Saints and Rebels

He who is his own master is a scholar under a fool.
–-St. Bernard

Like us, over the last year you have no doubt heard and read much about today’s anniversary, celebrated around the world, marking Martin Luther’s revolt from the Catholic Church.  What many celebrate is actually a sad anniversary for Catholics – and not just Catholics, but all souls, for what is hailed as “a revival not seen since apostolic times” was actually, as Warren Carroll called it in his history series, “the cleaving of Christendom”. On the Cross, a spear pierced Our Lord’s Heart.  In the Protestant Revolt, a huge piece of Our Lord’s Heart was ripped away, and instead of saving blood and cleansing water, five million souls poured out.  It was a wound that Our Lady herself had to repair, when, 16 years later, she appeared to St. Juan Diego and brought nine million souls into union with Christ and His Church. The word obedience  comes from Latin obaudire, to listen.  Mary, who pondered all these things in her heart, is a model of prayer and listening, for prayer and reflection are how we best listen to God who comes, not in the fire or the earthquake, but in a gentle whisper, a still, small voice.  Our Lady, who, in her docility and obedience to God, became the Mother of the Messiah, she who then stood at the foot of the Cross, fully consenting to the Crucifixion of her Son for the salvation of the world, is an icon of obedience.  St Irenaeus tell us that the obedience of Mary untied the knot of disobedience tied by Eve (Eva in Latin).  Or as one old English hymn puts it: Nova! Nova! Ave fit ex Eva! (News! News! “Ave” has been made from “Eve”).  

Obedience unites us so closely to God that in a way transforms us into Him, so that we have no other will but His. If obedience is lacking, even prayer cannot be pleasing to God.
– St. Thomas Aquinas

The anniversary of Martin Luther’s revolution against the Church is juxtaposed with the feast of All Saints tomorrow.  The obedience of the saints, those known and unknown, is what united them to God.  The virtue of obedience, so loved and practiced by the saints, is scoffed at in our post-Enlightenment culture. Jesus said “My food is to do the Will of My Father.”  If obedience to the Father was His sustenance, we can be sustained by nothing less.

Obedience is mission: “I have come into this world to do the will of my Father, who has sent me.” Where there is no obedience, there is no virtue; where there is no virtue there is no good; where good is wanting, there is no love, there is no God; where God is not, there is no Heaven.
–St. Padre Pio

Obedience is the harder path – dying to self-will is the ultimate sacrifice each man can make.  Obedience requires humility, the idea that I am not the master of the universe, the idea that I can be wrong.  When Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane prayed, “Not my will but Thine be done” as He was faced with all the sufferings to come, He was strengthened by obedience.  Even in the extreme agony and fear of that moment, fear powerful enough to cause Him to sweat blood, He said yes to the Will of His Father. When faced with any difficulties, we can share in His strength when we fall on the strong supporting arms of obedience, as the saints did before us.

I often thought my constitution would never endure the work I had to do, (but) the Lord said to me: “Daughter, obedience gives strength.”
–-St. Teresa of Avila

Obedience is not only for religious and priests who have taken a vow, it is for every member of the Church.  Lucifer’s rebellion against God’s plan of salvation, his refusal to serve the Only Begotten Son born of the Virgin Mary, resulted in his expulsion from heaven, a third of the angels being cast down with him to earth.  Martin Luther’s rebellion against the Church resulted in millions of souls being dragged away from the bosom of Christ.  That fracture in the unity of Christ’s Body is still happening today, attested to by the thousands of denominations which have splintered off from Lutheranism since its founding.  The Kingdom of God is built by obedience to the Father’s Will.  It brings life, it brings fruitfulness, it brings joy.  Follow the path first walked by Our Lord will bear these fruits, and many more besides. Like the saints, all of us who are called to holiness can respond with eagerness and joy to this task.  Lucifer’s rebellion, and all those who follow in his footsteps, tear at the Kingdom of God by pride, disobedience, and rebellion.  These are the tools he used to tempt our first parents, for which they lost paradise and we inherited original sin and concupiscence.  The pattern of the saints, as modeled by Our Lord, is to embrace littleness and trust in our Heavenly Father, to give generously and completely of ourselves, whatever our vocation.  If the Kingdom of Heaven is built of Divine Love and the self-less love which brings union, then it was rebellion, pride and disunity that made hell.

”All that is done by obedience is meritorious . . . It is obedience, which, by the light of Faith, puts self-will to death, and causes the obedient man to despise his own will and throw himself into the arms of his superior . . . Placed in the bark of obedience, he passes happily through the stormy sea of this life, in peace of soul and tranquility of heart. Obedience and faith disperse darkness; he is strong because he has no longer any weakness or fears, for self-will, which is the cause of inordinate fear and weakness, has been destroyed.”
–Saint Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church

The two-thousand year history of the Church is filled with characters, saints and sinners, those we honor, and those we’d rather forget.  Since the time the Apostles were first called by Jesus there have been rebels and betrayers sitting alongside the faithful in the Church, just look at his chosen twelve and we find Judas.  The Church is divine; Her members are not.  And so there is always the constant expansion and contraction, the tendency to excess and the need for reform.  St. Francis of Assisi is often contrasted with Martin Luther.  He reformed the Church from within, in obedience and without tearing apart the Bride of Christ.  His deep prayer and union with God made his efforts so fruitful they set the world alight with love and devotion at a difficult time in the Church’s history.  And there are so many others who also sought to heal the sores they saw festering within the Church, healing them with the balm of obedience and holiness, with austerity and prayer, not by hacking at the limbs of Christ’s Bride in rebellion and disobedience.  Had Martin Luther reformed authentically, from within the Church, rather than rebelling against Her, we might be celebrating him as another saint, along with St. Boniface, St. Clare of Montefalco, St Rita of Cascia, and the many other saints and blessed of the Augustinian family.

He who follows his own ideas in opposition to the direction of his superiors needs no devil to tempt him, for he is a devil to himself.
–Saint John Climacus

Free will is the greatest gift God has given to mankind, the gift to choose whether we will serve God or self with our thoughts, words and actions.  It is this gift which makes our love authentic, for without the freedom to choose to act in love we would be no more than slaves of God, loving Him without choice. The panoply of saints shows us how every life is unique, and every path laid before our feet by God is unique.  Some saints loved God faithfully from an early age, some not till the end of their lives.  Some saints retained their baptismal innocence all their lives, and some were mired in the darkest of sin before their conversion.  The truth is that all of them, just like us, were faced at every moment with the opportunity to choose for God or for self, to serve God and build His Kingdom, or to tear it down through pride and selfishness.  What separates us from the saints is not the choices they were faced with, for they are the same choices we face each day, but the choices they made.  May each of the saints, those known to us and those we will only meet in heaven, pray for us, that like them, we, too, may one day behold God face to face in the Eternal Day.

The Rosary and Victory

Non virtus, non arma, non duces…
It was not courage, not arms, not leaders…

sed Maria Rosari, victores nos fecit.
but Mary of the Rosary that made us victors.

“Non virtus, non arma, non duces, sed Maria Rosari, victores nos fecit.” “It was not courage, not arms, not leaders, but Mary of the Rosary that made us victors.”  These words were written on a panel and placed in the meeting chamber of the Venetian senators following the Catholic armada’s defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the naval battle of Lepanto, which took place on this day in 1571.  This important victory for Christian Europe was the result of prayer and courage – prayer by the Pope, Pius V, and the kings and peoples of the west, and the courage of those nations who, not distracted or indifferent to the advances of the Ottoman forces, were willing to heed Pius V and join his alliance (The Holy League) and go into battle.  They understood that they had everything to lose if they met with defeat, and so, lead by Pope St. Pius V, they stormed heaven by praying the Rosary.
Today we are in no less need of prayer, courage, and holiness.

Today millions of Poles joined together in an organized Rosary campaign asking God to protect and preserve their country and their Christian heritage.  They haven’t forgotten history.  They understand, having suffered grievously throughout the centuries, and particularly in the last century, the supreme importance of remaining faithful to the Christian values and morals which are an inherent part of their culture, and not just their own, but of Europe and the West.  Sadly, many today have no idea what has been lost in the turn from God-centered Christian values to the self-centered Enlightenment ideals which place self at the center of the universe.  But, just as at Lepanto the Catholic army was outnumbered, our numbers don’t matter as much as our fidelity.  The only thing each of us have control over today is ourselves – our own behavior, our own actions, our own response to God’s grace.  The fruit of our own personal holiness will be grace for the world, but we can leave that part to God’s Wisdom.

The call to prayer and penance which Pope St. Pius V put forth to all the faithful is the same thing Our Lady of Fatima asked us for 100 years ago in Portugal.  World War I was underway, and she warned that if we didn’t heed her message a worse war would follow, many would be lost.  The recipe for victory hasn’t changed since Our Lord’s Crucifixion, it is always the same, it is always following in His footsteps along the way of the Cross: prayer and suffering, prayer and penance. We can only join in His Resurrection if we first  imitate Him in His suffering and death.  If that seems overwhelming or impossible, don’t be discouraged.  We can begin today to follow these mysteries of His Life through meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, where we enter Our Lady’s school of holiness and learn from the one who first (and most closely) followed the Savior in all the sufferings and joys of His earthly life, to the glories of His Resurrection.  As we are conformed more and more to Our Lord through the motherly care of Our Lady we will find ourselves victorious, too, over sin, satan, and everything that keeps us from carrying out the Will of God in our lives.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

There is a great account of the Lepanto battle here, which includes some interesting details which we hadn’t heard before.

The Transitus of Our Holy Father Francis

This evening at Vespers Franciscans the world over celebrated the holy passing of our Seraphic Father Saint Francis, his transition from this life to eternal glory, his transitus.  He was no more than 45 years old at his death, but 791 years later he is still at work in the world and the Church. Here is a little snippet from the Transitus service:

Litany of Saint Francis, Our Seraphic Father

Lord, have mercy on us. (repeat)
Christ, have mercy on us. (repeat)
Lord, have mercy on us. (repeat)

Christ, hear us.
R. O Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven:
R. Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world:
God, the Holy Ghost:
Holy Trinity, one God:

Holy Mary: R. Pray for us.
Immaculate Virgin:
Mother and Mistress of our Order:

Saint Francis, Seraphic Father: R. Pray for us.
Saint Francis, Patriarch of the Poor:
Saint Francis, Founder and Leader of three armies of God:
Saint Francis, Abraham of the Gospel by reason of thy countless children:
Saint Francis, like unto the Baptist in the preaching of penance:
Saint Francis, like unto Moses, giving the law of perfection:
Saint Francis, like unto Elijah, borne aloft in a fiery chariot:
Saint Francis, herald of the great King:
Saint Francis, messenger of peace:
Saint Francis, valiant knight of Christ:
Saint Francis, mighty lover of souls:
Saint Francis, example of Gospel perfection:
Saint Francis, spouse of Lady Poverty:
Saint Francis, model of dedicated chastity:
Saint Francis, master of holy obedience:
Saint Francis, sublime in corporal penance:
Saint Francis, uplifted in heavenly contemplation:
Saint Francis, marked with the Stigmata of Jesus:
Saint Francis, verily a living crucifix:
Saint Francis, wholly set on fire with seraphic love:
Saint Francis, lover of the Babe of Bethlehem:
Saint Francis, lover of the Sacred Passion:
Saint Francis, lover of the Blessed Sacrament:
Saint Francis, lover of the Name of Jesus:
Saint Francis, lover of the Holy Scriptures:
Saint Francis, lover of all the creatures of God:
Saint Francis, physician of the sick:
Saint Francis, light of the blind:
Saint Francis, healer of the lepers:
Saint Francis, raiser of the dead:
Saint Francis, terror of demons:
Saint Francis, enthroned in Lucifer’s place:
Saint Francis, apostle of the infidels:
Saint Francis, martyr in desire:
Saint Francis, confessor of the Faith:
Saint Francis, virgin in soul:
Saint Francis, endowed with the virtues of the Sacred Heart:
Saint Francis, our Advocate:

Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world:
R. Hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world:
R. Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world:
R. Have mercy on us.

Pray for us, O blessed Father Francis. Alleluia.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Alleluia.

Celebrant: Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, Who, when the world was waxing
cold, to the inflaming of our hearts with the fire of Thy love didst
renew in the flesh of our most blessed Father Francis the sacred
marks of Thy passion: mercifully grant that by his merits and
intercession, we may be enabled ever to bear Thy Cross, and to bring
forth fruits worthy of repentance. Who livest and reignest forever
and ever. Amen.

An Account of the Holy Death of Saint Francis

Saint Francis spent the last few days before his death in praising the
Lord and teaching his companions whom he loved so much to praise
Christ with him. He himself, in as far as he was able, broke out with
the Psalm: I cry to the Lord with my voice; to the Lord I make loud
supplication. He likewise invited all creatures to praise God and, with
the words he had composed earlier, he exhorted them to love God.
Even death itself, considered by all to be so terrible and hateful, was
exhorted to give praise, while he himself, going joyfully to meet it,
invited it to make its abode with him. “Welcome,” he said, “my
sister death.” (Celano, Second Life.)
When the hour of his death approached, Francis asked that all of the
brothers living with him be called to his death bed and softening his
departure with consoling words, he encouraged them with fatherly
affection to love God. He spoke of patience and poverty and of being
faithful to the Holy Roman Church, giving precedence to the Holy
Gospels before all else. He then stretched his hands over the brothers
in the form of a cross, a symbol that he loved so much, and gave his
blessings to all followers, both present and absent, in the power and
in the name of the Crucified. Then he added: “Remain, my sons, in
the fear of the Lord and be with him always. And as temptations and
trials beset you, blessed are those who persevere to the end in the life
they have chosen. I am on my way to God and I commend you all to
His favor.”
With this sweet admonition, this dearly beloved to God, asked that
the book of the Gospels be brought to him and that the passage in the
Gospel of Saint John, which begins before the Feast of the Passover be
read. Finally, when all God’s mysteries had been accomplished in
him, his holy soul was freed from his body and assumed into the abyss
of God’s glory, and Francis fell asleep in God. (Bonaventure, Major
Life.)