"No, it is not just a matter of form. What does it mean to receive communion in the mouth? What does it mean to kneel before the Most Holy Sacrament? What dies it mean to kneel during the consecration at Mass? It means adoration, it means recognizing the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist; it means respect and an attitude of faith of a man who prostrates before God because he knows that everything comes from Him, and we feel speechless, dumbfounded, before the wondrousness, his goodness, and his mercy. That is why it is not the same to place the hand, and to receive communion in any fashion, than doing it in a respectful way; it is not the same to receive communion kneeling or standing up, because all these signs indicate a profound meaning. What we have to grasp is that profound attitude of the man who prostrates himself before God, and that is what the Pope wants."
Saturday, January 17, 2009
(The Temptation of St. Anthony (ca. 1500) by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516)
St. Anthony was born in 251 in a small village in Egypt. When he was twenty years old, his parents died. They left him a large estate and placed him in charge of the care of his younger sister. Anthony felt overwhelmed and turned to God in prayer. Gradually he became more and more aware of the power of God in his life. About six months later, he heard this quotation of Jesus from the Gospel: "Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" (Mark 10:21). He took the words as a personal message in answer to his prayer for guidance. He sold most of his possessions keeping only enough to support his sister and himself. Then he gave the rest of the money to people who needed it.
Anthony's sister joined a group of women living a life of prayer and contemplation. Anthony decided to become a hermit. He begged an elderly hermit to teach him the spiritual life. Anthony also visited other hermits so he could learn each one's most outstanding virtue. Then he began his own life of prayer and penance alone with God.
When he was fifty-five, Anthony built a monastery to help others. Many people heard of him and sought his advice. He would give them practical advice such as: "The devil is afraid of us when we pray and make sacrifices. He is also afraid when we are humble and good. He is especially afraid when we love Jesus very much. He runs away when we make the Sign of the Cross."
St. Anthony visited Paul the hermit whose feast is celebrated on January 15. He felt enriched by the example of Paul's holy life.
At 60, he hoped to be a martyr in the renewed Roman persecution of 311, fearlessly exposing himself to danger while giving moral and material support to those in prison. At 88, he was fighting the Arian heresy, that massive trauma from which it took the Church centuries to recover. “The mule kicking over the altar” denied the divinity of Christ.Anthony is associated in art with a T-shaped cross, a pig and a book. The pig and the cross are symbols of his valiant warfare with the devil—the cross his constant means of power over evil spirits, the pig a symbol of the devil himself. The book recalls his preference for “the book of nature” over the printed word. Anthony died in solitude at 105.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Six Franciscan friars accepted from St. Francis of Assisi an assignment to go to Morocco. They were to announce Christianity to the Muslims. Friars Berard, Peter, Adjutus, Accursio and Odo traveled by ship in 1219. Morocco is in the northwest corner of Africa and the journey was long and dangerous. The group arrived at Seville, Spain. They started preaching immediately, on streets and in public squares. People treated them as if they were crazy and had them arrested. To save themselves from being sent back home, the friars declared they wanted to see the sultan. So the governor of Seville sent them to Morocco.
The sultan received the friars and gave them freedom to preach in the city. But some of the people did not like this. They complained to the authorities. The sultan tried to save the friars by sending them to live in Marrakech, on the west coast of Morocco. A Christian prince and friend of the sultan, Dom Pedro Fernandez, took them into his home. But the friars knew that their mission was to preach the faith. They returned to the city as often as they could. This angered some people who did not want to hear the friars' message. These complaints angered the sultan so much that one day when he saw the friars preaching, he ordered them to stop or leave the country. Since they did not feel justified about doing either one, they were beheaded right then and there. It was January 16, 1220.
Dom Pedro went to claim the bodies of the martyrs. Eventually he brought their relics to Holy Cross Church in Coimbra, Portugal. The friars' mission to Morocco had been brief and an apparent failure.
These were the first Franciscan martyrs. When Francis heard of their deaths, he exclaimed, "Now I can truly say that I have five Friars Minor!"
But the results were surprising. The story of these heroes fired the first Franciscans with the desire to be missionaries and martyrs too. It was their particular witness that inspired a young man to dedicate his life to God as a Franciscan priest. We know him as St. Anthony of Padua. His feast day is June 13.
These five martyrs were canonized in 1481.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Today we read the life of St Paul the Hermit as commented on by Dr. Plinio Correa.
St. Paul (229-342) was born in Lower Thebaïd, Egypt. At age 22 during the persecution of Emperor Decius, he learned that his brother-in-law, who wanted to confiscate his estate, was planning to report him as a Christian to the pagan authorities. Paul fled, taking refuge in the desert. After the danger abated, he decided to remain a hermit.
At the end of his life, St. Anthony visited him in his cave in the desert and found an exemplar of what a holy man should be. He lived as an anchorite for more than 90 years.
His life in the desert, however, should not lead us to think that the contemplation of God left him uninterested in the glorious battles of the Church. No one walks securely on the road leading to God if he is not united to the Spouse whom Christ chose and established as the column and fundament of Truth. Among the children of the Church, those called to be most closely united to her are the contemplatives, since they traverse the sublime, arduous roads where many dangers lurk.
From the depths of his cave, Paul, enlightened by divine inspiration, followed the battles of the Church against Arianism. He was an admirer of St. Athanasius and united to those who defended that the Word was co-substantial with the Father. He asked St. Antony, to whom he left his own tunic, to bury him with the tunic of St. Athanasius, which St. Antony had received as a gift from the Patriarch of Alexandria.
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
These are good commentaries on St. Paul, the first hermit. The selection focuses on the nobility of the eremitic state, which consists of living alone in the desert making elevated meditations that seem far removed from human affairs, and, therefore, from the fight between Good and Evil.
Actually, the personal fight of the hermit between his ordered passions directed by reason and his disordered passions directed by the Devil are not antithetical to the fight. The selection clearly shows that those contemplative hermits, by special enlightenment from God, had a clear notion of the merit of the fight of the Church in their times.
The contemplative and active lives are profoundly harmonic, which can be seen in the life of St. Paul the Hermit. From the depths of his cave where he lived isolated and dedicated to meditating on the things of God, he also followed in spirit the battles of the great St. Athanasius. When he died, he asked to be buried in the tunic of St. Athanasius to manifest his enthusiasm for the battles that the great warrior was waging against Arianism. This episode illustrates how the external apostolate is linked to the interior life, how the active life is linked to the contemplative.
There is yet another consideration that can be made about the eremitic state. When speaking of it, one usually emphasizes the sacrifice and strength of will it takes to separate oneself from earthly things and be alone. In effect, the desire to talk and be with others is never so strong as when one is alone. Human nature is made in such a way that when we are with others for a long time, we want to be alone; but after we are alone for a time, we want to be among others. So, one of the greatest glories of the eremitic state would be to live alone and in silence.
This is true in a certain way. But there is another aspect of the eremitic state to consider. Its nobility lies not just in remaining silent, but also in speaking with God. Speaking with God should be understood not as having continuous apparitions and revelations, but in keeping the spirit occupied with things of God, profound thoughts, elevated aspirations, noble causes. It is to be familiar with the highest cogitations of the human spirit, which are religious thoughts. This is, in my opinion, the excellence of the eremitic state, what constitutes its principal adornment and highest respectability.
From a certain point of view, a man in the eremitic state practices the virtue of respect above all others. For the hermit nothing is small, without importance, or trivial. He understands the highest reasons for which each thing was created and its sacred, august character. When he speaks, his voice is like a bronze bell, grave and serious, calling men to the highest cogitations of the spirit.
This is what the modern world is lacking more than anything else. The modern man completely lacks the virtue of respect. He lacks respect for himself and things because he rejected this spirit and embraced triviality and banality. He only likes transitory, concrete things that offer an immediate pleasure.
The eremitic state is, on the contrary, a way of living where a man is like a flaming torch of gravity and respect. Respect for God, above all, but also respect for himself and for every created thing as it reflects God. This is what I think is the glory of the eremitic state.
We should ask St. Paul the Hermit to pray for us to have an understanding of and desire for this virtue, because without the virtue of respect, neither moral perfection nor sanctity exists.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
(St Felix hiding in the cave protected by the spider web form the Roman Soldiers)
An account tells us that one day the Bishop of Nola, Maximus, fell to the ground exhausted from hunger and cold fleeing from his persecutors [the persecution of Decius in the 3rd century]. Felix, warned by an Angel, came to help him. He squeezed a cluster of grapes he found miraculously on a bush into the Bishop’s mouth to give him some food. Then he carried the old man on his shoulders back home. When the Bishop died, Felix was elected to succeed him.
One day when he was preaching and his persecutors were looking for him, Felix slipped through a narrow opening in the wall of a ruined house and hid there. In a trice, by God’s command, spiders spun a web across the space. The pursuers, seeing the web, thought that no one could have gone through the opening, and went on their way. Then Felix took refuge in another place and a widow brought him food for three months, but she never saw his face.
Finally peace was restored and he returned to his church, were he went to his final rest in the Lord. He was buried outside the city, in a place called Pincis.
Felix had a brother also called Felix. When the persecutors tried to make him worship the idols, he said to then: “You are the enemies of your gods; if you take me to them, I will blow upon them as my brother did, and they will be shattered.”
Some pagans came to seize Felix but were stricken with intolerable pain in their hands. They howled with the pain, and Felix said to them: “Say ‘Christ is God’ and the pain wll leave you.” They said the words and were cured.
A priest of the old gods came to him and said: “Sir, my god saw you coming and took flight. I asked him why he fled, and he answered: ‘I cannot bear this Felix’ holiness!’ Therefore, if my god fears you so much, how much more should I fear you!” Felix then instructed him and he was baptized.
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
Actually we have here a series of small charming facts that would furnish matter for comment for several evenings. I will summarize them.
Naturally, one is not obliged to believe these small stories. A person overly concerned about whether these facts really happened does not understand the point of these legends. A legend is based on a truth that is disfigured or, perhaps transfigured, by the pious imagination of the people. The lives of the saints often lack pieces of information in some points, which nonetheless provide a few historical clues about what happened. The simple people who admire the saint then start to imagine what could have happened that would explain those unexplained points in harmony with the saint’s life. So, they form a hypothesis.
This hypothesis is so beautiful that it spreads to others, who in turn repeat it over and over. It ends by being transmitted as a legend. It does not have historical precision, but often it transmits an important part of the spirit of the saint.
Something like this happened with the lives of many saints, giving birth to this true masterpiece that is The Golden Legend by Jacobus of Voragine. In addition to their historical interest – which should not be disregarded – these stories have an extraordinary moral value and a great literary beauty.
Take for example the life of St. Felix of Nola. Because of his dedication, he took on the burden of a desperate situation. Maximus Bishop of Nola, a city of Italy, is fleeing a persecution of the Roman soldiers and falls to the ground in hunger and cold. The life of this unfortunate man crosses paths with St. Felix’. St. Felix goes to him, feeds him, warms him, brings him back to his home and takes care of him, thus running the risk of being persecuted also. That is, for the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, he took it upon himself to shelter the one who was being persecuted. This is the moral profile of St. Felix that we find depicted in The Golden Legend, which perfectly fits the moral profile of a saint.
How did the legend portray this episode? It paints St. Felix as being warned by an Angel that the Bishop needed his help. It is a beautiful scene. We can imagine St. Felix praying at his place and suddenly, a splendorous Angel appears to him, causing St. Felix to marvel. Instead of giving him a pleasant task, the Angel gives him a difficult one: “The Bishop of Nola is in need and you must go and risk your life to find and save this Bishop.” St. Felix accepts; he says “yes” to the Angel as Our Lady did to St. Gabriel.
Then he goes out, finds the half-dead man, and realizes he has no provisions to give the sick man to restore him. A cluster of grapes appears miraculously on a bush and St. Felix squeezes it to give the poor Bishop some food. The Bishop feels himself relieved not only by the juice of the grapes, but also by the tenderness and care of the man who came to assist him. The selection is not clear whether St. Maximus died soon afterward or later, but this is not what matters here. Someone could ask whether those grapes actually existed as a historical fact. I don’t know if they existed or not. Perhaps they are legend. But I think that even if they were only legend, they would be more beautiful for having been born from a Catholic piety that thirsted for the marvelous than if they had actually appeared miraculously on that bush.
Then St. Felix takes that old Bishop upon his shoulders – we can see that he was a strong man – and carries him as one who carries a great treasure. He brings the Bishop back to his home, lays him in his bed, and takes care of him.
Then – either shortly afterward or some time later – St. Maximus goes to Heaven. The people gather to mourn the dead Bishop, and choose St. Felix as his successor. Now he is no longer the one who assists the man who was persecuted. Rather, he inherits the cause of the persecution. He takes the cross of the other and carries it on his own shoulders, just as he had carried the man himself some time before. The first was persecuted because he was a Bishop; the second becomes a Bishop to be persecuted.
You can see that The Golden Legend is describing the high moral profile of St. Felix that corresponds to his actions. The essence of the legend must be true. The accidents of the Angel appearing and the miraculous grapes do not change the moral lesson the life of St. Felix gives us. It also has an extraordinary literary beauty.
Another very beautiful fact is the description of how St. Felix hid from his enemies. They were close on his tracks when he hid in the wall of a ruined house. He entered through a narrow opening and immediately afterward, a spider spun a web over the passage to mislead the persecutors. They saw the web and figured that no one could have passed through that opening for some days. So they went on, leaving the saint safe.
A man protected from terrible persecutors by a spider is extremely charming and poetic. It is a very beautiful episode. Soldiers of the Roman legion, all armed, are searching every inch of the ruined house. Inside one wall is St. Felix, hearing everything. He hears their conversation as they draw near his hiding place. When they stop close to the narrow opening, he thinks: “Now, I am lost.” Then, he hears the commander say: “Let’s not waste time searching here because there are spider webs. No one has been through this opening for some time.”
Again, even if the spider did not exist – and I am not at all sure that it didn’t – it portrays a difficult situation through which St. Felix had to pass that reflects what he had to suffer for the Church, that is, a high moral profile.
Whether these facts are true or not, they tell us that St. Felix was a great saint who left a deep mark on his time. Otherwise the people would not have preserved and passed on the memory of his life. Legend gives us a marvelous image of his life. It is a charming perspective that already has something of Heaven.
Let us pray to St. Felix, asking him to give us dedication in the service of the Church, the courage to face persecution, and the desire for Heaven and a sense of the marvelous that we glean listening to his life narrated by Blessed Jacobus of Voragine.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Raised a pagan, he was converted to Christianity when he met his God of nature in the Scriptures. His wife was still living when he was chosen, against his will, to be the bishop of Poitiers in France. He was soon taken up with battling what became the scourge of the fourth century, Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ.
The heresy spread rapidly. St. Jerome said “The world groaned and marveled to find that it was Arian.” When Emperor Constantius ordered all the bishops of the West to sign a condemnation of Athanasius, the great defender of the faith in the East, Hilary refused and was banished from France to far off Phrygia. Eventually he was called the “Athanasius of the West.” While writing in exile, he was invited by some semi-Arians (hoping for reconciliation) to a council the emperor called to counteract the Council of Nicea. But Hilary predictably defended the Church, and when he sought public debate with the heretical bishop who had exiled him, the Arians, dreading the meeting and its outcome, pleaded with the emperor to send this troublemaker back home. Hilary was welcomed by his people.
Christ said his coming would bring not peace but a sword (see Matthew 10:34). The Gospels offer no support for us if we fantasize about a sunlit holiness that knows no problems. Christ did not escape at the last moment, though he did live happily ever after—after a life of controversy, problems, pain and frustration. Hilary, like all saints, simply had more of the same.
For the works of St Hiliary please refer to the following link:
Monday, January 12, 2009
On November 12, 1950 Pope Pius XII beatified Marguerite Bourgeoys. Canonizing her this October 31, 1982, Pope John Paul II gives the Canadian Church its first woman saint.
St. Marguerite Bourgeoys was born in Troyes, in the province of Champagne (France), on Good Friday, April 17, 1620. She was baptized on the same day in the church of Saint-Jean, a church that was located near her home. Marguerite was the sixth child in a family of twelve. Her parents were Abraham Bourgeoys and Guillemette Gamier, and she was privileged to grow up in a milieu that was middle class and thoroughly Christian.
Marguerite was nineteen years of age when she lost her mother. In the following year, 1640, in the course of a procession held on October 7 in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, she had an unforgettable experience. Her eyes rested on a statue of the Blessed Virgin, and at that moment she felt inspired to withdraw from the world and to consecrate herself to the service of God. With that unchanging fidelity to what she believed to be God's will for her, a fidelity that characterized her life thenceforth, she set about to discern her specific vocation.
She registered, at once, as a member of the extern Congregation of Troyes, an association of young girls devoted to the charitable work of teaching children in the poor districts of the
town. While engaged in this apostolate she learned about the foundation of Ville Marie (Montreal) in Canada. The year was 1642, and at that time she sensed a first call to missionary life. This call was rendered concrete in 1652 when she met Monsieur de Maisonneuve, founder and governor of the settlement begun in New France, who was in search of someone who would volunteer her services for the gratuitous instruction of the French and Indian children. Our Lady confirmed the call addressed to her: "Go, I will not forsake you", she said. Thus assured, Marguerite left Troyes in February, 1653, in a spirit of complete detachment. She arrived in Montreal on the following 16th of November, and without delay she set to work to promote the best interests of the colony. She is rightly considered co-foundress of Montreal, with the nurse, Jeanne Mance, and the master designer, Monsieur de Maisonneuve.
In order to encourage the colonists in their faith expression, she arranged for the restoration of the Cross on Mount Royal after it has been destroyed by hostile Indians, and she undertook the construction of a chapel dedicated to Notre-Dame de Bon Secours. Convinced of the importance of the family in the building of this new country, and perceiving the significance of the role to be exercised by women, she devoted herself to the task of preparing those whose vocation it would be to preside in a home. In 1658, in a stable which had been given to her by the governor for her use, she opened the first school in Montreal. She also organized an extern Congregation, patterned after the one which she had known in Troyes but adapted to the actual needs. In this way, she could respond to the needs of the women and young girls on whom much depended as far as the instruction of children was concerned. In 1659, she began receiving girls who were recommended by "les cures" in France, or endowed by the King, to come to establish homes in Montreal, and she became a real mother to them. Thus were initiated a school system and a network of social services which gradually extended through the whole country, and which led people to refer to Marguerite as "Mother of the Colony".
On three occasions, Marguerite Bourgeoys made a trip to France to obtain help. As of
1658, the group of teachers who associated themselves with her in her life of prayer, of heroic poverty, and of untiring devotedness to the service of others, presented the image of a religious institute. The group was inspired by the "vie voyagere" of Our Lady, and desired to remain uncloistered, the concept of an uncloistered community being an innovation at that time. Such a foundation occasioned much suffering and the one who took the initiative was not spared. But the work progressed. The Congregation de Notre-Dame received its civil charter from Louis XIV in 1671, and canonical approbation by decree of the Bishop of Quebec in 1676. The Constitutions of the Community were approved in 1698.
The foundation having been assured, Sister Bourgeoys could leave the work to others. She died in Montreal on January 12, 1700, acknowledged for her holiness of life. Her last generous act was to offer herself as a sacrifice of prayer for the return to health of a young Sister. Forty memberg of the Congregation de Notre-Dame were there to continue her work.
The educative and apostolic efforts of Marguerite Bourgeoys continue through the commitment of the members of the community that she founded. More than 2,600 Sisters of the Congregation de Notre-Dame work in fields of action according to the needs of time and place - from school to college or university, in the promotion of family, parish and diocesan endeavours. They are on mission in Canada, in the United States, in Japan, in Latin America, in Cameroon, and most recently they have established a house in France.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
The baptism of Christ Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.
John is baptizing when Jesus draws near. Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptiser; certainly he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water.
The Baptist protests; Jesus insists. Then John says: I ought to be baptized by you. He is the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who has already come and is to come again. I ought to be baptized by you: we should also add, “and for you,” for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.
Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens, like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honour to the body that is one with God.
Today let us do honour to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received – though not in its fullness – a ray of its splendour, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.