New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Saturday, March 14, 2009

St. Maximilian - 14th March 2009

We have an early, precious, almost unembellished account of the martyrdom of St. Maximilian in modern-day Algeria.

Brought before the proconsul Dion, Maximilian refused enlistment in the Roman army saying, "I cannot serve, I cannot do evil. I am a Christian."

Dion replied: "You must serve or die."

Maximilian: "I will never serve. You can cut off my head, but I will not be a soldier of this world, for I am a soldier of Christ. My army is the army of God, and I cannot fight for this world. I tell you I am a Christian."

Dion: "There are Christian soldiers serving our rulers Diocletian and Maximian, Constantius and Galerius."

Maximilian: "That is their business. I also am a Christian, and I cannot serve."

Dion: "But what harm do soldiers do?"

Maximilian: "You know well enough."

Dion: "If you will not do your service I shall condemn you to death for contempt of the army."

Maximilian: "I shall not die. If I go from this earth my soul will live with Christ my Lord."

Maximilian was 21 years old when he gladly offered his life to God. His father went home from the execution site joyful, thanking God that he had been able to offer heaven such a gift.

Friday, March 13, 2009

St. Leander of Seville - 13 March 2009

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Leander of Seville. Let us read what Dr. Plinio has to say about this saint.

Biographical selection:

St. Leander, a close friend of St. Gregory the Great, was born in Carthagena to a family of high nobility. He was the eldest brother of several saints. His brother, St. Isidore, succeeded him as Bishop of Seville. Another brother, St. Fulgentius, became Bishop of Carthagena, and his sister, St. Florentina, became an Abbess in Carthagena.

When he was still young, Leander retired to a Benedictine monastery where he became a model of learning and piety. In 579 he was raised to the episcopal see of Seville, where he continued to practice his customary austerities and penances.

At that time, a part of the territory of Spain was dominated by the Visigoths. Those barbarians were Arians and had spread their errors in the cities they had conquered. The Iberian Peninsula had been infected by that heresy for 170 years when St. Leander was chosen Bishop of Seville. He began to combat it immediately. With the help of God, to Whom he had recourse, his efforts were successful and the heresy began to lose hold on its followers. He also played an important role in the conversion of Hermenegild, the eldest son of the Visigoth King.

King Leovigild, however, became angry over his son’s conversion and St. Leander’s activity. He exiled the Saint, and condemned his son to death. Later, he repented, recalled the Saint to Spain and asked him to educate and form his other son and successor, Reccared, who became a Catholic and helped the Saint to convert the rest of his subjects.

St. Leander played a central role at two councils, the Council of Seville and the Third Council of Toledo, where Visigothic Spain abjured Arianism in all its forms. He also wrote an influential Rule for his sister with instructions on prayer and renunciation of the world. He reformed the liturgy in Spain, adding the Nicene Creed to the Mass in order to make an express profession of the Faith against Arianism. Later, this practice passed to other Catholic countries. He died in 596.

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

This is a very rich selection that allows many comments.

First, one’s attention is caught by the extraordinary blossoming of saints in that period. In a family of high nobility, there were at the same time St. Isidore of Seville, who was one of the greatest saints of Spanish history, St. Fulgentius, Bishop of Carthagena, St. Florentina, an Abbess, and St. Leander. That is, four saints from the same house, coming from a single noble family of that time. You can see how beautiful it is that all were from the same lineage. It is a way God shows how a family line is useful for His plans.

Second, the vitality of sanctity in that epoch is also remarkable. That puissance of sanctity did not come from this or that religious order, but straight from the Holy Ghost. There was no apparent connection between St. Gregory the Great in Italy, these saintly brothers and sister in Spain, and other holy figures in Gaul, Germany, England, etc. These were Saints who often did not even know each other. It does not seem that they were the fruit of a particular movement, but rather, issued from a general and universal action of the Holy Ghost.

This blossoming of saints which inaugurated the Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Middle Ages is one of the most beautiful phenomena in History. That such a marvelous harvest of saints took place in the past leads us to think that there will be another similar blooming of saints that will inaugurate the Reign of Mary.

Third, St. Leander had to face a difficult problem: the heretical barbarians had dominated Spain for 170 years. Those barbarians were not pagans, as many people think. Before the barbarians invaded the Western Roman Empire, a reprobate bishop named Ulfilas had taught among the Germanic tribes in various lands and perverted them to Arianism. So when these tribes invaded Europe, they spread Arianism everywhere. This is what had happened in Spain.

The Catholics in Spain were the descendents of the old citizens of the Roman Empire. They had been defeated and submitted to the Visigoths, who represented the new people full of energy ready to replace the old Romans. The Catholics were oppressed under the yoke of those Arian Visigoths. From a historic perspective, 170 years can appear a short time, but in reality it is not. It represented almost two centuries of consolidated Arian dominion in Spain.

St. Leander was called to overthrow that dominion. How did he carry out his mission? In an admirable way. First of all, by praying to God through the mediation of Our Lady, asking for the necessary supernatural help, aware that without grace, no man relying on only his own means can be successful in his apostolate. Assisted by special graces, he began to preach against Arianism, and the conversions came in colossal numbers. The power of Arianism began to weaken.

The King, furious over such an attack, exiled St. Leander and killed his own son, who became a martyr. Then the King repented, brought back St. Leander and asked him to educate his other son. When Reccared rose to the throne, he helped consolidate the work of St. Leander. It is an admirable example of collaboration between Church and State. The Church, by the voice of a Saint, prepared the situation; the State entered to fully resolve the problem with the cooperation of a faithful King. With this, Arianism disappeared from Spain forever.

These are several aspects of the historic reality that we can discern reading the life of St. Leander of Seville, one of the greatest figures of Spanish history.

Let us ask him to give us his unrelenting spirit to fight against the heresy that resides in Progressivism, a synthesis of all the heresies, which is oppressing Catholics everywhere today.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Blessed Angela Salawa - 12 March 2009

Angela served Christ and Christ’s little ones with all her strength.

Born in Siepraw, near Kraków, Poland, she was the 11th child of Bartlomiej and Ewa Salawa. In 1897, she moved to Kraków where her older sister Therese lived. Angela immediately began to gather together and instruct young women domestic workers. During World War I, she helped prisoners of war without regard for their nationality or religion. The writings of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were a great comfort to her.

Angela gave great service in caring for soldiers wounded in World War I. After 1918 her health did not permit her to exercise her customary apostolate. Addressing herself to Christ, she wrote in her diary, "I want you to be adored as much as you were destroyed." In another place, she wrote, "Lord, I live by your will. I shall die when you desire; save me because you can."

At her 1991 beatification in Kraków, Pope John Paul II said: "It is in this city that she worked, that she suffered and that her holiness came to maturity. While connected to the spirituality of St. Francis, she showed an extraordinary responsiveness to the action of the Holy Spirit" (L'Osservatore Romano, volume 34, number 4, 1991).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

St. John Ogilvie - 11 March 2009

John Ogilvie's noble Scottish family was partly Catholic and partly Presbyterian. His father raised him as a Calvinist, sending him to the continent to be educated. There John became interested in the popular debates going on between Catholic and Calvinist scholars. Confused by the arguments of Catholic scholars whom he sought out, he turned to Scripture. Two texts particularly struck him: "God wills all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth," and "Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you."

Slowly, John came to see that the Catholic Church could embrace all kinds of people. Among these, he noted, were many martyrs. He decided to become Catholic and was received into the Church at Louvain, Belgium, in 1596 at the age of 17.

John continued his studies, first with the Benedictines, then as a student at the Jesuit College at Olmutz. He joined the Jesuits and for the next 10 years underwent their rigorous intellectual and spiritual training. Ordained a priest in France in 1610, he met two Jesuits who had just returned from Scotland after suffering arrest and imprisonment. They saw little hope for any successful work there in view of the tightening of the penal laws. But a fire had been lit within John. For the next two and a half years he pleaded to be missioned there.

Sent by his superiors, he secretly entered Scotland posing as a horse trader or a soldier returning from the wars in Europe. Unable to do significant work among the relatively few Catholics in Scotland, John made his way back to Paris to consult his superiors. Rebuked for having left his assignment in Scotland, he was sent back. He warmed to the task before him and had some success in making converts and in secretly serving Scottish Catholics. But he was soon betrayed, arrested and brought before the court. His trial dragged on until he had been without food for 26 hours. He was imprisoned and deprived of sleep. For eight days and nights he was dragged around, prodded with sharp sticks, his hair pulled out. Still, he refused to reveal the names of Catholics or to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the king in spiritual affairs. He underwent a second and third trial but held firm. At his final trial he assured his judges: "In all that concerns the king, I will be slavishly obedient; if any attack his temporal power, I will shed my last drop of blood for him. But in the things of spiritual jurisdiction which a king unjustly seizes I cannot and must not obey."

Condemned to death as a traitor, he was faithful to the end, even when on the scaffold he was offered his freedom and a fine living if he would deny his faith. His courage in prison and in his martyrdom was reported throughout Scotland.

John Ogilvie was canonized in 1976, becoming the first Scottish saint since 1250.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

St. Dominic Savio - 10 March 2009

So many holy persons seem to die young. Among them was Dominic Savio, the patron of choirboys.

Born into a peasant family at Riva, Italy, young Dominic joined St. John Bosco as a student at the Oratory in Turin at the age of 12. He impressed John with his desire to be a priest and to help him in his work with neglected boys. A peacemaker and an organizer, young Dominic founded a group he called the Company of the Immaculate Conception which, besides being devotional, aided John Bosco with the boys and with manual work. All the members save one, Dominic, would in 1859 join John in the beginnings of his Salesian congregation. By that time, Dominic had been called home to heaven.

For all that, Dominic was a normal, high-spirited boy who sometimes got into trouble with his teachers because he would often break out laughing. However, he was generally well disciplined and gradually gained the respect of the tougher boys in Don Bosco's school.

In other circumstances, Dominic might have become a little self-righteous snob, but Don Bosco showed him the heroism of the ordinary and the sanctity of common sense. "Religion must be about us as the air we breathe," Don Bosco would say, and Dominic Savio wore holiness like the clothes on his back.

He called his long hours of prayer "his distractions." In 1857, at the age of fifteen, he caught tuberculosis and was sent home to recover. On the evening of March 9, he asked his father to say the prayers for the dying. His face lit up with an intense joy and he said to his father: "I am seeing most wonderful things!" These were his last words.

Thought for the Day: "I can't do big things," St. Dominic Savio once said, "but I want everything to be for the glory of God." His was the way of the ordinary: cheerfulness, fidelity in little things, helping others, playing games, obeying his superiors. This heroism in little things is the stuff of holiness.

Dominic's health, always frail, led to lung problems and he was sent home to recuperate. As was the custom of the day, he was bled in the thought that this would help, but it only worsened his condition. He died on March 9, 1857, after receiving the Last Sacraments. St. John Bosco himself wrote the account of his life.

Some thought that Dominic was too young to be considered a saint. St. Pius X declared that just the opposite was true, and went ahead with his cause. Dominic was canonized in 1954.

Monday, March 9, 2009

St. Frances of Rome - 9 March 2009

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. France of Rome. Let us read what Dr. Plinio has to teach us about this saint.

Biographical selection:

Born 1384 in Rome, died 1440 in Rome. St. Frances of Rome received a supernatural gift of visions from God. She is famous for her visions about Hell. Perhaps throughout the History of the Church no other mystic has had so many descriptive visions of Hell as St. Frances.

The following text is taken from Rohrbaher, Universal History of the Catholic Church. The author reproduces words of the Saint regarding one of her visions on Hell:

While one-third of the angels sinned, the other two-thirds persevered in grace. One-third of the fallen angels is in Hell tormenting the condemned souls. These devils are the ones who freely followed Lucifer and deliberately revolted against God. They cannot leave the abyss except with the special acquiescence of God, when He decides to punish the sins of men with a great calamity. These are the worst among the devils.

The other two-thirds of the fallen angels inhabit the air and the earth. They are the ones who did not take a side in the battle between Lucifer and God, but remained silent.

The devils of the air often instigate storms, winds and thunders to frighten souls, causing their wills to weaken and cede to inconstancy, thus preparing them to falter in the Faith and to doubt Divine Providence. The devils who live on earth among men to tempt us are the fallen angels of the lowest choir. The faithful angels of this choir are our guardian angels.

The prince and chief of all devils is Lucifer, who is confined at the bottom of the abyss, where he punishes the other devils and the condemned men and women. Since he fell from the highest place among the angels, the Seraphic choir, he became the worst devil. His characteristic vice is pride.

Below him and under his power are three other princes: First, Asmodeu, who represents the vice of impurity and was the head of the Cherubim; second, Mammon, who represents the vice of avarice and was the first among the Thrones; third, Belzebuth, who represents idolatry, sorcery and spells and was the chief of the Dominations. He is over everything that is dark and that diffuses darkness over rational creatures.

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

St. Frances of Rome describes Lucifer as the highest Seraphim, and for this reason his sin was very grave. You know that the Seraphim constitute the highest of the nine choirs of angels. Since he was the highest angel in Heaven who revolted, he was thrown into the deepest part of Hell.

There were angels who made the decision to follow Lucifer with a special malice and by their own initiative. These went to Hell with him and are being tormented by him since he is more powerful than they, and because Divine Justice delegated him the task of punishing for all eternity those whom he had convinced to follow him in the rebellion.

After that, St. Frances tells us, there are three principal demons who follow Lucifer’s commands. The first is Asmodeu, who represents the vice of the flesh; the second is Mammon, head of the vice of avarice, and then Belzebuth, chief of all idolatries and dark works.

You are seeing that the two principal rebellious angels – Lucifer and Asmodeu – are the angels of pride and sensuality. According to our conception of History, pride and sensuality are the two driving forces of the Revolution. In a certain sense, this description of St. Frances confirms it. These angels are in Hell and only rarely does God permit them to leave the abyss to punish humanity. I have the impression that in our times Hell was opened and these worst of devils are on earth trying to accomplish the special task of destroying the Church, just as they were also on earth to kill Our Lord Jesus Christ. I know that the Catholic Church is immortal, but I think that in our days they are here to try to destroy her.

Then there are the other fallen angels. In the first battle they did not want to choose between God and Lucifer. They did not revolt outright against God nor did they clearly support His cause. At the same time, they did not give straightforward support to the cause of Lucifer. They remained in the middle of the road, in a neutral position, which at depth meant they had sympathy for Satan. It was for this reason that God condemned them. But Divine Justice made their chastisement less terrible than that of the other angels. Instead of being hurled into Hell, they are in the air and on the earth. After the Final Judgment they will go to Hell for all eternity. Therefore, during this time between their sin and the Final Judgment, they escape the suffering of Hell.

These “middle-of-the-road” angels are divided into two kinds. First, there are the angels who inhabit the air and produce climatic turmoil to frighten men on earth. Second, there are the angels on earth who belong to the same choir as our guardian angels. They normally do the opposite of the guardian angels, that is, instead of protecting persons, they try to lead them into the danger of sin. There is a constant battle between these two kinds of angels.

From this, we can learn an important lesson. It is to realize how small man is. How minute we are compared to the magnitude of the angelical nature. There was a Saint who often saw her guardian angel, that is, an angel from the lowest choir in the celestial hierarchy. Well, the first time she saw him she was so impressed with the appearance of the angel that she thought he was God Himself. She fell prostrate to the ground to adore him. He had to stop her and explain who he was. This shows us the splendor of a simple guardian angel. Can you imagine, then, the splendor of an Archangel, and even more, of a Cherubim or a Seraphim?

How small we are in face of this battle among the angels that is taking place around us everywhere and all the time! There are angels who come down from Heaven with this or that mission. There are devils who come out of Hell to cause a great damage. There are demons who infest the air, demons who are working among men. Really we are very small in face of this angelic struggle.

What is our defense against all the plots and evil instigated by these devils? We need to apply the warning of Our Lord: be vigilant and pray in order not to fall into temptation. And the beginning of this vigilance is to believe in the angelical presence, its power, and its continual action.

A Bishop once taught me a principle that is currently admitted among theologians. It is that in any natural temptation a man has, the devil adds his action to the natural cause to make the temptation more intense. For instance, suppose that one of you feels irritated by someone who is bothering you in this crowded meeting. This small temptation toward irritation receives a new impulse from the devil, who tries to increase the natural irritation and induce one to sin.

The devil is always acting against us; the guardian angels are always protecting us. We should try to discern the action of the devils and ask the protection of our guardian angels more often. We should also pray to Our Lady more often. This is to be vigilant against the action of the devils.

This is the lesson I suggest to you from this revelation of St. Frances of Rome.