Saturday, January 31, 2009
Today we celebrate the feast of St. John Bosco. Lets us read what Dr. Plinio has to say about this saint.
These are two excerpts from the book Some Pedagogical Ideas of Don Bosco.
• It is undisputable that the personality of Don Bosco’s mother, Mamma Margherita, influenced his formation. This woman, a widow at age 29, profoundly marked the souls of her three sons. She had little formal education but remarkably good sense. Her uprightness of judgment, great piety and virile firmness made her an exemplary educator. Margherita required her sons to work either in the house or the fields. From the break of dawn, after morning prayer the children worked hard all day long. “Life is too short to lose the best part of the day,” she would say.
Laziness was not permitted. The meals were simple and at night they slept on the floor. She never allowed self-complacence and had always her mind turned toward heaven: “We are soldiers of Christ always with our weapons ready, facing the enemy, and we must win,” she used to say. This is the way she prepared her sons for life.
• In addition to the work of his religious congregation, the building of churches, the foundation of numerous orphanages and preparing missions in faraway countries, Don Bosco dedicated time by day and night to write. He knew how to serve the Church with the pen, at times combating errors, at times strengthening souls. As a man of his time, he was aware of the great influence of that new modern giant, the press. He used his pen for more than 45 years producing a variety of works according to the needs of his fight.
When Protestantism launched offensive attacks against the Catholic Church with popular periodic brochures, Don Bosco countered with his Catholic Lectures, a monthly publication with timely articles and questions that responded to the Protestant propaganda.
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
Let me comment on these excerpts one at a time.
Regarding Mamma Margherita, she fits the description of that strong woman of the Scripture who fulfills her duties and whose value is "far and from the uttermost coasts." She lived her life uprightly, she formed her sons perfectly, and one of them became the great St. John Bosco.
Her life offers proof of just how erroneous the progressivist mentality inundating the Church today is. Indeed, for this flawed mentality, anyone who has to bear hunger, cold and suffering cannot have a spiritual life. According to it, the first step is to do away with poverty and hunger. Only then can one begin to talk about a spiritual life. Therefore, the beginning of all apostolate is this material action. Doing away with poverty becomes, then, one of the main if not the principal ends of the Catholic Church.
The life of Mamma Margherita demonstrates precisely the opposite. Her house was so poor that all the members of the family slept on the floor; the meals were frugal; the family members were subjected to much hard work. They led a typical poor life. Notwithstanding, she knew how to profit from this life and sanctified it by means of fortitude and the spirit of abnegation and sacrifice. Despite the poverty of the family, she saw to their material needs: her sons became strong men, capable of all kinds of work. At the same time, and this is what is important for us to note, she also took good care of their spiritual lives.
You see how Progressivism lies and fools Catholics when it implies that soft, comfortable conditions are indispensable for sanctity. This is completely wrong. Austerity, not softness, is what is needed.. This austerity must be observed in the formation of every family, even those of high levels with many resources.
In Europe this austerity was maintained in the formation of children and youth until some time ago. In the memoirs of the Duke of Nemours or the Duke of Alençon – I don’t remember which – it tells about the time when he was in London, exiled from France. He was young and lived with several other noble young men in the same house along the River Thames. The windows of their large bedroom were on the second floor opening straight out to the Thames. He wrote that when they would wake in the morning, it was their habit to jump out the window into the Thames. They would all do this every morning in the winter. This shows how they were accustomed to austerity. It is an example that comes to my mind on austerity in the formation of nobles. I wonder how many bad consequences would have been avoided if austerity were imposed in the formation of the youth of today’s wealthy families.
Regarding the second excerpt, it is interesting to observe how St. John Bosco was always aware of the problems of his times. He was not a saint living in the clouds, as sentimental hagiographies depict many saints. St. John Bosco knew the problems of his time and combated the enemies of the Church as they actually were. When the Protestant propaganda became strong in north Italy, he developed an effective intellectual action against it.
Today most people have a revolutionary understanding of what is important. They think that the economic means is more important than intellectual skills, and that the material is greater than the spiritual. For this reason, when they speak about St. John Bosco, they tend to stress his works of social assistance, and underplay his intellectual work. I also praise and recognize the importance of the foundations he made to help poor boys and give them a good formation, but I don’t agree that he should be remembered primarily for those works.
When you examine his life, you see that he spent a large number of years writing; therefore, he was as much a writer as a man of outside activity. It is why he joins St. Francis de Sales as one of the two patron saints of the press. It is good for us to stress this point that sets things aright.
Let us ask St. John Bosco to give us the spirit of austerity he had and protect our intellectual work and our Catholic journalism.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Italian nobility. Educated in a Franciscan convent. Franciscan tertiary for 10 years, though with no real enthusiasm; she used her personal funds to insure comfortable lodgings, and none of the privations of the other tertiaries. A serious illness caused Hyacintha's confessor to bring her Communion, which allowed him to see her rooms for the first time. Scandalized at the life she provided herself, the priest told her to live more humbly. Hyacintha took his advice, became humble in her food and dress, did the most menial work in the convent, and replaced her bed with a few bare boards. She became an exceptional mistress of novices, and developed a special appeal for "those who are despised, who are devoid of self-love and who have little sensible consolation." Over the years she developed a special devotion to the sufferings of Christ and, by her penances, became an inspiration to the sisters in her convent.
How differently might Hyacintha’s life have ended if her confessor had been afraid to question her pursuit of a soft life! Or what if she had refused to accept any challenge to her comfortable pattern of life? Francis of Assisi expected give and take in fraternal correction among his followers. Humility is required both of the one giving it and of the one receiving the correction; their roles could easily be reversed in the future. Such correction is really an act of charity and should be viewed that way by all concerned.
St. Francis told his friars: "Blessed is the servant who would accept correction, accusation, and blame from another as patiently as he would from himself. Blessed is the servant who when he is rebuked quietly agrees, respectfully submits, humbly admits his fault, and willingly makes amends" (Admonition XXII).
Thursday, January 29, 2009
(Fra Angelico. Altarpiece of the Annunciation. c. 1430-1432. Tempera on panel. 194 x 194. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.)
This is the Annunciation, Our Lady has already given her Fiat to God as you can see the golden rays indicate her being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. The Angel Gabriel is waiting with eyes bowed low for the Mother of God to say but one word and the Angel is ready to obey Her. God the Father looks down on them in approval. Notice how colourfully dressed our Lady is as well as the angle. They reflect the colourfulness of heaven and in their faces one sees the joy of heaven.
Notice in the top left corner, St Michael the Archangel is leading Adam and Eve out of the garden. The garden is lush in greenery, St Micheal is sad as he assists them out of the garden, He knows what is to happen to man. Adam and Eve themselves are sad becasue they know that things have changed and they are aware of what they have lost. notice that their clothes are grey and sad, unline the angels and the mother of God.
Lastly notice Angel Gabriels wings are a bit outside, indicating that while he is with Mother Mary he is also outside in the world doing what She tells him to do (distribute God's graces). I personally love the look on Angel Gabriels face
Today is the feast of the Angelic Doctor of the Church - St. Thomas Aquinas. Lets us read the commentary of Dr. Plinio.
“In truth, St. Thomas possessed all the moral virtues in a very high degree, and so closely bound together in his soul that they formed one whole in charity [the love of God], which, as he himself states, ‘informs the acts of all the other virtues.’ If, however, we seek to discover the specific and particular characteristics of his sanctity, the first thing that appears is a virtue that gives St. Thomas a certain likeness to the angelic natures. We refer to that chastity which he preserved unsullied in a crisis of the most pressing danger. Because of this he was judged worthy to receive from the Angels a mystic girdle [belt of purity] ….
“The most distinctive feature, however, of the sanctity of St. Thomas is what St. Paul describes as the ‘word of wisdom’ [sermo sapientia], and the union of the two forms of wisdoms – the acquired and the infused – with which nothing accords so well as humility, devotion to prayer, and the love of God.
“That humility was the foundation upon which the other virtues of Thomas were based is clear to anyone who considers how submissively he obeyed a lay brother in the course of their communal life. It is no less obvious to anyone reading his writings, which manifest such great respect for the Fathers of the Church. As Leo XIII noted, ‘Because of his utmost reverence for the doctors of antiquity, he seems to have inherited in some way the intellect of all.’
“But the most magnificent illustration of his humility is to be found in the fact that he devoted the faculties of his divine intellect not to gain glory for himself, but to the advancement of truth. Most philosophers as a rule are eager to establish their own reputations, but St. Thomas strove to efface himself completely in the teaching of his philosophy so that the light of heavenly truth might shine with its own effulgence.”
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
There are several interesting points in this selection. First, let me give you a clarification regarding his purity. When Pope Pius XI referred to the crisis St. Thomas passed through, he was alluding to a particular episode.
St. Thomas wanted to be a Dominican, but his father, who was a noble from southern Italy, opposed his decision. He ordered his son to be imprisoned in a tower to see if isolating the youth from everyone would make him leave aside his vocation. Instead of abandoning it, he took advantage of the solitude to pray and study.
Seeing this, his father did another bad thing. He arranged for a public woman to visit St. Thomas to invite him to sin against purity. It was a chilly day, and a fire was burning in the fireplace of the room where St. Thomas was locked. When the woman approached to tempt him, he took a stick of burning wood from the fire and threatened to burn the woman should she come any closer. She fled in panic.
Having thus conquered the temptation of impurity, he received the visit of an Angel who rewarded him with a kind of mystical girdle, that is, an invisible protection against the temptations of impurity. So this great angel, St. Thomas of Aquinas, was free of the temptations of the flesh that could disturb the progress of his mind or damage his studies and the great work he did for the Catholic Church.
Second, regarding his obedience, it is remarkable that St. Thomas, on the order of his superiors, always had a lay brother whom he obeyed. This person was incomparably inferior to St. Thomas, but he nonetheless exerted an authority over the Saint rendered by the vow of obedience. And St. Thomas obeyed him. It is admirable to consider a person with the sanctity and culture of St. Thomas curbing himself and submitting to the yoke of a person so less learned and probably much less holy than himself. This helps to explain what Pope Pius XI was referring to when he said humility was the foundation of the virtues practiced by St. Thomas.
Third, the encyclical also observed quite aptly how St. Thomas effaced himself in his teaching. It is truly magnificent to see how the man does not seem to be present in his writings. One has, as it were, philosophical and theological reasoning in its pure state. One does not feel any hint of the presence of the man. The only thing that appears is Catholic doctrine. One would say that Catholic doctrine speaks through his lips.
I offer you these few comments in honor of the great St. Thomas Aquinas, asking him to help us to love Catholic doctrine as he did, and to protect us against so many occasions of impurity that present themselves in our days.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
St. Angela has the double distinction of founding the first teaching congregation of women in the Church and what is now called a “secular institute” of religious women.
All around her hometown she saw poor girls with no education and no hope. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century that Angela lived in, education for women was for the rich or for nuns. Angela herself had learned everything on her own. Her parents had died when she was ten and she had gone to live with an uncle. She was deeply disturbed when her sister died without receiving the sacraments. A vision reassured her that her sister was safe in God's care -- and also prompted her to dedicate her life to God.
As a young woman she became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis (now known as the Secular Franciscan Order), and lived a life of great austerity, wishing, like St. Francis, to own nothing, not even a bed. Early in life she was appalled at the ignorance among poorer children, whose parents could not or would not teach them the elements of religion. Angela’s charming manner and good looks complemented her natural qualities of leadership. Others joined her in giving regular instruction to the little girls of their neighborhood.
She was invited to live with a family in Brescia (where, she had been told in a vision, she would one day found a religious community). Her work continued and became well known. She became the center of a group of people with similar ideals.
She eagerly took the opportunity for a trip to the Holy Land. When they had gotten as far as Crete, she was struck with blindness. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going through with the pilgrimage, and visited the sacred shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way back, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the same place where it had been lost. But this must have been a reminder to her not to shut her eyes to the needs she saw around her, not to shut her heart to God's call.
When she was 56, Angela Merici said "No" to the Pope. She was aware that Clement VII was offering her a great honor and a great opportunity to serve when he asked her to take charge of a religious order of nursing sisters. But Angela knew that nursing was not what God had called her to do with her life.
It took many years of frustration before Angela's radical ideas of education for all and unmarried women in service were accepted. They are commonplace to us now because people like Angela wanted to help others no matter what the cost. Angela reminds us of her approach to change: "Beware of trying to accomplish anything by force, for God has given every single person free will and desires to constrain none; he merely shows them the way, invites them and counsels them."
Saint Angela Merici reassured her Sisters who were afraid to lose her in death: "I shall continue to be more alive than I was in this life, and I shall see you better and shall love more the good deeds which I shall see you doing continually, and I shall be able to help you more." She died in 1540, at about seventy years old.
Monday, January 26, 2009
Today is the feast of St. Timothy, let us read what Dr. Plinio has to say about this saint.
Timothy was born in Lystra in Lycaenia, present day Turkey. His father was a Gentile and his mother, a Jew. As a youth St. Timothy was converted by St. Paul when he came to Lystra. Seven years later, St. Paul returned and took him as a companion on his journey.
Eventually St. Paul made Timothy the first Bishop of Ephesus in order to govern that church. It was there that he received the two Epistles by St. Paul, one written from Macedonia and the second from Rome, to direct him in his pastoral needs.
Timothy could not bear that the people of Ephesus offered the devils that inhabited the idols a sacrifice due only to God. On a feast day of the goddess Diana, he entered into the crowd who were worshiping the goddess, and exhorted the people to renounce their idolatry and embrace Jesus Christ. Infuriated, the people turned on him and stoned him. The Christians of the city transported him half-dead to a mountain, where he expired.
Catherine Emmerick adds to these data that Timothy was tall, thin, and pale with dark hair; he was greatly loved by the Catholics. In Ephesus he fought relentlessly against the disordered revelries and orgies that took place often to celebrate the idols. This was the cause of his death.
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
The first thing that catches one’s attention in this description is the courage of St. Timothy.
The temple of Diana in Ephesus was one of the most famous monuments of antiquity. It was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. I have seen reproductions of this temple and it was, indeed, very beautiful. It was an enormous temple constructed of white marble that sat atop an ensemble of monumental stairs surrounding the edifice. The ceiling was very high and in proportion to the other parts of the building.
A large statue of Diana stood within. Today some art critics complain that its architecture was not purely Greek in style, but was mixed with some Eastern elements. I don’t see that this detracts from its great beauty.
The goddess Diana, or better said, the devil that possessed the idol, worked all kinds of extraordinary acts and marvelous phenomena to impress the people of Ephesus, which helped to spread Diana’s fame and sustain the popularity of idolatry.
By going to the temple and trying to stop the worship there, St. Timothy manifested an extraordinary courage and a remarkable capacity to face the enemy. Because of this, he was stoned and died.
Facing evil and error head on, he took a position of frontal and public attack, with full knowledge of all the inconveniences that could follow, as in fact they did. He did not care about these consequences; he chose to immolate himself for the glory of God by dying in this way.
Should we always face the enemy in a frontal attack? Or should we at times take this tactic, and at other times face the enemy with astuteness, maneuvering to lead him into a trap, and then win the battle?
Many times, in the life of the saints, they have a divine inspiration to act in an extraordinary way. Their actions are certainly meant to inspire us and to be admired, but not necessarily to be imitated.
For example, consider the famous case of St. Francis of Assisi quarreling with his father, Pietro di Bernardone. His father opposed the decision of Francis to dedicate his life to religion. He argued that everything Francis had was due to his work and efforts and therefore, Francis was obliged to his advice. Even the clothing Francis was wearing was owed to him, Bernardone argued. In response, St. Francis took off his fine garments and told his father “Take your clothes, then. I will go without them … ” And he went away almost naked.
This episode does not mean that every person who fights with his father or mother for similar reasons should take off his clothes and walk away nude. It is an episode that should inspire us to maintain the ideal of the vocation God gave us, even when our families or friends oppose it. We should be inspired to have a similar strength, not to repeat the same action.
So, regarding the episode of St. Timothy, it should inspire us to be as audacious as possible against our enemies. It is an invitation to never step back from our enemies. In this sense it could very well be seen as an inspiration for the vow of the Templar knights: To never retreat in battle. It is also an inspiration for all who combat for the Faith to never make any concession to the evil, even when it gives us prestige, fame or popularity. We should face the evil and fight to destroy it – with the price of our lives, if necessary. We can be sure that Our Lord will reward us for that, as he rewarded St. Timothy, giving him the honor and veneration of all Catholics throughout the centuries in History, and more than that, eternal glory in Heaven.
Notwithstanding this lesson and inspiration from the last combat of St. Timothy, sometimes in our fight we need to use other methods, depending on the circumstances. At times, we should imitate the audacity of St. Timothy walking straight up to the idol and trying to destroy it and drive away its audience. At other times, we have to wait for the right moment to come, and then attack.
Let us ask St. Timothy to give us audacity when it is for the greater glory of God, and also discernment to know when to use this audacity and when to use prudence in order to take and destroy the enemy later.