Category Archives: Saints

Neurosis, Mental Suffering . . . and Grace

Caryll Houselander (1901 – 1954) writes out of her own experience, and gets it right. Miss Houselander refers to the childhood experiences of Saint Stanilaus Kostka and Saint Thérèse.

My childhood experience of anxiety neurosis has conditioned my attitude towards psychological suffering during my whole subsequent life. I know the terrible reality of it, which I think that no one who has not experienced it can. The experience left me acutely aware of psychological suffering in other people, even when I was still a child, and it is largely my experience of these people and their suffering that has confirmed my faith in Christ in man, which in a sense is what the Catholic Church is. Also, combined with long study of this kind of suffering in others, my own experience has convinced me that the only real cure for it is the touch of God. Contact, resulting in union with God. I am not speaking of clearly pathological cases or cases of insanity, but of that mysterious torment which comes from within oneself, and which in spite of the vast mass of experimental psychiatric treatment that is being used today, still baffles the medical profession, and usually defeats it.

Many of the lives of the Saints strengthen this conviction. Again and again we read of Saints who suffered acute and critical psychological illness, who at one stage seemed doomed to become failures as human beings, incapable of happiness, incapable of living fully, yet who at the “touch of God” recovered completely, to live gloriously.

Everyone knows the story of the illness of St. Therese of Lisieux, which was cured by a smile from Our Lady, a smile which not only dispelled the terrors afflicting the child but changed her from a tortured, oversensitive, neurotic to a person of extraordinary emotional and mental balance. There is a parallel to her story in that of the little Polish boy who lived hundreds of years before her—St. Stanislaus Kostka, who was cured of a nervous breakdown when Our Lady appeared to him and put the Infant Christ into his arms. He recovered, to become one of the gayest and liveliest of Saints, rejoicing in all that is beautiful on earth as well as in Heaven, living to become the patron of youth, and to make himself beloved to youth for all time, by his joie de vivre. There are many other Saints too, who might have been neurotic instead of being saints but for a moment when God came to them, and their complete surrender to Him when He came.

Certainly everyone who is cured of a neurosis does not become a saint (I did not, as you will learn), though everyone could do so, if all surrendered to God as the Saints did. But all the evidence we have points to the fact that only God, brought to the tormented soul, somehow, by someone, can permanently cure psychological suffering, and then only if the will of the sufferer responds to God.

The “cure” is not, therefore, confined to the chosen few who receive direct visitations from Heaven; it is available to everyone. Certainly God can choose to come to any particular man in whatever way He wishes, and in the case of those who are deprived of the Blessed Sacrament for any reason—such as inculpable ignorance, or being in circumstances that put them out of the reach of a priest—He can, if He does wish to, come in extraordinary ways.

One thing, however, is certain; when He comes, He will always come in the way that the particular soul can most easily realise and most easily respond to, and which is least likely to be confused with the possibility of hallucination. The ordinary way—and how amazing that it is the ordinary way—is in the Blessed Sacrament; this is the way that even little children can realise, it is as simple to accept as the bread on the table, and it is the way that Christ Himself desires to come. That, surely, is one reason why He has given Himself to the Church, not only into the hands of Saints, but into the hands of all kinds of men, many of whom are sinners.

On the night before He died, when He instituted the Blessed Sacrament, He gave Himself for all time into the hands of Peter—and into the hands of Judas. A further reason why this way, the way of Communion with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, is of such great value to those who are tortured by psychological suffering, is because it necessarily involves other human beings; someone must bring Christ to the sufferer, someone must give Christ to him. There are other ways, too, by which Christ has made Himself man’s gift to man; the Mystical Body is planned for that. But this way, through sacramental communion and the Sacred Host, is at the heart of the mystery of God’s love, and from it flows every other communion and Christ-giving between men.

It is because the psychological sufferer is always cut off, isolated by his self-torment, from his fellow creatures, that this is so valuable to him. God must be brought to him by another man; only God can reach that centre of his soul that must be touched if he is to be made whole, but God chooses to come to him in Communion only if he will receive Him from the hands of a fellow man. I have spoken of the “cures” of the Saints, because in them we can see what happens when the sufferer surrenders self to God wholly and immediately: the cure too is immediate—complete and lasting. Ordinary’ people who are not saints rarely surrender themselves so completely. It is likely to be a more gradual process; it may be only after many Communions that they will even begin to know God as He really is, well enough to dare to abandon themselves to and for Him. (Caryll Houselander, A Rocking Horse Catholic, 1955, Sheed & Ward, New York)

Pope Saint Gregory the Great


Your Servants Through Jesus
The feast of Saint Gregory the Great, falling in the midst of Lent on March 12th, brings joy to the whole Church and, in a special way, to the Benedictine Order. Like Saint Paul, Saint Gregory had a passion for preaching “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4). “For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ our Lord; and ourselves your servants through Jesus” (2 Cor 4:5).

Father and Doctor
Saint Gregory the Great takes his place among the Fathers of the Church, alongside of Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine and Saint Leo the Great. Saint Gregory is a father in the power of the Holy Ghost, sowing the seeds of contemplation even today by means of his writings. The writings of Saint Gregory allow us to hear his voice and to thrive on his teaching. Thus does he continue to help us grow up to maturity in Christ. Saint Gregory the Great is the Doctor of Lectio Divina, the Doctor of Compunction, and the Doctor of Contemplation.

Illumined by the Love of Jesus Christ
Saint Gregory was born into a patrician family in the year 540. His prestigious family background and education prepared him to do great things in Rome. His place was among the learned and esteemed. By the age of thirty-five, he was well on the way to a successful life, according to worldly standards. And then, like so many saints before him and like so many after him, Gregory was illumined by the love of Jesus Christ in so intimate a way that it changed the direction of his life. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Cor 4:6).

The Monastic Haven
The Gospels and the Psalms became his inseparable companions. Gregory became a monk, a disciple in the school of the Holy Patriarch Saint Benedict, although not without a struggle. “Even after I was filled with heavenly desire,” he says, “I preferred to be clothed in secular garb. Long-standing habit so bound me that I could not change my outward life…. Finally, I fled all this with anxiety and sought the safe haven of the monastery. Having left behind what belongs to the world (as I mistakenly thought at the time), I escaped naked from the shipwreck of this life.”

Servant of the Servants of God
Saint Gregory was acutely aware of his own fragility. Again, Saint Paul reveals the soul of Gregory: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us” (2 Cor 4:7). Benedictine obedience, silence, and humility, together with the daily round of the Work of God, prepared Saint Gregory to become the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff and, to use his own expression, the Servant of the Servants of God.

All Pope and All Monk
Saint Gregory did not live the cloistered life for very long, but it marked him indelibly, almost painfully, and this for life. His talents and learning did not go unnoticed. Pope Gelasius sent him as his special delegate to Constantinople where he remained for six years. Upon his return to Rome, he was elected Pope. All his life, Saint Gregory longed for the silence of the monastery. All his life, he lamented that the affairs of the Church consumed him, leaving him with little time for prayer and contemplation. Outwardly, Gregory was all pope; inwardly, he was all monk.

Non Angli Sed Angeli
Zeal to make known “the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Cor 4:6) compelled Pope Gregory to send the Roman monk Augustine together with forty others to preach the Gospel of Christ in England. Saint Gregory had a special affection for the English. Saint Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History, recounts the origin of the English mission:

Nor must we pass by in silence the story of the blessed Gregory, handed down to us by the tradition of our ancestors, which explains his earnest care for the salvation of our nation. It is said that one day, when some merchants had lately arrived at Rome, many things were exposed for sale in the market place, and much people resorted thither to buy: Gregory himself went with the rest, and saw among other wares some boys put up for sale, of fair complexion, with pleasing countenances, and very beautiful hair. When he beheld them, he asked, it is said, from what region or country they were brought, and was told, from the island of Britain, and that the inhabitants were like that in appearance.

He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism, and was informed that they were pagans. Then fetching a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart, “Alas! What pity,” said he, “that the author of darkness should own men of such fair countenances; and that with such grace of outward form, their minds should be void of inward grace.” He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation, and was answered, that they were called Angles. “Right,” said he, “for they have an angelic face, and it is meet that such should be co-heirs with the Angels in heaven.”

Pray today for the Ordinariates established by Pope Benedict XVI for Anglicans returning to full communion with the See of Rome! Saint Gregory is the “father in Christ” of the Ecclesia Anglicana. Pray that, through his intercession, the Ordinariates may flourish unimpeded in their mission, and so accomplish that which Pope Benedict XVI had in view when he made them possible.

The Word of God
Saint Gregory preached incessantly. He knew that the Church would flourish only if the faithful were nourished with the Word of God. His homilies and other writings were read and copied throughout the Middle Ages and, in this way, came down to us. Saint Gregory continues to feed us with the Word of God. He calls us to a heart-piercing, life-changing reading of the Scriptures. Blessed John XXIII read and re-read Saint Gregory’s Rule for Pastors so as to better fulfill his own mission as Servant of the Servants of God. The saints engender saints. We are known by the company we keep and by the books we read!

The Sacred Liturgy
Pope Saint Gregory was deeply concerned with the dignity and beauty of the Sacred Liturgy. In this he was a worthy son of Saint Benedict. He encouraged the study of liturgical chant and the formation of singers for the glory of God. Seek Saint Gregory’s intercession at the present time, so that the measures taken by Pope Benedict XVI to restore beauty, reverence and dignity to the celebration of the Holy Mysteries may continue to be fostered in the Church. The Holy Father spoke of Saint Gregory the Great in Summorum Pontificum. This is what he said:

Up to our own times, it has been the constant concern of supreme pontiffs to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty, ‘to the praise and glory of His name,’ and ‘to the benefit of all His Holy Church.’

Since time immemorial it has been necessary – as it is also for the future – to maintain the principle according to which ‘each particular Church must concur with the universal Church, not only as regards the doctrine of the faith and the sacramental signs, but also as regards the usages universally accepted by uninterrupted apostolic tradition, which must be observed not only to avoid errors but also to transmit the integrity of the faith, because the Church’s law of prayer corresponds to her law of faith.’

Among the pontiffs who showed that requisite concern, particularly outstanding is the name of St. Gregory the Great, who made every effort to ensure that the new peoples of Europe received both the Catholic faith and the treasures of worship and culture that had been accumulated by the Romans in preceding centuries. He commanded that the form of the sacred liturgy as celebrated in Rome (concerning both the Sacrifice of Mass and the Divine Office) be conserved. He took great concern to ensure the dissemination of monks and nuns who, following the Rule of St. Benedict, together with the announcement of the Gospel illustrated with their lives the wise provision of their Rule that “nothing should be placed before the work of God.” In this way the sacred liturgy, celebrated according to the Roman use, enriched not only the faith and piety but also the culture of many peoples. It is known, in fact, that the Latin liturgy of the Church in its various forms, in each century of the Christian era, has been a spur to the spiritual life of many saints, has reinforced many peoples in the virtue of religion and fecundated their piety.

Teach Us to Sing Wisely
Saint Gregory the Great, Servant of the Servants of God, be present to us today as Father, Shepherd, and Teacher. Teach us to sing wisely, that the words on our lips may pierce our hearts, raising us to the love of heavenly things, and to the glory of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, now and always and unto the ages of ages.

Salus Populi Ego Sum

Saints Cosmas and Damian
The Roman stational church of today’s Mass is the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian. Who were Cosmas and Damian? Tradition has it that they were twin brothers martyred in the third century, Arabs by race, and physicians, practicing their profession without claiming payment from their patients. Hence they were known as the “moneyless” or “unmercenary” physicians. Their knowledge of medicine was, according to tradition, perfected by their faith in Christ. Saints Cosmas and Damian were known to heal, by the power of Christ, cases of disease which others had pronounced hopeless. Ultimately, Cosmas and Damian gave their lives in witness to the Divine Physician Christ. They were first honoured in the East, and by the sixth century they had their own basilica in Rome where they are depicted in mosaics which can still be seen today.

In the Benedictine sanctoral calendar, we also commemorate today two saints known for their care of the sick: Saint John of God and Saint Camillus de Lellis. The Secret will ask that the spotless oblation of Our Lord’s Body and Blood for us “a healing remedy for all infirmity of body and soul and in the last agony a consolation and protection.

This, then, is some of the background of today’s Holy Mass. It becomes clear that the Introit was chosen in reference to the healing gifts of the Holy Physicians Cosmas and Damian. The first word of the Introit is salus, that is, health.

I am the health of My people, saith the Lord, in whatever tribulation they shall cry to Me, I will hear them, and I will be their Lord forever.

The initial letters of the first four Latin words of today’s Introit—Salus Populi Ego Sum— are an acrostric forming SPES, the Latin word for hope. The Holy Sacrifice opens today on a note of hope. To understand this rightly, however, we must know who is speaking. The antiphon of the Introit is not drawn from any one passage of Sacred Scripture. Blessed Schuster said that it could be found in the Itala (4th century) version of the New Testament, but I have not been able to verify his reference. It is more significant that we understand the text in line with the other great Ego sum sayings of Our Lord:

John 6:35—I am the bread of life.
John 8:12—I am the light of the world.
John 10:9—I am the door.
John 10:11—I am the good shepherd.
John 11:25—I am the resurrection and the life.
John 14:6—I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
John 15:5—I am the vine, you are the branches.

Christ the Divine Physician
The Introit must be understood in context. Traditionally, it is the great chant that accompanies the crossing of the threshold of the temple and the approach of the altar. Today, it is not we who raise a cry heavenward to the Lord of Glory; it is, rather, the Lord of Glory, the Divine Physician, who greets us on the threshold of the temple of His glorious Physician Martyrs with a resounding message of hope:

I am the health of My people, saith the Lord, in whatever tribulation they shall cry to Me, I will hear them, and I will be their Lord forever.

The psalm verse chosen to accompany the antiphon also merits close attention. It is taken from Psalm 77, the long account of God’s faithfulness, and of His providence, and of the disobedience and ingratitude of His people.

Attend, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. (Psalm 77:1)

Christ, the Divine Physician, invites us to incline our ears to the words of His mouth. And what does He say?

I am the health of My people, saith the Lord, in whatever tribulation they shall cry to Me, I will hear them, and I will be their Lord forever.

Salus Populi Ego Sum. Spes. Hope. Our Lord would have us understand that today no one is sent away hopeless, that there is a remedy for every ill, an antidote for every poison, and grace for every infirmity. Thus we will be able to pray at the end of this Holy Mass in the Postcommunion:

Tua nos, Domine, medicinalis operatio . . .

May Thy medical operation, O Lord, mercifully rid us of all that is perverse in us, and make us ever cleave to Thy commandments.

In the hands of the Divine Physician, and nourished by the healing remedies of His adorable Body and Blood, who among us can remain without hope?



Cum sanctis tuis (XIV)

Subiaco apside.jpg

CHAPTER XIV. How the Night-Office is to Be Said on Saints’ Days17 Feb. 18 June. 18 Oct.
On the Festivals of Saints, and all other solemnities, let the Office be ordered as we have prescribed for Sundays: except that the Psalms, antiphons and lessons suitable to the day are to be said. Their number, however, shall remain as we have appointed above.

Festivals of the Saints
Saint Benedict distinguishes the festivals of saints from “other solemnities”, presumably those of the Lord. In Saint Benedict’s day there were far fewer festivals of saints than there are in the present liturgical calendar. Saint Benedict’s monks would have known the most ancient festivals of the Mother of God on January 1st and August 15th. They would have celebrated the feast of Saint John the Baptist, of the Apostles, of the greater martyrs and of local ones, and of some confessors such as, for example, Saint Martin of Tours.

Oratories and Relics
Saint Benedict’s first act upon arriving at Monte Cassino in 529 was to destroy the idol and altar that he found in the there in the temple dedicated to Apollo. On that site he built a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and an oratory dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. This indicates that Saint Benedict already celebrated the liturgical cultus of these two monastic saints. Saint Benedict’s liturgical devotion to the saints appears in Chapter LVIII, on the reception of new brethren, where he alludes to “the saints whose relics are in the altar.”

Ordering the Night Office
Saint Benedict orders that the Night Office of the festivals of saints be celebrated with proper psalms, antiphons, and lessons, while keeping the order established for Sundays. This detail reveals a keen sensitivity to the liturgical cultus of the saints, and to the already high development of the choral Office celebrated by Saint Benedict and his monks. With the progressive enrichment of the sanctoral cycle, it became necessary to devise various ways of ranking the festivals of saints, and of ordering their celebration. Over time this gave rise to the current practices by which certain greater festivals are marked by a complete proper Office, or by one taken from the Common suited to the particular saint, whereas on other days, only the invitatory antiphon, hymn, lesson, responsory, and collect would be of the saint.

Benedictine Devotion to the Saints
Our Lord would not have us journey on earth without heavenly companions. First of all, through the liturgical calendar and, then, through an interplay of affinities and attractions, Our Lord engages us in conversation, in spiritual exchanges, and in real friendship with the saints. More often than not, it happens that, by circumstances that appear random or coincidental, a saint presents himself or herself to us to offer us friendship and assistance. Know, too, that there exist in the communion of the saints what I can only call families of souls; these are marked by a shared affinity, by the distinctive traits of their spiritual physiognomy. Our Lord would have us find in the saints a true friendship, a friendship that is all pure, a friendship that does not disappoint. Through the saints and by their intercession for us before the glorious Face of Christ, we can hope, at length, to make our way through this valley of tears to be with Him in glory. Our Lord asked this for us on the night before He suffered:

Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world.(John 17:24)

Benedictine piety has long been characterised by an affective and effective devotion to the saints. For a taste of this one has only to read the prayers of Saint Anselm addressed to Our Lady, Saint Mary, to Saints John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, John the Evangelist, Stephen, Nicholas, Benedict, and Mary Magdalene. (See The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm, translated by Benedicta Ward, Penguin Books, 1973). In her introduction to The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm, Benedicta Ward writes: “What Anselm honours in each of the saints is what God has done in them, and that is the basis on which he asks their prayers”. Later, one finds Saint Gertrude the Great addressing the saints and living the daily round of liturgical prayer in their company. In the nineteenth century, Dom Guéranger’s Liturgical Year is rich in prayers to the saints of the day. By writing some prayers in the form of the popular Italian supplica, I have tried, from the beginning of our monastery, to make the invocation of the saints and the veneration of their relics and images a characteristic element of our life. God forbid that any one of us should hold himself aloof from the companionship of the saints. Invoke the saints frequently, seek from them the help you need in your struggles. You will, in this regard, want, first of all, to make use of the liturgical collect of the saint. In heaven the saints will be glad for having helped us make our way to the throne of God and of the Lamb.

The Companionship of the Saints
An authentic Benedictine piety delights in the cultus of the saints, of their relics, and of their altars. I remember being moved, in my monastic youth, by the simple devotion of monks who, inspired by the old Cluniac devotion, would go, either before Matins or after Compline, in pilgrimage, as it were, from altar to altar, and from image to image, honouring the saints and seeking their intercession. One does well, from the very beginning of one’s monastic life, to develop the habit of never passing before the image of a saint without asking, however briefly, for that saint’s intercession.

And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo

presentation_cope_ildefonsus_hi.jpgDoctor of the Virginity of Mary
Today is the feast of Saint Ildephonsus, Archbishop of Toledo (+ 23 January 667). Dom Guéranger calls him the Doctor of the Virginity of Mary. Saint Ildephonsus established the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is still kept in some places on December 18th.

At the Altar
It is recounted that on this feast of the Mother of God, Archbishop Ildephonsus, together with some of his clergy, hastened to church before the hour of Matins to honour Our Blessed Lady with their songs. Arriving close to the church, they found it all ablaze with a heavenly radiance. This so frightened the little band that all fled, except for Archbishop Ildephonsus and his two faithful deacons. Deacons, take note! With wildly beating hearts, these entered the church and made their way to the altar. A great mystery was about to unfold.

A Chasuble from the Treasury of Heaven
There, seated on the Archbishop’s throne, was the august Queen of Heaven surrounded by choirs of angels and holy virgins. The chants of paradise filled the air. Our Blessed Lady beckoned Ildephonsus to approach her. Looking upon him with tenderness and majesty, she said: “Thou art my chaplain and faithful notary. Receive from me this chasuble, which my Son sends you from His treasury.” Having said this, the Immaculate Virgin clothed Ildephonsus in the chasuble, and instructed him to wear it for the Holy Sacrifice on her festivals.

The acel_greco_ildefonso.jpgcount of this apparition, and of the miraculous chasuble, was deemed so certain and utterly beyond doubt, that news of it spread through the Church, even reaching the Ethiopians. The Church of Toledo honoured the event with a special proper Mass and Office. What was the miraculous chasuble like? Artists through the ages have sought to depict it, more often than not in rich brocades of gold and blue.

Gifts from Heaven
Sceptics may smile condescendingly and dismiss the story as a pious fabulation. Serious studies of the various gratiae gratis datae — graces freely given — are not without evidence of the phenomenon of material gifts brought from heaven. One finds examples of it as recently as in the life of Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit (1901-1951). A classic example of the phenomenon would be the cincture of the Angelic Warfare with which angels girded Saint Thomas Aquinas after his victory over a temptation of the flesh.

The Prayer of Saint Ildephonsus
I have used the celebrated prayer of Saint Ildephonsus to renew my total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I am thy slave, because Thy Son is my Master. Therefore thou art my Lady, because thou art the handmaid of my Lord. Therefore I am the slave of the handmaid of my Lord, because thou, my Lady, didst become the Mother of my Lord. Therefore I have become thy slave, because thou didst become the Mother of my Maker.

You will find the full text of the prayer here together with Murillo’s depiction of Our Lady’s bestowal of the chasuble from heaven.

Support the monks of Silverstream Priory:

Situated amidst pasture land and forest in the eastern reaches of County Meath, Silverstream Priory was founded in 2012 at the invitation of the Most Reverend Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, and canonically erected as an autonomous monastery of diocesan right on 25 February 2017. The property belonged, from the early 15th century, to the Preston family, premier Viscounts of Ireland and Lords of Gormanston. In 1843 Thomas Preston (1817-1903), son of Jenico Preston, the 12th Viscount (1775-1860), built what today is Silverstream Priory.

Silverstream Priory is a providential realisation of the cherished project of Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo, O.S.B. (1874–1935), who, following the impetus given by Catherine–Mectilde de Bar in the 17th century, sought to establish a house of Benedictine monks committed to ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. The community of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the Divine Office in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” of the Roman Rite. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream keep at heart the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably the development of the land and gardens, hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, scholarly work, and publishing.

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