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Prayer of Saint Birgitta

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I have long taken comfort in this prayer of Saint Birgitta of Sweden. Saint Birgitta shares July 23rd with Saint John Cassian.

O Lord, make haste and illumine the night.
Say to my soul
that nothing happens without Thy permitting it,
and that nothing of what Thou permittest is without comfort.
O Jesus, Son of God,
Thou Who wast silent in the presence of Thy accusers,
restrain my tongue
until I find what should say and how to say it.
Show me the way and make me ready to follow it.
It is dangerous to delay, yet perilous to go forward.
Answer Thou my petition and show me the way.
As the wounded go to the doctor in search of aid,
so do I come unto Thee.
O Lord, give Thou peace to my heart.

The Woman Robed in Red

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Saint Mary Magdalen, the Apostle to the Apostles, is one of the patron saints chosen by Mother Mectilde for her Institute. For this reason, we Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration have a special devotion to Saint Mary Magdalen. The Responsory at Lauds is Tibi dixit cor meum: Quaesivi vultum tuum: "My heart has said to Thee: I have sought Thy Face" (Psalm 26, 8). Here is something I wrote eight years ago on this feast:

Woman of fire,
woman of desire,
woman of great passions
woman of the lavish gesture,
Mary of Magdala!

The icons show you robed in red,
covered in the blood of the Lamb,
a living flame, a soul set afire.
You are there at the foot of the Cross:
kneeling, bending low, crushed by sorrow,
your face in the dust.

You love,
but in that hour of darkness,
dare not look on the disfigured Face of Love.
It is enough that you are there,
brought low with Him,
Enough for you
the Blood dripping from His wounded feet,
Blood seeping into the earth
to mingle with your tears.

You seek Him on your bed at night,
Him whom your heart loves.
David's song is on your lips:
"Of You my heart has spoken: Seek his face.
It is Your face, O Lord, that I seek;
hide not Your face from me" (Ps 26:8-9).

His silence speaks.
His absence is a presence.
And so you rise to go about the city,
drawn out, drawn on by Love's lingering fragrance.
"Draw me, we will run after you, in the odour of your ointments" (Ct 1:3).

You seek Him by night
in the streets and broadways;
you seek Him whom your soul loves;
with nought but your heart's desire for compass.
You seek Him but do not find Him.

In this, Mary, you are friend to every seeker.
In this you are a sister to every lover.
In this you are close to us who walk in darkness
and wait in the shadows,
and ask of every watchman,
"Have you seen Him whom my soul loves?"

Guide us, Mary, to the garden of new beginnings.
Let us follow you in the night.
Wake our souls before the rising of the sun.
Weep that we may weep
and in weeping become penetrable to joy.

The Gardener waits,
the earth beneath His feet watered by your tears.
Turn, Mary, that with you we may turn
and, being converted,
behold His Face
and hear His voice
and, like you, be sent to say only this:
"I have seen the Lord" (Jn 20:18).

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Thank You to Saint Vincent de Paul

A Supplica is a prayer of supplication composed according to a certain literary genre that remains popular in Italy to this day. The most famous of these prayers would be the Supplica to the Queen of the Holy Rosary of Pompei composed by Blessed Bartolo Longo. Nearly every parish or chapel in southern Italy has a Supplica to its patron saint recited by all the people in unison on the saint's feast.

On 19 July 2011 I was inspired to write a Supplica to Saint Vincent de Paul. I asked his intercession for my monastery, trusting that he would find us a suitable permanent home. He did. Thank you, Saint Vincent de Paul. Here, then, is the Supplica to Saint Vincent that I wrote and first prayed one year ago today.

O glorious Saint Vincent de Paul,
priest of Jesus Christ,
servant of the poor,
consoler of the sorrowful,
father of orphans,
providence of the homeless,
giver of alms to the destitute,
enlightened guide of souls,
compassionate visitor of the imprisoned,
attentive nurse of the sick,
comfort of the dying,
zealous teacher of the clergy,
who can describe the innumerable works of thy charity,
and who can measure the hospitality of thy heart?

The weak and the infirm,
the wounded and the needy,
the unloved and the shamed
all find a place in the folds of thy great protecting mantle.
Never did one of Christ's poor turn to thee in distress
without receiving from thee the alms of thy mercy
for soul and body.

O thou, Apostle of Charity,
O thou, Image of Jesus Christ,
thou in whom the Heart of Christ burns
with an inextinguishable fire,
look upon us in our present need.
Consider that we too are poor, weak, and without earthly resources.
We cast ourselves upon the infinite mercy of Divine Providence,
and place our trust in thy pleading on our behalf.
We know that thou wilt obtain for us
an answer to our prayer,
a solution to our pressing plight
and, above all else,
the grace of entire abandonment to the adorable Will of God,
outside of which we desire nothing.


When Saints Help Saints

I have long believed that saints, like the fruit of the vine, grow in clusters. The history of the saints in every age bears this out. Saint Vincent de Paul was no exception. He was in relation with a myriad of other holy souls of France's Grand Siècle, the age of what Henri Brémond called her "mystical invasion."

Saint Vincent de Paul

The ravages of The Thirty Years War in Mother Mectilde's native Lorraine stirred Saint Vincent de Paul to an active compassion. As soon as Monsieur Vincent was informed of the woes that we desolating the Lorraine, he moved quickly to collect offerings everywhere. He sent to this unfortunate country twelve of his missionaries to whom he joined some brothers of his Congregation, who had secrets to treat the plague and knew medicine and surgery.

Thus did Saint Vincent's Congregation of the Mission bring relief to those distressed by the war, those turned out of their homes and reduced to a miserable poverty.

Homeless Benedictines

In 1639 Mother Mectilde and her Benedictines were among the many refugees of the War in wandering from place to place in search of a home. One of Saint Vincent's priests, a certain Julien Guérin, sought to arrange for hospitality at the Abbey of Montmartre in Paris. The Lady Abbess of Montmartre refused to receive the homeless Benedictines professed to the same Rule as herself and the nuns of her great abbey; she argued that the admission of strangers into religious houses caused disorder, and that it was better to refuse the nuns hospitality than to have to turn them out later for unsuitable conduct.


Pilgrimage to Benoîte-Vaux

Mother Mectilde was saddened but undaunted. Five leagues away from Saint-Mihiel, towards the city of Verdun, a little to the left of the course of the Meuse, there was valley made famous by the miraculous revelation of a statue of the Blessed Virgin to a group of lumberjacks, and by the manifestation of Angels singing Ave Maria. (Interesting detail: Had Mother Mectilde followed the Meuse north, she would have arrived in Tegelen in The Netherlands where her daughters have a monastery to this day.)

The sanctuary built on the spot was a place of pilgrimage. Mother Mectilde, together with two other nuns, set out on foot for the sanctuary of Notre-Dame de Benoîte-Vaux on 1 August 1641. Upon arrival there, they entrusted their written petition to a Premonstratensian in attendance, who placed it on the altar. Prostrate at the feet of the Blessed Virgin, Mother Mectilde and her companions spent the whole night imploring her protection and assistance. They heard Holy Mass and received Holy Communion at 4:00 in the morning on the second day of August; it was the feast of Our Lady of the Angels. With all possible fervour they recommended their sorry plight again to the Mother of God.

To Paris

When they returned to Saint-Mihiel, it was obvious to all whom saw Mother Mectilde and her two companions that they had received extraordinary graces; they seemed transfigured. Much later, Mother Mectilde let slip a few words that intimated that, in the sanctuary of Benoîte-Vaux, Our Lady revealed to her God's designs on her life.

A few days later, a commissary of Monsieur Vincent, named Mathieu Renard, asked to see the prioress and, with no preliminaries, said, "I have come, Mother, to take two of your religious to Montmartre, I have orders to do this, and Madame the Duchess of Aiguillon has provided me with money for the journey."

What happened at Montmartre that caused the Abbess to have so complete a change of heart? On the very night that Mother Mectilde and her companions were praying at the sanctuary of Benoîte-Vaux, the Lady Abbess of Montmartre woke up all of a sudden and summoned the two religious her slept in her bedchamber to look after her in illness. The Abbess was in a dreadful state of fright. She said that it seemed to her that she saw the Most Holy Virgin and her Divine Son reproaching her for her lack of hospitality to the poor homeless Benedictines in the Lorraine; they threatened her with a rigourous judgment should they, through her fault, perish in their misery and need. The next day the Abbess convened her senior religious; all agreed that they had to execute the manifest will of God.

Paris, Saint Louise de Marillac and Saint Vincent de Paul

Mother Mectilde and Mother Louise were chosen to go to Montmartre. They began their journey on 21 August and arrived in Paris on August 28, 1642. Matthieu Renard led them to the home of Mademoiselle Legras (Saint Louise de Marillac) in the Faubourg Saint Martin. Saint Louise de Marillac received the homeless Benedictines with an exquisite charity. The next morning, Mother Mectilde and her companions were presented to Saint Vincent de Paul. The very same day the doors of the grand Abbey of Montmartre opened to welcome them. Once the Lady Abbess had met Mother Mectilde, she wanted nothing more than to keep her at the Abbey of Montmartre.

Towards a New Beginning

It was in uncertainty and poverty that Mother Mectilde de Bar arrived in Paris. After vicissitudes too many to be counted, it was in Paris that Mectilde de Bar laid the foundations of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament.

Our Own Need

Three years ago, my own little Benedictine community was searching for a permanent home to allow our charism of Eucharistic adoration and intercession for priests to grow and flourish. We entrusted our need and our search to Saint Vincent de Paul. He who helped Mectilde de Bar was not indifferent to our plight. He guided us all the way to Silverstream in County Meath. For this, I want, today, to give public thanks to Saint Vincent.

Saint Oliver Plunkett

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Brother Alex and Saint Oliver

Today, we are keeping the feast of Saint Oliver Plunkett, grateful for the presence of our energetic and cheerful postulant, Brother Alex After beginning his monastic journey with us as an Oblate in Tulsa under the patronage of Saint Oliver Plunkett, Brother Alex crossed the Atlantic and began his postulancy here after several months as an aspirant.

Elsewhere Saint Oliver is kept on 1 July; as the feast of the Most Precious Blood occurs on the same day in our calendar, Saint Oliver is moved to 4 July. Saint Oliver was received as a Confrater or Oblate of Saint Benedict when the English Benedictine, Dom J. Corker, clothed him in his scapular. Saint Oliver Plunkett's head is venerated just down the road from us in Saint Peter's Church, Drogheda; his body rests at Downside Abbey in England.

Saint Oliver Plunkett (1 November 1625 - 1 July 1681) was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He cared for the Church in Ireland in the face of English persecution. living in poverty, lowliness, and ceaseless apostolic labours. Betrayed by two disgruntled and libelous Franciscan Friars, John MacMoyer and Hugh Duffy, who had been nurturing a resentment against him, Dr Plunkett was eventually arrested and tried for treason in London.

Saint Oliver readily forgave his betrayers and, wearing a Benedictine scapular, the sign of his spiritual union with his friends, the sons of Saint Benedict, went to his death with serenity and good cheer, professing his loyalty to the Catholic Faith and to the Holy See until the end. On 1 July 1681 he was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, and became the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England. Oliver Plunkett was beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975, the first new Irish saint for almost seven hundred years.


The Benedictine, Dom J. Corker, writes of his friend, Saint Oliver Plunkett:

In Prison

I cannot as yet pretend to give you, as you desire, a description of the virtues of the glorious archbishop and martyr, Dr Oliver Plunkett. After his transportation hither, he was, as you know, closely confined and secluded from all conversation, save that of his keepers, until his arraignment, so that I can only inform you of what I learned, as it were, by chance, from the mouths of the said keepers, that is, that he spent his time in almost continual prayer; that he fasted usually three or four days a week with nothing but bread; that he appeared to them always modestly cheerful, without any anguish or concern at his danger or strict confinement.; but that by his sweet and pious demeanour he attracted an esteem and reverence from the few that came near him.

His Countenance

The trial being ended, we had free intercourse by letters with each other. And now it was that I clearly perceived the Spirit of God in him and those lovely fruits of the Holy Ghost, charity, joy, peace, etc., transparent in his soul. And not only I, but many other Catholics who came to receive his blessing and were eye-witnesses, can testify, there appeared in his words, in his actions, in his countenance, something so divinely elevated, such a composed mixture of cheerfulness, constancy, love, sweetness, and candour, as manifestly denoted the divine goodness had made him fit for a victim, and destined him for heaven.

The Benefits of His Company

None saw or came near him but received new comfort, new fervour, new desires to please, serve, and suffer for Jesus Christ by his very presence. His love had extinguished in him all fear of death. Hence the joy of our holy martyr seemed still to increase with his danger, and was fully accomplished by an assurance of death.

He Divested Himself of Himself

After he certainly knew God Almighty had chosen him to the crown and dignity of martyrdom, he continually studied how to divest himself of himself, and become more and more an entirely pleasing and perfect holocaust; to which end he gave up his soul, with all its faculties, to the conduct of God; so, for God's sake, he resigned the care and disposal of his body to unworthy me.

I set thee apart for myself

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Yesterday, at the invitation of the Chancellor of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Malta in Ireland, I offered Holy Mass and preached in honour of the glorious patron of the Order, in Saint Mary's, Haddington Road, Dublin.

Mass in Honour of Saint John the Baptist
Patron of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John
of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta
22 June 2013

"I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother's womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself" (Jeremias 1:5).

The Word of God, Alive and Full of Energy

This word from God, dear brothers and sisters, uttered in mystery long ago, and received in faith by the prophet Jeremias, and applied, by a splendid intuition of the Church to your glorious patron Saint John the Baptist, becomes today, by the singular grace of this Holy Mass, a word addressed to each of us, to you and to me.

The word of God is not uttered once and for all, and then, locked away, as it were, in some sort of sacred archive. When the word of God is proclaimed in the sacred liturgy, it rises to newness of life; it is invested with a wondrous energy; it becomes efficacious, doing in us that for which it comes forth from the mouth of God. Thus do we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "God's word to us is something alive, full of energy; it can penetrate deeper than any two-edged sword, reaching the very division between soul and spirit, between joints and marrow, quick to distinguish every thought and design in our hearts: (Hebrews 4:12). I beg you, then, in the words of the psalmist: "Would you but listen to his voice today! Do not harden your hearts" (Psalm 94:8).

Claimed and Set Apart by God

It is to you, then, that the Word of God comes today. It is addressed directly to each of you, a blazing arrow shot from the heart of God into your hearts: "I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother's womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself" (Jeremias 1:5).

One becomes a member of the Order of Malta not by mere social circumstances, nor by mere human intervention, but by a mysterious design of God, and by a gracious summons of His mercy. It is a vocation. Implicit in the Church's doctrine of the universal call to holiness -- that is, that you and I are called to be saints, nothing less than saints -- are these astonishing truths: God claimed you -- you -- for His own before ever he fashioned you in your mother's womb. Before ever you came to birth, God set you apart for Himself. This is the premise upon which your membership in the Order of Malta rests. This is the divine message that shapes all the rest, and gives it meaning.

The Call to Holiness

Holiness cannot be stereotyped. Holiness comes in a splendid variety of forms, and colours. There is no age, no state in life, no occupation, no background, no place, nor race, nor culture that is, of itself, foreign to holiness. We, therefore have no excuse. God would have each us become a saint. To resist the call to holiness is to resist the will of God. "This is the will of God," says the Apostle, "your sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

In the Order of Malta

The particular form of holiness to which you are called will be shaped, then, and coloured by your membership in the Order of Malta. What exactly does this mean? What might your holiness look like? Your charism -- that is to say, the special identifying grace that makes your Order what it is in the Church -- has been summed up in two Latin terms: Tuitio Fidei and Obsequium Pauperum, which I should like to render respectively as The Faith, Contemplated and Upheld, and The Poor, Served with All Devotedness. The second of these, The Poor, Served with All Devotedness, is motivated by and sustained by the first, The Faith, Contemplated and Upheld. For this reason, today, and in the context of the Year of Faith, I should like, for a moment, to consider the first of these terms: Tuitio Fidei.

Look, See, Contemplate

The Latin word tuitio is rooted in the verb tuere meaning, first of all, to look at; to see; to fix one's gaze upon; or, if you will, to contemplate. Our English word intuition -- a knowledge gained by looking deeply into something -- is derived from the same verb. Your first duty, then -- and what a sweet and life-giving duty it is -- is to gaze upon Christ in the mysteries of the faith; to look, not only at them, but into them; and then to be so changed by your contemplation, that you translate it, necessarily, into the devoted service of Christ in His poor.

How does one fix one's gaze upon the mysteries of the faith? Where does one find Christ in His mysteries so as to look upon Him? "We", you are undoubtedly thinking, "are not monks". We are people engaged in the frenzy and fury of a society increasingly hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to the mission of His Church, one holy, Catholic, and apostolic; and to the expression of the faith in public life. All the more reason, dear brothers and sisters, to commit yourselves to the Tuitio Fidei upon which your vocation to holiness in the Order of Malta is founded, and by which it is quickened and sustained.

The Sacred Liturgy, Wellspring and Summit

The Tuitio Fidei (The Faith, Contemplated and Upheld ) begins and flourishes in the sacred liturgy; it bears abundant fruit in the Obsequium Pauperum (The Poor, Served with All Devotedness), and returns to the sacred liturgy. This is, simply put, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which called the sacred liturgy the wellspring and the summit of the life and action of the Church (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 10).

Your vocation to holiness, your summons to real sainthood as members of the Order of Malta, will be proportionate to your contemplation of Christ in His mysteries, and this by means of your actual participation in the sacred liturgy of the Church. Already in 1903 -- one-hundred-ten years ago -- Pope Saint Pius X called "active participation in the most holy mysteries" that is, in the liturgy, "the foremost and indispensable font of the true Christian spirit" (Motu Proprio, Tra le sollecitidini).

Today's Holy Mass is but one opportunity to do precisely this. It is an occasion of grace freely given you by God and by the Church to be quickened in your unique vocation as -- yes -- saints of the Order of the Malta. "I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother's womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself" (Jeremias 1:5).

Under the Hand of God

We heard, concerning John the Baptist, in the Holy Gospel: "And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel" (Luke 1: 66, 80).

Submit to the hand of the Lord today, by placing yourselves humbly and willingly under the immense, and tender, and powerful liturgy of His Church. Open your eyes, your ears, and all your senses to every word uttered, to every note sung, to every gesture, and movement, and to the sacred silence which envelops this Mass and allows for the penetration of its particular grace into the most secret place of your souls.

Ready to Appear Openly

It will happen with you, as it happened with Saint John the Forerunner. You will grow up. Your spirit will mature. Having fixed your gaze upon the faith presented, and actualized, and communicated in the sacred liturgy -- Tuitio Fidei -- you will be ready to appear openly, not to Israel, as did Saint John over two-thousand years ago, but to your families, to society, to Ireland today, just as it is, -- caught up in the noble battle for the sacredness of human life in the sanctuary of the womb; to Ireland today, beset by dire predictions of the end of Catholicism -- as men and women called to nothing less than holiness, and committed, body and soul to the devoted service of the poor. "So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

To the Altar of the Lamb

All of this begins -- and all of it must return -- to the altar of the Holy Sacrifice. There, the Lamb is immolated; there the Lamb is offered; there the Lamb is given us as food and drink. It is time to hasten to the altar, for I hear the voice of the Baptist, the "Friend of the Bridegroom" (John 3:29), saying, "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:36).

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O glorious Saint Dymphna,
virgin martyr and chaste bride of Christ,
child of Ireland,
bereft of thy mother,
object of thy grief-stricken father's unlawful desires,
pure dove who, to preserve thy purity, didst fly to foreign shores,
dauntless follower of the immolated Lamb,
willing exile from thy homeland,
spiritual daughter of the holy priest Gerebernus,
traveler through the dark of unknown forests,
treasure hidden in the shadow of Saint Martin,
lover of solitude and living sanctuary of ceaseless prayer,
compassionate handmaid of the poor and afflicted,
virgin nourished by the Bread of Life,
virgin strong in thy weakness,
virgin ablaze with the fire of the Holy Ghost,
victim of thy demented father's cruel rage,
victim with the Immaculate Host,
victim mingling thy blood with the Blood of the Lamb,
turn thy gaze upon us who seek thy intercession today,
and hearken to our supplications.

Thy name, O Saint Dymphna, is spread abroad in the churches of Christ,
where the suffering faithful invoke thee
as the friend of exiles and of those in flight from persecution,
as the unfailing advocate of the mentally ill, the emotionally distraught, and the despondent,
as the light of those in the darkness of depression,
the hope of the hopeless,
the cheer and comfort of the sorrowing,
the deliverer of those in the grip of anxiety,
the courage of those stricken with panic,
the healer of confused minds,
and the solace of grieving hearts.

Confident in thy powerful intercession,
we beseech thee, Saint Dymphna
to comfort all who, burdened by mental anguish or confusion,
struggle daily to make their way in this valley of tears.
Give them a garland for ashes,
the oil of joy for sadness,
and a garment of praise for the spirit of grief.
Let no one who seeks thy help today go away empty,
for thou art powerful over the heart of Christ,
and He will heed thy pleading on our behalf
with the healing of darkened minds,
the consolation of broken hearts,
and the gracious manifestation of His merciful goodness towards all. Amen.

Saint Dymphna

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May 15th is the feast of Saint Dymphna. Here at Silverstream Priory, we are blessed to have and to venerate a first class relic of Saint Dymphna. Saint Dymphna is the patron saint of those who suffer from mental illnesses, emotional maladjustment, nervous disorders, and epilepsy. She is also the patron saint of runaways, and of the victims of incest and other sexual abuse. The following entry, slightly modified here, originally appeared in Tabernacle and Purgatory, published by Benedictines of Clyde, Missouri in May 1946.

The Lily of Fire

ISLE OF SAINTS has long been a title popularly given to the island evangelized by St. Patrick, which nestles in the blue waters of the Atlantic. And appropriately it is so called for the names of the Irish saints would more than fill the Church's calendar. Yet it is to be regretted that Catholics for the most part are entirely unfamiliar with so many of these glorious saints, yes, even ignorant of their very names. One such forgotten or unknown saint, who, on account of her spotless virtue and glorious martyrdom, is sometimes referred to as the "Lily of Fire," is St. Dymphna. True, the records of the life and martyrdom of this holy virgin are for the most part meager and unsatisfactory, but sufficient is known regarding the principal faces of her life and of her many well-authenticated miracles to attest to an exalted sanctity.

A Christian Child

St. Dymphna was born in the 7th century, when Ireland was almost universally Catholic. Yet, strange to say, her father, a petty king of Oriel, was still a pagan. Her mother, a descendant of a noble family, was, on the other hand, a devout Christian., who was remarkable both for her piety and her great beauty. Dymphna was, like her mother, a paragon of beauty, and a most sweet and winning child, the "jewel" of her home. Every affection and attention was lavished upon her from birth. Heaven, too, favored the child with special graces. Dymphna was early placed under the care and tutelage of a pious Christian woman, who prepared her for baptism, which was conferred by the saintly priest Father Gerebran. The latter seems to have been a member of the household, and later taught little Dymphna her letters along with the truths of religion. Dymphna was a bright and eager pupil, and advanced rapidly in wisdom and grace. When still very young, Dymphna, like so many other noble Irish maidens before and after her, being filled with fervor and love for Jesus Christ, chose Him for her Divine Spouse and consecrated her virginity to Him and to His Blessed Mother by a vow of chastity.

Mother's Death

It was not long, however, until an unexpected cloud overshadowed the happy childhood of the beautiful girl. She lost her good mother by death. Many were the secret tears she shed over this bereavement, but at the same time she found great comfort in the Divine Faith which, though she was still of a tender age, already had taken deep root.

Flight from Incest

Dymphna's father, too, greatly mourned his deceased wife and for a long time continued prostrate with grief. At length he was persuaded by his counselors to seek solace in a second marriage. So he commissioned certain ones of his court to seek out for him a lady who would be like his first spouse in beauty and character. After visiting many countries in vain, the messengers returned saying that they could find none so charming and amiable as his own lovely daughter, Dymphna. Giving ear to their base suggestion, the king conceived the evil design of forcing Dymphna into an incestuous relationship with himself. With persuasive and flattering words he manifested his purpose to her. Dymphna, as may be expected, was greatly horrified at the suggestion. She immediately betook herself to Father Gerebran, who advised her to flee from her native country, and since the danger was imminent, he urged her to make no delay.


With all speed, therefore, she set out for the continent, accompanied by Father Gerebran, the court jester and his wife. After a favorable passage, they arrived on the coast near the present city of Antwerp. Having stopped for a short rest, they resumed their journey and came to a little village named Gheel. Here they were hospitably received and began to make plans for establishing their future abode at this place.

Martyrdom of Saint Gerebran, Priest

The king, in the meantime, having discovered Dymphna's flight, was fearfully angry, and immediately set out with his followers in search of the fugitives. After some time, they were traced to Belgium and their place of refuge was located. At first, Dymphna's father tried to persuade her to return with him, but Father Gerebran sternly rebuked him for his wicked intentions, whereupon he gave orders that Father Gerebran should be put to death. Without delay, his wicked retainers laid violent hands upon the priest and struck him on the neck with a sword. With one blow of the steel, the head was severed from the shoulders and another glorious martyr went to join the illustrious heroes of Christ's kingdom.


Martyrdom of Saint Dymphna, Virgin

Further attempts on the part of Dymphna's father to induce her to return with him proved fruitless. With undaunted courage she spurned his enticing promises and scorned his cruel threats. Infuriated by her resistance, the father drew a dagger from his belt and he himself struck off the head of his child. Recommending her soul to the mercy of God, the holy virgin fell prostrate at the feet of her insanely raving father. Thus the glorious crown of martyrdom was accorded to St. Dymphna in the fifteenth year of her age, on the fifteenth day of May, between 620 and 640. The day of her death has been assigned as her feastday.

Discovery of the Relics

The records of Dymphna's life and death say that the bodies of the two martyred saints lay on the ground for quite some time after their death, until the inhabitants of Gheel removed them to a cave, which was the customary manner of interment in that part of the world at the time of the martyrdoms. But after several years had elapsed, the villagers, recalling their holy deaths, decided to give the bodies a more suitable burial. When the workmen removed the heap of black earth at the cave's entrance, great was their astonishment to find two most beautiful tombs, whiter than snow, which were carved from stone, as if by angel hands. When the coffin of St. Dymphna was opened there was found lying on her breast a red tile bearing the inscription: "Here lies the holy virgin and martyr, Dymphna."

The remains of the saint were placed in a small church. Later necessity obliged the erection of the magnificent "Church of St. Dymphna," which now stands on the site where the bodies were first buried. St. Dymphna's relics repose there in a beautiful golden reliquary.

Miracles and cures of people afflicted with melancholy, anxiety, and other psychological pathologies and and emotional maladjustments began to occur in continually increasing numbers. Gradually St. Dymphna's fame as patroness of those who suffer from mental illnesses and nervous disorders spread from country to country. More and more emotionally mentally afflicted persons were brought to the shrine by relatives and friends, many coming in pilgrimages from far-distant places. Novenas were made, and St. Dymphna's relic was applied to the patients. The remarkable cures reported caused confidence in the saint to grow daily.

The Miracle of Gheel

At first the patients were lodged in a small annex built onto the church. Then gradually it came about that the patients were place in the homes of the families living in Gheel. From this beginning Gheel developed into a town world-famed for its care of the insane and mentally afflicted. An institution, called the "Infirmary of St. Elizabeth," which was conducted by Canonesses Regular of St. Augustine was later built for the hospital care of the patients. Most of the latter, after some time spent in the institution, are placed in one or other of the families of Gheel, where they lead a comparatively normal life. Every home in Gheel is proud to welcome to its inmost family circle such patients as are ready to return to the environment of family life. Generations of experience have given to the people of Gheel an intimate and tender skill in dealing with their charges, and their remarkable spirit of charity and Christlike love for these afflicted members of society gives to our modern-day world, so prone to put its whole reliance on science and to forge the principles of true Christian charity, a lesson the practice of which would do much to restore certain types of mentally afflicted individuals to an almost normal outlook on life.

Forward in Hope

Renowned psychiatrists testify that a surprisingly large number of patients could leave mental institutions if they could be assured of a sympathetic reception in the world, such as the people of Gheel take pride in showing. In fact, psychiatrists state that institutions can help certain cases only to a given extent, and when that point is reached, they must have help from persons outside the institution if the progress made in the institution is to have fruition.


In the following passage from The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena with the Eternal Father, God the Father addresses the clergy wallowing in sin. He contrasts the body of the priest with the Body of Christ. Notice how the text echoes the Reproaches (Improperia) of the Good Friday liturgy. "I did this for you . . . and you have done this in return." The focus on the wounds of Jesus and on His Precious Blood are characteristic of Saint Catherine.

The Flesh of the Priest, Anointed and Consecrated
O despicable, wretched man, not man but beast! That you should give your flesh, anointed and consecrated to Me, to prostitutes and worse! By the wounded Body of My only-begotten Son on the wood of the most holy cross, your flesh and that of the whole human race was healed of the wound Adam dealt it by his sin. O wretch! He honored you and you disgrace Him! He healed your wounds with His Blood, and more, He made you His minister, and you persecute Him with your lustful dishonorable sins! The Good Shepherd washed the little sheep clean in His Blood. But you defile those who are pure. You use your power to hurl them into the dung heap. You who ought to be a mirror of honor are a mirror of dishonor. You have yielded all your members to the works of wickedness, doing the opposite of what My Truth did for you.
The Eyes of the Priest
I allowed them to blindfold His eyes to enlighten you, and you with your lustful eyes shoot poisoned arrows into your own soul and the hearts of those you look on so miserably.
The Tongue of the Priest
I let them give Him vinegar and gall to drink, and you like a perverse beast find your pleasure in delicate foods, making a god of your belly. On your tongue are dishonorable empty words. It is your duty with that tongue to admonish your neighbors, to proclaim My word, and to say the Office with your heart as well as your tongue. But I smell nothing but filth coming from your tongue as you swear and perjure yourself as you were a swindling hoodlum, blaspheming me right and left.
The Hands of the Priest
I let them bind My Sons hands to free you and the whole of mankind from the bondage of sin, and anointed and consecrated your hands for the ministry of the Most Holy Sacrament, and you use your hands for wretched obscene touching. All the actions you express through your hands are corrupt and directed to the devil's service. O wretch! And I appointed you to such dignity so that you might serve Me alone--you and every other rational creature.

The following section is especially beautiful. The Father presents the Body of His Son as stairway leading to Himself. He speaks of the open Side of Jesus through which one sees His inmost Heart. The Heart of Jesus is a hostelry open to those who seek to taste the Father's unspeakable love.

The Feet of the Priest

I willed that my Son's feet should be nailed, and made His Body a stairway for you. I let them open His Side so that you might see His inmost Heart. I set Him like an open hostelry where you could see and taste My unspeakable love for you when you found and saw My divinity united with your humanity. There you see that I have made the Blood-- of which you are a steward for Me--to be a bath to wash away your sins. And you have made of your heart a temple for the devil! And your will, of which your feet are a symbol, you use to offer me nothing but filth and abuse. The feet of your will carry you nowhere except to the devil's haunts. So with your whole body you persecute My Son's Body by doing the opposite of what He did and what you and everyone else are bound and obligated to do.

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A Litany of Patrons

I am very happy that my parents christened me Mark Daniel, thereby giving me the patronage of both an evangelist and a prophet! At Confirmation I added the name of Saint Michael for the glorious Archangel, and my monastic patrons are the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist, and Blessed Columba Marmion, with the title "of the Heart of Jesus." As far as I can determine, I am the first Mark in the family while being one of a very long line of Daniels.

Hastening to the Cross

Saint Mark's Gospel has been described as a "hastening to the Cross." It is Saint Mark who gives us the confession of faith of the centurion Saint Longinus, while Saint John tells us that the same centurion opened the side of Jesus with a lance. A link with the mystery of the Pierced Heart!

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Mark and Peter

Tradition calls Saint Mark the interpreter of Saint Peter; clearly the relationship between Peter and Mark was both strong and tender. Saint Peter calls Mark "his son"; (1 P 5:13), suggesting the gift and mystery of the Fisherman's spiritual fatherhood in Christ. Mark was a son to Peter. Personally, I find in this a compelling reason to look confidently to Peter and his successors, and to remain attached to Peter and to his successor today, Pope Francis. Mark laboured at Peter's side, preaching the Gospel in Rome before carrying it to Venice and then to Alexandria where he gave his life for Christ. To this day the Churches of Rome, Venice, and Alexandria rejoice in the protection of Saint Mark and seek his intercession.

Be Not in Doubt for I am with Thee

Some of you may remember the coat of arms of Blessed John XXIII as Patriarch of Venice. It bore the inscription: Pax tibi, Marce, evangelista meus, "Peace to you, Mark, my evangelist!" I have always taken comfort in these words. They are personal, a kind of message to the heart.

My great-great-grandmother, Edvige Maierotti Onoratelli, was Venetian and would have known this motto well; to this day it is displayed with Saint Mark's lion on the coat of arms and flag of Venice, La Serenissima. The text is not found in Sacred Scripture; it comes rather from the ancient Passion of Saint Mark, the account of his martyrdom. The story goes that on the day of Pascha, after singing Mass, Saint Mark was seized, a rope was attached to his neck, and he was dragged through the city of Alexandria until his blood ran upon the stones. After this, he was imprisoned. An angel came to comfort him, and after the angel, the Lord Jesus himself came to visit and comfort Mark, saying, "Peace be to thee, Mark, my evangelist! Be not in doubt for I am with thee and shall deliver thee." The following day Mark was put to death, thanking God, and repeating the words of the Crucified: "Into thy hands, Lord, I commend my spirit" (cf. Lk 23:46).

Saint Mark the Preacher

The word "preaching" occurs in each of the three Proper prayers of the Mass of Saint Mark: the Collect, the Prayer Over the Oblations (Secret), and the Postcommunion. Mark was an Evangelist, not only as a writer of the second Gospel, but also as a preacher, spending himself, pouring himself out for Christ. In the Collect we beg for the grace to "deepen his teaching." The Latin text says proficere which means to gain ground or to advance. This is what lectio divina is all about: gaining ground in the Gospel, penetrating ever more deeply the inexhaustible riches of the Word.


In the Prayer Over the Oblations we ask that the Church may "ever persevere in preaching the Gospel." The Church, like Saint Mark in his passion, needs the comforting presence of Christ who says, "Be not in doubt for I am with thee," and she has that comforting presence always in the mystery of the Eucharist. The words of Christ to Saint Mark echo those given us in today's Communion Antiphon: "Behold, I am with you always, even to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20).

The Eucharist: Christ in Us

In the Postcommunion, we ask that what we have received from the altar may "sanctify us, and make us strong in the faith of the Gospel preached by Saint Mark." This prayer instructs us on the dynamic relationship between the altar and the ambo or, if you will, between the Most Holy Eucharist and the Gospel. We ordinarily think of the preaching of the Gospel as sending us to the altar, and preparing our hearts for the Holy Sacrifice, and rightly so. But the Postcommunion suggests something else as well. The Most Holy Eucharist fulfills what the Gospel announces: the mystery of holiness, that is, "Christ in us, the hope of glory" (Col 1:27).

The Most Holy Eucharist makes us strong in the faith of the Gospel; it is our viaticum, food for the journey of faith, a remedy for every infirmity. The seed sown by holy preaching is made fruitful by the mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood. Take away the altar, and the ambo stands in a void. The altar is the guarantee of that abiding presence of the comforting Christ who says to each of us today, as to Saint Mark, "Peace be to thee. . . . Be not in doubt, for I am with thee and shall deliver thee."

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre

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Buon compleanno, caro santo Padre Benedetto!

April 16th is the 86th birthday of dear Pope Benedict XVI. He has the same age as my own father, something that always made me feel especially close to him. Joseph Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927. It was Holy Saturday. He was baptized on the same day. One-hundred-forty-four years earlier, on April 16, 1783 a poor man, who prayed always, died in Rome. His name: Benedict Joseph Labre. It is strange and wonderful that a man named Joseph, born on the feast of Saint Benedict Joseph, should take the name Benedict upon his election to the papacy. It is as if a providential indication of his destiny had been given from the beginning.

A Pilgrim

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, born on March 26, 1748 in northern France, exemplifies a very particular kind of holiness found in both East and West. He was a wanderer who prayed ceaselessly, a pilgrim walking from one holy place to another, a fool for Christ.

A Misfit

As a young man, Benedict Joseph made a number of unsuccessful attempts at monastic life. He tried his vocation with the Trappists, with the Cistercians, and with the Carthusians, but, in every instance, after a few months or a few weeks, he was rejected as being unsuitable. Benedict Joseph was endearing in his own way. He was a gentle young man, tortured by scruples of conscience, and sensitive. He was completely honest, humble, candid, and open. He was cheerful. But, for all of that, he was a misfit. There was an oddness about him. He was drawn irresistibly to monastic life and, at the same time, rejected from every monastery in which he tried his vocation.

The Road

When he was twenty-two years old, Benedict Joseph left the Abbey of Sept-Fons, still wearing his Cistercian novice's habit, with a rosary around his neck, and a knapsack on his back. His only possessions, apart from the clothes he wore, were his two precious rosaries, a New Testament, a Breviary for reciting the Divine Office, and The Imitation of Christ.

The Divine Office

I have always found Benedict Joseph's attachment to the Divine Office wonderfully compelling. Deprived of choir and choir-stall, of sonorous abbey bells calling to prayer at regular intervals, and of the support of chanting in unison with others, Saint Benedict Joseph carried the Hours into the highways and byways of Europe, into the shadows of the Roman Colosseum, into humble parish churches, and into the occasional barns where he rested upon the hay. His love for the Divine Office made him a worthy namesake of the great Patriarch who ordered, "that nothing be put before the Work of God."

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There was a similar love for the Divine Office among the joyful, homespun sort of folks who belonged to the forward-looking lay movements of the post-war period: The Catholic Worker, Madonna House, the Grail Girls, the Legion of Mary, and the leading people in the Catholic Rural Life Conference in the United States. The breviary, in one of the many attractive presentations available during that time, was deemed indispensable to a thriving Catholic life. I remember Adé Béthune telling me how she and her young friends, working as apprentices in the John Stevens stone carving business in Newport, Rhode Island, would interrupt their labours, morning and evening, to say Prime and Compline . . . in Latin! They were Benedictine Oblates.

Catholics of the pre-conciliar 1950s discovered the Divine Office and savoured it like a new wine, capable of rejoicing souls with a kind of sober inebriation in the Holy Spirit: Christ the Head praying in His members. The magnificent Collegeville Short Breviary,, complete with notes by Pius Parsch; The Little Breviary originally edited in The Netherlands; Frank Duff's abridged Breviary for members of the Legion of Mary; and the Collegeville edition of Lauds, Vespers, and Compline were among the more popular editions in circulation.

I would guess that the inroads of the Charismatic Movement had something to do with the abandonment of the Divine Office among ordinary work-a-day Catholics. Later editions of the "Liturgy of the Hours" were poor in content and in presentation. They failed to enchant and captivate souls the way earlier editions of the Divine Office had.

I rather suspect that if The Liturgical Press (Collegeville) were to re-issue the classic Short Breviary today, it would mark a renaissance of authentic liturgical prayer, but I digress.


Saint Benedict Joseph visited the shrine of Our Lady of Einsieldeln in Switzerland.

Bound to God Alone

Walking all the way to Rome, begging as he went, Saint Benedict Joseph became a vagabond bound to God alone, a pilgrim vowed to ceaseless prayer. He walked from one shrine to another, visiting the Holy House of Loreto, Assisi, Naples, and Bari in Italy. He made his way to Einsiedeln in Switzerland, to Paray-le-Monial in France, and to Compostela in Spain. Saint Benedict Joseph lived on whatever people would give him, and readily shared what little pittance he had. He observed silence, praying constantly. He was mocked, abused, and treated like a madman. Cruel children pelted him with garbage and stones.


After 1774, apart from an annual pilgrimage to the Madonna at the Holy House of Loreto, Benedict Joseph remained in the Eternal City. At night he would sleep in the Colosseum. During the day he would seek out those churches where the Forty Hours Devotion was being held, so as to be able to adore the Blessed Sacrament exposed. So striking was his love for the Blessed Sacrament that the Romans came to call him "the beggar of Perpetual Adoration." He was graced with a profound recollection in church. More than once he was observed in ecstasy, ravished into the love of God and shining with an unearthly light. It was on one of these occasions that the artist Antonio Cavallucci painted the beautiful portrait of Saint Benedict Joseph that allows us, even today, to see his handsome face illumined by union with God.

The Death of a Saint

On April 16, 1783 Benedict Joseph collapsed on the steps of the Church of Santa Maria dei Monti. It was the Wednesday of Holy Week. He was carried to a neighbouring house where he received the last sacraments, and died. He was thirty-five years old. No sooner did news of his death reach the streets than a huge throng gathered crying, "È morto il santo! -- The saint is dead!" Benedict Joseph was buried beneath the altar in a side chapel of Santa Maria dei Monti. I have gone there to pray, and knelt before the life-sized sculpture in marble that depicts him in the repose of a holy death.


Benedict Joseph Labre was dead but a few months when more than 136 miraculous healings were attributed to his intercession. Present in Rome at the time of his funeral was an American Protestant clergyman from Boston, The Reverend John Thayer. The experience of Benedict Joseph's holy death converted Thayer. He was received into the Catholic Church, ordained to the priesthood, and died in Limerick, Ireland in 1815.

This is the prayer to which The Reverend John Thayer attributed his conversion to Catholicism:

Almighty and eternal God, Father of mercy, Saviour of mankind, I humbly intreat thee by thy sovereign goodness, to enlighten my mind, and to touch my heart, that by true faith, hope and charity I may live and die in the true Religion of Jesus Christ. I am sure that as there is but one true God; so there can be but one faith, one religion, one way of salvation, and that every other way which is opposite to this, can only lead to endless misery. It is this faith, O my God, which I earnestly desire to embrace, in order to save my soul. I protest therefore before thy divine Majesty, and I declare by all thy divine attributes, that I will follow that Religion which thou shalt shew me to be true; and that I will abandon, at whatever cost, that in which I shall discover error and falsehood : I do not deserve, it is true, this favour on account of the greatness of my sins, for which I have a profound sorrow because they offend a God so good, so great, so holy and worthy of my love; but what I do not deserve, I hope 'to obtain from thy infinite mercy, and I conjure thee to grant through the merits of the precious blood which was shed for us poor sinners by thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ. Amen.


Father John Thayer's remarkable conversion and the witness of countless other miracles and graces attributed to Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, make me bold in presenting to him my own list of intentions and needs. And I invite you, dear reader, to add your intentions and needs to mine.

I, first of all, recommend to the intercession of Saint Benedict Joseph, our beloved Holy Father emeritus, who bears both his names: Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, eighty-six years ago today.

I ask the powerful intercession of Saint Benedict Joseph for all who suffer from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other forms of emotional and mental illness.

I ask his intercession for a revival of liturgical prayer among ordinary Catholic laity, and for the world-wide extension of silent adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

I present to Saint Benedict Joseph Silverstream Priory. Were he to knock at our door, I would probably, after a few weeks or months, be obliged to suggest, as did so many others, that his place might be elsewhere. He would, however, take comfort, I think, as do I, in this excerpt from our Constitutions:

The real stability of the monk is both inward and ecclesial, insofar as it is fixed in the Sacred Host, that is, in Jesus Christ truly present as Priest and Victim upon the altars of the Church, whence He offers Himself to the Father as a pure oblation from the rising of the sun to its setting. Ubi Hostia, ibi Ecclesia.

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, pray for us, that like you we may pass through this life as pilgrims, and as perpetual adorers, magnetized by the wondrous mystery of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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"Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'; and she told them that He had said these things to her." (John 20:18

Women Apostles

I am thinking, on this eve of the feast of the Divine Mercy, of four women raised up by the Spirit of God in the course of the last century to deliver a message to the Church. Each one prophesied the mystery of the Divine Mercy in her own language, using her own vocabulary, images, and unique feminine sensibility.

Two were French: Thérèse and Yvonne-Aimée; one was Spanish: Josefa Menendez; and one was Polish: Maria Faustina Kowalska. Two were humble laysisters charged with the lowliest tasks in their convents, all the while receiving the secrets of Heaven: Josefa and Faustina. One, Thérèse, was a young Carmelite hidden away in her cloister, and dreaming of doing great deeds for France (like Jeanne d'Arc), for missionaries, and for the salvation of sinners. And one, Yvonne-Aimée, was a heroine of the French resistance during World War II, a spiritual mother to priests, a divinely-inspired risk-taker for love for her Jesus, and a bold and prudent renovator of religious life.

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Our Lord to Sister Josefa Menendez (1890-1923)

"I am He Who forgives thee thy sins, Who wipes out thy offences, and Who sustains thy weakness! The greater is thy nothingness, the more My power upholds thee: I will enrich thee with My gifts, and if thou art faithful I will take sanctuary in thy heart and fly to it when sinners repudiate Me. I will rest in thee, and thou shalt have life in Me."
"If thou art an abyss of wretchedness, I am an abyss of sweetness and of mercy. My Heart is thy refuge, come there to seek all thou has need of; even such things aas I require at thy hands."
"Instead of looking at thy nullity, look at the power of My Heart that upholds thee and have no fear. I am thy strength and shall heal thy wounds."
"What canst thou fear from Me? Never question My love for thee, or the clemency of My Heart. Thy misery draws me to thee . . . without Me what art thou? Never forget that I am all the closer to thee, in proportion to thy lowliness."
"Never grieve overmuch at thy falls --cannot I make a saint of thee? I will seek thee out in thy nothingness to unite Myself to thee, only never refuse Me anything."
"The void and misery in thee are as magnets that attract My love to thee. Yield not to discouragement, for my Mercy is honoured in thy infirmity."

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Saint Faustina Before the Blessed Sacrament

In her quest for Divine Mercy for herself, for poor sinners, for priests, for the dying, and for the whole world, Saint Faustina knew where to go. She was drawn to the tabernacle: the dwelling and fountainhead of Divine Mercy.

O Blessed Host, in whom is contained the infinite price of mercy which will compensate for all our debts, and especially those of poor sinners.
O Blessed Host, in whom is contained the fountain of living water which springs from infinite mercy for us, and especially for poor sinners.
O Blessed Host, in whom is contained the fire of purest love which blazes forth from the bosom of the Eternal Father, as from an abyss of infinite mercy for us, and especially for poor sinners.
O Blessed Host, in whom is contained the medicine for all our infirmities, flowing from infinite mercy, as from a fount, for us and especially for poor sinners.
O Blessed Host, in whom is contained the union between God and us through His infinite mercy for us, and especially for poor sinners.
O Blessed Host, in whom are contained all the sentiments of the most sweet Heart of Jesus toward us, and especially poor sinners.
Saint Faustina's Aspirations to the Most Blessed Sacrament

Surrendering to Mercy

Thérèse was inspired to make her Oblation to Merciful Love on Sunday, June 9, 1895:

"In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!
Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years. You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.
In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!
May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love."

To Josefa, Our Lord said, "Believe in My love and in My mercy." Faustina has taught the world to say, "Jesus, I trust in Thee." And Yvonne-Aimée's miraculous little invocation has changed the lives of thousands: "O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy merciful goodness."


No Limitations to Trust in My Mercy

"I feel somehow that the time is at hand when Your Infinite Mercy will come to our aid." Yvonne-Aimée after a Gestapo search during World War II
"Do you know?" Jesus said to me, "that there are souls that don't dare to think of Me as their best Friend and don't realize that My Heart is always waiting to receive them . . . I am pure Love and I find my happiness in knowing them close to Me and giving them My Love in full measure. . . . They should approach Me with humility and respect, but I also want them to think of Me as their Father and feel at ease with Me. Affection and childlike trust are what they need to talk to God and it saddens Me to see them come to Me almost suspiciously, in fear and trembling, when all I want is their love."
"My Mercy is infinite," Jesus said; "all souls can reach My Divine Heart and rise to whatever heights they wish within that Heart. I make no distinction between the innocent and the guilty -- the more they love Me, the dearer they are to Me. No soul will ever find limitations to its trust in My Mercy, for I want that trust to go on growing for ever . . ." Mother Yvonne-Aimée's Diary -- 1922


Prayer to Saint Joseph for Priests

O glorious Saint Joseph,
who, on the word of the angel
speaking to you in the night,
put fear aside to take your Virgin Bride into your home,
show yourself today the advocate and protector of priests.
Guardian of the Infant Christ,
defend them against every attack of the enemy,
preserve them from the dangers that surround them
on every side.
Remember Herod's threats against the Child,
the anguish of the flight into Egypt by night,
and the hardships of your exile.
Stand by the accused;
stretch out your hand to those who have fallen;
comfort the fearful;
forsake not the weak;
and visit the lonely.
Let all priests know that in you
God has given them a model
of faith in the night, obedience in adversity,
chastity in tenderness, and hope in uncertainty.
You are the terror of demons
and the healer of those wounded in spiritual combat.
Come to the defence of every priest in need;
overcome evil with good.
Where there are curses, put blessings,
where harm has been done, do good.
Let there be joy for the priests of the Church,
and peace for all under your gracious protection.

Hail, Glorious Saint Patrick

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Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland

Today is my second Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland (transferred from yesterday, Passion Sunday). Silverstream Priory is not very far from the famous Hill of Slane where, in 433, Saint Patrick kindled the Paschal Fire in defiance of the Supreme Monarch of Island and the druids.

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our Isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, thy words were once strong
Against Satan's wiles and an infidel throng;
Not less is thy might where in heaven thou art;
O, come to our aid, in our battle take part.

In the war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, their prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.

Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.

I Have Taught You

Like Moses, Saint Patrick, having announced the Gospel to the people of Ireland, was able to say, "Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord my God commanded me. . . . Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people'" (Dt 4:5-6). The gift of the true faith imparted by Saint Patrick brought with it a sacred responsibility, one that the Irish people honoured down through the centuries, even in times of persecution and cruel repression.

Many People Were Reborn in God Through Me

Saint Patrick himself was conscious that God had used him to do great things. In his Confession, he writes: "I am very much God's debtor, who gave me such grace that many people were reborn in God through me and afterwards confirmed, and that clerics were ordained for them everywhere, for a people just coming to the faith, whom the Lord took from the utmost parts of the earth." By preaching, baptizing, ordaining priests, and consecrating virgins, Saint Patrick changed the face of Ireland. He did not blush to apply to the Irish people the prophecy of Hosea: "I will have mercy on her that was without mercy. And I will say to that which was not my people: Thou art my people. . . . And in the place where it was said: 'You are not my people': it shall be said to them: 'Ye are the sons of the living God'" (Hos 2:23-24; 1:10).

Monks and Virgins of Christ

Saint Patrick, conscious of his own weakness, was in awe of the power of the grace of Christ. "How," he asks, "did it come to pass in Ireland that those who never had a knowledge of God, but until now always worshiped idols and things impure, have now been made a people of the Lord, and are called sons of God, that the sons and daughters of the kings of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ?" The psalmist expresses Saint Patrick's wonder before the work of grace in the hearts of a great number: "He has not done thus for any other nation" (Ps 147:20).

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I took this photo from the road in front of Saint Patrick's Chapel in Gowell, County Leitrim, where my grandmother Margaret Mary Gilbride Kirby received her First Holy Communion in 1909. In the distance is the wild and reputedly mystical Hill of Sheemore, about which my grandmother often spoke. Five years ago I climbed the Hill of Sheemore together with my good friend John Flynn. The view from the Cross at the summit is magnificent.

The Missionary Born of the Monastery

Irish Christianity was, from the beginning, monastic in temperament and in organization. The Church was barely established when already monasteries sprang into life. Succeeding generations saw a spectacular growth: there came to be monasteries of over three thousand monks, centres of learning, monastic universities of a sort, drawing students from all over the continent. From the sixth to the twelfth centuries, these same monastic centres of learning were seedbeds of missionary work. Irish monks poured into France. Germany, Belgium, and Italy welcomed them. Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both presented their visions of a Europe infused with the love of Christ, of a "new civilization of love." Efforts toward the rechristianization of Europe can draw inspiration from the ideals of the Irish missionaries of the so-called Dark Ages. The Irish model is a good one: the missionary is born of the monastery. Prayer, asceticism, and scholarship come to fruition in the implantation of the Gospel and in the renewal of the churches.

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And here you see my Dad, 86 years old this year. Dad marched this year in the New Haven, Connecticut Saint Patrick's Day Parade.

The Passion of the Church in Ireland

The faith received from Saint Patrick came, in time, to be sorely tested. The eighteenth century saw the enactment of repressive laws penalizing Catholics: Catholics were prohibited from voting; were not permitted to purchase land or lease it for more than thirty-one years; it was illegal to teach the Catholic religion to children and adults; it became illegal for Catholic priests to remain in Ireland or enter Ireland from abroad; it became illegal to harbour or otherwise assist Catholic priests. Only in 1829 did the British Parliament grant a decree of Catholic Emancipation, making it possible for the Church to emerge from the underground. But another trial was to follow, The Great Hunger that claimed over a million lives. Those who could escaped the famine; wave after wave of impoverished Irish emigrants found a home in America, bringing with them their greatest possession: the Catholic faith. Out of the horrors of The Great Hunger God brought a great good: were it not for the exodus of the Irish at the time of the famine there would be very few English-speaking Catholics in the world today.

New Penal Laws?

Strangely, there seems to be among some in Ireland today, a militantly secularistic ideology bent on the repression of the Catholic Faith in public life. Will we see the enactment of a new set of Penal Laws imposed not by an anti-Catholic oppressor from without but, instead, by Irish upon Irish? Or will we see instead a great Catholic reawakening, and a joyful rallying around the Most Holy Eucharist, the Mother of God, and fidelity to the teachings of the Church?

Transmit the Faith

Moses' words to the children of Israel become Saint Patrick's words addressed to us: "Keep thyself therefore, and thy soul carefully. Forget not the words that thy eyes have seen, and let them not go out of thy heart all the days of thy life. Thou shalt teach them to thy children and to thy grandchildren" (Dt 4:9). The transmission of the faith is more urgent today than ever before. Saint Patrick and those who followed in his footsteps teach us that the surest way of holding fast to the faith is by transmitting it. Deep in the heart of every Christian is a monastic impulse and a missionary impulse. Like Saint Patrick, may we rise today to both of them.


Saint Patrick's Day

On this feast of Saint Patrick (transferred from yesterday, Passion Sunday), I should like to reflect on his life and mission, and on the patrimony of the Catholic Faith that he bequeathed to his sons and daughters.

The Enlightener of Ireland

"Remember the marvels the Lord has done" (Ps 104:5). The psalmist invites us to remember, among other marvels, the wonderful works done by God through Saint Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland. Sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine in 432, Saint Patrick delivered the true, Catholic and Apostolic faith to the Irish people. He announced, in the language of his own poetry, "the strong name of the Trinity, Christ's incarnation, His baptism in the Jordan River, his death on the Cross for our salvation, His bursting from the spicèd tomb, His riding up the heavenly way, and His coming at the day of doom" (Saint Patrick’s Breastplate). Patrick, bound fast to the mystery of Christ, enlightened the minds and warmed the hearts of a people "dwelling in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Lk 1:7) with faith in the Son of Mary.

When Every Staff of Bread Was Broken

This is the faith for which the Irish risked home and possessions and life during years of cruel persecution. This is the faith kept alive in the humble telling of the beads, in hospitality heroically given to fugitive priests, and in the preparation of secret altars for the Holy Sacrifice, for nothing mattered to them more than Holy Mass. This is the faith that sustained the Irish even when, as the psalm says, they "were wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another" (Ps 104:13), when "famine fell upon the land, and when every staff of bread was broken" (Ps 104:16). This is the Catholic faith passed on, at great cost, from one generation to the next.

The Transmission of the Faith

A faith that is not passed on grows dim and, like a dying flame, becomes no more than a flicker offering little in the way of light and warmth. The transmission of the faith assures its vitality. Faith is inseparable from tradition, tradition being the transmission of what we ourselves have received from the saints: whole, unchanged, and intact.



There is an old saying -- not an Irish one -- a Middle Eastern one that expresses perfectly what we mean by tradition. "With a trail, the best way to keep it alive is to walk on it, because every time you walk on it, you create it again." So too with the path of tradition: the best way to keep it alive is to walk on it, because every time you walk on it, you create it again.

Things Put Into Our Hands

Every now and then in life things are put into our hands to help us remember the marvels the Lord has done and to help us walk on the path of tradition, creating it again, and discovering it again with a sense of gratitude and wonderment. After the death of my dear grandmother Margaret Mary Gilbride Kirby on March 23rd, 1993, it was necessary to sort through years of accumulated treasures in the house she had lived in.

A Little Irish Prayerbook

Among the things found in that house was a little Irish prayerbook. Its gilded pages are faded now and the once shining stamp of the Sacred Heart on its leather cover is dark with age. It is 153 years old, having been published in Middle Abbey Street, Dublin, in 1860. Blessed Pius IX was Pope. It bears the imprimatur of His Eminence Paul Cardinal Cullen, Archbishop of Dublin, and of the Right Reverend Doctor William Delany, Lord Bishop of Cork.

My Grandmother's Faith

The prayerbook is called The Treasury of the Sacred Heart. In the back of the book in what appears to be a child's hand, there is the date October 11th, 1912. That was the year of my grandmother's second return to America from Ireland. In all she crossed the Atlantic four times. Childhood memories of Ireland enchanted her right until the end of her long life. She spoke of them often, her blue eyes sparkling. As for her faith, she lived it. "I could not on without it," she used to say. It was the faith she received, the transmitted faith, the faith of a holy tradition, the faith of a path beset with brambles and sharp stones. By persevering along the path of tradition, she recreated it for herself, and bequeathed it to her children and her children's children.

A Treasury

If this little prayerbook could talk, what a tale it would tell! I don't know who used it, but it is well used. The pages are worn and the binding coming unstitched. It is a remarkable little volume. Whoever named it, named it well. It is a Treasury. It contains the whole Ordinary of the Mass in Latin and in English, Vespers and Compline in Latin and in English, the Epistles and Gospels of the Sundays and principal feasts, the Seven Penitential Psalms, the Sacrament of Penance, the great hymns of the Divine Office for the whole liturgical year in Latin and in English. It contains meditations for the Holy Rosary and for praying the beads of the Seven Dolours. There is, of course, the Way of the Cross and the litanies that so often followed the Rosary in Irish homes. There are prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and novenas to the Blessed Virgin, to Saint Joseph, Saint Patrick, and other saints. There is also The Jesus Psalter, a splendid old prayer that the Irish cherished and recited in the darkest hours of the Penal Times.

The Tale of A People Who Loved the Mass

Yes, if this little prayerbook could talk, what a tale it would tell! The tale of a people rising before dawn for Holy Mass -- in Latin, with a Communion fast from midnight. The tale of a people sustained by their attachment to the Blessed Mother of God and to her rosary. The tale of a people drawn to the mystery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: the image of Suffering Love that held a place of honour in every Irish home. The tale of a people who knew their faith: the Gospels, the Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, the Seven Capital Sins, the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Ghost, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and all the rest! The tale of a people who made their way often to a dark confessional, there to pour out their misery, their failings, and their sorrow to a man in whom they recognized the merciful Christ, and from whose mouth they received the miracle of absolution and of peace.

Remember . . . and Walk

This little prayerbook from Ireland, now nearly a century and a half old, does speak in its own way. It was placed in my hands for a reason. Perhaps so that I could tell you its story again for this Saint Patrick's Day. "Remember the marvels the Lord has done" (Ps 104:5). And walk in the path of tradition. The best way to keep it alive is to walk on it, because every time you walk on it, you create it again for yourself, and for generations to come.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great

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Your Servants Through Jesus

The feast of Saint Gregory the Great, falling in the midst of Lent on March 12th, and on the opening day of the Conclave, 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. His fatherhood in the Spirit is an ongoing reality. Saint Gregory continues to be a father in the Spirit, 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 age 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 speaks to us today to reveal 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. Today is, in fact, the anniversary of his ordination as bishop of Rome on September 3, 590. 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."

How important it is that we pray today for the Ordinariates established for Anglicans returning to full communion with the See of Rome! Saint Gregory is the "father in Christ" of the Ecclesia Anglicana. Pray today 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. This is yet another reason for us to seek his intercession at this time of the Conclave, 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 Spirit, now and always and unto the ages of ages.

Saint Francesca of Rome

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S Francesca Romana Clothed by the Virgin.jpg

This painting, attributed to Antonio da Viterbo the Elder (1450-1516), depicts Saint Francesca being clothed by the Blessed Virgin in the great white veil that, even today, characterizes the Olivetan Benedictine Oblates of Mary she founded in 1433.

Our Lady wears a golden mantle, which Saint Paul at the left wraps around Francesca Romana. Saint Paul also holds a scroll. The mystical scene takes place on a cloud; fiery seraphim accompany the Madonna and Child. Saint Mary Magdalene, in red vesture, and Saint Benedict, in the foreground, drape a protective mantle around twenty Oblates.

Note the angel below the Gothic windows at left. He is busy carding golden threads with a warp and loom. Nearby are two frisky dogs and two cats. Francesca's Oblate Congregation, it is said, was woven together by heavenly graces and harassed by evil spirits in the form of cats and dogs. The grace of Christ prevailed and the Oblates flourished.

The feast of Saint Francesca Romana -- February 9th -- is almost upon us. Saint Francesca is the patroness of Benedictine Oblates; she is a model of married life, of motherhood, of an active charity, and of devotion to liturgical prayer. Loving feastday wishes to our own Oblate Sister Francesca in Oklahoma. May her patroness obtain for her an abundance of heavenly blessings.

Sr Francesca.jpg

Married Life and Monastic Conversion

Saint Frances of Rome (1384-1440),more properly called by her own name, Francesca, is the patroness of Benedictine Oblates. The Collect for her feast tells us why. The Church has us pray:

O God, Who in Saint Frances of Rome, hast given us a model of holiness in married life and of monastic conversion, make us serve Thee perseveringly, so that in all circumstances we may set our gaze upon Thee and follow Thee.

It is not often that we mention both married life and monastic conversion in the same Collect! Francesca is there to tell us that it can be done.

Another Collect, the one we prayed this morning when we commemorated Saint Francesca at Lauds, highlights the privileged relationship she enjoyed with her Guardian Angel:

O God, Who among other gifts of Thy grace, didst adorn Thy handmaid Francesca with the familiar companionship of an Angel; grant, we beseech Thee, that helped by her prayers, we likewise may deserve to enjoy the company of the Angels.

Patronness of Rome

I find it extraordinary that the Romans should be so proud of their Francesca, even to the point of considering her their special patron. They can lay claim, after all, to Saints Peter and Paul, to innumerable martyrs and glorious Popes, and yet, with all that spiritual richness, they remain attached to Francesca, a married woman, a servant of the poor, a mother to the sick, a spiritual daughter of Holy Father Benedict, and a mystic.

Enthusiasm for Holiness

Francesca did nothing by half-measures. Being Roman, she lived life with a kind of reckless enthusiasm -- not for the usual things Romans get excited over -- but for holiness! Her life was extraordinary in some ways. She went in for fasting, austerities, and almsgiving in a huge way. The devil bothered her continually, not as he bothers us with boring, nagging temptations, but with spectacular assaults. Francesca was in the same league as Saint Anthony of Egypt and the Curé d'Ars.

Intensely Alive

For me, Francesca's appeal is in her warm and very human personality. She was no dried up prune of a saint. She was intensely alive to everything human and capable of the grand passions without which life is bleak and dreary. She suffered struggles, endured sorrows, and bore with every manner of disappointment and hurt. One cannot say that Francesca's holiness was of the tidy sort. One might even say that Francesca's life was a mess. Her desire to serve God and live for him was continually frustrated by persons and circumstances. It was precisely in the midst of these conditions that Francesca grew in holiness, "setting nothing before the love of Christ" (RB 4:21), and "never despairing of God's mercy" (RB 4:74).

Married at Thirteen

As a young girl, Francesca did not want to marry. She lived, after all, in the city of the Church's shining virgin martyrs: Agnes, Cecilia, and so many others. Like them she wanted to consecrate her virginity to Christ, but her parents had other plans. The first big decision in her life was out of her hands. At the age of thirteen she gave in to her parents and married Lorenzo Ponziano, the wealthy nobleman they had chosen for her.

Francesca was expected to be the perfect socialite, charming, beautiful, witty, and worldly as only Romans know how to be worldly. In her heart she longed for the cloister, but the will of God had placed her, concretely, in a setting far removed from it.

They Never Once Had A Quarrel

Lorenzo, Francesca's husband treated her always with love and respect. He accepted that he had married an unusual woman, that she would never be like other Roman wives, and that there was something in her that he, try as he might, would never be able to satisfy. Francesca loved Lorenzo. She recognized his qualities and accepted that loving Lorenzo was part of God's plan for her. It is said that through all their married life, Francesca and Lorenzo never once had a quarrel. For that alone they should both be canonized!

Devotion in a Married Woman

Francesca is best known for a sagacious remark, one that two centuries later Saint Francis de Sales would echo. "Devotion in a married woman," she said, "is most praiseworthy, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. Sometimes she must leave God at the altar, to serve Him in her housekeeping". An indication of Francesca's Benedictine vocation was in her devotion to the Divine Office. One day in praying the Hours she was interrupted five times in succession. Each time she closed her book, attended to what was asked of her, and then returned to her prayer. After the last interruption she found the words of the antiphon she had been trying to pray written in letters of gold. God rewarded her patience as much as her zeal for the Divine Office.

Her Guiding Light

If you have ever seen a painting of Saint Francesca, you may have noticed a little angel standing near her. Francesca had lost her little eight-year-old boy, Evangelista, to the plague. After his death he appeared to her announcing the death of yet another child, her daughter Agnese. I cannot help but relate Francesca;s grief to the passage in Isaiah: "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (Is 49:15). Francesca never forgot the little ones taken from her by death. In exchange for these terrible losses, she was given an unusual grace: that of always seeing her guardian angel. Her angel took on the appearance of a little boy of about eight years (like her son Evangelista); he wore a dalmatic like the deacon at Solemn Mass. Francesca's guardian angel was with her visibly at every moment, assuring her of the love of Christ, giving her counsel and providing her, even visibly, with a guiding light. It was this fact that made Pope Pius XI declare Francesca the patroness of motorists!

Rival Popes

Francesca lived in troubled times. There were two rival Popes, making for schism and Civil War. Lorenzo was wounded fighting on behalf of the true Pope. In the aftermath of the conflicts, he lost his estates. Their home was destroyed and their one surviving son taken hostage. As if that were not enough Rome was beset with looting, famine, and plague. And we think we have troubles!

Mother of the Poor, the Sick, and the Brokenhearted

Francesca rose to the occasion. She fixed up the ruins of her home and opened a hospital. With poor and suffering people all around her, Francesca became a kind of Mother Teresa, compassionate and wonderfully effective. She fed and housed the poor sick picked up on the streets. She arranged for priests to minister to the dying. She reconciled enemies and calmed the rage of those plotting revenge. After the troubles caused by the schism, Lorenzo came home to her, but he was a broken man both physically and mentally. Francesca cared for him with every tenderness.

Benedictine Oblates

Francesca's activities did not go unnoticed. Other Roman ladies, many of them war widows, were drawn to her. Little by little a new form of Benedictine life emerged: women living under the Rule of Saint Benedict, not as enclosed nuns, but as Oblates of the Roman monastery of the Olivetans at Santa Maria Nuova. Francesca's Oblates were free to go out to serve the poor and sick. Their life was shaped to a great extent by the first part of Chapter Four of the Holy Rule, the Instruments of Good Works:

To relieve the poor, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to bury the dead, to give help in trouble, to console the sorrowful, to avoid worldly behaviour, and to set nothing before the love of Christ (RB 4:14-21).

Francesca's Oblates survive to the present day, not only in Rome, but also at Le Bec-Hellouin in France, at Abu-Gosh in Israel, and elsewhere. They wear unchanged the distinctive black habit and long white veil dating from the time of Saint Francesca.

Lorenzo's Deathbed Declaration of Love

Lorenzo died in 1436. His last words were for his darling Francesca. They are worth quoting. "I feel," he said, "as if my whole life has been one beautiful dream of purest happiness. God has given me so much in your love." A husband's deathbed confession of undying love! No wife could ask for more.

The Angel Beckons

After Lorenzo's death, Francesca was free to take a fuller role in the Benedictine community she had established. Her sister Oblates elected her prioress. Four years later, on the evening of March 9th her face became radiant with a strange light. "The angel has finished his task," she said; "he beckons me to follow him". Francesca was 56 years old. Her death plunged all of Rome into mourning. Miraculous healings abounded. Rome had another saint.

Acceptance of Things As They Are

Francesca's life tells us that the plan of God for our holiness us unfolds in ways that often contradict our own projects and desires. Our endless planning can be no more than an attempt to control life, to manipulate people and events. Francesca challenges us to detachment from life as we would have it be, and to the acceptance of things as they are. Each of us has unexpected elements that, thrown into the mix, unsettle our plans, making life untidy and somehow bearable at the same time. And each of us has a guardian angel, a light in life's obscurity, a faithful friend and spiritual counselor.

PIC Bl Marmion.JPG

Several years ago, on a visit to the Irish College in Rome where the ever gracious Father Bernard Healy, then a student there, I was able to take a picture of this original photograph of Dom Columba Marmion. The Abbot of Maredsous disguised himself as a cattle trader in order to cross the Channel during World War I. It was on this occasion that, when asked for his passport, Dom Marmion replied with a smile, "I'm Irish, and the Irish need no passport, except to get into hell, and it's not to hell that I'm going!" He was allowed to cross the border.

Death is not improvised. We die as we have lived. Life fully lived, with one's eyes fixed on the Face of Jesus, even in this valley of tears where faith alone pierces the night, is an apprenticeship in the art of dying well, l'art de bien mourir. For many years, on the anniversary of the death of Dom Marmion, I would open his biography by Dom Raymond Thibaut, and turning to the last chapter, I would re-read the account of his holy death on January 30, 1923. Today I am sharing these moving pages with all of you, dear readers.

I Will Love Thee, O Lord
Tuesday the 30th was to be the last day of his earthly life. As on other days, he was able to receive the Bread of Life. On this feria in Septuagesima week the Mass was that of the preceding Sunday, Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis. "The sorrows of death," thus begins the Introit, "encompassed me; in my affliction I called upon the Lord, and He heard my voice from His holy temple . . . I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength: the Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer."
For him it was that all his sons repeated the liturgical words of the Gradual, so applicable to that hour: "Thou art, O Lord, a helper in due time of tribulation: let them trust in Thee who know Thee: for Thou hast not forsaken them that seek Thee."
Evening Was Come
Dom Columba had "sought" the Lord; he had made that "sincere seeking after God" required by Saint Benedict the law of his whole life. Had he not been of those who, according to the words of Saint Paul in the Epistle of the Mass, had run in the race that he might receive the prize? Or again, according to Our Saviour's own parable, repeated in the Gospel of the day, was he not among those labourers whom the Father of the household sent to his vineyard, there to work unremittingly for the glory of their Master? Now "evening was come," and the faithful servant, after having borne "the burden of the day and their heats," was about to receive his wages.
His strength continued to ebb, and it was clear that the end was near. In the afternoon Dom Marmion's confessor came to comfort him with these words:
"Mon Révérendissime Père, you are soon going to appear before Our Lord Jesus Christ; show Him now that unshaken confidence that you have preached so often."
The dying monk was no longer able to articulate a distinct reply. But no words could have been more fitting at that moment than those just spoken to that soul ready to vibrate at every word of faith. His prayer, moreover, responded to this suggestion; he was many times heard to repeat that verse of the Magnificat: "He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy." Recordatus misericordiae suae.
Into Peace With Thee
In the evening, about five o'clock, the community assembled for the Recommendation of the Departing Soul, while the dying abbot held the blessed candle in his hand. Dom Robert de Kerchove, the Father Abbot President of the Congregation, recited the prayers to which the community responded. A touching sight was this crown of sons encircling a venerated father with their prayers, and inviting all the heavenly court to come to aid and meet a soul on its passing to eternity. And how striking were certain of the invocations, considering the circumstances:
"O God most merciful, O God most loving and kind, look favourably upon Thy servant Columba, and deign to hear him. Lord, have pity on his sighs, have pity on his tears, and since his only hope is in Thy mercy, grant him the grace to enter into peace with Thee. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . ."
Cast Me Not Away From Thy Face
The prayers, being ended, the community withdrew; only a few privileged ones remained. Supplications for the dying man were continuous and grew ever more earnest; in low tones those near him repeated the Litany of Our Lady, the Psalms most appropriate for the occasion: Qui habitat in adjutorio Altissimi; the Benedictus. From time to time those texts on which his soul had been nourished were suggested to him: "O Jesus, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. . . . No man cometh to the Father but by Me. . . . Gladly will I glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may dwell in me. . . . Lord, cast me not away from Thy face!"
Heart of Jesus
The last prayer proved to be the Litany of the Sacred Heart, where are summed up all the acts of confidence of a believing, loving soul: "Heart of Jesus, salvation of them that hope in Thee. . . . Hope of them that die in Thee. . . ." And then: "Jesus, Mary, Joseph"; and finally, the supreme invocation, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus . . . !"
The Moment of Eternity
About half-past nine his breathing became sensibly fainter, his face grew pallid, the moment of eternity had come. The dying abbot's brow was asperged with holy water, the crucifix was held for him to kiss. Shortly before ten o'clock one last effort, a contraction of the lips: the soul had escaped from its mortal frame.
The prior at once recited the Subvenite: "Come, ye saints of God . . . come forth to meet him, ye angels of the Lord! . . . May Christ Who hath called thee, receive thee forever into His kingdom. . . ."

Martyrs Close to Home

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The photograph shows statues of the martyrs Blessed Margaret Ball and Blessed Francis Taylor at Saint Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin.

Blessed Margaret Ball

Blessed Margaret Ball was born Margaret Birmingham near Skreen in County Meath in 1515. Her father, Nicholas, had left England because, with other members of his family, he did not accept the religious reforms of Henry VIII; he settled on a farm in Corballis, County Meath. At the age of 15, Margaret married Alderman Bartholomew Ball of Balrothery, who operated the bridge over the Dodder which still carries his name. Margaret had ten children, though only five survived to adulthood. Her husband was elected Mayor of Dublin in 1553, making Margaret the Mayoress.

Betrayed by Her Son

With the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, Margaret's son Walter renounced his Catholic faith and became a Protestant. His mother, in an attempt to win him back to the one, truth faith, invited him to meet "a special friend"; when Walter arrived at his mother's house, he found Archbishop Dermot O'Hurley, celebrating Holy Mass with his mother and other family members in attendance. He had his mother arrested and thrown into Dublin Castle. Margaret could have secured her freedom if she took the Oath of Supremacy, but she refused to deny her Catholic faith. She died in 1584, aged 69 years, and crippled with arthritis after three years in the cold, damp dungeons. Magnanimously, she left her property to the Protestant son who had put her in prison.

Blessed Francis Taylor

Two generations later the same pattern was repeated by Francis Taylor, Margaret Ball's grandson-in-law, who was born about 1550 in Swords, County Dublin. Francis was elected Mayor of Dublin 1595. He was later condemned to the dungeons of Dublin Castle after exposing fraud in the parliamentary elections to the Irish House of Commons. For seven years he refused to deny his Catholic faith by taking the Oath of Supremacy which could have obtained his freedom. Blessed Francis Taylor died in Dublin Castle on 29 January 1621.

It is not good for man to be alone

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Priestly Union with the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today's feast of the Espousal of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Joseph compels me to reflect on the grace of mystical espousal with Our Lady, something to which every monk and priest should aspire, for God Himself has said, that "it is not good for man to be alone." (Genesis 2:18) Essentially, a man to whom the Holy Ghost vouchsafes this grace shares his entire life with Mary. Like Saint Joseph, he lives for her; he lives with her; he lives by her. Like Saint Joseph, he has no secrets from her; owns nothing that is not hers as well; and is of one mind and heart with her in all things. The Blessed Virgin Mary completes the man espoused to her.

The Saints

Among the saints marked by this grace are Saint Robert of Molesme (1028-1111), Saint Hermann Joseph (1150-1241), Saint Edmund of Canterbury (1175-1240), Blessed Alain de la Roche (1428-1475), and Saint John Eudes (1601-1670).

Saint John Eudes

Already as a young man, John Eudes placed a wedding band on the finger of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was a portent of things to come. As a priest, a reformer of the clergy, and an outstanding preacher, he experienced the fruitfulness that results from a spousal intimacy with the Mother of God.


Something to Which All Priests Should Aspire

Saint John Eudes, a friend of Mother Mectilde de Bar, and one of the stars shining in the constellation of holy priests in 17th century France, presents this grace as something to which all priests should aspire. To describe it he uses the French word alliance: covenant, bond, or union. Significantly, the same word is used to designate a wedding ring. I decided to translate the following passage from his Memorial on the Life of Ecclesiastics:

The Eternal Father
Consider that priests have a special alliance with the most holy Mother of God. This because, just as the Eternal Father made her participate in His divine paternity, and gave her the power to form in her womb the same Son whom He begets in His bosom, so too does He communicate to priests that same paternity, giving them power to form this same Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and in the hearts of the faithful.
The Son
As the Son made her [the Virgin Mary] His cooperator and coadjutrix (helpmate) in the work of the redemption of the world, so too does He make priests His cooperators and coadjutors in the work of saving souls.
The Holy Ghost
As the Holy Ghost, in an ineffable manner, associated her [the Virgin Mary] with Himself in the most divine of His operations, and in the masterpiece of His that is the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, so too does He associate priests with Himself to bring about an extension and a continuation of this mystery in each Christian, in whom the Son of God, in some manner, incarnates Himself by means of Baptism and by the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Mediatrix of All Graces
Just as the Eternal Father gave us His Son through her [the Virgin Mary], so too does He give Him to us through His priests. Even as all the graces that come forth to us from the Heart of God pass through the hands of Mary, so too are they given us by the ministry of priests. This in such wise that, just as Mary is the treasurer of the Most Holy Trinity, priests too bear this title.
The Sacrifice of Christ
Finally, it is through her that Jesus was offered to His Father at the first and last moment of His life, when she received Him in her sacred womb, and when she accompanied Him to the sacrifice that He made of Himself on the cross; and it is by means of priests that He is immolated daily upon our altars.
Mother of the Sovereign Priest
This is why priests, being bound by so intimate an alliance and so marvelous a conformity to the Mother of the Sovereign Priest, have very particular obligations to love her, to honour her, and to clothe themselves in her virtues, in her spirit, and in her dispositions. Humble yourselves that you should find yourselves so far removed from this. Enter into the desire to tend thereto with all your heart. Offer yourselves to her, and pray her to help you mightily.

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In 1979, while visiting the Abbey of Chambarand in France, the chaplain, Dom Irénée, was kind enough to drive Father Jacob and me to the magnificent Abbey of Saint-Antoine, a holy place hidden in the heart of the Isère. Yes, the relics of Saint Antony of Egypt are in France!

The abbey, with its church in flamboyant gothic, was built in 1297 to receive the relics of the Father of Monks. In 1777 the abbey was made over to the Order of the Knights of Malta, and in 1896 it was entrusted to Dom Adrien Gréa and his fledgling Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception. What I remember best of that visit thirty-two years ago was stopping to pray before the altar containing the relics of Saint Antony. Never would I have imagined the possibility of such a grace!

Here are some of the Proper Texts for the Mass of Saint Antony, Abbot:


O God, who bestowed on the blessed abbot Antony
the grace of serving you in the desert by a strange and wonderful way of life,
grant that, through his intercession, we may renounce ourselves
and love you always above all things.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.

General Intercessions

That the Church in East and West may be blessed
with a new generation of God-seeking men and women,
hungry for the living Word of God
and courageous in spiritual combat,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That the leaders of nations
may be assisted in their efforts to secure a just and lasting peace
by the prayer and penance
of those called to a life hidden with Christ in God,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That, by the intercession of Saint Antony,
the grieving may go away rejoicing,
the angry turned to kindness,
those grown slack strengthened,
and those troubled by doubts pacified,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That we who have assembled to listen to the Word
may, like Saint Antony, rejoice to confess the presence of Christ
and be transformed by His all-powerful and life-giving Spirit,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

Collect at the General Intercessions

O God, who by Your Holy Spirit,
so opened the ears of your servant Antony
to the Gospel proclaimed in midst of Your Church,
that nothing of its saving message escaped him,
mercifully grant that we, like him,
may listen attentively to Your Word,
treasure it in quiet hearts,
and pray without ceasing
to withstand the temptations of the evil one
and to give You glory
in the solitude of hearts made pure by Your grace.
Through Christ our Lord.

Our Father Saint Antony

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Saint Antony and Signor Siciliano

Isn't this a wonderful painting of Saint Antony? Flemish Jan Gossaert painted it in Rome in 1508 as the right panel of a diptych. The left panel (not shown) depicts the Mother of God. What interests me is the relationship between Saint Antony and the donor, one Antonio Siciliano.

The Ear of the Heart

Notice the holy abbot's right hand gently touching Signor Siciliano's shoulder. In his left hand Saint Antony holds the book of the Scriptures and his prayer beads. Antony's face is sweet and gentle. His ear is exposed: that ear through which the Word of God entered his mind and descended into his heart.

The donor, in contrast, appears sincere, but stiff; he is looking toward the Madonna on the other panel. His rigid piety lacks the seasoned humanity of the old abbot, tried by temptation and marked by compassion.

Signor Siciliano's dog is wearing a stylish red collar. He is gazing at his master, fascinated by what is going on. Picture yourself in the place of Signor Siciliano. Let the hand of Saint Antony bless and guide you today.


A Certain Primacy Among the Saints

The liturgy today makes it clear that Saint Antony of the Desert holds a certain primacy among the saints. The 1970 Missal gives a complete set of proper texts; the reformed Lectionary gives proper readings. (Is there a possibility of mutual enrichment here?) Antony is a primary reference, a model of how we are to hear the Word of God, an inspiration in spiritual combat, a radiant icon of holiness for the ages.

No Rest From Spiritual Combat

The feast of Saint Antony, falling between the Christmas festivities and Septuagesima, is an invitation to shake off the sluggishness that comes with winter, a bracing reminder that there is no rest from spiritual combat, and that "the monk's life ought at all seasons to bear a Lenten character" (RB 49:1). It is the custom in some monasteries on the feast of Saint Antony to go out to the barn to bless the animals. He is the patron of horses, pigs, cattle, and other domestic animals. Icons of Saint Antony often show his little pet pig nestled in the folds of his tunic. Our dog Hilda received her Saint Antony Day blessing very meekly.

Ice on the Holy Water

Making a trip to the barn in the mid-January cold may be as much of a blessing for the monks as for the animals. It is a wake-up call. One has to use the aspergillum to break the ice that forms on the Holy Water. One sees the animals shudder when the cold water hits them. These are very physical reminders of a spiritual truth. We cannot afford to become cozy and comfortable in a spirituality of feather comforters for the soul. From time to time we, like the barn animals, need the salutary shock of cold Holy Water splashed in our face!


The Life of Antony

More than forty years ago Trappist Father Marius Granato (+ 10 November 2003) of Spencer introduced me to the Life of Antony by Saint Athanasius. Heady reading for a fifteen year old boy! Shortly thereafter a wise Father told me that one should read the Life of Antony once a year. These seasoned monks knew exactly what they were doing: they were proposing a model of holiness perfectly adapted to the ideals of a youth starting out on the spiritual journey. After all, the Life of Antony begins with an account of his boyhood. He was about "eighteen, or even twenty" when, going into church one day, he heard the Gospel being chanted, and understood that it was Christ speaking to him. "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me" (Mt 19:21).

A Book For All Ages

Why counsel an annual reading of the Life of Antony? Because it is a text that, in some way, grows with us. If it is suitable for the eager young seeker, it is just as suitable to the Christian wrestling with the oppressive noon-day devil or with the cunning demons of midlife. For the Christian faced with the onset of old age, it is a comforting book.


He Never Looked Gloomy

The portrait of Saint Antony at the end of his life shows a man transfigured: "His face," says Saint Athanasius, "had a great and marvelous grace. . . . His soul being free of confusion, he held his outer senses also undisturbed, so that from the soul's joy his face was cheerful as well, and from the movements of the body it was possible to sense and perceive the stable condition of the soul, as it is written, 'When the heart rejoices, the countenance is cheerful." Antony . . . was never troubled, his soul being calm, and he never looked gloomy, his mind being joyous" (Life of Antony, 67).

The Lectionary

The Proper Readings given today in the reformed lectionary provide us with a rich lectio divina:

Spiritual combat (Eph 6:10-11).
Struggle with the powers of darkness (Eph 6:12-13).
Constant prayer in the Spirit (Eph 6:18).
Watchfulness (Eph 6:18).
God as chosen portion and cup (Ps 15:5).
God present and giving counsel, even in the night (Ps 15:7-8).
The voice of Christ calling to disappropriation (Mt 19:21).
The perfect life that leads to treasure in heaven (Mt 19:21).
The camel and the eye of the needle (Mt 19:24).

But With God All Things Are Possible

And finally, there is the very last line of the Gospel, the one line that fills us with an irrepressible hope: "With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible"; (Mt 19:26)." It is this line that sends us to the altar today for the Thanksgiving Sacrifice.

Become Like a Consuming Fire

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The First Benedictine Oblates

In the Benedictine tradition, January 15th is the feast of the young disciples of Our Father Saint Benedict, Maur and Placid. Who are Maur and Placid and how do we know them? Saint Gregory the Great introduces them in his Life of Saint Benedict. He explains that after the holy Benedict had established his twelve monasteries at Subiaco, noble Christians came from Rome, presenting their sons to be raised and educated among the monks. These boys, offered by their parents to God, were the first "Oblates." Among them were Maur, an adolescent, the son of Euthicus, and Placid -- practically a toddler -- son of the patrician Tertullus. Maur quickly became Abbot Benedict's helper whereas Saint Gregory specifies that Placid was in "early childhood."

A Little Hand Wrapped in the Corporal

Picture for a moment the rite of their Oblation. It is intimately tied into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We know exactly what was done from Chapter 59 of the Rule.

If it happens that a nobleman offers his son to God as a monk, and the child is still of tender age, the parents should make out the petition. . . . They should wrap this petition and the boy's hand together with the Mass offering in the altar cloth (the corporal) and offer him in that way" (RB 59:1).

I see Maur, a serious lad, conscious of what is happening when his hand is wrapped together with the offerings of bread and wine in the altar cloth. And I see, little Placid; his father probably had to lift him up in his arms to reach the altar. The poor little fellow must have been in awe of the solemn fuss being made of him.

A Eucharistic Vocation

The vocation of the Benedictine Oblate is essentially Eucharistic. The very word "oblate" is used to refer to the bread and wine placed upon the altar, the oblata, as well as to those who are ritually identified with the offering, the Oblates themselves. The Benedictine Oblate lives from the altar, and returns to the altar. Like the bread and wine destined to become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Oblate is offered at the altar and then given from the altar to live out his mystical identification with Christ, the hostia perpetua, by a life of conversion and obedience.

When Saint Benedict Prayed By Night

Saint Benedict obviously recognized the potential in Placid and Maur. Saint Gregory tells us that he chose the boy Placid to accompany him in a long nocturnal prayer on the mountain. "Accompanied by the little Placid," he says, "Benedict climbed the mountain. Once at the summit, he prayed for a long time." The solitary prayer of Saint Benedict imitates that of Jesus. "Jesus, rising early before dawn, went off to a deserted place where he prayed" (Mk 1:35). It is worth pondering how Placid's experience of seeing Saint Benedict pray by night must have marked him for life. Little boys are sensitive to such things.

Placid Rescued From the Water

The most famous story of Maur and Placid has to do with the little fellow going to fetch water in the lake. He falls into the water. Saint Benedict is made aware of the situation by a kind of charismatic clairvoyance. He sends Brother Maur to rescue the child Placid. Maur, having received his abbot's blessing, runs over the surface of the water, grabs Placid by the hair, pulls him out, and then runs back over the water to dry land, carrying the little one in his arms. Saint Benedict attributes the miracle to Maur's obedience. Maur says it was due to the virtue of Saint Benedict. Then the little Placid pipes up and settles the debate. "When you pulled me out of the water, he says, I saw over my head Father Abbot's hood, and I saw that it was he who pulled me from the water."

They Persevered

What is most significant, I think, in the story of Maur and Placid is that these two lads persevered in seeking God. If Maur and Placid persevered over a lifetime in seeking God, they surely suffered temptation and darkness, never despairing of the mercy of God. Maur and Placid, tested by suffering, became able to help those who are being tested. Perhaps this is why they became patrons of Benedictine novitiates everywhere.

Two Wise Old Nonni

The sign of the mature monk -- the nonnus, to use Saint Benedict's word for a senior in the monastery -- or of the mature nun -- the nonna -- is in their capacity for compassion, in their ability to identify with weakness, to sympathize with suffering, and above all in their refusal to judge.

We know nothing of the old age of Saints Maur and Placid but I see them as two wise old nonni. I see their youthful faces grown wrinkled and their beards white but in their eyes dances the flame of their first love, the interior fire kindled from the altar, set ablaze by the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist on the day of their Oblation. It is the fire of the Eucharist that, burning in us, will consume all that is harsh, unbending, and ready to judge, leaving only the pure flame of a mercy that gives warmth and light. The Eucharistic vocation of Saints Placid and Maur bears witness to what Abba Joseph said to Abba Lot: "You cannot be a monk unless you become like a consuming fire."

Saint Hilary of Poitiers

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De Trinitate.jpg

The Holy Father gave this teaching on Saint Hilary of Poitiers at the General Audience of 10 October 2007. The archives of the Holy Father's General Audience are a precious resource during this Year of Faith.

God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. . . . This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others. (Saint Hilary of Poitiers)

There is such peace and security for souls in this teaching of Saint Hilary on the fatherhood of God. Much of the inward suffering of people is rooted in their ignorance of God as Father. Were the Fatherhood of God preached in our churches -- better known, and experienced in prayer -- we would see innumerable graces of inner healing, liberation from anxiety, and growth in love.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, I would like to talk about a great Father of the Church of the West, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, one of the important Episcopal figures of the fourth century. In the controversy with the Arians, who considered Jesus the Son of God to be an excellent human creature but only human, Hilary devoted his whole life to defending faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God and God as the Father who generated him from eternity.

Quest for the Truth

We have no reliable information on most of Hilary's life. Ancient sources say that he was born in Poitiers, probably in about the year 310 A.D. From a wealthy family, he received a solid literary education, which is clearly recognizable in his writings. It does not seem that he grew up in a Christian environment. He himself tells us of a quest for the truth which led him little by little to recognize God the Creator and the incarnate God who died to give us eternal life.

Sant' Ilario.jpg


Baptized in about 345, he was elected Bishop of his native city around 353-354. In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, Commentary on St Matthew's Gospel. It is the oldest extant commentary in Latin on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary took part as a Bishop in the Synod of Béziers in the South of France, the "synod of false apostles", as he himself called it since the assembly was in the control of Philo-Arian Bishops who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. "These false apostles" asked the Emperor Constantius to have the Bishop of Poitiers sentenced to exile. Thus, in the summer of 356, Hilary was forced to leave Gaul.

On the Trinity

Banished to Phrygia in present-day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious context totally dominated by Arianism. Here too, his concern as a Pastor impelled him to work strenuously to re-establish the unity of the Church on the basis of right faith as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end he began to draft his own best-known and most important dogmatic work: De Trinitate (On the Trinity). Hilary explained in it his personal journey towards knowledge of God and took pains to show that not only in the New Testament but also in many Old Testament passages, in which Christ's mystery already appears, Scripture clearly testifies to the divinity of the Son and his equality with the Father. To the Arians he insisted on the truth of the names of Father and Son, and developed his entire Trinitarian theology based on the formula of Baptism given to us by the Lord himself: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".

The Father and the Son

The Father and the Son are of the same nature. And although several passages in the New Testament might make one think that the Son was inferior to the Father, Hilary offers precise rules to avoid misleading interpretations: some Scriptural texts speak of Jesus as God, others highlight instead his humanity. Some refer to him in his pre-existence with the Father; others take into consideration his state of emptying of self (kenosis), his descent to death; others, finally, contemplate him in the glory of the Resurrection.

A Spirit of Reconciliation

In the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the Book of Synods in which, for his brother Bishops of Gaul, he reproduced confessions of faith and commented on them and on other documents of synods which met in the East in about the middle of the fourth century. Ever adamant in opposing the radical Arians, Saint Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit to those who agreed to confess that the Son was essentially similar to the Father, seeking of course to lead them to the true faith, according to which there is not only a likeness but a true equality of the Father and of the Son in divinity. This too seems to me to be characteristic: the spirit of reconciliation that seeks to understand those who have not yet arrived and helps them with great theological intelligence to reach full faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On the Psalms

In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return home from exile and immediately resumed pastoral activity in his Church, but the influence of his magisterium extended in fact far beyond its boundaries. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 borrows the language of the Council of Nicea. Several ancient authors believe that this anti-Arian turning point of the Gaul episcopate was largely due to the fortitude and docility of the Bishop of Poitiers. This was precisely his gift: to combine strength in the faith and docility in interpersonal relations. In the last years of his life he also composed the Treatises on the Psalms, a commentary on 58 Psalms interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: "There is no doubt that all the things that are said in the Psalms should be understood in accordance with Gospel proclamation, so that, whatever the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, all may be referred nevertheless to the knowledge of the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, Passion and Kingdom, and to the power and glory of our resurrection" (Instructio Psalmorum, 5). He saw in all the Psalms this transparency of the mystery of Christ and of his Body which is the Church.

Saint Hilary and Saint Martin

Hilary met Saint Martin on various occasions: the future Bishop of Tours founded a monastery right by Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His liturgical Memorial is celebrated on 13 January. In 1851 Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the universal Church.

Baptismal Faith

To sum up the essentials of his doctrine, I would like to say that Hilary found the starting point for his theological reflection in baptismal faith. In De Trinitate, Hilary writes: Jesus "has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 28: 19), that is, in the confession of the Author, of the Only-Begotten One and of the Gift. The Author of all things is one alone, for one alone is God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist (cf. I Cor 8: 6), and one alone is the Spirit (cf. Eph 4: 4), a gift in all.... In nothing can be found to be lacking so great a fullness, in which the immensity in the Eternal One, the revelation in the Image, joy in the Gift, converge in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit" (De Trinitate 2, 1). God the Father, being wholly love, is able to communicate his divinity to his Son in its fullness. I find particularly beautiful the following formula of St Hilary: "God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in his totality. This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others" (ibid., 9, 61).

The Way to Christ Is Open to All

For this reason the Son is fully God without any gaps or diminishment. "The One who comes from the perfect is perfect because he has all, he has given all" (ibid., 2, 8). Humanity finds salvation in Christ alone, Son of God and Son of man. In assuming our human nature, he has united himself with every man, "he has become the flesh of us all" (Tractatus super Psalmos 54, 9); "he took on himself the nature of all flesh and through it became true life, he has in himself the root of every vine shoot" (ibid., 51, 16). For this very reason the way to Christ is open to all - because he has drawn all into his being as a man -, even if personal conversion is always required: "Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to all, on condition that they divest themselves of their former self (cf. Eph 4: 22), nailing it to the Cross (cf. Col 2: 14); provided we give up our former way of life and convert in order to be buried with him in his baptism, in view of life (cf. Col 1: 12; Rom 6: 4)" (ibid., 91, 9).

Reflection Transformed into Prayer

Fidelity to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore, St Hilary asks, at the end of his Treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain ever faithful to the baptismal faith. It is a feature of this book: reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer returns to reflection. The whole book is a dialogue with God.

I would like to end today's Catechesis with one of these prayers, which thus becomes our prayer:

Keep, I pray You, this my pious faith undefiled, and even till my spirit departs, grant that this may be the utterance of my convictions: so that I may ever hold fast that which I professed in the creed of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let me, in short, adore You our Father, and Your Son together with You; let me win the favour of Your Holy Spirit, Who is from You, through Your Only-begotten Son. Amen.

The Man Enchanted With Christ

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A Saint With Holy Siblings

Saint Gregory of Nyssa is often overshadowed by his illustrious brother Saint Basil the Great and his remarkable sister Saint Macrina. Happily, our Benedictine calendar brings him into the light by celebrating his feast during the Octave of the Epiphany on January 10th in communion with the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Saint Gregory is best known for his Life of Moses, especially in monasteries where it is often given as a Lenten book.

The Holy Father's Presentation of Saint Gregory

Pope Benedict XVI gave a splendid introduction to the life and teaching of Saint Gregory of Nyssa on August 29th and September 5th, 2007. He quoted Saint Gregory's teaching on prayer:

"Through prayer we succeed in being with God. But anyone who is with God is far from the enemy. Prayer is a support and protection of charity, a brake on anger, an appeasement and the control of pride. Prayer is the custody of virginity, the protection of fidelity in marriage, the hope for those who are watching, an abundant harvest for farmers, certainty for sailors" (De Oratione Dominica 1: PG 44, 1124ab).

Becoming God's Friend

Who is Gregory of Nyssa? A contemporary author has this to say about him: “Athanasius was the hammer, Basil, the stern commander, Gregory of Nazianzus the tormented singer, and it was left to Gregory of Nyssa to be the man enchanted with Christ” (Robert Payne, The Holy Fire, p. 168). The man enchanted with Christ. I love that. Saint Gregory wrote that, “the one thing truly worthwhile is becoming God’s friend.”

Never Cease to Desire God

Gregory’s elder sister Macrina introduced him to the spiritual life and remained his counselor and inspiration until her death. Gregory and Macrina were more than brother and sister; they were friends in the Holy Spirit. Macrina’s death plunged him into grief. Out of the darkness of that crisis Gregory emerged shining with the light reflected from Christ, the Human Face of God. “This is the true vision of God,” he says: “that those who lift their eyes toward Him never cease to desire Him.”

Advancing While Motionless

The spirituality of Gregory of Nyssa is one of desire. The journey toward God goes from desire to desire. In his Life of Moses, Gregory has God say, “O Moses, you are straining with so great a desire for that which is before you and there is no weariness in your progress. Know that the spaces around you are so vast you will never reach the end of your journey. Here there is only motionlessness. I set you on the Rock; and now there occurs the most astonishing thing of all: for here to be in motion, and to be unmoving, are the same thing. Here he who advances stops, and he who stops advances, and he advances by the very fact that he is motionless.” The next time you feel that in your silent prayer nothing is happening and that you are getting nowhere, remember that. You advance by the very fact that you are motionless.

And His Wife Theosebia

Gregory was a married man. His wife Theosebia was his companion on the Godward journey. Notwithstanding his marriage, Gregory was chosen to be bishop of Nyssa or, more exactly, was pressured into it by his holy but somewhat overbearing brother Basil. Gregory described his ordination as the most miserable day of his life. To brilliant ecclesiastical careers and churchy business he preferred a contemplative solitude shared with his wife.

Falsely Accused and Vindicated

Gregory had no talent for administration. He was lacking in diplomacy and tact. He got himself into a terrible mess over the handling of Church funds, was falsely accused of embezzling Church money, arrested, and thrown in jail. Then he escaped and went into hiding while a synod made up of Arian bishops and officials of the court set about deposing him. He wrote that, during this time, he had more happiness as a fugitive than when wearing his magnificent episcopal robes as bishop of Nyssa. After the storm blew over, Gregory returned to his flock at Nyssa. He attended the Second Council of Constantinople in 381 where he was acclaimed as a pillar of the Church.

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Saint John by Sir Ninian Comper, Lady Chapel of Downside Abbey Church. Thanks to the ever gracious Father Lawrence, O.P. for the use of his photo.

The Logic of the Liturgy

The liturgy has a marvelous logic all its own. On this third day of the Christmas octave, Mother Church gives us a Resurrection Gospel, taken from the very last chapter of Saint John! While we are yet at the manger, the liturgy compels us to gaze into the face of the risen Christ! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved is there before us. Indeed, it was he who arrived first at the sepulchre, preceding the Prince of the Apostles. Saint John's virginal love gave wings to his feet. "Draw me in thy footsteps," says the bride of the Canticle, "let us run" (Ct 1:4). John is the first of those who set out in search of the Body of Christ; arriving even before Peter, and yet deferring to him.

Peter and John

The Petrine authority in the Church is firmly established by Christ on the solid rock of Peter; it continues through the successors of Peter: teaching, reproving, testing, correcting, forgiving and calling together in unity. The Johannine authority in the Church is not hierarchical, but belongs, rather, to the order of graces freely given for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ; it speaks with the voice of love, with the inimitable accents of direct experience. It is the authority of the saints and mystics, the authority of holiness, the authority of the greatly loved and of the great lovers. "I belong to my love, and my love to me" (Ct 6:3).

What We Have Seen and Heard

The Church has need of both voices. She needs the strong, unwavering voice of Peter; she also needs the many-voiced Johannine chorus of those who sing: "Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have contemplated and touched with our own hands: the Word who is life--this is our theme. That life was made visible; we saw it and are giving our testimony. . . . We declare to you what we have seen and heard, so that you too may share our life" (1 Jn 1:1-3).

Love of Things Invisible

The Johannine chorus speaks with the unmistakable authority of those who have gone into the wine-cellar and rested beneath the banner of love (cf. Ct 2:4-5). Their breath is fragrant with honey and with the honeycomb, of wine and of milk: that is with the imperishable sweetness of the Holy Spirit, with the Blood of the Lamb and with the pure milk of the living Word of God. These are the ones who have eaten and drunk, drunk deeply (cf. Ct 5:1) of the streams of living water that flow ever fresh from the pierced Heart of the Bridegroom (cf. Jn 7:37-38). These are the descendants of Saint John the Beloved, those to whom the Father has given the eagle's vision, those who are little enough and poor enough to be borne aloft and carried away into the love of things invisible, as the Preface of Christmas puts it.

Those Who Dwell in the Cleft of the Rock

All through history the spiritual offspring of the Beloved Disciple have, like so many doves, found refuge in the cleft of the rock, the pierced Heart of Jesus. They are found everywhere in the Church and are needed everywhere in the Church; very often they are desert-dwellers, lovers of solitude, hidden away behind enclosure walls that are but the symbol of a deeper desire: "to be hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:3). But they are found as well in all sorts of other places: in city apartments and in fashionable suburbs, in conditions of extreme poverty and in places of great suffering. When they speak, their word is uttered out of silence and returns to the silence whence its springs. More often than not they sing, for words alone are poor and inadequate; song, at least, lifts words above themselves, breaks them open and allows their fragrance to fill the whole house (cf. Jn 12:3).

The Authority Born of Adoration

The Johannine authority of the Church comes to birth in adoration: in the contemplation of Jesus' Holy Face, shining with the glory of the Father in the bright cloud of the Holy Spirit on Mount Tabor. It is nourished by the Bread of Life containing in itself all sweetness. Its place of preference is close to the altar, in the radiance of the Most Holy Sacrament. It is instructed in secret: "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me. . . . It is written in the prophets: They will all be taught by God; everyone who has listened to the Father and learnt from him, comes to me" (Jn 6:44-45).

With Mary

The Johannine authority is one of love; it flows out of the Heart of Jesus into the heart and mind of whosoever rests his head upon Jesus' breast. It is purified in Gethsemani where it enters into a bloody struggle with the powers of darkness and of sin. It is steadfast on Calvary where, opening its mouth it inhales the gift of the Spirit, handed over in the breath of the Bridegroom, and where raising its eyes to the Pierced One it contemplates a stream of blood and of water. The Johannine authority of the Church is inseparable from the Virgin Mother, has taken her into its home, lives day by day and hour by hour in her intimacy, learning from her things long cherished in the silence of her Immaculate Heart.

Friends of the Lamb

Finally, the descendants of John -- friends of the Lamb -- see beyond what is now into a new heaven and a new earth where God will wipe away all tears, where there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain (Ap 21:3-4). On their faces shines already the radiant glory of God and the Lamb himself is their lighted torch. They make their own the cry of the Spirit and of the Bride: "Come! Amen. Come Lord Jesus!"

Disciples of John

By the infinite mercy of the Word made flesh, may we who want to listen to Peter and defer to him in all things, be numbered among the least disciples of John. Amen.

Wreathe the Door of Thy Heart

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1226Stephen Angelico.jpg

The painting is by Blessed Fra Angelico (1400-1455). Saint Peter is ordaining Stephen to the diaconate while Saint John the Beloved (whose feast we will keep tomorrow), holding his Gospel, looks on. The composition is remarkable: the three heads of Peter, John and Stephen form a triangle, a symbol of communion in the Three Divine Persons. Peter is handing over the chalice and paten; they are very large. Fra Angelico makes the Most Holy Eucharist central; he paints what Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, i.e. that the unity of the Church is constituted and held together by participation in the adorable Body and Blood of Christ.

December 26
Saint Stephen the Protomartyr

The Holy Spirit at Christmas

The liturgy of Christmas, while drawing our gaze to the Son, the Word made flesh, in no way obscures or minimizes the presence and the work of the Holy Spirit. Quite by chance, I came upon this astonishing text of Saint Ephrem the Syrian: "At this feast of the Nativity let each person wreathe the door of his heart so that the Holy Spirit may delight in that door, enter in and make there his dwelling; then by the Spirit we will be made holy."

Fear Not, For Thou Hast Found Grace With God

Already on the First Sunday of Advent, we sang in the Benedictus Antiphon, "The Holy Spirit will come upon thee, O Mary. Do not be afraid." And on the Second Saturday of Advent, Blessed Isaac of Stella explained that "what is said in the particular case of the Virgin Mother Mary, is rightly understood of the Virgin Mother Church universally (Sermon 51). Today's feast of Saint Stephen is the liturgy's way of repeating now to the Virgin Mother Church the mysterious words of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mother Mary: "Fear not, for thou hast found grace with God.' (Lk 1:30).

Grace and Power

It is remarkable that Saint Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, describes Saint Stephen in today's First Reading as "full of grace and power" (Ac 6:8). The phrase has a distinctively Marian resonance. To Mary, the "highly-favoured" of God (Lk 1:28), the "full of grace," the angel Gabriel says: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee" (Lk 1:35). The words addressed to the Virgin Mary in a particular way hold universal import for the Church.

On this second day of Christmas, Stephen, "full of grace and power"(Ac 6:8) is the radiant icon of the Church indwelt and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Without leaving Mary and the Infant Christ, we pass to Stephen and the Infant Christ, to Stephen and the Infant Church.

The Spirit of Truth

Saint Luke tells us that those who disputed Stephen "could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke" (Ac 6:10). Stephen of the growing Church, like Jesus at the age of twelve (Lk 2:42) opens his mouth in the midst of the people, the elders, and the scribes, and his utterance is evidence of the Holy Spirit sent to the Church in fulfillment of Jesus' promises. "When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me" (Jn 15:26). Saint Matthew, in today's Gospel expresses the same reality: "Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Mt 10:19-20).

Full of the Spirit, Stephen Gazed into Heaven

We generally interpret this promise of Our Lord as having to do with the witness given by those who are delivered up to the enemies of His name and persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, and this is indeed the first meaning of the text, but the use of the text in this liturgy of Saint Stephen suggests yet another meaning to us, one that is, at a first glance, perhaps less apparent. Saint Luke clarifies his initial description of Stephen as "full of grace and power" (Ac 6:8) by making it explicit in his description of Stephen's martyrdom: "But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God" (Ac 7:54).

"Full of grace and power" is synonymous with "full of the Holy Spirit." The effects of the indwelling and overshadowing of the Holy Spirit are that how we are to speak and what we are to say are given us by the Spirit of the Father in the hour of our need (Mt 10:19-20) and also that those who are "full of the Holy Spirit" gaze into heaven, see the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Ac 7:54).

The Boldness That Comes from the Holy Spirit

The first effect corresponds to Saint Paul's experience of the indwelling Holy Spirit. "The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26). How we are to speak and what we are to say comes from the Holy Spirit not only when we are facing persecutors but also when we, gathered in Christ, are facing the Father in prayer. In both instances the Church is in need of the parrhesia; -- the boldness -- that comes from the Spirit.

Tu Solus Sanctus

In her prayer, the Church indwelt and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the Church "full of grace and power" (Ac 6:8), knows how to speak and what to say, for the Spirit helps her in her weakness, giving her to pray as she ought. This is why in every festive liturgy the Church gazes into the heavens and seeing the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, sings "Thou alone art the Holy One, thou alone art Lord, thou alone art the Most High: Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit: in the glory of God the Father" (Gloria). This is the second effect of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Church-at-prayer sings what, with the eyes of faith, she beholds.

The Prayer of Christ

The work of the Holy Spirit, first of all through the sacred liturgy, is to align us with the prayer of Christ to the Father, to empty us of all that is our own prayer -- narrow, subjective, constrained -- and to fill us with the utter fullness of the prayer of Christ, a prayer that is immense, universal, all-encompassing, all-powerful and always and everywhere pleasing to the Father. In his martyrdom, Saint Stephen reveals this. "As they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'" (Ac 7:59-60).

Designedly, Saint Luke, in his account of the death of Stephen, reproduces his own account of the prayer of the dying Jesus from the cross. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," and "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:34 and 46). There is, however, a subtle theological difference. Whereas the dying Jesus addresses the Father, the dying Stephen addresses the living Christ, the risen and ascended Jesus whom he beholds "standing at the right hand of God"(Ac 7:55). Stephen's prayer at the hour of death is a confession of the resurrection of Christ.

Under the Overshadowing of the Holy Spirit

Poised between hearing the Word of God and going to the altar for the sacrifice, the Virgin Mother Mary and the protomartyr Saint Stephen are given us as living signs of the indwelling and overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. To us is said, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow you" (Lk 1:35). To us is given, "wisdom and the Spirit" (Ac 6:10), which no earthly power or wisdom can withstand.

Body of Christ, Voice of Christ, Prayer of Christ

By our communion in the Holy Sacrifice of Christ's Body and Blood, we, like Saint Stephen, are filled with the Holy Spirit. Herein is the transforming effect of Holy Mass: we are no longer many individuals speaking many words and praying many prayers. We are, by the action of the Holy Spirit, a single Body with a single voice and signal prayer: the Body of Christ, the voice of Christ, the prayer of Christ. Amen.

Domine Jesu, suscipe spiritum meum

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The Prayer of Saint Stephen

Saint Stephen had so patterned his life after that of our Lord Jesus Christ -- Witness, Priest and Servant -- that at the hour of his death, he prayed in the same words as Jesus Crucified: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Ps 30:5). Saint Stephen, however, directs his prayer to the Lord Jesus, knowing that it will be carried by Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

The Monk: Witness, Priest, and Servant

In the Benedictine monastic tradition, we offer ourselves, on the day of our profession, to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit with similar words: Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam (Ps 118:116). We offer ourselves because we have caught a glimpse, however fleeting, of "the heavens thrown open" (Ac 7:56), and we are compelled to bear witness to it. We offer ourselves because the glory of the Father shining on the Face of Christ compels us to spend a lifetime singing his praise. We offer ourselves, because we have been served by a Lord who lowers Himself to wash our feet, and we accept a share in His suffering servanthood.

Yielding to the Holy Spirit

When we bear witness, we rely on the Spirit of Our Father to express through us the wisdom of the Crucified Son: "the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you" (Mt 10). When we celebrate the praise of the glory of the Father, we rely on the Holy Spirit to form in us the very prayer of Christ the Eternal High Priest. When we serve and when we suffer, we rely on the Holy Spirit to make us servants and oblations in the image of the Suffering Servant, and in the image of the Handmaid of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

December 22, O REX GENTIUM

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The connection between this O Antiphon and the "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization," published five years ago (3 December 2007) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, prompted me to illustrate my reflection with pictures of missionary martyrs: Saint Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, Saint Théophane Vénard, and the Franciscan Missionaries of China.

Jn%20Gabriel%20Perboyre.jpg TheophaneVenard.jpg martyrs-of-china.jpg

O Rex Gentium

O King of the Gentiles,
and the Desired of all nations(Hag 2:8),
you are the cornerstone (Is 28:16)
that binds two into one (Eph 2:14).
Come, and bring wholeness to man
whom you fashioned out of clay (Gen 2:7).

The Desired of All Nations Shall Come

Today we lift our voices to Christ, calling him King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all nations. The O Antiphon draws upon the second chapter of the prophet Haggai. With the temple still in ruins after the Babylonian exile and the project of rebuilding it daunting, Haggai speaks a word of comfort to Zerubbabel, the governor; to Joshua, the high priest; and to all the remnant of the people:

Take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozodak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit abides among you; fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations -- and here the Vulgate translation used by the liturgy differs from the Hebrew text -- and the Desired of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts. (Hag 2:4-8)

The antiphon uses but one phrase from this passage: the Christological title “Desired of All Nations,” but in order to grasp the significance of the title we must listen to all of Haggai’s message of comfort and hope, repeating it, praying it, and lingering over it until it inhabits us.

Truth, Beauty, Goodness

By calling the Messiah the “Desired of all nations,” Scripture and the Sacred Liturgy recognize the aspirations of every nation and culture towards the good, the true, and the beautiful, as aspirations towards Christ. In every culture there are traces of a mysterious preparation for the Gospel. Every time a human being seeks the splendour of the truth, the radiance of beauty, the purity of goodness, he seeks the Face of Christ, the “Desired of all nations.” When the missionary Church proclaims Our Lord Jesus Christ, she is proclaiming the “Desired of all nations.”

To Proclaim Jesus Christ

Without knowing His adorable Name, without having seen His Face, without having been told of His Heart opened by the soldier’s lance, the nations of the earth desire Christ and wait for Him, insofar as they desire and wait for truth, beauty, and goodness. The missionary task of Christians is to preach the Name of Jesus, to point to His Face, and to bear witness to His pierced Heart, saying, “Here is the truth, here is the goodness, here is the beauty you desire: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, risen from the dead, ascended into glory, and coming again.”

In an important “Doctrinal Note On Some Aspects of Evangelization,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to the missionary mandate received from Our Lord. First, the document identified the problem:

There is today . . . a growing confusion which leads many to leave the missionary command of the Lord unheard and ineffective (cf. Mt 28:19). Often it is maintained that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation of their freedom. From this perspective, it would only be legitimate to present one’s own ideas and to invite people to act according to their consciences, without aiming at their conversion to Christ and to the Catholic faith. It is enough, so they say, to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion; it is enough to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity. Furthermore, some maintain that Christ should not be proclaimed to those who do not know him, nor should joining the Church be promoted, since it would also be possible to be saved without explicit knowledge of Christ and without formal incorporation in the Church.
That sums up the errors that are prevalent today, and explains the sad decline of missionary zeal within the Church. By calling Christ “the Desired of all nations” in today’s Great O Antiphon, the Church reaffirms her commitment to make Him known. The document goes on to say:

The Church’s commitment to evangelization can never be lacking, since according to his own promise, the presence of the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit will never be absent from her: “I am with you always, even until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). The relativism and irenicism prevalent today in the area of religion are not valid reasons for failing to respond to the difficult, but awe-inspiring commitment which belongs to the nature of the Church herself and is indeed the Church’s “primary task”. “Caritas Christi urget nos - the love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor 5:14): the lives of innumerable Catholics bear witness to this truth.

Man Fashioned Out of the Clay of the Earth

For the petition of today’s Great O Antiphon the liturgy reaches all the way back to the second chapter of Genesis. We beg Christ to come and “save man whom he fashioned out the clay of the earth” (Gen 2:7). We ask to be refashioned, reshaped, reformed by Christ, the Word through whom all things were made. It is a bold petition: “Come, Christ, make me over, change me, reshape all that is misshapen in me.”


In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Our Lord answers our prayer. The Holy Ghost is sent in every Mass to change not only bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, but to change us, to reshape all that is misshapen, to restore to wholeness all that is fragmented, and to beauty all that has fallen into unloveliness. In this is the aim of all missionary activity: the recovery of unity not only within ourselves, but also among us, and among all the nations of the world, in the one Mystical Body of Christ. Veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti. Come -- come in the Holy Mysteries of the Altar -- “and bring wholeness to man whom you fashioned from the dust of the earth.”

In My Gallery of Heavenly Heroes

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December 1st is the dies natalis of four holy priests who figure in my personal gallery of heavenly heroes.



Saint Ralph Sherwin, Priest and Martyr, (1550-1 December, 1581)
Saint Edmund Campion, Priest and Martyr (1540-1 December 1581)

Saint Ralph Sherwin and Saint Edmund Campion were both martyred for the Catholic faith at Tyburn under Elizabeth I on 1 December, 1581.

The last words of Saint Ralph Sherwin were: Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus. For many souls this invocation has been a means to the ceaseless prayer of the heart.

The invocation is inscribed above the altar in the crypt chapel of Tyburn Convent of the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart in London.


Blessed Charles de Jésus (de Foucauld), Priest and Martyr (1858-1 December 1916)

Blessed Charles de Jésus, the hermit of the Sahara, was martyred on 1 December 1916. The Prayer of Abandonment of Blessed Charles of Jesus has helped souls the world over to walk in the path of confidence and spiritual childhood.

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures -
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.


The Servant of God Jean-Edouard Lamy, Priest (1853-1 December 1931)

Père Lamy, a priest greatly devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the founder of the Cistercian-inspired Congregation of the Servants of Jesus and Mary, died on 1 December 1931. Père Lamy touched countless souls, among them the French Catholic author Julian Green, and Jacques and Raïssa Maritain. Père Lamy used to say:

The Blessed Virgin can bring down the mercy of God on almost anything. What matters is to go on praying. The Blessed Virgin offers our prayers to God. She touches them up. She makes them into something pleasing. She gilds them when they are only wretched tin pots. She is a rag-picker, divinely clever. . . . Prayer even made without great attention is none the less prayer and our holy Mother finishes off what is lacking. . . . She is busy perpetually lessening our weakness before the face of God. What works in her is her kindness, her charity.

Towards Advent

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Late November Saints

The saints of these last days of the liturgical year incite us to look beyond the conditions of this present life and to set our hope on the things that God has prepared for us in "the holy city, new Jerusalem" (Ap 21:2), "what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived" (1 Cor 2:9).

Saint Cecilia of Rome

On the 22nd, Saint Cecilia was set before us: an icon of the Church, Virgin and Bride, "carrying the Gospel always on her heart and meditating therein day and night, talking with God in prayer" (Responsory).

Saint Columbanus

On the 24th, we monks remember Saint Columbanus, the Irish missionary monk who demonstrated that the search for God and zeal for the extension of His kingdom go hand in hand. Monastic implantations, be they ancient or new, are an indispensable part of the New Evangelization.

O God who, in Saint Columbanus,
wonderfully joined the work of evangelization
to the practice of the monastic life,
grant, we beseech Thee,
that through his intercession and example,
we may seek Thee above all things
and work to increase the number of those who believe.

Holy Martyrs of Vietnam

Also on the 24th the Church commemorates the Holy Martyrs of Vietnam, that "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) put to death "for their testimony to Jesus and for the Word of God" (Ap 20:4).

Saint Sylvester Gozzolino, Abbot

Today, November 26th, marks the feast of Saint Sylvester, a holy Benedictine abbot of the thirteenth century who, according to legend, was shocked into a conversion of life while gazing into an open tomb.

All-merciful God,
who, when the holy abbot Sylvester
stood before an open grave,
called him from the vanity of perishable things
to a life of shining holiness in the wilderness,
we humbly entreat Thee
that, like him, we may prefer nothing to the love of Christ
and live, already in this world,
with our hearts fixed on the joys of heaven.

Death Daily Before One's Eyes

Saint Sylvester is well suited to these last days of November. Together with Saint Benedict, he calls us "to fear the Day of Judgment, to dread hell, to yearn for eternal life with all possible spiritual desire, and to keep death daily before one's eyes" (RB 4:44-46).


Dies Irae

The feast of Saint Sylvester puts me in mind of the sequence of the Requiem Mass, the powerful and poignant Dies Irae. The place of the Dies irae in Western civilization is immense. For centuries, it has gripped the imaginations of poets, artists, and composers.

As a small boy I knew only the plainchant setting of the Dies Irae, from having heard it sung so frequently in my parish church. I often hummed it to myself, fascinated by its dramatic First Mode intervals. In 8th grade, however, I sang as a treble in Britten's stupendous War Requiem. The experience gave me quite another impression of the Dies Irae.

While in the traditional liturgy the Dies Irae continues to be sung in the Requiem Mass, the post-Conciliar reformed liturgy designates it for use in the Divine Office throughout the week immediately preceding the First Sunday of Advent. The Dies irae was originally composed for Advent, trumpeting the One who comes come to judge the world.

The Trump that Wakes the Dead

In Canto VI of his Lay of the Last Minstrel, Sir Walter Scott condenses the Dies irae into twelve lines. We do well to ponder them this week.

That day of wrath, that dreadful day,
When heaven and earth shall pass away,
What power shall be the sinner's stay?
How shall he meet that dreadful day?

When, shriveling like a parchèd scroll,
The flaming heavens together roll;
When louder yet, and yet more dread,
Swells the high trump that wakes the dead:

Oh, on that day, that wrathful day,
When man to judgment wakes from clay,
Be thou the trembling sinner's stay,
Though heaven and earth shall pass away.

Monks no longer have the custom of keeping an open tomb at the ready as the salutary destination of a daily stroll. We do well nonetheless to bend ourselves to the wisdom of Saint Benedict and the example of Saint Sylvester by "keeping death daily before our eyes." And we do well to ruminate the poetry of the Dies irae.

The Right Perspective

If anything, these practices will place all other things in the right perspective, disposing us to detachment, showing us how narrow and petty are the things that hold us in their grip. In the end, heaven and earth will pass away, but the words of Christ our Lord and merciful Judge will remain.


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Wishing a very blessed feastday to our Oblate sister Cecilia of Rome in Connecticut!

A Veiled Face

I never tire of looking at the statue of Saint Cecilia which lies over the tomb in her church in Rome’s Trastevere. Cecilia is lying on her side, looking almost as if she had been flung there. Her lovely face is hidden and her head is covered with the veil of virgins. The slash of the cruel blade across her neck is visible.


Even in death Cecilia declares her Catholic faith: the finger of one hand is extended, signifying her faith in the one true God. With three fingers of the other hand she confesses the Most Holy Trinity. Her knees are drawn up, making her look like a sleeping child. Her dress falls in graceful folds about her body. The whole composition is marked by purity and grace.

Found Incorrupt

In 1599, when Pope Clement VIII disinterred Saint Cecilia’s body, it was found to be incorrupt. The Pontiff engaged Stefano Maderno to carve Cecilia just as she was discovered. The artist inscribed his testimony on the statue’s base: “Behold the body of the most holy virgin Cecilia whom I myself saw lying incorrupt in her tomb. I have in this marble expressed for thee the same saint in the very same posture of body.”

A Masterpiece

Stefano Maderno was only twenty-three when he carved his Saint Cecilia; though he lived be forty, Saint Cecilia is his masterpiece. Reposing in death, Cecilia illustrates the truth of the psalmist’s words: “God gives to His beloved in slumber” (Ps 127:2).



Maderno’s Saint Cecilia reminds me also of the young Thérèse Martin who lingered before it while on pilgrimage to Rome with her father in 1887. Later on, Thérèse was inspired to write this prayer:

Cecilia, lend to me thy melody most sweet:
How many souls would I convert to Jesus now.
I fain would die, like thee, to win them to His feet;
For him give all my tears, my blood. Oh, help me thou!
Pray for me that I gain, on this our pilgrim way
Perfect abandonment that sweetest fruit of love.
Saint of my heart! Oh, soon, bring me to endless day;
Obtain that I may fly, with thee, to heaven above!

April 28, 1893

The Nightingale of Helfta

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In Sinu Patris

In the monastic calendar today is the feast of Saint Mechtilde of Hakeborn. Known as "the nightingale of Helfta" for her beautiful voice, Saint Mechtilde was fascinated by what she called the cor Dei, the heart of God. The Beloved Disciple speaks of it in his Prologue: "No man has ever seen God; but now His only-begotten Son, who abides in the bosom of the Father, has brought us a clear message" (Jn 1:18). (The same theme of the Son abiding in sinu Patris -- in the bosom of the Father -- runs through all the writings of Blessed Abbot Marmion.) For Mechtilde, as for Saint Gertrude, her student and friend in the thirteenth century Abbey of Helfta, there was but one way into the bosom of the Father: through the pierced side of the Son. Both saints would have us know that the soul who desires to abide in the bosom of the Father must enter through "the narrow gate that leadeth to life" (Mt 7:14), that is, the sacred side of the Crucified, opened by the soldier's lance (Jn 19:24).

Clusters of Holiness

We keep the feast of Saint Mechtilde only a few days after that of Saint Gertrude (November 16th), the friend with whom she shared her quest for God and her experience of fruitful union with the Divine Bridegroom. This suggests that holiness, like grapes, grows in clusters. It pleases the Holy Spirit to communicate His graces from one heart to another. There are no saints in isolation. Saints Mechtilde and Gertrude were not alone in their passion for Christ. They burned with the same love for the Word of God. They hastened to the same abbey church, day after day, to exercise their baptismal priesthood by singing the monastic liturgy they so loved.

Laboring at Charity With Chaste Love

The holiness of Saints Mechtilde and of Gertrude flourished within a Eucharistic organism: a living body assembled by the Holy Spirit around one Altar, for the offering of one Victim, by one Priest. Their holiness flourished in a community of women who were not only mothers and sisters by virtue of the same monastic consecration, but also friends. For them, fraternal charity took on the very human expression countenanced by Saint Benedict in the Holy Rule: "making allowance for one another's weaknesses, whether physical or moral; laboring with chaste love at the charity of the brotherhood; loving their abbot with sincere and humble charity" (RB 72:5, 8, 10).

The Gift of Friendship in Christ

The monastery of Helfta, assisted by the friars of the mendicant Orders, radiated the charism of "friendship in Christ" well beyond its enclosure walls into the wider Church, giving holiness a human face. Friendship forged in the praise of God, in listening to His Word, and in partaking of the adorable Body and Blood of Christ from the same altar, is not the friendship of perfect agreement on all things, nor is it the friendship of sentimental attraction. It is, rather, a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Body of Christ, making the voice of the Body sweeter, and making the face of the Body lovelier. It creates a lasting bond among souls: the bond of a single-hearted passion for Christ.


Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity
+ 9 November 1906

Blessed Elizabeth's Elevation to the Most Holy Trinity, written by the young Carmelite on 21 November 1904, has touched thousands of souls. For many it is has opened the door of an interior life of adoration and of love.


O my God, Trinity whom I adore; help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in You as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing trouble my peace or make me leave You, O my Unchanging One, but may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling and Your resting place. May I never leave You there alone but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring, and wholly surrendered to Your creative Action.
O my beloved Christ, crucified by love, I wish to be a bride for Your Heart; I wish to cover You with glory; I wish to love You...even unto death! But I feel my weakness, and I ask You to "clothe me with Yourself," to identify my soul with all the movements of Your Soul, to overwhelm me, to possess me, to substitute yourself for me that my life may be but a radiance of Your Life. Come into me as Adorer, as Restorer, as Savior.
O Eternal Word, Word of my God, I want to spend my life in listening to You, to become wholly teachable that I may learn all from You. Then, through all nights, all voids, all helplessness, I want to gaze on You always and remain in Your great light. O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may not withdraw from Your radiance.
O consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, "come upon me," and create in my soul a kind of incarnation of the Word: that I may be another humanity for Him in which He can renew His whole Mystery.
And You, O Father, bend lovingly over Your poor little creature; "cover her with Your shadow," seeing in her only the "Beloved in whom You are well pleased."
O my Three, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to You as Your prey. Bury Yourself in me that I may bury myself in You until I depart to contemplate in Your light the abyss of Your greatness.


Missionary Monk and Archbishop

Saint Willibrord, whom we remember today, was educated at the monastery of Ripon in England under the direction of Saint Wilfred. In the year 678 he went to a monastery at Clonmelsh (Garryhundon) in County Carlow, Ireland where he remained for twelve years and was ordained a priest. Pope Sergius consecrated him missionary archbishop of the Frisians in 695.

Fostering a Eucharistic Culture

Saint Willibrord's approach to evangelization needs to be rediscovered in our own day. What exactly did he do? First, he erected an altar. Over the altar he set up the cross. And around the altar and the cross he built a monastery, giving primacy to the praise of the Divine Majesty. Saint Willibrord preached the Gospel by modeling a society centred in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and by fostering a Eucharistic culture. This is the mission of every monastery: to illustrate what the family can be, and to demonstrate the fruitfulness of a culture of life rooted in the sacrificial love of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Winsome Saint Willibrord

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Energetic in Everything He Undertook for God

Saint Willibrord is the patron saint of The Netherlands. He was also a Benedictine, one of the companions of Saint Boniface and Saint Lioba in the English evangelization of Northern Europe. Alcuin, in his Life of Willibrord, describes him as "comely of face, cheerful in spirit, wise in counsel, pleasing in speech, grave in character and energetic in everything he undertook for God. Willibrord's ministry was one of zealous preaching shaped by the psalmody of the Hours and by the practice of lectio divina.

Willibrord Changes Water Into Wine

Alcuin relates a number of miracles performed by Saint Willibrord. I especially like one having to do with wine. It shows a fully human and compassionate Willibrord. On one occasion, Willibrord came with his companions to the house of a friend of his and wished to break the fatigue of the long journey by taking a meal there, but it came to his ears that the head of the house had no wine. He gave orders that four small flasks -- all that his companions carried with them for their needs on the journey -- should be brought to him. He blessed them in the name of Christ who at the marriage feast of Cana changed water into wine. After Willibrord's gracious blessing about forty people drank their fill from the small bottles. With great thanksgiving and joyful hearts, they said one to another: " The Lord Jesus has in truth fulfilled His promise in the Gospel: 'He who believes in me will do the deeds I do, and greater than these shall he do.'"

Plant the Cross and Build A Monastery Around It

Saint Willibrord illustrates for us, in this time of the New Evangelization, the enduring value of the monastic mission. To plant the Cross and to build a monastery around it remains, even today, an act of evangelization, an effective way of preaching the gospel. Monasteries open and monasteries close but wherever men and women truly seek God and prefer nothing to the love of Christ the seed of the Gospel is planted in the earth to bear a fruit that will abide (Jn 15:16).

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Here (once again) is the homily I preached in French five years ago at the Monastère Saint-Benoît in Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne, France. Richard Chonak's fine translation follows. Thank you, Richard.

« Voici le peuple immense de ceux qui t'ont cherché ».

Oui, Seigneur Jésus, tous ils ont cherché ton Visage.
Tous, ils ont pris à cœur cette parole
que ton Esprit Saint a fait chanter le roi prophète :
« Mon cœur t'a déclaré : je cherche le Seigneur. . .
c'est ta Face, Seigneur, que je rechercherai.
Ne détourne pas de moi ton Visage » (Ps 26, 8-9).

Tous, ils sont devenus miroirs vivants de ta Sainte Face,
selon ce que dit ton Apôtre :
« Et nous tous qui, le visage découvert,
réfléchissons comme en un miroir la gloire du Seigneur,
nous sommes transformés en cette même image,
toujours plus glorieuse,
comme il convient à l'action du Seigneur, qui est l'Esprit » (2 Cor 3, 18).

Seigneur Jésus, la beauté de la gloire de tes saints nous ravit
parce qu'elle est le reflet sur leurs visages de la beauté de la gloire de ta Face !
Aujourd'hui tu nous révèles,
aujourd'hui tu nous redis le secret de toute sainteté :
la recherche de ta Face.

À quiconque cherche ta Face, Seigneur Jésus, tu la révèles,
et celui à qui tu révèles ta Face ne peut que l'adorer.
Cette adoration de ta Sainte Face est transformante,
C'est toujours le roi prophète qui nous donne de chanter chaque nuit :
« Sur nous s'est imprimé, Seigneur, la lumière de ta Face » (Ps 4, 7).

Parmi tous ces visages illuminés par la beauté de ta Face,
il y a un visage qui rayonne d'une splendeur qui fait pâlir le soleil.
C'est le visage de ta Mère, la toute belle, la toute pure.
Tu es toute belle, ô Marie, car sur ton visage nous voyons
le reflet éblouissant de Celui
qui est « le resplendissement de la gloire du Père
et l'effigie de sa substance » (Hb 1, 3).

Toi, la reine de tous les saints,
tu es le signe grandiose qui apparaît dans le ciel :
la Femme revêtue du soleil,
ayant la lune sous ses pieds,
et portant une couronne sertie de douze étoiles.

Je dois vous avouer, chères sœurs,
que dès que nous avons chanté l'antienne du Magnificat aux premières vêpres,
j'ai compris que la foi d'Abraham restait, en quelque sorte, inachevée,
tant qu'elle n'a pas trouvé en Marie sa plénitude.
Les fils et les filles d'Abraham, plus nombreux que les étoiles du ciel,
sont tous sans exception aucune, fils et filles de Marie,
de celle qui a cru « en l'accomplissement de ce qui lui fut dit
de la part du Seigneur » (Lc 1, 45).

C'est Marie qui entraîne tous les saints dans le chant qui, un jour,
déborda de son Cœur immaculé :
« Le Puissant a fait pour moi des merveilles » (Lc 1, 49).
Voici le chant de tous les saints.
Chacun le reçoit des lèvres de Marie pour le reprendre à son tour »
chacun avec sa voix, chacun avec son accent,
chacun avec la mélodie que lui inspire le Saint-Esprit.
C'est cela ce grand bruit qui remplit le ciel ;
c'est le chant de Marie repris par le chœur des saints.

Et qui sont ces saints, tous enfants de Marie ?
Ils sont les bienheureux de l'évangile que vous venez d'entendre.
À chacun des béatitudes correspond cette parole de Jésus crucifié,
ce testament d'amour confié au disciple bien-aimé : « Voici ta Mère » (Jn 19, 27).

Il me faut donc dire :
Vous, les pauvres de cœur, voici votre Mère,
la Vierge des pauvres telle qu'elle s'est manifestée à Banneux,
la Reine des anawim, de ceux qui attendent tout de Dieu.

Vous, les doux, voici votre Mère,
Marie, la bonne agnelle,
celle dont la mansuétude dépasse celle du roi David,
celle dont a douceur apaise tous nos conflits et calme toutes nos tempêtes.

Vous qui pleurez, voici votre Mère,
celle que l'Église, riche de l'expérience de deux millénaires,
appelle Consolatrix Afflictorum, la Consolatrice des Affligés.

Vous qui avez faim et soif de la justice, voici votre Mère,
la Mère de l'Eucharistie,
celle qui a donné de son corps et de son sang
pour que, de son sein virginal, fécondé par la puissance du Saint Esprit,
soient offerts au monde entier le Corps et le Sang du Christ
pour vous rassasier.

Vous les miséricordieux, voici votre Mère,
celle que l'Église, dans ce chant sublime qui s'élève des monastères de par le monde entier tous les soirs, appelle Mater misericordiae.
Marie ne s'effraie point à la vue de vos misères.
Elle les prend toutes dans son Cœur pour les tremper
dans l'huile et dans le vin du Saint Esprit.

Vous les cœurs purs, voici votre Mère,
l'Immaculée, la toute belle, celle qui opère dans le cœur dans pécheurs
des merveilles de pureté et de candeur.

Vous les artisans de paix, voici votre Mère, Regina pacis,
celle qui n'a jamais oublié le chant angélique qui a fait tressaillir les étoiles
en la nuit où elle a mis au monde le Prince de la Paix :
« Gloire à Dieu au plus haut des cieux, et paix sur la terre
aux hommes qu'il aime » (Lc 2, 14).

Vous les persécutés pour la justice, voici votre Mère,
la Regina Martyrum, celle dont l'âme fut transpercée d'un glaive de douleur.
Elle s'est tenue debout près de la croix de son Fils.
Elle a sondé toutes les amertumes et,
avec son Enfant crucifié, a bu le calice que le Père leur avait présenté.

Vous les insultés et les calomniés, voici votre Mère,
celle qui, rayonnante d'amour et de vérité, éclairera tous vos chemins.
C'est elle qui soutient les martyrs.
Rien de ce que vous souffrez ne lui est étranger.

Vous qui êtes dans la joie,
vous qui jubilez d'allégresse, voici votre Mère,
la Causa nostrae laetitiae.
Votre joie est la sienne, et sa joie à elle,
elle la déverse à flots dans les cœurs de tous les saints
jusque dans les siècles des siècles.

Sainte Marie, Mère et Reine de tous les saints,
nous voulons, comme l'apôtre Jean,
te prendre dès maintenant chez nous,
pour que tu nous apprennes les béatitudes
dont tu es l'icône parfaite.
Fais nous goûter au bonheur de tous les saints.
Et maintenant, accompagne-nous à l'autel du Saint Sacrifice.
Un jour, nous l'espérons fermement,
tu seras là pour nous accueillir au banquet qui déjà nous est préparé au ciel,
celui des Noces de l'Agneau.

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Saint Luke, Evangelist

The Evangelist

Saint Luke comes to us today as the evangelist of the Holy Spirit, as the evangelist of the little and of the poor, the evangelist of the Virgin Mary, and of the holy angels. He comes to us as the iconographer of the healing Christ, the Divine Physician of our souls and bodies. Saint Luke comes to us as the advocate and friend of the women disciples of the Lord, and as the witness of the Acts of the Apostles and of the life of the infant Church. He comes to us as the poet of the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis, as the evangelist of the sacred liturgy, the one who closes his Gospel with the radiant image of a joyful Church semper in templo benedicentes Deum, “continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:52).

Iconographer of the Holy Mother of God

According to an old tradition, Saint Luke, in addition to being a physician (Col 4:14), was a painter. It is recounted that Saint Luke depicted the Virgin Mother with the Infant Christ in three icons. He showed them to her. The Mother of God looked at them with joy and then blessed them, saying, “May the grace of Him to Whom I gave birth be within them.” The iconography of Saint Luke himself makes for a fascinating study; he is nearly always portrayed painting the Blessed Virgin and her Son. Paintings of a saint painting!

Saint Luke at the Cross

I know also of one painting of Saint Luke, different from all others and profoundly moving. It is by the Spanish artist Francisco Zurbaràn and dates from 1660. Zurbaràn shows Saint Luke standing on Calvary; he is holding an artist's palette in his hands and contemplating Jesus Crucified with rapt attention. Saint Luke is memorizing the scene so as to depict it in a painting, just as he depicts it in his Gospel.

A Rosary of Icons

Open the Gospel of Saint Luke and what do you see? Icons of the Virgin Mother and the Child Christ, of the healing Christ, of Christ in prayer, of the suffering Christ, of the Crucified Christ, and of the mysterious risen Christ appearing on the road to Emmaus. These Gospel icons, written by Saint Luke with an extraordinary spiritual sensitivity, invite us to the contemplation of the Face of Christ in much the same way, as do the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

The Lectio Divina of the Icon

Irish Benedictine Dom Gregory Collins has written an extraordinary little book on icons: “The Icons and Lectio Divina: Ancient and Post Modern Insights.” Dom Gregory applies the four moments of lectio divina to the practice of prayer before an icon. Lectio becomes a reading of the imagery, an attempt to “receive” the message it expresses through colour and form.

Meditatio takes the images received and turns them over in the mind; it can also mean focusing on a single detail of the icon: the face, the eyes, a hand, a gesture. Meditatio before an icon allows one to linger for a long time in the transforming presence of the light of God. “We all,” says Saint Paul, “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

Oratio is the prayer that, like a flame, shoots up in the heart. Gazing upon the icon, like repeating the sacred text, feeds the flame of oratio. Finally, one is surprised by a holy stillness. The “fiery darts of prayer” are absorbed into something more obscure: contemplatio. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face” (1 Cor 13:12).

Dom Gregory’s insights may help us to read the Gospel of Saint Luke more deeply, searching on each page for the icon that slowly emerges from between the lines and behind the words, becoming visible to the eyes of faith. “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face from me” (Ps 26:8-9).

We Become What We Contemplate

Philosophers, psychologists and saints agree that we become what we contemplate. Look at goodness and you will become good. Look at beauty and you will become beautiful. Look at truth and you will become true. Look at purity and you will become pure. Saint Clare of Assisi, herself so marked by Gospel of Saint Luke, wrote to Agnes of Prague: “Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him” (Second Letter to Agnes of Prague).

Contemplating the Mysteries With Saint Luke

Understood in this way, the contemplation of the “icons” of Saint Luke’s Gospel, especially through the prayer of the Rosary, is transforming. The Rosary is, I have always believed, a uniquely Lukan prayer. Consider Saint Luke’s icon of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26 38) and, with Mary, become “Yes” to the Word. Look at the Visitation (Lk 1:39 56) and learn the language of Mary’s praise. Look at the Child lying in the manger (Lk 2:16) and become little and poor.

Look at the merciful Christ (Lk 4:40 - 5:26) and become merciful; at the healing Christ (Lk 7:1-10) and become an instrument of healing; at the solitary Christ in prayer (Lk 11:1), and learn to converse with the Father.

Look at the icon of Christ in Gethsemane (Lk 22:39-46), agonizing and comforted by an angel, and enter into his submission to the Father’s will. Look at the crucified Jesus (Lk 23:33-47) and learn from him to forgive and to show mercy, even in the hour of darkness. Look at the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32) and know that he walks with you always, opening the Scriptures, breaking the Bread, causing your hearts to burn with a mysterious fire. Finally, look at the icon of the Church in the last sentence of Saint Luke’s Gospel -- “They were continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk 24:53) -- and learn to bless God always and everywhere, learn to give the last word to praise.

To the Altar

The Benedictine vocation is that of the Church in the temple at Jerusalem: to bless. The transformation that begins in the contemplation of Saint Luke’s Rosary of Gospel icons is perfected, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


A Family Story

My Irish grandmother's Christian name was Margaret Mary. As one might expect, a framed picture of the Sacred Heart figured prominently in her kitchen. She, like so many Irish Catholics of her generation had an unshakeable faith in the promises of the Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary. In my "Treasury of the Sacred Heart" published in Dublin by Charles Eason, Middle Abbey Street, in 1860, I read the promise in which my grandmother invested her hope: "I shall bless the houses where the representation of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed."

Precious Inheritance

Shortly before her death at the age of 93, Grandma asked me if I wanted anything belonging to her. "Only your picture of the Sacred Heart," I said. She had me write my name on the back of it. The day after she died I took the picture to be reframed; it was placed on her coffin in church. After the funeral, I took the picture home and it stayed with me for about a year.

Give It Away

Some time later, on the eve of my cousin Patrick's wedding, my grandmother came to me in a dream and said, "I want you to give my picture of the Sacred Heart to Patrick as a wedding present." And so, I wrapped it carefully and presented Patrick and Cheryl with it on their wedding day. Patrick took one look at the wrapped package and said, "I know what it is. It's Grandma's picture of the Sacred Heart."

Saint Margaret Mary

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October 16, 2012 is the sixth anniversary of my pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial, la cité du Sacre-Coeur in the company of dear friends. Ma joie demeure. Little did I suspect then that six years later I would be living in a former monastery of the Visitation, where Saint Margaret Mary was greatly loved and honoured. Today that monastery of the Visitation is called Silverstream Priory.

The Mystical Invasion

Saint Teresa of Jesus died in 1582. Thirty-two years later, Mother Catherine Mectilde de Bar was born in 1614. And in 1647, sixty-five years after the death of Saint Teresa and thirty-three years after the birth of Mother Mectilde, Saint Margaret Mary was born. The spiritual climate in Europe, following the Council of Trent, was one of extraordinary effervescence. Henri Brémond in his monumental Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France speaks of a "mystical invasion." Saint Teresa's Carmel had crossed the Pyrenees, introducing men and women of all states of life to the way of interior prayer. The Jesuits had launched their missions to North America or, as they called it, "New France." Men and women of God, too many to be counted, undertook great things for His glory. It was the golden age of great friendships in God. In 1610, the young widow, Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal, together with Francis de Sales, established at Annecy the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, declaring "that no great severity shall prevent the feeble and the weak from joining it."

The Choice of God

When Margaret Mary Alacoque entered the Visitation Monastery of Paray-le-Monial, it was assumed that she, like so many other women, would disappear into the cloister, leaving behind no more than the sweet lingering fragrance of another life given to Christ. But, as always, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor 1:27-29).

Contemplating the Pierced Side

The icy wind of Jansenism was blowing through the chinks in more than one cloister. It chilled the heart with the fear of a distant and vindictive God, eclipsing the mission of Jesus sent by the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, "to proclaim release to the captives . . . to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Lk 4:18). While the hearts of many around her grew cold, Saint Margaret Mary fixed her gaze upon the wounds of Jesus Crucified. Like Saint John the Apostle, like Saints Bernard, Lutgarde, Gertrude, Mechthilde, and countless others before and after her, the humble Visitandine of Paray-le-Monial was compelled by the Holy Spirit to look upon Jesus' pierced Side. "They shall look on Him whom they have pierced" (Zech 12:10, Jn 19:37).

A Priest, A Friend

In the Jesuit priest, Saint Claude La Colombière, Margaret Mary found a friend, one capable of standing with her at the Cross, of listening with her to the murmurings of the Holy Spirit, of gazing with her at the pierced Side of Jesus, and of entering with her to dwell in his Heart. The words of the apostle Paul seem to be those of Saint Claude to Margaret Mary: "It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; He has put his seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Cor 1:22)

The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus

In contemplating the pierced Side of the Crucified, Saint Margaret Mary discovered what many had forgotten: "the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ" (Eph 3:18). It was given her to "know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" and fills "with all the completion God has to give" (Eph 3:19). She discovered, moreover, that the open Side of Jesus beckons to all from the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, and that His Eucharistic is, at every moment, ablaze with love.

"Behold this Heart," He said, "which, not withstanding the burning love for man with which it is consumed and exhausted, meets with no other return from the generality of Christians than sacrilege, contempt, indifference, and ingratitude, even in the Sacrament of my Love. But what pierces my Heart most deeply is, that I am subjected to those insults by persons specially consecrated to my service."


Reparation, Saint Margaret Mary understood, is an imperative of love. The Side of Jesus remains open in the Most Blessed Sacrament, and men pass it by -- some with a cold indifference, others with a merely formalistic token of acknowledgement, and still others without the slightest indication of grateful adoration -- and among these, alas, are priests and consecrated souls.

In this age of locked churches, of tabernacles forsaken from one Sunday to the next, of the Sacred Species so often handled casually and without reverence, and in the wake of public sacrileges perpetrated against the Blessed Sacrament, reparation to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus is, more than ever, necessary.

The Cenacle, the Cross, the Altar

Saint Margaret Mary invites us to re-discover the Heart of Jesus ablaze with love in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic Christ, the Christus Passus, abides in our midst as Priest and Victim. There He perpetuates the oblation made first in the Cenacle, and then from the altar of the Cross.

In every age souls, like Saint Margaret Mary, have been polarized by the mysteries of the Cenacle and of the Cross actualized in the Most Holy Eucharist. In some way, the Holy Spirit continually reproduces Saint John's icon of the Church contemplating the pierced Side of Jesus on Calvary: "Standing by the Cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. . . . and the disciple whom He loved" (Jn 19:25-26).

I Look Round for Pity

The Sacred Heart is at the center of the Most Holy Eucharist both as sacrifice and as sacrament. The sacred action of the Mass perpetuates the Sacrifice of Calvary by which Christ, obedient unto death, hands Himself over to His Father and to those who partake of His Body and Blood. The priestly Heart of Jesus that beats with love in the Sacrifice of the Mass where He offers Himself as Victim, lives and burns with the same fire of love in the Sacrament of the Altar. From the tabernacle, as once from the Cross, He seeks souls to console Him, saying in the psalmist's words: "I look round for pity, where pity is none, for comfort where there is no comfort to be found" (Ps 68:21).

The Burning Furnace of Love

One cannot look long at Jesus Crucified without "the eyes of the heart" (Eph 1:18) being drawn to His pierced Side, and without entering, drawn on by the Holy Spirit, through the door of His pierced Side, into what men and women of every age have experienced as a "burning furnace of love." The "unsearchable riches" (Eph 3:8) of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, contemplated "for now, as in a mirror darkly" (1 Cor 13:12), are given us, until the return of the Lord in glory, in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist. And so, we go to the altar and to the tabernacle again and again to taste "with all the saints" (Eph 3:18), the "perfect love that casts out fear" (1 Jn 4:18).


Just the other day someone suffering from scrupulosity wrote me, asking for counsel. Reading through the Letters of Saint John of Avila, our new Doctor of the Church, I came upon this consoling text. I want to share it with the readers of Vultus Christi. The headings are my own.

Trust in the Love of God

It is very plain, my dear, that you cannot bear being put to the test, nor have you yet emerged from spiritual childhood, for when your heavenly Bridegroom ceases to smile on you, you immediately imagine He is displeased with you. Where are the signal favours which you received from His blessed Hand as a pledge of His special love for you? Ought you so soon to forget how He has cherished you? Or to believe that God would lightly withdraw affection He bestowed so fully? Why did He grant so many proofs of it, if not to make you trust Him?

Excessive Sadness: Not the Way to Go

Be assured that He loves you, even if He does not show it at the present moment. You need not fear deception on this point, for, as I have often told you, our love for God should not cause us excessive sadness whenever we commit some venial sin. If this were necessary, who would ever be at rest or peace, for we are all sinners? May our Lord give you grace to lean on Him and rejoice in Him, placing your wounds in His, that you may be healed and comforted, however violent
and painful your hurt may be.

Raking Up a Dust Heap

How long will you continue your minute self-examinations? It is like raking up a dust heap from which nothing can come but rubbish and unpleasantness. Feel sure of this, that it
is not for your own merits, but for those of Jesus crucified, that you are loved and made
whole. Do not give way to such discouragement about your faults, the results will show
you how displeasing it is to God. It would be far better to be courageous and strong-hearted. Meditate on the benefits you have received through Jesus Christ in the past and possess now; reflect on them in such a manner as to lead you to sorrow for your sins against Him and to avoid offending Him, without losing your peace and patience if you happen to fall.

God Loves You Because He Is Good, Not Because You Are

As I have often repeated, God loves you as you are. Be content that His love should come from His goodness, and not from your merits. What does it matter to a bride if she is not beautiful, if the bridegroom s affection for her makes her seem so in his eyes? If you look only on yourself, you will loathe yourself and your many defects will take away all your courage.

He Looks at You Through the Apertures of His Wounds

What more have you to wish for? In heaven there is One to Whom you appear all fair, for
He looks at you through the apertures of the Wounds He received for you: by these He
gives you grace, and supplies what is lacking in you, healing you and making you lovely.
Be at peace : you are indeed the handmaid of the crucified Christ: forget your past misdoings as if they had never been. I tell you, in God's name, as I have done before, that such is His holy will.

Do Not DIstress Yourself

Run swiftly on your way with a light foot, like one who has thrown a heavy burden off his shoulders, which hindered his course. If the longed-for quiet does not come at once, do not distress yourself; sometimes one travels farther in a storm than in a calm, and war gains more merits than peace. He Who redeemed you will guide you aright so that you may be safe. Trust in Him; He has given you many reasons to do so; and when
you consider your own defects, consider also the depths of His mercy which will help you far more than thinking about your deficiencies.

Sheltered Beneath God's Everlasting Love

May God s mercy shelter you beneath His everlasting love, as I desire, and pray, and trust
that it may, and for this I bid you hope. Recommend me to the same Lord for the sake
of His love.

Counsels of Saint John of Avila

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The Quest for a Spiritual Father

It often happens that souls will lament their failure to find a spiritual father or, more often than not, the spiritual father of their dreams. There can be mixed motives in the quest for a spiritual father. The best spiritual father is the one provided by God. If He doesn't provide one who meets our criteria, it may be because He wants us to have one who meets His. In the meantime, we have the saints and Doctors of the Church. Not only will they give us wise counsel, so often as we open their writings; they will also support us with their intercession in heaven, and obtain for us graces for which we, of ourselves, would never think of asking. Here are some spiritual counsels of Saint John of Avila. May they be as helpful to you as they have been to me

Trust in God's judgment, and not in your own, since He understands what is best for you, and knows the present and future state of your soul. Do not weary yourself to death with anxiety, for, as the Gospel says : "You cannot with all your taking thought and caring add one cubit to your stature." (Matthew VI. 27.)
Why, then, rely so much on yourself, since God bids you confide in Him? Why struggle so to work out your salvation in your own way, while, after all, God's abundant mercy will avail us far more than our imagined righteousness, when at the last we stand before His judgment?
Close your eyes to all that affrights you and trust in the Wounds of Christ, Who received them for your sake, and you will find rest.
The more hopeless you feel of a remedy for your troubles, because you know not where to look nor what to do for one, the more hopeful is your state. This is because when human counsel and strength fail, God stretches forth His hand, and that is the hour he was waiting for, in which best to show His mercy. This is to show us that the remedy comes not from our own power, but from the loving and gracious will of God.
Therefore the more our misfortunes accumulate, the more ready and prepared our souls are, to receive God's mercy, for the greatness of our misery moves His compassion, and causes Him to show the more pity for us.


When you place yourself in God's presence, endeavour rather to listen to Him, than to speak to Him, and strive more to love Him, than to learn from Him. (Saint John of Avila)

I would be remiss were I not to offer the readers of Vultus Christi a text of Saint John of Avila, whom the Holy Father today proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. This particular letter is taken from the collection translated and selected from the Spanish by the Benedictines of Stanbrook in 1904, with a preface by Dom Gasquet. The subtitles are my own.

Trust in the Mercy of God

If we would not offend God, there are two points on which we must be particularly careful -- one is, that we should love His goodness, and the second is, that we should trust in His mercy. How great is the blindness of a heart which does not love God! And just as great is its weakness, if it does not confide in His abundant mercy. The graces we have received from Him in the past ought to incite us to love Him, for they flowed from Divine Love, which requires a like return from us. These gifts ought also to encourage us to trust in God, for surely. He Who has already bestowed such benefits on us, and has set us in the path of holiness, will give us the grace to persevere.

It Is in the Passion that I Trust

We ought also to find motives for hope in Christ's Passion: we should love Him for dying for us and trust in His mercy. Cast away, then, all doubts, faintheartedness and misgivings, for the merits of the Passion are ours, because Christ gave them to us, and we are His. It is in the Passion that I trust, on it I rely, and by it I laugh my enemies to scorn. Through it I make my prayers to the Father and offer Him His Son; I pay all my debts from Christ's merits, and have more than is requisite for the purpose. Although I have many sorrows, I find in Christ's sufferings more than a sufficient solace; they are such a source of joy that the grief caused by my own defects is dispelled.

God Is Wounded by Our Want of Trust

O God most loving. Who art Love itself, how we wound Thee if we trust not in Thee with all our hearts! If, after the favours Thou hast shown us, and more than all, after having died for us, we do not feel confidence in Thee, we must be worse than the very brutes. After all Thou hast given us in the past, can we doubt Thy loving kindness in the future, or think that Thou wilt cease to protect those Thou hast saved from hell? Wilt Thou leave Thy adopted sons to die of hunger, or cease to guide them aright in the path in which Thou didst set them when they had wandered away? When we were estranged from Thee, Thou didst give us many graces-- wilt Thou then refuse them now when our only desire is to serve Thee? Whilst we offended against Thee Thou didst cherish us; Thou didst follow after us when we fled from Thee; Thou didst draw us to Thyself, didst cleanse us from our guilt, and giving to us Thy Holy Spirit, didst fill our souls with joy, and bestow on us the kiss of peace. And wherefore didst Thou do all this? Surely it was that we might believe that, as for Christ's sake Thou didst reconcile us to Thyself when we were among Thine enemies, much more surely, wilt Thou keep us for His sake, now that we are in the number of Thy friends.

Love Trusts the Beloved

O my God and my Mercy! after the countless favours Thou hast shown us, permit not that we distrust Thee and question whether Thou dost love us and intend to save us. More evident than the sun at mid-day is the witness borne by Thy works that Thou dost cherish us and give us the hope of salvation. Let our hearts rely confidently on God, even though we feel not the sweetness of His consolations. Genuine faith believes without the need of argument or miracles; and love trusts its Beloved, even though He chastise it: true patience is content to suffer without relief, and so a real confidence in God remains unshaken by the absence of any solace from Him. Let us not ask for any signs of God's favour, but obey His command to rely implicitly on Him, and all will be well with us. If we feel weak, let us rely on God, and we shall be strong: for those who confide in Him " shall take wings as eagles and not faint." (Isaias XL. 31.) If we know not what to do, let us trust in our Creator, and He will be our Light; for, as Isaias says, "who is there amongst you that hath walked in darkness and hath no light? Let him hope in the name of the Lord, and lean upon his God." Holy Scripture also tells us: "They that trust in God shall understand the truth." (Wisdom III. 9.) Let us place our hope in our heavenly Father when we are in trouble, and we shall be set free from it, as David, speaking in His name, says in the Psalms: (XC. 14.) "Because he hoped in me I will deliver him." These words show that God only asks that we hope in Him, in order that He may deliver us, and this, because those who fall in time of tribulation, fall because their faith is weak.

Let Us Go Bravely On

St. Peter, while he felt no fear, walked on the sea as if it had been dry land; but the instant he lost confidence he began to sink, and our Lord said to him : " O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?" (St. Matthew XIV. 31.) Let us fear lest this reproof should be addressed to us. However wildly the sea of temptations may rage around us, let us go bravely on, and not let a thought of fear or mistrust enter our hearts. Rather let us confide in God's great love for us, which keeps us safe amid all perils.

God Can Overcome All Our Doubts and Temptations

I have said all this because as I wish your belief in the Catholic faith to be pure from all error, and your love for God to be without taint of tepidity, so I would have your hope in Him to be free from all distrust and fear. Believe me, God can overcome all our doubts and temptations. May He grant us the grace to be wholly converted to Him, and to place all our hope in Him, for if we gave ourselves to our Creator's care, there would be no need of help from creatures.

God Fills the Soul Who Dwells in Solitude

If at times doubts enter our mind, let us put them from us and think of other things, for if God does not give us the means to solve those doubts, we should not trouble ourselves much about them. I wish you and Don Pedro, to whom this letter is addressed as well as to yourself, to be very discreet in fasting and bodily mortifications during this Lent, but to be careful to practise the advice I have given you. Let your memories observe strict abstinence, not only from all thoughts of created things, but even from thinking of yourselves. Forgetting all things, let us go to God, and abide entirely in Him: let us fast from all consolation in any creature, so that, as our souls dwell in solitude, God may come and fill them, because they are empty of all else. When you place yourself in God's presence, endeavour rather to listen to Him, than to speak to Him, and strive more to love Him, than to learn from Him. May the same Jesus Christ, of Whom we speak, be with you and with us all. Amen.

Blessed Bartolo Longo

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Blessed Bartolo Longo

There is a marvelous figure of holiness inscribed on the calendar today: Blessed Bartolo Longo, the great Apostle of the Rosary and the founder of the shrine of the Madonna of the Rosary at Pompei in Italy. Born in 1841, Blessed Longo died in 1926. He was a contemporary of Saint Faustina. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1980. Several times in his pontificate, Pope John Paul II called our attention to the example of this holy layman, calling him “l’uomo della Madonna,” Our Lady’s man.

Divine Mercy Displayed

Blessed Bartolo Longo’s story is a dramatic illustration of Divine Mercy. The mystery of Mercy announced by Saint Faustina played itself out in the life of Blessed Longo. As a young man, following studies in Law, Bartolo Longo abandoned his faith and allowed himself to be drawn into paths of great spiritual darkness. He practiced spiritism, found himself entrenched in the occult, and became a practicing Satanist. Longo went so far as to have himself ordained a priest of Satan. He very nearly lost his sanity, becoming a mere shadow of himself.

Spiritually Sick

In one particular séance Longo was distressed to see the face of the deceased king of Naples and the Two Sicilies: Ferdinand II. That same night he saw the soul of his mother circling his bed, begging him to return to the Catholic faith. His practice of the occult had so affected him that he was barely recognizable to those who once knew him as a handsome young man, full of vitality and promise. A Catholic friend, seeing him in such a pitiful spiritual, psychological, and physical state, begged him to at least meet with Father Radente, a wise Dominican priest. After some time, Longo made a thorough confession and, under the direction of this priest, began the reform of his life. He entered the Third Order of Saint Dominic, receiving the name, Brother Rosario.

Conversion and Healing

Bartolo’s Dominican spiritual father told him that the Mother of God promised that anyone who promoted her Rosary would assuredly be saved. The rest of Blessed Barolo’s life was dedicated to the Most Holy Rosary. The Rosary was his lifeline. The Rosary was the anchor of his salvation. The Rosary was the means by which the Holy Mother of God brought him back from hell. It was through the prayer of the Rosary that the Blessed Virgin healed his soul, restored him to health, and entrusted him with a mission. Later Blessed Bartolo wrote, “What is my vocation? To write about Mary, to have Mary praised, to have Mary loved.”

Rosary Apostolate

Blessed Longo reached out to the desperately poor, ignorant, and needy people of the town of Pompei. He taught them to pray the Rosary. The Rosary did for that entire town what it had done for him in his personal life; it brought healing, refreshment, holiness, joy, and peace. With the help of the Countess Mariana de Fusco whom he later married on the advice of Pope Leo XIII, while preserving with her his vow of chastity, Bartolo Longo undertook the construction of the church of the Madonna of the Rosary of Pompei. The city that grew up around it became the City of the Rosary.

He founded a congregation of Dominican Sisters to care for the poor. He established a school for boys. He wrote tirelessly in the service of Madonna and of her Rosary. His beautiful supplication to the Madonna of the Rosary has been translated into countless languages. Pope John Paul II prayed it when, on October 7, 2003, he visited Pompei to conclude the Year of the Rosary. In Italy, every year on the first Sunday of October, everything comes to a halt at noon while people, young and old, poor and rich, healthy and sick, pause to pray Blessed Longo’s supplication to the Virgin of the Rosary.

Divine Mercy Available to All

Saint Faustina made known the mystery of Divine Mercy. Blessed Bartolo Longo experienced Divine Mercy in a dramatic and deeply personal way. The same Divine Mercy is available to us: the mercy that brings back from hell, the mercy that raises the soul from spiritual death, the mercy that heals, restores, forgives, and repairs the past.

The Divine Mercy comes to us through the intercession of the Mother of God and, most efficaciously, through the humble prayer of the Rosary. It comes to us in the Sacrament of Penance: the mystery of the blood and the water from the side of Christ washing over the soul. And the Divine Mercy comes to us in the mystery of the Eucharist. The Mass is the real presence of Crucified Love. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is Divine Mercy flowing from the Heart of the Lamb, making saints out of sinners.


When it comes to Franciscan spirituality, I, being a son of Saint Benedict and an unworthy disciple of Blessed Abbot Marmion, lay claim to nothing other than ignorance. In spite of this, I thought that, in honour of Saint Francis of Assisi's feast, I might share with the readers of Vultus Christi a few texts that illustrate the centrality of the Face of Christ to the Franciscan charism.

Saint Bonaventure

Saint Bonventure, the Seraphic Doctor, in his Tree of Life, contemplates the adorable Face of Christ:

That Face, venerated by the Patriarchs,
desire of the Angels,
delight of Heaven,
was defiled by spittle from vile mouths,
struck by the blows of the inhuman,
and so as to augment the mockery, was covered with a veil by the sacrilegious.
The Face of the Lord of all creation was struck
as though He were an abject slave.
And He, serene of Countenance speaking softly,
gently had admonished one of the servants of the High Priest who had struck Him:
"If I have spoken evil, tell Me where I have erred;
if however I have spoken the truth, why do you strike me?

Blessed Columba Marmion

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He presents the monastery as a place where the Kingdom of God has already come, a place wherein every weakness can encounter mercy, wherein the human will is directed into the Will of God through the good that is obedience, and wherein every heart of stone, having become a heart of flesh through the grace of compunction, is freed at last to love and to be loved.

A Great Irish Saint

Today is the feast of a great Irish saint! Born and educated in Dublin, Joseph Marmion served as a parish priest and seminary professor before becoming a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium. Dom Columba Marmion was elected of Abbot of Maredsous in 1909. He chose to receive the Abbatial Blessing on Rosary Sunday. It fell that year on October 3rd. When Pope John Paul II beatified Abbot Columba Marmion in 2000, the liturgical memorial of the new Blessed was fixed on the date of his Abbatial Blessing, rather than on the day of his death, January 30th.

John Paul II

In 1985 Pope John Paul II visited Belgium. When the papal helicopter flew over the Abbey of Maredsous on the way from Brussels to Beauraing, the Holy Father confided to one of his aides: “I owe more to Columba Marmion for initiating me into things spiritual than to any other spiritual writer.” The saints engender saints, and this in every age.

Cardinal Mercier, and Others

Cardinal Mercier, the holy Archbishop of Malines in Belgium and a contemporary of the Abbot wrote, after reading Christ, the Life of the Soul: “The perfume of Holy Scripture, to be breathed in at each page of this volume, gives the impression that it was conceived and prepared during prayer, at the foot of the altar, before being given to the public.” Pope Benedict XV kept the writings of Abbot Marmion close at hand and recommended them to the saintly head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church Metropolitan Andrei Sheptitsky of Lviv, saying: “Read this, it is the pure doctrine of the Church.”

A Lad Reads Marmion

My own introduction to Abbot Marmion came when I was fifteen years old. I was visiting Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. Father Marius Granato, O.C.S.O., charged at that time with helping young men -- even very young men -- seek God, put Christ, the Ideal of the Monk into my hands. He even let me take the precious green-covered volume home with me. With all the ardour of my fifteen years I devoured it. No book had ever spoken to my heart in quite the same way.

I read and re-read Christ, the Ideal of the Monk. At fifteen one is profoundly marked by what one reads. The impressions made on a soul at that age determine the course of one’s life. As I pursued my desire to seek God, I relied on Abbot Marmion. I chose him not only as my monastic patron, but also as my spiritual father, my intercessor, and my guide.

A Good Spiritual Director

If you are looking for a good spiritual director, choose Blessed Columba Marmion. His books are being re-edited in attractive, revised translations that present his timeless doctrine in all its freshness and beauty. From his place in heaven he remains attentive to souls and ready at every moment to direct them to Christ.

Goodness and Humour

Those who knew Dom Marmion bore witness to the vivacity of his Irish temperament and to his marvelous sense of humour, capable of humanizing even the most solemn occasions. He showed an immense goodness as abbot and priest; he had a special place in his heart for the poor, the little ones, and those wounded by life. He sought always to bring happiness to people, allowing the best human qualities to flourish. “Grace,” he often affirmed, “does not destroy nature, nor does it suppress one’s personality.”

As a novice, Columba suffered under the direction of a Master of Novices who was singularly lacking in human warmth. He never forgot this and, later in his monastic life when he was entrusted with positions of authority, he did everything possible to be jovial, joyful, and full of compassionate sympathy in his relations with others. He did this in spite of long periods of spiritual darkness, even as he struggled through the seasons of depression that marked his whole life.

Devotion to the Way of the Cross

Abbot Marmion tried always to bear his burdens of physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering without allowing them to become a weight on others. All his life, he was intensely devoted to the Passion of Christ, making the Way of the Cross every day. His meditations on the Way of the Cross in Christ in His Mysteries are, to my mind, unequalled.

Participation in Our Lord's Redemptive Passion

Blessed Columba entered deeply into the sentiments of Our Lord's Sacred Heart. Through the writings of Saint John and Saint Paul, he contemplated the Face of Christ set toward the Father's perfect will, the fulfillment of the Father's saving design of love, the Father's promise of glory. Thus did he come to see his own sufferings of body, mind, and spirit as participation in the redemptive sufferings of Christ.

The Word of God

Blessed Abbot Marmion had the gift of teaching souls to relish the Word of God. In his own experience, Sacred Scripture was, first of all, proclaimed, chanted, heard, held in the heart, and prayed, in the context of the liturgy. His astonishing familiarity with the Bible came to him not by way of study but through the Divine Office, the daily round of the Opus Dei, the Work of God celebrated in choir.

A Theology That Adores

Dom Marmion attributed to the words of the Bible the grace of a particular unction: something penetrating, a kind of sacramentality that puts us in communion with Christ himself, the Word before whom every human tongue falls silent. It was recounted that when Dom Marmion taught theology to the young monks, they would leave the classroom after his lectures in a reverent silence and go directly to the choir to adore. This is monastic theology!

The Soul of the Liturgy

As a spiritual father, Blessed Columba insisted on the primacy of the liturgy. Well before the Second Vatican Council, he preached the liturgy as "source and summit" of the life of the Church. He quenched his thirst for God in drinking directly from the liturgy's pure wellsprings and led a great number of Christians to do the same. Dom Lambert Beauduin, another father of the classic Liturgical Movement, wrote concerning Abbot Marmion: "He revealed to us the soul of the liturgy; by this I mean all the elements of doctrine and of life, that the liturgy reserves for us beneath the visible veil of its rites and symbols."

Christ, the Ideal of the Monk

In his book, Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, Blessed Columba generated a movement of return to the Rule of Saint Benedict and offered a re-reading of the text capable of irrigating the monastic life of every generation. His vision of Benedictine life is profoundly human and profoundly supernatural. He presents the monastery as a place where the Kingdom of God has already come, a place wherein every weakness can encounter mercy, wherein the human will is directed into the Will of God through the good that is obedience, and wherein every heart of stone, having become a heart of flesh through the grace of compunction, is freed at last to love and to be loved. He presents the abbot at the service of his brothers as a Father, as a Spirit-bearing Doctor, and as the Pontiff, the one who assembles the community to pass over into Christ's own worship of the Father.

The Most Holy Eucharist

Let us seek the intercession of Blessed Columba Marmion today for ourselves and for each other. He will obtain for us the grace of fixing our gaze on the Face of Christ set toward all that the Father wills, toward the mystery of the Cross through which joy has come into the world. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ, the Life of the Soul. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ in His Mysteries. The Most Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Christ, the Ideal of the Monk. How blessed we are to be called, with Abbot Marmion and all the saints, to the Banquet of the Lamb.


Confidence in Merciful Love

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, Doctor of the Church, is one of several heralds of Divine Mercy sent to quicken and warm the Church of the 19th and 20th centuries with a message of confidence in the merciful love of God. Among the other heralds of Divine Mercy would be, of course, Saint Faustina (1905-1938), and Mother Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus (1901-1951).

Saint Thérèse spoke of the merciful love of God (l'Amour miséricordieux); Mother Yvonne-Aimée disseminated her miraculous little invocation of the merciful goodness (miséricordieuse bonté) of Jesus, the King of Love; and Saint Faustina, a contemporary of Mother Yvonne-Aimée, became the Apostle of Divine Mercy to the whole world.

On this Feast of Saint Thérèse, the co-patroness of Silverstream Priory, I thought it fitting to post (again) my commentary on her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love.

June 9, 1895 was the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. In the Carmel of Lisieux in Normandy, France, twenty-two year old Sister Thérèse de l'Enfant Jésus et de la Sainte Face received a very special grace during Mass: she felt compelled to offer herself as a victim to Merciful Love.

After Mass, Thérèse went to her prioress (her own sister Pauline), Mother Agnès de Jésus, accompanied by Sister Geneviève de la Sainte Face (her own sister Céline). Visibly under the sway of the grace she had experienced, she asked Mother Agnès if both she and Céline might offer themselves as victims to Merciful Love. Mother Agnès was disconcerted. She didn't quite understand what exactly Thérèse wanted to do. She trusted the discernment of Thérèse nonethless and allowed her to follow the inspiration she had received.

Saint Thérèse composed the following "Oblation to Merciful Love" and, until the end of her life, carried it next to her heart. The commentary in italics is my own.

The Act of Oblation to Merciful Love


Offering of myself as a victim of holocaust to the Merciful Love of God

Thérèse recognizes that God, mysteriously, "needs" souls upon whom He can freely pour Himself out as Merciful Love. She gives herself over as a holocaust, that is, as a living fuel to be entirely consumed in the fire of Merciful Love. Thérèse, being a Carmelite, was a daughter of the Holy Prophet Elijah at whose prayer the holocaust on Mount Carmel was utterly consumed. "I will call on the name of the Lord I serve; and the God who sends fire in answer shall be acknowledged as God" (III Kings 18:24).

O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to Love You and make you Loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish Your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory You have prepared for me in Your Kingdom. I desire, in a word, to be saint, but I feel my helplessness and I beg You, O my God! to be Yourself my Sanctity!

Thérèse writes with theological density and mystical intensity. Hers is the language of desire and of love. She doesn't shrink from her "work" as a Carmelite. There is nothing small or subjective here. This is about "the glory of the Holy Church." It is about saving souls on earth and liberating them from purgatory. Thérèse seems to gaze, like Saint Stephen the Protomartyr (Acts 7:55), into the open heavens. There she sees the will of God and the degree of glory prepared for her. Her desire corresponds perfectly to the desire of God: her sanctity. Her helplessness is no obstacle to this; it constitutes, on the contrary, a claim on the divine munificence of Merciful Love.

Since You loved me so much as to give me Your only Son as my Savior and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine.

This is the simple logic of the saints. Thérèse echoes John 3:16 in a personal way: "God so loved me that He gave up His only-begotten Son" to be my Savior and my Spouse. All that is His is mine. I seem to hear Saint John of the Cross: "Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me."

I offer them to You with gladness, begging You to look upon me only in the Face of Jesus and in His Heart burning with Love.

The Face of Jesus and His Heart burning with Love! For Thérèse the Holy Face of Jesus reveals the secrets of His Heart. Thérèse takes her contemplation of the Holy Face even further; she asks the Father to look upon her in the Face of Jesus and in His Heart. The psalmist says, "Thy Face is a sanctuary, to hide away from the world's malice" (Psalm 30:21) and, in another place, "Look upon the Face of Thy Christ" (Psalm 83:10).

I offer You, too, all the merits of the saints (in heaven and on earth), their acts of Love, and those of the holy angels. Finally, I offer You, O Blessed Trinity! the Love and merits of the Blessed Virgin, my Dear Mother. It is to her I abandon my offering, begging her to present it to You. Her Divine Son, my Beloved Spouse, told us in the days of His mortal life: "Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name he will give it to you!" I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire. I feel in my heart immense desires and it is with confidence I ask You to come and take possession of my soul.

One sees how much Thérèse has been formed by the eschatology of the Mass and Divine Office; she offers the merits of the saints in heaven and on earth, and of the angels. Then, at the very heart of her Oblation, she speaks of the Blessed Virgin, her "dear Mother." She abandons her offering into the hands of Mary, discretely evoking the Virgin Mother's mystical priesthood at the altar of the Cross.

Thérèse has a very personal way of expressing her relationship with Mary. Whereas most souls readily speak of going "to Jesus through Mary," Thérèse sees herself as bound to Mary through Jesus. The Son of Mary is the Spouse of Thérèse. Thérèse is certain of being loved by the Blessed Virgin because she is the spouse of her Son.

Thérèse anchors her confidence in the inexhaustible largesse of God in the promise of Jesus, "You have only to make any request of the Father in my name and He will grant it to you" (John 16:23). The Doctor of Merciful Love articulates here one of the key principles of her spirituality: "I know, O my God, that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire." God Himself is the Cause of the soul's deepest, highest, and truest desires. In spiritual direction -- it seems to me, at least -- this is the fundamental question: What do you really desire? Every desire that comes from God leads to God. As a rule, the desires that come from God are immense; they cause a certain dilation of the soul, a stretching Godward. Paradoxically, there is nothing more spacious than the "Little Way" of Thérèse. "Thou hast set my feet in a spacious place" (Psalm 30:9).

Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.

Frequent Holy Communion had not yet found its place in Carmel. Thérèse was not daunted by this. Merciful Love is Omnipotent Love. Thérèse is confident that her "communions of desire" are met with desire on the part of Our Lord. Did He not say, "With desire have I desired to share this pasch with you before my passion" (Luke 22:15)? Thérèse offers herself as a tabernacle to Indwelling Love. She desires to hold the Eucharist within herself, to be a living Tent of Meeting wherein every human misery might encounter Merciful Love. She wants to remain a victim in the hands of Christ the Priest. More than anything, Thérèse desires sacramental Holy Communion; deprived of it, she is content to trust in the designs of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, for she knows they cannot be thwarted.

I want to console You for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I beg of you to take away my freedom to displease You. If through weakness I sometimes fall, may Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself.

Where there is love there will be the desire to console the Heart of God, the need to make reparation. Thérèse would be the slave of God rendered by grace incapable of displeasing Him for the sake of those who rebel against Him and spurn His Loving Mercy. Then, in the next breath, she speaks of weakness and of falls! (You have to love her!) Her profound devotion to the Holy Face makes her add, "May Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself." Do I hear an echo of Psalm 89:8? "Thou hast set our iniquities before thy eyes: our life in the light of thy countenance."

I thank You, O my God! for all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of making me pass through the crucible of suffering. It is with joy I shall contemplate You on the Last Day carrying the sceptre of Your Cross. Since You deigned to give me a share in this very precious Cross, I hope in heaven to resemble You and to see shining in my glorified body the sacred stigmata of Your Passion.

After reparation, Thérèse turns to thanksgiving. She is grateful, above all else, for suffering because suffering has made her most like her Spouse; "despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3). She identifies her own sufferings as a share in the precious Cross of Jesus. Astonishingly, she wants to resemble Him in heaven by bearing in her own flesh His holy and glorious wounds. Whereas, more often than not the wounds of those marked by the grace of the stigmata disappear at death, Thérèse claims them for herself in heaven!

After earth's Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.

The heaven of Thérèse is not one of eternal rest in the sense of inactivity. Heaven is the full expansion of her life work. She remains the strong-willed girl from Normandy: "I want to work for Your Love alone." She has but one purpose in this: to please Jesus, to console His Sacred Heart, and to save souls who, in turn, will love Him eternally. Thérèse is the tireless missionary, labouring in the harvest until the end of time.

In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!

"With empty hands": this expresses in Theresian language the first beatitude: "Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs" (Matthew 5:3). For Thérèse, at the end of this life, there will be no meticulous bookkeeping of works and of merits. She will present to God the one thing His Loving Mercy cannot resist: the sight of empty hands, outstretched, and ready to receive from Love the eternal possession of Himself. Thérèse dares to critique -- with a subtle smile, I am sure -- the received imagery of the celestial throne and crown. Heaven is not in these "things" -- Thérèse has played her all for no-thing. She wants only her Beloved.

Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years. You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.

Here Thérèse quotes Psalm 89:4. "For a thousand years in thy sight are as yesterday, which is past, and as a watch in the night." The purifying Love of God can prepare a soul to appear before Him in a single instant. Was she thinking of the Good Thief? "Then he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him, I promise thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:42-43). Thérèse dares to imagine a "purgatory" of one instant. She measures purgatory not in terms of time, but rather in terms of the infinite intensity of the fire of Merciful Love that burns to make souls entirely pure.

In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, Asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!

The essence of monastic holiness, which reflects and images the singleheartedness of Jesus, Beloved Son and Eternal Priest, for the sake of the whole Church, is the unification of one's whole life in a single act of perfect love. Thérèse understands that this can be realized not by straining and striving, but only by offering oneself as a victim to the Merciful Love of God. She casts herself, willingly, into the flames of the Furnace of Burning Charity that is the Heart of Jesus. There her desire for union will be realized. The waves of infinite tenderness will find in her a vessel made ready to receive them and to pour them out over other "little souls." This is the Theresian martyrdom. It evokes the death of her model and heroine Joan of Arc, but here the wood of the pyre is that of the Cross, and the consuming flames are those of Merciful Love.

May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.

Thérèse wants to die, like Saint Joan of Arc, a martyr amidst the devouring flames of Merciful Love. Death will be the passage from Love into Love. I feel here something of the ardour of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. "Consign not to the world one who yearns to be God's; nor tempt me with the things of this life. Suffer me to receive pure light. When I come thither then shall I be a man indeed. Suffer me to be an imitator of the passion of my God" (Letter to the Romans).

I want, O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face-to-Face!

The leit-motif of the Holy Face returns. For Thérèse, life beyond the shadows of death will be the exchange of Love in an Eternal Face-to-Face. On August 6, 1897, less than one month before her death, Thérèse asked that the image of the Holy Face of Jesus be attached to her bed curtain in the infirmary. " We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know I part; but then I shall know even as I am known. And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Corinthians 13:12-13).

Marie, Françoise, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face,
unworthy Carmelite religious.

This 9th Day of June,
Feast of the Most Holy Trinity,
In the Year of Grace, 1895

Live With the Saints

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Here are photos of three dear friends of mine: Blessed Columba Marmion, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, and Mother Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus.

I have brought so many of My saints and blessed,
so many of My friends here in heaven with Me, into your life
to help you, to guide you, to intercede for you.
You are not always aware of their presence
nor of their intense activity on your behalf.

I give tasks to My saints.
I share with them the ministrations of My merciful love to souls.
I invite them to enter into the lives of My servants and friends on earth,
and to educate and guide
those whom I love and have called to eternal glory.


The life of My saints in heaven
is one of cooperation with Me
in My two-fold mediation as Eternal High Priest.
Through Me, and with Me, and in Me,
they glorify and praise My Father;
and through Me, and with Me, and in Me,
they dispense graces to souls
and intervene with a perfect love
in the lives of their sisters and brothers
who walk as pilgrims on the earth.

I have charged so many of My saints
to walk with you,
to attend to your needs,
to obtain for you the graces of repentance,
and illumination, and union with Me
that My merciful Heart so desires to give you.

Yvonne Beauvais-thumb-300x450-8610.jpg

Some of these saints, though not all of them, are known to you.
They have adopted you, some as a brother, others as a spiritual son.
Their interest in all that you do, and say, and suffer
is continuous and they are, at every moment, attentive to you.
Call upon My saints.
Ask for their help.
Walk in their company.
Invoke those whom I have made known to you.
Welcome those whom I will make known to you.

One day you will be united with them, in Me,
in the glory of heaven where My Face will fill your soul with an ineffable joy,
the same joy that is the delight of all My saints,
and the reward of those who have sought My Face on earth.
Invoke those whom I have already brought into your life
and remain open, for there are others whom I will present to you,
and to whom I will entrust you in the years to come.

From In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of a Priest

Prepare to Disappear

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Birth, Passion, Death

The Church gives us two feastdays of Saint John the Baptist each year: the first on June 24th to mark his nativity, and today's feast to mark his passion and death. We celebrate the nativity of Saint John the Baptist because, unlike everyone else with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, John was born in holiness. Our Lord Jesus Christ sanctified John when both of them were still hidden in the wombs of their mothers. The grace of hiddenness marks the life of Saint John the Baptist from the beginning.

Appearance and Disappearance

Jesus hidden in Mary approached John hidden in Elizabeth and, when the voice of the Holy Mother of God reached the ears of Elizabeth, the babe in her womb leaped for joy (cf. Lk 1:44). Although John, like all men, was conceived marked by Adam's sin, he was born already touched by the saving grace of Christ mediated by His Immaculate Mother. Clearly, a child born in such extraordinary circumstances was destined by the Lord for even greater things. At the peak of summer on June 24th we celebrated the appearance of John the Baptist. Today, as summer begins to fade, we celebrate his disappearance.

More Than A Prophet

"And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways" (Lk 1:76). John the Forerunner is a prophet and he is more than a prophet. By his preaching he speaks truth in the boldness of the Holy Spirit. By his captivity, passion and death, he prefigures the Suffering Servant, the immolated Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the Victim "by whose wounds we are healed" (1P 2:24). Our Lord Himself says: "A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John" (Lk 7:27-28).

This Joy of Mine

In Jesus, John the Baptist recognizes the Light, the Christ, the Lamb of God, and the Bridegroom. "Behold the Lamb of God!" (Jn 1:29). All John's joy is to gaze upon the Face of Jesus and to hear His voice. "I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase but I must decrease"(Jn 329-30).

The Burning and Shining Lamp

John was to be visible only for a time. "He was a burning and shining lamp," says Jesus, "and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light" (Jn 5:25). John's shining light was hidden away in the darkness of a prison cell. The Bridegroom had arrived; the Friend of the Bridegroom had to disappear.


The voice of John the Forerunner was heard crying in the wilderness, denouncing sin, calling men to justice, and sinners to repentance. But then the voice of the Eternal Father was heard, coming from heaven: "Thou art my Son, the Beloved; with Thee I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22). After the voice of the Father revealing the Word was heard over the Jordan, the voice of the Baptist was heard less and less until, finally, it was silenced by death, a cruel and ignominious death not unlike the immolation of the Lamb, which it prefigured.

Today's feast obliges us to come to terms with the paradox of a hidden and silent life. Graced from the womb of his mother in view of an extraordinary mission, Saint John the Baptist served the designs of the Father for the length of time and in the place determined by the Father's loving providence. "Sent from God . . . he came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (Jn 1:6-8). When the Sun of Justice dawned, when the Dayspring appeared, the Forerunner could disappear. When the voice of the Bridegroom began to make itself heard, the Friend of the Bridegroom could fall silent.

In the Shadow of the Cross

John the Baptist knew that, like the grain of wheat which falls into the earth and dies in order to bear much fruit (Jn 12:24), he was destined to return to a life of silence and obscurity. John the Baptist shows us that every vocation is subject to mysterious and unexpected turns. He demonstrates that every vocation must fall beneath the shadow of the Cross, sometimes in dramatic ways, but more often in the humble obscurity of day to day existence.


Suffering is necessary if we are to decrease and allow the Lord Jesus to increase. To each of us Saint John the Baptist says: Prepare to disappear. And lest this should alarm us and cause us to tremble with fear and anxiety, John teaches us how to pray in the words of the psalmist:

Thou art my patience, O Lord:
my hope, O Lord, from my youth.
By Thee have I been confirmed from the womb:
from my mother's womb Thou art my protector.
Of Thee shall I continually sing:
I am become unto many as a wonder,
but Thou art a strong helper. (Ps 70:5-6)

The Cross

The hidden and silent life is a necessary and inescapable part of discipleship. A vocation that is not marked with the sign of the Cross is suspect. A life that is without its moments of obscurity, silence and apparent uselessness, does not bear the imprint of the Lamb. The more a soul is surrendered to the love of Christ the Bridegroom, the more deeply will that soul be marked by the Cross.

Ultimately, the sign that authenticates the mission of Saint John the Baptist is his participation in the Passion and Cross of Jesus, in Jesus' humiliation, in Jesus' going down into the valley of the shadow of death. And the sign that our vocation is blessed by God is that it is marked by the Cross.

The Sweetness of the Triumph of the Cross

One whose life is marked by the Cross cannot live without the Sacrifice of the Mass. Holy Mass allows us to taste the sweetness of the triumph of the Cross in the midst of every bitterness. Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ does not spare us any suffering; it infuses all suffering with an irrepressible hope. "Therefore this joy of mine is now full" (Jn 3:29).

This is a most unusual depiction of Saint Augustine washing the feet of Christ. A friar named Strozzi painted it in 1629. Augustine, wearing an apron over his black monastic habit, is assisted by an angel. A tonsured monk looks on from a distance. With his right hand Augustine clasps the foot of Our Lord. His gaze is wholly turned towards the Face of Christ, who appears to be instructing him on what he is doing.


I preached this homily in 2007.

1 John 4:7-16
Psalm 118: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Matthew 23; 8-12

The Doctor of Charity

The words of Saint John in today's First Lesson are the perfect expression of Saint Augustine's own experience. Augustine is called the "Doctor of Charity," and with good reason. Saint John speaks of the discovery of charity that grounds every Christian life:

"Dearly beloved, let us love one another, for charity is of God. And every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is charity. By this hath the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:7-10).

He Hath First Loved Me

For Saint Augustine, however, the words of the Beloved Disciple became intensely personal: "By this hath the charity of God appeared towards me, Augustine, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that I may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though I had loved God, but because He hath first loved me, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for my sins."

The discovery of the love of God came late in Augustine's life. It is always late. One cannot discover the love of God too soon. And so, the Doctor of Charity laments his tardy discovery of the One Thing Necessary:

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new!
Too late have I loved Thee.
And lo, Thou wert inside me and I outside,
and I sought for Thee there, and in all my unsightliness
I flung myself on those beautiful things which Thou hast made.
Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee.
Those beauties kept me away from Thee,
though if they had not been in Thee, they would not have been at all.
Thou didst call and cry to me and break down my deafness.
Thou didst flash and shine on me and put my blindness to flight.
Thou didst blow fragrance upon me and I drew breath,
and now I pant after Thee.
I tasted of Thee and now I hunger and thirst for Thee.
Thou didst touch me and I am aflame for Thy peace....

(Confessions, Book X:38)

28 August: Saint Augustine

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Here are some lovely texts for the feast of Saint Augustine.

At First Vespers

Holy Father Saint Augustine,
Hearken to thy children's cry;
Plea for us as now thou standest
Near the throne of God on high:
Guide thy flock, O loving Shepherd,
Who to us in Christ art nigh.

Holy poverty's true lover,
All Christ's poor ones hymn thy praise,
Truth's own champion and defender,
Loved by all who seek her ways;
Scripture's God-enlightened teacher,
All her wealth thy pen displays.

Lighting depths obscure and hidden,
Thou dost break us heavenly bread
From the doctrine of our Saviour,
From the gracious words He said;
With the Psalms life-giving nectar
All who learn of thee are fed.

For the white-robed canon's choir
Laws of wisdom thou didst frame:
Those who love thy words and keep them,
Thy sure patronage may claim;
Safe, they tread the ways of Sion,
Calling on thy worthy name.

Glory to the King of Ages;
Praise and triumph to his reign;
Joining with the choir of Angels,
Let us sound our answering strain;
E'en now, 'neath our Patron's banner,
Citizens of heaven's domain. Amen.


A Learned Rabbi

Today is the feast of Saint Bartholomew, the apostle whose other name is Nathanael. A native of Cana in Galilee and a friend of the Apostle Philip, Nathanael was a rabbi learned in the Scriptures. Tradition says that he preached the Gospel in Armenia and India. Apart from that we know little about him. In art, one can recognize him by the flaying knife that he holds in his hand, a symbol of his gruesome martyrdom.

Come and See

Philip introduced Nathanael to Jesus. Philip simply repeated the words of Jesus to Andrew and Simon Peter: "Come and see" (Jn 1:39). The most effective apostolate is the one by which souls are brought directly to Jesus by means of a simple invitation. Arguments, disputes and debates are to no avail; it is the experience of Christ that convinces and converts. How often has exposure to the Most Holy Eucharist -- the sacramental experience of the living Christ truly present -- been the occasion of a complete conversion!

A Man Without Guile

Our Lord saw in Nathanael a man free of the torturous complications that so often affect pious people. Nathanael had the prized virtue of simplicity; Jesus called him "a true Israelite in whom there is no guile" (Jn 1:47). Nathanael had no hidden agenda. What came out of his mouth was what he held in his heart.

O Doctor Mellifluus

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Inflamed With Zeal

The liturgy describes Saint Bernard as a man all ablaze with zeal for the house of the Lord. The little phrase, "inflamed with zeal," tells us, in effect, that God gave Saint Bernard to the Church as a new Elias, the ardent prophet given to Israel of old. When Elias was on Mount Horeb, the Lord visited him in "the whistling of a gentle air" (1 K 19:12). "And when Elias heard it, he covered his face with a mantle, and coming forth stood in the entering in of the cave, and behold a voice unto him, saying: 'What dost thou here, Elias?" And he answered: 'With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts'" (1 K 19:14).

By way of Psalm 68:9, one of the great prophetic psalms of the sufferings of Our Lord, the same expression, "inflamed with zeal," identifies Saint Bernard with Our Lord Jesus Christ in the mysteries of His Passion. After Jesus had driven the moneychangers out of the temple, His disciples remembered that it was written, "The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up" (Ps 68:9). The same burning zeal for the glory of the Father was to consume Jesus in the holocaust of His Sacrifice on Calvary.

The Mystical Embrace

The traditional iconography of Saint Bernard shows the monk held fast in the embrace of Jesus Crucified, who detaches His arm from the cross to draw Bernard to himself. The theme of the amplexus, or mystical embrace, is repeated in depictions of Saint Bernard again and again. The fire that burned in the pierced Heart of the Crucified passed into Bernard, filling him with an astonishing capacity to suffer and to love for the Church, Christ's Bride and Mystical Body.


Good Zeal

Zeal, then, characterizes Saint Bernard. A burning passion for Christ and for the Bride of Christ, the Church, consumed him. In Chapter 72 of the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict distinguishes between two kinds of zeal. The first he calls "an evil zeal rooted in bitterness, which separates from God and leads to hell" (RSB 72:1).

Evil zeal -- coldhearted, pharisaical, and grim -- always leads to rancour and strife in a community. Good zeal "separates from vice and leads to God and to eternal life" (RB 72:2). The Holy Ghost infuses the grace of good zeal into souls. Good zeal is gentle, and winning, and sweet. It is warm and attractive. It inflames others but it doesn't scorch them. It attracts souls by means of a gentle, steady radiance.

Burning and Shining

The fire of a prophetic charism made Saint Bernard burn and shine in the Church. In the 5th Chapter of Saint John, Our Lord, speaking of the Baptist, says, "He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light" (Jn 5:35). Like the Holy Forerunner, Saint Bernard was, and remains even today, a burning and shining lamp set upon a lampstand in the Church so that all might enjoy his brightness. By burning, he enkindled others; by shining, he enlightened others.

Those who read the works of Saint Bernard know that his fire has not been extinguished nor has his flame become less bright. When the Holy Ghost sets a heart aflame, nothing earthly can extinguish the blaze. "Love is strong as death," says the Canticle, "the lamps thereof are fire and flames. Many waters cannot quench charity, neither can the floods drown it" (Ct 8:6-7). Many waters and great floods have come and gone, assailing the Church over the centuries, and sweeping away the grandest monuments in their torrents. Still, after the nine centuries that separate us from Saint Bernard, his fire burns with the same intensity and his light is undimmed.


The Most Contagious Man of His Century

It was said in the twelfth century that Saint Bernard was -- spiritually -- the most contagious man alive. So powerful was his very presence that when Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux passed through a village or town, women would hide their husbands and sons, fearing that their menfolk, seduced by Bernard's preaching, might abandon wives and mothers, children and homes to follow him into the cloister. And so it happened! When Saint Bernard preached in the universities, the lecture halls would be packed with eager young listeners. Scores of students would follow him, like a kind of monastic pied-piper, begging for the grace of the holy habit and for a place in his abbey. When Saint Bernard preached, fire leaped out of his mouth into the hearts of his hearers and, when he explained the Scriptures, souls were flooded with light.

The Mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Like John the Baptist hidden in his mother's womb, Saint Bernard received the grace of Christ and grew in it, day by day, through the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "This, he says, "is the will of Him who wanted us to have everything through Mary.... God has placed in Mary the plenitude of every good, in order to have us understand that if there is any trace of hope in us, any trace of grace, any trace of salvation, it flows from her.... God could have dispensed His graces according to His good pleasure without making use of this channel (Mary), but it was His wish to provide this means whereby grace would reach you." This not mere theological speculation on the part of Saint Bernard, it is testimony to his personal experience. For Saint Bernard the Virgin Mother is the Mediatrix of All Graces. All that comes to us from Christ, our one Mediator with the Father, comes, necessarily, through Mary, Mother of us all, and Mediatrix with the Son.

The Liturgy

Again like Saint John the Baptist, Bernard saw himself as "the friend of the bridegroom who rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice" (Jn 3:29). Saint Bernard heard the voice of the Bridegroom in Sacred Scripture proclaimed, and sung, and held in the heart during long hours of the Opus Dei. The friend of the Bridegroom never seeks to draw the bride to himself or to possess her in any way; his whole desire is to hear the bride say: "As the apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my Beloved among the sons. I sat down under His shadow, whom I desired, and His fruit was sweet to my palate. He brought me into the cellar of wine, he set in order charity in me" (Ct 2:3-4).



The friend of the Bridegroom is jubilant when the bride is brought into the banqueting house; there, the banner of love is raised over her head. Bernard, the friend of the Bridegroom became the servant of the Divine Hospitality; he was, in truth, the herald of the Bridegroom-King sent out of his cloister into the streets and lanes of the city, into the highways and the hedges, at the hour of the wedding banquet, to bring in "the poor, and the feeble, and the blind, and the lame" (Lk 14:21).

The misery of mankind was never far from Saint Bernard's heart, never absent from his prayer. Having experienced the sweet compassion of the Mother of God in his own life, Saint Bernard looked upon the world even as she does from her place of glory in heaven, with "eyes of mercy." Addressing Our Lady in a sermon for her Assumption, he asks her to obtain "pardon for the guilty, health for the sick, courage for the fainthearted, help and deliverance for the endangered."

The Bread of Life and the Water of Wisdom

Ecclesiasticus describes Divine Grace coming in the form of a mother and of a virgin bride to meet Bernard. What is warmer than the welcome of a mother? And what more enthusiastic than that of a young bride? Again, the grace of Christ came to Saint Bernard through Mary. "With the bread of life and understanding, she shall feed him, and give him the water of wholesome wisdom to drink: and she shall be made strong in him.... And in the midst of the Church she shall open his mouth, and shall fill him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and shall clothe him with a robe of glory" (Eccl 15: 3-5).

Devotion to Sacred Scripture

"By what doth a young man correct his way? By observing thy words" (Ps 118:9). The Abbot of Clairvaux knew that when God speaks, He communicates Himself. For Saint Bernard to be steeped in the Word of God was, as Origen teaches, to be steeped in the very Blood of Christ. Saint Bernard's lifelong attraction to Sacred Scripture was an expression of his lifelong attraction to the Sacred Side of Jesus, the wellspring of purity and of love.


The Prayer of Christ

The effect of the monastic life, with its relentless immersion in the Word of God, is that the soul loses herself, her own words, desires, inclinations, and aspirations in the prayer of the Heart of Jesus to the Father. One seasoned in monastic life begins to be able to say, "It is no longer I who pray, but Christ who prays in me." In the presence of the Father, the soul shaped by the monastic tradition has no words apart from the words of the Word, uttered in the power of the Holy Ghost.

And this, of course, is the great reality of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When the priest goes to the altar as the representative of Christ and of the Church, he lifts his hands in prayer. At that moment, it is no longer we who pray for ourselves and by ourselves. It is Christ the Eternal High Priest who, through the priest standing before the altar, prays for us to His Father.

In every Mass, too, the embrace of Jesus Crucified is offered to each of us as it was offered to Saint Bernard. Detaching His arm from the cross, Our Lord draws us sacramentally to the wound in His Sacred Side. Through that mystic portal we pass over to the Father, in the Holy Ghost. The secret of Saint Bernard was this: guided by the Virgin Mother of Jesus, he yielded to the embrace of the Crucified and drank deeply from His open Side. May Mary, "our life, sweetness, and our hope," obtain that same grace for us today.

So intimate an alliance

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Priestly Union with the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today, 19 August, is the feast of Saint John Eudes, priest and ardent mystic of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Saint John Eudes is numbered among the few saints who lived a mystical espousal with the Most Holy Mother of God. Already as a young man, John Eudes placed a wedding band on the finger of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was a portent of things to come. As a priest, a reformer of the clergy, and an outstanding preacher, he experienced the fruitfulness that results from what one must dare to call a spousal intimacy with the Mother of God.

Something to Which All Priests Should Aspire

Saint John Eudes presents this grace as something to which all priests should aspire. To describe it he uses the French word alliance: covenant, bond, or union. Significantly, the same word is used to designate a wedding ring. I decided to translate the following passage from his Memorial on the Life of Ecclesiastics:

The Eternal Father
Consider that priests have a special alliance with the most holy Mother of God. This because, just as the Eternal Father made her participate in His divine paternity, and gave her the power to form in her womb the same Son whom He begets in His bosom, so too does He communicate to priests that same paternity, giving them power to form this same Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and in the hearts of the faithful.
The Son
As the Son made her [the Virgin Mary] His cooperator and coadjutrix (helpmate) in the work of the redemption of the world, so too does He make priests His cooperators and coadjutors in the work of saving souls.
The Holy Ghost
As the Holy Ghost, in an ineffable manner, associated her [the Virgin Mary] with Himself in the most divine of His operations, and in the masterpiece of His that is the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, so too does He associate priests with Himself to bring about an extension and a continuation of this mystery in each Christian, in whom the Son of God, in some manner, incarnates Himself by means of Baptism and by the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Mediatrix of All Graces
Just as the Eternal Father gave us His Son through her [the Virgin Mary], so too does He give Him to us through His priests. Even as all the graces that come forth to us from the Heart of God pass through the hands of Mary, so too are they given us by the ministry of priests. This in such wise that, just as Mary is the treasurer of the Most Holy Trinity, priests too bear this title.
The Sacrifice of Christ
Finally, it is through her that Jesus was offered to His Father at the first and last moment of His life, when she received Him in her sacred womb, and when she accompanied Him to the sacrifice that He made of Himself on the cross; and it is by means of priests that He is immolated daily upon our altars.
Mother of the Sovereign Priest
This is why priests, being bound by so intimate an alliance and so marvelous a conformity to the Mother of the Sovereign Priest, have very particular obligations to love her, to honour her, and to clothe themselves in her virtues, in her spirit, and in her dispositions. Humble yourselves that you should find yourselves so far removed from this. Enter into the desire to tend thereto with all your heart. Offer yourselves to her, and pray her to help you mightily.

An Irish Priest for Priests

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August 16th, 1917: The Anniversary of Father Willam Doyle, S.J.

When Father Willie Doyle entered my life, something happened. It was the beginning of one of those heavenly friendships that make a difference. The anniversary of his death compels me to seek his intercession with confidence. I recommend his friendship and his intercession to all the readers of Vultus Christi.

The marvelous blog, Remembering Father Willlie Doyle, gives the following information on the death of the soldier priest:

It is worth noting that there is some dispute about the exact date of Fr Doyle's death. The earliest sources seem to agree that it was the 16th. Recent references suggest that he died on the 17th while some veterans of the war came forward in the 1940's to state that Fr Doyle was killed on the 15th. Given the horrendous conditions in the war, it is not surprising that such confusion exists.

Santo Padre Castel Gandolfo.jpg

Pope Benedict XVI to the Church in Ireland

Reading the Holy Father's message to the Church in Ireland, I cannot but relate it to the sufferings, prayers, and holiness of Father William Doyle.

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember "the rock from which you were hewn" (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.

Serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 16th Irish Division

Father Doyle, serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 16th Irish Division, fell in the Battle of Langemarck doing his duty to God and the many soldiers, of all armies, who also died in the Third Battle of Ypres. Although I have written of Father Willie Doyle elsewhere on Vultus Christi, I want, once again, to make these pages from Alfred O'Rahilly's splendid biography of Father Doyle (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1920) available to the Spiritual Mothers of Priests and to all my readers.

Priestly Sanctity and Reparation

Fr. Doyle had a very high ideal of the sacerdotal vocation. This he showed not only by his efforts to procure labourers for the great harvest, but especially in his own life. His daily Mass, for instance, was celebrated with a fervour which was apparent even to strangers. Phrases, such as Kyrie Eleison, Sursum Corda, Dominus Vobiscum, which by their very iteration tend to become mechanical utterances, seemed on his lips to be always full of freshness and meaning.

The Office: Every Word A Precious Coin

Similarly he always strove to prevent the recitation of the Office from becoming mere routine; he regarded it as a minting of merit, every word a precious coin. He so valued the Sacrament of Penance that he resolved to go daily to Confession. This lofty priestly ideal is made abundantly evident by his growing preoccupation with the work of promoting priestly sanctity and his increasing realisation that, like the great High Priest, he should be "a propitiation for the sins of the people." (Hebr. 2. 17.)

Priest and Victim

We see this idea in the following note: Sacerdos et victima -- Priest and Victim: After the words, Accipe protestatem offere sacrificium Dei*, the ordaining bishop adds, Imitamini quod tractatis. Jesus is a Victim, the priest must be one also. Christ has charged His priest to renew daily the sacrifice of the Cross; the altar is a perpetual Calvary ; the matter of the sacrifice, the victim, is Himself, His own Body, and He is the sacrificer. 'Receive, O Eternal Father, this unspotted Victim.' Can a priest worthy of the name stand by and watch this tremendous act, this heroic sacrifice, without desiring to suffer and to be immolated also? 'With Christ I am nailed to the Cross.' (Gal. 2. 20.) . . . Would that I could say a pure holy spotless victim. Let Jesus take me in His hands, as I take Him in mine, to do as He wills with me."
This idea is quite scriptural. "I beseech you," writes S. Paul, "that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God." "Be you also," says S. Peter (I. 2, 5), "as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Priesthood of the Lay Faithful

This association of priesthood and sacrifice applies also to those who are not priests, to all the faithful, who constitute "a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people." (I Peter 2. 9.) "Pray, Brothers," says the priest at Mass, "that the sacrifice which is mine and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty" And all through the Canon of the Mass the words emphasize the intimate union between celebrant and people in the great mystery which is being enacted. The assistants join not only in offering up the Divine Victim but also, as a water-drop in wine, in offering themselves as 'a living sacrifice.'

Extending and Supplementing the Sacerdotal Work

Thus the Sacrifice of the Mass is the living source from which our reparation derives its efficacy and inspiration. Co-operation in the great mystery of the Redemption, says Blessed Marie-Thérèse Dubouché, the foundress of the Congrégation de l'Adoration Réparatrice, is "the act of the Sacrifice of the Mass continued by the members of the Saviour at every moment of the day and night." And this ideal of co-sacrifice with Christ leads naturally from an appreciation of the sublime function of the priesthood to the idea of a spiritual crusade, extending and supplementing the sacerdotal work and atoning for the inevitable negligences and even scandals which occur in its performance.

Prayer for Priests

This is the devotion which, during the last three years of his life, strongly took hold of Fr. Doyle, namely, prayer for priests to aid them in their ministry and reparation in atonement for the negligences and infidelities of those whose calling is so high. We have already seen how earnestly he besought prayers for his own work. Saint Teresa of Avila exhorts her nuns to this apostolate of prayer. "Try to be such," she says, 3 "that we may be worthy to obtain these two favours from God: (1) that among the numerous learned and religious (priests) whom we have, there may be many who possess the requisite abilities . . . and that our Lord would improve those that are not so well prepared, since one perfect man can do more than many imperfect ones; (2) that our Lord may protect them in their great warfare, so that they may escape the many dangers of the world." She considered that her Carmelites, enjoying the seclusion and immunity of the cloister, owed this duty to the Church Militant.

Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny

This ideal is still more conspicuously enshrined in some recent religious institutes, particularly in the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus founded by Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil-Martiny. These sisters are "to ask by fervent prayers, by sufferings and even by their lives, if necessary, for the outpouring of grace on the Church, on the Catholic priesthood and on religious orders." In his Brief to Mgr. van den Berghe, 14th March, 1872, Pius IX welcomed the new foundation. "It is not without consolation of heart," said the Pope, "that we have heard of your plan to arouse and spread in your country that admirable spirit of sacrifice which God apparently wishes to oppose to the ever increasing impiety of our time. We see with pleasure that a great number of persons are everywhere devoting themselves entirely to God, offering Him even their life in ardent prayer, to obtain the deliverance and happy preservation of His Vicar and the triumph of the Church, to make reparation for the outrages committed against the divine Majesty, and especially to atone for the profanations of those who, though the salt of the earth, lead a life which is not in conformity with their dignity."

Reparation: Horizons Opened Up for the Weak

The seal of the Church has therefore been set on this apostolate of prayer and reparation. There is, needless to say, no question of pride or presumption, no attempting to judge others. It is merely the just principle that those who are specially shielded and privileged should aid those active religious - priests, brothers and sisters - who have great responsibilities and a difficult mission, and should by their faithfulness atone for the shortcomings of those who are exposed to greater temptations. "More than ever," says Cardinal Mermillod, "is it necessary to console the wounded Heart of Jesus, to pray for the priesthood, and by immolation and adoration, without measure or truce to give our Saviour testimony of affection and fidelity." "There is much which needs reparation," writes Mgr. d'Hulst, "even in the sanctuary and the cloisters, and indeed especially there. Our Lord expects compensation from souls who have not abused special graces." "How grievous are these scandals!" he exclaims in another letter. "Only the thought of reparation can soften the bitterness of them. To take expiation on oneself is to be like Him of whom it is said: Vere languores nostros ipse tulit et dolores nostros ipse portavit, "Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows." (Isaias 53, 4) If this thought had thoroughly entered into us, without running after great penances, should we not give quite another reception than we usually do to sufferings, vexations, and the dulness and bitterness of our poor lives? And then the thought of reparation is so beneficial to poor souls like ours! It is a great mistake to think it is the privilege of the perfect. On the contrary, it pleases our Lord to open up these horizons to the weak, to give them courage by turning their attention away from their own wretchedness. If I am incapable of satisfying God in myself, I will try to make up to Him for others. If I cannot lament my own ingratitude sufficiently, I will learn to do so by lamenting for others."

Secret Apostolate of Victim Souls for Priests

These consoling words will help to convince those whose ideal of holiness is unconsciously individualistic and self-centred, that the ideal of reparation by no means implies the possession or the delusion of perfection. Of course in all this there may creep in some spirit of censorious self-sufficiency, though indeed there is not much danger of it in the hidden humble lives of those victim-souls who are devoted to the secret apostolate of prayer for God s ministers and reparation for those scandals and infidelities which occur from time to time in the Church. It has, therefore, seemed right to show briefly here, by way of preface to Fr. Doyle's private notes, how explicitly this work of priestly sanctification and reparation has been recognised by the Church and adopted by saints and mystics.

To Obtain Grace for Other Priests

This ideal appealed greatly to Fr. Doyle. On 28th July, 1914, the anniversary of his Ordination, he wrote: "At Exposition Jesus spoke clearly in my soul, 'Do the hard thing for My sake because it is hard.' I also felt urged to perform all my priestly duties with great fervour to obtain grace for other priests to do the same, e.g. the Office, that priests may say theirs well." On the Feast of St. Teresa, October, 1914, there is this simple but eloquent record: "Last night I rose at one a.m. and walked two miles barefooted in reparation for the sins of priests to the chapel at Murrough (Co. Clare), where I made the Holy Hour. God made me realise the merit of each step, and I understood better how much I gain by not reading the paper; each picture, each sentence sacrificed means additional merit. I felt a greater longing for self-inflicted suffering and a determination to do more little things.'"

Chosen by God for Priests

During his 1914 retreat this ideal came home to him as a special mission. "The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent," he writes on 1st December, "has been that God has chosen me, in His great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace they may meritoriously do what I cannot; that unless I constantly live up to the life of a willing victim, I shall not please our Lord nor ever become a saint - it is the price of my sanctification; that Jesus asks this from me always and in every lawful thing, so that I can sum up my life 'sacrifice always in all things.'"

Dalkey Convent.jpg

League of Priestly Sanctity

On the following Christmas Day (1914) Fr. Doyle records a further step. "During midnight Mass at Dalkey Convent I made the oblation of myself as a member of the League of Priestly Sanctity.* During my preparation beforehand a sudden strong conviction took possession of me that by doing so, I was about to begin the 'work' which - had spoken of. Our Lord gave me great graces during the Mass and urged me more strongly than ever to throw myself into the work of my sanctification, that so I may draw many other priests to Him. He wants the greatest possible fervour and exactness in all priestly duties."

* The League of Priestly Sanctity, to which reference is here made, was founded in the North of France in the year 1901, under the direction of Père Feyerstein, S.J. (+ 1911). Fr. Doyle became Director-General for Ireland and strove to spread the League among Irish priests. In an explanatory leaflet which he issued, it is described as "an association of priests, both secular and regular, who, in response to the desire of the Sacred Heart, strive to help each other to become holy and thus render themselves worthy of their sublime calling and raise the standard of sacerdotal sanctity." Two special objects are enumerated: "(1) The assistance of priests, and especially those of the League, in living a life worthy of their high calling. (2) The atonement for outrages to the Sacred Heart in the Sacrament of His love. This Sacrament, needless to say, is committed to priests in a special manner; and there ought to be a priestly expiation for irreverence, negligence, and particularly sacrilegious Masses, which the Divine Heart has to endure from the very ministers of His altar.

Fr. Doyle had this League very much at heart and had prepared several schemes for its spread and improvement when his appointment as military chaplain interrupted the work. But while engaged in this novel sphere of activity, the ideal of a life of reparation remained uppermost in his mind and once more the special form which it took was expiation for the negligences and sins of God's anointed. He recorded this resolution on 26th July, 1916: "During a visit our Lord seemed to urge me not to wait till the end of the war, but to begin my life of reparation at once, in some things at least. I have begun to keep a book of acts done with this intention. He asked me for these sacrifices, (1) To rise at night in reparation for priests who lie in bed instead of saying Mass. (2) At all costs to make the 50,000 aspirations. (3) To give up illustrated papers. (4) To kiss floor of churches. (5) Breviary always kneeling. (6) Mass with intense devotion. The Blessed Curé d'Ars used to kneel without support while saying the Office. Could not I?"

Reparation and Penance for the Sins of Priests

"This is my vocation," he notes on 8th February, 1917, "reparation and penance for the sins of priests; hence the constant urging of our Lord to generosity." Appropriately enough the last entry in his diary was made on 28th July, 1917, the tenth anniversary of his ordination. Fr. Doyle's last recorded thought was about his sacrificial ideal of priestly immolation.

All That Happens, Sent by Jesus

"The reading of La vie réparatrice (Canon Leroux de Bretagne, Desclée 1909) has made me long more to take up this life in earnest. I have again offered myself to Jesus as His Victim to do with me absolutely as He pleases. I will try to take all that happens, no matter from whom it comes, as sent to me by Jesus and will bear suffering, heat, cold, etc., with joy as part of my immolation, in reparation for the sins of priests. From this day I shall try bravely to bear all 'little pains' in this spirit. A strong urging to this."

Solace for the Sizzling

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Saint Laurence is the patron saint of those who have sizzled (or may be sizzling) on the gridirons of lust. I have long appreciated the oration in honour of Saint Laurence that the Church recommends to her priest in the daily Thanksgiving After Mass of the Roman Missal:

Grant to us, O Lord, we beseech Thee,
to extinguish within us the flames of vice,
even as Thou didst strengthen blessed Laurence
to overcome his fiery torments.
Through Christ our Lord.

Continence is a gift, not an achievement. One becomes chaste by grace, not by dint of stress and strain. Mother Church has known this all along. This, I suppose, is why she bids her priests pray daily for the angelic virtue. What I like about the official prayers for chastity (found in the Roman Missal) is that they are utterly realistic. It is assumed that one is engaged in spiritual combat. Out of weakness or weariness or a combination of both, one may at times emerge from the battle scarred and bruised.

What is the secret of chaste living? 1) You have to want it, 2) you have to ask for it, and 3) you may have to wait for it. Does not Sirach say, "Humble thy heart and endure . . . and in thy humiliation keep patience" (Eccl 2:2-4)?

It pleases God to bestow the gift of chastity through the hands of the All-Pure Mother of God. In this particular combat, the rosary is the mighty weapon of the weak. That being said, let's look at the prayers for chastity given by the Church in the Roman Missal. It is recommended that most of these find a place in the daily prayer rule of the priest.

From the Preparation for Mass

Ure igne Sancti Spiritus

Refine our hearts and affections, Lord,
in the fire of the Holy Spirit,
so that our bodies may be chaste and our hearts clean
to serve Thee according to Thy pleasure.

Rex virginum, amator castitatis

With the heavenly dew of Thy blessing,
God, King of virgins and Lover of stainless chastity,
quench the wildfire of lust in my body,
leaving all of me, body and soul, steadfast in purity.
Deaden within me the stings of desire and all lustful excitements.
Give me true, complete, and abiding chastity,
and therewith all those other gifts of Thine in which Thou truly delightest,
enabling me to offer daily sacrifice in praise of Thee
with a chaste body and clean heart.


I preached this homily in 2007, and decided to post it again today.

2 Corinthians 9:6-10
Psalm 111: 1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9
John 12:24-26

Live With Christ and Laurence

I wish that I could put you all in a bus today and accompany you to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City just to see there the small round glass medallion dating from the fourth century that depicts Saint Laurence. The medallion bears the simple inscription: “Live with Christ and Laurence.” What some would see as a simple cultural artifact is for us a witness to the unchanging faith of the Church. The saints are those who have passed into eternal life with Christ. “Live with Christ and Laurence.” To live with Christ is to live in the society of the saints. Not only do we remember each year the anniversary of their birthday into the life of heaven; we seek their intercession and rely on it. We make our pilgrimage through this life in their company, having “over our head,” as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

A Saint Painting A Saint

I also wish that I could transport all of you to the Chapel of Pope Nicholas V in the Vatican to see there the series of frescoes that Blessed Fra Angelico painted to depict the life of Saint Laurence. This in itself is remarkable: a saint painting a saint.

Laurence and the Poor

In one scene of the series he shows Saint Laurence coming out of a basilica to meet the poor who are waiting for him. Laurence is youthful; he is dressed as a deacon for the liturgy. His dalmatic is deep rose in colour, suggesting joy, and trimmed in gold, hinting at the glory that is already transforming him. On the ground in front of him is a crippled man holding out his hand and begging for alms. To his right is an old man with a white beard, quite bent over, and leaning on his walking stick; he too is asking for alms. To Laurence’s left stands an impoverished widow in a dark dress and, just behind her, a young mother with a baby in her arms. Again to his left, is a man in need of medicine, pointing to a wound in his knee. On both sides of Laurence are little children; two of them, having already received their alms, are walking away, while a third is still waiting to receive something.

The Cheerful Giver

The fresco is a kind of homily on today’s First Reading and Responsorial Psalm. Laurence is the cheerful giver, beloved of God (cf. 2 Cor 9: 7). “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (2 Cor 9:9, Ps 111:9). Blessed Fra Angelico painted theology: by showing the open basilica in the background, he is indicating that the Church is the servant of the hospitality of God, that her doors are open to all.

From Christ to Christ

By painting Saint Laurence in his dalmatic, he is suggesting that Laurence has just come from Mass where it is the deacon’s function to sing the dismissal, “Ite, missa est,” “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” or “Go, it is the sending forth.” The mission of the Church begins at the altar; leaving the altar, Laurence goes straight out the front door of the basilica to the poor who wait for him. He goes from Christ to Christ.

Bride of the Eternal One

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An Extraordinary Woman

Seventy years ago today, on August 9, 1942, the Carmelite Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, known in the world as Dr. Edith Stein, met death in the infernal concentration camp of Auschwitz. Edith Stein was a Jew, born into an Orthodox family on October 12, 1891. It was the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. For a time, suffering from depression, and determined nonetheless to seek her own truth, she abandoned all outward religious practice. Edith asked for Baptism after reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. "This," she said, "is the truth."

The Prayer of Esther

The liturgy places the impassioned prayer of Esther on the lips of Teresa Benedicta in Auschwitz. “As a child I was wont to hear from the people of the land of my forefathers that you, O Lord, chose Israel from among all peoples, and our fathers from among all their ancestors, as a lasting heritage, and that you fulfilled all your promises to them. Be mindful of us, O Lord. Manifest yourself in the time of our distress.“(Est 4:3, 12).

Salvation From the Jews

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is of the lineage of Miriam, of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Judith and Esther, of the same people as the Blessed Virgin, Miriam of Nazareth, of whom was born Yeshouah who is called the Christ. The words of Our Lord in today’s gospel strike us with a particular resonance. “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn 4:22).

The Root

Saint Paul reminds us that, “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). God’s choice of Israel remains; His love for Israel stands firm forever. How could God not cherish with a love of predilection the race that gave His only begotten Son flesh and blood? Gentile Christians are the wild olive shoot, grafted in place to share the richness of the olive tree. Lest we be tempted to boast, Saint Paul says: “Remember, it is not you that supports the root, but the root that supports you” (Rom 11:18).

Through the Eyes of a Bridal Love

Through the gift of the Law and the message of the prophets, God Himself undertook Israel’s education and preparation for a universal mission, for an abiding vocation. The Law and the prophets admonish Israel to fear the Lord God, to follow all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord God with heart and soul, to keep His commandments and laws. All of this is a response to merciful love. The vocation of Israel is to discover the holiness of God revealed in the Torah, to contemplate Him through the eyes of a bridal love. The God to Whom belong the heavens and the earth set his heart on Israel; God chose a people to be uniquely His own in view of a covenant by which Israel would become the beloved, the bride of the Eternal One.

To Be Led By the Hand of God

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"Whatever did not fit in with my plan
did lie within the plan of God.
I have an ever deeper and firmer belief
that nothing is merely an accident
when seen in the light of God,
that my whole life down to the smallest details
has been marked out for me
in the plan of Divine Providence
and has a completely coherent meaning
in God's all seeing eyes.

To be a child of God,
that means to be led by the Hand of God,
to do the Will of God, not one's own will,
to place every care and every Hope in the Hand of God
and not to worry about one's future.
On this rests the freedom and the joy of the child of God.
But how few of even the truly pious,
even of those ready for heroic sacrifices, possess this freedom.

When night comes, and you look back over the day
and see how fragmentary everything has been,
and how much you planned that has gone undone,
and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed:
just take everything exactly as it is,
put it in God's hands and leave it with Him.
Then you will be able to rest in Him --really rest --
and start the next day as a new life."

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D.
October 12, 1891 -- August 9, 1942

A Deacon Exorcist and Martyr

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Saint Cyriacus statue 16th c.jpg

The image depicts a 16th century wood polychrome statue of a smiling Saint Cyriacus. Note the lovely green dalmatic and golden maniple he is wearing.

Saint Cyriacus

As one of the great deacon martyrs of the Church, alongside of Saint Stephen, Saint Lawrence, and Saint Vincent of Saragossa, Saint Cyriacus deserves to be better known. Cyriacus was a Roman nobleman who, after accepting the Gospel of Christ and receiving Holy Baptism, renounced his considerable wealth, and gave it away to the poor. Ordained a deacon of the Church of Rome, Cyriacus served under Popes Saints Marcellinus and Marcellus (296-309). At the time, deacons played a vital role in the life of the Church, being wholly occupied in preaching, in sacramental and liturgical ministrations, and in the care of the poor and sick.

Servant of the Poor and Exorcist

The deacon Cyriacus became famous for the conversions to the faith that he brought about, for the healing of the sick, and the liberation of souls in the grip of the powers of darkness. All Rome spoke of the zeal of Cyriacus, of his charity, and the power of his prayer. During the time the Emperor Diocletian was building his famous baths, Cyriacus ministered as an angel of mercy and an envoy of the love of Christ among the enslaved prisoners there condemned to forced labour.

Deliverances and Conversions

When Artemesia, Diocletian's daughter fell ill, he was told that Cyriacus alone would be able to heal her. Diocletian freed Cyriacus and begged him to heal his daughter. Cyriacus prayed, chased from Artemesia the demon that was afflicting her, and so restored her to health. As a result, Artemesia asked for Holy Baptism, and Diocletian gave Cyriacus a house in Rome.

Word of the prodigy reached Persia, where Jobias, the daughter of King Shapur II was suffering from the same kind of demonic affliction. Diocletian and his wife Serena decided, then, to send Cyriacus to Persia. There, true to his charism, he liberated Jobias. This miraculous healing caused the entire family of King Shapur II to ask for Holy Baptism. King Shapur, in an effort to keep Cyriacus in Persia, offered him great wealth. Cyriacus, however, after fasting for forty-five days, returned to Rome.


In 303, together with other Christians of Rome, including Saints Largus and Smaragdus, who refused to participate in idolstrous practices, he was tortured and beheaded under the reign of Maximian. His body in rests in the church of Santa Maria in Via Lata near the Piazza Venezia, and in the abbey of Altorf in Alsace. In 1994, by disposition of Camillo Cardinal Ruini, Vicar of Rome, a vial of the holy martyr's blood was given to the sanctuary of Torre le Nocelle, where it is the object of fervent veneration.


Saint Cyriacus is venerated as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers; his feast is kept on 8 August. He is a patron saint of deacons and of exorcists and, even today, obtains by his intercession, the deliverance of souls from harassment by evil spirits.

Prayer to Saint Cyriacus

O glorious Saint Cyriacus,
thou whom, for thy outstanding zeal and compassion,
Pope Saint Marcellinus raised to the dignity of the diaconate
in the Church of Rome,
and who, with intrepid patience,
didst endure the dislocation of thy members,
the laceration of thy flesh,
the torture of boiling water and,
finally, death itself by beheading,
look upon us who invoke thee,
and obtain for us the grace to remain steadfast in the faith,
in spite of the temptations of the Evil One,
and to live in such union with Christ Jesus
as to merit the blessedness of eternity in HIs presence.

O excellent martyr of Christ,
honoured today in all the world,
let us experience the power of thy arm.
Show us thy mercy, even as thou hast shown it in times past,
and grant us the favour we desire. Amen.

Glory be to the Father three times.

Saint John Mary Vianney, Priest

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0804 J MVianney1.jpg

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:25).

A Man Sent by God

In 1827, Ars was a remote country village eighteen miles outside of Lyons in France with nothing extraordinary about it; nothing extraordinary apart from the fact that from 1827 until 1859 -- a period of thirty-two years -- the little church of Ars was never empty. Multitudes poured into the church from before the first light of day until well into the night. "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (Jn 1:6-8).

The Baptist

Remarkably, the parish priest of Ars was, even by name, another John the Baptist; his full Christian name was, in fact, John Mary Baptist Vianney. Baptized John Mary, he chose the name Baptist at the time of his Confirmation on a cold snowy day in 1807. He was twenty-one years old. On that one day Cardinal Fesch, the Archbishop of Lyons, confirmed three-thousand souls. The ceremony began early in the morning and continued until after 5 o'clock in the afternoon. In the wake of the French Revolution, so many souls had been deprived of catechesis and of the sacraments, that it was not uncommon for such sacramental marathons to take place. From that day forward, John Mary Vianney signed his name John Mary Baptist, or John Baptist Mary.

The identification with the Forerunner of Our Lord was a mysterious portent of things to come. Twenty years after his Confirmation as crowds of pilgrims descended upon Ars, one might have put to them the very words of Our Lord concerning Saint John the Baptist: "What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in king's houses. Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet." (Mt 11:7-9). By the grace of the Holy Spirit, John Mary Baptist Vianney was a prophet -- but he was more than a prophet. He was a priest of Jesus Christ.

Nothing of the Showman About Him

Naturally speaking, there was nothing in the parish priest of Ars to draw crowds. He had nothing of the showman about him. He wasn't surrounded by publicists. There were no sophisticated lighting and sound systems. He wasn't, for example, anything at all like a Joel Osteen, or a Dr. Billy Graham, or even like the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. One would not have described him as handsome, although a childlike purity of heart shone in his eyes, and there was about his face something of a supernatural radiance, especially when one observed him in prayer. His clothes were more or less clean, but shabby; an old patched cassock and shoes totally unacquainted with polish. He wore his hair in the clerical fashion of the day: shoulder-length and pushed straight back. Once at a meeting of priests, a more fastidious clergyman refused to sit next to him for fear of catching something from Vianney's greenish, soiled hat.

Not the Typical Priest

Many of his brother priests found him eccentric, even odd. With raised eyebrows and knowing smiles, they murmured among themselves about his notoriously deficient seminary training, about his lack of sophistication, his very rudimentary Latin, and -- to their mind -- excessive piety and fasting. The numbers of penitents drawn to his confessional disconcerted them. Were they not better educated than the parish priest of Ars? Had not they more respectable credentials, a sense of propriety, and the ability to ally their priesthood with life's finer pleasures, those of the palate, of the eye, and of the mind? Why then were veritable caravans of souls making their way to the parish priest of Ars, and returning from him transformed, converted, repentant and joyful?

John Mary Vianney might have answered their queries with the words of Saint John the Baptist: "No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:28-30).

Freely You Have Received

In these few lines one finds a portrait, not only of Saint John Mary Vianney, but of a universal, that is, a Catholic priestly holiness. The grace of the priesthood, and the charisms that, by God's gracious will, sometimes accompany it come from heaven. They are pure gift. "Every good endowment and every perfect gift," says Saint James, "is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (Jas 1:17). The priest gives what he himself has received. What were, after all, Our Lord's instructions to his first twelve priests-in-training? "Preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely have you received; freely give" (Mt 10:7-8).

Another Christ

The priest is another Christ: a representation of the Divine Original, invested by the Holy Spirit with a three-fold gift and power to teach, to govern, and to sanctify. The priest images Christ as Bridegroom of the Church; Christ as Head of the Mystical Body; Christ as Shepherd of the flock of God; Christ as Sower of the Seed. The priest makes Christ. present. He reveals his Face, His Heart, and His Hands. He acts in the Name and in the Person of Christ.

The priest bears within himself a mysterious sacramental imprint: the indelible character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, that nothing and no one can erase. In heaven, the indelible character that marks the soul of the priest causes him a glorious joy beyond description; in hell, which God forbid, that same indelible character causes the priest an everlasting torment.

Oh, How Great Is the Priest

Saint John Mary Vianney was aware of the immense dignity of the priesthood. He was humble: not denying the gifts he has received, but glorifying their Giver. Listen to him preach on the priesthood:

A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy. Oh, how great is the priest!" he said. "If he realized what he is, he would die... God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host.

Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he said:

Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest... After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is.

Stand Up, and Kneel Down for Your Priests

It is time for all Catholics to reclaim and recover a sense of awe in the face of the priesthood. It is time for us to rediscover the beauty of the priesthood. It is time for us to stand up for our beloved priests and, even more importantly, to kneel down for them before Christ in grateful adoration and supplication.

The priesthood of Jesus Christ has, over the past decade, been dragged through the mud. The sins and weaknesses of a few -- and these cannot in any way be minimized, rationalized, or condoned: they can only be humbly confessed and mercifully forgiven. These sins and weakness have, in fact, covered the Face of Christ the Priest with filth, and caused His Bride the Church to weep tears of bitterness and shame.

Say what you will, the promises of the Lord uttered through the mouth of His prophet remain, because the Word of the Lord endures forever: "Her priests I will clothe with holiness, and her faithful will ring out their joy" (Ps 131:16).

The Priest Continues the Work of Redemption on Earth

Three years ago, in declaring a Year of the Priesthood, Pope Benedict XVI invited the whole Church to listen to the teachings of the parish priest of Ars, and to take them to heart. Here is the remedy we have been waiting for: the words of a holy priest on the priesthood:

Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love... Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth... What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods ... Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there ... The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.

A Sacerdotal Pentecost

No priest is for himself. Each and every priest is for the Church. Pray, then, and fast for priests. Beseech the Father to glorify the priesthood of His Son by a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit over the priests of the entire world. Ask boldly for a Sacerdotal Pentecost. Only by the action of the Holy Spirit will priests be "sanctified in the truth" (Jn 17:17). Only by the action of the Holy Spirit will priests recover the ardour of our first love and the zeal of the prophets and saints.

Saint Peter Julian Eymard

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A Priest-Adorer

When Blessed John XXIII canonized Peter Julian Eymard on December 9, 1962, at the close of the First Session of the Second Vatican Council, he was, I think, acting prophetically. He directed the eyes of the universal Church to the image of a priest-adorer impassioned by the Most Holy Eucharist. During the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, marked by the abundant graces of the Year of the Eucharist, Saint Peter Julian Eymard's particular expression of sacerdotal holiness came into focus more clearly for me.

A Priest for Priests

Saint Peter Julian was a priest for priests. In every brother priest he recognized a living image of Jesus Christ. He was known even to leave his prie-dieu before the Blessed Sacrament during his designated hour of adoration in order to receive a priest in need.

Sanctuaries of Adoration

Père Eymard ardently desired to do still more. In the first place, he resolved to number among the chief Apostolic Works of the Society of the Blessed Sacrament that of receiving into its Sanctuaries of adoration all priests who might desire to spend some days at the foot of the holy tabernacle.

I Want to Get the Priests

"Sanctify the priests by the Eucharist," he wrote. "That embraces everything. With the priests, we have the parishes, the whole country." Some months before his death, he exclaimed, "Now listen! I want to get the priests. That is our principal apostolate."

"To labour for priests," he used to say, "is to labour for multipliers. Let the Holy Eucharist become the centre of their thoughts, the end of their labours, and they will have at their disposal the most efficient means for the conversion and sanctification of their people. Let them find in Jesus of the tabernacle a Friend in their loneliness, insurmountable strength in their struggles, constantly renewed vigour in their weariness, for He is the Source of grace, which produces abundant fruits."


Saint Peter Julian entertained the idea of founding a society of diocesan priest-adorers, not unlike the Oblates associated with monasteries: "I want to form . . . secular priests, to bind them together by prayer, by determinate statutes, and to sanctify them by the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. This work is ours, but I do not want to undertake now on a large scale. Oh, when will the time come! Priests sharing in the life of the Blessed Sacrament, should live according to the Eucharistic life of Jesus, which consists above all in self-abnegation and the love of sacrifice. . . . They should perform all their duties under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, the Adoratrice of the Cenacle, for through that sweet Mother we more easily approach Jesus. Their studies, their energy, and their piety they should direct to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. They should bear in mind that adoration is their chief duty: Nos autem orationi instantes erimus -- But we will give ourselves continually to prayer" (Acts 6, 4).

Preaching Energized by Adoration

For Saint Peter Julian Eymard, Eucharistic adoration was the soul of the ministry of holy preaching. "Like Moses," he wrote, "full of zeal to announce the teaching of the Divine Master when he came down from Mount Sinai, like the Apostles coming from the Cenacle, so should the priests [of this Society] go from the church straight to the people to announce to them the Word of God: Et ministerio verbi -- to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6, 4).

Drawing Souls to the Eucharist

A priest who seeks first the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, and has learned to linger close to His Eucharistic Heart, will be given all other things besides. His ministry will be prodigiously fruitful, even if, in this present life, its fruitfulness remains hidden. The priest is the friend of the Bridegroom, pointing souls to the tabernacle and, even more, inviting them to follow him into the radiance of His Eucharistic Face and the warmth of His Open Heart. Saint Peter Julian says it this way: "They should bind themselves to defend always and under all circumstances the interests and the honour of Jesus Christ, and by every possible means to multiply visits to the Blessed Sacrament as well as frequent and daily Communion. In a word, in all their actions, they should unite with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, the Eternal High Priest, the Model of the grace of the priesthood."


Yesterday, the Holy Father spoke of Saint Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori, Doctor of the Church, and his simple, direct teachings on prayer for Everyman. Saint Alphonsus has long been a dear friend of mine: he is the lasting glory of Baroque Naples, a city that, for all its moral miseries and human drama, was home to a great multitude of saints and mystics. Here is the Holy Father's discourse:

Dear brothers and sisters!

The Joyous Embrace of God the Father

Today marks the liturgical memorial of St. Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church, founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer -- the Redemptorists -- patron saint of scholars and moral theology and of confessors. St. Alphonsus is one of the most popular saints of the 18th century because of his simple, straightforward style and his teaching on the sacrament of Penance: In a period of great rigorism -- the result of the influence of Jansenism -- he recommended to confessors to administer this sacrament by revealing the joyous embrace of God the Father, who in His infinite mercy never tires of welcoming back the repentant son.

Prayer: Necessary and Sure Means to Salvation

Today's memorial offers us the occasion to consider St. Alphonsus' teachings on prayer, which are extremely valuable and filled with spiritual inspiration. He considered his treatise, Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection, which dates back to 1759, to be the most useful of all his writings. In fact, he there describes prayer as "the necessary and sure means of obtaining salvation, and all the graces we need to attain it" (Introduction).

He Who Prays is Saved

This sentence sums up the Alphonsian understanding of prayer. First, in saying that it is a means, he reminds us of the end to be attained: God created out of love in order to be able to give us the fullness of life; but because of sin, this goal, this abundance of life has, so to say, drifted away -- we all know this -- and only God's grace can make it available. To explain this basic truth, and to enable us to understand in a straightforward way how real the risk is of man's "being lost," St. Alphonsus coined a famous, very elementary maxim, which states: "He who prays is saved. He who prays not is damned!" Commenting on this lapidary statement, he added: "To save one's soul without prayer is most difficult, and even impossible ... but by praying our salvation is made secure, and very easy" (Chapter II, Conclusion). And he goes on to say: "If we do not pray, we have no excuse, for the grace of prayer is given to everyone ... if we are not saved, the whole fault will be ours, because we did not pray" (ibid.).

We Cannot Manage Without Praying

In saying that prayer is a necessary means, St. Alphonsus wanted us to understand that in every situation in life, we cannot manage without praying, especially in times of trial and difficulty. We must always knock at the Lord's door with trust, knowing that in all things He takes care of His children, of us. We are invited, therefore, not to be afraid of turning to Him and of presenting our requests to Him with trust, in the certainty of obtaining what we need.

What Is Truly Necessary?

Dear friends, this is the central question: What is truly necessary in my life? With St. Alphonsus I respond: "Health and all the graces we need for this" (ibid.); naturally, he means not only bodily health, but above all also that of the soul, which Jesus gives to us. More than anything else, we need His liberating presence, which truly makes our lives fully human and therefore full of joy. And it is only through prayer that we are able to welcome Him and His grace, which by enlightening us in each situation, enables us to discern the true good, and by strengthening us, makes our will effective; that is, it enables it to do the good that is known. Often we recognize the good, but we are unable to do it. Through prayer, we arrive at the point of being able to carry it out.

Weakness and the Richness of God's Mercy

The Lord's disciple knows that he is always exposed to temptation, and he never fails to ask God for help in prayer in order to conquer it. St. Alphonsus recalls the example of St. Phillip Neri -- very interesting -- who "used to say to God from the first moment he awoke in the morning, 'Lord, keep Thy hands over Philip this day; for if not, Philip will betray Thee'" (III, 3). A great realist! He asks God to keep His hand upon him. We, too, in the awareness of our own weakness, should humbly ask God's help, relying on the richness of His mercy.

By Prayer Obtain the Strength You Do Not Possess

In another passage, St. Alphonsus says: "We are so poor that we have nothing; but if we pray we are no longer poor" (II, 4). And in the wake of St. Augustine, he invites every Christian to not be afraid of obtaining from God, through prayer, the strength he does not possess and that he needs to do the good, in the certainty that the Lord does not withhold His help from whoever prays with humility (cf. III, 3).

Relationship With God and Daily Prayer

Dear friends, St. Alphonsus reminds us that our relationship with God is essential for our lives. Without a relationship with God, our fundamental relationship is missing. And a relationship with God develops by talking with God in daily personal prayer, and by participating in the Sacraments; and so it is that this relationship can grow in us, and that the divine presence that directs our path, enlightens it and makes it secure and serene can also grow in us, even amid difficulty and danger. Thank you.

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The Communion of the Saints

We live in the company of the saints. We are in communion with them, and communion implies communication. There is, at every moment, a mysterious exchange taking place between us and the saints who surround us. The Letter to the Hebrews says that we are "watched from above by such a cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1).

Naming Your Baby

New Catholic parents used to consult a little booklet, often supplied by the parish, entitled, Is it a Saint's Name? The names of saints are more and more rarely being given to Catholic babies, especially to little girls. While there is a part of ignorance here -- today's parents were the victims of the disastrous lack of catechesis that followed the Second Vatican Council -- there is something more. The pressure to secularize every area of life is picking up momentum. Change what people say, and you will change what they think. The modification of vocabulary -- and in this case the suppression of the glorious heritage of Catholic saints' names -- will lead to a modification of values and, ultimately, of morality.

Living With the Saints

Monasteries have the splendid custom of attributing a saint's name or a biblical name to every room and place -- from the cells to the workrooms to the storage rooms. The significance of this age-old custom is as beautiful as it is profound: the monastery is inhabited not only by the visible people who live within its walls, but also by its invisible residents, the angels and the saints. The naming of a room for a saint is a confession of faith; it flies in the face of secularist ideologies that would have us believe that reality stops with what is visible.

Recovery of the Sacred

The movement to secularize every thing and every place is as pernicious as it is aggressive. It is part of the "smoke of Satan" that Pope Paul VI saw penetrating the Church to foment confusion. It is crucial that we respond to the crisis with courage and with conviction. The invasion of the secular must be countered by a concerted recovery of the sacred, and by re-claiming all things for Christ under the patronage of his saints and his mysteries: our cities, our towns, our homes, our institutions, our rooms, and, yes, our children.

The Saints in the Ordinary of the Mass

Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum has generated some very helpful comparative studies of the Rite of Blessed John XXIII (the Mass actually celebrated during the Second Vatican Council) and the 1970 Rite of Pope Paul VI. One of the observations made is that the newer rite, in a misguided attempt to render the Mass less offensive to Protestant sensibilities, removed several key allusions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the saints, and to their intercession. I am thinking specifically of the Confiteor, the prayer while kissing the relics in the altar, the Suscipe, Sancta Trinitas at the end of the Offertory rite, and the Libera nos after the Our Father. In no way was this manipulation of the texts authorized by the Conciliar Fathers. It grieves and alienates the venerable Orthodox Churches, who interpret it as a rejection of the patrimony of the undivided Church.

Orthodox and Protestants

Already under the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, and now under Pope Benedict XVI, it is clear the ecumenical efforts and loving attention of the Church of Rome are turned Eastward, toward those true Churches having Apostolic Succession with whom the Church of Rome shares the Most Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments. Protestant communities, while having some elements of the true Church and certain means of salvation derived from her, are objectively defective. Catholics gain nothing, and lose much, by seeking to resemble them, especially by minimizing the intercession of the Mother of God and of the saints. This does not mean that the Church of Rome abandons the Protestant communities. On the contrary, she seeks to dialogue with them -- as would a loving mother with an alienated child -- correcting them when necessary, and waiting for them to return to the fullness of the faith held in her heart.

Under the Protection of the Saints

The feast of Saints Joachim and Anna invites us to consider all these things. Joachim and Anna arrived in North America with the first colonizers from France and Spain, those who named every new place for the saints of Christ. By this, they made it clear that the Kingdom of Heaven was also expanding and that all places and peoples were invited to live in communion with the saints, and under their protection.

Grandparents of the Lord

In seventeenth century France devotion to the Holy Family became a mark of the renewal that, following the Council of Trent, blew through the Church like a refreshing breeze, a mystical invasion. The Holy Family was understood, at that time, to refer to the entire extended family of Jesus, including his grandparents, Joachim and Anne.

National Shrine of Saint Anne in Ireland

The Normans brought devotion to Saint Anne to Ireland and established a shrine in her honour in a chapel dedicated to their sainted Bishop of Rouen, Saint Audoen, at Cornmarket in Dublin. Devotion to St. Anne on this site dates from 1169-1170. The focus of the devotion was the precious relic of a finger bone of Saint Anne brought by the Normans.

Such was the level of devotion that by 1352 the festival of Saint Anne on 26th July was declared a Holyday of Obligation and in 1431, King Henry VI granted letters patent establishing the Guild of Saint Anne - "to the praise of God and of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in honour of Saint Anne". Six priests were necessary to tend to the needs of pilgrims from within Ireland, from Britain and from the Continent. The Church contained a chapel to Saint Mary (the Lady Chapel) and Saint Anne, with altars to Saint Catherine, Saint Nicholas, Saint Thomas and Saint. Clare. Excavations carried out in 1967 to 1972, at the thirteenth century layer, yielded a pewter pilgrim-badge and a small bronze pilgrim's flask. The Seal of the Guild can be seen today in the medieval church.

The Change in Religion

During the protestant reformation, the Norman Church was taken over and so lost to its Catholic congregation and to the Guild of Saint Anne. The Guild itself continued until the early seventeenth century, despite the dissolution of Abbeys, Priories and other religious houses. In 1912 the Irish devotion to Saint Anne was revived in the new Catholic Saint Audoen's Church. The beautiful statue of Saint Anne, there enshrined, was made by Deghini's of Fishamble Street, Dublin, and was the gift of one Mrs. Kelly in 1919.

In the New World

From France, Jesuit missionaries, Ursuline and Hospitaller nuns, and devout layfolk carried the devotion to the Holy Family to New France. A sanctuary dedicated to Saint Anne was built in 1658 between the Saint Laurence River and the Beaupré coast in Québec. Other smaller shrines to Saint Anne, in Isle La Motte, Vermont, in Sturbridge and in Fall River, Massachusetts, and in Waterbury, Connecticut, mark the "Catholic geography" of New England.

The Patronage of the Holy Family

After the French Revolution, the Church enjoyed an extraordinary burst of energy characterized by the foundations of hundreds of new religious communities of women; many of these nineteenth century foundations were dedicated to the Holy Family and, again, the grandparents of the Lord were not excluded. Some of these French communities came, in turn, to America where they taught generations of Catholics to reverence the human family of Christ and to live in communion with the saints.

The Vocation of Grandparents

Saint Anne and Saint Joachim have a special message for grandparents.
Grandmothers and grandfathers have a particular vocation in the order of grace. Grandparents are called to foster the supernatural life of their grandchildren, to pray for them, to pray with them, and to model holiness for them. Grandparents can reach places in a child's heart that no one else can reach. Grandparents can introduce their grandchildren to the joy of living with the saints.

The Things That Call to Mind the Saints

We are the spiritual descendants of the saints. We profess our faith in the communion of the saints and acknowledge their presence in our homes and in our lives. We renounce the evil ideologies of secularization that, by suppressing the things that call to mind the saints, aim at erasing the supernatural from daily life.

Eucharistic Intercession

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, heaven descends to earth and earth is assumed into heaven. Around the altar there is infinitely more than what meets the eye. Saints Joachim and Anne are present to us; their most holy Daughter, the Virgin Mary, is present to us. We ask them to join their intercession to ours, imploring peace for the whole world, and blessings upon our families. This too is the communion of the saints: the Holy Sacrifice offered here can bring peace and blessings to thousands of hearts and places. Live, then, as if you were seeing the invisible! There is nothing more real than that.

Prayer to Saint Anne

O glorious Saint Anne,
filled with compassion for those who invoke thee,
and with love for those who suffer,
heavily laden with the weight of my troubles,
I cast myself at thy feet and humbly beg thee
to take the present affair, which I recommend, under thy special protection.
Here mention request.
Vouchsafe to recommend it, to thy daughter the Blessed Virgin Mary
and lay it before the throne of Jesus,
so that He may bring it to a happy issue.
Cease not to intercede for me until my request is granted.
Above all, obtain for me the grace
of one day beholding my God, face to face
and with you and Mary Most Holy and all of the Saints,
praising Him for all eternity. Amen.


2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Psalm 125: 1-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6
Matthew 20:20-28

Treasure in Earthen Vessels

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7). Another translation puts it this way: “We have a treasure, then, in our keeping, but its shell is of perishable earthenware; it must be God, and not anything in ourselves, that gives it its sovereign power.” The contrast is striking: treasure held in earthen vessels. But what is the treasure? In verse 6, Saint Paul says, “It is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). The treasure, then, is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the Face of Christ.

An Eye-Witness of the Transfiguration

When one considers that James was an eye-witness of the Transfiguration, the deeper meaning of today’s First Reading comes into focus. While James looked on, together with Peter and with his brother John, Jesus “was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light” (Mt 17:2). The splendour of Jesus’ Face burned itself indelibly into the heart of James. Contemplating the Face of the transfigured Jesus, James was filled with “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6). This is the treasure that Saint James carried in a shell of fragile earthenware: his own human weakness.


The Transfiguration reveals the treasure; the agony in the garden of Gethsemani reveals to us the fragility of the earthen vessels. To Peter, James, and John, Jesus said, “Remain here and watch with me” (Mt 26:38), but after His prayer to the Father, he found them sleeping. Again, a second time, He asked these, his intimate companions, to watch and pray, warning them of the weakness of the flesh, and again He came and “found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy” (Mt 26:43). And so it happened a third time but, by then, the hour of Jesus’ betrayal was already at hand (Mt 26:45). The radiant memory of Jesus transfigured, “the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:6), was held in earthen vessels: in the hearts of men who could not watch even one hour with their Master in his agony.

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Three Saints

Three saints -- all three educators, founders, and spiritual fathers to children and young men -- share a common feastday on July 20th in the Benedictine calendar: Saint Jerome (Girolamo) Emiliani, 1481-1537; Saint Joseph Calasanctius (José de Calasanz), 1557-1648; and Saint Jean-Baptiste de LaSalle, 1651-1719.

Saint Jerome Emiliani

The first of these, Saint Jerome (Girolamo) Emiliani, was born in Venice. After a military career that included imprisonment and a miraculous liberation, he went on pilgrimage to the Madonna of Treviso in fulfillment of a vow and, for a time served as a local magistrate, all the while attending to the education of his nephews and studying theology on his own.

Father of the Poor

In 1528, a year marked by plague and famine, Jerome discovered his true vocation: total fatherly devotion to the poor, the sick, and orphans. He established orphanages, administered one hospital, and saw to the building of another. In 1532, together with two priests, Saint Jerome founded a religious congregation, the Servants of the Poor, at Somasca in northern Italy; members of the congregation came to be called Somascans, after the place of this first house. The principal mission of the Somascan Fathers is the fatherly care of orphans, of the poor, and of the sick.

The State of Holiness

As a member of the Oratory of Divine Love -- a veritable school of holiness inspired by Saint Catherine Fieschi Adorno (+1510) in Genoa -- Saint Jerome entered into the Counter-Reformation's renewal of the Church with a burning zeal. He longed to see the faithful of Christ restored to the state of holiness that marked the Church in the time of the Apostles, and even composed a prayer to this end:

O our gentle father, Lord Jesus Christ,
we pray Thee, of thine infinite bounty,
to reform the Christian people in that state of holiness
that was theirs in the time of Thine Apostles.
Hear us, O Lord, because Thy mercy is kind,
and in Thine immense tenderness, turn Thyself towards us.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.

May I be guided and protected in the way of peace, of charity, and of prosperity
by the power of God the Father, the wisdom of the Son,
and the strength of the Holy Spirit, and of the glorious Virgin Mary.

May the Angel Raphael, who was always with Tobias
also be with me in every place and road.

O good Jesus, O good Jesus, O good Jesus,
my love and my God,
in Thee do I trust, let me not be disappointed.

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Religious Life Today

As I offered Holy Mass this morning, I thought of the need here in Ireland for religious congregations that are reformed, revitalized and ready to engage in the restoration of the faithful to "a state of holiness." When one takes the measure of the bountiful harvest of holiness, priestly discipline, monastic reform, liturgical consolidation, service of the poor, instruction of the ignorant, care for the sick, and zeal for the glory of God that renewed the Church of the Counter-Reformation after the Council of Trent, and compares it with the paltry, disappointing, and bitter fruits that mark the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, one is left with the impression of a massive failure at many levels.

Outdated Religious

It is paradoxical that the very religious congregations that resolutely embraced "renewal" fifty years ago have become outdated, sterile, and moribond. Their one common characteristic appears to be an unwillingness to change (again) and an irrational attachment to the failed experiments of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

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Heritage Rooms

The 2009 C.A.R.A. report on religious life documents what young people of the Benedict XVI generation are looking for in religious life: community life; daily liturgical prayer (Divine Office), Eucharistic adoration, and Marian devotions; a common unified apostolate; the clear visibility of the religious habit, etc. Aging protagonists of the Vatican II generation, in Ireland, in the U.S.A., and elsewhere, wring their hands about the dearth of vocations to their congregations and, at the same time, would rather die than embrace corporate reform, renewal, and revitalization. Their opportunity for reform -- and for choosing life -- will soon have passed them by, leaving their spiritual patrimony sealed in "heritage rooms."

The People in Charge Now

It would seem, at least from anecdotal evidence, that the greatest (and often most strident) resistance to the reform of religious life comes, not from those who made profession sixty, or seventy years ago, but from those who made profession early in the late 1960s, and in the 1970s and 80s. These would be people who entered religious life and committed themselves to it shortly after or during the seismic changes of the 1960s and 70s. They adjusted, sometimes with heroic generosity, to the changes imposed or legislated by their elders, and were, for the most part, content to serve Christ and His Church in a kind of hybrid model of religious life marked more by compromise with the world than by the resolve to reform. Having attained positions of responsibility and, often, of power, they are unwilling to risk a new wave of change that would, necessarily, call into question the very principles that they suffered and worked hard to implement and maintain.


Reform and Revitalization?

Will the people currently in charge of the great apostolic congregations of men and women that were founded in the 19th century, and came to maturity in the 20th, rise to the challenge of a vigorous reform? Or will they stay the course taken over the past 50 years and await the inevitable extinction of their species? These are questions that go beyond than the internal affairs of aging religious communities; they pertain to the present and future revitalization of the Church, especially here in Ireland.

Not Too Late to Choose Life

It may be the Eleventh Hour, but it is not the Twelfth; it is not too late for a few brave religious to choose life and, like Abraham and Sarah, to revel in the joy of a wondrous generativity. Saints like Jerome Emiliani make me long to see this happen. The "state of holiness" that he saw in the Church of the Apostles can yet be restored to the faithful of Ireland, and may be coming soon to a monastery or convent near you.

Resplendens Stella

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Here is a translation of the message our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI sent to the bishop of Avila, Spain, Mons. Jesús Garcia Burillo, on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the founding of the convent of Saint Joseph in Avila and the beginning of the Carmelite Reform. The subtitles and commentary in italics are my own. I dedicate my own little commentary to my dear friend here in Ireland, Father John of Jesus Hogan, a true son of Saint Teresa.

To the Venerable Brother

Monsignor Jesus GARCIA BURILLO
Bishop of Avila

What is a Saint?

1. Resplendens stella. "A star that would give of itself great splendor" (Book of Life, 32, 11). With these words the Lord encouraged Saint Teresa of Jesus to found in Avila the convent of Saint Joseph, beginning of the reform of Carmel, whose 450th anniversary will be observed next August 24. On the occasion of this happy circumstance, I wish to unite myself to the joy of the beloved Avila diocese, of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, of the People of God on pilgrimage in Spain and of all those in the universal Church who have found in Teresian spirituality a sure light to discover that man obtains the true renewal of life through Christ. Enamored of the Lord, this illustrious woman wished to please Him in everything. In fact, a saint is not one who carries out great feats based on the excellence of his human qualities, but one who allows Christ to penetrate his soul, to act through his person, He being the real protagonist of all their actions and desires, who inspires every initiative and sustains every silence.

"A saint is not one who carries out great feats based on the excellence of his human qualities, but one who allows Christ to penetrate his soul." Christ alone is the life of the soul. Saint Teresa of Jesus is not a private possession of Carmel, nor is she a treasure held in reserve for a select few; she is a gift to the whole Church Catholic. Her message brings fire and light to Benedictines as much as to her own Carmelite sons and daughters. Blessed Abbot Marmion, for example, quotes Saint Teresa often and refers to her teaching. I find it especially significant that the Holy Father writes that Christ sustains every silence in the life of His saints. A silence sustained by Christ cannot but be the silence created by the Word, the silence of unitive love, the silence of adoration, and the silence of repose in the bosom of the Father.

The Friendship of Christ

2. To let oneself be led by Christ in this way is possible only for one who has an intense life of prayer. In the words of the Saint of Avila, this consists of "friendship, being very often alone with Him whom we know loves us" (Book of Life 8, 5). The reform of Carmel, whose anniversary fills us with inner joy, was born of prayer and tends to prayer. On promoting a radical return to the original Rule, moving away from the mitigated Rule, Saint Teresa of Jesus wished to foster a way of life that favored a personal encounter with the Lord, for which it is necessary "to be in solitude and to gaze at Him within oneself, and not to be surprised by such a good guest" (Way of Perfection 28, 2). The convent of Saint Joseph was born precisely so that her daughters would have the best conditions to find God and establish a profound and intimate relationship with Him.

The friendship of Christ is a theme dear to the heart of Pope Benedict XVI. He returns to it again and again. For this friendship to develop there must be not only silence, but also solitude. Monastic life in all its expressions is ordered to the "heart-to-heart and face-to-face" encounter with Christ. All monastic life is "born of prayer and tends to prayer." For the Carmelite, the privileged form of this prayer will be oraçion; for the Benedictine it will be the choral celebration of the Divine Office, and lectio divina, and in Silverstream Priory, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In every monastery the focus must be on creating and sustaining "the best conditions to find God and establish a profound and intimate relationship with Him."

Strong Friends of God

3. Saint Teresa proposed a new way of being a Carmelite in a world which was also new. Those were "harsh times" (Book of Life 33, 5). And in such times, said this Teacher of the spirit, it is necessary "to be strong friends of God to support the weak" (Ibid., 15, 5). And she insisted eloquently: "The world is burning, they want to sentence Christ again, they want to knock down his Church. No, my Sisters, it is not the time to treat with God matters of little importance"! (Way of Perfection 1, 5). Is not this luminous and challenging reflection, made more than four centuries ago by the mystic Saint, familiar to us in the circumstance in which we are living?

These too are harsh times for Christ and for His Church, especially here in Ireland. Strong friends of God are indeed needed to support the weak; the wonder of God's condescending mercy is, however, that he chooses his strongest friends among the weakest of all. The grace of Christ is deployed in weakness, and the strength of Christ shines most brightly in those marked by infirmity and failure in the eyes of the world.

Genuine Personal and Ecclesial Reform

The ultimate end of the Teresian Reform and of the creation of new convents, in the midst of a world lacking in spiritual values, was to protect with prayer the apostolic task; to propose a way of evangelical life that would be a model for those seeking the way of perfection, stemming from the conviction that all genuine personal and ecclesial reform is affected by reproducing increasingly in ourselves the "way" of Christ (cf. Galatians 4:19). The Saint and her daughters had no other commitment. Neither did her Carmelite sons, who did no more than try "to advance in all the virtues" (Book of Life 31, 18). In this connection, Teresa wrote: Our Lord "appreciates more a soul won, through his mercy, by our industry and prayer than all the services we can render Him" (Book of the Foundations, 1, 7). In face of forgetfulness of God the Holy Doctor encouraged praying communities, which with their prayer protect those proclaiming the Name of Christ everywhere, supplicating for the needs of the Church, and taking to the Savior's heart the clamor of all peoples.

The agenda promoted by the ACP in Ireland, and by similar groups elsewhere, is fatally flawed in its principles, its means, and its goals. The true reformers of the Church begin with the reform of themselves in prayer and in the cultivation of the virtues. Reform is the fruit of prayer, of suffering, and of union with the oblation of Christ, Priest and Victim, by whose intercession the Holy Spirit falls anew upon the Church to purify her in the living flame of love. Curiously, the method and discourse of the ACP bears all the marks of the Americanist movement condemned by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae.

The Heart of the Apostolate

4. Today also, as in the 16th century, amid rapid transformations, it is necessary that confident prayer be at the heart of the apostolate, so that the message of the Redeemer Jesus Christ will resound with crystal clarity and forceful dynamism. It is urgent that the Word of life vibrate harmoniously in souls, with sonorous and attractive notes.

"In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be love" wrote Saint Teresa's worthiest daughter, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Dom Chautard, O.C.S.O., writing of the same reality, called it The Soul of the Apostolate. Without confident prayer no one can do anything of enduring value. In his Prologue to the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict enjoins his monks to begin every good work with a most instant prayer. Persevering and humble prayer is the wellspring of apostolic fecundity.

Christ: The Only Way to Attain the Glory of God

In this passionate task, the example of Teresa of Avila is of great help to us. We can affirm that, in her time, the Saint evangelized without lukewarmness , with ardor that was never extinguished, with methods that were far removed from inertia, with expressions radiant all around with light. This keeps all its freshness in the present circumstance, centered also following the dictate of the Avila mystic, on contemplation of the Most Sacred Humanity of Christ as the only way to attain the glory of God (cf. Book of Life 22, 1; The Abodes [Las Moradas] 6, 7). Thus genuine families will be able to be formed, which discover in the Gospel the fire of their abode, living and united Christian communities, cemented on Christ as their cornerstone and thirsting for a life of fraternal and generous service. Also to be desired is that incessant prayer promote the urgent cultivation of vocational pastoral care, stressing particularly the beauty of consecrated life, which must be properly supported as the treasure that it is of the Church, as torrent of Graces, both in its active as well as in its contemplative dimension.

"Contemplation of the Most Sacred Humanity of Christ is the only way to attain the glory of God." This was the teaching of Saint Paul before it became that of Saint Teresa: "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). This too is the teaching of the whole Benedictine tradition beginning with Saint Benedict and Saint Gregory, and continuing through Saint Anselm, Saint Bernard, Saint Gertrude and a host of other saints and mystics including Ireland's own Blessed Columba Marmion.

Friends of the Master, Putting Nothing Before His Love

The strength of Christ will also lead to redoubling initiatives so that the people of God recover their vigor in the only way possible: making room in our interior for the sentiments of the Lord Jesus (cf. Philippians 2, 5), seeking in every circumstance a radical living of his Gospel. This means, above all, to allow the Holy Spirit to make us friends of the Master and to configure us with Him. It also means accepting his mandate in everything, and adopting in ourselves criteria such as humility in conduct, giving up the superfluous, not wronging others, acting with simplicity and lowliness of heart. Thus, those around us will perceive the joy that stems from our adherence to the Lord, putting nothing before his love, always being ready to give a reason for our hope (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) and living, as Teresa of Jesus, in filial obedience to our Holy Mother the Church.

Our thoroughly Benedictine Pope could not resist quoting Saint Benedict here: "Thus, those around us will perceive the joy that stems from our adherence to the Lord, putting nothing before his love, always being ready to give a reason for our hope." The wisdom of the saints cannot be divided into closed academies. The friends of the Master are also friends among themselves, humbly receiving a diversity of gifts from the Lord, and sharing His gifts across time, and place, language, and culture. Saint Teresa emphasized filial obedience to the Church; any movement of reform that does not bear the mark of filial obedience to the Church comes not from the Spirit of God but from the spirits of darkness and confusion who ceaselessly incite men to rebelliousness, pride, and disobedience.

Totally to Jesus, Only to Jesus and Always to Jesus

5. We are invited today to that radicalism and fidelity by this illustrious daughter of the diocese of Avila. Taking up her beautiful legacy, at this moment of history, the Pope calls all the members of that particular Church, but in an intimate way young people, to take seriously the common vocation to sanctity. Following in Teresa of Jesus' footprints, allow me to say to those who have the future before them: aspire also to belong totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus. Fear not to tell Our Lord as she did: "I am yours, for you I was born, what do you want me to do?" (Poem 2). And I ask Him to enable you to respond to his calls illumined by divine grace, with "determined determination," to offer the "little" that is in you, trusting that God never abandons those who leave everything for His glory (cf. Way of Perfection 21, 2; 1, 2).

The Holy Father provides young people with the perfect prayer of vocational discernment: "I am yours, for you I was born, what do you want me to do?" One who makes this prayer sincerely will aspire to belong "totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus." In much contemporary promotional material for religious vocations it is precisely this that is conspicuously absent: "totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus."

The Most Holy Virgin and Saint Joseph

6. Saint Teresa knew how to honor the Most Holy Virgin with great devotion, whom she invoked under the sweet name of Carmel. I place under her maternal protection the apostolic endeavors of the Church in Avila so that, rejuvenated by the Holy Spirit, she will find the appropriate ways to proclaim the Gospel with enthusiasm and courage. May Mary, Star of evangelization, and her chaste spouse Saint Joseph intercede so that the "star" that the Lord lighted in the universe of the Church with the Teresian reform, will continue to radiate the great brilliance of the love and truth of Christ to all men.

Just as the Word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and under the protection of Saint Joseph, so too will the rejuvenation of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, take place by the Holy Spirit, in the Immaculate Heart of Mary and under the protection of Saint Joseph. Wheresover the Blessed Virgin Mary is present, there one will find newness of life, and a shining star to guide one in the darkness of the night.

With this yearning, Venerable Brother in the Episcopate, I send you this message, which I pray you to make known to the flock entrusted to your pastoral vigilance, and very especially to the beloved Discalced Carmelites of the convent of Saint Joseph of Avila, that they may perpetuate in time the spirit of their Founder, and of whose fervent prayer for the Successor of Peter I have grateful certainty. To them, to you and to all the faithful of Avila I impart with affection the Apostolic Blessing, pledge of copious heavenly favors.

Vatican, July 16, 2012



This is the view tonight from my window at the Monastère Sainte-Anne-de-Montmahoux in France. Although I planned to remain until Friday, I received news this morning of the death in County Leitrim of my dear old Cousin John McKeon. I last saw John on the occasion of his 89th birthday only a few weeks ago. I am John's next-of-kin in Ireland, and so must return there tomorrow to make arrangements for his funeral and burial. I would ask the readers of Vultus Christi to say a prayer for the happy repose of his soul.

Meeting the Saints

How and when did Saint Benedict come into my life? He was not among the saints whom I came to know as a small boy in my parish church. Little children readily engage with images. The statues that graced my parish church -- I can still see them in my mind's eye from left to right -- were of Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Patrick, Our Blessed Lady, the Sacred Heart, Saint Joseph, Saint Thérèse, and Saint Anne. There were five stained glass windows: the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Stigmatization of Saint Francis. These were the images that, at a very early age, drew me into the mysteries of the faith, bringing heaven very close to earth, and making it possible for me to hold conversation with the saints in glory.

Enter Abbot Marmion

Saint Benedict came into my life when I was about fifteen years old. The monastic ideal had already laid hold of my soul, and my search was well underway. Visiting Saint Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, U.S.A., I was introduced to Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, by Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion. Heavy reading for a fifteen year old in the torment of the 1960s! I remain grateful to Father Marius Granato for putting Dom Marmion's classic into my hands, It was in Christ, the Ideal of the Monk that I came to know Saint Benedict in the best way possible: by coming to know his Holy Rule.

Saint Benedict and the Holy Rule

Blessed Abbot Marmion and Saint Benedict joined me on my journey, then, at the same time. I still remember the fire that burned in my heart as I turned the pages of Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, and received the impression of its teaching, like letters engraved on a clean wax tablet. In reading Saint Benedict, as transmitted by Blessed Abbot Marmion, I could almost hear the sound of the Master's voice. The Rule began to fascinate me and to fashion me. For me, as for Bossuet, it was un mystérieux abrégé de l'Évangile, "a mysterious abridgment of the Gospel".

Stormy Years

By the time I had turned eighteen -- a mere three years later -- I had resolved to become a monk, a son of Saint Benedict. These were, of course, frightfully stormy years in the Church: not at all a good time for a young man desirous of engaging with an ideal in all its shining purity. The very things that I thrilled to discover in my reading were, at the same time, being contested and rejected by those to whom they had been given in heritage.

The storms unleashed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, and by the tumultuous events of 1968, tore through the cloisters of nearly every monastery in North America and, in so doing, tore through the very hearts of those who dwelt in them. One had the impression that nothing was absolute, nothing immutable, nothing sacred. The tyranny of relativism replaced the tyrannies of legalism and rubricism that the reformers decried so bitterly. Things happened and attitudes prevailed that were in no way compatible with the vocation that Thomas Merton had described so eloquently in The Silent Life.

Stranger in Babylon

These years corresponded, as well, with the emergence of the charismatic renewal among Catholics. It was, as I remember it, rather Protestant in ethos and in sensibility. While I saw many souls opened to a deeper experience of prayer, I saw just as many distance themselves from the sacraments, from the liturgy in all its richness, and from devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady. (Some of these elements later came back into focus in charismatic circles.) Having found my soul's true voice in Gregorian Chant as a small boy, and having been nourished from my adolescence on the Divine Office in English, and on Pius Parsch's The Church's Year of Grace, the experience of the charismatic renewal left me feeling like a stranger in Babylon. I was far more interested in the grace that, for me, seeped out of the antiphons at First Vespers of a particular feast than in what I experienced at prayer meetings. It was all very disconcerting.

The Threshold Once Crossed

At nineteen I had my first experience of Benedictine life, completing a novitiate of two years, wrestling, like Jacob, with angels in the night, and humbled by recurrent health problems. During that time my love for Saint Benedict and the Holy Rule grew exponentially. It was clear, in spite of all the halts and detours, that Saint Benedict had taken me into his family, that he recognized me as his son, and that he would not abandon me.


All these many years later, I can say that Saint Benedict has been a patient companion and loving father through my life. Amidst the choices, changes, and challenges that have marked my route, one phrase from the Holy Rule, the last of the Instruments of Good Works in Chapter IV has kept me on course: Never to despair of the mercy of God. For this alone I am grateful to Saint Benedict this evening, and for this I hope to thank him one day in paradise.

Saint Romuld

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Troparion of Saint Rumold

Having come from the mists of green Ireland,
to scatter the mists of impiety,
thou didst evangelize, O Father Rumold,
and didst receive the gift of miracles.
The wicked whom thou didst reproach
their misdeeds and their vices
in the end killed thy body,
but could not kill thy great soul,
which God received into the bosom of Abraham.

Ancient Collect

May the glorious intercession of the blessed Rumold,
Thy bishop and martyr, O Lord,
drawn down upon us the favour of Thy majesty,
so that our ceaseless faults of weakness
may be covered by his unceasing prayer.

From Dublin to the Continent

We commemorate today Saint Rumold (or Rumbold), sometime Bishop of Dublin. He is one of the multitude of Irish saints who left their homeland to labour for Christ in continental Europe. At an early age Saint Rumold renounced the world and its vanities to follow Christ in voluntary poverty, in chastity, humility, and persevering prayer.

Evangelization and Contemplation

Tradition has it that he served God in Ireland until a powerful inspiration from on high compelled him to journey as a missionary to the idolators of the Brabant region of Belgium. Having received the Apostolic Blessing in Rome, he was sent forth as a missionary bishop without a fixed see. Periodically, Saint Rumold withdrew into solitude and silence so as to immerse himself in the love of God, and so renew his holy zeal for souls.

A Denouncer of Vice

On 24 June 775, the feast of Saint John the Baptist, Rumold was murdered by two wicked men, one of whom was a depraved adulterer whom he had called to conversion of life. His body was thrown into a river and, according to the Collect of the feast, miraculously recovered after three days. His relics are in the cathedral of Mechlin (Malines).

In the Liturgy

The feast of St. Rumold was celebrated as a double festival with an office of nine lessons throughout the province of Dublin before the reformation. It was extended to the whole Kingdom of Ireland in the year 1741.

Yesterday's Antiphons

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Yesterday, in the traditional calendar, was the Commemoration of Saint Paul, a way of giving the Doctor of the Gentiles equal honour with Saint Peter, the Prince of the Apostles. Whereas the antiphons of June 29th focused on Saint Peter, yesterday's antiphons focused on Saint Paul. I had great joy in singing them at Lauds. They give one an unshakeable hope in the all-sufficient grace of Christ.

Ant. I have planted, * Apollos watered, but God gave the increase, alleluia.

God gave Paul the seed that he planted: the living seed of the Word. "So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it." (Is 55:11). God gave Apollos the water by which he watered that seed. "You shall draw waters with joy out of the saviour's fountains" (Is 12:3). Finally, God gave the increase. So it is in all our undertakings. God works for us, in us, through us, and by us, as He works in all things turning them to the good of those who love Him. "We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints" (Rom 8:28).

Ant. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory * in mine infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

To glory in one's infirmities is to open them wide to the grace of Christ. Our Lord deploys His virtus -- HIs divine power -- in the arena of one's infirmities. Infirmities of body, mind, or spirit, are no obstacle to holiness, provided that one surrenders them to Christ. He enters them like a warrior to claim them for Himself. There is no infirmity -- no weakness, brokenness, or personal history -- in which the power of Christ cannot be unleashed to the greater joy of the Church and the greater glory of the Father.

Ant. The grace of God * which was bestowed upon me was not in vain, but his grace abideth ever in me.

The grace of God is the source of all fecundity. Where the grace of God is welcomed there remains nothing sterile, nothing cold, nothing lifeless. "I am come," says the Lord, "that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10). In Christ, Saint Paul was fully alive, and this to the point of spiritual generativity. He call the Galatians, "my little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed in you" (Gal 4:14). To the Corinthians he writes: "In Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you" (1 Cor 4:15).

Ant. In Damascus * the governor under Aretas the king was desirous to apprehend me ; by the brethren in a basket was I let down by the wall, and so escaped I his hands, in the Name of the Lord.

The fourth antiphon makes it clear that no one, not even the great Apostle of the Nations, can dispense with the help of the brethren. It was "the brethren" who planned and carried out Paul's escape from Damascus. The humble man will accept the care of the brethren. He will trust them to the point of allowing himself to be lowered over a wall in a basket! He who would minister alone, refusing the ministrations of others, remains a prisoner.

Ant. Thrice was I beated with rods, once was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, for the Name of Christ

Suffering is inherent to the Christian life. While some are called to endure great sufferings in the public eye, most of us are called to bear with little sufferings in the hiddenness of what Saint Thérèse called "the little way." Mingled into the Passion and Death of Christ as the drop of water is mingled into the wine of the chalice, the sufferings of ordinary folk, especially those sufferings that are hidden from the eyes of the world, become a participation in the Sacrifice of the Cross.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen

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In a private audience yesterday with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI approved the "heroic virtue" of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, thereby officially opening the well-loved radio and television preacher's cause for canonization.

When Fulton J. Sheen was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois in 1919, he promised to make a Holy Hour each day before the Most Blessed Sacrament. He remained faithful to his promise for the entire sixty years of his priesthood. It was during his Holy Hour that he learned to listen to the voice of Our Lord and abandon himself to the love of His Heart. Archbishop Sheen was a tireless promoter of the daily hour of Eucharistic adoration, particularly among priests. Concerning this practise, he wrote:

I keep up the Holy Hour to grow more and more into His likeness... Looking at the Eucharistic Lord for an hour transforms the heart in a mysterious way as the face of Moses was transformed after his companionship with God on the mountain.
The Holy Hour is not a devotion; it is a sharing in the work of redemption. 'Could you not watch one hour with Me?' Not for an hour of activity did He plead, but for an hour of companionship.
The purpose of the Holy Hour is to encourage deep personal encounter with Christ. The holy and glorious God is constantly inviting us to come to Him, to hold converse with Him and to ask such things as we need and to experience what a blessing there is in fellowship with Him. One of the by-products of the Holy Hour was the sensitiveness to the Eucharistic Presence of Our Divine Lord.

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For the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Our monastic lectionary gives us, at the Office of Matins today, a splendid homily by the 12th century Benedictine monk, Rupert of Deutz.

But whence and how is it that a man placed at the pinnacle of honours, and greatly aware of its sacred character, should condescend to the little ones and share the sorrow of those in misery? God alone is humble by nature, showing mercy. He is mercy itself; or rather, He himself is mercy, He himself is humility.
It was necessary that the Apostle Peter, predestined and called to so great an exaltation, should have, before receiving such honours, an imposing and compelling reason to learn mercy and compassion once and for all.
For this did God allow him to fall, for this was he left to himself to the point of a triple denial. Oh, the beauty and wonder of Wisdom given in spectacle! Let us admire it, we who are experienced spectators, and with a practiced eye, let us recognize Wisdom.

We know more of Peter's threefold denial and threefold profession of love in reparation, than we do of his martyrdom. The man who, having fallen repeatedly, repeats as many acts of reparation and love, will be graced with the humility that comes of true self-knowledge, and of knowledge of the mercy of God. Never will he set himself above others in judgment. Rather with Saint Peter, and with Saint Thérèse, will he sit at the table of sinners, sharing their bread and, with them, waiting to be visited by the Mercy that will rise more surely than the dawn.


John the Baptist and the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Today was the Vigil of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist: eight days after the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. John the Baptist, while yet an infant hidden in Saint Elizabeth's womb, was the first to experience the sweet mediation of the Virgin Mother's Immaculate Heart. It was the God-bearing Virgin's Heart, full of solicitude for her cousin Elizabeth, that moved her to "arise and go with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah" (cf. Lk 1:39). There the Mother of God bearing her Son beneath her Immaculate Heart, "entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth" (Lk 1:40).

The Light of the Real Presence Shining in Her Eyes

This was, in a sense, the first mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: to carry the hidden Christ to the "little child" (Lk 1:76) destined to be the Friend of the Bridegroom (Jn 3:29), the Prophet of the Most High (Lk 1:76). With the flame of love burning in her Immaculate Heart and the light of the real presence shining in her eyes, Mary "became in some way a tabernacle -- the first tabernacle in history" (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, art. 55). With the arrival of the Virgin-Tabernacle enclosing within her the "Dayspring from on high" (Lk 1:78), John the Baptist was sanctified, washed clean of original sin, and quickened by the Holy Spirit.


The birth of John the Baptist was an occasion of jubilation. Having already been touched by the Heart of Mary, the Cause of our Joy, the Baptist comes into the world as the Herald of Joy. His prophetic ministry, even as he advances toward a cruel death, is illumined by a supernatural joy. "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:29-30).

The Infallible Sign of the Presence of God

For what gift does the Church make us ask in the Collect of tomorrow's solemnity? For "the grace of spiritual joys." Already by his birth, Saint John the Baptist teaches us that the first of these spiritual joys is a living, personal contact with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At every moment, the Mother of God is ready to grace us with her presence. She comes always to reveal the Face of her Son, hidden now in the Eucharist as He was hidden in the tabernacle of her womb when she visited Elizabeth. The fruit of that mysterious encounter between the Infant Christ and the Infant Forerunner had the unmistakable taste of divine joy, the joy that Blessed Abbot Marmion called "the infallible sign of the presence of God."

Blood and Roses

Look at this marvelous painting by Botticelli depicting the Mother of God, the Child Jesus and His little cousin, the Baptist. What I find most striking is that at the very center of the painting is the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Virgin is holding her Child; he appears heavy in her arms. She bows low to allow the little Baptist to give her Jesus a hug and a kiss. The small boys appear to be about two years old. The Baptist has to stretch to reach the Face of Jesus; he is already dressed in his desert garb and carrying his little wooden staff. The top of the staff has the form of the Cross; the Cross thus appears directly over the head of the Infant Christ, a portent of His sacrifice. The Mother of God wears a blood red gown; something about her posture suggests an outpouring of blood, an effusion of the heart. Just behind the Virgin is a rose bush in full bloom: a symbol -- yes, you guessed it -- of spiritual joys.

Let Me Give Thy Son a Kiss

More than my words ever could, Botticelli's painting suggests that the mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is to introduce all of us, as she did the little Baptist, into a reverent and tender intimacy with her Son. The Mother of God bends over each of us, her garments dyed red in the Blood that flowed on Calvary, the very Blood that won for us every spiritual joy. Where the Mother of God is present, there charity is poured out and there spiritual joys abound. Put yourself today in the position of the child John the Baptist. Ask the Blessed Virgin to let you embrace her Son and offer Him a kiss. Her Immaculate Heart will not refuse you this.


A Saint for Schoolboys

When I was growing up, Catholic schoolboys were given a choice of two patron saints: Dominic Savio and Aloysius Gonzaga. In about fifth grade the biography of Dominic Savio by Saint John Bosco became a book that I read and reread. I confess to having found Saint Aloysius somewhat less appealing. I really didn't know Saint Aloysius. Although Pope Benedict XIII named him the patron saint of youth in 1729, poor Aloysius was not always well served by those eager to promote devotion to him.

Pastel Portraits

Mass-produced holy pictures of Aloysius more often than not depicted him as a wan and wilting youth, looking impossibly fragile, listless and pale. At his feet lay the cast off crown of his noble rank and, over his head, rosy-cheeked angels hovered just waiting to crown him with heavenly glory. Clutching his lily and with eyes rolled heavenward, this representation of Aloysius rather suggested that holiness was somehow incompatible with wholesomeness or, at least, not something that people with just normal neuroses could hope to attain.

Passionate and Strong-Willed

The real Aloysius was energetic, strong-willed, virile, passionate, and dashing. He was also gentle, tender-hearted and capable of magnificent acts of self-sacrifice and abnegation. There is a splendid sculpture of him by Pierre LeGros (1666-1719) that shows Aloysius carrying a victim of the plague in his arms. I wish that you could all see a photograph of it. There is a Pietà-like quality to it: tenderness and strength all at once. Aloysius carries the full weight of the sick man's body and the head of the sick man rests in the crook of Aloysius's neck. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A Little Boy Who Prayed

Aloysius (or Luigi, to call him by his proper name) gave up a life of princely opulence to live in The Company of Jesus -- in both senses of the expression. His father had destined him for something entirely different. Even as a little boy Luigi was being groomed for a brilliant military career. Dressed in a tiny made-to-order suit of armour, he would march alongside the troops in military reviews. He did this to please his father. Small boys so want their father's approval. All the while there was something else at work in little Luigi's heart. More than anything else he was drawn to prayer.

Prayer, Plotting, Sex, and Violence

Luigi began praying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary when he was eleven years old. He took his life with God as seriously as any cadet takes his military training. His personal rule of life, even as boy, included daily Mass, weekly Holy Communion, and fasting three days a week. In a milieu where the sexual seduction of young boys by adult women and men was hardly a secret, Luigi kept a rigorous modesty of the eyes, determined to protect his innocence. He prayed, and distanced himself from the plotting, sex, and violence that sizzled all around him.

The Insatiable Desire for God

I have been thinking of late of the determining factor in discerning a vocation to the monastic life. Saint Luigi was not, of course, a monk; he was a Jesuit. All the same, what I see in him is what I see in every young man who knocks at the door of the monastery: an insatiable desire for God. The insatiable desire or God, a desire that no created thing can satisfy, is what compels small boys -- and old men -- to pray much. Men in the turbulence of middle-age are easily drawn away from prayer into other pursuits, but small boys and old men pray more easily.

The secret of perseverance in monastic life -- and in the priesthood, as well -- is to remain a small child while growing old. The small child prays simply, without observing himself and noting every change in his spiritual temperature. He prays the way he plays. And the small child, like the old man, is capable of praying much. This is, I think, the best way to grow old: by praying more and more. God desires to be desired. Saint Luigi, pray for us, that we may grow old while praying much, and pray much as we grow old.

The Joy of Innocence

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Sexual Exploitation, Then and Now

The young Luigi Gonzaga preserved his innocence in a milieu where boys were often the victims of sexual predators -- both women and men -- and where the sexual exploitation of youngsters was a divertissement of the decadent. His angelic purity ought, more than ever, to be presented as a gift of incredible beauty and as costly prize. Luigi was not one to shrink from spiritual combat. Even as a boy, he went forward with courage and grace, his eyes set on "the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not" (Heb 11:1).

Introit (Psalm 8:8, Ps 148:2)

Thou hast made him a little less than the angels:
Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Ps. Praise the Lord, all his angels: praise ye Him all His hosts.

There are two allusions to the angels in this relatively brief chant. Our Lord gives us the key to understanding the angelic quality of Saint Aloysius when he says: "See that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of My Father who is in heaven" (Mt 18:10). Look at the eyes of Aloysius; they reflect the Face of the Father.

The Collect is splendidly realistic. Not all of us have followed Saint Aloysius along the path of "a wonderful innocence of life." Some of us may have lost that innocence by weakness in the face of occasions of sin, others by a calculated choice. Still others had that "wonderful innocence" taken from them. One has to have read certain pages of the Journals of Julien Green to understand the repercussions over a lifetime of an innocence lost.

The Church addresses the dilemma in her prayer: eius meritis et precibus concede, ut innocentem non secuti, poenitentiam imitemur. "Grant through his merits and prayers, that we who have not followed him in his innocence, may imitate him in his penance." Penitence here means more than acts of asceticism; it refers to the change of direction by virtue of which one begins to live with, as Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity would say, with one's eyes in the eyes of Christ.

The liturgy places the Gradual in the mouth of Saint Aloysius. It is a chant of thanksgiving for the gift of divine intimacy, and for the shining innocence that is its fruit.

Gradual (Psalm 70:5-6; Ps 40:13)

Thou, my Lord, the hope of my youth,
Thou hast upheld me from birth,
Thou hast guarded me ever since I left my mother's womb.
V. Thou dost befriend my innocence,
and wilt have me stand continually in Thy presence.

Alleluia Verse (Ps 64:5)

Blessed is the man on whom Thy choice falls,
whom Thou bringest near to Thyself,
bidding him dwell in Thy palace.

Here the Church remembers Aloysius as one chosen by God and brought near to Himself to live always in the courts (or palace) of the Lord. The underlying idea is that Luigi, destined to live in a Renaissance palace, lives out his days instead in the courts of the Lord, in the household of the King.

Offertory Antiphon (Ps 23:3-4)

Who dares climb the mountain of the Lord,
and appears in His sanctuary?
The guiltless in act, the pure in heart.

Returning to Psalm 23, the source of the Introit, for the Offertory procession, the Church engages in a question and answer. This is sung at the very moment the priest ascends to the altar, climbing the mountain of the Lord and appearing in His sanctuary. One hears above this antiphon, in a kind of mystical counterpoint, the promise of Our Lord in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). Look at the eyes of Luigi in the portrait above; it is the gaze of a clean heart, the gaze of one who sees God.

Tanto Tempore Vobiscum Sum

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May 11
Saints Philip and James, Apostles

Today's Office Antiphons

There is no doubt that the antiphons given in the Divine Office for this feast of Saints Philip and James are among the most beautiful of the Paschaltide liturgy. If you have an Antiphonale, open it and sing them! The Church takes the dialogue of the Gospel and, with an artistry inspired by the Holy Spirit, presents it anew in a series of antiphons interwoven with alleluias:

Domine, Ostende Nobis Patrem

The first antiphon is Philip’s bold request: “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us, alleluia” (Jn 14:8). Philip’s prayer echoes that of Moses in the book of Exodus: “I pray thee, show me thy glory” (Ex 33:18).

Et Non Cognovistis Me?

The second antiphon is a poignant complaint of the Heart of Christ. It is addressed not to Philip alone, but also to each of us: “Have I been so long a time with you, and you have not known Me? Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).

Qui Videt Me

The third antiphon is Our Lord’s astonishing reply. He presents Himself to Philip as the icon of the Father: “Philip, he who sees Me sees also My Father, alleluia” (Jn 14:9).

Et Amodo

The fourth antiphon is a gentle reproach; it ends nonetheless in a triple alleluia. The reproach becomes a promise full of hope: “If you had known me, you would also have known My Father. And henceforth you do know Him, and you have seen Him, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:7).

Si Diligitis Me

The fifth antiphon is an appeal to love. Like the fourth it ends in a triple alleluia: “If you love Me, keep my commandments, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:15).


There are two more antiphons to be considered. At the Benedictus it is Our Lord himself who sings in the midst of His Church: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me, alleluia.” The Church cannot but reply: “Yes, Lord, you are the way, and the truth, and the life. Behold, I come to the Father through You.” There is no better preparation for today’s Holy Mass. The Eucharist is the Church coming to the Father through the Son, united to Him as His Body and His Bride.


The Magnificat at Vespers will be framed by Our Lord's words: “Let not your heart be troubled or afraid. You believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions, alleluia, alleluia” (Jn 14:1-2). These are words of comfort, words of hope for every situation of fading light and for those moments when darkness descends over the human heart.

[Note: The latest edition of the Antiphonale Monasticum (Solesmes 2007) gives John 1:45 for the Benedictus Antiphon and John 15:7 for the Magnificat. I prefer the ones given in the 1934 edition, probably because they have been my "friends" for lo all these years. One does develop a holy familiarity with certain liturgical texts and melodies. It is always unsettling when they are changed: like getting a letter back marked, "Left no forwarding address."]

Meditatio At Its Best

By means of these antiphons, the various fragments of today’s Gospel are clothed in melodies that make them easier to assimilate and remember. One is gently compelled to linger over each word, holding it in the heart. Today’s liturgy is a perfect example of how the Divine Office spreads the radiance of Holy Mass throughout the day, moving us in the direction of ceaseless prayer. This is meditatio at its best: the repetition of the Gospel, sustained by simple melodies that allow it to be stored up in the secret tabernacle of the heart.

And Then We Shall Be Satisfied

Saint Philip’s request is one that, secretly, we all burn to put to Jesus; “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14:8). This is the desire that the Finger of God (the Holy Spirit) has inscribed deep within the human heart. We were created to see God. We can be satisfied with nothing less. “My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God” (Ps 41:2). And to this Philip adds: “and then we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14:8).

The Yearnings of the Human Heart

Ultimately the Face of God is the only reality that can satisfy the yearnings of the human heart. The eyes of the soul were created to feast upon the Divine Countenance. To see the Face of God is the craving that tormented and delighted the friends of God in every age: from Moses, Elijah, and David to Philip and James; and from the apostles to the saints of every age. I am reminded, in particular, of two holy priests of our own time, both ardent adorers of the Face of Christ: Saint Gaetano Catanoso (1879-1963) and the Servant of God, Benedictine Abbot Ildebrando Gregori (1894-1985). Both priests burned with desire to contemplate the Face of Christ. They found the Face of Christ veiled in the Eucharist. The found the Face of Christ in every human being marked by suffering, especially in needy children, in the poor, and in the sick. Pope John Paul II said that the basic task of every Christian is to become, first and foremost, “one who contemplates the Face of Christ.” Am I that Christian? Are you?

The Icon of the Invisible God

The drama of today’s Gospel is that Philip is face-to-face with Our Lord and doesn’t realize who He is. In the Prologue of Saint John we read: “No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (Jn 1:18). To contemplate the Face of Jesus Christ is to know God. Saint Paul says to the Colossians: “He is the image, the icon of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read: “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature” (Heb 1:3).

And Yet You Do Not Know Me

And so, Jesus says, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? (Jn 14:9). Our Lord addresses the same question to each of us: How long have I been with you? How long have you been baptized? How long have you had the sacraments, the liturgy, the Scriptures, the Mother of God, the friendship of the saints? And not without a divine sadness, Jesus says: “And yet you do not know me?” (Jn 14:9).

The Face of Christ

We know Our Lord when we experience in the bright darkness of faith that to contemplate His Face is to see the Father. Christ would have us gaze upon his Face with the eyes of faith; he would have us experience, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, that He is in the Father and that the Father is in Him (cf. Jn 14:10). One who contemplates the Holy Face here below with the eyes of faith has begun already to participate in the joy of the blessed in heaven.

The Love of the Sacred Heart

To all who seek His Face, to all who gaze upon it through the lattice of the Scriptures, and hidden beneath the sacramental veils in the Most Holy Eucharist, Our Lord makes this promise: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn 14:14). Contemplating the Face of Christ emboldens us to ask, and to ask confidently, in His Name. One cannot look into the Face of Christ, the human Face of God, and remain paralyzed by fear. The contemplation of the Face of Christ is liberating; it is the secret of living in the love that casts out fear, the love of His Sacred Heart.


The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the school of all right asking in the name of Christ and in the light of His Face. In response to the Church’s sublime “Eucharistic Asking” the Father will pour forth the Holy Spirit on our gifts of bread and wine, and on all of us. In that Asking-in-the-Name-of-Christ and in the light of His Face the Father will be glorified. “Look upon us, O God, our protector, and behold the Face of your Christ” (Ps 83:9).

Suscipe Me, Domine

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March 21
The Transitus of Our Holy Father Saint Benedict

Genesis 12:1-4a
John 17:20-26


My very dear Oblates, friends, and readers of Vultus Christi, tomorrow (21 March) we will celebrate the feast of the Transitus of our Holy Father Saint Benedict. Transitus means passing over, passage, or change. In the Christian tradition the word refers to the mystery of death. You all know the beautiful line from the Preface for the Dead that sings: The life of those who are faithful to you, O Lord, is but changed, not ended; and when their earthly dwelling-place decays, an everlasting mansion stands prepared for them in heaven. A change, not an end: such is the Christian perspective of death.


Every change in our life here below, even the smallest, most insignificant changes are, in some way, a preparation for death. This is perhaps one of the reasons why we are so resistant to change, even to little changes. Having just moved to Ireland, I speak from firsthand actual experience. Every change, every detachment, every relocation, is a portent of death. We respond to change -- not always consciously -- with fear, because we fear death. In the Christian perspective, change is the price of life.

Saint Joseph

There is a striking connection between the feast of the Transitus of Saint Benedict and the Solemnity of Saint Joseph that we celebrated yesterday. In Saint Joseph we saw a man called to changes that uprooted his life, changes that obliged him to obey Angels, to journey by night; changes that involved insecurity and risk, changes that called him to the triumph of faith over fear. One need only think of the anxiety and uncertainty provoked by the flight into Egypt.


In celebrating our father Saint Benedict, we see a man marked, as was Saint Joseph, by a succession of uprootings and changes: from the life of a student in Rome to that of a solitary in the Sacro Speco at Subiaco; from solitude to life in community; and from his dear monastery of Subiaco to Monte Cassino. At Monte Cassino came the final change, the final pass-over, the transitus. Our blessed father Saint Benedict prepared all his life for death by a radical openness to change in obedience to the Holy Spirit.


In the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict enjoins us to "keep death daily before our eyes" (RB 4:47). The measure of our preparedness for death is the measure of our openness to change or, if you prefer, our degree of detachment. Detachment is secured through obedience. For Saint Benedict obedience to tradition is the highest form of wisdom, and this because tradition -- often incarnated in anachronistic signs and inherited customs and counter-cultural daily practices -- distills for us the wisdom of the Cross. "The word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18).

The Cross

The Cross shines forth as the sign of the change accepted by Christ when, "having received the vinegar, he said, 'It is achieved'; bowed his head, and gave up his spirit" (Jn 19:30). The Cross is the place of the Transitus, the Pass-over of Christ into which all our little daily uprootings, changes, detachments, relocations, and pass-overs are assumed, and by which they are transformed.

Vow of Stability

The Benedictine vow of stability is, paradoxically, in function of change. Its end is not so much to keep us in one geographical place as it is to facilitate our perseverance in passing over, in the transitus that moves us out of what is old into what is new, out of darkness into light, out of death into life. The vow called "conversion of manners" is a commitment to continuous change at the level where change is most difficult, the level of the heart.

Change of Heart

It is a fearful thing to vow oneself to conversion, to a relentless change of heart. It means greeting each new day with a willingness to pass over, to cross a new threshhold, to leave things behind and to go forward, like Abraham, into the unknown land prepared for us by God.


In the light of this feast of Saint Benedict, consider the example of Abraham to whom God said, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Gen 12:1). A blessing of immense proportions follows: "I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you may be a blessing" (Gen 12:2). The play on words with the name of Benedict, Benedictus meaning "blessed" is less obvious in English than in Latin, but it is there nonetheless. Change, made in obedience and faith, opens us to blessings beyond anything we can ask or imagine.

Priestly Prayer of Christ

The Holy Gospel takes us into the Cenacle and gives us the priestly prayer of Christ at the hour of his Transitus. The liturgy of the feast invites us to hear it as the prayer of our blessed Father Saint Benedict, offered at the hour of his passing. Saint Gregory describes his death -- no, his pass-over: ";On the sixth day, he had himself carried to the oratory by his disciples, and there he received the Body and Blood of the Lord to make ready his departure. Then, resting his weakened members on the arms of his disciples, he stood up, and with his arms raised heavenward, murmured prayers in his last breath."

A Eucharistic Death

Saint Gregory's description of Saint Benedict's death is wholly Eucharistic. Look closely. It takes place in the Oratory before the altar, like a monastic profession. Saint Benedict receives the Body and Blood of the Lord. This is his viaticum, nourishment for the last journey, sustenance for the pass-over. He stands before the altar with his hands raised toward heaven, in the gesture of the Suscipe: "Receive me, come for me, lift me up, take me to Thyself, Father!" This is also the gesture of the priest making the holy oblation at the altar. It evokes the arms spread wide of the Crucified Lord. Saint Gregory wants us to understand that, in death, Holy Father Benedict is utterly conformed to the crucified Jesus, and to Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Yes to Life Through Death

For us, every participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a "Yes" to the Transitus of Christ -- through the Cross to Resurrection -- and a "Yes" to the transitus that awaits each of us at the hour of our death willed by God. In the meantime, the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ strengthen us for all the little changes, relocations, and costly detachments by which the Holy Spirit brings about our conversion, and our configuration to Christ Jesus, from day to day.

And There He Was

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One of my favourite poems for the feast of Saint Joseph: I am happy to share it with the readers of Vultus Christi. It is, of course, best read aloud.


The ancient greyness shifted
Suddenly and thinned
Like mist upon the moors
Before a wind.
An old, old prophet lifted
A shining face and said:
"He will be coming soon.
The Son of God is dead;
He died this afternoon."

A murmurous excitement stirred all souls.
they wondered if they dreamed-
Save one old man who seemed
Not even to have heard.

And Moses standing,
Hushed them all to ask
If any had a welcome song prepared.
If not, would David take the task?
And if they cared
Could not the three young children sing
The Benedicite, the canticle of praise
They made when God kept them from perishing
In the fiery blaze?

A breath of spring surprised them,
Stilling Moses' words.
No one could speak, remembering
The first fresh flowers,
The little singing birds.
Still others thought of fields new ploughed

Or apple trees
All blossom-boughed.
Or some, the way a dried bed fills
With water
Laughing down green hills.
The fisherfolk dreamed of the foam
On bright blue seas.
The one old man who had not stirred
Remembered home.
And there He was
Splendid as the morning sun and fair
As only God is fair.
And they, confused with joy,
Knelt to adore
Seeing that He wore
Five crimson stars
He never had before.

No canticle at all was sung.
None toned a psalm, or raising a greeting song,
A silent man alone
Of all that throng
Found tongue-
Not any other.
Close to His heart
When embrace was done,
Old Joseph said,
"How is your Mother,
How is your Mother, Son?"

Sister Mary Ada, C.S.J.


I preached this homily before Summorum Pontificum, hence the references are to the reformed Benedictine lectionary, which readings are, it must be noted, quite splendid.

Hosea 2:16bc, 17cd, 21-22
Psalm 15
Revelation 19:1, 5-9a
Luke 10:38-42

How Little We Know

In a hymn composed some years ago for today's feast, a Benedictine friend of mine addressed Saint Scholastica, saying:

How little do we know
revealing who you are:
this silence, born of peace,
perhaps speaks even more.

Into The Treasury of the Liturgy

Apart from a few precious pages in the Dialogues of Saint Gregory, we know nothing of Saint Scholastica. The little revealed by Saint Gregory has, nonetheless, inspired an astonishing richness of liturgical texts: antiphons, responsories, hymns, and prayers. Like miners in search of a vein of pure gold, anonymous poets through the ages have extracted from Saint Gregory's few pages the raw material of chants and prayers that, even today, delight us and draw us into the heavenward flight of Scholastica, the pure dove.

There is so much to see, to hear, to taste, to smell:
-- psalms of praise sung around a table, men's and women's voices in antiphony;
-- the breaking of bread and the fragrance of wine poured out;
-- the impassioned sound of Mediterranean conversation;
-- two saints locked in a holy difference of opinion;
-- Scholastica's hands folded upon the table;
-- her head bowed and resting upon her hands;
-- her tears flowing freely;
-- the pentecostal wind, the crash of thunder and blaze of lightning;
-- the torrential downpour, heaven's answer to a woman's tears.

The Upward Flight of the Dove

In the end, Saint Gregory leaves us with the image of the dove, dazzling white in flight, disappearing into the light, and with the sound of Saint Benedict's voice raised in praise. That perhaps is more than enough for us, but in the readings of today's Mass we are given still more.


The liturgy, wildly lavish -- precisely because it is the gift of a God lavish in love, offers us today a kind of triptych, three icons hinged together. At the center is the icon painted by Saint Luke. See Jesus seated in the holy house of Bethany. At his feet, see Mary, fixed in the stability of love, listening intently, the words of the Word falling into the open vessel of her heart. In the background, see Martha, bustling with anxious energy, fragmented and mobilized by a multitude of cares and, for all of that, conscious enough of the presence of Jesus to address her complaints to him and to no other.

In the School of Christ

The scene is both strangely the same and yet different from the one described by Saint Gregory. In the Dialogues, the meal has already taken place, the bread has been broken and the darkness has fallen. In the Gospel the meal has yet to take place but Jesus, anticipating the breaking of bread, is feeding Mary with his Word, causing the brightness of his glory to shine like the daystar in her heart. Christ is the Benedictus, the Blessed of the Father, speaking blessings, -- bene dicere -- uttering the good things that proceed from the goodness of his heart. Mary is the Scholastica, having placed herself in the schola Christi, the school of Christ. Martha, caught betwixt fear and freedom, is the tension between life's regular demands -- those of the Regula, the Rule -- and the surpassing primacy of a love set free from fear.

A Door of Hope in the Desert

To the left of the central panel is an icon having, at first glance, none of the comforting warmth of Saint Luke's domestic scene. It depicts the desert, the archetypical monastic setting. We see the bride wooed by Love into the desert only to discover there a gift of vineyards and, in the valley of Achor (meaning "trouble") a door of hope. Scholastica, having inclined the ear of her heart to the Word becomes, in the desert, the sponsa Verbi, the bride of the Word. She passes through the door of hope opened by the Bridegroom and invites us to follow in her steps.

What God Has Prepared for Those Who Love Him

The third panel could not be more different from the first. It reveals what lies beyond the desert, mysteries prepared on the other side of the door of hope: "what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor 2:9). An icon speaks to the eyes, shimmering with the light of heaven, and yet, if you put your ear to it in lectio divina, you will hear "the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals" (Ap 19:6). Waters and thunderpeals again! Images borrowed by Saint Gregory!

The Time of Singing Has Come

Listen closely: you will hear the sound of voices rejoicing at the marriage supper of the Lamb. There is the voice of a man; it is that of Benedict celebrating the triumph of Love. There is the voice of a woman; it is Scholastica singing a song never to be interrupted. "Lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone . . . the time of singing has come" (Ct 2:11-12). Today, Scholastica and Benedict together invite us to the Supper of the Lamb.

A Remarkable Discovery

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I don't know how many Benedictine readers Vultus Christi has. It occurred to me nonetheless that I should share this text -- apocryphal though it may be -- for the feast of Saint Scholastica.


A Letter Attributed to Saint Scholastica, Virgin and Abbess

A certain researcher in Rome recently uncovered the manuscript of a late medieval copy of an earlier copy of a letter attributed to Scholastica, abbess of Plombariola. The original letter appears to have been written to another abbess, named Flavia, in about the year 535. It treats of the observance of Lent.


To my beloved sister in Christ, the Lady Flavia, abbess of the handmaids of the Lord near Benevento. Grace and peace from Scholastica, abbess in the school of the Lord's service that is at Plombariola.

The School of the Lord's Service

Your letter brought me much joy and, bound by the sweetness of affection that unites us in holy friendship, I hasten to respond to your questions “with sincere and humble charity” (RB 72:10). Know that I have no teaching of my own; from the time of my veiling (velatio) the commands and teaching of my brother, blessed by grace and by name, “have mingled like the leaven of divine justice in my mind” (RB 25). In truth, dear sister, he who is my brother according to the flesh, has become my father in the Spirit. It was he who named me Scholastica, saying that, like him, I was destined to remain in the “school of the Lord’s service” (RB Pro:45). In this school I have found “nothing that is harsh or hard to bear” (RB Pro:46). On the contrary, through the continual practice of monastic observance and the life of faith” (RB Pro:49), my heart is opened wide, and even now I am running in the way of God’s commandments in a sweetness of love that is beyond words (cf. RB Pro: 49).

The Yearly Visit

I see my venerable brother but once a year, and even then he refuses to come to me, not wanting to leave the enclosure of his monastery. I am obliged to go to him at Monte Cassino, inspired by the example of the Queen of the South who traveled far to sit at the feet of Solomon and listen to his wisdom. My brother himself says that “we must hurry to do now what will profit us forever” (RB Pro 44). I will continue to go to him as long as I am able to make the journey, trusting that he who formed us together in our mother’s womb will one day bring us “together to life everlasting” (cf. RB 73:12).

Holy Lent

You ask me to tell you how we observe Lent here at Plombariola. My venerable brother, in his “little Rule written for beginners” (RB 73:8), says that “a monk’s life ought at all seasons to bear a Lenten character” (RB 49:1). He is also the first to admit that “such strength is found only in the few” (RB 49:2). Following his teaching, I urge my sisters to “keep the holy days of Lent with a special purity of life, and also at this holy season to make reparation for the failings of other times” (RB 49:3). I try to order Lent in my monastery with “discretion, the mother of virtues” (RB 54:19) in such a way that “the strong may desire to carry more, and the weak are not afraid” (RB 54:19). The task of ruling souls and serving women of different characters is, as you know well, arduous and difficult (cf. RB 2:31). I must adapt and fit myself to all. Dear old Nonna Fabiola needs to be encouraged. Sister Petronilla, thick-skinned as she is, responds only to sharp rebuke, whereas Sister Anastasia has to be persuaded. With some, I have to be tough, and with others lovingly affectionate. This is my brother’s way, and by following it, I have “not lost any of the flock entrusted to me, and rejoice as my good flock increases” (RB 2:32).

But I digress, dear Mother Flavia. Your question was about Lent. My venerable brother says that we are to “guard ourselves from faults” during this holy time. To do this, one must “always remember all God’s commandments, and constantly turn over in one’s heart how hell will burn those who despise him by their sins and how eternal life has been prepared for those who fear him” (RB 7:11). My brother calls this the first step of humility. As for me, my faults appear daily in the bright mirror of the Scriptures. I have no excuse for putting off the labour of my conversion. As the psalmist says: “Thou hast set our evil-doings before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance” (Ps 89:8).

Saint Josephine Bakhita


I originally posted this homily five years ago. The message of Saint Josephine Bakhita is so compelling that I decided to post it again on the occasion of her liturgical memorial.

We celebrate today the memorial of Saint Josephine Bakhita as well as the sixty-second anniversary of her death. Born in Sudan, Africa in 1869, Madre Josephine died in Italy in 1947, and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000. Her memorial, endowed with a magnificent new Collect, was inserted into the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal published in 2002.

The Holy Spirit Interceding for Us in the Liturgy

I have had occasion to say this many times before, but it bears repetition: the Collect prescribed by the liturgy on any given day is a pure distillation of the Church's prayer. The Collect of the day is nothing less than the Holy Spirit "helping us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26). The Collect of the day is the Church articulating for us those "sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26) by which the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us, filling us with the prayer of Christ.

Every line of the Collect for Saint Bakhita merits attention; every phrase needs to be repeated in meditation.

O God, who led Saint Josephine Bakhita
from abject slavery
to the dignity of being your daughter and the bride of Christ,
give us, we beseech you, by her example,
to follow after Jesus the Crucified Lord with unremitting love
and, in charity, to persevere in a ready mercy.

Called by a New Name

As a result of the trauma she endured when she was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a little girl, Saint Josephine Bakhita could not remember the name her parents had given her. Her captors called her Bakhita, meaning "fortunate" or "lucky." "thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name. And thou shalt be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God" (Is 62:2-3). Years later, at her baptism, Bakhita received the name Giuseppina or Josephine.

A Saint Sold and Resold


Bakhita's life was marked by indescribable emotional, moral, and physical suffering. After her kidnapping, she was sold and resold in the slave markets of El Obeidh and Khartoum. In the capital of Sudan, Bakhita was bought -- yes, bought -- by the Italian Consul, one Callisto Legnani. Bakhita was surprised that her new owner didn't use the lash on her when giving orders; he treated her with kindness and affection. When the political situation obliged him to return to Italy, he took Bakhita with him. There Bakhita entered the service of another family. These good people, in turn, entrusted Bakhita to the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice.

Daughter of God

Bakhita became a catechumen and was baptized on January 9th, 1890. From then on, she would kiss the baptismal font, saying, "Here I became a daughter of God." The Collect echoes this: O God, who led Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery to the dignity of being your daughter. . . .

Christ, the Gentle Master

Protected by Italian law, Bakhita chose to remain among the Canossians. The psalmist expresses her choice: "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" (Ps 83:10). She who had been bought and sold by a series of human masters discovered the tender love of Christ, the gentle Master. Sweet paradox. Bakhita called God, "Master."

La Madre Moretta

On December 8th, 1896, Bakhita was consecrated forever to God as a Canossian Daughter of Charity, becoming Mother Josephine. The local people and school children called her affectionately la Madre Moretta, "the little Black Mother." Daughter of God, Bride of Christ, Mother of the little and the poor, Bakhita became the complete consecrated woman: free, loved, fruitful, fully realized. "Thou shalt no more be called Forsaken: and thy land shall no more be called Desolate: but thou shalt be called My pleasure in her, and thy land inhabited. Because the Lord hath been well pleased with thee: and thy land shall be inhabited" (Is 62:4).


A Preacher Unlike Any Other

Would that Saint John Chrysostom, the Patron Saint of Preachers, could stand here in my place today and preach with the golden-mouthed eloquence given him by the Holy Ghost! How would we respond to his preaching? Saint Chrysostom's preaching disturbed the placid, inflamed the tepid, woke up the drowsy, exposed corruption, frightened the indifferent, unsettled the comfortable, and caused the pious to squirm.

His preaching also inspired confidence in the Blood of Christ, gave hope to the hopeless, caused sinners to weep with sorrow for their faults, inspired the rich to give abundantly of their wealth, moved people to detachment from earthly goods, humbled the haughty, brought fornicators to chastity, converted swindlers to justice, and endowed the ignorant with the science of Jesus Christ.

Immersion in the Word of God

The secret of Saint John Chrysostom's eloquence was his total immersion in the Word of God. Centuries later, Blessed Abbot Marmion would say that nothing imparts a penetrating unction to preaching as much as a continual reference to the Word of God. On this point the greatest preachers are of one mind: their task is to repeat the Word in other words, to deliver not their own wisdom, but the wisdom of God revealed in the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18).

Take to heart Saint Chrysostom's admonition:

Listen carefully to me, I entreat you. . . . Procure books that will be medicines for the soul. . . . At least get a copy of the New Testament, the Apostle's epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If you encounter grief, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take from them comfort for your trouble, whether it be loss, or death, or bereavement over the loss of relations. Don't simply dive into them. Swim in them. Keep them constantly in your mind. The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well.

The Cause of All Evils

The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well. Why does the Golden-Mouthed Doctor say this? Because he who fails to know the Scriptures well fails to know the mind and heart of Christ. He who knows not the mind and heart of Christ receives the Body and Blood of Christ with little fruit. It is the Word, the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18), that prepares us for the Holy Sacrifice.

Lectio Divina

It is the Word heard (lectio), repeated (meditatio), prayed (oratio), and held in the heart (contemplatio) that prepares the soul to receive the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ, and prolongs the effects of Holy Communion throughout the day.

The Word of the Cross and the Fruits of the Precious Blood

The intensity of our Eucharistic life is directly proportionate to our immersion in the Word of God. Ask Saint John Chrysostom today to pray that we may cleave to the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18) and so experience the lasting fruits of the Precious Blood of Christ.

Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo

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Doctor 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 account 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 used the celebrated prayer of Saint Ildephonsus this past January 1st 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.

Emerging from the shadows

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Lo Spagnoletto, José de Ribera (1591-1652) here depicts Saint Irene of Rome (+288 A.D.) ministering to Saint Sebastian (+288 A.D.)

Left for Dead

There are mortal sufferings from which human beings are not expected to recover. There are torturers of the soul who leave their victims for dead, certain that they will not recover their strength and revive. There are people who, having suffered the cruel assaults of evildoers, astonish those who know them, by going on to live and give witness to the love of Christ.

Saint Sebastian, Martyr

I am thinking today of the Christian soldier Saint Sebastian, condemned to death for comforting persecuted Christians; then bound to a tree, shot through with arrows, and left for dead. And I am thinking of Saint Irene of Rome, the wife of Saint Castulus, who sought out Saint Sebastian and washed his wounds, applying healing balms and medicines, until with strength renewed, Saint Sebastian appeared in the presence of Diocletian to bear witness to Christ.

The Sexually Abused Child

I am thinking today of the small child who was sexually abused. Having had his innocence taken from him; having suffered a confusion of emotions too terrible for him to sort out; having lost all sense of security and safety; and locked into a silence born of fear, the odds are against such a child ever emerging from the shadows and fully living the life he was meant to live.

The Battered Wife

I am thinking today of the woman who, after having given herself to a man in marriage, finds that he is possessed of an uncontrollable rage. She suffers violence at the hands of the very man who pledged to cherish and protect her. The odds are against such a woman ever emerging from the shadows and recovering the ability to love again, and to trust.

The Forsaken Priest

I am thinking today of the man, the priest, who, after having pledged his life, his energies, and his all to the Church, the Body and the Bride of Christ, finds himself accused of a weakness, a sin, or a crime, and then, utterly forsaken, cast aside, and declared untouchable by those who profess to be in the service of the all-merciful Saviour. The odds are against such a priest ever emerging from the shadows and finding repentance, healing, and reconciliation in the heart of the Church.

But They Do Not Die

These are but three examples of innumerable the soul-killing aggressions from which the perpetrators walk away, leaving their victims for dead. But the victims do not die. They suffer. They bleed. Their wounds become infected and even putrid, but they do not die.

Saint Irene the Healer

Somehow -- often by the ministrations of one mortally wounded like themselves, but come back to life, life in abundance -- such victims can and sometimes do recover and, in a certain sense, return from the dead. Someone stops to tend to their wounds, to disinfect them, and bind them up. "A certain Samaritan," says the Lord, "being on his journey, came near him; and seeing him, was moved with compassion. And going up to him, bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine: and setting him upon his own beast, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. " (Luke 10:33-34).

Into the Light

Saint Sebastian is an icon of souls left for dead, but brought back to life in order to give their witness to Christ. Saint Irene is an icon of those who minister to the mortally wounded, often risking their security and their reputation to do so. Today I ask the intercession of both saints, that those who are mortally wounded in their souls may emerge from the shadows to contemplate in the light the Face of Him who says, "I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).


January 4
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Widow and Religious

William Magee Seton gave this lithograph of Christ the Redeemer to his beloved wife, Elizabeth Ann Seton, sometime between 1774 and 1803. Its Eucharistic theme prophetically reflected the profound devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist that would characterize her piety as a Catholic.

Below is a photograph of a copy of a variant of the Memorare handwritten by Elizabeth Ann Seton. At the end of text she added the touching plea, "Love me, my Mother.

The Italian Experience

The conversion of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton began in 1803 while she, a twenty-nine year old widow with one of her five children, were the guests of the Filicchi family in Livorno, or Leghorn, Italy. The Catholic Filicchis, Antonio and his wife Amabilia, offered her a gracious hospitality and unfailing emotional support in a time of crisis.


The Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin

In one of Signora Filicchi's prayer books, Mrs. Seton came upon the text of Saint Bernard's Memorare; she found in the Virgin Mary the tenderness and the pity of a mother. "That night," she writes, "I cried myself to sleep in her heart."

The Tabernacle

The Filicchi home contained a private chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved. Elizabeth was drawn to the tabernacle. Even before her mind had been instructed in the mysteries of the Catholic faith, her heart recognized the living presence of the Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist. Her American Protestant sensibility was perplexed and, yet, she could not deny her heart's fascination with the Lamb of God hidden beneath the sacramental veils.

Return to New York

Elizabeth's long personal memoir, The Italian Journal, recounts the intimate details of her inner struggle and conversion to Catholicism. Elizabeth and her ten year old daughter, Anna Maria, returned to New York on June 3, 1804, accompanied by Antonio Filicchi -- a man to whom Elizabeth had become deeply attached. He had become for her a friend and a spiritual counselor.


Saints in Advent

We celebrate the Holy Mysteries on December 4th in the company of two saints, both of them lights from the East: Saint Barbara, Virgin and Martyr, and Saint John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church. Today I will remember at the altar the friends named Barbara whom God has placed in my life. Saint Barbara, according to the legend, was enclosed in a tower (some accounts say it was a bathhouse) by her pagan father. There were two windows in this improvised prison cell.

Three Windows

Taking advantage of her father's temporary absence, Barbara instructed the servants to make a third window in honour of the Most Holy Trinity. The light poured into Barbara's cell from three windows; her soul, meanwhile, was flooded by what Saint Benedict calls "the deifying light" of the Three Divine Persons. Thus was Saint Barbara found "vigilant in prayer and joyful in singing the divine praises" at the hour of her martyrdom. I can only imagine Saint Barbara praying, in her solitude, the sublime prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.

God is Light

In this, Saint Barbara speaks to all who feel hemmed in and imprisoned by the circumstances of life. To all who feel shut in and imprisoned, to all who live behind walls, Saint Barbara says, "Lift your eyes to the light of the Most Holy Trinity. Let the glorious radiance of the Three Divine Persons shine in your solitude." Her message is that of Saint Paul who says, "Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you shall appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:2-4). Her message is that of the Apostle John: "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness" (1 Jn 1:5).

At the Door

Captivity became for Saint Barbara a time of "eager anticipation" for the advent of Christ her Bridegroom. Today's Collect would have us await the advent of Christ, "untainted by the contagion of our former ways," and already "consoled by the presence of Him who is to come," in such wise that waiting becomes the adoration of His Face. Then when Christ knocks at the door, He will find us turned toward Him, vigilant in prayer, and joyful in singing His praises. "Behold," He says, "I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Ap 3:20).

Gone and Back Again

Filippino Lippi shows the mystical espousal of Saint Catherine of Alexandria with the Infant Christ. The Mother of God, Saint John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Sebastian are there as witnesses.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria vanished from the reformed Roman Calendar in the reform of 1969 and, Deo gratias, reappeared in 2002. Why? Part of the answer can be found, I think, by comparing the lovely old Collect for Saint Catherine with the one newly composed for the 2002 edition of the Roman Missal.

In the traditional liturgy, which we celebrate here at Our Lady of the Cenacle, on November 25th the Church prays:

O God Who gavest the Law to Moses on the summit of Mount Sinai,
and didst miraculously place the body of Thy blessed virgin-martyr Catherine
in the selfsame spot by the ministry of Thy holy angels,
grant, we beseech Thee, that her merits and pleadings
may enable us to reach the mountain which is Christ.

The Collect focuses on the image of Mount Sinai, the sacred mountain which prefigures Christ himself. The first phrase of the prayer takes up Exodus 31:18, the inspiration of the Great O Antiphon that we will be singing on December 18th:

O ADONAI, and Ruler of the House of Israel, who appeared unto Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on the summit of Sinai: come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!


Of Monks and Angels

The only problem (although not for me) with the fine old Collect, it would seem, is that it hinges on the legendary miraculous translation by angels of the body of Saint Catherine to Mount Sinai. Ah, but look again! In the Eastern tradition consecrated monks are designated "of the Angelic Habit."

Given that the life of monks, dedicated to the ceaseless praise of the Thrice-Holy God, has often been compared to that of the Angels, monks have, at various times, been called "angels." (See Père Louis Bouyer's classic book, The Meaning of the Monastic Life.) The translation by "angels" may have been carried out by monks!

Unity Among the Churches

The newly composed Collect for Saint Catherine does not make use of the biblical mountain imagery; instead it focuses on the work of Christian unity. Saint Catherine, cherished and greatly venerated in the East, becomes in the new Collect an intercessor for the unity of the Church.

Almighty and eternal God,
who gavest to Thy people the invincible virgin and martyr Saint Catherine,
grant that, by means of her intercession,
we may be strengthened in faith and constancy,
and spend ourselves unsparingly
in working for the unity of Thy Church.

The Patrimony of a Pilgrim Pope

The significance of Saint Catherine's reappearance in the pages of the Roman Missal cannot be understood apart from the historical pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai in Egypt on February 26, 2000. Today's feast of the Virgin Martyr of Alexandria recalls the commitment of the Church of Rome to the arduous work of unity with the Churches of the East through prayer and humble dialogue. In the Collect of the 2002 edition of the Missale Romanum we ask that, through the intercession of Saint Catherine, "we may be strengthened in faith and constancy, and spend ourselves unsparingly in working for the unity of the Church."

The homily that Pope John Paul II preached at the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai is, in its own way, a prophetic word to the churches:

Here He Revealed His Name

Our faith leads us to become pilgrims in the footsteps of God. We contemplate the path He has taken through time, revealing to the world the magnificent mystery of His faithful Love for all humankind. Today, with great joy and deep emotion, the Bishop of Rome is a pilgrim to Mount Sinai, drawn by this holy mountain which rises like a soaring monument to what God revealed here. Here He revealed his name! Here he gave his Law, the Ten Commandments of the Covenant!


Holy Ground

How many have come to this place before us! Here the People of God pitched their tents (cf. Ex 19:2); here the prophet Elijah took refuge in a cave (cf. 1 Kgs 19:9); here the body of the martyr Catherine found a final resting- place; here a host of pilgrims through the ages have scaled what Saint Gregory of Nyssa called "the mountain of desire" (The Life of Moses, II, 232); here generations of monks have watched and prayed. We humbly follow in their footsteps, to "the holy ground" where the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob commissioned Moses to set his people free (cf. Ex 3:5-8).

Adore Him

God shows Himself in mysterious ways - as the fire that does not consume - according to a logic which defies all that we know and expect. He is the God who is at once close at hand and far-away; He is in the world but not of it. He is the God who comes to meet us, but who will not be possessed. He is "I AM WHO I AM" - the name which is no name! I AM WHO I AM: the divine abyss in which essence and existence are one! The God who is Being itself! Before such a mystery, how can we fail to "take off our shoes" as He commands, and adore Him on this holy ground?

Listening to the Word

Pope John Paul II went on to acknowledge the age-old monastic presence on Sinai:

The monks of this Monastery pitched their tent in the shadow of Sinai. The Monastery of the Transfiguration and Saint Catherine bears all the marks of time and human turmoil, but it stands indomitable as a witness to divine wisdom and love. For centuries monks from all Christian traditions lived and prayed together in this Monastery, listening to the Word in whom dwells the fullness of the Father's wisdom and love. In this very Monastery, Saint John Climacus, wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent, a spiritual masterpiece that continues to inspire monks and nuns, from East and West, generation after generation.

The Things That Unite Us in Christ

The Pope concluded by praying that,

. . . in the new millennium the Monastery of Saint Catherine will be a radiant beacon calling the Churches to know one another better and to rediscover the importance in the eyes of God of the things that unite us in Christ.

The Catholic "Both And"

This, it seems to me, enriches the ancient feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria with another perspective: "the importance in the eyes of God of the things that unite us in Christ." So then, which Collect should we use today? I would suggest that we do a very Catholic thing and use both of them. My preference would be to retain the traditional prayer at Holy Mass and the major Hours and use the new one at the Little Hours and, perhaps, to conclude the General Intercessions where these are done.

Though It Be Night

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Johann vom Kreuz.jpg

John of the Cross: A Saint for Advent

Saint John of the Cross comes to us just before the First Sunday of Advent; he announces that the longest night of the year is not far off. He comes exhorting us to heed the voice of God, who says, "I am the Lord, there is no other; I form the light, and create the darkness" (Is 24:6). Saint John of the Cross comes to guide us through the night; he is familiar with all its secrets.

Blest night of wandering
In secret, where by none might I be spied,
Nor I see anything;
Without a light to guide,
Save that which in my heart burnt in my side.

That light did lead me on,
More surely than the shining of noontide,
Where well I knew that One
Did for my coming bide;
Where he abode, might none but he abide.

(In an Obscure Night, trans. by Arthur Symons)

Poetry, the best poetry, is born of suffering and forged in the crucible of life. Though I find in the poems of Saint John of the Cross a fire that unfailingly warms and illumines, I have, over the years, come to rely more and more on his Precautions, an incomparable guide for the terrible quotidian, wise rules for coping with the struggles and stress of living with oneself and others.

The Heartless and Pitiless Celibate

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I have written several posts on Saint Cecilia in past years. You will find them here, and here, and here.

The title of today's entry comes not from me, but from Saint John Chrysostom's homily at Matins. He is preaching on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Matthew 25:1-13. Amazing! Would that all priests could preach as he did! My own comments are in italics.

Virginity then, being a thing in itself so great and so much esteemed among many, lest any man having attained unto it, and kept it undefiled, should think that he hath done all, and so leave the rest undone, the Lord putteth forth this parable, in order to show that if virginity, though it have all else, lack mercy, its owner will have his portion without among the fornicators, among whom Christ doth justly place the heartless and pitiless celibate.

Note the allusion to Matthew 23:23:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint and anise and cummin and have left the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and faith. These things you ought to have done and not to leave those undone."

And to 1 Corinthians 1:2-3:

And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

The lust for bodies and the lust for money are two very different things, whereof the flesh is by far the keener and the stubborner appetite. They that strive with the weaker enemy are therefore much less excusable if they fall. Wherefore the Lord hath called such virgins "foolish," for having first won the stern battle, and then been destroyed in the light one.
By the "lamps" spoken of in this parable, the Lord signifieth the actual gift of virginity and holy continency, and by the "oil" gentleness, almsgiving, and helpfulness toward the needy.

A haughty and coldhearted chastity is an affront to the King of Virgins. Purity of heart disposes one to receive the living flame of divine love, a love that manifests itself above all in mercy, in gentleness, and in humility.


In this regard, I cannot help but think of Father Lev Gillet -- the "monk of the Eastern Church" -- who synthesized in his very person a childlike purity and a boundless compassion in the face of every weakness and sin. In one of his dialogues with Our Lord, Father Lev hears Him say:

Take to thyself everything in the sinner which, however deviously, comes from Me and continues to be Mine. Discover in the midst of the visible impurities and egoisms the secret action of My absolute Purity, and of the generosity of Love. Unite thyself to My effort to transfigure what is not of Me. By thy brotherly prayer, by thy sympathy, not for the sin but for the sinner, join in My work of purification (In Thy Presence, p. 64).

Offering ourselves to be set ablaze

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We had the Saturday Mass de Beata today but, following our Benedictine calendar, also commemorated Saint Theodore Studite with the following Collect:

O God, who through the blessed abbot Theodore didst restore the beauty and order of the cenobitic life, grant, we beseech Thee, that by his example and help, we may be configured by the Holy Ghost to the sufferings of Christ through patience, and so be found worthy of a share in His kingdom.
We make our prayer through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, God forever and ever.

Two Saints of the East

The calendar is charged today with a double "weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17), for while the Roman calendar commemorates Saint Josaphat, bishop and martyr, the Benedictine calendar offers us the memorial of Saint Theodore the Studite, abbot. In commemorating the two saints, there is not dissonance, but a profound resonance. Theodore and Josaphat are both Eastern Orthodox saints. Theodore, abbot and reformer of the great Stoudion monastery in Constantinople, belongs to the undivided Church. He died in 826, well before the Great Estrangement of East and West. Josaphat, bishop in Ukraine, suffered the effects of that estrangement. While remaining theologically, culturally, and liturgically Orthodox, he brought his flock into communion with the See of Peter in 1623, and paid with his own blood for the partial unity he achieved.

Blessed John Paul II's Passionate Longing

"The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world" (Wis 1:7) but, for centuries, Roman Catholics acted as if the Spirit was given to them alone. Eastern Orthodox Christians, from their side, were more than reticent to admit of any stirrings of the Holy Spirit in the West. When, on May 2, 1995, Blessed Pope John Paul II promulgated his Apostolic Letter, "The Light of the East," he bared his Slavic soul and, in some way, brought to a new level of fruitfulness the historic embrace of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras on January 6, 1964.

Blessed John Paul II's words are clear:

Since the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ's Church , the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition. . . . The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church's catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world" (Orientale Lumen 1).

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The Church Hierarchical and Charismatic

Among the riches offered by the Eastern Churches is a level of balance and reciprocity between the hierarchical and the charismatic elements of the Church. Today's saints illustrate both.

Saint Theodore is the prophet, fascinated by the Beauty of God, restoring a desert in the heart of Constantinople.

Saint Josaphat is the servant of visible communion with his brother bishops, and with the bishop of Rome.

For the Eastern Churches, monks and nuns are Spirit-bearing fathers and mothers living on the margin of the institutional Church and yet, paradoxically, speaking wisdom from the heart of the Church. If monastics need to listen to their bishops; bishops need to listen to the "voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Mt 3:3).

Fire from the Altar

If the torch is to be kept burning, and is to burn here in this fledgling monastery, and in other monasteries the world over, we must draw fire daily from the holocaust of charity that is the the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, offering ourselves to be set ablaze, for when the torch entrusted to monks grows dim, the entire Church becomes a darker place.

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The title of today's entry is from the Magnificat Antiphon: "O how blessed a bishop was he! His inmost heart of hearts yearned on the King Christ, and he had no dread for the power of the Empire! O how holy a soul was his, which passed not away by the sword of the persecutor, and yet lost not the palm of martyrdom."

This wonderful painting, so rich in liturgical details -- look at the gorgeous chasuble -- depicts a famous episode in Saint Martin's life. One day, as he prepared to offer the Holy Sacrifice, Bishop Martin caught sight of a poor beggar in need of clothing. Immediately, he ordered his attending deacon to provide the beggar with a suitable garment. Seeing that the deacon was in no hurry to obey his order, Martin removed his tunic and gave it to the beggar. Later, at Holy Mass, a globe of fire appeared above his head. At the elevation of the Sacred Host, the sleeves of Bishop Martin's alb fell back baring his arms. Straightaway two angels appeared and, with a precious cloth, covered the prelate's arms for the duration of the elevation. The beggar (in the foreground, clothed in Martin's black tunic) and the other faithful looked on in wonder.

The Soldier Announces the Advent of the King

Today's Holy Gospel, focusing on judgment and on the arrival of the Bridegroom-King in glory with all his angels, is perfectly adapted to the eschatological impetus given to the liturgy between All Saints Day (November 1st) and the First Sunday of Advent. In other parts of the Catholic world, a six-week Advent begins on the Sunday following the feast of Saint Martin. This is the tradition of the Church of Milan, for example. The arrival of Martin the soldier announces the arrival of Christ, the true King, the Lord of glory.

The Confession of Saint Martin

Saint Martin of Tours was the first non-martyr to be honoured with a liturgical cult, the first of a long line of "confessors" to make their way into the Church's calendar. The Invitatory Antiphon refers to today's feast as "Saint Martin's confession." Confession here refers both to the saint's profession of the Catholic faith unto death, and to his praise of God. The Magnificat Antiphon will have us sing: "Though he did not die a martyr's death, this holy confessor won the martyr's palm." The magnificent hymn Iste Confessor, sung today at Matins and Vespers, was composed for the feast of Saint Martin.

Benedictines have a tradition of devotion to Saint Martin: Holy Father Benedict dedicated a chapel to Saint Martin at Monte Cassino. Franciscan liturgists of the Middle Ages borrowed from the Office of Saint Martin in composing the liturgy for the feast of Saint Francis, in many cases simply changing Martinus to Franciscus.

The Holy Ghost guided Saint Martin through a succession of states of life. There is Martin the soldier, Martin the catechumen, Martin the monk, and finally, Martin the bishop. this may account for his astonishing popularity. While in North America, Saint Martin is often forgotten, in France, over five hundred villages and over four thousand parishes bear his name and witness to the enthusiastic piety stirred up by his memory. In France and in Italy, Martin (the name of Saint Thérèse), and Martino (my grandmother's name), are common surnames.

Martin the Merciful

The lesson from the prophet Isaiah presents Saint Martin as one filled with the Holy Spirit, as one anointed and sent to bring good news to the poor. Martin binds up broken hearts, comforts those who mourn. He puts praise in the mouths and hearts of the despondent. The Life of Saint Martin by Sulpicius Severus recounts Martin's miracles of compassion, conversion, generosity, and healing. Together with Saint Athanasius' Life of Saint Antony, the Life of Saint Martin became the standard reference for the biographers of holy men.

The Poor Christ

Saint Paul had his blinding light on the road to Damascus; Saint Martin encountered Christ in the person of a poor beggar. Drawing his sword, Martin cut his ample military cloak in two and covered the beggar with half of it. The following night he was rewarded with an apparition of Our Lord, clothed in the same half- cloak.

The whole liturgy today evokes the cloak divided by a sword and given to Christ. A wondrous exchange! Saint Martin clothes the poor Christ with his cloak; Christ clothes the poor Martin with glory. "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9). The words of the holy gospel: "I was naked and you clothed me" become "You, Martin, were naked and I clothed you." We celebrate Martin, clothed with grace and with glory by the humble beggar, Christ, whom he had clothed by cutting his prestigious Roman military cloak in half with his sword: the sacrifice of his pride.

Divinely Disproportionate

The naked Christ is all around us waiting to be clothed in whatever remnants our pride will yield to the sword of sacrificial love. In the absence of a sword, a mere pin will do! The paradox is that in clothing the Beggar, we become the beggar, and the Beggar becomes the one who clothes us in a mantle of justice, of grace and of glory. Is not the teaching of that other Martin, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face? The smallest gesture of sacrificial love on our part unleashes a torrent of transforming love on the part of God. There is no equality here; there cannot be. Fair exchange is utterly foreign to the Kingdom of God. "If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned" (Ct 8:7). The divine response is always magnificently disproportionate to the tiny human gesture.

The Holy Sacrifice

Nowhere is this truer than in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass of the Catechumens (Liturgy of the Word) stirs us to respond in some way to God, Who, in speaking, already gives Himself, and communicates to us His life, His love, and His light. Is this not the prayer of the priest before receiving the Precious Blood: "What shall I render to the Lord for all His bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord" (Ps 115:12-13)?

Suscipe Me

How do we respond? What do we bring to the altar? A little bread, a little wine, a drop of water: poor and humble symbols of ourselves, our life, our work, our joys, and our sufferings, but especially of our desire to, as Blessed Michael Iwene Tansi put it, "to belong entirely to God." What is the bread on the paten, the wine mixed with water in the chalice, if not a silent cry to the living God: Take me! Suscipe me? I surrender to the priestly hands of the Son; I yield to the mysterious action of the Paraclete. I offer myself to the two hands of the Father -- the Son and the Holy Spirit -- that by them, my poverty might become an oblation pleasing in the Father's sight.


Blessed Elizabeth in the Catechism

Opening the Catechism of the Catholic Church one morning, I discovered that among the ecclesiastical writers cited in the text, there are fifty-nine men and eight women. Three of the eight women cited are Carmelites, and one of the three is Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: an outstanding honour for a young nun who died, hidden in her Carmel at Dijon, at twenty-six years of age on November 9, 1906.

Light, Love, Life

Faced with death, Blessed Elizabeth said, "Je vais à la Lumière, à l'Amour à la Vie -- I am going to the Light, to Love, to Life." The influence of the young Carmelite has grown prodigiously all over the world. Her Prayer to the Holy Trinity has been translated into thirty-four languages.

Her Mission

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."

God at Work in Us

Saint Paul, whose Epistles were the young Carmelite's daily nourishment, says: "God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). Blessed Elizabeth's secret of holiness was total surrender to God at work in her for his good pleasure, transforming her into the Praise of His Glory (cf. Eph 1:6). Believing this, one dares to pray, "I trust, O God, that you are at work in me, even now, both to will and to work for the praise of your glory."

For the Praise of His Glory

The Catechism says that, "even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity: 'If a man loves me," says the Lord, 'he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him'" (Jn 14:23). And as a kind of commentary on the mystery of the indwelling Trinity, the Catechism gives us Blessed Elizabeth's magnificent prayer. I know souls who by dint of repeating that prayer day after day have learned it by heart; God alone knows what changes it has wrought in them . . . for the praise of His glory.


Showing Forth His Face

In the Ordinary Form, the Collect for today's memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo contains an extraordinary phrase. We beseech (quaesumus) the Father that the Church, being ceaselessly renewed, and thus conformed to the image of Christ, may show forth His Face to the world: Christi se imagini conformans, ipsius vultum mundo valeat ostendere.

The Face Reveals the Heart

This is the mission of the Church: to show forth the Face of Christ to the world. In showing forth the Face of Christ, the Church invites all peoples to discover the merciful love of His Heart.

Saint Charles and the Holy Shroud

It is no coincidence, I think, that Saint Charles Borromeo, who venerated the Holy Shroud in Turin on October 10, 1578 was profoundly affected by the experience. Could not the allusion to the Face of Christ in today's Collect be a discreet allusion to the great reforming bishop's encounter with the mysterious Face of the Shroud?


Editio Typica

Custodi, quaesumus, Domine, in populo tuo spiritum,
quo beatum Carolum episcopum implevisti,
ut Ecclesia indesinenter renovetur,
et, Christi se imagini conformans,
ipsius vultum mundo valeat ostendere.

My Translation

Preserve in Thy people, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the spirit with which Thou didst fill the bishop Saint Charles;
that the Church may be ceaselessly renewed, and, in conforming herself to the image of Christ, be able to show forth His face to the world.

ICEL 1973

The flawed 1973 ICEL text, used today for the last time in the United States, is as follows:

Father, keep in your people
the spirit which filled Charles Borromeo.
Let your Church be continually renewed
and show the image of Christ to the world
by being conformed to his likeness.


What is wrong with the old ICEL text? First off, you will note that quaesumus is simply omitted. In the 1973 translation one does not beseech God, one rather baldly tells God what to do.

The Infusion of a Charism

In the Latin text, it is the Lord (God the Father) who fills Saint Charles with the spirit, meaning a particular infusion of the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the old ICEL text implevisti is not translated; it states, rather vaguely, that the spirit filled Charles Borromeo. "Spirit" here does not refer to the Holy Spirit; it refers to the grace of the Holy Spirit by which Saint Charles worked for the reform of the Church, a Divine inbreathing in view of his mission, a charism.


The Latin text refers to the saint as the bishop Charles; the old ICEL text eliminates the reference to his hierarchical order, and replaces it with his surname! This reflects the casual, democratizing approach to hierarchical order of the framers of the old ICEL texts in 1973, an approach still prevalent, alas, in certain sectors of the Church in the United States.

A Theological Deconstruction

Finally, the old ICEL text, by eliminating the subordinate ut clause, completely deconstructs the theology of the prayer. In the Latin text:

(A) we beseech the Lord (God the Father) to preserve the spirit (i.e. grace or charism) of Saint Charles Borromeo in the Church --

(B) ut, SO THAT, or in such wise that, the Church may be ceaselessly renewed --

(C) and, being conformed to the image of Christ,

(D) may be able to show His Face to the world.

The irrefutable logic of the prayer, correctly translated, is this: the Church is able to show the Face of Christ to the world because she has been conformed to His image as result of the spirit (reforming charism or grace) given by God to the bishop Saint Charles, and preserved in the Church in response to her humble supplication.

Come to me, who adore Thee

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Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

Saint Jude at the Mystical Supper

The Gospel tells us that Simon was one of the twelve disciples whom Jesus called to Himself and named Apostles; Saint Jude too was among the Twelve. The Apostle Jude has a cameo appearance in Saint John's Gospel at the moment of the Last Supper. Picture Saint Jude listening to Jesus with rapt attention. The question Jude puts to Our Lord is far from superficial. It suggests that he was an intelligent man capable of listening with the ear of the heart and long accustomed to pondering the deep things of the Spirit.

Saint Jude's Question

We, for our part, can be grateful to Saint Jude for the question he asked his Master. Our Lord's answer is full of light. "Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, 'Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?'; Jesus answered him, 'Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them'" (Jn 14:21-23).

The Indwelling Trinity

Thus is the mystery of the indwelling God revealed to the Apostle Jude. What is the mystery of the indwelling God? It is the abiding presence of the Father loving the Son, and of the Son loving the Father in the hearts of those who love Jesus and hold fast to His words. These few verses from the Gospel of Saint John are sufficient to make the Apostle Saint Jude, more than anything else, a patron of the interior life: the life of undivided attention to the words of Jesus, the life of adoring attention to the indwelling Trinity. Imagine what might be the conversations between the Apostle Jude and Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity in heaven.

Economic Crisis and the American Devotion to Saint Jude

Popular devotion to Saint Jude is an American phenomenon that began in Chicago in 1929. The steel mills had begun massive lay-offs. In Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish more than 90% of the faithful were without paychecks, unemployment compensation, and Social Security benefits. The pastor, Father James Tort, saw the ever-growing bread lines, the distress of families, and the desperation in the faces of so many. He had, some time before the crisis, come into possession of a Latin American statue of an Apostle rarely invoked. Saint Jude was depicted clasping an icon of the Face of Christ to his breast, with a flame of Pentecostal fire over his head. Father Tort moved the statue to a place of prominence in the church. He announced a novena to The Forgotten Saint. It drew enormous crowds. People were strangely attracted to this obscure saint, to this saint rarely invoked because often confused with the other Jude, the one by whom Jesus was betrayed.

On the final evening of a solemn novena that ended on October 28, 1929 -- one day before the crash of the Stock Market -- an overflow of more than one thousand people stood outside the church praying and singing. Those asking the intercession of Saint Jude were given relief in unexpected ways and, more than anything else, they found hope again. Saint Jude's reputation as the patron saint of desperate causes spread from Chicago to shrines, churches, and homes all over the country.

The Apostle of the Holy Face of Jesus


Popular images of Saint Jude passed into the collective memory of American Catholic piety. The medallion of the Face of Christ that he holds represents the miraculous icon of Edessa, the Holy Face of Jesus Not Made by Human Hands. The legend is that Abgar, the King of Edessa, stricken with leprosy, wrote the following letter to Jesus:

Abgar Ouchama to Jesus, the Good Physician Who has appeared in the country of Jerusalem, greeting: I have heard of Thee, and of Thy healing; that Thou dost not use medicines or roots, but by Thy word openest (the eyes) of the blind, makest the lame to walk, cleansest the lepers, makest the deaf to hear; how by Thy word (also) Thou healest (sick) spirits and those who are tormented with lunatic demons, and how, again, Thou raisest the dead to life. . . . Wherefore I write to Thee, and pray that thou wilt come to me, who adore Thee, and heal all the ill that I suffer, according to the faith I have in Thee.

Jesus, receiving the letter in Jerusalem, replied:

Blessed art thou who hast believed in Me, not having seen me, for it is written of me that those who shall see me shall not believe in Me, and that those who shall not see Me shall believe in Me. As to that which thou hast written, that I should come to thee, (behold) all that for which I was sent here below is finished, and I ascend again to My Father who sent Me, and when I shall have ascended to Him I will send thee one of My disciples, who shall heal all thy sufferings, and shall give (thee) health again, and shall convert all who are with thee unto life eternal.


The disciple referred to here is none other than Saint Jude. The legend goes on to recount that Abgar, having received Our Lord's answer, wanted nothing so much as an image of His Face. He sent an artist to Jesus with instructions to paint the Divine Countenance. The artist had no success because of what he called "the inexpressible glory" in his Face, which changed in grace. Jesus, moved to pity, asked for a cloth, applied it to his Face, and entrusting it to the Apostle Jude, sent it back to King Abgar. When Abgar opened the cloth, he found himself before a miraculous image of the Holy Face of Jesus. This image, carried by the Apostle Jude to King Abgar, is said to be the model of every other icon of the Face of Christ.

Saint Jude, the Bearer of the Image of the Holy Face

Saint Jude, then, is the Apostle who comes to us bearing the image of the Vultus Christi. Jude, the Patron Saint of Impossible Causes, and Jude, the Apostle of the interior life is also Jude, the Apostle of the missionary life: he carries the Face of Christ to those who, like King Abgar, ask for healing and hope.

A Promise Fulfilled in the Most Holy Eucharist

The promise made by Our Lord in response to Saint Jude's question is sufficient for us: "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them" (Jn 14:21-23). The Church gives us this very verse from Saint John as today's Communion Antiphon. It is the sacred liturgy's way of saying that the promise announced in these words of Our Lord is fulfilled for us in the adorable mysteries of His Body and Blood. Relying on that promise, we go forth from participation in the Holy Mysteries bearing the Eucharistic Face of Christ in our hearts.

Frank Duff

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Shortly before his death on 7 November 1980, layman Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, addressed a group of deacons preparing for ordination to the priesthood in Thurles, County Tipperary. He shared with them something of his own life of prayer as a lay apostle. His example is a catalyst and an inspiration for all priests. This is what he said:

Now perhaps you will forgive me for being personal. I absolutely hate it, but if I am not to talk to you to some extent out of my own background, I really have no other claim to address words to you at all. I am not a professor of religion, and I am certainly no peritus in that department. The only thing which I have to point to is considerable experience. Therefore, willy-nilly, I have to refer to it.
I have believed intensely in the spiritual order and I have never sacrificed it to the other. I have said the Divine Office since 1917 without missing a single day or a single hour, and think I could say, a single line of it. Likewise I have said daily the Rosary and the Seven Dolours. I have never missed daily Mass in that time, except in circumstances of absolute physical inability.
It is my conviction that anything useful that has come along has proceeded from that stressing of the purely supernatural. I think it meant that I was depending on the Lord and His Mother, and not on myself. I would say that one important result followed: that I was saved from vulgar pride. When there was development I was not tempted to ascribe it to my own abilities. Of course, one has to pay a price as well, the Christian price of torment and suffering. If unwilling to face up to that, avoid the priesthood.
Next we come to the question of Our Lady. She is completely indispensable.

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos

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Pilgrimage to New Orleans

My dear friend Vincent Uher is on pilgrimage to the tomb of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos ((1819-1867) in New Orleans. I propose that we accompany Vincent with our prayers, asking, through the intercession of Blessed Francis Seelos, that our Lord restore him to health, if such be His perfect Will. Here is the Collect for his feast, kept on October 5th.


Deus, qui ad nuntianda redemptionis mysteria,
et ad maerentes sublevandos,
beatum Franciscum Xaverium presbyterum,
eximia caritate decorasti,
eius intercessione concede,
ut diligenter ad tuam gloriam
hominumque salutem operemur.
Per Dominum.

O God, who made your priest, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos,
outstanding in love,
that he might proclaim the mysteries of redemption,
and comfort those in affliction,
grant, by his intercession,
that we may work zealously for your glory
and for the salvation of mankind,
Through our Lord.

The Cheerful Ascetic

A Redemptorist Missionary priest, Blessed Francis served in various places in the United States during the turbulent years of the Civil War. He was a much sought after confessor, a gifted preacher, and a fervent adorer of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In 1860 Father Seelos' name was put forward as someone who would be a suitable bishop for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Pope Pius IX excused him taking on this burden. From 1863 until 1866 he devoted himself to the demanding work of an itinerant missionary, preaching parish missions and retreats in English and German in the states of Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

All who knew Father Francis Xavier Seelos attested to his gentleness and good cheer, even in the face of contradictions and sufferings. Father Seelos died in New Orleans, of the Yellow Fever, at 48 years of age, on 4 October 1867.

From His Preaching: On Divine Mercy

Oh, if only all the sinners of the whole wide world were present here! Yes, even the greatest, the most hardened, even those close to despair, I would call out to them, "The Lord God is merciful and gracious, patient and of much compassion" (Exodus 34:6). I would show them why the Apostles call God the Father of Mercy, the God of all consolation. I would tell them that the prophet in the Old Testament even said that the earth is full of the mercy of God and that mercy is above all His works.
O, Mother of Mercy! You understood the mercy of God when you cried out in the Magnificat, "His mercy is from generation to generation!" Obtain for all sinners a childlike confidence in the mercy of God.
It is not His justice but His mercy which is the motive of your trust. He is the God of all consolations and the Father of mercies. He does wish the death of a sinner but that he be converted and live. He came to heal the sick and to seek those who were lost. He spared the woman taken in adultery. He showed mercy to the thief crucified with Him. He took upon Himself our punishment. He prayed for His murderers. He now intercedes for us at the right hand of God. None of the damned was ever lost because his sin was too great, but because his trust was too small.

Thérèse and Hope

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About twenty-five years ago, I was on a quest to deepen my capacity for living the theological virtue of hope. More honestly . . . I was battling persistent temptations to hopelessness bordering on despair. I read everything on hope that I could find. One of the books that marked me was L'Espérance by Père Gustave Desbuquois, S.J. (Yes, I even read Jesuit authors!) The book, it appears, also exists in English translation under the title, Hope. What I didn't know at the time was that Père Desbuquois was one of the first advocates of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face being declared a Doctor of the Church. In a letter written in 1997, Father Camilo Maccise, O.C.D., and Father Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm., the Priors General of the Discalced Carmelites and of the Ancient Order of Carmel, traced the history of the doctorate of Saint Thérèse:

Already from the time of her canonization, there was no lack of bishops, preachers, theologians, and faithful from different countries who sought to have our sister Thérèse of Lisieux declared a Doctor of the Church. This flow of petitions in favor of the doctorate became official in 1932 on the occasion of the inauguration of the crypt of the Basilica at Lisieux, which was accompanied by a congress at which five cardinals, fifty bishops, and a great number of faithful participated.

On June 30, Father Gustave Desbuquois, SJ, with clear and precise theological argument, spoke of Thérèse of Lisieux as Doctor of the Church. Surprisingly, his proposal had the support of many of the participants, bishops, and theologians. This positive reaction to the suggestion of Father Desbuquois spread universally. Monseigneur Clouthier, Bishop of Trois Rivières, Canada, wrote to all the bishops of the world in order to prepare a petition to the Holy See. By 1933 he had already received 342 positive replies from bishops who supported the proposal to have Thérèse of Lisieux declared a Doctor of the Church.

The petition of Father Desbuquois was presented to Pope Pius XI, along with a letter of Mother Agnes of Jesus, sister of Therese and prioress of the Lisieux Carmel. She informed the Pope about the great success of the Theresian Congress. On 31 August 1932, Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State, replied to Mother Agnes' letter on behalf of the Pope. He was very pleased about the positive results of the congress, but added that it would be better not to speak of Thérèse's doctorate yet, even though, "Her doctrine never ceased to be for him a sure light for souls searching to know the spirit of the Gospel."

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, the Doctor of Hope? But, of course.

Patri munus et hostiam

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The Office hymn given for Lauds and Vespers in the Liber Hymnarius and in the Liturgia Horarum for today's feast of Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church, was composed by the Benedictine hymnographer Dom Anselmo Lentini (+1989). It offers an enchanting portrait of the saint of Rome and Bethlehem. My translation makes no pretense of attempting to be literal; I sought only to give the sense of the hymn, and then reflect on each strophe.

1. Festiva canimus laude Hieronymum,
qui nobis radiat sidus ut eminens
doctrinae meritis ac simul actibus
vitae fortis et asperae.

With festive praise we sing of Jerome;
radiant as a star he shines forth
by the merits of his teaching as well as by
the fortitude and austerity of his life.

The first strophe encapsulates all that one really needs to know about Saint Jerome: he is deserving of a festal day of gladsome praise; he is a light in the Church, not only by his incomparable teaching, but also by his resolute and rigorous monastic life. Sacred learning and asceticism go hand in hand, or as Dom Jean Leclercq put it, "the love of letters and the desire for God."

2. Hic verbum fdei sanctaque dogmata
scrutando studuit pandere lucide,
aut hostes, vehemens ut leo, concitus
acri voce refellere.

Scrutinizing the Word and the holy dogmas of the faith,
he strove to cast them into light;
terrible as a lion to his enemies,
with the roar of his voice he refuted them without delay.

I love the word scrutando here. One can picture Saint Jerome bent over his precious manuscripts, attentive to every jot and tittle of the sacred text. More often than not, when he lifts his head from his work, it is to roar like a lion, ready to rip apart the errors of the enemies of the Word. Saint Jerome knew where to invest his passions!

3. Insudans alacer prata virentia
Scripturae coluit caelitus editae;
ex his et locuples dulcia protulit
cunctus pabula gratiae.

By the sweat of his brow, he cultivated
the green meadows of the heaven-inspired Scriptures;
enriched by them, he brought forth for all
the sweet nourishment of grace.

Dom Lentini is a genius. The "sweat of the brow" is an allusion to Genesis 3,19: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread" or, as Msgr. Knox puts it, "thou shalt earn thy bread with the sweat of thy brow." The "green meadows" allude, of course, to Psalm 22, 2: "He makes me lie down in green pastures." Nourished by the Word of God, Saint Jerome offers all Christians the food of grace, that is, Christ Himself in the Scriptures.

4. Deserti cupiens grata silentia
ad cunas Domini pervigil astitit,
ut carnem crucians se daret intime
Patri munus et hostiam.

Yearning for the desert's refreshing silence,
he kept watch close to the manger-cradle of the Lord,
that by crucifying his flesh, he might become deep within
an offering and a sacrificial victim to the Father.

This is my favourite strophe. Jerome yearns for the tranquil stillness of the desert, far from "the strife of tongues" (Psalm 30, 20). Close to the manger of the Infant Christ, he discovers the humility and poverty of spiritual childhood and, as crèche and cross are fashioned from the same wood, he enters into the mystery of the suffering and crucified Jesus, and so identifies with Him, that Jerome's whole life becomes a Eucharistic oblation. With Jesus, he becomes an offering (munus) and a sacrificial (victim) to the Father.

The youngest Doctor of the Church, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, of the crèche and of the cross, died on the evening of the feast of Saint Jerome, September 30, 1897; she also shared the older Doctor's love for the Word of God. On October 19, 1997, declaring Saint Thérèse a Doctor of the Church, Pope John Paul II wrote:

Despite her inadequate training and lack of resources for studying and interpreting the sacred books, Thérèse immersed herself in meditation on the Word of God with exceptional faith and spontaneity. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit she attained a profound knowledged of Revelation for herself and for others. By her loving concentration on Scripture - she even wanted to learn Hebrew and Greek to understand better the spirit and letter of the sacred books - she showed the importance of the biblical sources in the spiritual life, she emphasized the originality and freshness of the Gospel, she cultivated with moderation the spiritual exegesis of the Word of God in both the Old and New Testaments. Thus she discovered hidden treasures, appropriating words and episodes, sometimes with supernatural boldness, as when, in reading the texts of St Paul (cf. 1 Cor 12-13), she realized her vocation to love (cf. Ms B, 3r-3v). Enlightened by the revealed Word, Thérèse wrote brilliant pages on the unity between love of God and love of neighbour (cf. Ms C, 11v-19r); and she identified with Jesus' prayer at the Last Supper as the expression of her intercession for the salvation of all (cf. Ms C, 34r-35r).

5. Tanti nos, petimus te, Deus optime,
doctoris precibus dirige, confove,
ut laetas liceat nos tibi in omnia
laudes pangere saecula.

We pray you, O God of all goodness,
by the prayers of so great a doctor, direct us and surround us with your tender care,
so that we might be given leave to pour forth your joyful praises
unto the ages of ages.

The hymn ends, as do nearly all the hymns of the Church, with a doxological élan. We pray to walk in the path of righteousness and of doctrinal rectitude and ask, at the same time, that the warmth of the Father's tenderness envelop us so that one day in heaven, our lips might be opened to sing His praises eternally.


September 29, Saints Michael and All Angels

Angels Everywhere

One of the most striking things about Rome's churches -- and about Italian churches in general -- is that they are full of representations of the angels. American churches in contrast, especially those built in the last fifty years, are strangely devoid of angelic imagery. In Italian churches there are angels everywhere: all sorts of angels. There are majestic angels of graceful athletic appearance, angels in splendid apparel playing musical instruments, and playful little angels with fat cheeks and chubby legs. In Italian churches, one is always conscious of praising God in conspectu angelorum, “in the sight of the angels” (Ps 137:1).

Angels in the Family

Whenever I have the good fortune to be in Italy, I travel two hours south of Rome to visit my mother’s cousins at my great-grandmother Donna Emma Onoratelli Barbato's ancestral home in the little village of Sepicciano. My grandfather Angelo Barbato spent time there as an infant with his mother, his brother Vincenzo, and his sister Filomena.

The Palazzo Onoratelli

Baroque in style, the palazzo was built in the early 1700s. Amazingly, there too, angels are depicted everywhere! Over the imposing front door, the family stemma, or coat of arms, bears the sword of Saint Michael the Archangel, patron saint of the house and of the family. Appropriately, the motto of the Onoratelli family is that of the Archangel Saint Michael, Quis ut Deus? Quis resistet Sancti Michaelis gladio? (Who is like unto God? Who can withstand the sword of Saint Michael?)

Stemma Onoratelli.jpg

The shield of the coat of arms, surmounted by the strawberry-leaved diadem of a marchese, is held aloft by two chubby angels -- both of them blissfully naked -- and smiling broadly over the street below! To the right of the front door is a gallery of arches and, over each arch, is a smiling cherubic face. Not two of them are alike. Clearly, this house was built by Christians conscious of the presence of the angels and of their involvement in everyday life.

Saint Michael Delivers Don Clemente

Across from the palazzo adorned with images of the angels stands the family’s private chapel, a church constructed in honour of Saint Michael the Archangel by my ancestor, the Marchese Clemente Onoratelli (1669-1729), and consecrated in 1743. Over the altar hangs a large painting of Saint Michael defeating the devil. According to family legend, Clemente Onoratelli, beset with the vice of gambling (as were so many of the Neapolitan nobility under the Borboni dynasty), had made a pact with the devil so as always to win. After this pact, he found himself anxious, unhappy, and unable to sleep. One night, Saint Michael the Archangel visited him in a dream, saying, “Don Clemente, build a church in my honour, and I will undo this evil pact, and become your protector and the protector of all your family.” Don Clemente rose the next morning and ordered the building of the church of Saint Michael on the slope facing his palace.

chiesa sepicciano.jpg

In the Sight of Angels

The church was bombed and very nearly destroyed on October 15, 1943. After the War, it was restored at great cost. Apart from the majestic Saint Michael over the altar, the vaulting of the church’s nave is marked by a series of cherubic heads, all of them smiling, made in the same Baroque style as those of the palazzo. Again, the presence of the angels is something believed, something celebrated, an invisible reality depicted outwardly.

I cannot help but question the absence of an angelic iconography in today’s churches. And very rare indeed are homes and even monasteries graced with images of the angels! Out of sight, out of mind? The angels are as present today to us as they were to my Onoratelli ancestors in the village of Sepicciano, but we, sadly, may not be present to them.

Angels at the Liturgy

Are we in danger of forgetting the angels? While the liturgy mentions them repeatedly, all too often we assist at the Sacred Mysteries as if the angels were not there, joining in our praises, observing our attitudes, grieving over lack of zeal, and rejoicing to see us recollected and reverent. Saint Benedict speaks explicitly of the presence of the angels in Chapter 19 of the Rule: “We must therefore consider how we should behave in the sight of the Divine Majesty and his Angels, and as we sing our Psalms let us see to it that our mind is in harmony with our voice” (RB 19:6-7).

From Heaven Sent

One thing is certain. We need the angels. God created the angels for the praise of his glory and for our salvation, that is, to participate in his work of bringing us to wholeness, to peace, and to life everlasting in his presence. The angels are sent to us to comfort us in the hour of trial and affliction. Saint Luke, the evangelist most sensitive to angelic interventions, relates that an angel was sent to console Jesus during His agony in the garden (cf. Lk 22:43).

The angels are sent to bring us the healing of heavenly medicine, and the brightness of God’s deifying light. The angels are sent before every advent of the Word, to dispose our hearts and unstop our ears. The angels are sent before Christ, our Priest and our Victim, present in the offering of His Body and of His Blood. The angels are sent to bear our prayers up to heaven, and to descend to us, laden with heavenly blessings. The angels protect us in all our ways. They do all of these things gladly, joyfully, and unhesitatingly in obedience to the command of God.

Under the Protection of the Angels

We are in great need of angelic assistance. We need the comfort of their presence, the healing ministry of their hands, and the beauty of the praise that ceaselessly they offer God. While we may not have smiling angelic faces on the outer walls of our homes, we do have today’s feast and the daily celebration of the Sacred Liturgy to remind us that angels, unlike us, never forget. May they hold us in their prayer today and cover us with their protection. Who, indeed, can withstand the sword of Saint Michael?

Saint Pio, Priest and Victim

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Besides being the Ember Friday, today is the feast of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. I regret that I wasn't able to post this earlier today.

By Monsignor Arthur Burton Calkins

I. The Crisis of Identity in the Priesthood

Almost immediately after the Second Vatican Council, a terrible identity crisis of enormous proportions began to overtake the Catholic priesthood and thousands of priests left the active ministry with or without the requisite permission. Still others became genuinely confused about the nature of their priesthood. Unfortunately, the disorientation still remains in many ways. Its causes, no doubt, are quite complex and ultimately we must confess that "An enemy has done this" (Mt. 13:28).

But recognizing a Satanic onslaught against the Lord's anointed ones does not prevent us from also seeking to discover some of the immediate contributing causes of this tragic state of affairs. In this regard Father André Feuillet makes what I believe to be some very astute observations:

Some writers claim that Vatican II is itself partly responsible. As they see it, Vatican II, in its desire to act against Roman centralization and an overemphasis on papal primacy, glossed over the problem of priesthood. In any case, it certainly intended to highlight the role of the college of bishops as successors of the Apostles. Moreover, on the basis of Scripture, it proclaimed a truth that had hitherto been too often overlooked: the sharing of all the baptized in the priesthood of Christ. By these two emphases, the Council seems to have spoken as if the bishop and the people of God were the only necessary elements of a priestly Church. In so doing, it somewhat neglected the place of the simple priest (or presbyter).

He continues by quoting from a book from D. Olivier, Les deux visages du prêtre: Les chances d'une crise:

The Council indeed maintains the special character of presbyteral priesthood as differing in essence from that of the baptized. But whereas it refers to a half dozen Scriptural texts to confirm the reality of the common priesthood, it cannot adduce a single text in favor of the famous essential difference. The contrast between the two successive passages of the Constitution on the Church is striking: the first, and very welcome one, on the priesthood of the faithful, is based on Scripture, the second is nothing but a theological development based on some texts of Pius XI and Pius XII. The bishop, who continues the mission of the Apostles, easily finds in Scripture the justification for his existence. But the priest can base his own special character only on papal statements.

Father Patrick J. Dunn, writing almost twenty years after Feuillet, comments in a remarkably similar vein:

Although the Second Vatican Council emphasizes that the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood "differ from one another in essence and not only in degree" (Lumen Gentium 10), the nature of this distinction has not always been clearly perceived.

It may well be argued that subsequent documents of the magisterium have continued to make the necessary clarifications. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, presents an appropriate elucidation with the following statement:

The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, 'each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ'. While being 'ordered one to another', they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace -- a life of faith, hope and charity, a life according to the Spirit, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.

While fully accepting the explanation proffered by the Catechism that "the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood", that "it is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians" and that it "is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church", I am inclined to believe, with Fulton Sheen and Father Feuillet, that the concept that we have already begun to explore of the ordained minister as called to be "priest and victim" provides an insight and challenge far richer and deeper which has yet to be assimilated in the postconciliar Church's teaching and praxis.

 P Pio Communione-thumb-350x315.jpg

II. Padre Pio: A Model Priest and Victim

What I would like to propose further is that God has set his own seal on this explanation in the person of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Is it not significant that even before the great disruption of priestly life in the twentieth century was underway the Lord had already chosen Francesco Forgione to illustrate in a dramatic and extraordinary way the call to embrace victimhood in order to realize fully his vocation to the priesthood? While it is true that no one should aspire to imitate the extraordinary ways of Padre Pio without an explicit call from the Lord confirmed through wise spiritual direction and the appropriate permission when necessary, I believe that the Padre's life nonetheless constitutes a model of what it means to live as "priest and victim", a model that all Christians, but priests in particular, should strive to emulate.

Interestingly, the Trappist Father Augustine McGregor already pointed to Padre Pio as a model of priestly life over twenty years ago. In his book, The Spirituality of Padre Pio, he declared:

We shall refer constantly to the priesthood of Padre Pio discovering in his life a rare model of the priestly ideal, an exemplar who revealed in a unique and simple way all the essential features of the priesthood. In short, in an age undergoing transformation in social, cultural and religious spheres we shall look for and find in Padre Pio's priesthood characteristics of permanent value, unmarked by many of today's changing values.

Even more striking, however, and totally supportive of my thesis is the testimony of Father Vincenzo Frezza with regard to the paradigmatic value of Padre Pio's priesthood. Considering how Padre Pio continually spent himself unflinchingly for souls propels him to state:

Now all of this brings us still another time to the conclusion that his vocation to the priesthood, that the fulfillment of his priestly ministry was in relation to his mission to "co-redeem." I mean that if Padre Pio had not been a priest, he could not have fulfilled his mission: priesthood and mission are identified with each other in Padre Pio. According to a poor interpretation of mine, God did not only want a new victim, but he wanted this victim to be a priest and as such placed in a priestly state like the Incarnate Word.

Here I would simply add that the last one hundred fifty years have seen the Church benefiting from what seems an unparalleled profusion of victim souls, no doubt a gift that God has given in view of the crisis which the Church is now passing through. By far almost all of these have been women and here the Lord shows us how complementary their vocation to be "co-redeemers" is to the priesthood. But, without in any way wishing to take anything away from their greatness, I would underscore with Father Frezza that in Padre Pio the Lord has done a new thing. Let us listen to him again:

Padre Pio, carrying in himself the unification of the priesthood and the mission to co-redeem, thus demonstrated that the exercise of the priestly ministry goes beyond the sacramental signs. That is, it tends to make a man "like Christ the priest" in every moment and every attitude of his existence. In simple words this means that he must become a victim, an unceasing offering. ...

Therefore, it is this state of priest-victim that colors Padre Pio's priesthood, that makes him exceptional -- I will go even further -- that makes him unique in the Church up to now. Because we meet many victim-souls in Christian spiritual history. We also know many holy priests, holy priests who took more time to say Mass and shed more tears in doing so than Padre Pio did (e.g. St. Laurence of Brindisi). We know holy priests who have made the confessional their chief ministry. We know holy priests gifted with privileged charisms. We know saints who had marked in their bodies, both in their internal and external organs, the signs of the Passion of Christ. We are astonished when faced with mystical souls who have reached the highest degree of union with God, that which we call the "mystical marriage." However, a man that summed up, that both lived and suffered all these charisms, a man that could call himself another Jesus Christ with stronger reason than that for which St. Francis was called such, up to now, only Padre Pio is such a man.

I would supplement this testimony by simply referring to the fact that Padre Pio is the first priest in the history of the Church to bear the stigmata, which, it seems, constitutes a kind of divine seal on his vocation to be a "priest-victim". Father Gerardo Di Flumeri is of the same conviction. He argues that if Padre Pio

hadn't been a priest, he would never have become a victim; priesthood and victimization in him were identical. God did not want just another victim; He wanted, instead, a new victim who was a priest, who was established in the priestly state like the Word Incarnate.8

Hence I am in full accord with Father Frezza's final conclusion in this regard: "From today on, therefore, we cannot reasonably think of imagining what a priest should be if we do not compare and contrast him with Padre Pio as the model."

III. Padre Pio's Vocation to Priest-Victimhood

Within the limits of this presentation we can only touch briefly on some of the most obvious testimony which highlights Padre Pio's vocation to priest-victimhood. Already as a young Capuchin he was beset with a host of physical afflictions which defied diagnosis. Later these would be coupled with demonic assaults.11 In the midst of all this it is to be noted that the young Pio was conscious of his calling to be a victim. There is clear evidence that he had fully embraced this vocation from at least the time of his priestly ordination on 10 August 1910 in Benevento. A remarkable confirmation of this is the fact that he had written for his own personal use the following souvenir of his priestly ordination on the day of his first solemn Mass, 14 August 1910:

O rex, dona mihi animam meam pro qua rogo et populum meum pro quo obsecro [O King, let my life be given me at my petition and my people at my request] (Esther 7:3). Souvenir of my first Mass. Jesus, my heart's desire and my life, today as I raise you up in trembling hands, in a mystery of love, may I be, with you, for the world, Way, Truth and Life, and for you a holy priest, a perfect victim. ( P. Pio, Capuchin.)

The next evidence that we shall take into consideration is that of his letter of 29 November 1910 to his spiritual director, Padre Benedetto of San Marco in Lamis:

Now, my dear Father, I want to ask your permission for something. For some time past I have felt the need to offer myself to the Lord as a victim for poor sinners and for the souls in Purgatory. This desire has been growing continually in my heart so that it has now become what I would call a strong passion. I have in fact made this offering to the Lord several times, beseeching him to pour out upon me the punishments prepared for sinners and for the souls in a state of purgation, even increasing them a hundredfold for me, as long as he converts and saves sinners and quickly admits to paradise the souls in Purgatory, but I should now like to make this offering to the Lord in obedience to you. It seems to me that Jesus really wants this. I am sure that you will have no difficulty in granting me this permission.

The permission was duly communicated by Padre Benedetto in a letter of 1 December 1910. It was also evidently prior to this time that Padre Pio first experienced the marks of the stigmata. He does not give us the exact date, but confesses in his letter to Padre Benedetto of 8 September 1911 that "this phenomenon has been repeated several times for almost a year, but for some time past it had not occurred." C. Bernard Ruffin indicates that already on 7 September 1910 the young Padre, ordained less than a month, went to see his parish priest in Pietrelcina and "showed him what appeared to be puncture wounds in the middle of his hands."

In his old age Padre Pio had all but entirely forgotten about what Ruffin calls the "proto-stigmata" and then was eventually able to recall these first manifestations of the Lord's passion in his flesh. What I wish to underscore here is that almost immediately upon his priestly ordination Padre Pio had his first experience of the stigmata, eight years before the stigmatization of 20 September 1918 which would remain permanently imprinted upon him for fifty years. Obviously, the Lord who inspired the prayer of the young Capuchin on the day of his first solemn Mass found the petition an extremely pleasing one to which he would not delay in responding. This is also the conclusion of Father Gerardo Di Flumeri who comments on the petition which the newly ordained Padre Pio had written on the holy card on the day of his first solemn Mass:

We believe that the juxtaposition of the two words "priest" and "victim" clearly indicates that Padre Pio's offering of himself as a victim originates with his ordination to the priesthood. We believe, too, that his having received the gift of the "invisible" stigmata only a month later (Sept. 1910), indicates God's acceptance (Letters I:264f).

Hence we can say that Padre Pio's priesthood is sealed from the very beginning with the sign of victimhood. And, indeed, it is not only a sign that he willingly accepted, but even had asked for.

A. For Love of Jesus and for Souls

From this point onwards Padre Pio renews his self-offering as victim frequently and with great generosity. This offering simultaneously serves a twofold purpose; it is a fulfillment of Saint Paul's words "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Col. 1:24) and it is also an act of reparation to the Lord himself. Here is how he describes it in a letter to his spiritual director, Padre Agostino of San Marco in Lamis, dated 20 September 1912:

We must hide our tears from the One who sends them, from the One who has shed tears himself and continues to shed them every day because of man's ingratitude. He chooses souls and despite my unworthiness, he has chosen mine also to help him in the tremendous task of men's salvation. The more these souls suffer without the slightest consolation, the more the sufferings of our good Jesus are alleviated.

Less than a month later he writes to Padre Agostino once again emphasizing this double objective i.e., that his victimhood is for souls and as an act of reparation to the Lord:

"Believe me, dear Father, I find happiness in my afflictions. Jesus himself wants these sufferings from me, as he needs them for souls. But I ask myself what relief can I give him by my suffering?! What a destiny! Oh, to what heights has our most sweet Jesus raised my soul!"

1. Victimhood for Sinners.

Perhaps one of the most striking testimonies about his acceptance of victimhood for sinners is the following transcription of words taken down by Padre Agostino during an ecstasy on 3 December 1911 while the young Padre Pio was having a vision of Christ badly wounded:

"My Jesus, forgive and put down that sword ... but if it must fall, let it be only on my head ... Yes, I want to be the victim ... punish me and not the others ... send me even to hell provided that I love you, and that everyone, yes everyone, be saved."

Several years later, on 17 October 1915, he writes to Father Agostino: "You exhort me to offer myself as a victim to the Lord for poor sinners. I made this offering once and I renew it several times a day." From this statement it would seem reasonable to conclude that Padre Pio's acceptance of his manifold sufferings always included intercession for sinners.

2. Victimhood as consolation to Jesus.

Secondly, there is the note of reparation or consolation offered to Jesus. Padre Pio writes of "alleviating the sufferings of our good Jesus". This is the motive for reparation found especially in the revelations of the Lord to St. Margaret Mary who tells us that he asks for the communion of reparation to his Sacred Heart on the First Friday of the month. Pope Pius XI also deals with this concept in his magisterial Encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor on the theology of reparation.

The first and obvious question that comes to mind is this: "Since Jesus is now in glory at the right hand of the Father, how can we offer him 'consolation'?" Pius XI first cited a very apposite quotation from St. Augustine: "Give me one who loves, and he will understand what I say," and then gave the following reply:

If, in view of our future sins, foreseen by him, the soul of Jesus became sad unto death, there can be no doubt that by his prevision at the same time of our acts of reparation, he was in some way comforted when "there appeared to him an angel from Heaven" (Lk. 22:43) to console that Heart of his bowed down with sorrow and anguish.

In other words, as Jesus saw the sins of the world in his agony in Gethsemane by virtue of the beatific vision, so He also saw in advance every act of consolation offered to him until the end of time. In effect, the act of reparation which we offer now he could see then.

This second dimension, too, is notably present in Padre Pio's understanding of the reason for his sufferings. Here is an instance where he develops this motivation in a meditation on the words of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, "Could you not watch one hour with me?" It is fully in line with the theology of Miserentissimus Redemptor which we have just sketched above.

O Jesus, how many generous souls wounded by this complaint have kept Thee company in the Garden, sharing Thy bitterness and Thy mortal anguish ... How many hearts in the course of the centuries have responded generously to Thy invitation ... May this multitude of souls, then, in this supreme hour be a comfort to Thee, who, better than the disciples, share with Thee the distress of Thy heart, and cooperate with Thee for their own salvation and that of others. And grant that I also may be of their number, that I also may offer Thee some relief.

Not surprisingly, even in this meditation which is oriented to consoling Jesus, a reference to cooperating in our own salvation and that of others is not lacking. The two are intertwined in Padre Pio.

B. Specific Applications of Victimhood

Without taking away from the fact that he has already offered himself as a victim for sinners, for the souls in Purgatory, and in reparation, he willingly offers his innumerable physical, mental, emotional and spiritual sufferings together with the demonic assaults which he suffers for specific intentions and persons who are particularly dear to him. Thus we find him writing to his dear Padre Benedetto that

"It grieves me very much to learn that you are unwell and I am praying the Lord for your recovery. As there is nothing else I can do for you, I offered myself some time ago to the Lord as a victim for you. Now that I know you are ill, I renew my offering to Jesus very often and with great fervour."

There are at least two other occasions when he reassures Padre Benedetto that he renews this offering frequently. He makes the same offering for his second spiritual father, Padre Agostino, with a kind of loving audacity:

"Apart from everything else, you belong to me and I have every right to bargain with Jesus even unknown to you. I have offered myself to him as a victim for you and hence my behaviour cannot but be justified. What is the use of making a sacrifice if its purpose is to be frustrated?"

Likewise he reassures Padre Agostino on another occasion that "I never cease, either, to present to Jesus the offering I once made to him for you."

He makes the offering of himself in the state of victim similarly for his Capuchin Province, and asks Padre Benedetto for permission to do the same on behalf of aspirants for the Province. He also informs Padre Benedetto that he has made an offering of himself for the intention which Pope Benedict XV had recommended to the whole Church. It is interesting to note that all of these acts of self-oblation were made before the definitive experience of the stigmata which he received on 20 September 1918 and which marked his body for fifty years.

IV. Source of Padre Pio's Priest-Victimhood: Union with Christ

Perhaps it is not inappropriate here to ask some questions about all of these acts of making himself a victim for particular individuals or intentions. How could Padre Pio offer himself totally for more than one person or intention? In a human manner of speaking, would he not lessen the amount of merit available for a particular person or intention the more he multiplied the dedications of his victimhood? How could he multiply virtually to infinity the various purposes for which he suffered? Mathematically speaking, would he not have been reducing the effects of his suffering with every new intention which he took on?

In a real sense, of course, these questions all dissolve into mystery, but a mystery which, in effect, is based upon the infinite merits won by Christ on Calvary. Padre Pio as one man, even an extraordinarily holy man, dwindles into insignificance in the face of the woes of the world and the mystery of evil. But as priest and victim, he is united with the Eternal Priest and Victim and shares in the infinity of Jesus' merits. Let us consider Padre Pio's description of an experience which took place on 16 April 1912 after a fearful assault by the enemy:

I was hardly able to get to the divine Prisoner to say Mass. When Mass was over I remained with Jesus in thanksgiving. Oh, how sweet was the colloquy with paradise that morning! It was such that, although I want to tell you all about it, I cannot. There were things which cannot be translated into human language without losing their deep and heavenly meaning. The heart of Jesus and my own -- allow me to use the expression -- were fused. No longer were two hearts beating but only one. My own heart had disappeared, as a drop of water is lost in the ocean. Jesus was its paradise, its king. My joy was so intense and deep that I could bear no more and tears of happiness poured down my cheeks. Yes, dear Father, man cannot understand that when paradise is poured into a heart, this afflicted, exiled, weak and mortal heart cannot bear it without weeping. I repeat that it was the joy that filled my heart which caused me to weep for so long.

This mystical experience which Padre Pio manages to describe as the "fusion" of his heart with the Sacred Heart of Jesus helps us to begin to grasp that Padre Pio's total identification with the victimhood of Jesus made him a sharer and, in a certain sense, a dispenser of those infinite merits."

V. Padre Pio's Priest-Victimhood in the Mass

While the entire earthly life of Jesus constituted a continuous offering of himself to the Father, "nevertheless the victim state of the Lord reaches the sacrificial apex at the immolation at Calvary." In an analogous manner we way say that, while the entire priestly life of Padre Pio was lived as a victim, nevertheless his victim state reaches the sacrificial apex at the celebration of the Mass. Let us consider these statements of Padre Pio about his Mass.

"I never tire of standing so long, and could not become tired, because I am not standing, but am on the cross with Christ, suffering with Him."

"The holy Mass is a sacred union of Jesus and myself. I suffer unworthily all that was suffered by Jesus who deigned to allow me to share in His great enterprise of human redemption."

"Everything that Jesus suffered in His passion I suffer also, inadequately, as much as it is possible for a human being. And through no merit of mine but just out of His goodness.This is my only comfort, that of being associated with Jesus in the Divine Sacrifice and in the redemption of souls."

Not only did Padre Pio experience his greatest suffering during the celebration of the Mass, but it was also for him the time of his most intense intercession. As on the cross Jesus could see all of us in the beatific vision, so Padre Pio seems to have had a similar gift. According to Father Schug, the Padre once said that in this absorption in God, especially at the Consecration of the Mass, he saw everyone who had asked his prayers. He told his friends that they could always reach him when he was at the altar. He saw them, actually, in his gaze on God.

Again, once asked "Padre, are all the souls assisting at your Mass present to your spirit?", he answered "I see all my children at the altar, as in a looking glass."Indeed, because the priest is a mediator, it is his responsibility to pray for the people of God. Padre Pio took this as a solemn obligation and, even though the petitions pouring into the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo were countless, he faithfully honored every request for prayer. His intercession was -- and is still -- so powerful precisely because of his priest-victimhood. The seriousness with which he took his role as intercessor should be an admonition to every priest.

VI. Padre Pio and Priests

This brings us to a subject of capital importance: Padre Pio and priests. The Lord has confided to many victim-souls that his priests are "the apple of his eye", yet so often they are so far from fulfilling what he expects of them. Not surprisingly, very early in his state of victimhood, Padre Pio was called to make reparation for priests. Here is an account which he made to Padre Agostino, his spiritual father, on 7 April 1913.

On Friday morning [28 March 1913] while I was still in bed, Jesus appeared to me. He was in a sorry state and quite disfigured. He showed me a great multitude of priests, regular and secular, among whom were several high ecclesiastical dignitaries. Some were celebrating Mass, while others were vesting or taking off the sacred vestments. The sight of Jesus in distress was very painful to me, so I asked him why he was suffering so much. There was no reply, but his gaze turned on those priests. Shortly afterwards, as if terrified and weary of looking at them, he withdrew his gaze. Then he raised his eyes and looked at me and to my great horror I observed two tears coursing down his cheeks. He drew back from that crowd of priests with an expression of great disgust on his face and cried out: "Butchers!" Then turning to me he said: "My son, do not think that my agony lasted three hours. No, on account of the souls who have received most from me, I shall be in agony until the end of the world. During my agony, my son, nobody should sleep. My soul goes in search of a drop of human compassion but alas, I am left alone beneath the weight of indifference. The ingratitude and the sleep of my ministers makes my agony all the more grievous.
Alas, how little they correspond to my love! What afflicts me most is that they add contempt and unbelief to their indifference. Many times I have been on the point of annihilating them, had I not been held back by the Angels and by souls who are filled with love for me. Write to your (spiritual) father and tell him what you have seen and heard from me this morning. Tell him to show your letter to Father Provincial ...

In the annals of the mystics there are no few such plaints recorded as coming from the lips of our Redeemer. The ones from whom Christ looks most of all for consolation, particularly priests, are often precisely the ones who are the most indifferent to his loving plea for reparation. Tragically, some add contempt and unbelief to their indifference.

I believe that this vision which Padre Pio had in the early days of his priesthood was highly prophetic. If it was true in 1913, it can be verified, I believe, much more readily today. Indifference, contempt and unbelief have ravaged tens of thousands of priestly souls, unleashing an extraordinary tide of devastation upon the Church. Have we reached "high tide" yet? Only God knows and only he can respond. What is needed to turn the tide? More than anything else, I believe, are priest-victims.

When one considers the growing impact which the humble friar of the Gargano continues to have even twenty-seven years after his death, can one doubt that a legion of priests who willingly embraced victimhood, as he did, could change the face of the Church? I am convinced that there is no greater need facing the Church today.

VII. Padre Pio and Victims

You may say that I should be talking to priests and, no doubt, I should. But, I speak to you because you are here and because there is also a great need of victim-intercessors for the Church and for priests. Let us listen to a final excerpt from another letter which Padre Pio addressed to Padre Agostino just a short time before the previous letter:

Listen, my dear Father, to the justified complaints of our most sweet Jesus:
With what ingratitude is my love for men repaid! I should be less offended by them if I had loved them less. My Father does not want to bear with them any longer. I myself want to stop loving them, but ... (and here Jesus paused, sighed, then continued) but, alas! My heart is made to love! Weak and cowardly men make no effort to overcome temptation and indeed they take delight in their wickedness. The souls for whom I have a special predilection fail me when put to the test, the weak give way to discouragement and despair, while the strong are relaxing by degrees.
'They leave me alone by night, alone by day in the churches. They no longer care about the Sacrament of the altar. Hardly anyone ever speaks of this sacrament and even those who do, speak alas, with great indifference and coldness.
My heart is forgotten. Nobody thinks any more of my love and I am continually grieved. For many people my house has become an amusement centre. Even my ministers, whom I have loved as the apple of my eye, who ought to console my heart brimming over with sorrow, who ought to assist me in the redemption of souls -- who would believe it? -- even by my ministers I must be treated with ingratitude and slighted. I behold, my son (here he remained silent, sobs contracted his throat and he wept secretly) many people who act hypocritically and betray me by sacrilegious communions, trampling under foot the light and strength which I give them continually ...'
Jesus continues to complain. 'Dear Father, how bad I feel when I see Jesus weeping! Have you experienced this too? 'My son,' Jesus went on, 'I need victims to calm my Father's just divine anger; renew the sacrifice of your whole self and do so without any reserve.'
I have renewed the sacrifice of my life, dear Father, and if I experience some feeling of sadness, it is in the contemplation of the God of Sorrows. If you can, try to find souls who will offer themselves to the Lord as victims for sinners. Jesus will help you."

I would compare this loving complaint of Jesus to the "great revelation" of his Heart which he made to Saint Margaret Mary in 1675,47 but what I wish to underscore here is simply the immediacy, the urgency of the call which Padre Pio heard. He answered with the sacrifice of his life. Let us take to heart these final words: "If you can, try to find souls who will offer themselves to the Lord as victims for sinners. Jesus will help you."


Our Contemporary

The Benedictine calendar of the saints, like that of the Universal Church, grows as the Church makes her pilgrim way through history. In recent years a number of holy Benedictines have been glorified by the Church and Christ has been glorified through them.

I have the impression that as we all advance in age the saints are coming closer and closer to our own lifetimes. This is certainly the case of the Blessed Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster, the Benedictine monk and archbishop of Milan whom we remember today. He died on August 30th, 1954.

If you were to look at photos of Cardinal Schuster -- and there are many of them -- you would see the serene face of a gentle ascetic. In his eyes there is something that suggests that he saw the invisible; his gaze is that of a man whose life was profoundly interior.

Essentially Adorers

Ildefonso Schuster, the son of a Roman tailor, the Abbot of Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls, and the Cardinal-Archbishop of Milan, was at the same time a scholar learned in the Church’s liturgy, in history, in art, in catechesis, spirituality, and archeology; he was a shepherd of souls, a diplomat, and a peace-maker. Beneath the scarlet robes of a Prince of the Church, he remained a monk, a child of Saint Benedict. Thus was he able to say:

Before all other things, and even above all things, O Venerable Brothers, we are essentially adorers. “This is how one should regard us, as ministers of Christ” (1 Cor 4:1). After that we must also be ministers of the people, the salt of the earth, and fishers of men, etc. but first, it is absolutely necessary that we be true servants of God: Ministers of Christ . . . appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God (Heb 5:1).

The Devil Is Afraid of Holiness

As Cardinal-Archbishop, Blessed Schuster never failed to direct the energies of his priests toward the One Thing Necessary. A few days before his death he withdrew to the seminary he had built and there he delivered a final message to his seminarians, warning them of the futility of an apostolate without personal holiness:

I have no memento to give you apart from an invitation to holiness. It would seem that people are no longer convinced by our preaching; but faced with holiness, they still believe, they still fall to their knees and pray. People seem to live ignorant of supernatural realities, indifferent to the problems of salvation. But when an authentic saint, living or dead passes by, all run to be there. . Do not forget that the devil is not afraid of our [parish] sports fields and of our movie halls: he is afraid, on the other hand, of our holiness.

At the Altar

When Blessed Schuster celebrated Holy Mass, his entire being was absorbed in the Divine Mysteries. There are many eyewitness accounts of the impact of his priestly devotion on the faithful. Benedictine to the core, Blessed Schuster was a humble master of the prayer of the Church, manifesting through his body, and extending into all of daily life the spirit drawn from the celebration of the sacred liturgy. Cardinal Giacomo Biffi says: “The simple folk ran to contemplate this slight and frail man who, in his liturgical vestments, became a giant.” Seeing him at the altar people recognized a man in communication with the invisible power of God.

There is no doubt that, if Cardinal Schuster were alive today, he would greatly rejoice in the Holy Father’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. One of Cardinal Schuster’s great works is his three volume Liber Sacramentorum, Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal. He loved the Church of Rome, loved the Church of Milan, and loved their ancient liturgies because in them he recognized the heartbeat of the Bride of Christ and the true sound of her voice.

A Vocation's Unexpected Turns

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Birth, Passion, Death

Each year the Church gives us two feastdays of Saint John the Baptist: the first on June 24th to mark his nativity, and today’s feast to mark his passion and death. We celebrate the nativity of Saint John the Baptist because, unlike everyone else with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, John was born in holiness. Our Lord Jesus Christ sanctified John when both of them were still hidden in the wombs of their mothers.

Appearance and Disappearance

Jesus hidden in Mary approached John hidden in Elizabeth and, when the voice of the Holy Mother of God reached the ears of Elizabeth, the babe in her womb leaped for joy (cf. Lk 1:44). Although John, like all men, was conceived marked by Adam’s sin, he was born already touched by the saving grace of Christ mediated by His Immaculate Mother. Clearly, a child born in such extraordinary circumstances was destined by the Lord for even greater things. At the peak of summer on June 24th we celebrated the appearance of John the Baptist. Today, as summer begins to fade, we celebrate his disappearance.

More Than A Prophet

“And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (Lk 1:76). John the Forerunner is a prophet and he is more than a prophet. By his preaching he speaks truth in the breath of the Holy Spirit. By his captivity, passion and death, he prefigures the Suffering Servant, the immolated Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the Victim “by whose wounds we are healed” (1P 2:24). Our Lord Himself says: “A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” (Lk 7:27-28).

This Joy of Mine

John the Baptist recognizes in Jesus the Light, the Christ, the Lamb of God and the Bridegroom. “Behold the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29). All John’s joy is to gaze upon His Face and to hear His voice. “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase but I must decrease”(Jn 329-30).

The Burning and Shining Lamp

The vocation of John was to be visible only for a time. “He was a burning and shining lamp,” says Jesus, “and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (Jn 5:25). John’s shining light was hidden away in the darkness of a prison cell. The Bridegroom had arrived; the Friend of the Bridegroom had to disappear.

Did anyone else notice this?

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The Modification of a Collect

A few days ago, on the feast of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, the holy Curé of Ars, I preached on the splendid Collect of the day as given in the 1962 Missale Romanum:

Omnipotens et misericors Deus,
qui sanctum Joannem Mariam
pastorali studio
et iugi orationis ac paenitentiae ardore
mirabilem efficisti;
da, quaesumus,
ut eius exemplo et intercessione,
animas fratrum lucrari Christo,
et cum eis aeternae gloriam consequi valeamus.

In English, this becomes:

Almighty and merciful God,
who didst make Saint John Mary wonderful
in his pastoral zeal
and constant prayer and penance,
grant, we beseech Thee,
that by his example and intercession,
we may be able to win the souls of our brethren for Christ,
and together with them attain to glory everlasting.

Later in the day, I had occasion to look at the Collect as it appears in the reformed Missale Romanum, Editio Typica Tertia (2008). Here is the text as given there:

Omnipotens et misericors Deus,
qui sanctum Joannem Mariam
pastorali studio
mirabilem efficisti;
da, quaesumus,
ut eius exemplo et intercessione,
fratres in caritate Christo lucremur,
et cum eis aeternae gloriam consequi valeamus.

In the New English Translation, this same Collect will, as far as I know, appear as:

Almighty and merciful God,
who made the Priest Saint John Vianney
wonderful in his pastoral zeal,
grant, we pray,
that through his intercession and example
we may in charity win brothers and sisters for Christ
and attain with them eternal glory.

Constant Prayer and Penance Deleted

The revised prayer of the 1970 Missal retains only one of the three priestly attributes mentioned in the older prayer, that of pastoral zeal. Constant prayer and penance, the two attributes that sustained Saint John Mary Vianney's pastoral zeal, are deleted from the 1970 version of the prayer. On the other hand, the phrase in caritate was added to the penultimate phrase of the text.

Pastoral Zeal

If one ascribes to the axiom, "Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi" it is clear that this manipulation of the Collect has far reaching consequences for one's understanding of how the priesthood is to be lived out. If what matters is "pastoral zeal" above all else, one risks becoming, and rather quickly, "as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." Constant prayer obtains an inpouring of divine charity; penance makes room for it in the heart. Constant prayer and penance are the context of a pastoral zeal that is supernaturally motivated and not a exercise in clerical narcissism.


The post-Conciliar model of the priesthood placed the emphasis on pastoral zeal, while downplaying the importance of constant prayer and penance. These latter attributes were often dismissed as monastic and, as everyone knows, following the much-quoted worm-eaten old chestnut, "parish priests are not monks!" The difficulty is that pastoral zeal without constant prayer and penance leads to clerical burnout. This is something that I have seen all too often.

The Chicken or the Egg?

I'm left with a question. Did the model of diocesan priesthood change following the liturgical reforms because of the deletions and amendments made to liturgical texts such as the one looked at here? Or were the deletions and amendments to liturgical texts designed to reflect an activistic pastoral vision that had made inroads in the post-war period well before the Second Vatican Council?

A Revision of the Revised Texts?

I have already suggested elsewhere on Vultus Christi that the New English Translation of the Roman Missal, while a small step in the right direction, is far from being the solution to deeper underlying issues. One must be prudent, lest the popular canonization of the euchological texts in the New English Translation of the Roman Missal, appear to suggest that the said translation, and the Editio Typica from which it was made, are, in some way, flawless vehicles of the continuity of Tradition. Perhaps the Editio Typica Tertia itself needs to be revised and brought into a more generous textual conformity with the 1962 Missale Romanum.

The Transfiguration of the Lord

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Gazing on the Holy Face

One-hundred-fourteen years ago, on August 5th, 1897, the eve of the feast of the Transfiguration, a young Carmelite stricken with tuberculosis had a very special desire. She wanted an image of the Holy Face of Christ placed close to her bed. The image was brought from the choir and attached to her bed curtains. On the following September 30th, she died. Her name? Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Saint Thérèse, a Doctor of the Church, fixed her gaze on the Face of Christ disfigured by suffering, and found the transfiguration of her own suffering in its radiance.


Preparation for the Mystery of the Cross

The Holy Face of Christ was a mystery familiar to Thérèse. As a result of the good works of the Venerable Léon Dupont, the "Holy Man of Tours," devotion to the Holy Face had spread throughout France. The Carmel of Lisieux honoured the Holy Face every August 6th, forty days before the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th. Every August 6th, the Carmelites exposed the image of the Holy Face in their choir, anointed it with perfume, and prayed before it.

Hidden in the Secret of His Face

A year before her death on August 6, 1896, Thérèse and two of the novices entrusted to her consecrated themselves to the Holy Face of Jesus. They understood the mystery of the Transfiguration just as the liturgy presents it to us today: as a preparation for the Mystery of the Cross.

The three young Carmelites asked Our Lord to hide them "in the secret of His Face." They were drawn by the Holy Ghost into the abjection of Christ, the Suffering Servant described in chapters 52 and 53 of the prophet Isaiah. They desired to be Veronicas, consoling Jesus in His Passion, and offering Him souls. Their prayer concluded: "O beloved Face of Jesus! As we await the everlasting day when we will contemplate your infinite Glory, our one desire is to charm your Divine Eyes by hiding our faces too so that here on earth no one can recognize us. O Jesus! Your Veiled Gaze is our Heaven!"

Lectio Divina and Eucharistic Adoration

At the very center of the Transfiguration we see the Human Face of God, shining more brightly than the sun. Tradition gives us two privileged ways of seeking, of finding, and of contemplating the transfigured and transfiguring Face of Christ: the first is lectio divina in its two forms: the corporate choral lectio divina of the Sacred Liturgy, and the solitary lectio divina that prolongs the Sacred Liturgy and prepares it. One who seeks the Face of Christ in the Scriptures as dispensed to us by the Church will discover the Face of the Beloved peering through the lattice of the text, and will be changed by the experience. The second way is Eucharistic adoration. One who remains silent and adoring before the Divine Host, the "Veiled Gaze: of Jesus, will, almost imperceptibly, but surely, be transfigured and healed in its radiance.


The Mercy of God

Saint Dominic would spend whole nights weeping and groaning in prayer before the altar. Over and over again he would say, "What will become of sinners? What will become of sinners?" Saint Dominic's great passion was to reconcile sinners by preaching the mercy of God.

The Power of Preaching

Dominic understood that the power of preaching comes from ceaseless prayer. His prayer had three characteristics:
-humble adoration,
-heartfelt pity for sinners,
-and exultation in the Divine Mercy.

Saint Dominic prayed constantly; he prayed at home and on the road, in church and in his cell. For Saint Dominic there was no place or time foreign to prayer. He loved to pray at night. He engaged his whole body in prayer by standing with outstretched arms, by bowing, prostrating, genuflecting, and kissing the sacred page. If you are not familiar with the extraordinary little booklet entitled The Nine Ways of Prayer of Saint Dominic, today would be a good day to find it and read it.

The Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Saint Dominic had a tenth way of prayer too: the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary that today we call the rosary. The use of beads was widespread and the repetition of the Hail Mary were both widespread before the time of Saint Dominic. The Hail Mary prayed 150 times in reference to the 150 psalms was practiced in Carthusian and Cistercian cloisters before the time of Saint Dominic.

Irrigated by Grace

Saint Dominic understood that preaching alone was not enough. Preaching has to be irrigated by grace, and grace is obtained by prayer. Inspired by the Mother of God, Saint Dominic interspersed his sermons with the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He exhorted his hearers to continue praying the Psalter of 150 Aves as a way of prolonging the benefits of holy preaching. The rosary allows the seed of the Word sown by holy preaching to germinate in the soul and bear fruit.

Simple Means

Divine Wisdom has so ordered things that the simplest material means -- humble and adapted to our weakness -- produce the greatest spiritual effects. Father Raphael Simon, the saintly Trappist psychiatrist, said that, "five decades of the rosary or even three Hail Marys daily may mean the difference between eternal life and death." The effect of the rosary is entirely disproportionate to its simplicity. The fruits of the rosary are well known: among them are detachment from sin and from the occasions of sin, peace of heart, humility, chastity, and joy. The rosary, and all authentic prayer, is always realistic -- that is to say, honest about human weakness and sin -- and, at the same, full of hope -- that is to say, open to the glorious plan of God's mercy.

The Supplication of the Rosary

If Saint Dominic preached the rosary and prayed it, it was because he knew it to be a prayer capable of winning every grace. The rosary is a prayer of repetition. It is a prayer of confidence. It helps one to persevere in supplication, bead by bead, and decade by decade. Our Lord finds the rosary irresistible because His own Mother "subsidizes" it. She stands behind it. The rosary is the voice of the poor, the needy, the downtrodden, and the weak. Persevere in praying the rosary and one day you will hear Our Lord say to you what He said to the woman of the Gospel: "Great is thy faith! Be it done for thee as thou wilt" (Mt 15:28). Saint Dominic shows us that, with the rosary in hand, we will experience the triumph of grace.


This may be something that happens somewhere between late middle and old age but, increasingly, I find myself recalling things read when I was in my teens. Thinking about Saint Mary Magdalene today, I remembered how much this passage impressed me when I came upon it in William T. Walsh's Life of Saint Teresa of Avila.

"I had a very great devotion to the glorious Magdalene, and very frequently used to think of her conversion--especially when I went to Communion. As I knew for certain that our Lord was then within me, I used to place myself at His feet, thinking that my tears would not be despised. I did not know what I was saying; only He did great things for me, in that He was pleased I should shed those tears, seeing that I so soon forgot that impression. I used to recommend myself to that glorious Saint, that she might obtain my pardon." (Autobiography of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Chapter IX)

My friend from long ago, Trappist Father Bernard Bonowitz, may not remember this, but back in the 1960s we both delighted in this passage. In some way it kindled a fire in our hearts.


Through the intercession of Saint Henry, blessings upon all our brother Oblates and friends of the monastery today: Jon, Vincent, Tracy, Greg, Neal, Dan, Erik, and Alex. Have I forgotten anyone, brothers? Blessings too upon Henry Casey.

While Keeping Vigil

Benedictine Oblates living and working in the world have two holy patrons: Saint Francesca of Rome whom we celebrated in March, and today’s Saint Henry. One of the things related about Saint Henry is that, on arriving in any town, he would spend his entire first night there in a vigil of prayer in a church dedicated to the Holy Mother of God. When he arrived in Rome in 1014, he spent the night in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, Rome’s Bethlehem. While keeping vigil, he saw the “Sovereign and Eternal Priest-Child Jesus” enter to celebrate the Holy Mysteries. Saints Lawrence and Vincent assisted Our Lord as deacons. A throng of saints filled the basilica; Angels chanted in choir. It is noteworthy that in Henry’s vision Christ the Priest is a Child. One wonders if he was not keeping vigil before the altar of the Crib of the Infant Jesus in Saint Mary Major, a place of grace for countess souls through the ages.

Touched by the Book of the Gospels

Henry’s vision is very much like those of Saint Gertrude the Great: a pulling back of the veil, a glimpse of “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” (1 Cor 2:9). After the Gospel, an Angel bearing the book of the Gospels was sent to Henry by the Mother of God. Normally, one kisses the book of the Gospels. Instead the Angel touched Saint Henry’s thigh with it, saying, “Accept this sign of God’s love for your chastity and justice.” From that moment on, Henry limped like Jacob after his night vigil spent wrestling with the angel (cf. Gn 32:24-25). How fascinating -- and how consistent with God’s dealings with men -- that a mark of weakness should be the sign of a special grace!

The Oblate Emperor

Henry was crowned Emperor in Saint Peter’s Basilica by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014. Henry cherished Benedictine life, spending time in monasteries whenever he could. His greatest joy was to occupy a stall in choir and join the monks in singing the Divine Office. Henry founded monasteries throughout the Empire and endowed them liberally. He became an oblate of the Abbey of Cluny and then asked to make profession as monk at the Abbey of Saint-Vanne. The abbot received him as a monk, and then ordered him, in the name of obedience, to take his place again on the imperial throne.

San Marcellino.jpg

June 2nd is the feast of Saint Marcellino, priest and martyr, the very one named in the Roman Canon. San Marcellino fills Piedimonte d'Alife with the most glorious sights and sounds, and this for nine days, culminating on June 2nd, with the Solemn Mass, Procession, and return of his statue to its niche.

I took this photograph this morning after Pontifical High Mass in the Church of San Marcellino. Note that the saint, holding the palm of martyrdom and the Book of the Gospels, is vested in a cotta and red baroque stole. By means of his image the saint himself becomes present in the midst of the people who love him and implore his protection.

During the nine-day solemn observance the statue is enthroned on a special altar close to the people, and surrounded with flowers and lights. The saint's relics are venerated with great devotion, and the people, together with their priests, pray the Supplica, a traditional form of popular prayer in southern Italy. Here is my translation of the Supplica to San Marcellino:

O most powerful Protector, Priest and Martyr, Saint Marcellino,
behold us, humbly prostrate at thy feet.
Full of confidence, we have recourse to thee.
By the graces with which thou wast filled full by God,
and especially by that burning charity
that led thee to procure the glory of God and the salvation of souls,
we beg thee to take under thy protection
our persons, our families, our relatives
and all our ecclesial community.

Turn thy clement eyes upon thy children
and upon those devoted to thee
and by means of thy efficacious intercession,
obtain for us from God,
more than temporal goods,
goods that are eternal.

And Thou, O Most Holy Trinity,
grant us, through the merits of our holy Patron,
the grace that, by his intercession, we ask of Thee,
so that all may know how much Thou lovest Saint Marcellino,
and so be inflamed to glorify ever more on earth
the one who lived and died for the glory of that faith in Christ
that we all profess. Amen.

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Today is the feast of Pope Saint Peter Celestine, monk, Supreme Pontiff, and hermit. Last July 4th, in the context of the Year of Saint Celestine, proclaimed by the bishops of the Molise and Abruzzi regions of Italy, Pope Benedict XVI went to Aquila in pilgrimage to the saint. The Holy Father left his pallium on Saint Peter Celestine's tomb as a token of devotion to this remarkable saint who, after five months, resigned the papacy and retreated to his beloved solitude.

On the occasion of his visit to Aquila, Pope Benedict XVI Holy Mass and pronounced the following remarkable homily:

Hermit Elected Pope

Dear friends! My visit takes place on the occasion of the Jubilee Year proclaimed by the bishops of Abruzzo and Molise to celebrate the 800th anniversary of birth of St. Peter Celestine. Flying over your land I was able to contemplate the beauty of its landscape and, above all, admire some places closely linked to the life of this renowned figure: Mount Morrone, where Peter lived as a hermit for many years; the Hermitage of Sant'Onofrio, where in 1294 he received news of his election as Supreme Pontiff, which occurred at the conclave in Perugia; and the Abbey of Santo Spirito, whose main altar was consecrated by him after his coronation in the Basilica of Collemaggio in L'Aquila. In April of last year, after the earthquake that devastated this region, in this basilica I myself came to venerate the casket that contains his remains and leave the pallium that I received on the first day of my pontificate. More than 800 years have passed since the birth of St. Peter Celestine V, but he remains in history on account of the notable events of his pontificate and, above all, because of his holiness.

Ever Greater Luminosity of Holiness

Holiness, in fact, never loses its own power of attraction, it is not forgotten, it never goes out of fashion, indeed, with the passage of time, it shines with ever greater luminosity, expressing man's perennial longing for God. From the life of St. Peter Celestine, I would like to gather some teachings that are also valid for our days.


Peter Angelerio was a "seeker of God" from his youth, a man who was desirous to find the answers to the great questions of our existence: Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I alive? For whom do I live? He went in search of truth and happiness, he went in search of God and, to hear his voice, decided to separate himself from the world and to live as a hermit. Silence thus became the element that characterized his daily life. And it is precisely in external silence, but above all in internal silence, that he succeeded in perceiving God's voice, a voice that was able to guide his life. Here a first aspect that is important for us: We live in a society in which it seems that every space, every moment must be "filled" with initiatives, activity, sound; often there is not even time to listen and dialogue. Dear brothers and sisters! Let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves, so that we are able not only to perceive God's voice, but also the voice of the person next to us, the voices of others.

Divine Grace

But it is important to underscore a second element too: Peter Angelerio's discovery of God was not only the result of his effort but was made possible by the grace of God itself that came to him. What he had, what he was, did not come from him: it was granted to him, it was grace, and so it was also a responsibility before God and before others. Even if our life is very different from his, the same thing is also true for us: the entirety of what is essential in our existence was bestowed upon us without our intervention. The fact that I live does not depend on me; the fact that there were people who introduced me to life, that taught me what it means to live and be loved, who handed down the faith to me and opened my eyes to God: all of that is grace and not "done by me." We could have done nothing ourselves if it had not been given to us: God always anticipates us and in every individual life there is beauty and goodness that we can easily recognize as his grace, as a ray of the light of his goodness. Because of this we must be attentive, always keep our "interior eyes" open, the eyes of our heart. And if we learn how to know God in his infinite goodness, then we will be able to see, with wonder, in our lives -- as the saints did -- the signs of that God, who is always near to us, who is always good to us, who says: "Have faith in me!"

Beauty of Creation

In interior silence, in perceiving the Lord's presence, Peter del Morrone developed a lively experience of the beauty of creation, the work of God's hands: he knew its deepest meaning, he respected its signs and rhythms, he used it for what is essential to life. I know that this local Church, like the others of Abruzzo and Molise, are actively engaged in a campaign of sensitivity to and promotion of the common good and of safeguarding creation: I encourage you in this effort, exhorting everyone to feel responsible for their own future, and that of others, respecting and caring also for creation, fruit and sign of God's love.

The Wide Open Arms of the Crucified God

In today's second reading, taken from the Letter to the Galatians, we heard a beautiful expression of St. Paul, which is also a perfect spiritual portrait of St. Peter Celestine: "For me the only boast is in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (6:14). Truly the cross was the center of his life. It gave him the strength to face bitter penances and the most difficult times, from youth to his last hour: he was always aware that through it comes salvation. The cross also gave St. Peter Celestine a clear awareness of sin that was always accompanied by an awareness that was just as clear of God's mercy for his creature. Seeing the wide-open arms of his crucified God, he felt himself transported into the infinite sea of God's love. As a priest he experienced the beauty of being the administrator of this mercy, absolving penitents of sin, and, when he was elected to the See of the Apostle Peter, he wanted to grant a special indulgence called "The Pardon." I would like to exhort priests to be clear and credible witnesses of the good news of reconciliation with God, helping the man of today to recover the sense of sin and God's forgiveness, to experience that superabundant joy that the prophet Isaiah spoke to us about in the first reading (cf. Isaiah 66:10-14).

Evangelization Rooted in Prayer

Finally, a third element: St. Peter, although he lived as a hermit, was not "closed in on himself" but was filled with passion to bring the good news of the Gospel to his brothers. And the secret of his pastoral fruitfulness was precisely in "abiding" in the Lord, in prayer, as we were also reminded by today's Gospel passage: the first priority is always to pray to the Lord of the harvest (cf. Luke 10:2). And it is only after this invitation that Jesus outlines some of the essential duties of the disciples: the serene, clear and courageous proclamation of the Gospel message -- even in moments of persecution -- without ceding to the allurement of fashion nor to that of violence and imposition; detachment from worry about things -- money, clothing -- confiding in the providence of the Father; attention and care especially for the sick in body and spirit (cf. Luke 10:5-9). These were also the characteristics of the brief and trying pontificate of Celestine V and these are the characteristics of the missionary activity of the Church in every age.

Remain Solid in the Faith

Brothers and sisters! I am among you to confirm you in the faith. I would like to exhort you, firmly and with affection, to remain solid in that faith that you have received, which gives meaning to life and gives one strength to love. May the example and intercession of the Mother of God and of St. Peter Celestine accompany us on this journey. Amen!

Saint Alfonso Maria de Liguori

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It is no secret, to my friends at least, that I am immensely fond of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, and I would like to think that he is somewhat fond of me. There is comfort in such mysterious friendships with the saints, friends that span heaven and earth. I was delighted to discover that yesterday, 30 March 2011, Our Holy Father dedicated his Wednesday audience to The Saint of Bourbon Naples, my dear friend Saint Alphonsus. I should very much like to be considered an honorary son of Saint Alphonsus. The subtitles in boldface are my own.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Teacher of the Spiritual Life for Simple People

Today I would like to present to you the figure of a holy doctor of the Church to whom we are very indebted, since he was an outstanding moral theologian and a teacher of the spiritual life for everyone, above all for simple people. He is the author of the words and music of one of the most popular Christmas songs in Italy, "Tu scendi dalle stelle" [You come down from the stars], and of many other things.

From the Bar to the Altar

Alphonsus Maria Liguori was born in 1696 of a noble and rich Neapolitan family. Gifted with remarkable intellectual qualities, at just 16 he received a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer of the bar in Naples: For eight years he won every cause he defended. However, his soul thirsted for God and desired perfection and the Lord led him to understand that he was calling him to another vocation. In fact, in 1723, indignant about the corruption and injustice that plagued his environment, he left his profession -- and with it wealth and success -- and decided to become a priest, despite his father's opposition.

His Theological Culture

He had excellent teachers, who introduced him to the study of sacred Scripture, history of the Church and mysticism. He acquired a vast theological culture that he brought to fruition when, after a few years, he began his work as a writer. He was ordained a priest in 1726 and for his ministry, joined the diocesan Congregation of the Apostolic Missions.

The Cappelle Serotine: Evening Chapels

Alphonsus began evangelization and catechesis among the most humble strata of Neapolitan society, to whom he loved to preach and whom he instructed on the basic truths of the faith. Not a few of these persons whom he addressed, poor and modest, very often were dedicated to vices and carried out criminal activity. With patience he taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of living. Alphonsus obtained great results: In the poorest quarters of the city, there were increasing groups of persons who gathered in the evening in private homes and shops, to pray and meditate on the Word of God, under the guidance of some catechists formed by Alphonsus and other priests, who regularly visited these groups of faithful. When, by desire of the archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they took the name "evening chapels." They were a real and proper source of moral education, of social healing, of reciprocal help among the poor: thefts, duels and prostitution virtually disappeared.

Leaven in the Heart of Society

Even though the social and religious context of St. Alphonsus' time was very different from ours, these "evening chapels" are a model of missionary action in which we can be inspired today as well, for a "new evangelization," particularly among the poorest, and to build a more just, fraternal and solidary human coexistence. Entrusted to priests is a task of spiritual ministry, while well-formed laymen can be effective Christian leaders, genuine evangelical leaven in the heart of society.

Missionary to the Rural Poor

After having thought of leaving to evangelize the pagan peoples, Alphonsus, at the age of 35, came into contact with peasants and shepherds of the interior regions of the Kingdom of Naples and, stricken by their religious ignorance and their state of abandonment, he decided to leave the capital and dedicate himself to these people, who were poor spiritually and materially. In 1732 he founded the religious Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, which he placed under the protection of Bishop Thomas Falcoia, and of which he himself became superior. These religious, guided by Alphonsus, were genuine itinerant missionaries who reached the most remote villages, exhorting to conversion and to perseverance in the Christian life, above all through prayer. Still today, the Redemptorists spread over so many countries of the world with new forms of apostolate, continue this mission of evangelization. I think of them with gratitude, exhorting them to always be faithful following the example of their holy founder.

Bishop of Sant'Agata dei Goti

Esteemed for his goodness and pastoral zeal, in 1762 Alphonsus was appointed bishop of Sant'Agata dei Goti, a ministry that he left in 1775 by the concession of Pope Pius VI because of the illnesses afflicting him. In 1787 that same Pontiff, hearing the news of his death that came after many sufferings, exclaimed: "He was a saint!" And he was not mistaken: Alphonsus was canonized in 1839, and in 1871 he was declared a doctor of the Church.

Trust and Hope in God's Mercy

This title was bestowed on him for many reasons. First of all, because he proposed a rich teaching of moral theology, which adequately expresses Catholic doctrine, to the point that Pope Pius XII proclaimed him "patron of all confessors and moral theologians." Widespread at his time was a very rigorous interpretation of moral life, also because of the Jansenist mentality that, instead of nourishing trust and hope in God's mercy, fomented fear and presented God's face as frowning and severe, very far from that revealed to us by Jesus.

Moral Theologian of Gentleness and Mercy

Above all in his principal work, titled "Moral Theology," St. Alphonsus proposes a balanced and convincing synthesis between the demands of God's law, sculpted in our hearts, revealed fully by Christ and interpreted authoritatively by the Church, and the dynamics of man's conscience and his liberty, which precisely by adherence to truth and goodness allow for the maturation and fulfillment of the person. To pastors of souls and to confessors, Alphonsus recommended faithfulness to Catholic moral doctrine, accompanied by a comprehensive and gentle attitude so that penitents could feel accompanied, supported and encouraged in their journey of faith and Christian life.

The Priest: A Visible Sign of the Infinite Mercy of God

St. Alphonsus never tired of repeating that priests are a visible sign of the infinite mercy of God, who forgives and illumines the mind and heart of the sinner so that he will convert and change his life. In our time, in which there are clear signs of the loss of the moral conscience and -- it must be acknowledged -- of a certain lack of appreciation of the sacrament of confession, the teaching of St. Alphonsus is again of great timeliness.

Love of Jesus and Mary

Together with the works of theology, St. Alphonsus composed many other writings, designed for the religious formation of the people. The style is simple and pleasing. Read and translated into numerous languages, the works of St. Alphonsus have contributed to mold popular spirituality of the last two centuries. Some of them are texts to be read with great profit again today, such as "The Eternal Maxims," "The Glories of Mary," "The Practice of Loving Jesus Christ" -- this last one a work that represents the synthesis of his thought and his masterpiece.

He Who Prays Is Saved

He insisted a lot on the need for prayer, which enables one to open to Divine Grace to carry out daily the will of God and to obtain one's sanctification. In regard to prayer, he wrote: "God does not deny to anyone the grace of prayer, with which one obtains the help to overcome every concupiscence and every temptation. And I say, and repeat and will always repeat, for my entire life, that the whole of our salvation rests on prayer." From which stems his famous axiom: "He who prays is saved" (From the great means of prayer and related booklets. Opere ascetiche II, Rome 1962, p. 171).

Schools of Prayer

There comes to mind, in this connection, the exhortation of my predecessor, the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II: "Christian communities must become genuine 'schools' of prayer. Therefore, education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning" (Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33, 34).

Adoration and Visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament

Outstanding among the forms of prayer fervently recommended by St. Alphonsus is the visit to the Most Blessed Sacrament or, as we would say today, adoration -- brief or prolonged, personal or in community -- of the Eucharist. "Certainly," wrote Alphonsus, "among all the devotions this one of adoration of the sacramental Jesus is the first after the sacraments, the dearest to God and the most useful to us. O, what a beautiful delight to be before an altar with faith and to present to him our needs, as a friend does to another friend with whom one has full confidence!" (Visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament and to Mary Most Holy for Each Day of the Month. Introduction).

Christocentric and Marian

Alphonsus' spirituality is in fact eminently Christological, centered on Christ and his Gospel. Meditation on the mystery of the incarnation and the passion of the Lord were often the object of his preaching: In these events, in fact, redemption is offered "copiously" to all men. And precisely because it is Christological, Alphonsus' piety is also exquisitely Marian. Most devoted to Mary, he illustrated her role in the history of salvation: partner of the Redemption and Mediatrix of grace, Mother, Advocate and Queen. Moreover, St. Alphonsus affirmed that devotion to Mary will be of great comfort at the moment of our death. He was convinced that meditation on our eternal destiny, on our call to participate for ever in God's blessedness, as well as on the tragic possibility of damnation, contributes to live with serenity and commitment, and to face the reality of death always preserving full trust in God's goodness.


St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori is an example of a zealous pastor who won souls preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments, combined with a way of acting marked by gentle and meek goodness, which was born from his intense relationship with God, who is infinite Goodness. He had a realistically optimistic vision of the resources of goods that the Lord gives to every man and gave importance to the affections and sentiments of the heart, in addition to the mind, to be able to love God and one's neighbor.

Holiness for Everyman

In conclusion, I would like to remind that our saint, similar to St. Francis de Sales -- of whom I spoke a few weeks ago -- insists on saying that holiness is accessible to every Christian: "The religious as religious, the lay person as lay person, the priest as priest, the married as married, the merchant as merchant, the soldier as soldier, and so on speaking of every other state" (Practice of Loving Jesus Christ, Opere ascetiche I, Rome 1933, p. 79). I thank the Lord who, with his Providence, raises saints and doctors in different times and places who, speaking the same language, invite us to grow in faith and to live with love and joy our being Christians in the simple actions of every day, to walk on the path of holiness, on the path to God and to true joy. Thank you.

Go to Joseph

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The Icon

Brother Claude Lane, O.S.B., the iconographer who painted this singularly expressive image of Saint Joseph, is a monk of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon. Brother Claude's image is, in its own way, a homily on today's Gospel.

On the Road

Saint Joseph is shown on the road with the Virgin Mary. There is tenderness and strength in his face. He is looking forward, facing the unknown with faith, looking ahead without seeing. As I wrote in one of my prayers to him, Saint Joseph is "a model of faith in the night, obedience in adversity, chastity in tenderness, and hope in uncertainty."

A Young Joseph

Brother Claude portrays him as a young man. Most traditional images depict an older Joseph, but Scripture says nothing about the age of Saint Joseph at the time of Jesus' birth. We know that at the time of the Crucifixion (cf. Jn 19:27), the Virgin Mary was a widow. Saint Joseph is not mentioned in any Gospel accounts of Jesus' public ministry; he is presumed to have died during the years of Jesus' hidden life. During the first century, life expectancy was short. Joseph could have been an "old man" of twenty-one when he married his new bride of fourteen.

The Virgin Bride and the Child in Her Womb

The Blessed Virgin Mary is shown with child; she is wearing a lovely rose-coloured maternity dress. You recognize that Brother Claude has used the imagery of the Virgin of Guadalupe here, precisely because the miraculous image of Guadalupe depicts a pregnant Virgin. Saint Joseph is shown, putting fear aside to take his Virgin Bride into his home. In welcoming Mary, Saint Joseph welcomes the Infant Christ whose Sacred Heart already beats in Mary's womb. In welcoming the Infant Christ, Saint Joseph welcomes each of us in our vulnerability, in our littleness, in our need for protection, and comfort, and warmth, and care.

The Angel

The angel is not named for us in the Gospel account, but tradition suggests that he is the Archangel Gabriel, the same heavenly messenger who brought the news to Mary at her Annunciation. Brother Claude shows the Angel gazing with admiration, with wonder, on both Mary and Joseph. The Angel sees in this couple the man and women chosen by God to protect and nurture the Word made flesh, the King of the Angels. The Angel';s finger points forward. "Let us go," he seems to be saying, "more deeply into the Mystery."

The Donkey

The donkey bearing the Virgin Mary represents that other donkey who will bear Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem amidst cries of jubilation and the waving of palm branches. The donkey is important to this icon: a sign of the unfolding of the Paschal Mystery of Christ the King.

Toward the Altar

In the beginnings of the mysteries of Christ, Saint Joseph is present humbly, tenderly, and decisively. The Angel's hand, pointing forward, indicates that there is more to come. That "more to come" is given us in the Most Holy Eucharist. There, Saint Joseph is present to us and with us in the mystery of Christ. Pray to him. Go to Joseph, Guardian of the Living Bread come down from heaven.

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This oil painting of a youthful and svelte Saint Thomas by Paolo de Majo (1703-1784) is in a private collection in Caserta. You can see Tantum ergo sacramentum, the beginning of the penultimate strophe of his hymn for Vespers of the feast of Corpus Domini in the book he is holding. Our monastic lectionary for Matins gives the text below: splendid advice, I think, for all lovers of Truth.

If you are interested in the Confraternity of the Cord of Saint Thomas or of the Angelic Warfare, be sure to look at what I wrote about it two years ago here. The cord of Saint Thomas, a sacramental, is a powerful aid to chaste living.

A Summary of Practical Wisdom

You asked me, Giovanni, dearest brother in Christ, how you should go about studying so as to acquire the treasure of knowledge. Here then is the counsel that I pass on to you. Seek to enter the sea by way of little streams, and not all at once. It is by means of what is easier that one ought to arrive at what is more difficult. I would have you be slow to speak, and reluctant to frequent places where there is a lot of talking. Keep the purity of your conscience. Never abandon meditation. If you want to be let into the wine cellar, cherish staying in your cell.

Living With Others

Be affable with everyone. Don't examine the actions of others. Don't become too familiar with anyone; excessive familiarity breeds contempt and gives one occasions to leave off studying. In no way should you get involved in the words and doings of seculars. Above all flee useless goings-on. Place your feet in the footsteps of the saints and of the good.

Fruitful in the Vineyard of the Lord

Do not stare at the one addressing you, but entrust to your memory the good things that you may hear. When you read and listen, do so in such a way as to understand what you are reading and hearing. Make certain the things you doubt. Strive to arrange all that you can in the library of your mind, as one is wont to fill up a vessel. Don't go after things beyond you. By walking in the path I have traced for you, you will bear and produce foliage and fruits useful in the vineyard of the Lord Sabaoth, all the days of your life. If you follow these counsels, you will attain what you desire.

(Saint Thomas Aquinas, Exhortatio de modo studendi ad fratrem Ioannem: Opus. th. ed. Marietti, 1, 451. The translation is my own.)


I almost forgot that today is the feast of Saint Giovan Giuseppe della Croce.

A Family Connection

My mother's grandmother was born and raised in a baroque palazzo nestled in a lazy southern Italian paese called Piedimonte d'Alife. From the windows of the house one can look up and see the hermitage of La Solitudine where a humble Franciscan lived an extraordinary holiness. The grace of Saint Giovan Giuseppe della Croce seems to linger still in the wild nature and austere friary above Piedimonte d'Alife.

I first visited La Solitudine in 1975. The cells, refectory, and hermitages are narrow with extremely low ceilings; this particular form of architectural austerity was characteristic of the Alcantarine Reform to which Saint Giovan Giuseppe belonged.

Our saint died on March 5, 1739. Four years later, in 1743, Bishop Isabella dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel the family chapel constructed by my Onoratelli ancestors at the foot of the mountain crowned by Saint Giovan Giuseppe's hermitage.

A Franciscan Father of the Desert

In obedience to the express desire of his superior, our saint submitted to receive the dignity of the priesthood, and was appointed to hear confessions; in which task he displayed a profound theological learning, which he had acquired solely at the foot of the cross. But, carried onward by an ardent love of the cross, whose treasures he more and more discovered as he advanced in the dignity and functions of the sacred ministry, he resolved to establish in the wood adjoining his convent a kind of solitude, where, after the manner of the ancient Fathers of the Desert, he might devote himself entirely to prayer and penitential austerities, and give to the Church an illustrious and profitable example of the sacerdotal spirit exercised in a perfect degree. There was found in the wood a pleasant fountain, whose waters healed the sick; and hard by he erected a little church, and round about it, at intervals, five small hermitages, wherein, with his companions, he renewed the austere and exalted life of the old anchorites, and advanced greatly in spirituality. And in order that no care or worldly thought might ruffle the sublime tranquillity of this contemplative life, the convent had charge of daily supplying the holy solitary with food. (1864 Edition of Butler's Lives of the Saints)

A Life Offered for Priests

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Commemoration of Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil Martiny, Virgin

Although today is Sexagesima Sunday, I cannot let it pass without remembering Blessed Marie de Jésus, a woman whose charism of Eucharistic adoration, reparation, and zeal for the sanctification of priests makes her a significant figure for the Monastery of our Lady of the Cenacle.

Adoration, Reparation, and Spiritual Motherhood

Blessed Marie de Jésus Deluil Martiny (1841-1884) shines among the models of holiness proposed in the Congregation for the Clergy's remarkable Letter of 8 December 2007, Adoration, Reparation, and Spiritual Mother for Priests. Her liturgical commemoration today marks her bloody martyrdom at the hands of a French anarchist, on 27 February 1884.

Zélatrice of the Sacred Heart

Blessed Marie de Jésus was graced with a burning awareness of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. So ardent was her zeal to draw souls close to the Heart of Him who draws near to us in the Blessed Sacrament, that she became known, while yet a young woman living in the world, as the Zélatrice of the Sacred Heart.

The Guard of Honour of the Sacred Heart

Even before founding the Congregation of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus, Marie Deluil Martiny spent herself promoting a movement known as the Guard of Honour of the Sacred Heart. The movement still exists today with its international headquarters at the Visitation Monastery in Paray-le-Monial, France.

The Divine Wound

Marie de Jésus explained the movement in these words:

"The Guard [of Honour of the Sacred Heart], the Work in itself, was placed by the Infinite Love of our Master at the entrance of the Wound of His Divine Heart. There, it calls souls, unites them, calls them together, preaches to them, if one may say so, pushes them, and draws them into the interior of the Divine Wound . . . it leads them there, and introduces them therein, after having, so to speak, opened to them the door of this sacred refuge . . . Souls, entering this safe abode are sprinkled, washed, whitened, purified, healed, and supernaturalized by a most efficacious application of the Blood and Water that came forth from the Divine Wound.

But Jesus wants even more: this is the new step that Our Lord desires to make the souls He has chosen to this end take: they must enter by the gate of the City of God, that is into the Heart of Jesus by the Divine Wound; therein will be their world, their dwelling, their place of rest."

The Daughters of the Heart of Jesus

The second phase of Marie Deluil Martiny's life was a flowering of the first. After a long preparation in prayer, she opened the first house of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus at Berchem near Anvers in Belgium on June 20, 1873. The new foundation was characterized by a burning desire to console the Heart of Jesus, and by a mystical participation in His victimal priesthood, patterned after that of His Holy Mother at the foot of the Cross.


Divine Jealousy for Sacerdotal and Consecrated Souls

Mother Marie de Jésus wrote: "They will live from that life of suffering love that was the intimate life of the Heart of Jesus; they will penetrate the most tender secrets of His love: the Eucharist, the Church, His divine jealousy for sacerdotal and consecrated souls."

Priests: Sacrificers and Victims

"What a calling! The Work must give to Christ souls who offer themselves as a sacrifice of Love, these will be "the victims of Love that Jesus asks for," by the Holy Eucharist. The Host has become indispensable to my life; I should wish never to leave it for the sake of sacerdotal souls [priests]. Too many of them are satisfied with being Sacrificers and exercise their sacred functions without steeping them enough in the Priestly Spirit, that is, without themselves becoming truly Victims at the same times as Sacrificers, and so God wills that legions of souls who are truly Victims offer themselves as humble supplements for what certain priests are lacking in the Priestly Spirit. Their example is Mary, the Mother of Jesus."

Offering for Priests

"To offer yourself for souls is beautiful and great," wrote Mother Deluil Martiny, "but to offer yourself for the souls of priests is so beautiful, so great, that you would have to have a thousand lives and offer your heart a thousand times. . . . I would gladly give my life if only Christ could find in priests what he is expecting from them. I would gladly give it even if just one of them could perfectly realize God's divine plan for him."

The Blessed Virgin Mary United to the Victimal Priesthood of Her Son

Marie Deluil Martiny presents the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of Christ the Victim Priest and of all who are called to follow Him in the way of His Victimal Priesthood. By her most intimate and perfect participation in the Victimal Priesthood of her Son, the Blessed Virgin Mary is both Coredemptrix and Mediatrix. She is the Virgo sacerdotalis, sacerdotal, not by virtue of sacramental ordination, but by virtue of her unique and entire adhesion to the Sacrifice of Christ.

Violent Death and Glory

When on February 27, 1884, Mother Marie de Jésus was murdered in the garden of the monastery she had founded at La Servianne, her family property, her last words were, "I forgive him . . . for the Work, for the Work for Priests," that is, for the Institute she founded.

"Our Lord," she said, "has put into my soul that the souls of the future institute will be like that parcel of the Host that melts in the chalice; they will all melt and disappear in the Blood of Jesus." The Congregation she founded, the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus, continue her charism of liturgical prayer, reparation, and adoration, with a particular maternal solicitude for priests. Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Marie de Jésus Deluil Martiny on October 22, 1989.


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Although the Roman Martyrology commemorates the anniversary of Saint Bernadette's death on April 16th, her liturgical memorial is kept on February 18th at Lourdes itself, at Nevers where her body rests, and in all of France. Saint Bernadette has a way of making herself close to those who seek her intercession.

The liturgical texts provided for her feast provide us with a portrait of the little saint of Lourdes. I give here the Latin text and my own translation, with a few words of commentary.

Ad Laudes matutinas

V. Diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis.
R. Propterea benedixit te Deus in aeternum.

V. Grace is poured out upon thy lips.
R. Therefore hath God blessed thee forever.

Yes, when one reads the words of Saint Bernadette, one is struck by her simplicity, a simplicity that is the fruit and sign of Divine Grace at work in her soul.

Ad Benedictus

Libenter gloriabor * in infirmitatibus meis,
ut inhabitet in me virtus Christi. (2 Cor 12:9)

Gladly will I glory in my infirmities
that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

The liturgy places the words of the Apostle Paul in the mouth of Saint Bernadette. Like the Apostle, she experienced the power of Christ in her infirmity, her poverty, and her littleness. Her whole life -- from the hovel where she lived as a girl with her family in Lourdes to the infirmary of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers -- displays the power of Christ in weakness.


Humilium, Deus, protector, amator, et corona,
qui beatam Mariam Bernardam, virginem
mira patientia et caritate clarescere fecisti,
praesta, quaesumus, eius intercessione et exemplo,
per simplices fidei semitas,
ad tuam in caelis visionem pervenire mereamur.
Per Dominum.

O God, protector, lover, and crown of the humble,
who didst make the virgin, blessed Mary Bernard
shine with a wondrous patience and charity,
grant, we beseech Thee, by her intercession and example,
that [walking] in the simple paths of faith,
we may at length be found worthy
of beholding Thee in heaven.
Through Our Lord.

What a beautiful Collect! It begins by addressing God the Father with three titles: He is the protector of the humble, of the lowly in heart; He is the One who loves them; and He is their crown in the glory of heaven. He caused Bernardette to shine, clarescere, like a lamp in a dark place, by means of a the virtues of a wondrous patience and charity. The petition of the prayer alludes not to the singular grace of the apparitions of the Immaculate Virgin at Lourdes, but rather to the simple paths of faith that Bernadette trod after the apparitions, especially in the monotony of daily life at Nevers. These the same paths of faith, quite empty of all that is extraordinary, become our way to the vision of God in heaven.

Ad Vesperas

V. Elegit eam Deus et praeelegit eam.
R. In tabernaculo suo habitare facit eam.

V. God chose her and set her apart.
R. He made her dwell in His tabernacle.

The choice of God: "You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain." (Jn 15:16). God chose Bernadette and drew her into intimacy with Himself, hiding her in the secret of His tabernacle.

Ad Magnificat

Veni, electa mea, * et ponam in te thronum meum.

Come, my chosen one, and I shall set my throne within thee.

The Magnificat Antiphon expresses the call of the Bridegroom at each Holy Communion, and again at the viaticum given in the hour of our death.

February 15th is the liturgical memorial of Saint Claude La Colombière, Priest, S.J.


My God, I believe most firmly
that Thou watchest over all who hope in Thee,
and that we can want for nothing
when we rely upon Thee in all things;
therefore I am resolved for the future to have no anxieties,
and to cast all my cares upon Thee.

People may deprive me of worldly goods and of honors;
sickness may take from me my strength
and the means of serving Thee;
I may even lose Thy grace by sin;
but my trust shall never leave me.
I will preserve it to the last moment of my life,
and the powers of hell shall seek in vain to wrestle it from me.

Let others seek happiness in their wealth, in their talents;
let them trust to the purity of their lives,
the severity of their mortifications,
to the number of their good works, the fervor of their prayers;
as for me, O my God, in my very confidence lies all my hope.
"For Thou, O Lord, singularly has settled me in hope."
This confidence can never be in vain.
"No one has hoped in the Lord and has been confounded."

I am assured, therefore, of my eternal happiness,
for I firmly hope for it, and all my hope is in Thee.
"In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped; let me never be confounded."
I know, alas! I know but too well that I am frail and changeable;
I know the power of temptation against the strongest virtue.
I have seen stars fall from heaven, and pillars of firmament totter;
but these things alarm me not.
While I hope in Thee I am sheltered from all misfortune,
and I am sure that my trust shall endure,
for I rely upon Thee to sustain this unfailing hope.

Finally, I know that my confidence cannot exceed Thy bounty,
and that I shall never receive less than I have hoped for from Thee.
Therefore I hope that Thou wilt sustain me against my evil inclinations;
that Thou wilt protect me against the most furious assaults of the evil one,
and that Thou wilt cause my weakness to triumph over my most powerful enemies.
I hope that Thou wilt never cease to love me,
and that I shall love Thee unceasingly.
"In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped; let me never be confounded."

Saint Claude La Colombière, Priest, S.J.


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Saint Romuald Delivered From Evil

Guercino painted this scene from the life of Saint Romuald in 1640-41. The holy abbot is kneeling in prayer in his grotto, having just been delivered from a fierce diabolical temptation. One sees the devil, in the form of a swarthy, naked youth with pointed ears and long pointed fingernails and toenails. The Angel of the Lord, armed with a sturdy stick, is driving the tempter away. The face of the Angel is illumined by the same divine radiance that shines on Saint Romuald in prayer. The devil averts his face from the light and turns his back on the presence of God.

The Crucible

The greatest saints were subject to violent temptations and diabolical molestations. One has only to read Saint Athanasius' Life of Antony to get a clear perspective on the subject. The crucible of temptation is indispensable to holiness. It makes one aware of one's utter dependence on the grace of Christ. It obliges one to persevere in prayer. It exercises the theological virtues, especially that of hope. It is humiliating: that is, it makes one humble.

Keeping Souls from the Sacred Heart

Satan adapts his temptations to our particular weaknesses and circumstances. This is why people without a good self-knowledge (the ground of humility) so often fall prey to his strategies. That being said, one of Satan's classic ploys, always and with everyone, is to try to bar the way to the pierced Side of Christ. The Accuser seeks to intimidate, discourage, or distract souls from the Sacred Heart. This is one of the reasons why Satan, the original iconoclast, so hates representations of the Sacred Heart and of the Wounds of Christ, particularly of the Wound in His Sacred Side.

The Eucharist

The glorious Heart of Jesus, opened by the soldier's lance on Calvary, remains open in the adorable Sacrament of the Eucharist. By keeping souls from the Most Holy Eucharist, the Evil One keeps them from the Heart of Jesus, the fornax ardens caritatis, the burning furnace of charity. Separated from the Eucharistic Heart of Christ, souls grow lukewarm, then cold. Those who are deceived into remaining far from His Eucharistic Heart will find themselves frozen in their sin.

The grace of prayer, in all its forms, is an approach to Our Lord's wounded Side. All prayer has a Eucharistic finality. It is in the Eucharist, as on the Cross, that Christ is lifted up in His oblation to the Father. It is in the Eucharist, as on the Cross, that from His pierced Side flows the blood and water of redemption. "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself" (Jn 12:32). The saints are those who, having yielded to the sacramental embrace of the Crucified, drink from His open Side and find refuge in His Sacred Heart. It is not by happenstance that souls devoted to the Sacred Heart are drawn to Eucharistic adoration.

One Who Prays Is Saved

Satan's first and last temptation will always be to keep one from praying. One who prays is saved. One who stops praying will be lost. One who prays is never far from the pierced Side of Christ. One who prays will experience the mysterious and sweet attraction of His Sacred Heart. One who stops praying will become cold and indifferent to the Eucharist and, by the same token, alienated from Our Lord's wounded Side.

Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

This is where consecration, or entrustment, to the Blessed Virgin Mary comes in. I have never known a soul consecrated to Mary who has altogether abandoned prayer. Even if, at certain moments, prayer is interrupted or ceases materially, during those moments the prayer of the Mother supplies for the weakness of the child; the outstretched mantle of her ceaseless intercession covers those who have entrusted themselves to her Immaculate and Merciful Heart. Souls consecrated to Mary are not spared temptation, but they are assured of mercy and "find grace in seasonable aid" (Heb 4:16).

The Intercession of the Spirit and the Bride

The Blessed Virgin Mary presents to the Sacred Heart all who present themselves to her. "Likewise the Spirit, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary His Spouse, also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because He asketh for the saints, through Mary, Mediatrix and Mother, according to God" (Rom 8:26-27).


The Open Side of Jesus Crucified

Look at this remarkable painting of Jesus Crucified. The focus of the composition is the wound in His Sacred Side. An angel holding a chalice is hovering just beneath it to receive the outpouring of His Blood. There are also angels stationed beneath His wounded hands. A fourth angel stricken with astonishment and grief looks on.

Saint Francis of Assisi

At the foot of the Cross, close to the wounded feet of Jesus, kneels Saint Francis of Assisi, embracing the saving wood. Saint Francis is closest to the feet of Jesus because he was called to walk in lowliness, poverty, and humility, in imitation of the Son of Man who "had no where to lay His head" (Mt 8:20).

Saint Benedict

On the left is Saint Benedict with his hands crossed over his breast. This is the ritual gesture of the monk when, on the day of his profession, he sings the second part of the Suscipe me, Domine: "Let me not be confounded in my expectation" (Ps 118:116). Saint Benedict is gazing at the Face of the Crucified with an extraordinary intensity of compassion and love. One could draw a direct line from the Face of Jesus to the face of Saint Benedict. This is what he means when he says in his Rule that one desiring to become a monk must "truly seek God" (RB 58:7).

Saint Romuald

On the right one sees Saint Romuald, whose feast we celebrate today. He is seated -- rather like Mary of Bethany in Luke 10:39 -- with his hands hidden in the sleeves of his cowl. These are subtle allusions to the hidden life in which Saint Romuald sought the Heart of Jesus, not by much doing (the hidden hands) but, rather, in much listening (the "Marian" posture). You will notice that Saint Romuald is not looking at the Face of the Crucified; he is focused on the wound in Jesus' Sacred Side. Therein he seeks to hide himself like the dove in the cleft of the rock.

Confiance et paix

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Encor que je me sens misérable je ne m'en trouble point, et quelquefois j'en suis joyeux, pensant que je suis une vraie bonne besogne pour la miséricorde de Dieu.
Even when I feel that I'm miserable, I don't worry about it one bit, and sometimes I'm even joyful about it, thinking that I'm quite a good job for the mercy of God.
Saint Francis de Sales

The Gentleman Doctor of the Church

He has been called the "gentleman Doctor of the Church." Saint Francis de Sales was, in the fullest sense of the word, a gentleman -- fully human, courtly, well-spoken and, even elegant -- he was proud of his well-shaped beard -- but he was also -- and it is this, I think, that makes him so attractive -- a gentle man.

Gentleness. Webster gives a whole series of synonyms for the adjective gentle: kindly, amiable, mild, clement, peaceful, pacific, soothing, tender, humane, lenient, and merciful. Gentle, says Webster, refers to an absence of bad temper or belligerence, a deliberate or voluntary kindness or forbearance in dealing with others, an absence of harshness or severity.

A Battered Heart

Francis de Sales did not come by his gentleness cheaply. When we look at portraits of him dating from his lifetime we see a handsome, dignified man with a smiling, peaceful countenance. One would never guess the storms that had raged within, battering his heart and, driving him at the age of nineteen to the brink of despair and suicide. He was a student in Paris at the time. His depression and debilitating anxiety were probably the result of his sensitivity and scrupulous fervour, traits exacerbated by the intellectual and emotional upheavals of university life.


Delivered by the Blessed Virgin

Francis was, in fact, contemplating a plunge into the waters of the Seine to end it all when he was inspired to go to the shrine of the famous Black Virgin of Paris, Notre-Dame de Bonne-Délivrance. The lovely old statue is still in Paris, in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Thomas of Villanova at Neuilly. Our Lady of Good Deliverance still delivers countless troubled, anxious people from their inner turmoil. I went there in pilgrimage over twenty years ago and was privileged to offer Holy Mass at the altar of the Black Virgin.

From Paris to Tulsa

Priests and others who visit me here in Tulsa often comment on the beautiful reproduction of the statue of Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Délivrance that stands atop a cabinet in the sacristy. She is there for a reason. I seek her intercession for all who need a fresh infusion of the virtue of hope.

The Greatest Evil That Can Happen to a Soul

Back to our saint and his crisis. Kneeling before the mysterious medieval image of the Black Virgin, the young Francis de Sales was delivered out of his crisis into a space of inner serenity, into what the nineteenth century Protestant hymn writer Fanny Crosby called "Blessed Assurance." Later in his life, he was to write in the Introduction to the Devout Life that, "With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul" (Introduction to the Devout Life, IV:11). The Doctor of the Church is not speculating; he is speaking from experience.

And the Soul's Greatest Boon

"With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul." What then would be the soul's greatest boon? Confidence. Listen to the gentle Bishop of Geneva:

It is very good to mistrust ourselves, but what good will that do unless we place all our confidence in God and await his mercy? And even if we do not feel such confidence, we must not cease to make acts of confidence and say, "Even though I have no feeling of confidence in you, I know that you are my God, that I am totally yours and have no hope except in your goodness; therefore I abandon myself entirely into your hands.
It is always in our power to make these acts, and even if we have difficulty in doing so, still, it is not an impossibility, and it is on these occasions and in these very difficulties that we give witness of our fidelity to God.
A thousand times a day cast your whole heart, your soul, your anxiety on God with great confidence, and say with the psalmist: "I am yours, Lord; save me."
Do not fear future evil in this world, for perhaps it will never come. But in any event, if evil should come, God will strengthen you. If God commands you to walk upon the waves of adversity, do not doubt; do not be afraid. God is with you; have courage and you will be delivered.
It is very fine to be aware of our misery and imperfection, but we must not stop there, nor fall into discouragement, but pick ourselves up by a holy confidence in God. The foundation of this rests in God and not in us because we change and God never changes.

God never changes. God is worthy of all our confidence. That "blessed assurance" is, ultimately, the only remedy for the anxiety that at certain hours torments even the most phlegmatic among us. Saint Francis de Sales invites us to let go of the false security of the anxieties that have become so dear, and to surrender in peaceful confidence to the "blessed assurance" of the Love of God. Confiance et paix.

S. Ioannis Didaci Cuahtlatoatzin

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Martha Orozco SJuanD.jpg

Yes, that would be the much loved Saint Juan Diego of Guadalupe as he is designated in the new Solesmes Antiphonale Monasticum for December 9th. Here is the official Collect for his feast with my English translation:

Deus, qui per beatum Ioannem Didacum,
sanctissimae Virginis Mariae dilectionem
erga populum tuum ostendisti:
eius nobis intercessione concede,
ut, Matris nostrae monitis Guadalupae datis obsequentes,
voluntatem tuam iugiter adimplere valeamus.

O God, Who, through Saint Juan Diego,
didst show forth the special love of the Most Holy Virgin Mary
toward Thy people,
at his intercession, grant us
so to obey the admonitions given by our Mother of Guadalupe,
that we may ever be able to fulfil Thy will.

The painting of Saint Juan Diego is by Mexican artist Martha Orozco.

Saint Nicholas

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Saint Nicholas Between East and West

The Church in East and West commemorates today Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. The very first journey of Pope Benedict XVI as Supreme Pontiff in May 2005 was to the southern Italian port city of Bari, home to the relics of Saint Nicholas. At the time, few American Catholics realized the profound significance of that gesture. Orthodox Christians, however, were sensitive and attentive to the presence of the Pope in a city that John Paul II had called “a bridge to the East.”

Saint Nicholas at the Altar

To my mind, the most important thing to remember about Saint Nicholas is the spirit of godly fear and adoration with which he stood before the Holy Altar at the moment of the Divine Liturgy. Everything else in his life -- including the countless miracles attributed to him -- flowed from the Holy Mysteries. The Divine Liturgy served by Saint Nicholas must have been like the Mass of Padre Pio. While the holy gifts were being carried in procession to the altar, the people sang of Our Lord’s Eucharistic advent among them: “We who mystically represent the Cherubim, who sing to the life-giving Trinity the thrice holy hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all who comes escorted invisibly by Angelic hosts. alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

The Saints in Advent

Saint Nicholas and the other saints of Advent surround the Eucharistic Advent of the Lord just as they will surround Him with the angels in the glory of His Advent at the end of time. How important it is to acknowledge the saints of Advent, to seek their intercession, to rejoice in their lives. Those who would banish the saints from the celebration of the Advent liturgy are misled and mistaken. The mission of the saints of Advent is to prepare us for the coming of Christ: for His final advent as King and Judge, yes, but also for His humble daily advent hidden under the species of bread and wine. In no way do the saints detract from the intensity of the Advent season. Each of them is given us as a companion and intercessor, charged with making ready our hearts for the advent of the Bridegroom-King.


Saint Nicholas in New Amsterdam

Saint Nicholas arrived in America with the Protestant Dutch settlers in 1624 in what was then called New Amsterdam. As much as the gloomy Protestant Reformation in Holland tried to suppress the cult of the Saints, the Dutch would not give up their beloved Saint Nicholas. Dutch customs, expressions, and even language persisted in New York right into the opening years of the last century, but by that time others had come through Ellis Island, New York’s port of entry -- Italians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Greeks. They came bringing icons of Saint Nicholas lovingly wrapped in the trunks that contained all their worldly possessions. They came bringing prayers to Saint Nicholas learned as little children, and armed with a confidence in the intercession of Saint Nicholas that withstood poverty, prejudice, hunger, sickness, and all the vicissitudes of a new life in a strange land.

Saint Nicholas the Glorious Patron and Wonderworker

Saint Nicholas has always had enormous appeal. He is recognized as the patron saint of more causes than of any other saint, of classes of people, cities, churches, and whole nations. He is the patron saint of thieves -- not because he helps them to steal -- but because he helps them to repent and change; of pawnbrokers and bankers because he knew how to use gold in the service of compassion and charity; of pharmacists, fisherman, lawsuits lost unjustly and the lawyers who lost them, prisoners, orphans, prostitutes, unmarried men, scholars, haberdashers, and bishops. He is best known as the patron saint of children, especially children who are threatened by the circumstances of a troubled family life, or by abuse.

Saint Nicholas and Priests

I like to think of Saint Nicholas also as a patron and friend of priests. More than ever before it is crucial that priests place themselves under the protection of the saints and live in their friendship. Saint Nicholas has much to teach priests: passionate devotion to Christ true God and true Man; compassion for the poor; and the courage to defend children from all dangers of body and soul. Pray to Saint Nicholas today for all priests, but especially for those who have grown fainthearted and weary, and for those attacked by the noonday devil.

Saint Nicholas and the Eucharistic Advent of Christ

Saint Nicholas is present to us today. He will accompany me to the altar, taking his place there among the other saints and angels invisibly present in every Holy Mass. More than anything else, I would ask Saint Nicholas to open the eyes of our souls to the Eucharistic advent of Christ. If we are prepared for Christ’s coming in the Holy Mysteries, we will be prepared for His final coming in glory. One who lives from one Holy Mass to the next need not fear the Day of the Lord. Glorious Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, pray for us that we may be made worthy of the advent of Christ.

Peering Through the Windows

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Almighty and everlasting God,
who for the defence of the veneration of sacred images,
didst endue blessed John with heavenly doctrine
and wonderful strength of spirit:
grant unto us by his intercession and example,
that we may imitate the virtues and experience the protection
of those whose images we venerate.


May the gifts we offer be rendered worthy in thy sight
through the loving advocacy of blessed John
and of the Saints whose images, by his labour,
are exposed for veneration in our temples.


We beseech Thee, O Lord, that the gifts of which we have partaken
may shield us with heavenly armour,
and may the advocacy of blessed John,
together with the prayers of the Saints,
the veneration of whose images
he victoriously upheld in the Church,
plead with one voice on our behalf.

Saint John Damascene, Champion of the Veneration of Icons

The feast of Saint John Damascene (happily moved from March 27th, where, more often than not, it fell in Holy Week or in Paschal Week) reminds us of the place of sacred images in the Christian life. I cannot conceive of a Christian life devoid of images. How bleak our churches would be, how dreary our homes, our empty our rooms without the blessed sacramentals that are the images of Our Lord, of Our Lady, of the Angels, and of the Saints!

Saint Barbara

Saint Barbara, Virgin and Martyr, who shares this date with Saint John Damascene, was imprisoned in a tower by her father until she should renounce Christ. Barbara, taking advantage of her father's absence, summoned the servants and directed them to pierce three windows in her tower prison, so that, through three windows, One Single Light might shine in her solitude: an image of the Adorable and Undivided Trinity. In her own way, Saint Barbara fashioned an image of the Most Holy Trinity, one that only the eyes of faith could recognize.

A Company of Friends

Even in prisons, Christians, suffering for the faith, are known to etch a cross or sacred image on a wall, or to fashion objects of piety from the limited materials at hand. Sacred images preserve us from the existential loneliness that would have us think that, in all the universe, there is no one looking after us, no one caring for us, no one interceding for us. A sacred image is an invitation to peer into heaven, all the while receiving the reflection of the Deifying Light. The images of the saints remind us that we have "so great a cloud of witnesses over our head" (Heb 12:1), and that we are surrounded by company of friends, all of whom take the liveliest interest in our journey through this vale of tears.

There is something sad and cold about a church devoid of sacred images. If a church is a representation of heaven on earth, how can it not be populated with images of those whose voices are one with ours in adoring, praising, thanking, and pleading before the throne of God and of the Lamb?

A Diabolical Revolt

The iconclasm that ravaged so many churches in the wake of the Second Vatican Council was, at the core, a diabolical revolt against the whole sacramental economy of the Incarnation. It will take creative vision and courage to reclaim such churches for things heavenly, to re-order sanctuaries, and restore what was, in effect, stolen from Christ's faithful.

Many of those responsible for the so-called renovation of churches over the past fifty years took their models from an angst-ridden, post-World War II, northern European, liberal Protestant sensibility. They dismissed the noble traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the joyful exuberance of the Catholic Baroque, and the magnificent Spanish Colonial imagery that flourished in Latin America. How often did I hear (especially in France) that one wanted things to be sober, simple, and dépouillé . . . by that, understand dull, uninspiring, and bleak. The sanctuary itself had to be indistinguishable from the "place of the assembly"; the tabernacle was relegated to a place of insignificance, and all honour paid to the "presider's chair." Enough.

Churches resembling vast empty warehouses, athletic centres, or meeting halls effectively extinguish the flame of the orthodox catholic faith because, they constitute an affront to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the whole sacramental economy that flows from it. They invite to the building of a social order deformed and stunted by secular humanism, to the tired and moribond values of the French Revolution and of the Enlightenment; they obscure any glimpse of the glory that is promised us and that reaches our souls, even now, filtered through the complexus of sacred signs that constitutes the liturgy.

In the Monastery

I've not counted the number of sacred images that grace this little monastery. There are a multitude of them: the Holy Face of Jesus in several places, the Child Jesus in my cell and in the library, the Mother of God in every room, Saint Joseph in the entrance hall, Saint Benedict in the oratory, Saints John and Benedict in the sacristy . . . and there are more. Each one is an invitation to communion with Our Lord Jesus Christ, with the Mother of God and with all the Saints. In an environment of faith, it is well nigh impossible to see a sacred image and not raise one's heart and mind to God. How many acts of love, how many aspirations of hope, of adoration, and of faith are generated by the sight of sacred images!

As Through a Window

A sacred image is a window through which the inhabitants of the heavenly Jerusalem peer into the times and spaces of our lives. It is, at the same time, a window through which, we are given a glimpse, however fleeting and obscure, of "what things God hath prepared for those that love him." (1 Cor 2:9) Who would not want to stand before such a window?

In this night of catching nothing

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A Feastday Gift

A number of years ago, I composed music for a French Office hymn for the feast of Saint Andrew. It was a feastday gift for Dom André of Rougemont. The text spoke to me very powerfully. A haunting 4th mode melody for it came to me all at once, in a kind of stream of inspiration.

O Goodly Cross

Why was I so touched by the text of this hymn when I first discovered it? I have long loved the feast of Saint Andrew and meditated the stupendous Magnificat Antiphon: "When blessed Andrew came to the place where the Cross had been prepared, he cried out and said: O goodly Cross, so long desired, and now made ready for my eager spirit; fearless and joyful do I come to you; therefore, receive me also gladly, as the disciple of him who hung upon you." There was something else too: in the text of the hymn were many things deeply related to my own life experience.

A Meditatio

Here, then, for the readers of Vultus Christi, is my translation the hymn. You may want to read it as a kind of meditatio, a way of repeating the Word in other words. This hymn has been a gift for many; may it speak to your hearts as compellingly as it first spoke to mine.

The Hymn

Where then is Thy dwelling,
O Lamb of God who invitest us?
Could it already be the tenth hour
for the disciple set on seeking Thee?
For who can know the day, and who can know the hour
when Thou wilt turn to us and say:
Come and see!

The joy of meeting Thee
is a brightness that transfigures:
in this world's dreary night a flame
of Thy Pascha's dazzling light.
Shine, then, and overcome our darkness,
that we may hear the inward whisper:
Jesus is Lord!

Filled now with Thy presence,
God, our every dawn indwelling,
to all who seek Thee, we would announce
a burning joy, an incandescence.
Thou alone canst tell us
how that cry first pierced the silence:
Blessèd those who believe!

How can we follow Thee, O Lord,
with the faith of those fishers of men?
In this night of catching nothing
we would believe that still, for us, Thy hands are full.
Stand again on this our shore,
and cry to us once more:
Cast the net!

On the threshold of Thy dwelling
Thy Cross will be our sign;
for each apostle will have his hour
just as Thou didst have Thine.
Stay with us, God, our Master,
to sing in each of Thy disciples:
Hail, Cross of Life!

Ad aeterna tabernacula festinare

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The Cross, the Passion, and the Most Holy Eucharist

Today's Saint Silvester Guzzolini (1177-1267), founder of the so-called Blue Benedictines (from the colour of their habit) or Silvestrines, exemplifies the monastic spirituality of the thirteenth century. Nourished by the Word of God, Silvester filled the gaze of his soul with the mysteries of the Passion of Our Lord, contemplating His wounds and desiring nothing so much as to follow Him along the way of the Cross. So strong was this desire of his that on one occasion he was mystically transported to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. As one might expect, Silvester's devotion to the Passion of Jesus found its highest expression in the ardent love he had for the Most Holy Eucharist. This is reflected in the beautiful Secret for his feast:

With all reverence, O Lord,
do we offer these gifts to Thy divine Majesty:
praying that by the devout preparation of our minds
and purity of heart,
we may be made imitators of the blessed Silvester,
and so deserve to receive in a holy manner
the Body and Blood of Thy Son.

The Mother of God

Silvester nurtured a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Mercy, to whom he entrusted himself entirely. Our Lady responded by demonstrating her maternal love for him with singular graces. On one occasion, he fell in the staircase while descending to the Night Office. The Blessed Virgin came to help him and, in the twinkling of an eye, Silvester found himself safe and sound back in his cell. One hears of similar episodes in the lives of modern saints such as Padre Pio, Marthe Robin, and Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit.

Communion from the Hands of Our Lady

The most famous Marian prodigy in his life took place when, of a night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in a dream and said, "Silvester, dost thou desire to receive the Body of my Son?" With trepidation he answered, "My heart is ready, O Lady; let it be done unto me according to thy word." With that, the Mother of God gave him Holy Communion. Claudio Ridolfi painted the episode in 1632.

The Collects

There are two Collects for today's feast. The first alludes to the horrifying experience that caused Silvester to change his way of life and embrace the monastic state. In 1227, as a fifty year old canon of the cathedral of Osimo, he saw the decomposing body of a man who, in life, had been comely and strong. Silvester then said to himself: "What he was thou art, and what he is, thou shalt be." With that, he decided to withdraw into solitude.

The second prayer, found in the new Antiphonale Monasticum, reflects the two principle graces of his life: solitude and community. The Latin text has this magnificent conclusion: et in humili caritate ad aeterna tabernacula festinare!

O most clement God, Who,
when the holy abbot Silvester,
by the side of an open grave,
stood meditating on the emptiness of the things of this world,
didst vouchsafe to call him into the wilderness
and to ennoble him with the merit of a singularly holy life;
most humbly we beg of Thee, that like him,
we may despise earthly things,
and enjoy fellowship with Thee for evermore.

O God who bestowed upon Saint Silvester
zeal for the sweetness of solitude
and for the labours of the cenobitical life,
grant us, we beseech Thee,
to seek Thee always with a sincere mind
and in humble charity
hasten toward the eternal tabernacles.

God can complete what He has begun

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I have long been a friend of Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, or perhaps I should say that Saint Alphonsus, by some mysterious disposition of Divine Providence, has long been a friend to me. At the moment, I am reading for the third time Father Frederick M. Jones's outstanding biography: Alphonse de Liguori, Saint of Bourbon Naples. I was struck last evening by this passage from a letter of the saint, quoted in the book:

What resources have we? We have God. And what work of God was ever based on human support? Tell me what human support had the work of St Francis, of St John of the Cross, of St Teresa?

. . . In proportion as a work is great, so much the more does Jesus Christ make it begin from nothing and surround it with contradictions so as to make it admired by all as a work of God and not a work of human ingenuity. . . . The only thing that can ruin this institute is lack of confidence in God and placing one's trust in human means. . . . Who has done what has been achieved up to now? Me or God? And that same God who has begun the work can complete it.


"Far be it for me to probe the mysterious ways of God, whatever they be; when I die, no one will lose me because I shall return upon earth, I shall return to do violence to souls, so that they will love and know God as He Himself wills to be known and loved. I shall return to be the guardian, the defender, and the coadjutor of my beloved priests."
(Brother Immacolato Giuseppe di Gesù, 1949)

Victim Souls for Priests

I am continually amazed by the number of souls called by Our Lord, especially over the last hundred years, to pray and suffer in the total offering of themselves for the sanctification of priests. While many of these victim souls for priests are women, and models of spiritual motherhood, there are also among them a number of priests and laymen. Among these, Brother Immacolato Giuseppe di Gesù, O.C.D., a humble, bed-ridden solitary, who lived in his family home in Campobasso, Italy, has a message for all who "glory in their infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in them." (2 Cor 12:9)

Aldo Brienza

Born to Emilio Brienza and Lorenza Trevisani, on 15 August 1922, in Campobasso, Italy, Aldo Brienza was baptized on 21 August 1922. On 25 March 1943, Msgr Secondo Bologna confirmed him in his family home. Aldo attended elementary and middle school in Campobasso, finishing his studies at home.

When Pain Came to Stay

At the age of 15, Aldo was suddenly stricken with a acute pain in his feet, that he described as being "like that of a nail piercing them them right through." From this moment on, lovingly assisted by his family, Aldo never left his bed. His state of health grew worse, in spite of which, he never, in over fifty years, complained or indulged in self-pity. "I bless the Lord," he wrote, "because no one, not even those closest to me, are aware of the depth of my pains" (Letter to Fr Valentino Mecca, 17.12.1955).


"Here I am, a Carmelite at last. Oh! What joy was mine when after the Profession I could say to myself: He is all mine at last and I am all His. How beautiful is the part that is ours! To spend an entire life in silence, in adoration, in the intimate union of a heart-to-heart with the Divine Spouse. May I correspond fully to all the designs that He has on my soul, and perfectly accomplish all that He wills."

In 1943, on the feast of the Annunciation, Aldo entered the Carmelite Secular Third Order, taking the name of Brother Giuseppe dell'Addolorata. Constrained to bed by his irreversible medical condition, he received from Pope Pius XII the singular privilege of making Solemn Profession in the First Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. On 11 May, 1948, he pronounced his vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, into the hands of Father Romualdo di Sant'Antonio, provincial superior of Naples, and the delegate of the Prior General of the Order, Father Silverio di Santa Teresa.


The Immaculate Gives Him A New Name

I take refuge in the Immaculate Heart of her who is the Mother of Mercy and the Mother of miserable sinners. She brings us to the Heart of Him who is goodness, love, and mercy."

In 1951 Our Lady told Aldo that his name in religion was to be changed to Immacolato. This was no pious eccentricity. HIs spiritual director and superiors in Carmel discerned this as a particular and authentic Marian grace calling Brother Giuseppe to a lifelong program of purity, love, and to the generous and total gift of himself. In April 1951, he received, from the the provincial of Naples, Father Romualdo di Sant'Antonio, O.C.D., the religious name by which he would be known for the rest of his life: Immacolato Giuseppe di Gesù.

The Desert

Lying on his bed like a host on the corporal, and effectively cloistered in his Carmelite cell in the Brienza family home, Brother Immacolato went to the heart of the desert solitude that characterizes the Teresian Carmel. Transported in a specially adapted automobile, Brother Immacolato left his family home on only a few occasions for specialized medical care. Three times he went as a pilgrim on the "train of the sick" to the sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Loreto. Once, out of obedience to his confessor, he was transported to the electoral polls to cast his vote in fulfillment of his civic duties. In 1952, he visited the house of his spiritual father, Don Michele Fratianni in the little city of Montagano. In 1984 and 1985 to Cardarelli Hospital in Campobasso for dialysis and surgery.


A Victim for the Sanctification of Priests

Already, in the very first years of his "illness" and relentless suffering, Aldo understood that the salvation of souls "costs blood." His generous spirit could not remain indifferent in the face of so tragic an awareness. On 20 August 1943, certain of having at last found his path, and knowing that divine inspiration is confirmed by the ratification of the authority of the Church, he wrote to a priest friend, "Pray, Father, that I may obtain my confessor's permission to offer myself as a victim for the sanctification of priests."

On 6 January 1944, with the blessing of his spiritual director, he makes a magnificent Act of Offering. Aldo was twenty-two years old at the time. The Act of Offering that he wrote is a marvel of poetic harmony, prayer, and doctrine:

In the Name of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of God the Holy Spirit , in the Name of Mary most Sorrowful, I beseech the Most Holy Trinity to accept me as a victim of immolation, expiation, intercession, and reparation to the Divine Justice on behalf of all priests, and of each one in particular.
Receive, O my God, this all-encompassing and irrevocable offering, this total and unconditional act of abandonment, that by Thy mercy, I make to Thee of all that I am. . . . I want only to help and to merit for the world a priesthood worthy of Thy sublime designs. O Eternal God, for the needs of Thy priests, for the sanctification of priests, I accept and I love the sacrifice of my life. . . .
I accept whatever sort of suffering that may torment my body. I accept to be calumniated, despised, humiliated, dishonoured, vilified, outraged, forgotten, and trodden underfoot like a grain of sand, so that Thy priests may be loved, honoured, known, respected, and appreciated. If Thy hand must strike, let it strike me and not them. . . . I accept to feel impotent, useless, miserable, and abandoned by Thee, as one lifeless at Thy feet, happy if, by my immolation, I may increase Thy glory albeit by one degree, however small, and contribute to give Thee one more holy priest.
Infinite Divine Heart of my God, if Thou hast need of more martyrs for the defence and sanctification of Thy priests, I offer Thee all the blood of my veins. Make of me, O sweet Jesus, a host immolated for the sake of Thy priests. Be Thou, Thyself, my sovereign Priest, O Jesus. O my Jesus crucified, in union with Thee, I offer myself as a victim to the Divine Justice. . . . I want to live and die crucified for Thy priests, so that they may be priests according to Thy Heart. . . .
Virgin of Sorrows, victim of love, make of me, with thee, a living host, holy and acceptable to God, for the sanctification of priests. And Thou, O compassionate God, accept and bless this my poor offering; deign to consume this little host slowly, drop by drop, in the ardent flames of Thy most pure love, for the sanctification of the priesthood, so that the abyss of Thy mercies may deploy themselves in the abyss of my miseries. Amen.


"To labour is good, to pray is even better, but to suffer in union with Jesus is everything."

Far from bathing in spiritual consolations, Brother Immacolato lived by faith, clinging to Will of God in the darkness known of old to psalmist:

I am numbered with those who go down into the abyss
and have become like a man beyond help,
like a man who lies dead
or the slain who sleep in the grave,
whom Thou rememberest no more
because they are cut off from Thy care.
Thou has plunged me into the lowest abyss,
in dark places, in the depths.
Thy wrath rises against me,
Thou hast turned on me the full force of Thy anger.
Thou hast taken all my friends from me,
and made me loathsome to them.
I am in prison and cannot escape;
my eyes are failing and dim with anguish.
I have called upon Thee, O Lord, every day
and spread out my hands to Thee.

I have suffered from boyhood and come near to death;
I have borne Thy terrors, I cower beneath Thy blows.
Thy burning fury has swept over me,
Thy onslaughts have put me to silence;
all the day long they surge round me like a flood,
they engulf me in a moment.
Thou hast taken lover and friend far from me,
and parted me from my companions.
(Psalm 87: 4-9, 13-18)

"In spite of so much darkness," he wrote, "I sense that my heart possesses Jesus. Possessing Jesus, I feel that I can smile even in the midst of so many tears."

The Most Holy Eucharist

The reception of Holy Communion was, for Brother Immacolato, a heavenly banquet, a foretaste of paradise, a joy surpassing all earthly joys. His mother and sister prepared a little altar in his room, complete with spotless white linens and fresh flowers. Nothing was lacking for the reception of the Eucharistic Jesus. On a number of occasions, with the permission of the Bishop of Campobasso, various priests offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Brother Immacolato's room.

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On several occasions Brother Immacolato felt the companionship and presence of his Carmelite "sister-soul," Saint Teresa Margherita Redi who, in his in own words, "made of Eucharistic adoration the essential and primary aim of her life." He invoked Saint Teresa Margherita to learn from her the best way of living the mystery of the Eucharist.

"Saint Teresa Margherita came to show me how to adore and thank Jesus the Sacrificial Victim (Gesù-Ostia). What peace, what gladness, what adoring silence, what sweetness . . . how much I sensed the presence of God. Our sainted sister is prompt to help us. Let us entrust ourselves to her, the Saint of the hidden life, the Saint of spiritual graces."

Brother Immacolato's innumerable prayers, written spontaneously in letters to his correspondents, attest abundantly to his love for the Eucharistic Jesus:

O Jesus, unveil before our gaze the sublime beauties of the Eucharist. Live Thou always in us, that we may make Thee live in others. Jesus, give me a faith and a love so great that the Holy Communion I receive in the morning may truly be the centre of my day, and the Eucharist the centre of my life. Let nothing, nothing, ever distance me from Thee, and let my true occupation be to continue my communion with Thee all day long."

Death and Ongoing Presence

On 13 April 1989, at 67 years of age, Brother Immacolato fell asleep in the Lord. The following day his funeral was celebrated in the Cathedral of Campobasso with the participation of an immense crowd of silent mourners. On 21 September 2004, Archbishop Dini of Campobasso wrote to the Father General of the Order of the Teresian Carmel:

All now know the stupendous figure of Brother Immacolato, in the world Aldo Brienza, who, for well nigh fifty years immolated himself in union with Jesus Crucified for sinners and, in particular, for the sanctification of priests, all the while nailed to his bed of suffering. He is emerging more and more as a shining example of evangelical heroism, and many of the faithful have expressed the desire to see recognized by the Church the reputation of holiness that continues to spread abroad among the people of God. And so, with great joy, I announce to you that on 1 October, at 7:00 in the evening, in the Cathedral, a solemn concelebration will mark the opening of the Diocesan Process for the beatification of the most beloved Brother Immacolato.

Two months after the instructive phase of the canonical process, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints grant the nihil obstare. On 13 April 2005, this initial phase was happily completed.

Seeking Brother Immacolato's Intercession

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Lord Jesus, Immaculate Lamb,
immolated upon the altar of the Cross
for the salvation of every human being,
I humbly pray that Thou wouldst deign to glorify,
even on this earth, Thy servant,
Brother Immacolato, who loved Thee so much,
and, confident in his help, I ask for this grace.
(Mention your intention.)
Grant me this, I pray Thee,
through the intercession of Brother Immacolato,
who, whilst living among us, offered himself as a victim
for the sanctification of priests
and for the redemption of those enslaved by sin.

Three Gloria Patri.

+Armano Dini - Arcivescovo
Campobasso, 10.12.2003

For information about Brother Immacolato Giuseppe di Gesù, to attest to graces received through his intercession, or to give your personal testimony, contact or write to:

Postulazione Causa di Fra Immacolato Brienza
Curia diocesana di Campobasso-Bojano,
Via Mazzini 76
86100 Campobasso

The Gentle-Hearted King

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From the Lesson at Matins:

He Began With the Things of Religion

Edward greatly loved God, and was gentle-hearted, and free from any lust for power. He took the kingdom in the year 1042, being then about forty years old. Thereupon he set himself to repair the breaches which wars had made, and began with the things of God, being desirous that religion should rise from the low estate whereinto it had fallen.

Father of Orphans

Because of the abundance of his charity he was styled everywhere The Father of Orphans and Parent of the Poor, and he was never happier than when he had spent upon the needy the whole of his kingly treasures.

The Friendship of Saint John

He had a wonderful love toward John the Evangelist, so that he was used never to refuse anything for the which he was asked in that Saint's name. Concerning this a marvelous tale is wont to be told. It is said that the Evangelist appeared to him once while in tattered raiment, and in his own name asked him for an alms. It befell that the King had no money, wherefore he took a ring from off his finger and gifted him therewith.

Repose in the Lord

Not long afterward the Evangelist sent the same ring back to him by a pilgrim, with a message concerning his death, which was then at hand. The King therefore commanded that prayers should be made for him, and then fell blessedly asleep in the Lord, upon the very day which had been foretold to him by the Evangelist, that is to say, on January 5th, in 1066.

Westminster Abbey

In 1161 he was canonized, and on October 13th, two years later, his body, which was said to have been found incorrupt, was by Saint Thomas Becket translated to Westminster Abbey, where it is still enshrined behind the high altar.

On 17 September 2010, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI visited Westminster Abbey, and prayed at the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor.


The text of Blessed John Henry Newman that I posted on his feastday seems to have touched a number of souls. The saints are close to us, closer to us than we can imagine, and intensely interested in our journeys through this vale of tears. There is a striking similarity between Blessed John Henry Newman's meditation and a page written by Saint Claude La Colombière, S.J. (1641-1682), another heavenly friend of mine. Here it is for those of you who may want to pray over it:

My God, I believe most firmly that Thou watchest over all who hope in Thee, and that we can want for nothing when we rely upon Thee in all things; therefore I am resolved for the future to have no anxieties, and to cast all my cares upon Thee.
People may deprive me of worldly goods and of honors; sickness may take from me my strength and the means of serving Thee; I may even lose Thy grace by sin; but my trust shall never leave me. I will preserve it to the last moment of my life, and the powers of hell shall seek in vain to wrestle it from me.
Let others seek happiness in their wealth, in their talents; let them trust to the purity of their lives, the severity of their mortifications, to the number of their good works, the fervor of their prayers; as for me, O my God, in my very confidence lies all my hope. "For Thou, O Lord, singularly has settled me in hope." This confidence can never be in vain. "No one has hoped in the Lord and has been confounded."
I am assured, therefore, of my eternal happiness, for I firmly hope for it, and all my hope is in Thee. "In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped; let me never be confounded."
I know, alas! I know but too well that I am frail and changeable; I know the power of temptation against the strongest virtue. I have seen stars fall from heaven, and pillars of firmament totter; but these things alarm me not. While I hope in Thee I am sheltered from all misfortune, and I am sure that my trust shall endure, for I rely upon Thee to sustain this unfailing hope.
Finally, I know that my confidence cannot exceed Thy bounty, and that I shall never receive less than I have hoped for from Thee. Therefore I hope that Thou wilt sustain me against my evil inclinations; that Thou wilt protect me against the most furious assaults of the evil one, and that Thou wilt cause my weakness to triumph over my most powerful enemies. I hope that Thou wilt never cease to love me, and that I shall love Thee unceasingly. "In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped; let me never be confounded."

Blessed John Henry Newman

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Although the feast of Blessed John Henry Newman does not figure in the universal calendar, it is an occasion of joy and thanksgiving for a multitude of souls. Here are the liturgical texts for today in both Latin and English.



De Communi pastorum: pro presbyteris.


Deus, qui beátum Ioánnem Henrícum, presbýterum,
lumen benígnum tuum sequéntem
pacem in Ecclésia tua inveníre contulísti,
concéde propítius,
ut, eius intercessióne et exémplo,
ex umbris et imagínibus
in plenitúdinem veritátis tuae perducámur.
Per Dominum.


From the Common of Pastors: For One Pastor


O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman
the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church;
graciously grant that, through his intercession and example,
we may be led out of shadows and images
into the fulness of your truth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

O Rosario benedetto di Maria

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Prayer at Noon

For Catholics in Italy and throughout the world, today, Sunday, 3 October 2010, marks the return of an appointment with the Supplica, the passionate supplication to the Madonna of the Rosary, born in the heart of Blessed Bartolo Longo. This year the Supplica -- always prayed at noon on the first Sunday of October -- falls on the liturgical memorial of Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion. After his election as Abbot of Maredsous (Belgium) in 1909, Blessed Columba chose to receive the Abbatial Blessing on the first Sunday of October, 3 October, because in 1909 it was the Solemnity of Our Lady of the Rosary.

127th Anniversary of the Supplica

Blessed Bartolo Long wrote his inspired petition to the Queen of the Holy Rosary 127 years ago, in 1883. The lengthy supplication has lost nothing of its power to soften even the most hardened hearts; it continues to obtain graces in abundance from the hands of the Madonna of the Rosary. It is a prayer for all peoples and for universal peace, a prayer for the whole Church: for the Holy Father and the bishops, for priests, deacons, and the lay faithful of every state in life, with their special intentions, their burdens, and their hopes.

The Supplica is, of all Blessed Bartolo Longo's published prayers to the Mother of God, the most famous. Its incandescent words have opened countless souls to the merciful love of Christ through the all-powerful intercession of His Mother.

The Supplica is a prayer that people have made their own. It is known on every continent; it has been translated into hundreds of languages. No authority ever imposed it, it is not part of the liturgy of the Church, it was never submitted to revision by ICEL, and yet, it has become universal. Sociologists of religion, take note! Translators of liturgical texts, wake up and smell the Neapolitan coffee!


A Prayer of the Heart

Certain rationalistic types sniff with disdain at the Supplica. They see it as representative of an unenlightened, sentimental, southern Italian piety bordering on superstition. They find its emphases embarrassing, its display of emotion unnerving.

Rich in Sentiment

The literary style of Blessed Bartolo Longo is the expression of his own character. He was capable of gentleness and of passion. He was, like all meridionals, rich in sentiment and quick to express it both in song and in tears. He was moved, before all else, by the reason of the heart.

The Discovery of Truth Through Love

Blessed Bartolo Longo, a Dominican Tertiary, was a lover of Truth; but his particular grace was the discovery of Truth through love. He found Truth, not in syllogisms and in concepts, but in the Heart and on the Face of the Word Made Flesh in the womb of the Virgin, and held in her arms.

The Prayer of One Delivered From Evil

The Rosary was the means by which, at the age of twenty-eight, a confused and desperate Avvocato Bartolo Longo -- a practicing Satanist and medium at the time -- was converted to the Truth and delivered from the powers of darkness. He vowed that he would spend his life proclaiming to others the Rosary's liberating and healing power. This is why, at the end of the Supplica, he exclaims: "O blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain which unites us to God, bond of love which unites us to the angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of hell, safe port in our universal shipwreck, we shall never abandon you."

Bound to Mary by the Rosary

Even pious folks may find the Supplica a bit too baroque, a bit overdone. It may be the Borboni southern Italian blood (mixed with Irish) that runs hot in my veins, but I love the Supplica and I plan on saying it with thousands of other people today. It is the prayer of a man very like myself: a poor sinner who fears nothing when he holds the Rosary in his hands, knowing that the Mother of God holds her end of the chain, and will not let it go.

Here is the text:


Thérèse is so often referred to as “little,” that we risk not seeing the breadth and depth that are really characteristic of her, and the immensity of her desires. Paradoxically, there is nothing small, nothing narrow in this painfully sensitive middle-class girl who, at fifteen years of age, closed herself up in Carmel with a certain number of saints, a certain number of women not altogether right in the head, her own sisters, and one rather unusual prioress. Once Thérèse opened herself to the workings of the Holy Spirit, her heart began to expand -- even in the midst of real emotional, spiritual, and physical sufferings, -- until it reached the dazzling dimensions of the charity of Christ.

In the beginning of her journey, Thérèse recognized herself in the classic lines of every feminine vocation: “To be your spouse, O Jesus, to be a Carmelite, to be, by virtue of my union with you, the mother of souls, this ought to be enough for me . . . but it is not so . . . I feel other vocations within myself . . . O my Jesus! To all these crazy aspirations of mine what will you reply? Today, you want to fulfill other desires of mine bigger than the universe.”

The liturgy, rather audaciously, applies the prophecy of Isaiah to Thérèse. “Rejoice with Jerusalem” becomes “Rejoice with Thérèse and be glad because of her, all you who love her” (Is 66:10). The passion of Thérèse was to love and to be loved. And love was given her. It rushed upon her like a river, invaded her like an overflowing torrent. She dared to open herself to immense desires, and God gave to her with immensity.

Many of us have loved Thérèse for a long time, loved her as a sister, a friend very close to us, someone capable of understanding both the little things that make up our day to day lives and the big things that weigh heavily on us at certain moments, testing our faith in love and causing hope’s little flame to flicker. We are all, I think, fond of repeating that promise of hers that has been translated into countless languages, and rightly so: “If the good God grants my desires, my heaven will be spent on earth even until the end of the world. Yes, I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth.”

If we are to share in the spiritual experience of Thérèse, it will not be by the hammer blows of a steel willpower, nor by dint of effort and striving, nor by a glorious record of victories. It is not by going up but rather by going down, by descending into the last holdouts of our weakness, into the emptiness of a terrible and magnificent poverty, that we will find ourselves with Thérèse in the peace of the weaned child on its mother’s lap (Ps 130:2).

There, in an intimacy open to the little, the broken, and the poor, and closed to everyone else, the Father surprises the friends of Thérèse with the mysteries of the kingdom hidden from the learned and the clever, and revealed to children (Lk 10:21). God waits for us, not on the summits of perfection with crown in hand to reward what we, of ourselves, may have done. He waits for us rather with all the tenderness of His motherly heart, exactly where we fall weak, bruised, humiliated, and reduced to powerlessness. Yes, we fall, but only to discover with amazement that it is into the bosom of the Father. There, in the gentleness of the Spirit, the Son waits to welcome us, saying, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

On the lips of Thérèse, this word -- “Father” -- learned from the lips of Jesus, was, in some way, reinvented for our times. On the lips of Thérèse, the word “Father” was rescued from the bland formulas of a piety past its expiration date, to be pronounced for our world and for our time with the radical newness of the Gospel. If we learn anything at all from this twenty-four year old Doctor of the Church, let it be this: to dare to say “Father” in the breath of the Holy Spirit, to dare to call God “Father” with the boldness of the little, the poor, and the half crazy, a boldness that shocks the custodians of a religion of convention and routine to speak the Gospel again to those who, hoping against all hope, believe in Love.


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As a love offering for the feast of my dear Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, I translated Dom Eugène Vandeur's doctrinal synthesis of Merciful Love, the Cross, and the Mass in her life. The original text appeared in 1925 as part of a commentary of the then new Propers for the Mass of the feast of Saint Thérèse.

The Cross Reveals Merciful Love

The greatest proof of love that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has given to His Father is His sacrifice on the cross. This sacrifice, the most freely given that ever was, -- and from that derives the infinite merit of this oblation of a Man Who is God -- was an act of filial and loving obedience. This act repaired the profanation of the absolute rights of God over His creation that was wrought by Adam and by his race. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross was supreme adoration, fulness of thanksgiving, victorious supplication, and total expiation. The offering of this immolation appeased God and, at the same time, assured our redemption. By virtue of this, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is also the greatest proof of Merciful Love that Jesus Christ has given to men.

Jesus' Love for His Father and for His Friends

This doctrine is condensed for us in these two words of the Gospel: "But that the world may know, that I love the Father: and as the Father hath given me commandment, so do I: Arise, let us go hence" (John 14, 31). And He went out toward Gethsemani. And again: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

Love for Love

The love that the Heart of Christ revealed to us there, on the cross, to all of us and to each one, is mercy: mercy bound up with an infinite tenderness, or rather, suffused into it. One who welcomes that mercy is sanctified and saved. He will assuredly be sanctified and assured of his salvation who, wanting to respond with love to this Merciful Love, and meditating the word of the Apostle, "He loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Galatians 2, 20), will return the proposition and, "offering himself voluntarily as a victim of holocaust to Merciful Love," will exclaim, "Ah, then, I will love Him, and deliver myself up for Him."

The Cross, the Altar, and the Mass

Know that what the CROSS merited, what the CROSS procured, what the CROSS preached, the ALTAR applies to us, procuring and preaching it ceaselessly, and more and more. And so, to live the MASS, is for a soul to abide in the uninterrupted act of this offering: the response of love to Merciful Love. Thus does a soul draw Merciful Love to herself ever more abundantly.

For Sinners

Thérèse tells us that to be devoted to Merciful Love "continually allows the Love with which God loves a soul and the love with which that soul loves God to come together in the heart, there ceaselessly to conceive new flames, which transform the soul in God" (Thérèse, Act of Offering). Thus does one become a wide open vessel, the receptacle of a Love rich in divine mercies. This frees "the torrent of infinite tenderness enclosed in the Divine Heart to overflow into oneself" (Thérèse, Act of Offering); it is the martyrdom of love, Love's direct work in the soul. The consequences of this will, nearly always, entail suffering, but suffering cherished because with it one can purchase souls, a multitude of souls who will love Merciful Love eternally. By making oneself, at the altar, an extension of Jesus, crucified by Love, one causes the abundance of the infinite merits of the Cross to shower down, especially upon sinners. What an ideal!

Consumed by Merciful Love

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus synthesized this doctrine in a practical way when, in her solemn consecration to Merciful Love -- a ceaseless response to the consecration of the Cross and of the Mass -- the Lord inspired her to say:

In order that my life may be one Act of perfect Love, I offer myself as a Victim of Holocaust to Thy Merciful Love, imploring Thee to consume me unceasingly, and to allow the floods of infinite tenderness gathered up in Thee to overflow into my soul, so that I may become a very martyr of Thy Love, O my God!

The Thirst of the Crucified

The entire Christian and religious life of Saint Thérèse is there, whole and entire. She herself provides the living commentary on the [liturgical texts of the] Mass composed for her [feast] by her Mother, the Church. This is what she was saying when, with a pen of fire, she wrote:

One Sunday, closing my book at the end of Mass, a picture of Our Lord on the Cross half slipped out, showing only one of His Divine Hands, pierced and bleeding. I felt an indescribable thrill such as I had never felt before. My heart was torn with grief to see that Precious Blood falling to the ground, and no one caring to treasure It as It fell, and I resolved to remain continually in spirit at the foot of the Cross, that I might receive the Divine Dew of Salvation and pour it forth upon souls. From that day the cry of my dying Saviour--"I thirst!"--sounded incessantly in my heart, and kindled therein a burning zeal hitherto unknown to me. My one desire was to give my Beloved to drink; I felt myself consumed with thirst for souls, and I longed at any cost to snatch sinners from the everlasting flames of hell.

The Souls of Priests

"I feel," she wrote to one of her sIsters,

that Jesus is asking us to quench His thirst by giving Him souls, especially the souls of priests. . . Yes, let us pray for priests; let our life be consecrated to them . . . These souls [of priests] ought to be more transparent than crystal; but, alas, I feel that there are some ministers of the Lord who are not what they should be. And so, let us pray and suffer for them . . . Understand the cry of my heart!

Merciful Love Spread Abroad

It is very clear. Thérèse lived the Mass, especially its expiatory character. She stood at the foot of the holy cross raised over the altar, to gather up the Merciful Love that quenched her own thirst; then she would spread abroad that same Merciful Love over souls, to save them.

The Mass Made Thérèse a Saint

The Mass is the application to souls of the fruits of the Redemption merited upon the cross. If Thérèse of the Child Jesus is a saint, it is the cross that merited sainthood for her, but it is the Mass that applied to her the merits of sanctification and of salvation.

A Little Boy and the Statue He Loved

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Michael Dennis Kirby
March 20, 1959 -- November 25, 1998

Michael's Statue

When I was growing up, there was a statue of Saint Vincent de Paul in the bedroom of my younger brother Michael, and it was his statue.

Little Michael had shortened Saint Vincent de Paul's rather long name to “Saint-Vincent-de.” He met “Saint Vincent-de” when he was taken to the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven, Connecticut for a surgical procedure on his arm. He couldn’t have been more than five years old at the time. Saint Raphael’s was staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth (Convent Station, NJ), spiritual daughters of Saint Vincent.

The Saint Who Loved Children

A lifesize statue of Saint Vincent de Paul figured prominently in the hospital. The statue depicted him with three poor children; one child was in his arms and the two others were huddled in the folds of his cloak. For some reason, little Michael was very taken with this saint who loved children, and wanted to have a statue of his own.

Mom and Dad found exactly the right statue at the Saint Thomas More Book Shop on Chapel Street in New Haven, and bought it for him. For many years “Saint Vincent-de” watched over Michael from atop a chest of drawers, becoming chipped and battered, but no less loved.

How did a seventeenth century French priest become a comforting presence in the life of a little boy in New Haven, Connecticut? There were, of course, the obvious mediations: the Hospital of Saint Raphael and the impressive statue. But none of this would have happened had Saint Vincent de Paul not opened his heart to the Word of God, to the Charity of Jesus Christ, and to the voices of the little and the poor.

Images of the Saints

How important a Catholic work it is to make images of the saints available to little children. Holy Images -- what Adé Béthune, following Saint Leo the Great, called "sacred signs" -- can powerfully influence their lives, and stimulate their imaginations to pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful. Every little boy should have his favourite saint, and an image of him (or her) close at hand.

A claritate in claritatem

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The Martyrology

We are, at every moment, surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) who encourage us by their example and support us by their prayers. This is why the Church, in her wisdom, invites us every day to open her Martyrology and to become familiar with those whose intercession is an unfailing pledge of divine assistance.

Opening to the first entry for August 31st in the Roman Martyrology, we read:

At Jerusalem, the commemoration of Saints Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who received the body of Jesus taken down from the cross, wrapped it in a shroud and placed it in the sepulchre. Joseph, a noble official and disciple of the Lord, was seeking the Kingdom of God; Nicodemus, for his part, a member of the Pharisees and a ruler among the Jews, came to Jesus by night to inquire of his mission and defended him in the presence of the high priests and Pharisees who sought to arrest him.

One also reads in the 2004 edition of the Roman Martyrology the following provision at Article 30:

The Mass and also the Office of any Saint inscribed in the Roman Martyrology . . . may with just cause be celebrated on the day whereupon the name is inserted, when that day is a feria or when an optional memorial is permitted.


Holy Men

We have just cause and good reason to celebrate Saints Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus today. The Gospels associate them with the Mother of God and those other saints so dear to us, who in sorrow and compassion stood by the Cross of Jesus and who, after His death, looked upon the Prince of Life’s wounded hands and feet and side. Some of the most poignant iconography of Our Lord depicts His removal from the cross and burial. We see the Body of Jesus carried in the winding sheet, the shroud of linen prepared by Joseph. We see the Blessed Virgin, Saint John, Mary Magdalene, and the other holy women. And with them we see two noble men with expressions of tenderness and grief: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

In the Gospels

There is more written about Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus in the Gospels than there is about most of the Apostles. Meditating on the Gospel texts that speak of them we discover two men intimately bound to Our Lord, not only during His active life but also in the mysteries of His death and burial. We see two men who actively sought the Kingdom of God, two men who came to the Son because they were drawn to Him by the Father in the Holy Spirit. “No man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father” (Jn 6:66).

Saint Nicodemus

Read again the dialogue of Our Lord with Saint Nicodemus in Chapter 3 of Saint John’s Gospel. It is to Nicodemus that Jesus reveals the mystery of the Cross, saying: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish; but may have life everlasting.” (Jn 3:14). Again, it is to Nicodemus that He reveals the Father’s redeeming love, saying: “For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (Jn 3:15).

These inexhaustible sayings of Our Lord were first sown in the heart of Nicodemus in the course of that extraordinary secret conversation by night. Where did the Fourth Evangelist obtain knowledge of these sayings if not from Nicodemus himself? If we would penetrate these sayings and allow them to transform us, we do well to seek the intercession of the man to whom they were first addressed: Saint Nicodemus.

Saint Joseph of Arimathea

Saint Joseph of Arimathea is named in all four Gospels. Saint Luke calls him “a good and just man” (Lk 23:50). Saint John tells us that he was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews” (Jn 19:38). How extraordinary then, that after the death of Jesus, Joseph should overcome his fear and become so bold as to ask Pilate “that he might take away the body of Jesus” (Jn 19:38). Saint John goes on to say that, “And after these things, Joseph of Arimathea (because he was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews) besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate gave leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus also came, (he who at the first came to Jesus by night,) bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. They took therefore the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths, with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.” (Jn 19:38-42).

Shroud and Napkin

According to the Gospel accounts of the burial of Our Lord, we are indebted to Saints Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus for those precious relics of the Passion of the Lord: the Sacred Shroud, and the Veil of the Holy Face that Pope Benedict XVI venerated with such piety on the occasion of his pilgrimage to Manoppello on September 1, 2006. It is fitting then that we should ask through the intercession of Saints Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, that we may learn to contemplate those mysterious images of the Holy Face of Jesus imprinted on “shroud and napkin.”

The Holy Face

One cannot gaze upon the beauty, the majesty, the serenity, and the tenderness of the Face of Christ without being inwardly changed. This is the secret of sanctification. We do become what we contemplate. “But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18). Saints Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, pray for us that, with eyes of faith and tears of compunction, we may gaze upon the Face of Christ!


Friends in High Places

At certain times in one's life, a particular saint will begin, in so many ways, to say, "Will you too be my friend?" This generally happens when the saint in question starts turning up again and again in books, articles, letters, pictures, and conversations. One mustn't be too quick to discount such things as mere coincidence. From their places in the glory of heaven, the saints are continually widening their circles of friends and clients. It pleases Our Lord to allow this because He wishes, through a given saint, to draw us to a particular virtue, to assist us in a trial, to bestow upon us certain graces, or to make us aware of certain mysteries of the faith.

Saint Gemma Galgani

For some time now, a young Italian saint, who was born in 1878 and who died in 1903, has been making discreet overtures to me. She seems to be saying, "I want to include you in the circle of my friends." Her name is Gemma Galgani. Saint Gemma is one of those mystics of the Passion of Jesus who are given to the Church whenever hearts are in danger of growing cold, and when indifference, ingratitude, and a practical denial of the supernatural threaten the vitality of the Catholic faith.

I would invite readers to invoke Saint Gemma, the patron of those suffering from infirmities of the back, for our dear brother Vincent Uher, who, at this time, is in special need of her intercession. Also, in your kindness, please ask Saint Gemma's help for my mother, Emma, who suffers from back pain. With two rhyming Italian names, that should be easy to do: Santa Gemma, prega per Emma! Saint Gemma, pray for Emma!

The Website

Glenn Dallaire of Bristol, Connecticut has prepared a marvelous website devoted to Saint Gemma. It is well worth visiting. You will find his homepage here.

Pope Saint Pius X

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Itching Ears Among Us

Saint Pius X exemplified the words of the Apostle to Timothy: “Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim 4:2-4). One hundred years after Pope Saint Pius X we have to ask ourselves if there are not still “itching ears” among us.

What causes one’s ears to itch? Curiosity. Lack of discernment. A weak background in Catholic doctrine. Faithful Catholics cannot permit themselves to read just anything. To read authors of dubious orthodoxy or authors critical of the Magisterium is like scratching an itch. It becomes worse. Why would one would even want to read such authors when one can choose from among the inexhaustible richness of the writings of the saints of every age?

Weeds Among the Wheat

We flatter and deceive ourselves by saying that we are adults, that we are discerning, that we are capable of recognizing error, and that we are not affected by being exposed to questionable teachings. But we are wrong. Error is pernicious. It is like a little seed that, after a time, takes root, and then grows up as menacing weed. You know the parable of Our Lord: “While men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ He said to them, 'An enemy has done this’” (Mt 13:25-28). Be watchful lest, while you sleep, an enemy sow weeds among the wheat of your field.


Purity of Doctrine

Pope Saint Pius X was fearless in exposing error and he was selfless in sowing the seed of truth, of beauty, and of goodness in the field of the Church. “We had confidence in our God, to speak unto you the Gospel of God in much carefulness” (1 Th 2:2). Pope Pius X was an intrepid defender of the purity of Christian doctrine. He exposed and condemned the heresy of Modernism with energy and clarity.

Gregorian Chant

We remember Pope Saint Pius X especially for his famous Motu Proprio of November 22, 1903 on the reform of Sacred Music and the restoration of the Church’s plainchant. Like Pope Benedict XVI today, Pope Pius X was a musician; he was above all concerned that the faithful of the Catholic Church might pray in beauty. He recognized in Gregorian Chant the native idiom of the Roman liturgy. Gregorian chant shines with an evangelical poverty. It is chaste in its expression. It is entirely obedient to the Word of God that it clothes, carries, and delivers.

Worthy of the Temple

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have reiterated his insistence on the primacy of Gregorian Chant and the value of the traditional Roman polyphony in the liturgy of the Church. On November 22, 2003, the anniversary of Pius X’s Motu Proprio, Pope John Paul II said, “With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the general rule that St Pius X formulated in these words: 'The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.’” On June 24, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in similar terms: “An authentic renewal of sacred music can only happen in the wake of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.”

The Holiness of Priests

Pope Pius X was also zealous for the holiness of the clergy. Writing to priests in 1908, he said, “Your sanctification has, indeed, first place in our thoughts and in our cares; therefore, with our eyes raised to heaven, we frequently pray for the whole clergy, repeating the words of Christ, our Lord: Holy Father . . . sanctify them (Jn 17:11, 17). Intercession for priests was integral to Pius X’s program for the restoration of all things in Christ.


It was Saint Pius X who opened Holy Communion to little children. He invited the Catholic faithful to frequent, even daily Holy Communion. Pius X came to be known as the “Pope of the Eucharist,” a title that he now shares with Pope John Paul II, the author of Ecclesia de Eucharistia and of Mane Nobiscum, Domine.

Two Popes of the Eucharist

Divine Providence marked both the beginning and the end of the last century with Popes utterly devoted to the Most Holy Eucharist. Pray for us, Saint Pius X, that rejecting all that opposes the splendour of the truth, we may enter with pure hearts into the liturgy of the Church, and so "offer a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty, to the praise and glory of His name, and to the benefit of all His Holy Church (Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum).

Saint Helena, Empress

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The feast of Saint Helena is August 18th. When I lived at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome, it was celebrated with all due solemnity. Evelyn Waugh has a marvelous novel entitled Helena, based on her life. It is well worth reading.

A Relic of the True Cross

Our monastery is privileged to possess and venerate a little fragment of the True Cross. It is a direct link with Saint Helena who unearthed the wood of the Cross in Jerusalem in about the year 326. It is also a link with the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome from which fragments of the wood of the True Cross have been dispensed to Catholics the world over for centuries. It is, above all, a sign of the saving love of Our Lord Jesus Christ who, “lifted up from the earth, draws all men to himself” (Jn 12:32). This is the wood before which the Church sings on Good Friday, “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world.”

Most of the fragments of the True Cross that we venerate in our churches derive from the Wood of the Cross kept in Rome since the early fourth century. When one sees, as I have, the faith of pilgrims coming from all over the world to venerate the Wood of the Cross at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, when one witnesses their tears and hears their prayers before the relics of the Passion and Cross, there is no doubt that we are in the presence of a great and holy sign, the pledge of a life-giving mystery.

Saint Ambrose Speaks

Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, was already an old woman when she set out for Jerusalem intent on excavating the holy places of Christ’s Passion. Saint Ambrose relates Saint Helena’s discovery of the true Cross;

Helena burned with desire to touch the remedy of immortality, but feared to tread on the sacrament of salvation. Joyful in her heart, but fearful in her steps, she knew not what to do; she came nonetheless to the throne of truth. Helena began to visit the holy places and, from the Holy Spirit, had the inspiration to search for the Wood of the Cross. She arrived at Calvary and said, “Behold the place of the battle, where is the victory? I seek the standard of salvation and find it not. I am on the throne and the Cross of the Lord is in the dust? I am in the midst of gold and the triumph of Christ among the ruins? See the devil’s deed; he has buried the sword by which he was brought to nothing. Let the debris be cleared away so that life may appear; let the sword that severed the head of the true Goliath be brought to light; let the earth split open that salvation may shine forth.


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Ignatius young.jpg

For this feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, here is a beautiful text of Pope Benedict XVI. I am mindful in prayer today of my Bishop, who is especially devoted to Saint Ignatius, and of my friend, Father James Kubicki, S.J., Director of the Apostleship of Prayer in the United States. Be sure to visit Father Kubicki's blog, Offer It Up.


Romano Guardini relates in his autobiography how, at a critical moment on his journey, when the faith of his childhood was shaken, the fundamental decision of his entire life - his conversion - came to him through an encounter with the saying of Jesus that only the one who loses himself finds himself (cf. Mk 8:34ff.; Jn 12:25); without self-surrender, without self-loss, there can be no self-discovery or self-realization.

Falling into the Hands of God

But how should we lose ourselves? To whom do we give ourselves? It became clear to him that we can surrender ourselves completely only if by doing so we fall into the hands of God. Only in him, in the end, can we lose ourselves and only in him can we find ourselves.

Jesus and His Church

But then the question arose: Who is God? Where is God? Then he came to understand that the God to whom we can surrender ourselves can only be the God who became tangible and close to us in Jesus Christ. But once more the question arose: Where do I find Jesus Christ? How can I truly give myself to him? The answer Guardini found after much searching was this: Jesus is concretely present to us only in his Body, the Church.

Humble Obedience to the Church

As a result, obedience to God's will, obedience to Jesus Christ, must be, really and practically, humble obedience to the Church. This is something that calls us to a constant and deep examination of conscience. It is all summed up in the prayer of Saint Ignatius of Loyola - a prayer which always seems to me so overwhelming that I am almost afraid to say it, yet one which we should always repeat:

Saint Ignatius' Act of Surrender

"Take O Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding and my entire will.
All that I have and all that I possess you have given me:
I surrender it all to you;
it is all yours, dispose of it according to your will.
Give me only your love and your grace;
with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more".

Pope Benedict XVI
Address to Priests and Religious
Mariazell, Austria
8 September 2007

The Best Part of All

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SS. Martha, Mary, & Lazarus.jpg

In the monastic calendar, today is the liturgical memorial of:
Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus of Bethany, Hosts of the Lord

Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 33:2-11
Luke 10:38-42

A Place of Refreshment for His Heart

Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were all three disciples of the Lord Jesus and, more than disciples, close friends. The house of Bethany was a place of rest for Jesus, a retreat far from the relentless demands and clamor of the multitude. At Bethany, Our Lord was sure of finding warmth, affection, and friendship: values to which His humanity was acutely sensitive. Bethany provided Jesus with more than food, drink, and a quiet place to rest. Bethany offered Jesus a place of refreshment for His Heart.

Behold, I Stand at the Door

In the monastic tradition Martha, Mary and Lazarus are venerated as the patron saints those who are charged with carrying out Saint Benedict's mandate of sacred hospitality: "Let all guests be received as Christ, for He will one day say, I came as a guest and you welcomed me." (RB 53:1). For this reason, today the Benedictine Lectionary gives the story of Abraham and Sarah extending hospitality to the three mysterious visitors by the oak of of Mamre. The feast of Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus invites us to practice hospitality of the heart. "Behold," says the Lord, "I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me" (Rev 3:20).

The Very, Very Nervous

Terry Nelson once referred to Saint Martha as the patron saint of the very, very nervous. In every family and community there are people who seem to thrive on anxiety. They seem to fret over everything. Anxiety is born of fear. Fear of what? Fear of losing control. Fear of going without something or finding oneself in need. Fear of being asked to change. Fear of failure.

A Contagious Neurosis

The anxious person is forever watching others to see what they are doing or not doing, saying or not saying. Look at Martha in today's Gospel! She had one eye on her casserole and the other on her sister. The anxious person goes so far as to think she knows what another is thinking or not thinking. In families and in communities the very, very nervous person tends to make others very, very nervous. Anxiety is a contagious neurosis. There is a reason why Lazarus stayed out of the kitchen! Surely you noticed that Lazarus is not even mentioned in today's Gospel. Our Lord was very courageous to put Himself between Martha and Mary.

How Many Cares and Troubles

At the same time, Saint Martha was a goodhearted woman. Though she tended to be a busybody, she was generous and willing to do absolutely anything to make Jesus feel at home in her house. Our Lord desired more for her. He saw a woman weighed down by the duties she had assumed. He rebuked Martha, going so far as to tell her what was wrong in the way she was behaving: "Martha, Martha, how many cares and troubles thou hast! But only one thing is necessary" (Lk 10:41-42). Our Lord invited Martha to an inner freedom from disquiet, a freedom that would allow her love to soar to divine heights on the wings of confidence and trust.

Love for Me

Jesus wanted the hospitality of Martha's house to be the outward expression -- the sacrament -- of the inward hospitality of her heart. He desired to raise Martha to a higher love, to the love that listens in silence, to the love that fixes its gaze on his face. Martha's love had busy hands and scurrying feet. Jesus desired to give her love ears and eyes: ears to listen to His word and eyes to contemplate His Face. More than anything else, Jesus wanted Martha to let go of the need to control, to supervise, and to fret over others, so that she could open to Him the door of her heart. "If a man has any love for me," He says, "he will be true to my word; and then he will win my Father's love, and we will both come to him, and make our continual abode with him" (Jn 14:23).

Only One Thing

To some, Mary of Bethany appears dreamy-eyed and passive. On the contrary, by taking her place at the feet of Jesus, she was boldly occupying a post normally reserved to men. Only men were deemed capable of conversing with men. It was fitting for a son of the Law to sit at the feet of his rabbi; women were to stay in the background, listening from behind the curtains. Look at Sarah and Abraham in the First Reading: "And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him" (Gen 18:10). What may have irked Martha in Mary's behaviour was that she was putting herself forward so, and usurping the place reserved for male disciples. Martha thought it unseemly. But Our Lord approved entirely. "Mary has chosen for herself the best part of all, that which shall never be taken away from her" (Lk 10:42).

See, How He Loved Him

Concerning Saint Lazarus, we are certain of one thing. Our Lord cherished him. There was a bond of intimate friendship between them. At the death of Lazarus Jesus "was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, 'Where have you buried him?' They said to him, 'Lord, come and see.' Then Jesus wept. So the Jews said, 'See how he loved him'" (Jn 11:33-36).

Lazarus: A Patron Saint of Reparation

In the monastic tradition, Saint Lazarus is the patron of converts and penitents. Jesus delivered him out of the putrefaction of the tomb where, after four days, he had already begun to stink. To everyone's surprise, Lazarus came forth from the tomb, still bound in his burial shroud, but fragrant with new life. "Unbind him, and let him go" (Jn 11:45), said Jesus. Where did Lazarus go at that moment if not straight into the arms of Jesus, his beloved Friend and Saviour? Lazarus spent the rest of his "second life," his "new life," living differently. Saint Lazarus is close to all who are delivered by the merciful Christ into a new life and called by Him to spend the days given them in reparation and in joyful penitence.

I Have Learned to Believe

Between today's Gospel episode and the death of her brother Lazarus something changed in Martha's life. It was to Martha that Jesus spoke the liberating words, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn 11:25). Martha responded: "Yes, Lord, I have learned to believe that thou art the Christ; thou art the Son of the Living God; it is for thy coming the world has waited" (cf. Jn 11:27). Again it is Martha who said to her sister Mary: "The Master is here, and bids thee come" (Jn 11:28).

From Anxiety to Abandonment

Martha, the patron saint of the very, very nervous, changed. I would like to think that, little by little, she became less controlling, less anxious, and less judgmental. I would like to think that she became a peaceful soul, content to live from moment to moment in abandonment to Divine Providence. And I would like to think that in the end, she no longer intimidated Lazarus to the point of making him stay out of the kitchen. She may even have come to accept that Mary's way was different from hers and that, because it pleased the Lord, she had something to learn from it.

Food for the "Second Life"

The Eucharistic hospitality of God awaits us at the altar. The door of the "banqueting house" (Ct 2:4) is already open to us, as it was open to Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. In it there is room for all of us. The Most Holy Eucharist communicates peace to the anxious and busy soul. The Blessed Sacrament is the Food of Love given to those who, like Mary, are bold enough to sit at the feet of Christ. The adorable Body and Precious Blood of Christ are sustenance for a new life of reparation and penitence, for that "Second Life" granted each of us by Divine Mercy. "He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love" (Ct 2:4).

Saints Joachim and Anna

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The Communion of the Saints

We live in the company of the saints. We are in communion with them, and communion implies communication. There is, at every moment, a mysterious exchange taking place between us and the saints who surround us. The Letter to the Hebrews says that we are “watched from above by such a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

Naming Your Baby

The names of saints are more and more rarely being given to Catholic babies. While there is a part of ignorance here -- today’s parents were the victims of the disastrous lack of catechesis that followed the Second Vatican Council -- there is something more. The pressure to secularize every area of life is picking up momentum. Change what people say, and you will change what they think. The modification of vocabulary -- and in this case the suppression of the glorious heritage of Catholic saints’ names -- will lead to a modification of values and, ultimately, of morality.

Living With the Saints

Monasteries have the splendid custom of attributing a saint’s name or a biblical name to every room and place -- from the cells to the workrooms to the storage rooms. The significance of this age-old custom is as beautiful as it is profound: the monastery is inhabited not only by the visible people who live within its walls, but also by its invisible residents, the angels and the saints. The naming of a room for a saint is a confession of faith; it flies in the face of secularist ideologies that would have us believe that reality stops with what is visible.

Recovery of the Sacred

The movement to secularize every thing and every place is as pernicious as it is aggressive. It is part of the “smoke of Satan” that Pope Paul VI saw penetrating the Church to foment confusion. It is important that we respond to the crisis with courage and with conviction. The invasion of the secular must be countered by a concerted recovery of the sacred, and by re-claiming all things for Christ under the patronage of his saints and his mysteries: our cities, our towns, our homes, our institutions, our rooms, and, yes, our children.

The Motu Proprio and the Saints

Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Letter, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum generated some helpful comparative studies of the Rite of Blessed John XXIII (the Mass actually celebrated during the Second Vatican Council) and the 1970 Rite of Pope Paul VI. One of the observations made is that the newer rite, in a misguided attempt to render the Mass less offensive to Protestant sensibilities, removed several key allusions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the saints, and to their intercession (eg. Confiteor; Suscipe, Sancta Trinitas; Libera nos). In no way was this manipulation of the texts authorized by the Conciliar Fathers. It grieved and alienated the venerable Orthodox Churches (honoured by the inclusion of Saint Andrew the Apostle in the Libera nos), who interpreted it as a rejection of the patrimony of the undivided Church.

Saint Sharbel Makhlouf

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Today's Saint

Saint Sharbel the Miracle-Worker has followed me from the earliest days of my monastic journey. I remember learning of his beatification at the close of the Second Vatican Council in December 1965. Saint Sharbel's three inseparable loves, depicted in this image -- the Most Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Word of God -- are the mystical treasure of those who seek, in some way, to follow him in a life of silence and adoration.

Collect from the Missale Romanum 2002

O God who called your priest, Saint Sharbel to the singular combat of the desert and imbued him with every manner of piety, grant us, we beseech you, that by striving to be imitators of the Passion of the Lord we may be found worthy of becoming sharers in his kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.

Ex Oriente Lux

Saint Sharbel (also spelled Charbel) of Lebanon is one of those in whom the Holy Spirit fashioned a heart of flesh, a heart exquisitely sensitive to the mystery of Divine Love. The hermit priest Sharbel was beatified by Pope Paul VI on December 5, 1965, at the close of the Second Vatican Council. It was as if Paul VI wanted the Council to end with Rome gazing Eastward.

Another Saint Anthony of the Desert

Just before the beatification, a prelate at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome said to Bishop Francis Zayek, the shepherd of Maronite Catholics in the United States, "Reading about the holy hermits of the desert, we used to consider many reported facts as mere fables. In the life of Blessed Sharbel, however, we notice that these facts are authentic and true. Blessed Sharbel is another Saint Anthony of the Desert, or Saint Pachomius, or Saint Paul the Anchorite. It is marvelous to observe how you, Maronites, have preserved the same spirituality of the fathers of the desert throughout the centuries, and at the end of the nineteenth century, 1500 years later, produced a Sharbel for the Church."

A New Turning

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, a Trappist monk was emerging from a long period of spiritual depression. Thomas Merton had been in the Abbey of Gethsemani for nine years. He wrote in his journal, "Sharbel lived as a hermit in Lebanon -- he was a Maronite. He died. Everyone forgot about him. Fifty years later, his body was discovered incorrupt and in short time he worked over 600 miracles. He is my new companion. My road has taken a new turning. It seems to me that I have been asleep for 9 years -- and before that I was dead." Sharbel, the 19th century hermit of Lebanon, pulled America's most famous 20th century monk out of a spiritual crisis. That is the communion of the saints!

Like a Lebanon Cedar

On October 9, 1977, Pope Paul VI canonized Sharbel, citing the psalm, "The just will flourish like the psalm tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar" (Ps 91:13). The New York Times gave extensive coverage to the canonization in Rome and to the corresponding festivities in Lebanon, days of celebration that brought Orthodox and Catholic Christians together with Muslims.

Holiness in Clusters

Saint Sharbel's influence continues to grow. In Russia he has an immense following of Orthodox Christians. Muslims continue to seek his intercession, going in pilgrimage to his tomb. In Lebanon and in the Lebanese diaspora he continues to teach the way of silence, the way of the Cross, the way of humble love. On May 10th, 1998, Pope John Paul II beatified Saint Sharbel's professor, the monk, Father Nimutallah al-Hardini. Holiness grows in clusters.

A Eucharistic Death

Saint Sharbel suffered a stroke on December 16th, 1898 while celebrating the Holy Liturgy. He was reciting the prayer, "Father of Truth, behold your Son, a sacrifice pleasing to you. Accept this offering of Him who died for me." He fell to the floor holding the Holy Eucharist in his hands. He died on December 24th. Sharbel had lived twenty-three years in solitude. A lifetime of saying "Yes" to Love prepared him for a fully Eucharistic death and an abiding mission in the Church, one that, even today, is prophetic.


Living for the Unseen Bridegroom

Moved by the Holy Spirit, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha consecrated her virginity to Christ. The strangeness of this new way of life -- fidelity to an unseen Bridegroom -- flew in the face of her native culture. The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary was always in Kateri's hand. She spent long hours in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

Kateri sought solitude with the Bridegroom Christ in the forest she loved and knew well. She fashioned small crosses of wood and set them up in the woods, making little shrines to the saving Cross of her Beloved Jesus. Like the desert mothers of old, graced with compunction, she wept bitterly over her sins and over the sins of her people.

Transfiguring Grace

It was by the transfiguring grace of Christ that Kateri, disfigured by smallpox and nearly blind, became beautiful and fragrant. Saint Paul speaks of being “the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Cor 2:15). Kateri was the pure fragrance of holiness in the midst of her own people. In death, Kateri’s scarred face became beautiful, causing her spiritual father to cry out in astonishment. Christ is faithful to his promises and the saints are witnesses to that fidelity.

Saint John Gualbert

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Good for Evil and Blessings for Curses

Good rendered for evil; blessings for curses; pardon, peace, concord, and reconciliation. A Collect for the Memorial of Saint John Gualbert speaks the language of the Gospel, ageless and ever new.

Almighty and ever-living God,
source of peace and lover of concord,
to know Thee is to live, to serve Thee is to reign;
establish us in Thy love,
that by the example of the blessed abbot John Gualbert,
we may render good for evil and blessings for curses,
and so obtain from Thee both pardon and peace.

Victory Over Vengeance

John Gualbert's monastic vocation unfolded in dramatic circumstances. A medieval Florentine nobleman, he lived in an age and culture that, in spite of the Gospel, exalted vengeance as a matter of honour. When his elder brother was murdered, John felt compelled to avenge him.

On a certain Good Friday, riding through a narrow mountain pass, John came face to face with his brother's killer. The man was alone. The place was isolated. There was no escape. John drew his sword, ready to exact a bloody vengeance. The murderer raised his arms in the form of a cross and, in the Name of Jesus Crucified, begged John's forgiveness.

The Encounter With Jesus Crucified

Cut to the heart by the grace of the Cross, John dropped his sword, embraced his enemy, and made his way straight to a chu