New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Saturday, January 10, 2009

St Gregory of Nyssa - 10th January 2009

The son of two saints, Basil and Emmilia, young Gregory was raised by his older brother, St. Basil the Great, and his sister, Macrina, in modern-day Turkey. Gregory's success in his studies suggested great things were ahead for him. After becoming a professor of rhetoric, he was persuaded to devote his learning and efforts to the Church. By then married, Gregory went on to study for the priesthood and become ordained (this at a time when celibacy was not a matter of law for priests).

He was elected Bishop of Nyssa (in Lower Armenia) in 372, a period of great tension over the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. Briefly arrested after being falsely accused of embezzling Church funds, Gregory was restored to his see in 378, an act met with great joy by his people.

It was after the death of his beloved brother, Basil, that Gregory really came into his own. He wrote with great effectiveness against Arianism and other questionable doctrines, gaining a reputation as a defender of orthodoxy. He was sent on missions to counter other heresies and held a position of prominence at the Council of Constantinople. His fine reputation stayed with him for the remainder of his life.

For the works of this saint please refer to the CCEL web site at the following link

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

St. Raymond of Penyafort - 7th January 2009

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Raymond of Penyafort. Let us contemplate about this saint through the insights of Dr. Plinio

Biographical selection:

Raymond (1175-1275) was born into a wealthy and noble family related to the royal family of Aragon. He was born at the Castle of Peñafort in Villafranca, near Barcelona, Spain, in 1175.

At age 20 he was already teaching philosophy at Barcelona. After 15 years, he resigned from that chair and went to Bologna to study civil and canon law. He received his doctorate in 1216 and occupied a first chair of canon law in the university for three years.

The city Senate, hoping to retain him in the city, presented him with special rewards for his work. However, he did not remain, because Pope Honorius III asked him to return to Spain to tutor King James I of Aragon.

He had been attracted to the Dominican Order by the preaching of Blessed Reginald, prior of Bologna, and also met St. Dominic of Gusman there. In Barcelona he received the Dominican habit in 1222. His example attracted many great personages to the Order.

During his novitiate, he asked a penance for his past vanities while teaching, and he was ordered to write a book on cases of conscience for the guidance of confessors and moralists. This work, entitled The Summa of Penitential Cases, or Summa Casuum, was the first guide of this kind to be compiled. His work was praised by Pope Clement VIII.

In 1229 Pope Gregory IX sent the Cardinal of Sabina, John of Abbeville, to Spain to convoke the princes of the region and stimulate them to continue the valiant fight against the Moors. The Cardinal invited St. Raymond, who had been his theologian and penitentiary, to be his first assistant. St. Raymond would enter a city, preach the crusade to the people, and hear confessions in order to prepare the public for the arrival of the Cardinal. Then the Cardinal of Sabina would come to bless the crusade and grant the Papal indulgences for it.

When the Cardinal of Sabina returned to Rome, he reported to the Pope the great merits of St. Raymond. Pope Gregory IX was impressed and summoned him to Rome to be his chaplain and confessor. One of the penances Raymond would give the Pope was to not delay in seeing to the needs of the poor.

Pope Gregory IX gave St. Raymond the job of ordering and codifying the canon laws of the Church. It was an immense work, since he had to rewrite and condense decrees that had been accumulating for centuries. Completed in 1234, the work remained the most authoritative compilation within the body of canon law until 1917, when a new code was published. Due to the excess of work, St. Raymond fell ill. Fearful that he would die if he remained in Rome, his physicians recommended that he return to his monastery in Barcelona.

At the request of various Bishops, he set out the ceremonial to be followed by Bishops when they visited diocesan churches. He also composed a treatise on fair price in commerce to keep merchants from stealing from the public.

One of the most brilliant rays of St. Raymond’s glory was to assist in founding the Order of Our Lady of the Mercy, or Mercedarians, for the redemption of the captives. The order was established because of a heavenly revelation made simultaneously to King James I of Aragon, St. Raymond, and St. Peter Nolasco.

To inaugurate the new Order, the King with his court and the Magistrates of the city of Barcelona assisted at solemn ceremony in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Bishop Berengarius said the Holy Mass, and St. Raymond delivered the sermon in which he described the triple heavenly revelation ordering the founding of the new order. At the Offertory the King and St. Raymond presented St. Peter Nolasco to the Bishop as its first superior and he received the new habit from the Bishop. In his turn, St. Peter received thirteen nobles as the first members of the newly-born Order. When the Mass ended, the Monarch processed out with St. Peter and his monks to his palace, where he had reserved a wing of it to be their first Monastery. St. Raymond never ceased his work in spreading the Order of the Mercedarians until the end of his life.

By another revelation from God, St. Raymond was given to know that God wanted the conversion of the Moors and Jews who were numerous in Spain. From then on, he made special efforts to achieve this aim. He founded institutes at Barcelona and Tunis for the study of Eastern languages in order to convert the Moors and Jews. By 1256, he was able to write to his Superior telling him that 2,000 Mohammedans had received Baptism.

Many Muslim clerics, however, were very proud and did not want to change their thinking. So St. Raymond asked St. Thomas Aquinas to write a work to convince them of their errors and help them convert to the truth of the Catholic Church. This is how the Summa contra gentiles, The Summa against the Gentiles, one of St. Thomas’ most famous works, was born. It occasioned many conversions of the Muslim clergy.

St. Raymond reached an extreme old age. He died peacefully on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, in 1275, at age 100. On the feast day when God was glorified by the Kings symbolizing all the peoples, this man who had fought so much for the conversion of the gentiles died. During his last moments, the Kings of Aragon and Castile were visiting him and had the privilege to receive his last blessing.

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

The life of St. Raymond, which is characteristic of the Middle Ages, suggests some considerations regarding the good acceptation of the Saints by society and its consequences for the glory of God.

According to Catholic doctrine, it is very difficult for anyone to be in the state of grace. Because of original sin, it is impossible, naturally speaking, for anyone to be in the state of grace, that is, to share the supernatural life of God. Even after Baptism, man cannot practice durably all the Commandments of God. He may practice all of them at times, or else habitually practice only this or that Commandment, but he cannot practice all the Commandments durably. He needs supernatural grace for that.

God gives sufficient grace to practice the Commandments to all Catholics. No one is excluded. As long as one prays for this, he will receive abundant graces that will reinforce the actual grace and help him to do what is right. With this, then, a man can be in the state of grace and durably maintain it.

Given man’s social nature, when many persons are in the state of grace it becomes easier for each individual to maintain it. Therefore, when you have a considerable number of persons in a city who live in the state of grace, you can say with a certain imprecision that this city is in the state of grace.

Properly speaking a city does not have a soul. It has something analogous to a soul which is the moral entity formed by the interaction among the individuals of the city and their mutual influence on one another. This moral entity has a certain unity that defines the city. Our Lord himself confirmed this reality when He cried over Jerusalem and lamented as if He were speaking to a person: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that kills the prophets, and stoned them that are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and thou would not?” (Mat. 23:37)

Therefore, one can say that God has determined plans for this or that city. One can also say that a city is or is not faithful to the grace, or even that a city is or is not in a state of grace.

Now then, how can one know when this or that city is in a state of grace and is corresponding to the plans God has for it?

Someone might immediately object: It is impossible to know when an ensemble of individuals is in a state of grace, because those persons can be pretending that they are in the state of grace when they really are not.

The objection presents a good point. Further, along those same lines, if someone were to ask an individual if he is in the state of grace, he would have the right to hide his interior state. He is only required to answer to his confessor, no one else. Therefore, it would seem impossible to know when an ensemble of persons is in a state of grace.

Notwithstanding, there is a test that we can apply to know when a city or an epoch is in a state of grace, and it works very well.

When persons in the state of mortal sin are together, there are three possible degrees of evil that can result. In the first degree, there are simply those who are in mortal sin, and nothing further. In the second degree, there are those who are glad to be in mortal sin; they have antipathy toward those who are in the state of grace. In the third and worse degree, there are those who promote mortal sin; they are openly hostile to those in the state of grace; they hate those who are good. Among those who represent these three degrees a curious psychological phenomenon takes place: they instinctively form a front against the good.

The consequence is that in a city where many people are in state of mortal sin, good persons are not well-received. On the contrary, in a city where many people are in the state of grace, the good are very well-received.

In epochs when saints are the object of general enthusiasm, one can say that most of the population is living in the grace of God. On the contrary, in epochs when saints are persecuted, it can be said that most of the population is not in the grace of God. The way an epoch treats a saint is the way it treats God. Most of the inhabitants of that epoch reveal their position before God in this way. The saint is an image of God; whoever loves the image, loves God, and whoever hates the image, hates God.

When we study the lives of the saints, we can analyze how the people of their times treated them. If they were treated well, this reveals an epoch in which most of the people were in the grace of God. The opposite is also true.

When an epoch is living in the grace of God, the seeds of a Catholic Civilization are planted and, from there will take root and grow. When this Civilization is established, it will influence more people to live in the grace of God.

The life of St. Raymond of Peñafort is a remarkable example of this. His brilliant career, the influence he exerted on Popes and Cardinals, Kings and Magistrates, the cities that he conquered by his wisdom and that sought to keep him and not let him go, the unremitting success of his sermons and exhortations, and the fruitful result of his initiatives show the general approval he received from the people of his epoch. That epoch must have been an epoch in which most of the people were in the grace of God.

From these considerations about the life of St. Raymond of Peñafort, we see that to build a Catholic Civilization is not an impossible dream. To work for the Reign of Mary is not a chimera. It is a promise of Our Lady of Fatima that will be realized. She foretold: “In the end my Immaculate Heart shall triumph.” Her heart symbolizes her spirit, her mentality. What will she triumph over? First, she will triumph over the errors of Russia – Communism – that she came to denounce, and then the entire Revolution of which Communism is just one step.

This promise points to an enormous chastisement that will come to open the doors of an epoch when saints with the mentality of Our Lady will govern humankind. She will govern through her saints. They will return to influence Popes and Kings, the great and small ones on earth, and bring all to her.

Let us ask Our Lady through the intercession of St. Raymond of Peñafort to make us worthy of be living stones of this new era.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

St. Gregory Nazianzen - 6th January 2009

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Gregory Nazianzen. Let us read what Dr. Plinio has to say about this saint. I particularly like the section dealing with Temperance, a virtue which I need to practice more.

Biographical section

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, or St. Gregory Nazianzen, fourth century, was Patriarch of Constantinople and a close friend of St. Basil. A writer and orator, he fought against the Arians. He is a Father and a Doctor of the Church.

When he was already advanced in the practice of virtue and piety, Gregory was favored with a mystical vision that gave him a special esteem for chastity. He described it:
“I saw two young virgins dressed in white. They wore no superfluous ornaments, as is so common to women, but they were very beautiful. A veil covered each of their heads and also hid part of their faces. They kept their eyes modestly lowered and were silent. I felt a great joy penetrating my whole soul. I asked them who they were and whence they came.

"‘We are chastity and temperance,’ they replied. ‘We stand on either side of the throne of Christ. Join us, and we will bring you to contemplate the Eternal Trinity.’

“From that moment on, I sought out the company of those who were chaste, and renounced the pleasures of the flesh, even the legitimate bonds of matrimony. I bent myself to the yoke of temperance and frugality and dedicated myself to the reading of books about God. I also avidly read works against heretics. I continued to cultivate the arts with the sole purpose of helping me to acquire true knowledge, for I never preferred human science to the Divine Scriptures.”
Comments of Prof. Plinio:

This beautiful vision of St. Gregory of Nazianzus reflects elements of classical culture. You know that the time in which he lived was still influenced by the art and symbolism of classical Roman-Greek culture. One of the artistic customs was to symbolize virtues and qualities by abstract personages – men or women.

You can see that in this vision God Himself used the same artistic practice to make St. Gregory understand the worth of chastity and temperance. He presented them as two young ladies, equally beautiful, with a symmetric grace and charm that allowed them to stand at both sides of the throne of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That is, they are symmetric adornments for the King of glory and Redeemer of the human race.

St. Gregory described the young ladies as modest and recollected, with lowered gaze, to indicate that such virtues require one to be concerned about superior things and to avoid dissipation and superficiality. These two virtues are placed on either side of the throne of Christ to show that Our Lord has a special love for these virtues and wants to honor them in a singular way.

Why are chastity and temperance sister-virtues?

What is chastity? Chastity, you know, is abstention from the pleasures of the flesh. Even if the person is married, if both the husband and wife agree to the arrangement, perfect chastity can be practiced. It represents the complete triumph of the spirit over the flesh, a complete detachment from the flesh’s instincts to leave the spirit greater freedom to rise to higher spheres of thought, which are the proper habitation for the soul.

What is temperance? Temperance is a cardinal virtue, one of the four fundamental virtues of Catholic moral behavior. Temperance is the virtue by which the person regulates his actions following the norms of reason. Instead of conceding to the impetus of his instincts, he acts following the counsels of reason in all things. It is wise, because the first responses of the instincts are disordered; they need to be corrected and tamed. This means that there is a temperate way of speaking, eating, sleeping, studying, and doing everything else. The essence of temperance, therefore, is the submission of the instincts to the guidance of reason. Temperance is wisdom governing all human internal movements.

What is the relation between temperance and chastity? It is simple, chastity is temperance applied to the sexual instinct. It is an aspect of temperance. But it is such an important aspect that normally it is considered as a separate virtue. This affinity of chastity and temperance explains why they appear as twin virtues that stand near the throne of Christ in St. Gregory’s vision.

This subject matter raises a parallel question that seems opportune to address. As single lay people, should we strive to acquire such virtues? Should we be chaste and temperate? Of course we should. But let me answer an objection that says the opposite.

During the pontificate of Pius XII, some second-rate theologians came up with a bizarre thesis that proposed every lay person should either marry, or become priests or religious. According to their theory, anyone who wants to be single and chaste should become a priest; if not, he or she should marry. These theologians represented a small minority, and no one learned in Church History paid any attention to them. Soon, the theory was no longer even mentioned. However, this narrow mentality remained present in some traditionalist ambiences that suffered the influence of those theologians. For this reason, still today at times we face an accusation that stems from this false view: “You cannot be lay, single and chaste; you should either marry or enter the priesthood.”

The reality is much more subtle and diversified than the simplified alternative: “Marry or be a priest.” This sophism is based on a generalization that supposes there are only two kinds of people, those able to maintain complete chastity and those who cannot. The former should not marry and serve the Church as priests or consecrated religious; the latter should marry in order not to sin and to perpetuate the species.

Even though the rule is correct, and this is actually one of the reasons for marriage, the argument is wrong because it does not consider the many exceptions the rule supposes. According to this false presupposition, it would be not possible to marry and remain a virgin, as St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary did; as St. Henry, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and his wife Empress St. Cunegundes did, as well as many other saints. Also it would be impossible for a lay man to be single and be chaste as was St. Casimir, King of Poland, or St. Rose of Lima, who never became a religious. The list of saints who represent exceptions to the rule is long. But this is not my point at the moment. I mention it to show that the simple existence of such saints destroys the narrow-minded sophism.

Here I will present two other arguments. First, St. Thomas Aquinas offers a picturesque metaphor to explain the rule of marriage and chastity. He says that marriage represents the feet of mankind, since it is by means of marriage that the human race perpetuates itself and therefore walks onward. Chastity represents the eyes of mankind, given that it is by means of chaste persons that humanity sees the far horizons. He stresses that one of the main characteristics of chastity is to give broad horizons.

It is a valid comparison, because to consider only the practical aspect, married persons normally are so taken up with raising their families, they usually have little time to think of other things. The single person can maintain himself with much less effort, and therefore has more time for higher studies or causes.

If we were to take this comparison of St. Thomas, however, and apply it to the simplified rule we are refuting, “Marry or be a religious,” then the lay man or woman would be excluded from viewing the broad horizons of Christendom and the Catholic Church, which is perfectly absurd, given the enormous number of single lay people who became great warriors, politicians, scientists, poets etc. exactly because they had such horizons.

Second, it was so common in History for persons to choose to be lay, single, and chaste that they formed movements that assisted the Church in fields where ecclesiastics cannot act. For instance, what would the Middle Ages be without the knights errant, most of them living single, chaste, and turned to the defense of widows and orphans? But a priest, who is forbidden to shed human blood, could not be a knight errant.

What about the many Orders of Chivalry dedicated to defending the Catholic possessions in the Holy Land? The same is true, since ecclesiastics could not perform this task. Until today, some of these orders have a special status for their single and chaste members. How many centers of studies and arts, diverse movements that brought great benefits for Christendom – in the past or present – were made up of single chaste lay men or women? We see that the sophism incurs an erroneous generalization.

These are some lessons we can learn from the beautiful vision described by St. Gregory of Nazianzus. Let us ask him to help us to more firmly maintain and constantly increase our understanding of the fight for Christendom and the Catholic Church, and for that, to be chaste and temperate as he was.