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 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.)

The Archangels

The Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, whom we celebrate today, adore and serve God, and help us poor sinners. It’s rather awe-inspiring to think that these pure spirits, so far beyond us in intelligence and capabilities, deign to serve, help and protect us, who are so much lower than them in the order of nature.  In the Old Testament when an angel would appear to help or instruct one of God’s faithful, they were struck with fear, falling on their face at the awful majesty of God’s Messenger.  Today when we hear stories of angelic encounters they are often described as beautiful or handsome in an otherworldly way, and exuding strength and power unlike that of mere men.

Yesterday we came across this article, which recounts some fascinating stories of people in grave danger who were rescued by what they believe were angels. And why not?  Sometimes the explanation which makes the most sense is the one that is supernatural.  And we’ve all heard first-hand from friends or relatives who have had some experience with angel-like helpers who mysteriously show up at just the right moment.  In fact, at the end of the article linked above is Deacon Bill’s account of an experience he and Mother Angelica had in Italy with a car full of angels!  Sr. Grace Marie was one of the sisters there when the mysterious and handsome strangers arrived on the scene to help, and she agrees that they were most certainly angels.

And, as the article also points out, there are fallen angels, who want to lead us away from God just as much as the faithful angels want to lead us to God.  All of us, members of the Church Militant, must be very aware of the fact that we are in a battle zone, and the battle is for our souls.  God gives us all the helps we need, the Sacraments, sacramentals, and our heavenly protectors the angels and saints, but we must put those gifts, helps, and graces to good use.  It’s no good having the finest armor if you’re not willing to put it on and wear it.

For me, the hymns and chants of the Eastern and Orthodox Churches convey the strength and power of the angels in a very moving way.  This is one hymn to St. Michael chanted in the Byzantine style.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find the words, but even without knowing the words, the chant alone conveys something of the power and strength of the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts.  Obviously we are especially devoted to him since he is the patron of our monastery, and even though today we celebrate Sts. Gabriel and Raphael, too, we do give him extra attention.  And the world needs devotion to him so much right now, devotion to him and Our Lady.  Whenever we meet people who ask about our monastery, they are always excited to hear that it is dedicated to Saint Michael.  It seems everyone understands the important role he plays in our lives.  I came across this on an Orthodox website: We invoke Saint Michael for protection from invasion by enemies and from civil war, and for the defeat of adversaries on the field of battle. He conquers all spiritual enemies.  I thought it especially timely considering the precarious situation our nation faces, with many fomenting violence and hatred so openly now, and promising to unleash a new wave of violence and “resistance” in November.

The 100th anniversary of Fatima is fast approaching, but so is the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.  The spiritual war that has been raging since the fall of the angels is visible in the war and strife that mankind has experienced throughout history.  And the last 100 years have been especially bloody.  We must continue to pray, to strive to live lives of grace and fidelity, remaining faithful to Our Lord and His Church, which isn’t an easy task and likely won’t get any easier in the near future.  But we are members of the Church Militant, we are born for battle, sealed as soldiers of Christ at our Confirmation, and if we remain steadfast and faithful He will guide us through this battle, to final victory at the close of our lives.

O Commanders of the Heavenly Host, we the unworthy beseech you, that through your entreaties you will fortify us, guarding us in the shelter of the wings of your ethereal glory, even as we fervently bow before you crying: “Deliver us from all danger, as Commanders of the Powers on high!”  -From the Orthodox Synaxis of the Archangel Michael

Majestic Queen of Heaven and Mistress of the Angels, thou didst receive from God the power and commission to crush the head of satan; wherefore we humbly beseech thee, send forth the legions of heaven, that, under thy command, they may seek out all evil spirits, engage them everywhere in battle, curb their insolence, and hurl them back into the pit of hell. “Who is like unto God?” O good and tender Mother, thou shalt ever be our hope and the object of our love. O Mother of God, send forth the holy angels to defend me and drive far from me the cruel foe. Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us and keep us. (go here for the full prayer)

Ranch Walk

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As the sun by its rays adorns the leaves and branches of plants with colors and keeps each vigorous in its proper species, so the grace of God by its illumination adorns man with virtues, enkindles in him the fire of love, makes him beautiful in God’s sight and brings his nature to perfection without inflicting any injury.  

                                                                                             -St Joseph of Cupertino

Today was the perfect day for a long walk on the ranch!  On our calendar it was the feast of St. Joseph of Cupertino, an extraordinary saint known for mystical experiences which caused him to levitate often, but even more than this, he was deeply humble and joyful despite much suffering.

A compilation of some of his thoughts and sayings, which we read during the Office of Readings, yields some real gems.  Providentially, he mentions plants, fruit and birds – all of which I found on my walk.  In addition to the pomegranate I also cut a small bunch of mustang grapes – they’re pretty tart but it’s kind of exciting to nibble on “wild” food.  Still have to find out the names of all these lovely plants and flowers that populated my walk today.FullSizeRender-1

A reading from the thoughts and saying of Saint Joseph of Cupertino
(G. Pariscianti: S. Giuseppe da Cupertino alla luce dei nuovi documenti, Osimo 1963)

      The three most important things for a religious are: to love God with all his heart, to praise him continually, to be a light to others by his good example. No one intent on living a spiritual or religious life can ever reach perfection without the love of God. He who has love is rich even though he may be unaware of his riches, and he who does not have love is indeed very unfortunate. As the sun by its rays adorns the leaves and branches of plants with colors and keeps each vigorous in its proper species, so the grace of God by its illumination adorns man with virtues, enkindles in him the fire of love, makes him beautiful in God’s sight and brings his nature to perfection without inflicting any injury.

     Clearly, what God wants above all is our will which we received as a free gift from God in creation and possess as though our own. When a man trains himself to acts of virtue it is with the help of grace from God from whom all good things come that he does this. The will is what man has as his unique possession. God is therefore most pleased if man renounces his own will and places himself completely in God’s hand.

     As a fruit tree bears most fruit when it is carefully tended, so man proceeding along the way of God must always grow and advance in virtue so that he can bear the choicest fruits of sanctity, give an example of virtue to draw others and lead them safely to the way of the Lord. To bear sufferings and misfortunes patiently for the love of God must be considered a special grace which God grants to those who love him.

     As our Lord Jesus Christ endured so many bitter sufferings for our sake so God wants us also to share in his sufferings. Surely, if you are gold, tribulation will purify you of dross; if you are iron, your rust will be scoured off.

     Consider the birds of the air; they come down to the ground to get food but swiftly fly back into the air. Similarly the servants of God must stay on the earth only as long as is necessary and soar up quickly again to heaven in spirit to praise and glorify God. Note too how careful birds are not to land in muddy places and how they avoid tumbling into the dirt. In like manner men must not involve themselves in things that defile the soul but soar aloft again in spirit to glorify the Most High God by their holy deeds.

Prayer
O God, Who didst purpose to draw all things unto Thy Son when He was lifted up from the earth: mercifully grant that we, by the merits and example of Thy seraphic Confessor, Joseph, being lifted above all earthly desires, may be worthy to come unto Him: Who with Thee livest and reignest world without end.  Amen.

Patience In Tribulation & Grace in Everything

St Thomas More bids farewell to his daughter Margaret.

Give me, good Lord, a full faith, a firm hope, and a fervent charity, a love to the good Lord incomparable above the love to myself; and that I love nothing to Thy displeasure, but everything in an order to Thee.

 

Because they trust in God, rather than themselves, the martyrs face death with courage.  Today we celebrate the faithful husband, father, and statesman St. Thomas More.  Follow this link to find read his writings, including his religious writings.  Below are a couple of his writings, written near the time of his death.

Here is his last letter, written to his daughter Margaret, with whom he was very close, the day before his execution.  

Monday, July 5th, 1535.—

MY GOOD DAUGHTER:
Our Lord bless you, my good daughter, and your good husband, and your little boy, and all yours, and all my children, and all my god-children, and all our friends.  Recommend me when ye may, to my good daughter Cecily, whom I beseech Our Lord to comfort.  And I send her my blessing, and to all her children, and beg her to pray for me.  I send her a handkerchief; and God Continue reading

Sardines & Lillies – St. Anthony Customs

Boas festas de Santo Antonio! None of us speak Portuguese, so If that’s not exactly correct you can blame Google translator.  On this blessed feast of our city’s patron saint we learned a few new things.  First off, we heard in the homily today that because he was such an eloquent preacher and drew such large crowds (some 30,000 people gathered to hear his last sermon), people used to sleep overnight in the churches so they would be sure of getting a spot.  Don’t you wish we had that problem today?

In Lisbon they celebrate a sardine festival around his feast day, commemorating the famous miracle where he preached to the fishes and they listened.  There is also a custom in some places of blessing lilies on his feast day, a symbol of his purity, as you often see in paintings or statues of him.  There’s even a blessing for lilies which you can find here.  There are so many customs and traditions we could list that surround St Anthony we could fill a book.  He is one the Church’s most beloved saints, a great preacher and miracle-worker.

There’s a great online source here where you can read many of his sermons.  This is nice because sometimes we know more about the miracles a saint performed than about the words they spoke, and reading his homilies where he unlocks scripture reminds one of the Church Fathers.

Here is an excerpt from a homily he preached on Pentecost.  He compares the poison tongues of Adam, Eve and the serpent to the cleansing tongues of fire on Pentecost.  And of course he had no idea when he was preaching that nearly 800 years after his death his own tongue would be preserved incorrupt, a testament to the holiness of this Franciscan preacher who proclaimed the Truth of Christ to all he encountered.

(A sermon on the three tongues: of the serpent, of Eve and of Adam; and on the four natures of fire, and their meaning: From the four winds there came.)
3. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon everyone of them; because it was by tongues (namely those of the serpent, Eve and Adam) that death entered into the world [cf. Wisd 2.24]. The tongue of the serpent was poison to Eve, the tongue of Eve poisoned Adam, and Adam’s tongue tried to turn the blame back on God. The tongue is a cold organ, surrounded by moisture; thus:  It is an unquiet evil, full of deadly poison [Jas 3.8], than which there is nothing colder. Therefore the Holy Spirit appeared in tongues of fire, to apply tongues to tongues, fire to deadly poison.

Note that fire has four natures: it burns, it cleanses, it warms, it gives light. Similarly the Holy Spirit burns away sins, cleanses hearts, shakes off sloth and enlightens ignorance.Fire is by nature incorporeal and invisible, but when it takes on a bodily form it appears in various colours, according to the materials in which it is burning. In the same way, the Holy Spirit cannot be seen except through the creatures in which he operates.
Note that the scattering of tongues came about at the tower of Babel. As pride scattered,so humility gathered together again. In pride is division, in humility concord. See how theLord’s promise was fulfilled:

I will not leave you orphans; but I will send the Spirit, the Paraclete
[cf. Jn 14.18,26]

who speaks for everyone as their Advocate. Coming on behalf of the Word, he came with tongues. The tongue represents knowledge expressed in words, and the two elements cannot be separated. So the Word of the Father (that is, the Son) and the Holy Spirit are inseparable, being indeed of one Nature.
Come, spirit, from the four winds and blow upon these slain and let them live again. [Ezek 37.9]

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Spirit gave them to speak. Behold the sign of fullness. The full vessel overflows, and fire cannot be hidden. They spoke with every tongue; or else,though they spoke with their own (Hebrew) tongue, they were understood by all as if they spoke the proper tongue of each. The Holy Spirit, sharing with each as he will [cf.1Cor 12.11], breathes his grace where, how, how much, when and on whom he will. May he deign to breathe it on us, he who this day breathed his grace on the Apostles in tongues of fire. To him be always praise and glory, through everlasting ages. Amen

An Ancient Feast for These Times

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Earlier this week on the 8th, we celebrated a lesser known feast of St. Michael the Archangel, no longer on the liturgical calendar, which commemorates his appearance in a cave on Mount Gargano in Italy in the fifth century. We first posted this two years ago but wanted to share it with you again.  Here is the story behind the feast, according to Dom Gueranger:

A celebrated apparition of the Archangel took place, under the Pontificate of Gelasius I, in Apulia, on the top of Mount Gargano, at whose foot lies the town of Siponto.

A bull belonging to a man who lived on the mountain, having strayed from the herd, was, after much searching, found hemmed fast in the mouth of a cave. One of its pursuers shot an arrow, with a view to rouse the animal by a wound; but the arrow rebounding struck him that sent it. This circumstance excited so much fear in the bystanders and in them who heard of it, that no one dared to go near the cave. The inhabitants of Siponto, therefore, consulted the Bishop; he answered that in order to know God’s will, they must spend three days in fasting and prayer. Continue reading