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.

Father & Son

It’s kind of appropriate that Corpus Christi and Father’s Day have fallen on the same day this year.  In addition to thanking our earthly fathers for their love and care, we can also thank our Heavenly Father for giving us the gift of His Only Son.  Had He not been so immeasurably generous in sending His Son to die for our sins, not only would we not have been saved, but we would never had the joy of being joined to Christ in the intimacy of Holy Communion.  The Eucharist is deeply tied to Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection – indeed we find all three in the Holy Eucharist and at each Mass.

While our sins would have made it impossible for us to share in the life of God, Jesus Christ was sent to remove this obstacle. His death was a sacrifice for our sins. Christ is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Through his death and resurrection, he conquered sin and death and reconciled us to God. The Eucharist is the memorial of this sacrifice. The Church gathers to remember and to re-present the sacrifice of Christ in which we share through the action of the priest and the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, we are joined to Christ’s sacrifice and receive its inexhaustible benefits...The eternal high priest Jesus offers the perfect sacrifice which is his very self, not something else…Jesus’ act belongs to human history, for he is truly human and has entered into history. At the same time, however, Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; he is the eternal Son, who is not confined within time or history. His actions transcend time, which is part of creation. “Passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation” (Heb 9:11), Jesus the eternal Son of God made his act of sacrifice in the presence of his Father, who lives in eternity. Jesus’ one perfect sacrifice is thus eternally present before the Father, who eternally accepts it. This means that in the Eucharist, Jesus does not sacrifice himself again and again. Rather, by the power of the Holy Spirit his one eternal sacrifice is made present once again, re-presented, so that we may share in it.

-From the USCCB’s The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist: Basic Questions and Answers

So even if you have no father to send a card to today, or perhaps you do but your relationship is broken, don’t lose sight of the most important relationship you can have with a parent:  Your relationship with God the Father.  He longs for our hearts, that we might call upon Him with complete trust and confidence in every trial.  He wants to give us life in the Family that is the Holy Trinity, no matter what our family situation is here on earth.

God’s whole plan for our salvation is directed to our participation in the life of the Trinity, the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our sharing in this life begins with our Baptism, when by the power of the Holy Spirit we are joined to Christ, thus becoming adopted sons and daughters of the Father. It is strengthened and increased in Confirmation. It is nourished and deepened through our participation in the Eucharist. By eating the Body and drinking the Blood of Christ in the Eucharist we become united to the person of Christ through his humanity.  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56)…By being united to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are drawn up into the eternal relationship of love among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…The ultimate promise of the Gospel is that we will share in the life of the Holy Trinity. The Fathers of the Church called this participation in the divine life “divinization” (theosis). In this we see that God does not merely send us good things from on high; instead, we are brought up into the inner life of God, the communion among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the celebration of the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”) we give praise and glory to God for this sublime gift.                              -USCCB

Being adorers of the Blessed Sacrament, we sometimes describe Jesus as the Sun around which our whole universe revolves.  This is really what each soul is called to, no matter their state in life.  While no past age was perfect, and trials, struggles and sin have been present from Eden until now, past ages did have a greater love for the Holy Eucharist.  They made Him the center of their lives, as He is the center of the Church, and this Kingdom-building bore fruit that changed the course of history and set the west apart (read How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods, for a great explanation of just what I’m talking about).

If the God who pours Himself out like a libation for our salvation is not the center of our universe, the measuring rod by which we measure all we think, do, say, and desire, then we end up with man as the center, and the result is what we have today, a society of selfishness, which puts myself and my own needs before all else.  This way of thinking is at odds with what Jesus teaches us about Himself, His Father, and the Holy Spirit.

This “sublime gift” that is the Eucharist has spurred the saints to pour out their lives and the martyrs to lay down their lives; it has inspired the composition of the most beautiful sacred music; it has driven the construction of awe-inspiring churches and cathedrals, marvelous buildings that, despite their age, still speak to us of the majesty of God.  One of these masterpieces, St. Peter’s Basilica, so overwhelmed a friend of mine that he sent a postcard saying “the fact that man could build an edifice like this is proof to me of God’s existence.”

Love of the Holy Eucharist has been the catalyst for man to create so much beauty throughout the ages, and still there is nothing we can build, sculpt, paint, or compose which even touches the splendor of this mystery:  that God is hidden beneath the veil of bread and wine; that the Eternal Word Who became Incarnate in Mary’s womb is also present in every tabernacle, silent and humble and hidden, just as He was at the Incarnation, and He wants to feed us with Himself.  May God give us the eyes of faith to see and believe.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! o’er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.
To the Everlasting Father,
And the Son Who reigns on high
With the Holy Spirit proceeding
Forth from Each eternally,
Be salvation, honour, blessing,
Might, and endless majesty.
Amen.

 

Whosoever Will Be Saved

Each year on Trinity Sunday our community follows two traditions: Firstly, we recite the Athanasian Creed after our conventual Mass, and secondly, we all renew our religious vows.  The Athanasian Creed, which has been recited by Christians since the sixth century, is a beautiful exposition of our belief in the Holy Trinity.  It was composed in response to the heresy of the Arians, who believed the Son was created, and therefore subordinate to the Father.  In medieval times the creed was set often set to music, and though we looked, we haven’t found any examples to share with you.

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is all One, the Glory Equal, the Majesty Co-Eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father Uncreate, the Son Uncreate, and the Holy Ghost Uncreate. The Father Incomprehensible, the Son Incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost Incomprehensible. The Father Eternal, the Son Eternal, and the Holy Ghost Eternal and yet they are not Three Eternals but One Eternal. As also there are not Three Uncreated, nor Three Incomprehensibles, but One Uncreated, and One Incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not Three Almighties but One Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not Three Lords but One Lord. For, like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be Godand Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say, there be Three Gods or Three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father, and of the Son neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another, but the whole Three Persons are Co-eternal together, and Co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting Salvation, that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man.

God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the substance of His mother, born into the world. Perfect God and Perfect Man, of a reasonable Soul and human Flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood. Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but One Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into Flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by Unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one Man, so God and Man is one Christ. Who suffered for our salvation, descended into Hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into Heaven, He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

Detail of Russian icon depicting bishops at Second Council of Nicea.

The Dew of God

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

V. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created.
R. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray. O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Blessed Pentecost Sunday! And, we suppose, you could sing “Happy Birthday” to Holy Mother Church.  Pentecost is such an important day in the liturgical year: the completion of the Easter season and the birthday of the Church. We attribute to Him the work of regeneration, sanctification, and revelation.  He is the source of the Church’s holiness and spiritual unity.

Prayer for the Church to the Holy Ghost

O Holy Spirit, Creator, propitiously help the Catholic Church, and by thy supernal power strengthen and confirm it against the assaults of the enemy, by thy charity and grace renew the spirit of thy servants whom thou hast anointed, that in Thee they may glorify the Father and his only begotten Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It used to be common practice that Catholics dedicated each day of the week to a specific devotion, Monday being dedicated to the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps this would be a good time to revive that custom, each one of us need the Gifts of the Holy Spirit more than ever as we try to live faithful and holy lives in the midst of an intense spiritual battle.

We’re blessed as Catholics to draw from the rhythm of the liturgical calendar and the wisdom of the Church Fathers.  Here is the second reading from today’s Office of Readings on the Holy Spirit.

From the treatise Against Heresies by Saint Irenaeus, bishop

When the Lord told his disciples to go and teach all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God.

He had promised through the prophets that in these last days he would pour out his Spirit on his servants and handmaids, and that they would prophesy. So when the Son of God became the Son of Man, the Spirit also descended upon him, becoming accustomed in this way to dwelling with the human race, to living in men and to inhabiting God’s creation. The Spirit accomplished the Father’s will in men who had grown old in sin, and gave them new life in Christ. Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first-fruits of all the nations.

This was why the Lord had promised to send the Advocate: he was to prepare us as an offering to God. Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes down from heaven. And like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay we have become one in body; through the Spirit we have become one in soul.

The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God came down upon the Lord, and the Lord in turn gave this Spirit to his Church, sending the Advocate from heaven into all the world into which, according to his own words, the devil too had been cast down like lightning.

If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God. Since we have our accuser, we need an advocate as well. And so the Lord in his pity for man, who had fallen into the hands of brigands, having himself bound up his wounds and left for his care two coins bearing the royal image, entrusted him to the Holy Spirit. Now, through the Spirit, the image and inscription of the Father and the Son have been given to us, and it is our duty to use the coin committed to our charge and make it yield a rich profit for the Lord.

Pentecost Novena – Ninth Day

Ninth Day: The Fruits of the Holy Ghost

 

Thou, on those who evermore
Thee confess and Thee adore,
In Thy sevenfold gifts, descend:
Give them comfort when they die;
Give them life with Thee on high;
Give them joy which never ends. Amen.

The gifts of the Holy Ghost perfect the supernatural virtues by enabling us to practice them with greater docility to divine inspiration. As we grow in the knowledge and love of God under the direction of the Holy Ghost, our service becomes more sincere and generous, the practice of virtue more perfect. Such acts of virtue leave the heart filled with joy and consolation and are known as Fruits of the Holy Ghost. These fruits in turn render the practice of virtue more attractive and become a powerful incentive for still greater efforts in the service of God, to serve Whom is to reign.
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Pentecost Novena – Eighth Day

Eighth Day: The Gift of Wisdom
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray!

Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written “all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands.” It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Wisdom enlightens the mind to discern and relish things divine, in the appreciation of which earthly joys lose their savor, whilst the Cross of Christ yields a divine sweetness according to the words of the Savior: “Take up thy cross and follow Me, for My yoke is sweet, and My burden light.”  Continue reading

Pentecost Novena – Seventh Day

Seventh Day: The Gift of Counsel

Heal our wounds – our strength renew;
On our dryness pour Thy dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away!

The gift of Counsel endows the soul with supernatural prudence, enabling it to judge promptly and rightly what must be done, especially in difficult circumstances. Counsel applies the principles furnished by Knowledge and Understanding to the innumerable concrete cases that confront us in the course of our daily duty as parents, teachers, public servants and Christian citizens. Counsel is supernatural common sense, a priceless treasure in the quest of salvation. “Above all these things, pray to the Most High, that He may direct thy way in truth.”
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