New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Thursday, January 22, 2009

St. Vincent - 22 January 2009

When Jesus deliberately began his “journey” to death, Luke says that he “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. It is this quality of rocklike courage that distinguishes the martyrs.

Most of what we know about this saint comes from the poet Prudentius. His Acts have been rather freely colored by the imagination of their compiler. But St. Augustine, in one of his sermons on St. Vincent, speaks of having the Acts of his martyrdom before him. We are at least sure of his name, his being a deacon, the place of his death and burial.

According to the story we have (and as with some of the other early martyrs the unusual devotion he inspired must have had a basis in a very heroic life), Vincent was ordained deacon by his friend St. Valerius of Saragossa in Spain. The Roman emperors had published their edicts against the clergy in 303, and the following year against the laity. Vincent and his bishop were imprisoned in Valencia. Hunger and torture failed to break them. Like the youths in the fiery furnace (Book of Daniel, chapter three), they seemed to thrive on suffering.

Valerius was sent into exile, and Dacian now turned the full force of his fury on Vincent. Tortures that sound like those of World War II were tried. But their main effect was the progressive disintegration of Dacian himself. He had the torturers beaten because they failed.

Finally he suggested a compromise: Would Vincent at least give up the sacred books to be burned according to the emperor’s edict? He would not. Torture on the gridiron continued, the prisoner remaining courageous, the torturer losing control of himself. Vincent was thrown into a filthy prison cell—and converted the jailer. Dacian wept with rage, but strangely enough, ordered the prisoner to be given some rest.

Friends among the faithful came to visit him, but he was to have no earthly rest. When they finally settled him on a comfortable bed, he went to his eternal rest.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

St. Agnes - 21st January 2009

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Agnes , let us read and contemplate what Dr. Plinio has to say about this great saint.

Biographical selection from St. Ambrose, On Virgins, Book II:

St. Ambrose speaks with great admiration of St. Agnes, who was martyred at the tender age of 12. In his work, On Virgins, he wrote: “This is a new kind of martyrdom! One not yet of fit age for punishment, but already ripe for victory. One unready for combat, but able to win the crown. One who has not yet reached the age of judgment but who has mastered virtue ....

“Joyfully she advances with unhesitating step to the place of punishment, her head not adorned with plaited hair, but with Christ. All weep; she alone is without a tear. All wonder that she is so ready to deliver her life, which she has not yet enjoyed, but which now she gives up as though she had lived it fully. All are astounded that she stands forth as God’s witness although at her age she could not yet decide about herself! And so it came about that what she said regarding God was believed, although what she said about man would not be accepted. For that which is beyond nature is from the Author of nature. ....

“She stands, she prays, she bends down her neck. You can see the executioner tremble, as though he himself has been condemned. His right hand is shaking, his face grows pale. He fears the peril of another, while the maiden fears not for her own danger. You have then in one victim a twofold martyrdom, of chastity and religion. She both remained a virgin and she obtained martyrdom."

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

St. Ambrose’s commentary on St. Agnes has a literary value that is both profound and very beautiful because it is all composed of contrasts. Through the use of these contrasts, St. Ambrose shows the points he wants to emphasize.

First, there is the contrast between her age and the martyrdom. She is too young to be condemned to death because at such a young age no one can deserve such a punishment. And yet she is already ripe for the victory. The one who is not mature in years is nonetheless ripe to win the victory. It is a glory. The immaturity of the years and maturity of the virtue.

The second contrast: She is unready for combat, but ripe for the crown. A young girl at that time did not have any conditions to fight, yet she won the highest of all the laurels, which is the crown of martyrdom.

The third contrast: She is so young that she is still under the guardianship of others. The law does not consider her capable of governing herself. All present admired her because she was a witness of the Godhead, even though she was still a minor who could not be a witness of anything in a court of human law. Her word would not have any value in a normal process of law, yet she has impressed everyone with her defense of Our Lord.

In addition to this, there are the contrasts that one can find in the actual martyrdom. She advances joyfully, with unhesitating step, to the place from which all people naturally flee.

Another contrast: her adornment is not artificially plaited tresses but rather Jesus Christ, because He is the true adornment, the real beauty of the soul who consecrates itself to Him.

Another contrast: she is not crowned with flower wreaths like the other young Roman girls of her time, but with purity. That purity in her is splendorous and makes a kind of halo around her head.

There are still other contrasts. All are weeping to see a young girl who will be killed. But she is not. It is a glorious contrast, because she is thirsting for Heaven, and not for earth. Along those lines, everyone is astonished that she can so easily give up a life that has hardly begun. Yet she sacrifices this life as if she had already lived and enjoyed it fully.

And what is the reason for all these contrasts? It is because St. Ambrose is trying to emphasize that there is something absurd in her martyrdom. For it would be natural for her to do the very opposite of what she is doing. The reason that she acts as she does with a strength that is beyond nature is because such strength can only come from the Author of nature itself. What is beyond nature is what is more that the merely natural. What is more than nature here is the One who is its author. God revealed Himself in the sanctity of St. Agnes and in the miracle of her death.

She goes forward and bends her head. She sees the executioner trembling as if he were the one who was condemned. But she – the condemned one – is calm and steady.

His right hand is shaking, his face pale. He fears the peril of another, while the maiden fears not for her own danger. The executioner trembles with fear to use the tools of punishment. But she has no fear of the executioner.

You have then in one victim a twofold martyrdom, of chastity and religion. She both remained a virgin and she obtained martyrdom.

This is the magnificent commentary of St. Ambrose on St. Agnes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Euthanasia Laws in Kerela India oppsed by Catholic church

I found this article online

Church leaders in Kerala state, southern India, are up in arms against the state government's move to legalize euthanasia.

Media reports said the Kerala Law Reforms Commission has prepared a draft bill for legalizing euthanasia as one of its recommendations for legal reform. If the state government, a coalition of communist parties, accepts it, Kerala will become India's first state to legalize euthanasia.

The Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council has publicly opposed the move, releasing statements in the media since media reported on the draft bill in the last week of December.

The council's Family Commission chairman, Bishop Mathew Anikuzhikattil of Idukki, said the Church would use all democratic means to oppose legislation allowing euthanasia.

About 100 representatives from all 29 Catholic dioceses met on Jan. 14 in Kochi, the state's commercial center, 2,960 kilometers south of New Delhi, to discuss the draft bill. They protested the bill by burning a copy of it.

Having read the draft, Bishop Anikuzhikattil said legally sanctioning such a practice is "anti-humane and against basic principles of Christian faith." The commission is scheduled to submit the report of its recommendations to the government on Jan. 24, but it was released to media in advance.

For more details refer to the entire article here

Please pray for India and the Catholics there the catholic church is really facing a crisis in India.

Pope St. Fabian - 20th January 2009

"It is said that Fabian, after the death of Anteros, came from the country along with others and stayed at Rome, where he came to the office in a most miraculous manner, thanks to the divine and heavenly grace. For when the brethren were all assembled for the purpose of appointing him who should succeed to the episcopate, and very many notable and distinguished persons were in the thoughts of many, Fabian, who was there, came into nobody's mind. But all of a sudden, they relate, a dove flew down from above and settled on his head as clear imitation of the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove upon the Savior; whereupon the whole people, as if moved by one divine inspiration, with all eagerness and with one soul cried out "worthy," and without more ado took him and placed him on the episcopal throne."

According to the prosaic "Liber Pontificalis," Fabian was a Roman, the son of Fabius. He appointed seven deacons to the seven districts of Rome. He ordered subdeacons to cooperate with the notaries in gathering the acts of the martyrs. He brought back the body of St. Pontian from Sardinia and buried it in the Cemetery of Calixtus. This cemetery was enlarged and beautified. Vaults were adorned with paintings. A church rose above the cemetery. Later writers attributed all kinds of regulations to the busy time of Pope Fabian. Gregory of Tours, the famous historian of the Franks, even credits Fabian with starting the evangelization of Gaul. This is manifestly false because the Church existed in Gaul before the time of Fabian, but it is probable enough that he did something for the Gallic Church.

All this activity was made possible by the peace which the Church enjoyed at this time. The first half of the third century was in general a period of peace. Septimius Severus, at the beginning of the century, and Maximinus, just before Fabian's reign, had been persecutors, but they were exceptions. After the death of the ex-wrestler Maximinus, his successors Papienus, Balbinus, and Gordianu had left the Christians pretty much alone. And Philip who murdered and succeeded Gordian was himself a Christian-- of sorts. Philip, though he presided at pagan games, was quite friendly to the Christians, and during his reign Christianity flourished. Fabian's activity has been noted; and at the same time Gregory, the wonder-worker, bishop of Neo-Caesarea, Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, the great Origen, and others were writing to create Christian literature. It looked as if the Church were going to burst out of the catacombs to flourish in the light of day.

But the pagans were angry. Even before the death of Emperor Philip in 249 there had been isolated outbreaks against the Christians. The pagans bitterly resented Christian growth, and when Decius succeeded Philip as emperor, that resentment mounted the throne. Decius was on principle a determined and ruthless enemy of the Christian name. Septimius Severus had tried to stop conversions; Maximinus had gone after the leaders. Decius issued an edict ordering all Christians to deny Christ by some tangible sign such as offering incense to idols. The storm hit a church softened by peace. On all sides many hastened to deny Christ, but there were many too who stood up and faced the worst tortures and death for Him. Among these was St. Fabian. The details of his martyrdom are lacking, but it is historically certain. He is buried in the Cemetery of Calixtus. His feast is kept on January 20.

In the catacombs of St. Callistus, the stone that covered Fabian’s grave may still be seen, broken into four pieces, bearing the Greek words, “Fabian, bishop, martyr.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fra Angelico

My favourite Catholic painter is Fra Angelico. Today we will read up a bit of history of this Saint Paniter before we go into contemplating his paintings.

The life of Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, baptized as Guido di Piero (born around 1395 in Vicchio di Mugello, died in Rome in 1455) is the stuff of legend. “Angelic” was how he came to be known soon after his death; the name “Beato” was a comment on his painting and not a reference to his beatification, which happened only recently, in 1984.

Fra Angelico was a Dominican, and a mendicant, so, not being part of a closed order, he was free to meet and talk to others in the city. In 1420-1422, he entered the convent of San Domenico in Fiesole with his brother Benedetto. It was here that he produced his first works: altarpiece for the high altar, Altarpiece of the Annunciation, The Coronation of the Virgin, as well as the frescoes for his monastery.

On June 23, 1983, Pope John Paul II granted official cultus to Fra Angelico, who is now a Blessed with an office, a mass and obligatory memory (and now Patron of Artists)

Fra Angelico not only gained recognition as a painter, but must have commanded respect in his convent because he was appointed Vicario for the first time in Fiesole from 1432/33, a post he was to hold frequently in later years.

In the 1430’s the painter worked in Florentine churches. He carried out the following commissions for the Dominicans in Cortona: the Cortona Triptych and the Annunciation panel. From 1438, he worked on his most important commission, the San Marco Altarpiece and the frescoes for the convent of San Marco in Florence.

In July 1445 Fra Angelico was summoned by Eugenius IV to Rome, where he painted frescoes in the chapel of Santissimo Sacramento, which was later destroyed under Pope Paul III. For Eugenius’ successor, Pope Nicholas V, he painted the frescoes of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence between 1447 and 1449 with the assistance of Benozzo Gazzoli (1420-1497), in the Capella Niccolina in the Vatican, named after the Pope who commissioned the frescoes.

In the summer of 1447, he began work on the frescoes in the Capella di San Brizio (10), in the cathedral at Orvieto. These were competed by Luca Signorelli fifty years later. From 1450-1452, he returned to his old convent in Fiesole as Prior, before going for one last time to Rome, where he died on 18 February 1455. He is buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where his grave has always drawn worshippers. After his beatification by Pope John Paul II in 1984, the headstone was placed on a plinth and surrounded by a bronze grille with floral motifs. His feast day is 18 February, the day of his death.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Catholic Art

Today we will start a new chapter in this blog. We will look, contemplate and learn from great Catholic art.
In the middle ages, Catholics learnt about Christ and the bible from the sermons of the saints, the stained glass on the cathedrals and the paintings by painters like Giotto di Bondone, Fra Angelico etc etc.
We wont just be admiring paintings, we will look at the details and let those details touch our souls and lift us up to Christ who is the artist extraordinaire.
Two Paintings, Two Mentalities, Two Doctrines

(The Virgin and Child by the Maitre de Moulins)
(The Virgin and Child by Rouault)

Indulge in an exercise of fantasy, and suppose that by rewinding the thread of bygone centuries it has become possible for you to return to the time of Christ and walk into a room of the Holy Family's humble dwelling in Nazereth.
Imagine that you find the Virgin playing with the Child, and that both were just as Rouault depicted them in the painting on the upper right. Would such a sight fulfill your expectations? Would it correspond to what you might have hoped from the Mother of God and the Word Incarnate Himself? Would you find in those images the authentic expression of the Christian spirit and the ineffable virtues of Jesus and Mary?

Obviously not.
Therefore, whoever earnestly wants that Christian art worthily and duly reflect the spirit of the Gospel cannot be indifferent to paintings of this nature becoming widespread among the faithful. What kind of impression would people have of the Holy Family if nothing else were shown to them but paintings of this ilk? As far as it is able, Christian art has the role of an accessory to the spreading of sound doctrine. The spirit of this painting cannot be deemed proper for that end.
In order to illustrate these affirmations better, look at the painting by the Maitre de Moulins (fifteenth century), which also portrays the Virgin and Child, and consider how efficacious it is in helping us understand, through the senses, what the Church teaches about Jesus and Mary.
(Clik on both images for a larger view)

St. Charles of Sezze - 18th January 2009

Born in Sezze, southeast of Rome, Charles was inspired by the lives of Salvator Horta and Paschal Baylon to become a Franciscan; he did that in 1635. Charles tells us in his autobiography, "Our Lord put in my heart a determination to become a lay brother with a great desire to be poor and to beg alms for his love."

Charles served as cook, porter, sacristan, gardener and beggar at various friaries in Italy. In some ways, he was "an accident waiting to happen." He once started a huge fire in the kitchen when the oil in which he was frying onions burst into flames.

One story shows how thoroughly Charles adopted the spirit of St. Francis. The superior ordered Charles — then porter — to give food only to traveling friars who came to the door. Charles obeyed this direction; simultaneously the alms to the friars decreased. Charles convinced the superior the two facts were related. When the friars resumed giving goods to all who asked at the door, alms to the friars increased also.

At the direction of his confessor Charles wrote his autobiography, The Grandeurs of the Mercies of God. He also wrote several other spiritual books. He made good use of his various spiritual directors throughout the years; they helped him discern which of Charles’ ideas or ambitions were from God. Charles himself was sought out for spiritual advice. The dying Pope Clement IX called Charles to his bedside for a blessing.

Charles had a firm sense of God’s providence. Father Severino Gori has said, "By word and example he recalled in all the need of pursuing only that which is eternal" (Leonard Perotti, St. Charles of Sezze: An Autobiography, page 215).

He died at San Francesco a Ripa in Rome and was buried there. Pope John XXIII canonized him in 1959.