New Insights on the Gospels

March for Life 2012

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing - Edmund Burke

Thursday, November 5, 2009

St. Sylvia - 5th November 2009

Mother of Pope St. Gregory the Great, born about 515 (525?); died about 592.

There is unfortunately no life of Silvia and a few scanty notices are all that is extant concerning her. Her native place is sometimes given as Sicily, sometimes as Rome. Apparently she was of as distinguished family as her husband, the Roman regionarius, Gordianus. She had, besides Gregory, a second son.

Silvia was noted for her great piety, and she gave her sons an excellent education. After the death of her husband she devoted herself entirely to religion in the "new cell by the gate of blessed Paul" (cella nova juxta portam beati Pauli). Gregory the Great had a mosaic portrait of his parents executed at the monastery of St. Andrew; it is minutely described by Johannes Diaconus (P.L., LXXV, 229-30). Silvia was portrayed sitting with the face, in which the wrinkles of age could not extinguish the beauty, in full view; the eyes were large and blue, and the expression was gracious and animated.

The veneration of St. Silvia is of early date. In the ninth century an oratory was erected over her former dwelling, near the Basilica of San Saba. Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) inserted her name under 3 November in the Roman Martyrology. She is invoked by pregnant women for a safe delivery.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

St. Charles Borromeo - 4th November 2009

Born to a wealthy, noble family, the third of six children, son of Count Giberto II Borromeo and Margherita de’ Medici. Nephew of Pope Pius IV. Suffered with a speech impediment. Studied in Milan, and at the University of Pavia, studying at one point under the future Pope Gregory XIII. Civil and canon lawyer at age 21. Cleric at Milan, taking the habit on 13 October 1547. Abbot commendatario of San Felino e San Graziano abbey in Arona, Italy, on 20 November 1547. Abbot commendatario of San Silano di Romagnano abbey on 10 May 1558. Prior commendatario of San Maria di Calvenzano abbey on 8 December 1558. Protonotary apostolic participantium and referendary of the papal court to Pope Pius IV on 13 January 1560. Member of the counsulta for the administration of the Papal States on 22 January 1560. Appointed abbot commendatario of Nonatola, San Gallo di Moggio, Serravalle della Follina, San Stefano del Corno, an abbey in Portugal, and an abbey in Flanders, Belgium on 27 January 1560. Created cardinal on 31 January 1560 at age 22.

Apostolic administrator of Milan, Italy on 8 February 1560. Papal legate to Bologna and Romandiola for two years beginning on 26 April 1560. Deacon on 21 December 1560. Vatican Secretary of State. Governor of Civita Castellana,Italy in 1561. Governor of Ancona on 1 June 1561. Made an honorary citizen of Rome, Italy on 1 July 1561. Founded the Accademia Vaticana in 1562. Governor of Spoleto, Italy on 1 December 1562. Ordained on 4 September 1563. Helped re-open the Council of Trent, and participated in its sessions during 1562 and 1563. Named prince of Orta in 1563. Member of the Congregation of the Holy Office. Bishop of Milan on 7 December 1563. President of the commission of theologians charged by the pope to elaborate the Catechismus Romanus. Worked on the revision of the Missal and Breviary. Member of a commission to reform church music. Archbishop of Milan on 12 May 1564. Governor of Terracina, Italy on 3 June 1564. Archpriest of the patriarchal Liberian basilica in Rome in October 1564. Count of the Palatine in 1564. Prefect of the Tridentine Council from 1564 until September 1565. Papal legate in Bologna, Romandiola, legate a latere, and vicar general in spiritualibus of all Italy on 17 August 1565. Grand penitentiary on 7 November 1565. Participated in the conclave of cardinals in 1565 to 1566 that chose Pope Pius V; he asked the new pope to take the name. Protector of the Swiss Catholic cantons; he visited them all several times worked for the spiritual reform of both clergy and laymen. Due to his enforcement of strict ecclesiastical discipline, some disgruntled monks in the Order of the Humiliati hired a lay brother to murder him on the evening of 26 October 1569; he was shot at, but was not hit. Participated in the conclave in 1572 that chose Pope Gregory XIII. Member of the Apostolic Penitentiary in May 1572. Worked with the sick, and helped bury the dead during the plague outbreak in Milan in 1576. Established the Oblates of Saint Ambrose on 26 April 1578. Teacher, confessor and parish priest to Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, giving him his first communion on 22 July 1580. To help the Swiss Catholics he founded the Collegium Helveticum.

Saint Charles spent his life and fortune in the service of the people of his diocese. He directed and fervently enforced the decrees of the Council of Trent, fought tirelessly for peace in the wake of the storm caused by Martin Luther, founded schools for the poor, seminaries for clerics, hospitals for the sick, conducted synods, instituted children’s Sunday school, did great public and private penance, and worked among the sick and dying, leading his people by example.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

St. Martin of Porres - 3rd November 2009s

St. Martin de Porres was born out of wedlock in Lima, Peru, on December 9, 1579 to Don Juan de Porres, a Spanish nobleman and adventurer, and Ana Velasquez, a freed daughter of slaves from Panama. His father abandoned the family when Martin and his sister, Juana, were very young. Ana Velasquez supported her children by taking in laundry. Martin's childhood poverty did not embitter him but made him sensitive to the plight of the poor, and especially the orphans to whom he would devote much of his time and resources. Even as a child, Martin would give the family's scarce resources to the beggars whom he saw as less fortunate than himself.

When Martin turned eight, his father had a change of heart and decided to claim his two mulatto children in spite of the gossip to which it subjected him. He made sure that both were afforded a good education and had enough money for the family not to suffer privation.

At the age of twelve, Martin began an apprenticeship with a barber/surgeon named Marcel de Rivero. He proved extremely skillful at this trade and soon customers, who at first were skeptical of the young black lad, came to prefer and ask for him.

After leaving home, Martin took a room in the house of Ventura de Luna. Always a devoted Catholic who spent much time in church, Martin begged his landlady for some candle stubs. She was curious about his activities and one night spied on him through a keyhole and witnessed Martin in a vigil of ecstatic prayer -- a practice he would continue throughout his life.

Martin de Porres joined the Dominican Order of Preachers as a donado (lay helper or tertiary). The donados were the lowest-ranking Dominicans, performing the heaviest chores in the Order. He was eventually elevated to brother but never did become a full priest.

Martin continued to practice his old trades of barbering and healing and performed many, many miraculous cures. He also took on kitchen work, laundry, and cleaning. His relationship with his brothers was tinged by their curiosity and occasional pranks. For example, just before the meal was to be served, they would hide the potholders and Martin would have to lift the scalding pots with his bare hands. Yet never once did his fingers get burned!

Martin often challenged his brothers on their racial attitudes. In one story, Martin came upon a group of Indians sweeping the floor under the watchful eye of one of the Dominican brothers. When told that they were cleaning to repay a meal they had received, Martin pointed out that the brother had fed some white people the previous day without forcing them to clean. After Martin's firm but gentle challenge, the brother took up the broom himself.

Martin frequently insisted on performing such hard and menial tasks as caring for the Order's horses in the evenings, even when informed that servants were available for these chores. He would argue that the servants were tired from their day's work while he, Martin, had done very little. He also extended his healing gifts -- going to the servants' quarters and treating their ailments.

Martin's spiritual practices were legendary. He would often fast for extensive periods of time on bread and water. He loved all-night vigils, frequently praying by lying down as if crucified, sometimes kneeling but, miraculously, a foot or more off the floor. He would "take the discipline", scourging himself with chains, three times a day: for the souls in Purgatory, for unrepentant sinners, and, finally, for his own soul.

Equally legendary was his love of animals. He would feed a and heal all animals that came into his vicinity and they understood and obeyed him. St. Martin is often portrayed with mice because, according to one story, the monastery was tired of their rodent problems and decided to set traps. Martin was so distressed that he spoke to the mice and cut a deal with them that if they would leave the monastery, he would feed them at the back door of the kitchen. From that day forward, no mouse was seen in the monastery.

However, it is St. Martin de Porres' charity that made him the patron saint of social justice. Martin fed, sheltered and doctored hundreds of families. He also provided the requisite dowry of 4,000 pesos to enable at least 27 poor young women to marry. Last, but not least, he established the Orphanage and School of the Holy Cross which took in boys and girls of all classes and taught them trades or homemaking skills. Over much criticism, he insisted that the school staff be well-paid so that they would give their best service.

St. Martin de Porres died on November 3rd, 1639. He died surrounded by his brothers and reciting the Credo, his life ending with the words "et homo factus est". His funeral was attended by thousands of Peruvians from all walks of life who vied to get a piece of St. Martin's habit as a relic. These pieces of the saint's habit have been associated with innumerable miraculous cures.

St. Martin de Porres was declared "Blessed" by Pope Gregory XVI and his feast day was set for November 5th. He was canonized by Pope John XXIII on May 6th, 1962 before a crowd of 40,000 people. St. Martin de Porres continues to be greatly revered, especially in the Americas, for his commitment to racial and social justice.

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Souls Day - 2nd November 2009

All Souls Day follows All Saints Day, and commemorates the faithful departed, those who die in God's faith and friendship. However, Catholics believe that not all those who die in God's grace are immediately ready for the Beatific vision, i.e. the reality and goodness of God and heaven, so they must be purified of "lesser faults," and the temporal effects of sin. The Catholic Church calls this purification of the elect, "purgatory." The Catholic teaching on Purgatory essentially requires belief in two realities: 1. that there will be a purification of believers prior to entering heaven and 2. that the prayers and masses of the faithful in some way benefit those in the state of purification. As to the duration, place, and exact nature of this purification, the Church has no official dogma, although Saint Augustine and others used fire as a way to explain the nature of the purification. Many faithful Catholics, including Pope Benedict XVI, grant that Purgatory may be an existential state as opposed to a temporal place. In other words, Purgatory may be something we experience instantaneously, because it is outside of the confines of created time and space. Many non-Catholics, including C.S. Lewis, have believed in Purgatory, and the official dogma of Purgatory is hardly offensive, even if the popular understanding of it has led to confusion. As a more everyday explanation, many liken Purgatory to a place to "clean up" oneself before going into the presence of Almighty God.

All Souls is the day to remember, pray for, and offer requiem masses up for these faithful departed in the state of purification. Typically Christians will take this day to offer prayers up on behalf of their departed relatives and friends. Others may remember influential individuals that they never knew personally, such as presidents, musicians, etc. This may be done in the form of the Office of the Dead (Defunctorum officium), i.e. a prayer service offered in memory of departed loved ones. Often this office is prayed on the anniversary (or eve) of the death of a loved one, or on All Souls' Day.

There are many customs associated with All Souls Day, and these vary greatly from culture to culture. In Mexico they celebrate All Souls Day as el dia de los muertos, or "the day of the dead." Customs include going to a graveyard to have a picnic, eating skull-shaped candy, and leaving food out for dead relatives. The practice of leaving food out for dead relatives is interesting, but not exactly Catholic Theology. If all of this seems a little morbid, remember that all cultures deal with death in different manners. The Western aversion to anything related to death is not present in other cultures. In the Philippines, they celebrate "Memorial Day" based loosely on All Souls Day. Customs include praying novenas for the holy souls, and ornately decorating relatives' graves. On the eve of All Souls (i.e. the evening of All Saints Day), partiers go door-to-door, requesting gifts and singing a traditional verse representing the liberation of holy souls from purgatory. In Hungary the day is known as Halottak Napja, "the day of the dead," and a common custom is inviting orphans into the family and giving them food, clothes, and toys. In rural Poland, a legend developed that at midnight on All Souls Day a great light shone on the local parish. This light was said to be the holy souls of departed parishioners gathered to pray for their release from Purgatory at the altars of their former earthly parishes. After this, the souls were said to return to scenes from their earthly life and work, visiting homes and other places. As a sign of welcome, Poles leave their windows and doors ajar on the night of All Souls Day. All of these customs show the wide variety of traditions related to All Souls Day.

Christians have been praying for their departed brothers and sisters since the earliest days of Christianity. Early liturgies and inscriptions on catacomb walls attest to the ancientness of prayers for the dead, even if the Church needed more time to develop a substantial theology behind the practice. Praying for the dead is actually borrowed from Judaism, as indicated in 2 Maccabees 12:41-42. In the New Testament, St Paul prays for mercy for his departed friend Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:18). Early Christian writers Tertullian and St. Cyprian testify to the regular practice of praying for the souls of the departed. Tertullian justified the practice based on custom and Tradition, and not on explicit scriptural teaching. This demonstrates that Christians believed that their prayers could somehow have a positive effect on the souls of departed believers. Closely connected to the ancient practice of praying for the dead is the belief in an explicit state called purgatory. The New Testament hints at a purification of believers after death. For example, Saint Paul speaks of being saved, "but only as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:15). Over time, many Church Fathers, including St. Augustine, e.g. in Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love and City of God, further developed the concept of a purgation of sins through fire after death.

In the early days, departed Christians' names were placed on diptychs. In the sixth century, Benedictine communities held commemorations for the departed on the feast of Pentecost. All Souls' Day became a universal festival largely on account of the influence of Odilo of Cluny in AD 998, when he commanded its annual celebration in the Benedictine houses of his congregation. This soon spread to the Carthusian congregations as well. The day was celebrated on various days, including October 15th in 12th century Milan. Today all Western Catholics celebrate All Souls' Day on November 2, as do many Anglicans and Lutherans. Initially many Protestant reformers rejected All Souls' Day because of the theology behind the feast (Purgatory and prayers/masses for the dead), but the feast is now being celebrated in many Protestant communities, in many cases with a sub-Catholic theology of Purgatory. Some Protestants even pray for the dead; many Anglican liturgies include such prayers. While the Eastern Churches lack a clearly defined doctrine of Purgatory, they still regularly pray for the departed.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day - 1St November 2009

Solemnity celebrated on the first of November. It is instituted to honour all the saints, known and unknown, and, according to Urban IV, to supply any deficiencies in the faithful's celebration of saints' feasts during the year.

In the early days the Christians were accustomed to solemnize the anniversary of a martyr's death for Christ at the place of martyrdom. In the fourth century, neighbouring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer relics, to divide them, and to join in a common feast; as is shown by the invitation of St. Basil of Caesarea (397) to the bishops of the province of Pontus. Frequently groups of martyrs suffered on the same day, which naturally led to a joint commemoration. In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this we find in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. We also find mention of a common day in a sermon of St. Ephrem the Syrian (373), and in the 74th homily of St. John Chrysostom (407). At first only martyrs and St. John the Baptist were honoured by a special day. Other saints were added gradually, and increased in number when a regular process of canonization was established; still, as early as 411 there is in the Chaldean Calendar a "Commemoratio Confessorum" for the Friday after Easter. In the West Boniface IV, 13 May, 609, or 610, consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs, ordering an anniversary. Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to all the saints and fixed the anniversary for 1 November. A basilica of the Apostles already existed in Rome, and its dedication was annually remembered on 1 May. Gregory IV (827-844) extended the celebration on 1 November to the entire Church. The vigil seems to have been held as early as the feast itself. The octave was added by Sixtus IV (1471-84).