Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Saints

Encourage & Teach: Grandparent’s Day

annjoachimSaints Joachim and Anne are the most loved grandparents celebrated by the Church. Oddly enough, there is no mention of them in Sacred Scripture – not even their names. Tradition holds that they were married for many years and were thought to be cursed with childlessness.

But the Lord had a different plan. He heard their fervent prayers and sent an angel…(Read more)

Lenten Lessons: Almsgiving

basilthegreat2The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your  wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit.

What keeps you from giving now? Isn’t the poor man there? Aren’t your own warehouses full? Isn’t the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry man is dying now, the naked man is freezing now, the man in debt is beaten now – and you want to wait until tomorrow? “I’m not doing any harm,” you say. “I just want to keep what I own, that’s all.” You own? … You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone’s use is his own … If everyone took only what he needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich or poor. After all, didn’t you come into life naked; and won’t you return naked to the earth?

St. Basil the Great

Encourage and Teach: Traveling with St. Nicholas

This Friday, December 6, is the feast of St. Nicholas. While most know him here in the United States as Santa Claus, he travels around the world, it seems, under a number of aliases…

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Encourage and Teach: Holy Doughnuts!

halloween-donuts“All Hallows’ Eve” has become quite the industry here in the United States. Revered Catholic traditions and devotions that have been deeply rooted in our cultures have seemingly been eclipsed by a quick trip to the costume aisle in Walmart.

Still, many families continue to practice our devotions related to Halloween and I thought I would share one or two…Read More

Mystical Doctor

Today, Holy Mother Church adds a fourth female Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. She joins the ranks of Sts. Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux.

St. Hildegard was a 12th century Benedictine nun who was an exemplary model of what Blessed John Paul II called the “feminine genius.” Her intelligence, learning was renowned throughout Europe. St. Hildegard founded several monasteries and was a contemporary of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. She was also known for her talents as a composer, writer, poet, mystic and philosopher.

The Holy Father explained to pilgrims that

“The Lord granted her a prophetic spirit and fervent capacity to discern the signs of the times,” and she “nurtured an evident love of creation, and was learned in medicine, poetry and music” but “above all” she “maintained a great and faithful love for Christ and the Church.”

Many in the New Age movement have attempted to reinterpret her mystical works. That being said, St. Hildegard is most noted for her unfailing faithfulness and obedience to spiritual authority and the hierarchy of the Church. Thus, she set the hermeneutic standard for all mysticism – yielding to the authority of Christ and his Vicar(s).

O God, by whose grace thy servant Hildegard, enkindled with the Fire of thy love, became a burning and shining light in thy Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen

St. Hildegard, ora pro nobis!

Stat crux dum volvitur orbis

I have a number of Christian heroes in my life but St. Bruno of Cologne, whose feast day we celebrate today, stands very much at the forefront. His Carthusian order was established August 15, 1084 and has remained unchanged for 927 years. The stability and principles of the Carthusian’s statutes are a testament to his charism and consideration when founding the order. Oh, and, when I say unchanged, I really mean unchanged! The constitutions, liturgy, customs, habit, etc. – all remain unchanged. No other order can claim this…at least in the Latin Rite.

This unchanging stability, that seems to be the order’s charism, is best expressed in it’s motto: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, or, “The Cross stands still while the world spins.” Personally, I have been deeply formed by St. Bruno motto and example. I continue to joke with my family that if my wife passes on to glory before me, they can find me at St. Hugh’s Charterhouse in Great Britian…and back to our topic…

The church continues to benefit from the spiritual intercessory juggernauts that are the Carthusian monks and nuns. When everything else in the world goes toppsy-turvey, they continue to offer consistant praise and adortion to the Living God. I What may we learn from their example? Well, the greatest gift they offer us by way of example is their silent solitude.

Fr. Mark Kirby, the Prior of Silverstream Priory in Ireland provided a beautiful meditation  at the Vultus Christi blog on this virtue in 2011. Below, I have provided this a section of his St. Bruno meditation that I think merits a slow read and some reflection. Enjoy! St. Bruno, ora pro nobis!

Solitudes

Today’s feast of Saint Bruno obliges us to look more closely at the place of solitude in our own lives.  There are different kinds of solitude.  There is the elected aloneness of the consecrated solitary: a person’s free and conscious choice to live his life alone with God and for God alone.  Sometimes this is lived within the canonical framework of an established Order such as the Carthusians.  At other times it is lived outside that framework in obedience to an approved personal rule.  Of those who aspire to this choice, a great number fall short of fulfilling it.

The Wounded Heart

The solitary life demands a maturity that comes only from suffering.  Sometimes suffering causes one to shut down and close in upon oneself.  In such a case, solitude is a particularly dangerous form of self-indulgence.  Paradoxically, when suffering breaks one’s heart and opens it to God, it is the best preparation for the solitary life.  One who goes into solitude without having had his heart broken, or wounded, or pierced through, cannot remain there, because the transformation of solitude into communion with God passes necessarily, and always, through a heart that has been opened by suffering, through a heart that remains open because it is wounded by love.  Perhaps this is why true solitaries find themselves drawn to the mystery of the Heart of Jesus wounded by our sins.  The Heart of Christ, once opened by the soldier’s lance, remains eternally open.

Our Lady of Solitude

There is the solitude of the widow.  After years of a shared life, this solitude can be a terrible thing.  It can also become a tremendous grace.  The heart wounded by the loss of a beloved spouse can become a heart wounded by desire for communion with God and open to the sorrows of others.  In the solitude of the widow the Virgin Mary holds a special place.  Spanish-speaking Catholics have the devotion to Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, Our Lady of Solitude.  The widow who acknowledges Mary and welcomes Mary into her aloneness, especially through the prayer of the Rosary, discovers in her company a hidden spring of ceaseless prayer, a source of courage and of hope.

Other Solitudes

There is also the solitude of the person who never quite fits in anywhere.  There is the solitude of one repeatedly disappointed in love.  There is the solitude of the child who, having suffered rejection or ridicule, knows a terrible loneliness at school and in the midst of his peers.  There is the solitude of the person who never feels at home with her co-workers.  There is the solitude of the person who, because he or she is afflicted and blessed with too great a sensitivity, cannot live in community without risking serious emotional damage.  There is the solitude of one whose physical infirmities oblige him to live outside the arena of normal daily life.  There is also solitude within marriages.  There is solitude in friendships.  There is solitude in community life.  There is solitude in the marketplace and in the midst of a whirlwind of social activities.

The Aloneness That Poisons

All of these forms of aloneness, especially when they are suffered passively, can cause one to become bitter and cynical.  They can lead to a permanent state of anger, manifesting itself in aggressiveness or in depression.  They can lead to self-destructive addictions and destructive behaviour.

Solitude Sanctified

When does a solitude marked by absence become a solitude filled with presence?  When, instead of suffering it passively, one accepts it consciously and generously and, after having said “Yes” to it, offers it to God as a chalice ready to be filled.  Every emptiness, every loneliness, every void has a certain “Eucharistic potential.”  There is no void, no emptiness, no absence that God cannot fill with His presence.

Thou Searchest Out My Path

Psalm 138 is the perfect prayer for one experiencing the pain of aloneness.  “O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me!  Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar.  Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways” (Ps 138:1-3).  God does not spurn the prayer of one who, with a broken heart, asks Him to reveal Himself as the One who is more present to us than we are to ourselves.  It is immensely consoling to know that in the light of the Face of Christ one has nothing to hide.

Marian Solitude

It is not by chance that Saint Bruno’s Carthusians and the other Orders of the Church most marked by solitude are the very ones marked by a strong and tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In a sense, Mary holds the key to every solitude inhabited by God.  Mary holds the key to every solitude of adoration.  A solitude consecrated to Mary becomes an experience not of absence, but of presence; not of emptiness, but of fullness; not of isolation, but of communion.

Our Lord has entrusted to His Mother the transformation of every loneliness into communion.  “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near, he said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’  And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn 19:26-27).  Mary will not come into your solitude uninvited, but if you ask her, especially by praying her Rosary, she will be there, filling it with life, sweetness, and hope.

Youth Mass Homily: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Over the past few weeks, I have received a number of questions about the crucifix.

  • Why do I wear one?
  • Why focus on a dead Jesus instead of one risen from the dead?
  • Why do I have to always be reminded of His death on a cross? It was a horrific act of violence!

Frankly, the questions are not usually from you, the youth, but from adults. Usually it is phrased like this:

  • Don’t you know that we are a resurrection people? He rose from the dead! Why are you stuck in the past?

All of these are great questions which today’s second reading allows us to consider.  So why the crucifix? Well, simply put, Catholics prefer crucifixes not crosses! But not just because we have a need to see Jesus on the cross. Traditionally, our separated brethren have preferred crosses because of the resurrection. Catholics focus on the entire paschal mystery that includes the resurrection whose doorway is the crucifixtion.

The first step to answer the question is to realize that we live in a fallen world. The sin of Adam and Eve ushered into the world suffering, sickness and death. None of these were part of the original plan of God the Father, but here we are.

I have to admit that when I look around in the world I do not see the fullness of the resurrection. I do not see a world that is teeming with resurrection glory. I see a world that struggles with sickness, sin and suffering. Many times the suffering is so deep we have no words to vocalize its misery.

In the midst of the suffering we are “comforted” by family and friends. Their words are usually careless and unhelpful. There is though something more to suffering if we dare to pierce the veil.

Our suffering in the body reveals man’s dignity unequivocally. Why? Because suffering reveals to us the possibility of a dialogue with God. When we are in the depths of our suffering we do not blame the world and ask why I suffer. When we cannot take the atrocities and deep human pain we expereince around us – we do not yell at the world…We instinctively cry out to the Creator and Lord of this world:

  • Where are you?!
  • How could you let this happen?!
  • How is it possible for an all-loving and good God to allow suffering?!

It is hard enough for me to grasp a perfect God in an imperfect world. But even worse, would be a God who does not understand my life and the lived experience of my…our humanity.

The answer to the why of suffering is hard to stomach but true nonetheless:

The Father in His desire to grant us the gify of love and choosing to be loved necessitated that He grant total freedom. In order to be free and thus love, He had to allow the possibility that we would abuse our freedom and unleash sin, suffering and death. Even by own hand.

As much as we seek for the answer to suffering, at the end of the day, the reason many times doesn’t matter. What we really want is a remedy. Yet, the only solution to the ills of this world and the twistedness of my heart is the crucified Christ. It is for this reason that we hear St. Paul proclaim,

…but we preach Christ crucified… (1 Corinthians 1:23)

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2)

It’s not that He doesn’t know Christ rose from the dead but, he knows that it is through the power of Christ on the cross that the bonds of suffering, sin and death are understood and broken.

The cross that bears the beaten, battered, and bloodied body of Jesus Christ, however uncomfortable it makes us to see and feel – is our salvation. Scripture proclaims,

  • By His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
  • And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

This is why, we “keep Jesus on the cross,” because we, too, preach Christ crucified. The Crucifix reminds us not only of God’s power, but also:

  • His love for us – giving His only begotten Son up for suffering and death
  • His salvation – a perfect offering of atonement for our sins
  • the power of sacrificial love – it explains what it means to love
  • an understanding of compassion – for to be compassionate is to suffer with another

What is revealed about the body through suffering is its openness to the world in the form of vulnerability. This openness guides us to solidarity with our fellow men: the body becomes a place of communion by means of compassion.

As St. Louis de Monfort said,

“Willingly or unwillingly, all must carry the cross, both who serve God and those who don’t…”

We who are called the Body of Christ, not Hisen we  physical but His mystical, make up in our flesh the sufferings that Christ lacks. We participate in Christ’s redemption by uniting our sufferings to His. Even our liturgical actions betray this theology of redemption. Think of when we make the sign of the cross. Where is the corpus? You are the corpus.We are meant to become what we liturgically symbolize.

We wear our crucifixes to say,

  • I am a Christian who is looking to become another Christ to you and the world.
  • Am not afraid of suffering with Christ as my companion.
  • Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.
  • I know how to love – even if it includes suffering. The cross shows us how to love.

St. Francis told us to preach Christ and if necessary use words. And if we follow the Gospel command, then we must preach Christ crucified. This is done through our sufferings by offering them up as a sacrifice for an intention or to suffer with one of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Roses are only found among thorns. It is the cross alone that nourishes our love of God, as wood is the fuel which feeds the fire… (St. Louis de Monfort)

You have heard, “Be Christ to one another.” But to be Christ is to smile on suffering and to hold close to your heart those who suffer. Don’t run away from it. Embrace it and discover what it means to that Christ crucified is the Power and Wisdom of God!

 

The Doctor of Divine Love

Today, the universal church celebrates the Memorial of her beloved doctor of love, St. Francis de Sales. I was taught by the de Sales oblates during high school and am only now realizing the impact of his teaching in my life. The Oblates did a great job passing them on to me without me knowing it. His influence is at the root of how I discern, how I prepare for talks/homilies and even how I view consolation/desolation in prayer. He is an important influence in our century.

The Catholic Encyclopedia[1] provides this edited article on the goodly saint saying:

Francis de Sales was the Bishop of Geneva, Doctor of the Universal Church and born at Thorens, in the Duchy of Savoy on 21 August, 1567; he died at Lyons, 28 December, 1622. His father, François de Sales de Boisy, and his mother, Françoise de Sionnaz, belonged to old Savoyard aristocratic families. The future saint was the eldest of six brothers. His father intended him for the magistracy and sent him at an early age to the colleges of La Roche and Annecy. From 1583 till 1588 he studied rhetoric and humanities at the college of Clermont, Paris, under the care of the Jesuits. While there he began a course of theology. After a terrible and prolonged temptation to despair, caused by the discussions of the theologians of the day on the question of predestination, from which he was suddenly freed as he knelt before a miraculous image of Our Lady at St. Etienne-des-Grès, he made a vow of chastity and consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1588 he studied law at Padua, where the Jesuit FatherPossevin was his spiritual director. He received his diploma of doctorate from the famous Pancirola in 1592. Having been admitted as a lawyer before the senate of Chambéry, he was about to be appointed senator. His father had selected one of the noblest heiresses of Savoy to be the partner of his future life, but Francis declared his intention of embracing the ecclesiastical life. A sharp struggle ensued. His father would not consent to see his expectations thwarted. Then Claude de Granier, Bishop of Geneva, obtained for Francis, on his own initiative, the position of Provost of the Chapter of Geneva, a post in the patronage of the pope. It was the highest office in the diocese, M. de Boisy yielded and Francis received Holy Orders (1593).

From the time of the Reformation the seat of the Bishopric of Geneva had been fixed at Annecy. There with apostolic zeal, the new provost devoted himself to preaching, hearing confessions, and the other work of his ministry. In the following year (1594) he volunteered to evangelize Le Chablais, where the Genevans had imposed the Reformed Faith, and which had just been restored to the Duchy of Savoy. He made his headquarters in the fortress of Allinges. Risking his life, he journeyed through the entire district, preaching constantly; by dint of zeal, learning, kindness and holiness he at last obtained a hearing. He then settled in Thonon, the chief town. He confuted the preachers sent by Geneva to oppose him; he converted the syndic and several prominent Calvinists. At the request of the pope, Clement VIII, he went to Geneva to interview Theodore Beza, who was called the Patriarch of the Reformation. The latter received him kindly and seemed for a while shaken, but had not the courage to take the final steps. A large part of the inhabitants of Le Chablais returned to the true fold (1597 and 1598). Claude de Granier then chose Francis as his coadjutor, in spite of his refusal, and sent him to Rome (1599).

Pope Clement VIII ratified the choice; but he wished to examine the candidate personally, in presence of the Sacred College. The improvised examination was a triumph for Francis. “Drink, my son”, said the Pope to him. “from your cistern, and from your living wellspring; may your waters issue forth, and may they become public fountains where the world may quench its thirst.” The prophesy was to be realized. On his return from Rome the religious affairs of the territory of Gex, a dependency of France, necessitated his going to Paris. There the coadjutor formed an intimate friendship with Cardinal de Bérulle, Antoine* Deshayes, secretary of Henry IV, and Henry IV himself, who wished “to make a third in this fair friendship” (être de tiers dans cette belle amitié). The king made him preach the Lent at Court, and wished to keep him in France. He urged him to continue, by his sermons and writings, to teach those souls that had to live in the world how to have confidence in God, and how to be genuinely and truly piousgraces of which he saw the great necessity.

On the death of Claude de Granier, Francis was consecratedBishop of Geneva (1602). His first step was to institute catechetical instructions for the faithful, both young and old. He made prudent regulations for the guidance of his clergy. He carefully visited the parishes scattered through the rugged mountains of his diocese. He reformed the religious communities. His goodness, patience and mildness became proverbial. He had an intense love for the poor, especially those who were of respectable family. His food was plain, his dress and his household simple. He completely dispensed with superfluities and lived with the greatest economy, in order to be able to provide more abundantly for the wants of the needy. He heard confessions, gave advice, and preached incessantly. He wrote innumerable letters (mainly letters of direction) and found time to publish the numerous works mentioned below. Together with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded (1607) the Institute of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, for young girls and widows who, feeling themselves called to the religious life, have not sufficient strength, or lack inclination, for the corporal austerities of the great orders.

The following is a list of the principal works of the holy Doctor:

(1) “Controversies”, leaflets which the zealous missioner scattered among the inhabitants of Le Chablais in the beginning, when these people did not venture to come and hear him preach. They form a complete proof of the CatholicFaith. In the first part, the author defends the authority of the Church, and in the second and third parts, the rules of faith, which were not observed by the hereticalministers. The primacy of St. Peter is amply vindicated.

(2) “Defense of the Standard of the Cross”, a demonstration of the virtue

(3) “An Introduction to the Devout Life”, a work intended to lead “Philothea”, the soul living in the world, into the paths of devotion, that is to say, of true and solid piety. Every one should strive to become pious, and “it is an error, it is even a heresy”, to hold that piety is incompatible with any state of life. In the first part the author helps the soul to free itself from all inclination to, or affection for, sin; in the second, he teaches it how to be united to God by prayer and the sacraments; in the third, he exercises it in the practice of virtue; in the fourth, he strengthens it against temptation; in the fifth, he teaches it how to form its resolutions and to persevere. The “Introduction”, which is a masterpiece of psychology, practical morality, and common sense, was translated into nearly every language even in the lifetime of the author, and it has since gone through innumerable editions.

(4) “Treatise on the Love of God”, an authoritative work which reflects perfectly the mind and heart of Francis de Sales as a great genius and a great saint. It contains twelve books. The first four give us a history, or rather explain the theory, of Divine love, its birth in the soul, its growth, its perfection, and its decay and annihilation; the fifth book shows that this love is twofold – the love of complacency and the love of benevolence; the sixth and seventh treat of affective love, which is practised in prayer; the eight and ninth deal with effective love, that is, conformity to the will of God, and submission to His good pleasure. The last three resume what has preceded and teach how to apply practically the lessons taught therein.

(5) “Spiritual Conferences”; familiar conversations on religious virtues addressed to the sisters of the Visitation and collected by them. We find in them that practical common sense, keenness of perception and delicacy of feeling which were characteristic of the kind-hearted and energetic Saint.

(6) “Sermons”. – These are divided into two classes: those composed previously to his consecration as a bishop, and which he himself wrote out in full; and the discourses he delivered when a bishop, of which, as a rule, only outlines and synopses have been preserved. Some of the latter, however, were taken down in extenso by his hearers. Pius IX, in his Bull proclaiming him Doctor of the Church calls the Saint “The Master and Restorer of Sacred Eloquence”. He is one of those who at the beginning of the seventeenth century formed the beautiful French language; he foreshadows and prepares the way for the great sacred orators about to appear. He speaks simply, naturally, and from his heart. To speak well we need only love well, was his maxim. His mind was imbued with the Holy Writings, which he comments, and explains, and applies practically with no less accuracy than grace.

(7) “Letters”, mostly letters of direction, in which the minister of God effaces himself and teaches the soul to listen to God, the only true director. The advice given is suited to all the circumstances and necessities of life and to all persons of good will. While trying to efface his own personality in these letters, the saint makes himself known to us and unconsciously discovers to us the treasures of his soul.

(8) A large number of very precious treatises or opuscula.

He writes principally on two elements in the spiritual life: first, a struggle against our lower nature; secondly, union of our wills with God, in other words, penance and love. St. Francis de Sales looks chiefly to love. Not that he neglects penance, which is absolutely necessary, but he wishes it to be practised from a motive of love. He requires mortification of the senses, but he relies first on mortification of the mind, the will, and the heart. This interior mortification he requires to be unceasing and always accompanied by love. The end to be realized is a life of loving, simple, generous, and constant fidelity to the will of God, which is nothing else than our present duty. The model proposed is Christ, whom we must ever keep before our eyes. “You will study His countenance, and perform your actions as He did” (Introd., 2nd part, ch. i). The practical means of arriving at this perfection are: remembrance of the presence of God, filial prayer, a right intention in all our actions, and frequent recourse to God by pious and confiding ejaculations and interior aspirations.

St. Francis de Sales, ora pro nobis!


[1] Pernin, Raphael. “St. Francis de Sales.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 24 Jan. 2012 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06220a.htm>.

St. Gilbert of Sempringham, Founder (RM)

Thanks to St. Patrick’s in Washington, DC and For All the Saint:

Born at Sempringham, Lincolnshire, England, c. 1083-85; died there, February 4, 1189; canonized 1202 by Pope Innocent III at Anagni; feast day formerly on February 4.

Saint Gilbert, son of Jocelin, a wealthy Norman knight, and his Anglo-Saxon wife, was regarded as unfit for ordinary feudal life because of some kind of physical deformity. For this reason, he was sent to France to study and took a master’s degree.

Upon his return to England, Gilbert started a school for both boys and girls. From his father, he received the hereditary benefices of Sempringham and Torrington in Lincolnshire, but he gave all the revenues from them to the poor, except a small sum for bare necessities. As he was not yet ordained, he appointed a vicar for the liturgies and lived in poverty in the vicarage.

In 1122, Gilbert became a clerk in the household of Bishop Robert Bloet of Lincoln and was ordained by Robert’s successor Alexander, and was offered, but refused, a rich archdeaconry. Instead, upon the death of his father in 1131, Gilbert returned to Sempringham as lord of the manor and parson. By his care his parishioners seemed to lead the lives of religious men and, wherever they went, were known to be of his flock by their conversation.

That same year of 1131, he organized a group of seven young women of the parish into a community under the Benedictine rule. They lived in strict enclosure in a house adjoining Sempringham’s parish church of Saint Andrew. As the foundation grew, Gilbert added laysisters and, on the advice of the Cistercian Abbot William of Rievaulx, lay brothers to work the land. A second house was soon founded.

In 1148, Gilbert went to the general chapter at Cîteaux to ask the Cistercians to take on the governance of the community. When the Cistercians declined because women were included, Gilbert provided chaplains for his nuns by establishing a body of canons following the Augustinian rule with the approval of Pope Eugene III, who was present at the chapter. Saint Bernard helped Gilbert draw up the Institutes of the Order of Sempringham, of which Eugenius made him the master. Thus, the canons followed the Augustinian Rule and the lay brothers and sisters that of Cîteaux. Women formed the majority of the order; the men both governed them and ministered to their needs, temporal and spiritual. The Gilbertines are the only specifically English order, and except for one foundation in Scotland, never spread beyond its border.

This order grew rapidly to 13 foundations, including men’s and women’s houses side by side and also monasteries solely for canons. They also ran leper hospitals and orphanages. Gilbert imposed a strict rule on his order. An illustration of the enforced simplicity of life was the fact that the choir office was celebrated without fanfare.

As master general of the order, Saint Gilbert set an admirable example of abstemious and devoted living and concern for the poor. Gilbert’s diet consisted primarily of roots and pulse in small amounts. He always set a place at the table for Jesus, in which he put all the best of what was served up, and this was for the poor. He wore a hair-shirt, took his short rest in a sitting position, and spent most of each night in prayer.

And, he was never idle. He travelled frequently from house to house (primarily in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire), forever active in copying manuscripts, making furniture, and building.

The later years of his long life were seriously disturbed. When he was about 80, he was arrested and charged with assisting Saint Thomas á Becket, who had taken refuge abroad from King Henry II after the council at Northampton (1163). (Thomas, dressed as a Sempringham lay brother, was said to have fled north to their houses in the Lincolnshire Fens before doubling back on his tracks south to Kent.) Though he was not guilty of this kindness, the saint chose to suffer rather than seem to condemn that which would have been good and just. Eventually the charge was dropped, although Gilbert still refused to deny it on oath.

Later still there was a revolt among his laybrothers, who grievously slandered the 90-year-old man, saying that there was too much work and not enough food. The rebellion was led by two skilled craftsmen who slandered Gilbert, obtained funds and support from magnates in the church and state, and took the case to Rome. There Pope Alexander III decided in Gilbert’s favor, but the living conditions were improved.

Saint Gilbert lived to be 106 and passed his last years nearly blind, as a simple member of the order he had founded and governed. He had built 13 monasteries (of which nine were double) and four dedicated solely to canons encompassing about 1,500 religious. Contemporary chroniclers highly praised both Gilbert and his nuns. His cultus was spontaneous and immediate. Miracles wrought at his tomb were examined and approved by Archbishop Hubert Walter of Canterbury (who ordered the English bishops to celebrate Gilbert’s feast) and the commissioners of Pope Innocent III in 1201, leading to his canonization the following year. His name was added to the calendar on the wall of the Roman church of the Four Crowned Martyrs soon after his canonization. His relics are said to have been taken by King Louis VIII to Toulouse, France, where they are kept in the Church of Saint Sernin.

Because the Gilbertine Order was contained within the borders of England, it came to an end when its 26 houses were suppressed by King Henry VIII (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Graham, Husenbeth, Walsh, White).

Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ

Encountering Christ in Sacred Scripture

Since my conversion in 1987, the staple of my prayer life has been Sacred Scripture. It was only in 1995 that I discovered the particular prayer style was called Lectio Divina. My life has been overwhelmingly blessed by gazing upon the face of Christ in the Holy Writ.

Pope Benedict XVI promulgated one year ago today on the Memorial of St. Jerome Verbum Domini: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. Within the document is a beautiful explanation of Lectio Divina and how we can develop this skill in our own spiritual life.

With so many people desiring to hear our Lord speak to them and see His face, we need to encourage the holy reading of Scripture. The first step, develop the skill in ourself. The following is an excerpt from the exhortation:

The prayerful reading of sacred Scripture and “lectio divina” The Synod frequently insisted on the need for a prayerful approach to the sacred text as a fundamental element in the spiritual life of every believer, in the various ministries and states in life, with particular reference to lectio divina.[290] The word of God is at the basis of all authentic Christian spirituality. The Synod Fathers thus took up the words of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: “Let the faithful go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading, or in such suitable exercises and various other helps which, with the approval and guidance of the pastors of the Church, are happily spreading everywhere in our day. Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture”.[291] The Council thus sought to reappropriate the great patristic tradition which had always recommended approaching the Scripture in dialogue with God. As Saint Augustine puts it: “Your prayer is the word you speak to God. When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God”.[292] Origen, one of the great masters of this way of reading the Bible, maintains that understanding Scripture demands, even more than study, closeness to Christ and prayer. Origen was convinced, in fact, that the best way to know God is through love, and that there can be no authentic scientia Christi apart from growth in his love. In his Letter to Gregory, the great Alexandrian theologian gave this advice: “Devote yourself to the lectio of the divine Scriptures; apply yourself to this with perseverance. Do your reading with the intent of believing in and pleasing God. If during the lectio you encounter a closed door, knock and it will be opened to you by that guardian of whom Jesus said, ‘The gatekeeper will open it for him’. By applying yourself in this way to lectio divina, search diligently and with unshakable trust in God for the meaning of the divine Scriptures, which is hidden in great fullness within. You ought not, however, to be satisfied merely with knocking and seeking: to understand the things of God, what is absolutely necessary is oratio. For this reason, the Saviour told us not only: ‘Seek and you will find’, and ‘Knock and it shall be opened to you’, but also added, ‘Ask and you shall receive’”.[293]

In this regard, however, one must avoid the risk of an individualistic approach, and remember that God’s word is given to us precisely to build communion, to unite us in the Truth along our path to God. While it is a word addressed to each of us personally, it is also a word which builds community, which builds the Church. Consequently, the sacred text must always be approached in the communion of the Church. In effect, “a communal reading of Scripture is extremely important, because the living subject in the sacred Scriptures is the People of God, it is the Church… Scripture does not belong to the past, because its subject, the People of God inspired by God himself, is always the same, and therefore the word is always alive in the living subject. As such, it is important to read and experience sacred Scripture in communion with the Church, that is, with all the great witnesses to this word, beginning with the earliest Fathers up to the saints of our own day, up to the present-day magisterium”.[294]

For this reason, the privileged place for the prayerful reading of sacred Scripture is the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharist, in which, as we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament, the word itself is present and at work in our midst. In some sense the prayerful reading of the Bible, personal and communal, must always be related to the Eucharistic celebration. Just as the adoration of the Eucharist prepares for, accompanies and follows the liturgy of the Eucharist,[295] so too prayerful reading, personal and communal, prepares for, accompanies and deepens what the Church celebrates when she proclaims the word in a liturgical setting. By so closely relating lectio and liturgy, we can better grasp the criteria which should guide this practice in the area of pastoral care and in the spiritual life of the People of God.

The documents produced before and during the Synod mentioned a number of methods for a faith-filled and fruitful approach to sacred Scripture. Yet the greatest attention was paid to lectio divina, which is truly “capable of opening up to the faithful the treasures of God’s word, but also of bringing about an encounter with Christ, the living word of God”.[296] I would like here to review the basic steps of this procedure. It opens with the reading (lectio) of a text, which leads to a desire to understand its true content: what does the biblical text say in itself? Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas. Next comes meditation (meditatio), which asks: what does the biblical text say to us? Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged. Following this comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: what do we say to the Lord in response to his word? Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us. Finally, lectio divina concludes with contemplation (contemplatio), during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us? In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). Contemplation aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment: it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.

We find the supreme synthesis and fulfilment of this process in the Mother of God. For every member of the faithful Mary is the model of docile acceptance of God’s word, for she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51); she discovered the profound bond which unites, in God’s great plan, apparently disparate events, actions and things.[297] I would also like to echo what the Synod proposed about the importance of the personal reading of Scripture, also as a practice allowing for the possibility, in accordance with the Church’s usual conditions, of gaining an indulgence either for oneself or for the faithful departed.[298] The practice of indulgences[299] implies the doctrine of the infinite merits of Christ – which the Church, as the minister of the redemption, dispenses and applies, but it also implies that of the communion of saints, and it teaches us that “to whatever degree we are united in Christ, we are united to one another, and the supernatural life of each one can be useful for the others”.[300] From this standpoint, the reading of the word of God sustains us on our journey of penance and conversion, enables us to deepen our sense of belonging to the Church, and helps us to grow in familiarity with God. As Saint Ambrose puts it, “When we take up the sacred Scriptures in faith and read them with the Church, we walk once more with God in the Garden”.[301]