Friday, November 21, 2008
The cult to Our Lady was born in the East; from there also we received the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady, where it was celebrated from the end of the seventh century. In the West, Pope Gregory XI adopted the feast day in 1372 at the pontifical court of Avignon.
A year later, King Charles V introduced the feast of the Presentation at the royal Chapel in Paris. In a letter dated November 10, 1374 to the masters and students of the College of Navarre, he expressed his desire that such a feast should be celebrated throughout the kingdom. The text of the letter reads:
'Charles, by the grace of God King of France, to our dearly beloved: health in Him Who ceases not to honor His Mother on earth. '
'Among other objects of our solicitude, daily occupation, and diligent meditation, that which rightly occupies our first thoughts is that the Most Blessed Virgin and Holy Empress be honored by us with very great love, and praised as it is due. For it is our duty to glorify her, and we, who raise the eyes of our soul to her on high, know what a incomparable protectress she is to all, how powerful a mediatrix she is with her Blessed Son for those who honor her with a pure heart .... This is why we wish to stimulate our faithful people to celebrate this feast, as we ourselves intend to do by God's assistance every year of our life. We send to you the liturgy of said feast to increase your joy.' Such was the language of princes in those days. Then also at that very time, that wise and pious King, following up the work begun in Britigny by Our Lady of Chartres, rescued France from its fallen and dismembered condition.
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
In other words, the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady followed extraordinary historic circumstances. It was a Pope who introduced it in the West, and the King of France who spread it throughout his country. And from France it extended to the whole world. The King took up the feast to thank Our Lady of Chartres for her protection in the battle of Britigny, where the French army defeated its adversaries.
What does the feast of the Presentation celebrate? It celebrates the fact that the parents of Our Lady brought her to the Temple at the age of three and handed her over to live there for a long period as a virgin consecrated to the Temple, contemplating God exclusively.
What is the special beauty of this feast? Our Lady was the one chosen before time began, the Queen of Jesse from whom the Messiah would be born. The Temple was the only place in the Old Testament where sacrifices were offered to God. It represented, therefore, the only true religion. Our Lady being received at the Temple was the first step to the fulfillment of the promise that the Messiah would come to the true religion. It was the encounter of hope with reality.
When she was received at the Temple, Our Lady entered the service of God. That is, a soul incomparably holy entered the service of God. At that moment, notwithstanding the decadence of the nation of Israel, and even though the Temple had been transformed into a den of Pharisees, the Temple was filled with an incomparable light that was the sanctity of Our Lady.
It was in the Temple atmosphere that, without knowing it, she began to prepare herself to be the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It was there that she increased her love of God until she formed the ardent desire for the imminent coming of the Messiah. It was there that she asked God the honor to be the maidservant of His Mother. She did not know that she was the one chosen by God. This is so true that she wondered about the meaning of the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel when he greeted her to ask her permission for the Incarnation. That preparation for Our Lady to be the Mother of Jesus Christ began with the Presentation at the Temple, the feast the Church celebrates on November 21.
Is there a grace we should ask on this day? We should ask for spiritual help to be better prepared to serve God as Our Lady did. But the best way to serve God is to serve Our Lady herself. So, on this feast day we should re-present ourselves before Our Lady, asking her to receive our offer of service and to give us her assistance in the task of our sanctification, just as the Holy Ghost helped her at the Temple of Jerusalem.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The body of St. Peter is said to have been buried immediately after his martyrdom, upon this spot, on the Vatican hill, which was then without the walls and near the suburb inhabited by the Jews. The remains of this apostle were removed hence into the cemetery of Calixtus, but brought back to the Vatican. Those of St. Paul were deposited on the Ostian Way, where his church now stands. The tombs of the two princes of the apostles, from the beginning, were visited by Christians with extraordinary devotion above those of other martyrs. Caius, the learned and eloquent priest of Rome, in 210, in his dialogue with Proclus the Montanist, speaks thus of them: "I can show you the trophies of the apostles. For, whether you go to the Vatican hill, or to the Ostian road, you will meet with the monuments of them who by their preaching and miracles founded this church."
The Christians, even in the times of persecution, adorned the tombs of the martyrs and the oratories which they erected over them, where they frequently prayed. Constantine the Great, after founding the Lateran Church, built seven other churches at Rome and many more in other parts of Italy. The first of these were the churches of St. Peter on the Vatican hill (where a temple of Apollo and another of Idaea, mother of the gods, before stood) in honour of the place where the prince of the apostles had suffered martyrdom and was buried and that of St. Paul, at his tomb on the Ostian road. The yearly revenues which Constantine granted to all these churches, amounted to seventeen thousand seven hundred and seventy golden pence, which is above thirteen thousand pounds sterling, counting the prices, gold for gold; but, as the value of gold and silver was then much higher than at present, the sum in our money at this day would be much greater. These churches were built by Constantine in so stately and magnificent a manner as to vie with the finest structures in the empire, as appears from the description which Eusebius gives us of the Church of Tyre; for we find that the rest were erected upon the same model, which was consequently of great antiquity. St. Peter's Church on the Vatican, being fallen to decay, it was begun to be rebuilt under Julius II in 1506, and was dedicated by Urban VIII in 1626, on this day; the same on which the dedication of the old church was celebrated The precious remains of many popes, martyrs, and other saints, are deposited partly under the altars of this vast and beautiful church, and partly in a spacious subterraneous church under the other. But the richest treasure of this venerable place consists in the relics of SS. Peter and Paul, which lie in a sumptuous vault beyond the middle of the church, towards the upper end, under a magnificent altar at which only the pope says mass, unless he commissions another to officiate there. This sacred vault is called The confession of St. Peter, or The threshold of the Apostles (
Churches are dedicated only to God, though often under the patronage of some saint; that the faithful may be excited to implore, with united suffrages, the intercession of such a saint, and that churches may be distinguished by bearing different titles. "Neither do we," says St. Austin, "erect churches or appoint priesthoods, sacred rites, and sacrifices to the martyrs; because, not the martyrs, but the God of the martyrs is our God. Who, among the faithful, ever heard a priest standing at the altar which is erected over the body of a martyr to the honour and worship of God say, in praying, We offer up sacrifices to thee, O Peter, or Paul, or Cyprian; when at their memories (or titular altars) it is offered to God, who made them both men and martyrs, and has associated them to his angels in heavenly honour." And again, "We build not churches to martyrs as to gods, but memories as to men departed this life, whose souls live with God. Nor do we erect altars to sacrifice on them to the martyrs, but to the God of the martyrs and our God." Constantine the Great gave proofs of his piety and religion by the foundation of so many magnificent churches, in which he desired that the name of God should be glorified on earth to the end of time. Do we show ours by our awful deportment and devotion in holy places, and by our assiduity in frequenting them? God is everywhere present, and is to be honoured by the homages of our affections in all places. But in those which are sacred to him, in which our most holy mysteries are performed, and in which his faithful servants unite their suffrages, greater is the glory which redounds to him from them, and he is usually more ready to receive our requests—the prayers of many assembled together being a holy violence to his mercy.
(Pope Benedict at the tomb of St. Paul)
Monday, November 17, 2008
(St. Francis with St. Louis IX (1215-1270), King of France, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231), patrons of the Secular Franciscan Order)
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Let us contemplate what Dr. Plinio has to say about this great saint.
The fame of the virtues of St. Elizabeth [1207-1231] reached Italy where St. Francis of Assisi had founded his order. He came to know about the support and protection the young Duchess of Thuringia had given the Franciscans in Germany and her great love for poverty. Cardinal Ugolini, the future Pope Gregory IX, often spoke of her to Francis.
One day the Cardinal asked St. Francis for a gift for her as a symbol of his recognition. As he made his request, he took the worn cape off St. Francis' shoulders and recommended that he send it to her. 'Since she is filled with your spirit of poverty,' said the Cardinal, 'I would like for you to give her your mantle, just as Elias gave his mantle to Eliseus.' St. Francis obeyed and sent his mantle to St. Elizabeth, whom he considered as a daughter.
She always kept it with her, and wore it while praying whenever she desired to obtain a special spiritual grace. Later, after she had lost everything, she still conserved the precious mantle of her spiritual father until her death.
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
This incident is rich in teachings for us.
St. Francis of Assisi followed the advice of Cardinal Ugolino, the future Pope Gregory IX, and imitated the example of Elias with Eliseus. He gave his mantle to St. Elizabeth, and when she prayed she used to wear it to be more pleasing to God. She had the certainty that the mantle St. Francis had worn was a symbol of his alliance with her, a symbol of the union of the two souls, and, therefore, a symbol that would draw from God the same graces that St. Francis attracted.
Underlying this incident is a theory about symbols like this.
Rebecca advised her son Jacob to wear a goat skin and approach his blind father Isaac so that he would seem like Esau and receive the blessing due the first born. This covering made Jacob pleasing to his father because he was vested in a way that gave the impression he was the first born. In this episode we have the affirmation of a principle according to which, in certain circumstances, a person who takes on the appearance of another can receive from God the privileges due to the other person.
Something similar happened with Eliseus. By putting on the mantle of Elias, he earned the privilege of being treated by God as if he were Elias. He was the perfect disciple of Elias, the favorite of Elias, he was a kind of extension of the personality of Elias. The mantle Elias gave to Eliseus was a symbol of this union of spirit.
Likewise, in a manner infinitely higher, we have Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who took on human flesh, suffered the Passion and the Crucifixion for us, and washed our sins with His Blood. The merit of His Blood covers us, as the mantle of Elias covered Eliseus. With this red mantle we can present ourselves before God Who is thus pleased to receive us, forgive us, and give us the graces necessary for repentance and the amendment of our lives. We are able to appear before God because we are clothed in the mantle of the innocence and the suffering of Christ and with this, we take on His appearance.
Something like this takes place with Our Lady. She takes the initiative of covering us with her mantle. Then she says to God: 'I vest these children with my merits as their mother, and I want You to consider them as my children.' So, Our Lord looking at us, sees extensions of the personality of Our Lady, and becomes pleased, forgives us, and tries to help us.
In all these episodes 'Jacob and Isaac, Eliseus and Elias, St. Elizabeth and St. Francis, Our Lady with us, and us with Our Lord ' there is some special union of souls that allows one soul to be clothed with the merits of another in order to appear before the Throne of God and be pleasing to Him.
We can apply this principle to our lives. We should have confidence and not despair in face of our weaknesses and guilt. One of us can approach God and say: 'Do not look at my sins, but see instead the merits of your Son and the intercession of Our Lady.'
We should have the honesty to see our defects and sins, because this is what we are supposed to do, but we should not despair, since even if our sins are great we can present ourselves before God vested in the merits of Our Lady and Our Lord. We should have confidence that this marvelous chain of substitutions will be accepted with pleasure by the infinite mercy of God.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Albert the Great, the eldest son of the Count of Bollstadt, was born around 1206 in Lauingen, in Swabia, Germany. After a careful formation he went to study Law at the University of Padua in Italy. There he became familiar with Blessed Jordan of Saxony, General of the Dominicans, whose counsels led him to enter the Dominican Order. Soon he became known for his filial devotion to Our Lady and attention to monastic observance. He was sent to Cologne to finish his studies, earning a reputation for an erudition in the natural sciences greater than all his peers.
After completing his studies, he was sent to teach theology at Hildesheim, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Regensburg, Strasburg and Cologne. In 1245, he was sent to the University of Paris, where he demonstrated the accord between faith and reason and between the sacred and profane sciences. The most illustrious of his disciples, St. Thomas Aquinas, would succeed him at the Sorbonne.
St. Albert retuned to Cologne in 1248 in order to direct the studies of his Order as Regent of the Studium Generale. In 1254 he was elected Dominican provincial of Germany, and in 1260 was appointed Bishop of Regensburg. He resigned the bishopric after three years, and returned to teach at Cologne.
Often, he was also called to act as arbiter and peacemaker between various German Princes and Bishops. He attended the second Council of Lyons (1274), where he took an active part in the deliberations. He died in Cologne on November 15, 1280. On December 16, 1931 he was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI.
Since the year 1300, under a stain-glass window in the Dominican church of St. Andreas in Cologne, one can read these words:
'This sanctuary was built by Bishop Albert, flower of philosophers and wise men, model of good customs, brilliant and splendorous destroyer of heresies, and scourge of evil men. Place him, O Lord, in the number of Thy Saints.'
"By nature he had an instinct for great things. Thus, like Solomon, he begged God for the gift of wisdom, which intimately unites man to God, expands hearts, and raises the souls of the faithful to the heights. Wisdom taught him how to unite an intensive intellectual life with a profound spiritual life, for he was at the same time an initiator of a powerful intellectual movement, a great contemplative, and a man of action"
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
The life of St. Albert the Great is expressed well in the description of how he excelled in these three things he was an intellectual, a contemplative and a man of action. This made him one of the greatest figures of the Middle Ages, one of those who consolidated the Middle Ages.
God gave him the gift to be remarkable in many things. Had he shone in only one of these things, he would be a man of immortal fame. To mention just two of his intellectual accomplishments, St. Albert is considered the founder of Scholasticism, and he was the master of St. Thomas Aquinas, who in his turn brought Scholasticism to its apex. If he were only this great intellectual, he would have gone down in history for this. But he was more. He was also renowned for his religious spirit, he was a great contemplative, a great saint, which would give him all possible glory. Finally, he was also an illustrious Bishop who acquired an enormous fame in his homeland.
Why does Providence make such a brilliant man, who stands out on three different roads at the same time? It is to show that the interior life should have precedence over the others. We understand that if St. Albert had not been a man with a strong interior life, he could not have been the extraordinary scholar that he was. The interior life gives the means for a man to execute God's will for him to perfection. Doing this, a man fully develops his natural talents. Often God gives additional charismas and extraordinary graces to those who are faithful in order to multiply their natural qualities and help them accomplish their missions.
This reminds me of a saying of Dom Chautard, the author of the famous book The Soul of the Apostolate. Once he was with Georges Clemenceau, the very revolutionary French prime-minister. Knowing that Dom Chautard was a very busy man, Clemenceau asked him: 'How do you manage to do so many things in just 24 hours?' Dom Chautard answered, 'It is because I pray the Rosary. If you would also pray it, you would find more time to accomplish your tasks.'
It is a paradox, because to pray the Rosary takes time from other activities. Someone might think that Dom Chautard was just joking with Clemenceau. This is not true. In that apparent contradiction there is a profound truth. If we take time to develop our interior life, God will take care of the other things we need, and will multiply our capacity to accomplish what we are called to do.
This is the great truth that we learn from St. Albert's life.
Those beautiful words written in 1300 under that stain-glass window in St. Andreas Church reveal how much the modern religious mentality has changed. Today, who would say that a saint is a 'brilliant and splendorous destroyer of heresies and scourge of evil men'? Such a eulogy ' which fills our souls with Catholic joy ' has completely disappeared from the present day religious panorama. That this is so reveals the difference between the mentality of the Progressivism that unfortunately dominates the Church today and the true Catholic spirit. It is not difficult to see which one is the position of the Saints.
Let us ask St. Albert the Great to help us to see the full extension of the progressivist errors and combat them with the same brilliancy and splendor that he combated the heresies of his time.