Divine truth in Ireland."
Many in Ireland said, after Saint Patrick passed from this world, that the night was no longer as dark as it had been before.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Sub Tuum Praesidium – A Polyphonic Video Recording

 

 From The Missive:

The Marian prayer Sub tuum praesidium is thought to be the oldest of prayers dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Ancient forms of the prayer have been found in Greek, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, and Latin.  A third century Egyptian papyrus fragment of the prayer in its Greek form can still be viewed today at the John Rylands Library in England. Traditionally, the prayer was sung in Litanies to the Blessed Virgin Mary and after the night Office of Compline.  In seminary life it is often said at the conclusion of each class.

Sub tuum
praesidium
confugimus,
sancta Dei Genitrix:
nostras deprecationes
ne despicias
in necessitatibus,
sed a periculis cunctis
libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa
et benedicta.
Under your
patronage
we take refuge
Holy Mother of God;
our petitions,
do not despise
in necessities,
but of all dangers
deliver us always
glorious Virgin
& Blessed.

This prayer, familiar to most by its traditional chant melody, has been a favorite of saints and composers alike throughout the ages.  Blessed Karl of Austria and Empress Zita are said to have had the prayer’s first lines, “Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, sancta Dei Genitrix,” engraved on their wedding rings, and composers, such as Palestrina, Haydn, Mozart, and Camille Saint-Saëns, set it to music after being inspired by its text. (Read more.)

Friday, March 10, 2023

Purim and Lent


 From The Missive:

Another Jewish feast, Purim, commemorates the saving of the Jewish exiles in the Persian Empire through the intercession of Queen Esther.  It is recorded in the Book of Esther that the Persian King, Assuerus, dismissed his queen because she offended him in front of the dignitaries of the Empire.  A quest was then made to find the most beautiful woman in the kingdom to be the new queen, and Esther, a Jewess, was chosen.  When later her adopted father and uncle Mardochai learned of a plot by Aman, a court official, to have all the Jews in the kingdom killed by command of the king, Mardochai asked Esther to approach and intercede with the king for their people.  This was not without danger, however, as the law stated that any who appeared before the king unsummoned would be immediately killed if the king did not signal clemency with his scepter.  After praying, Esther entered the presence of the king.  The king granted her mercy and said to her that “this law,” concerning entering the king’s presence, “this law is not made for thee, but for all others” (15:13).  Then, through the intercession of Esther, the Jews of the kingdom were saved, and their enemies defeated.

This Feast of Purim is yearly celebrated in February or March.  On this feast, the entire Book of Esther is read in the synagogues.2  The only time, in the Roman tradition, when a reading is taken from the Book of Esther during the Temporal Cycle is on the Wednesday after the Second Sunday of Lent, which occurs yearly around the same time as Purim.  This year, the Wednesday after the Second Sunday of Lent falls on March 8th, Purim on March 6th-7th.  In this way, the Roman Liturgy preserves, incorporates, and elevates, as it were, the celebration of Purim.

The Station, the Roman church where the Pope would celebrate Mass on a given day, chosen for the Mass of the Wednesday after the Second Sunday of Lent, is the church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere.  This is worth noting because the “oldest synagogue,” in Rome is “situated in the Trastevere quarter, near the present Church of St. Cecilia.”3  Indeed, “until the first century C.E. the Jewish settlement in Rome occupied the Trastevere section of the city.”4  So the Roman Christians, then, would have had their Liturgical observation of Purim, as it were, near the oldest synagogue in Rome in the area of the city historically associated with the Jews of the diaspora, Jews living outside of the Holy Land.  It should be remembered that the events recounted in the Book of Esther took place outside of the Holy Land also. (Read more.)

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Saints Perpetua and Felicity

The detailed account of their sufferings is one of the earliest and most highly authenticated testimonies from the early Church. The martyrs, two young mothers and their friends, faced their ordeal with courage and joy.
Now dawned the day of their victory, and they went forth from the prison into the amphitheatre as it were into heaven, cheerful and bright of countenance; if they trembled at all, it was for joy, not for fear. Perpetua followed behind, glorious of presence, as a true spouse of Christ and darling of God; at whose piercing look all cast down their eyes. Felicity likewise, rejoicing that she had borne a child in safety, that she might fight with the beasts, came now from blood to blood, from the midwife to the gladiator, to wash after her travail in a second baptism. And when they had been brought to the gate and were being compelled to put on, the men the dress of the priests of Saturn, the women the dress of the priestesses of Ceres, the noble Perpetua remained of like firmness to the end, and would not. For she said: For this cause came we willingly unto this, that our liberty might not be obscured. For this cause have we devoted our lives, that we might do no such thing as this; this we agreed with you. Injustice acknowledged justice; the tribune suffered that they should be brought forth as they were, without more ado. Perpetua began to sing, as already treading on the Egyptian's head. Revocatus and Saturninus and Saturus threatened the people as they gazed. Then when they came into Hilarian's sight, they began to say to Hilarian, stretching forth their hands and nodding their heads: You judge us, they said, and God you. At this the people being enraged besought that they should be vexed with scourges before the line of gladiators (those namely who fought with beasts). Then truly they gave thanks because they had received somewhat of the sufferings of the Lord.

[....]

But for the women the devil had made ready a most savage cow, prepared for this purpose against all custom; for even in this beast he would mock their sex. They were stripped therefore and made to put on nets; and so they were brought forth. The people shuddered, seeing one a tender girl, the other her breasts yet dropping from her late childbearing. So they were called back and clothed in loose robes. Perpetua was first thrown, and fell upon her loins. And when she had sat upright, her robe being rent at the side, she drew it over to cover her thigh, mindful rather of modesty than of pain. Next, looking for a pin, she likewise pinned up her dishevelled hair; for it was not meet that a martyr should suffer with hair dishevelled, lest she should seem to grieve in her glory. So she stood up; and when she saw Felicity smitten down, she went up and gave her her hand and raised her up. And both of them stood up together and the (hardness of the people being now subdued) were called back to the Gate of Life. There Perpetua being received by one named Rusticus, then a catechumen, who stood close at her side, and as now awakening from sleep (so much was she in the Spirit and in ecstasy) began first to look about her; and then (which amazed all there), When, forsooth, she asked, are we to be thrown to the cow? And when she heard that this had been done already, she would not believe till she perceived some marks of mauling on her body and on her dress. Thereupon she called her brother to her, and that catechumen, and spoke to them, saying: Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another; and be not offended because of our passion. (Read more.)
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Monday, March 6, 2023

The Limits of Obedience

 

"Convent Thoughts" by Charles Allston Collins

 For better is one day in thy courts above thousands. I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners.~Psalm 83:11 (The Vulgate)
I saw this post making the rounds on Facebook, with much shock and dismay from the devout. It is by Mary T., a former postulant from a strict contemplative order of nuns. The post describes the true sufferings of a sincere and fervent young lady who really wanted to give her life to God as the Bride of Christ. She describes how she found the requirements of obedience onerous and almost unbearable; her health eventually declined. A reader asked me for my thoughts on the article, knowing that in the late 80's and early 90's I explored religious life in the Discalced Carmelite Order, which led me to three different monasteries over the course of five years. Mary immediately had my sympathy since for several years, as any of my family and close friends will attest, I wanted the same thing very much, to be a nun. I understand the total sacrifice, the burning of bridges and giving up everything in order to follow Jesus. I also understand the pain of having to leave a beloved way of life and return to the world that one thought was safely left behind. 

Let me say that it was an honor for me to be admitted for even five minutes to any of those Carmelite monasteries where I discerned a vocation; in each one what I learned about God, faith, prayer, the liturgy and my own human weakness. I had the example of holy women whom I would probably never have met anywhere else, who were filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit and with zeal for the Lord of Hosts. But a vocation is a call from God. If one does not have a vocation to a particular community or to a certain way of life, then all the good will in the cosmos cannot give it. And while a person may have a call to religious life, they might not have a call to a particular community. Or even to a certain order or congregation. It is a matter for a great deal of prayer, discernment and spiritual direction from a prudent advisor.

The first thing that occurred to me when reading Mary's account of her time in the monastery was how health issues made her life of holy obedience almost impossible. Someone with dire health issues should not be admitted to a strict penitential monastery. By "penitential" I mean corporal penances such as limited personal hygiene, and fasting. And other things, such as sleeping on boards. If the health issues arose during the time in the monastery, then most communities would have sent the postulant home right away, unless it was a passing illness. If  a nun has a passing but serious illness like the flu, shingles, COVID, etc then most monasteries have an infirmary where the sick are cared for and all austerities are suspended until the nun recovers. But long-term failing health is usually a sign that a postulant does not have a vocation to a particular community. Now there are some communities, like those of the Visitation Order, that accept aspirants with health problems; there are probably other congregations as well. There are plenty of convents that are not so strict, which are bearable for a sensitive candidate, a candidate who might find the lack of hygiene in a strict monastery to be too much. There are convents where you can shower every day and change your underclothes every day. There is no shame in wanting to be clean.

Which brings us to the subject of underclothes. Let me be frank. Remember when Star Wars director George Lucas told Carrie Fisher aka Princess Leia that there was no underwear in space? Well, some monasteries are like outer space. Underclothes do not exist, except a rough linen or wool tunic which you also sleep in and change once a week, twice a week if you are in a more "progressive" community. When I read Mary's complaint about not being able to change her underwear I thought: "Wow, they got to wear underwear." Neither do the super austere ones have deodorant. In the heat of summer, most places allow a daily bath or shower, but it has to be really hot outside. And no air conditioning, at all. In the winter, no socks, unless you go out to shovel snow. But then I was only in Discalced Carmelite monasteries. We wore sandals all year long. Other monasteries have shoes and socks. We had perpetual abstinence from meat as well. In spite of such renunciations of physical comforts, cloistered nuns are famously long-lived.

Now we come to the issues of holy obedience. I was twenty-five years old when I first entered Carmel and everyone who knew me thought of me as being quite ladylike. But I had to have thorough etiquette lessons in the novitiate, like Marie-Antoinette arriving at Versailles. In an ancient way of existence, following a venerable Rule and ceremonial, where much of the day is spent in silence, then deportment becoming to the consecrated life is important and saves a lot of misunderstandings in the long run. I had to learn the traditional sign language, to kiss the floor if I committed a fault, to beg pardon of the community at the chapter of faults. Now faults are different from sins. Sins are for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Faults are mistakes you commit from human weakness and without intent, such as leaving the kitchen light on or forgetting to ring the bell for Compline.

As for obedience itself, in the monastery, under the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, a person is never to obey a sinful command, just as in the secular world. No one has the right to command you to sin. If the legitimate command of a superior is more than the person's physical or emotional strength can bear, i.e., if it makes them soil their clothes, or fall into intense anger, etc. then they must make a representation to their superior. A representation is when you are bound to be honest with your superior. If a nun has a passing but debilitating illness such as shingles or measles or whatever, she is supposed to tell her superior. And the superior is supposed to see that the nun is properly cared for in the infirmary or hospitalized if necessary. Obedience is not supposed to be a crushing burden to the soul or body. If it is, the individual is in the wrong place.

This is not to say that obedience is meant to be easy. It is a sacrifice in faith of one's free will. It can be emotional martyrdom. The difficult part of obedience, from what I have experienced and from what nuns, priests and religious have shared with me, is not when you are asked to do something hard, like making dinner for the community. The difficult part of obedience is when you are told to do something you think is stupid or ridiculous or in bad taste. Like singing a song you dislike. And in the cloister the tiniest things can grate on the nerves. Perhaps you are asked to decorate the altar in a way that you personally think is tacky. You can ask: "Mother, may I tell you another idea for decorating the altar?" And the superior may ask you for your opinion. Or she might just say: "Sister, just do as I ask." And you have to do it, even though you are convinced that God would be better glorified by your artistic vision. But no, God is glorified by a meek and humble heart.

One issue that struck me about Mary's eloquent and heartrending article is that, although her words ring with sincerity and truth, we are still only hearing her side of the matter. It would be interesting to hear what the nuns have to say about the demands they made upon her and why. But nuns do not issue public statements about ex-postulants, as a rule, so we will never know their view. So we pray for Mary to be led by Our Lord to wherever her gifts will be appreciated and where she will blossom.

One more word about religious life in general and cloistered, contemplative life in particular. Holy obedience in religious life often demands sacrifices that in any other circumstances would be abusive. It is like being in marine boot camp, or the Navy Seals. It can be extremely tough; you can be corrected for faults you had no idea you had, and humiliated before the entire community. If a postulant cannot take it, there is absolutely no shame. They are just not meant to be in that particular community. All communities are different, even within the same order, and each order or congregation has very specific guidelines about obedience in their constitutions that have to be approved by Rome. There are levels of obedience in all vocations, such as in marriage or in parish life. But the obedience of religious life, especially when solemn vows are made, cannot be compared to what is asked of a layperson. I know that most laypeople, and even secular priests, reading Mary's account, have been shocked. But most of what she describes is typical of strict cloistered monasteries, from what I have read and from my personal experiences. What disturbs me are the health issues she experienced that appear to have been long-term and a source of continued suffering. I hope she has healed and I wish her every blessing and happiness.

People ask me all the time why I left the monastic life. I had to leave it due to continuous severe migraines. Also, the nuns at the Carmel where I spent most of my novitiate thought that I had gifts which I needed to use in the secular world. Although I heartily disagreed with them, they turned out to be right. Obedience can be a bitter chalice but for it we have the example of  Our Lord. "My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26: 39)  

Friday, March 3, 2023

St. Katherine Drexel

St. Katherine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to educate African-American and Native-American children. Today is her feast. To quote:

Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia on November 26, 1858, the second child of Hannah and Francis Anthony Drexel. Hannah died five weeks after her baby’s birth. For two years Katharine and her sister, Elizabeth, were cared for by their aunt and uncle, Ellen and Anthony Drexel. When Francis married Emma Bouvier in 1860 he brought his two daughters home. A third daughter, Louise, was born in 1863. The children grew up in a loving family atmosphere permeated by deep faith.

The girls were educated at home by tutors. They had the added advantage of touring parts of the United States and Europe with their parents. By word and example Emma and Francis taught their daughters that wealth was meant to be shared with those in need. Three afternoons a week Emma opened the doors of their home to serve the needs of the poor. When the girls were old enough, they assisted their mother.

When Francis purchased a summer home in Torresdale, Pa., Katharine and Elizabeth taught Sunday school classes for the children of employees and neighbors. The local pastor, Rev. James O’Connor (who later became bishop of Omaha), became a family friend and Katharine’s spiritual director. (Read more.)


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